uberlin

Now that you’re a Berliner…

by Guest Blogger

By Giulia Pines, author of Finding Your Feet in Berlin: A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt. Her lively book gives the answers to every practical question regarding: history, official stuff, finding a place to live, learning German and other expat resources (yes, including überlin!). Scroll down to find out what you should know now that you’re *really* a Berliner.

So, you say you’ve been here for a while, now? You’ve got a job, an apartment and a Späti owner who always says hi to you? You’ve survived a whole winter (or at least a few months of it) and lived to tell the tale? You’ve already been practically run over by a speeding cyclist and yelled at by a cab driver (only to curse back in return)? You’ve memorised the U-Bahn and don’t actually need to carry around a map anymore? Well, congratulations: you’ve made it… halfway.

That’s because, luckily or unluckily for you, becoming a local is no step-by-step process. Learning to know and love and conquer a city is an experience for which there is no rulebook; a mind-boggling journey of twists and turns, of failing and falling and getting back up again, of trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. Only you will know when you’re finally at home here, and only you will sense when calling yourself a local stops sounding like wishful thinking and begins to ring true.

In the meantime, though, here are some tips to help you navigate the wild, roiling waves of the city, in those first few months when you think you might drown in the wonderfulness of it all—that is, until something fundamental snaps you back to the surface. When those little glitches fail to rile you because you can anticipate them before they happen, that’s when you’ll know you’re a Berliner.

Now That You’re a Berliner, You’ll Know…

… To cross on the red in the right circumstances.

Sure, you’ve been told it’s the greatest sin in Germany – that whatever you do, you should never ever cross the street on a red pedestrian signal (Ampelmännchen or “little traffic light man” in the former east, as the lights are actually shaped into little men walking or standing still, now a beloved symbol of the city). Indeed, Germans are notorious for following this particular rule even when no one is watching (it could be 3am with not a car in sight, and the only other person at the crosswalk will wait for green). You may have heard stories from friends who were yelled at by old cranks when they crossed the road before the light turned green, or given absolutely penetrating looks by parents standing patiently at the curb with young children. But really, 99 times out of 100, the worst that can happen to you is just that: a few nasty looks, a few raised voices, a couple of people who seem to think they need to give you an abbreviated etiquette lesson. By the 100th time you may actually run into a policeman, but the worst he’ll probably do is scold you lightly and tell you to be on your way.

This is really one of those rules that you can break, once you feel comfortable doing so. Sure, it might be best not to exercise your human right to traverse the crosswalk freely when there are young children around if you fear the wrath of their parents, but you can always reason it away: most parents who are adamantly against crossing on red argue that it sets a bad example for their children. But really, blindly following the red or the green man sets a bad example as well, and can be downright dangerous if a car is speeding or goes through a red light after you’ve taken your first steps into the crosswalk. It is a far, far better thing to teach children to observe what’s going on around them, assess the situation, and then cross when all signs point to it being safe.

Of course, as with many rules that are meant to be broken, this one is also occasionally meant to be followed, and for good reason. Besides being yelled at by senior citizens, there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to jump out of the way to dodge a honking, oncoming car just after you blithely, ever so nonchalantly waltzed into the street on red.

… Not to begin every conversation with “Do you speak English?” when what you really mean is, “I’m sorry I don’t speak German.”

You may have felt it before: that slight twinge of embarrassment or shame when you’re in a foreign country, have to communicate with someone, and don’t yet know whether he or she will be able to communicate with you. The only thing to do is begin with “Do you speak English?” It’s a slippery, precarious slope: only a few more of those charming conversation starters and you’ll be on your way towards becoming one of those tourists.

Luckily, you live in a city where people are very likely to speak English—or at least enough English to get you what you want. But why not start by assuming this? Start by assuming that they are better in English than you probably are in German, and give them the benefit of the doubt. A perfect opening phrase to use, which will get you the same results as the dreaded “do you speak English?” but with far more respect implied, is the more polite, subtle, probing, “Can we speak English?” This does double duty, not only assuming that your speaking partner is already bilingual, but also handing over the proverbial reins: of course, it is implied that the conversation will continue in English, but it also suggests that the choice rests not with you, but with the person you are addressing.

