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It’s a common joke that there are no real Berliners in Berlin, because everyone has come from somewhere else. With around half a million people from other countries in the city, this statement is quite true. The city’s hugely diverse and international culture means it is pretty easy for tourists to blend in with locals, but there are certain comments and questions that will get an eye roll from every Berliner, whether they were born here or not. Here are the things you should never say when you’re in Berlin.
Every Berliner has had this conversation a maddening number of times, and believe me, they can’t give you any new information. The only secret of getting into Berghain is not to worry about how to get into Berghain. And, you know, maybe know the name of the DJ who is playing.
It is definitely true that Germany has a lot of rules, and its difficult bureaucracy is testament to that. However, there are times when this nation of rule-makers and followers throws caution and common sense to the wind. During Berlin’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, health and safety regulations are ignored for a wild night of letting off rockets, fireworks and sparklers on the streets in a chaotic explosion of sound.
On the contrary, Germans have their own brand of humour. After all, Germans are very witty when making fun of themselves and their politics. They’re also big fans of satire and have a huge number of satirical publications and political podcasts. The Berlin neighbourhood of Neukölln hosts a large number of comedy nights.
Most Germans speak tourist English and the city itself is very accommodating towards English speakers. However, when you head out of the more touristy areas, it’s common for cafes, bars and restaurants to offer the menu only in German. Despite its international persona, Berlin is still a part of Germany, after all.
They aren’t, but the city’s love for kebabs shows the huge influence that Turkish culture has had here. Berlin has the largest Turkish community anywhere in the world outside of Turkey, and the Berlin version of this beloved treat, the Döner kebab, originated here in the 1970s. Today, you can find versions all over the city.
Admittedly, this is a stereotype that the Germans themselves perpetuate, but everyday German doesn’t sound angry at all. Long and difficult, sure, but not the scary, angry German you see in humorous cartoons or mock videos.
It is, if you’re in Munich. Oktoberfest originates from Bavaria and the 16–18 day celebration is held annually in the state’s capital. Berlin has its own version of the festival, but it is tiny.
Again, that’s Bavaria. While some Germans do wear them over Oktoberfest, it’s not common practice in Berlin.
Berlin is packed full of history, and you can still see evidence of much of it right across the city. But when it comes to walking around its neighbourhoods, it’s unlikely that you will know whether you’re in the East or the West just by the way the buildings look.
Don’t get me wrong, Germans really love their beer, and they have the festivals, breweries and regional specialities to prove it. However, looking past the beer hype, Germany also has an amazing wine region, and their Riesling is popular all over the world. In Berlin, there is also a huge cocktail culture, with amazing bars dotted all over the city.
This is a big no-no in Berlin, and indeed in Germany as a whole. While Germans can be commended for recognising their history, making distasteful jokes about Nazis and World War II is not only frowned upon, it’s also illegal, and tourists have even been known to be arrested for making the Hitler salute.
A decade ago, Berlin’s mayor at the time, Klaus Wowereit, declared ‘Berlin ist arm, aber sexy‘ (‘Berlin is poor but sexy’), in an effort to attract creative types to the city. This definitely had the desired effect, with many artists, DJs and other creative types flocking here for the cheap rents. There is much more to the city than this, however. For example, there is a thriving startup scene that is now making up a large portion of the jobs available in Berlin.
While Berliners do love their black uniform, it definitely isn’t the only colour people wear. In fact, they also love retro style and secondhand vintage markets and stores are a huge part of the fashion scene.
Sadly, in order to live in Berlin, just the same as anywhere else, people have to work. While locals understand that many come to Berlin for party weekends, and can party with the best of them, they also know that there is way more to the city than its clubs.