Berlin is a city famous for its openness; a multicultural melting pot which draws in people from all over the world. That said, there’s also a fairly serious set of rules which all Berliners (permanent and temporary alike) must abide by if they want to blend in. Newcomers and tourists are invited to peruse our list of essential Berlin don’ts, so they can avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
Berliners love their beer, and a wegbier (that’s literally a beer ‘for the way’) is a classic part of the Berlin experience. However, Berliners rarely open beers with a bottle opener, and instead have mastered the art of opening beer bottles by a variety of inventive means. It’s pretty common to see Berliners knock off the top of a beer on tables and counters and, unfortunately also with their teeth (not recommended), so you’ll out yourself as an outsider with something as silly as a bottle opener for the job.
Berlinerisch is the dialect here, and that means a ton of the words you’ve got stored up from school are just plain wrong here. Word to the wise: in a bakery Berliners order Schrippen and not Brötchen. Likewise, don’t attempt Frikadelle when ordering meatballs, what you’re after is a Boulette. Confusingly, the rest of Germany calls a jam doughnut a Berliner, here in Berlin they’re called Pfannkuchen (which, to add insult to injury, is what the rest of Germany calls a pancake). Finally, if you find yourself getting amorous with a local and they declare, ‘Ik liebe dir’, don’t be alarmed, Berliners like to express their love a little differently from the rest of the country (Ich liebe dich). As the Berliners like to say, alles paletti (everything is OK).
If you’re coming to Berlin for the first time as a tourist or you’re new to the city, there are two things that are extremely likely. The first is that you don’t really speak German (no, Guten Tag and Danke do not count). The second is that you’re going to want to go to Berghain, the techno club regularly topping the list of best-clubs-in-the-world. Berghain, on the border between Berlin’s Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, is notoriously difficult to get into. There are rumors as to how to make the cut, but mostly it appears to be luck. With that in mind, most revelers report that people are turned away for loudly speaking English in the queue. No promises, but it can’t hurt to try it, right?
That is, if you don’t want to be tutted or shouted at by locals who feel you’re messing with the very fabric of their society. Berlin is a city of contradictions and traffic laws exemplify this beautifully. This is a place where gender is fluid, parties last for days and free love and body culture rule. And yet. Traffic rules are extremely important. Crossing when the red man shows at the lights is a shortcut to discovering the other side of Berlin: rule-bound and bureaucratic. Similarly, cyclists are advised to pay attention to red lights as there’s a hefty fine for getting that wrong. In fact, traffic lights are so fetishised in this city that there are a number of shops dedicated to the Ampelmann (the little fella with the hat on the traffic lights and a leftover from the GDR).
Germans take refuse disposal very seriously and separating rubbish into different recycle bins in the norm here, even in public. There’s a different rule for bottles, however. Most bottles (identifiable by the word Pfand -refund- appearing on them) are best left underneath bins. This is a thorny subject, but the majority leave the bottles under bins so that local, unofficial bottle collectors can pick them up and get the refund at a supermarket. You might also find that if you’re drinking outside, a bottle collector will ask for your empties too.
Something of an extension of point 2, Berlin’s party scene is very different from most places where it’s normal to dress up to go out dancing. Most places here have a dressed-down vibe and guests in high heels would stick out like a sore thumb. Same goes for short dresses and guys in shirts and proper shoes – this just isn’t the right city for that. And let’s be honest, half the year Berlin is plagued by subzero temperatures, so it’s not exactly praktisch either. That said, if you’re interested in a little gender bending, all those rules go out of the window and the glitzier and higher the heel, and the shorter and sparklier the skirt, the better (although suits remain unacceptable in almost every venue in Berlin). And while we’re at it…
Yes, that seems very late, but parties here literally do go on for days. As such, rocking up early (even in flats and a jumper) is going to give you away as a clueless outsider. Instead, have a disco nap and then start your evening with a Club Mate or two – a highly caffeinated cold tea drink that’s guaranteed to keep you up – around five hours later than you would do at home.
As illistrated in point 4, if you start messing with the traffic rules, you can expect that justice will be swift and loudly ringing its bike bell. Berliners are not famed for their manners, and cyclists here are among the world’s most aggressive, or at least it seems that way. Steer well clear of the bike lanes as Berliners on bikes will shout, ding and insult you at high speed if you get in their way. That, and there’s a very real risk of being run over – at least partly by accident.
You have been warned.