What’s more, when you get to the point where you probably can speak enough German to conduct the conversation in that language, but perhaps do not feel quite as confident as you should, you can ask the question in German instead (“Können wir Englisch sprechen?”) and bask in the well-earned satisfaction of having your partner reply, “Aber Dein Deutsch ist viel besser als mein Englisch!” (“Your German is far better than my English!”)

… Not to make blanket statements about “Wessis” versus “Ossis” unless you really know what you’re talking about (in which case you’re probably an Ossi, no wait, a Wessi).

Not long ago, Germany was two countries; this you know for sure.  What you might not know, however, is that it kind of, sort of still is… at least in the minds of some Germans.

You may not really get it until you get to Berlin, and even then it can be somewhat hard to believe, but each year some newspaper (or at least your first German teacher, eager to make an impression on you) reports that an astonishingly high percentage of East Germans wish the Berlin Wall were still up. This may sound insane considering what the Ossis went through under ruthless dictatorship (by the way, don’t call it that in front of an Ossi unless you know them well), but it makes perfect sense considering what they’ve been through since. Instead of feeling like they’d reunited with a long last friend, the other half of their homeland, many Ossis (East Germans, taken from Ost for East) believe that their culture, their beliefs, and the entire history of their short-lived nation were taken over by a country that had become entirely foreign to them. Going back to a reunited Germany meant they were now in the world of the Wessi (from the German word West).

In fact, when the Wall fell, East Germans had so much catching up to do, it was almost inevitable they would fall behind. And fall behind they did, as statistics show that East German cities and towns continue to shrink, mostly as the result of the exact brain-drain the Soviets feared when they put up a wall in the first place: young people with means, education, or any small amount of talent still tend to leave East Germany for better prospects in the West. What they find when they get there, however, is a society that seems to be rigged against them, with very few former citizens of the DDR winning promotions and career advancements, let alone reaching the tops of their fields. (One notable exception, it should be said, is Chancellor Angela Merkel, although there are even those who would attribute her every misstep to her East German background.) A recent article in translation on Spiegel Online referred to this as “a different type of glass ceiling,” observing that, even a couple of decades after the Wall has come down, “at times, it feels as if East and West Germans are becoming more and more estranged.”

The only way to really understand what it’s like to be an Ossi is to talk to some former citizens of East Germany, and when you do, make no assumptions or authoritative statements, because you’ll realise pretty quickly how little you know. Many older Ossis still chuckle at what they went through and what they had to do to survive, while some still insist, as their desire to rebuild the Berlin Wall might suggest, that things were better back then. There’s no way to go back in time and find out what it was really like, and the number of people with vivid memories of East Germany will continue to dwindle over the next few decades. Honour their experiences by listening to them and accepting that, in the newly reunited German Republic, everything is not as it seems.

… To leave all those comments about Schwaben to the Germans.

Even if you’ve only been here for a week, you’ve probably already sensed that there’s a debate about gentrification raging right in your neighbourhood. That’s because, after years of seemingly paying a pittance for a palace, Berliners are starting to suffer from a drastic rise in rents for which they are probably, at some point, going to blame you. Yes, whether it’s fair or not, as a non-German new Berliner, you will likely be faced with the wrath of people who have been here for longer, either directly or indirectly. And it’s really not fun. Complaints about gentrification in which you become the culprit are a double-edged sword: you’re basically being told, in one fell swoop, that not only was the city better before you got here, it actually got worse because you decided to come. Whether you ignore these comments or feel terribly hurt by them, one thing is bound to make you feel better: the Schwaben have it worse.

Who are the Schwaben, you might ask? Some little-known tribe the Romans vanquished in the year 52 BC, on their way to tussle with the Gauls? Some 1970’s electronic band that came seeking fame and fortune and was summarily kicked out of the city because Berliners weren’t ready for techno yet? No, the Schwaben (Swabians) are alive and well, and they’ve taken over Berlin, as anyone who isn’t one of them would have you believe. They come from a region of the same name (Swabia in English) in southwest Germany that compromises the area of Baden-Württemburg and part of Bavaria, and is known as one of the richest parts of Germany. Like Bavarians, Swabians have their own culture, history, and cuisine, along with a dialect that can seem incomprehensible—even laughable—to Germans who aren’t from there. Over the years they’ve been the butt of many jokes and the victims of many an insult from the rest of the country, but perhaps none so cruel as the accusation that they are ruining Berlin.

True, many of the people who rushed in to buy up the city just after the Wall fell were very wealthy Germans from the south, and some of them were from Schwaben. Even today, with Prenzlauer Berg thoroughly gentrified and Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg well on their way, you’ll still see graffiti against the Schwaben defacing many a new storefront or recently renovated building. You’ll even hear someone drunkenly railing against them on public transport every once in a while. But really, regardless of whether the rumours are true, where is most of the antagonism coming from, and who is it helping? In fact, many of the people who grumble the loudest about the so-called Swabian takeover of Berlin originally come from richer, more prosperous areas of the country, lured here by the same things that brought everyone else. The sad truth of the matter is that many of Berlin’s original Berliners left these neighbourhoods long ago; people who survived an East German dictatorship only to be felled by capitalism in the end after all. Now those who replaced them back in the early ‘90s are complaining about the scourge of international wealth sweeping the city, pushing them out. It’s playing out in every popular city in the world, and will no doubt repeat yet again. But until Berliners find some way to break the cycle, they’ll still be one word for their ire: Schwaben.

… Not to make jokes about Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

In 1963, American President John F. Kennedy addressed thousands of West Berlin citizens in front of the Rathaus Schöneberg, on a square now called John-F-Kennedy-Platz. The aim was to send a clear message to the Soviets that Americans stood with West Germany and West Berlin, at that point still separated from the rest of the country and just as fearful as ever of a Russian takeover. The speech was a great moment for both the president and West Berliners, who needed all the encouragement they could get, and has gone down in history as one of Kennedy’s best, but most people have very little memory of what it was meant to convey. In fact, they remember one thing and one thing only: when Kennedy, in what was meant to be an expression of solidarity, uttered the immortal words “Ich bin ein Berliner,” he was actually making a horrible gaffe, as “ein Berliner” is not a person who lives in Berlin, but rather a type of jelly donut.

Comedians are still thanking him to this day. There’s no telling who reported the embarrassment first, but the media latched on to the story, turning it into something of a legend, a particularly hilarious bit of pop culture history that everyone knows, but still brings up as if they’re the first to mention it. The trouble is, John F. Kennedy’s phrase was not a mistranslation at all, and what’s more, would not have sounded particularly funny to Berliners anyway. That’s because what some Germans label a “Berliner” is actually called a “Pfannkuchen” in Berlin, and even a “Krapfen” in various other parts of the country. What’s more, due to an obscure bit of German grammar that allows the meaning of a sentence to change entirely, depending on the article used, what Kennedy said was exactly correct for someone who is not actually from Berlin, but wants to express solidarity with the Berliners. While “ich bin Berliner” literally means, “I am a person who comes from Berlin,” in the context of a presidential speech, “ich bin ein Berliner” could only be interpreted as “I am a jelly donut” by the most obtuse of Germans. What Kennedy actually meant to say was, “I am one with the people of Berlin,” so it’s a good thing that’s exactly how you would translate “ich bin ein Berliner.”

… To get out of town.

The comparison exists for a reason: Berlin is to Germany as New York is to the United States. Both seem to exist on separate dimensional planes, operating independently of their parent countries, bucking all national trends and clichés when it comes to defining them. True, Berlin is the capital of Germany, whereas New York is very happy not to be the capital of the US, but both still have a tendency to keep their distance, attracting newcomers with the lure of that otherness and then holding on tight for a lifetime. True, most Germans who move to Berlin have probably seen at least some of their country outside of the capital—at the very least, the area where they were born. It’s a good bet, however, that a percentage of Berlin’s international population hasn’t been farther than the S-Bahn can carry them.

Try to remedy this situation early on, since the longer you stay in Berlin the harder you may find it is to leave. Berlin is an island no more; no wall surrounds its western districts and there are no scowling East German guards at its borders. Getting out can be just as easy as getting on a regional train to Brandenburg, but you may want to venture even further, going as far north as Hamburg or as far south as Munich to remind yourself that there are other cities in Germany, and people who love them just as much as you love Berlin.

This you knew already to some extent of course, but what you may not have realised is how truly rich and varied German culture is. It’s easy enough to lump all Germans together, telling yourself there’s Berlin and then there’s… the rest of Germany. But actually, there’s Berlin and Leipzig and Munich and Hamburg and Cologne and Frankfurt and Stuttgart and Dusseldorf and Bremen and Freiburg and and and….  What’s more, since modern Germany is actually a fairly new concept and a fairly young country (about 150 years old, dating from the formation of the First German Reich in 1871, which shrank considerably after World War II), its different regions, which used to be kingdoms of their own, still display wonderful variations in terms of culture, religion, language, and shared history. When most people think of Germany, they think of beer, and Lederhosen, and women who look like milkmaids skipping through flower-covered fields surrounded by snow-capped mountains. This can all be found in Bavaria, in that part of southern Germany that shares the Alps with Austria and Switzerland. Somehow, the powers that be got together and decided it was better for Germany to have an image that involved alcoholic beverages, beautiful scenery, and blond busty women in old fashioned clothing than grey skies, dark winters, and the socio-economic inequality left behind by about forty years of dictatorship.

Go figure. Or better yet, go see what the rest of the country has to offer, and come back with an entirely new concept of what it means to be German (if you can figure it out… most of the country is still trying).

… To do your shopping well in advance of a big holiday.

If you plan on throwing a party for New Year’s Eve, you’d do best to make a list of everything you need on the 29th and go shopping on the 30th. If you have to work on the 30th or are otherwise engaged with post-Christmas celebrations, make the most of December 31st: wake up painfully early and march to your nearest grocery store. Better yet, be ready to visit five of them. December 31st isn’t just the day before a big holiday in Germany, you see, it is actually more like the day before the apocalypse. By this time you should be at home, basking in the warmth of the fire (or at least that particular feeling of smugness you get from being prepared). If you’re unlucky enough to be out in this particular post-apocalyptic frenzy, however, prepare yourself: you’ll need emotional strength as well as physical stamina to brave long lines and not just empty but dusty supermarket shelves.

Best to plan early. Or better yet, outsource the work: dig out that dusty bottle of Sekt from last year, back when you learned your lesson by throwing a part of your own, and head to someone else’s house for a Silvester celebration that is all the more enjoyable because it isn’t yours.

… To experience May Day in Kreuzberg once, and only once.

You’ve heard it before, and you’ve come to believe it through multiple trips to the Bürgeramt, Finanzamt, or Ausländerbehörde. Germans are orderly. They are very proper and orderly. They are so perfectly orderly, in fact, they tend to obey completely inane rules that would make the rest of the world’s inhabitants scratch their heads in confusion or double over in mirth (like only crossing the street when the light turns green for them, for example).

But there are a couple of days a year when Germans prove this is all for show, letting loose in a manner so uncontrolled and truly frightening, it would make the rest of the world’s inhabitants run and hide. One of these occasions is Silvester, the New Year’s Eve celebration at which everyone under the age of–oh never mind, just everyone—buys firecrackers and fireworks and begins to set them off in the middle of the city, no matter how many people with a heart condition might be walking by at that exact moment.

May Day is another one of these celebrations. May 1st is based on ancient rituals celebrating the traditional beginning of spring (although by this point spring has been around for more than a month). In combination with Walpurgisnacht or the Night of the Witches on April 30th, this holiday has become a chance for many Germans to frolic outdoors, get quite drunk, and light bonfires. As a national holiday, it is also the perfect opportunity for political groups to campaign for worker’s rights, leading to a number of rallies that, depending on the tone of the evening, can quickly descend into riots. In some parts of the city, activities can reach a dangerous fever pitch, leading to broken glass, cars set on fire, and clashes between civilians and police, who usually come prepared, dressing in full riot gear for the occasion (which of course serves more to provoke than protect).

In an attempt to combat this violent streak, Kreuzberg has instituted the MyFest, a day-long street festival with food and drink, DJs and live music, and dancing and partying alongside the scheduled protests and demonstrations of just about every left wing organisation in town. The area around Mariannenplatz and Bethaniendamm in Kreuzberg can become the rowdiest or the most exciting depending on how you look at it, while Oranienstrasse and the streets running parallel fill up with revellers, making it hard to make your way outside if you live in the neighbourhood, and even harder to resist joining in.

Join in or don’t join in; it’s entirely up to you. But you should probably experience this festival at least once, just to see what all the fuss is about. Then, in years to come, when you’d rather go out of town for the weekend or have a much more civilized picnic on the banks of the Spree, at least you’ll be able to speak from a position of authority: you’ll know what you’re missing. Just don’t go by car.

… That Schönefeld Airport is in the C zone.

Not long ago, there was a mythical time when Schönefeld Airport was considered to be “quite close” to the centre of the city. Then all that changed, and suddenly Schönefeld was “a bit far,” although it hadn’t actually moved position while the city of Berlin slept. No, something far more insidious had taken place, and seemingly overnight: the city of Berlin had adjusted the boundaries of the A and B zones so that Schönefeld suddenly lay outside of them. Schönefeld was now in the C zone, and there was nothing anyone could do about it except reach across the great divide, previously only crossed on daytrips to Potsdam, and pay a few cents extra to buy an ABC zone ticket.

While this may not have been a big issue for most Berliners, it became a very big deal to unsuspecting tourists, who had no idea which ticket they needed to buy for which zones, and the ticket controllers who love them. In fact, ticket checkers had such a ball with this one, they would wait on empty trains sitting at the Schönefeld Airport terminus, looking like normal passengers having a chat as the cars filled up with tourists towing wheeled suitcases. The moment the train doors closed, however, the two would be quick on their feet, jumping up and shouting “Fahrscheinkontrolle,” which most of the train didn’t understand anyway, and proceeding to fine anyone who had failed to notice that Schönefeld Airport had hopped the B/C zone border.

Perhaps you’ve already been one of these people, either as a tourist coming to Berlin for the first time or as a relatively new Berliner, just back from a weekend trip to somewhere warmer in Europe. As the S-Bahn train coasted into town, and you breathed the sweet air of Berlin’s southwest industrial districts, you were suddenly snapped out of your reverie with quite the rude awakening, given the harsh welcome Berlin’s transit officials apparently decided you needed. “All right, Berlin,” you thought, as you slipped back into semi-consciousness, clutching your reprimand in the form of a 40 Euro pay slip made out to the BVG. “You win this one, but not without a fight.”

… To stick around for a whole winter, or risk the wrath of your friends.

You may have heard it gets cold here… pretty damn cold. You may not have realised, however, that the cold is only half the problem. When you’re waking up for work in the morning and it’s still dark outside, or you’re coming home at night and it’s already dark again, all you’ll long for is a little hopeful ray of sunshine through your office window, or a glimpse of brightness on your weekends. In times like these, it can be tempting to go back whence you came, or at least to hightail it to warmer climes like southern Spain or, you know, Australia.

Think of your friends when you do this, though. Not really because they will miss you terribly and bemoan your absence at numerous Christmas and New Year’s parties, but rather because they are almost guaranteed to hate you upon your return. You see, summer is when all the wimps, the hangers-on, and the takers come to Berlin to enjoy the city at the expense of its year-round inhabitants. They lounge on the grass in parks they’ve never seen snow-covered, don’t even bother to bring a pair of shoes that aren’t sandals, hardly own an article of clothing warm enough to be considered a jacket. And why should they? They’re planning on leaving by the end of August anyway, or maybe, just maybe, sticking around until summer’s last gasp, Germany’s Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of Germany Unity) on October 3rd.

In our minds—at least, those of us who do manage to stick around until we’re slip-sliding away down ice-covered streets—these people are actually hurting us with their ignorance. They don’t know how much pain the city gives us in winter, so how can they possibly share our deep appreciation of it in summer? For that matter, if they think it’s is so painful here in winter (because we keep telling them so), they’ll never stick around long enough to discover the city’s small, cold weather joys, like sipping Glühwein (mulled wine) with friends while walking around Berlin’s many glorious Christmas markets, or the thrill of sledding down one of its little-known hills (they do exist), or the satisfaction of actually getting all your friends to leave their homes and come out and meet you for brunch on a wintery morning, or the way the city explodes in colour and light on Silvester.

Sure, the word Gemütlichkeit (a cheerful feeling of warmth and coziness) seems better suited to the jovial Germans in the south who have all but co-opted it, and is rarely used north of the Rhine except in jest. Yet something about it seems to fit the spirit of Berlin’s winter months perfectly: a time to surround yourself with treasured friends instead of mere acquaintances, to throw fashion sense out the window in favour of cozying up with blankets, scarves, hot water bottles, and lots of fuzzy sweaters, and to find those small moments of peace and calm that only come to you in winter, when you’re not chasing after every outdoor party or park barbecue, when you’re not feeling the pressure to be outside or else, when you don’t have to make excuses to stay home curled up with a good book or watching a movie.

Berlin in winter will really give you reason to examine yourself in a way that flying off to Mexico or South America won’t, and your fellow Berliners will respect you more for being hardy enough to suffer alongside them. Then, when the spring comes, and you have your first sunny day in months, you’ll be able to enjoy it freely and openly in the knowledge that you earned it.

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Ask Lucy! podcast featuring James from überlin

by James Glazebrook

Mate. Lucy of Lucy vs. the Globe fame – and Sexpat infamy – recently asked me to be on her podcast, offering advice to the good people of Berlin. And here it is! If you were ever wondering how to move to Berlin, how to escape your WG and find your own apartment, or how to manage that long-distance relationship, then we might have the answers you need. Or we might not. Tune in to find out!

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The Epic Expat Care Package

by Zoë Noble

When my mam told me that I would be getting a care package in the mail “with a few bits and bobs”, I could never have imagined the scale and hilarity of the package that would arrive on our doorstep. Read on for some megalols – I promise you that none of this is made up!
expat care package

1. Scarf  – This would have been useful if winter hadn’t weirdly decided to fuck off, but at least I know it will come in handy next year when it’s payback time.

2. Coffee – Anyone who knows James knows he has coffee running through his veins. My parents try to keep him in constant supply, bless.

3. Nail varnish remover – Last time I was over in the UK my mam introduced me to these little babies. You basically whack your fingers inside the little pot and, voilà! Nail varnish gone in seconds! I declared it to be the best invention since sliced bread and knowing my mam, she will have bought a huge supply for all my coming birthdays and Christmases.

4. Haircut suggestion – My mam has written “Zoe – new hair cut?” next to this model with a bob. I listened to this advice, and it worked out nicely, so well done Ma. ☺

5. Style magazine from the Sunday papers – In the UK, Sunday is the day for eating the biggest roast dinner imaginable and reading the biggest newspapers imaginable in front of a log fire/flatscreen TV. In Berlin we don’t have a TV and German newspapers hurt our brains so this is a nice little mindless distraction.

6. Waterproof mattress cover – Don’t worry, James isn’t wetting the bed (anymore). This is for a furry grey Fledermaus named Olive. Thankfully, she’s now worked out how to hold her tablespoon-sized bladder for longer than five minutes so we won’t be needing this, phew.

7. After Eights – As well as keeping us in constant supply of coffee my parents also send us a steady stream of chocolate. I wonder if, when I’m 40, I will still be sent Easter eggs in the mail? Fingers crossed.

8. Victoria sponge cake – A few years ago, I mentioned in passing that I liked a bit of Vicky’s sponge and ever since then my mam has always bought one for us to take home when we visited. Now she’s taken it to the next level and actually SHIPPED US A VICTORIA SPONGE!

9. Makeup bag – She also likes to send me little pressies she spots on her shopping trips. Who am I to put a stop to this??

10. Gravy – Germany, I love you – but you don’t seem to do gravy well. If anyone out there knows where I can buy gravy that you can stand a spoon up in, let me know.

11. Face wash – I didn’t ask for any face wash but I guess Berlin can have quite the ageing effect on you, with its weekend long raves and burger-Döner diet. Maybe my mam is trying to tell me something?

12. Makeup sponges – Again, didn’t ask for these, but I think you can see there is a bit of a theme going on. Just because I’ve moved to Berlin it doesn’t mean I should let my beauty regimen slip.

13. Socks – James gets through socks like they were made out of cobwebs so receiving a constant supply from family members can only be a good thing.

14. Underpants – See above. Try not to imagine pants made of cobwebs.

15. Olive – Good thing that box had airholes!

16. His and hers slippers – My parents are always buying things to keep us warm: slippers, dressing gowns, socks, scarfs, blankets. Maybe they know that we would never spend our money on practical things so they have to try and keep us alive somehow.

17. Bathmat – My mam explained that this is made from the softest material ever so she wanted to share the joy.

18. Quality Street – See number 7.

Can you top this?? What’s the most ridiculously epic care package you’ve ever received?

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Stereotypes: The Different Expats You’ll Meet in Berlin

by Guest Blogger

So you’re new here. You’re walking around with your pint-sized Lonely Planet and you’re feeling Berlinspired. You want to move here and Berlintegrate.

Well, first you gotta hold up, put your thing down, flip it and kindly reverse it. Because before you move, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. You should know what kind of people you’re getting yourself into. And no matter how much you think you’re going to fully integrate yourself into the fabric of Berlin society, one fact remains: you will always be an expat. You’re going to end up getting to know the expat world a lot better than the German one.

So after you’re done visiting the Reichstag, eating currywurst and wandering around Lidl looking for Angela Merkel, here’s a little list of the kinds of expats you may end up meeting.

The One Who Actually Moved Here for His Career

“Are you a unicorn?!” is the first thing you want to ask this expat, who’s so rich they’re wiping their ass with real Euros, and the Euro hasn’t even collapsed yet! While the rest of your friends are living below Hartz IV, this expat is riding high, eating 16 Euro salads at the SoHo House, buying Acne jeans and taking weekend trips to Paris. After all, their apartment is 300 Euros and they’re making 1700 a month. The downside? They’re always working on some insane project at work and never sleeping. Zaha Hadid’s personal assistant yells at them every day. You comfort yourself in knowing they aren’t really absorbing the “Berlin vibe” but you’re actually jealous because you don’t know what in the actual fuck you are doing in this city and they kind of… do.

Career

The One Obsessed with Full Immersion

Good luck ever hanging out with this expat! Full immersion friends have a hard time answering your calls because they’re just so, you know…immersed. Some of them won’t even speak English because their language instructor told them not to. Advice: just wait. Full-immersion is a phase that happens during the beginning of almost every jaunt across the pond. Eventually, they’ll get frustrated and overwhelmed and want to gab about the latest Modern Family episode with someone who understands irony and sarcasm.

The Photoblogger

Oh…my god. Can this expat please document my life? Clearly I need to read-up on things like white balance and exposure because my photos look like they were taken by an early 90′s webcam. These people are living a more charmed, aesthetically-beautiful existence than you and I.

Blogger

The One Who’s Always Out

You get approximately 15 Facebook invites from this expat every day. They can’t hang out tonight because they’re listening to an Afro Klesmer band, attending the launch of a new gay magazine, having a midnight pillow-fight at Brandenburger Tor and then playing Wii Sports with 15 of your other friends. You should go, but it’s -5 and there’s a new episode of Parks and Recreation you want to download and you’re generally too lazy to do anything in the winter.

The One Who’s a DJ

Basically the same as above, except the invites are for concerts at Berghain and there’s no question they’re snorting mountains of coke. Also: this Portlandia clip.

The Compulsive Liar

Once this expat infiltrated a gang of Neo-Nazis then convinced them he was Roma and the Nazis were all “whaaaaaaa?” but now they’re cool with it and they’re actually BFFs. This dude also wants to take you to this brand new club set in Hitler’s actual bunker which wasn’t destroyed (that was a FAKE bunker) and it’s got everything: fake trash bimbos, women dressed as bonobos, lesbians with heavy flows. This dude is FUN.

Compulsive Liar

The Self-Loathing American

DRONES! Nestle is force-feeding toxins to babies! Israel is a racist tumor that must be cut off! Coca-Cola is forcibly sterilizing African women! Walmart will enslave us all! Okay, so they’re probably right about that last part, but everything else this expat says makes a mockery of the liberal causes they try so hard to champion. They haven’t lived in the States for ten years but still believe they can speak authoritatively about how backwards and narrow-minded everyone who lives there is. They’ll never go back because they’ve reached the unshakable conclusion that living in Europe is morally superior. I actually don’t mind these people at all, because some of them are really knowledgeable. But it’s like, really? You’re NEVER going to go back? You don’t miss Hulu and Whole Foods even a LITTLE bit?

The Artiste

I don’t want to be mean. I would much rather live in a city with struggling artists than one with hella bankers. But, like, let’s be honest. You’re not making that much art. You’re mostly working at a cafe. When you’re not doing that, you’re partying and doing the odd graphic design project. I like you, as long as you don’t pretend you’re hot shit.

Artist

Steven Blum is a freelance writer and editor in Berlin. In the past, he’s written some things for The Stranger, Blackbook Magazine, Haaretz, Tablet Magazine, USAToday.com and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBlum.

Illustrations by Jason Gautier.

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Berlin Rants: Shopping, Shhshing and Sticking to the Rules

by Guest Blogger

When it comes to Berlin, we’re enthusiastic to a fault. In fact, we’re often reminded that, if we keep banging on about how amazing the place is, a tidal wave of expats will flood in here – and give us plenty of reasons to complain. Thank God, then, for Rachel Hutchinson, a Brit who’s been in Berlin for four and a half years, and is balancing out our positivity with some stark commentary on the realities of living here. Introducing: Berlin Rants.

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The Supermarket.

Coming from England, I never envisioned not being able to buy everything you want under one roof.

A 24-hour Tesco around the corner can give you the false impression that fully stocked shelves are available 24/7 everywhere.

In Berlin I found out that sadly this is not true.

It was hard to find a chicken. Yes, a chicken! I had to buy three tiny chickens instead. So, we each had our own mini chicken, or Poussin, whatever you call them, on our plate. Novel – as a one off! But, how hard can it be to get a whole chicken?

Sometimes Berlin supermarkets will run out of eggs or milk. You know, just the essentials.

Don’t expect to be able to buy mincemeat on a Saturday evening.

Don’t expect there to buy both baked beans and rocket in the same supermarket.

Certainly don’t expect to buy beef.

Actually forget everything you already know about supermarkets. It no longer applies.

Prepare yourself for having to visit at least two supermarkets to get everything you need. Prepare yourself not to be able to pay on credit card. Prepare yourself not to be able to do your shopping on a Sunday.

Prepare for long queues. Prepare for just one checkout being open. Prepare yourself for unhelpful shop assistants who deliberately don’t move out of your way.

Forget 3-for-2s, 2-for-1s or any other offer. Forget shelf re-stockers. If we run out, we run out.

And forget fresh spinach.

tramline

Interfering.

I was cycling to work one summer morning and my bike wheel got caught in the tramlines by Alexanderplatz. I fell off my bike and cut my leg.

Blood started pouring down my leg. Not in a dramatic way, but enough for it to hurt. So I get up and brush the gravel off my leg, wipe the blood, and pick my bike up.

An old man starts walking towards me. I think he’s going to ask me if I’m ok or if I needed some help.

No. He comes over and starts speaking to me in German, and tells me that I should be wearing better shoes to cycle!

I am wearing a pair of Havianas (flip flops), which I wear most of the summer, and always cycle with. And I hadn’t fallen off my bike because my shoes were not suitable enough; I had blatantly fallen off because my bike wheel was caught in the tramline. He saw what happened.

I couldn’t believe it. My leg was bleeding, and this old man had come over just to rub my nose in it and to preach about my wrong behaviour. Typical German.

They seem to love to interfere or nosily point things out to you. Maybe they actually think they are being helpful. But most of the time I wish they just wouldn’t interfere.

Like the woman who stopped me on the bike to tell me my lights were not working. I stopped, pulled my earphones out to hear what she was saying, and then got my earphone cable caught in the bike wheel, so my bike ended up falling over.

Thanks! That was helpful. And I knew the bloody light wasn’t working anyway!

But the worst time was when one woman thought it was OK to tap me on the shoulder while I was cycling, just for joining the bike lane, because she didn’t see me. She tapped my shoulder! To tell me I was in the wrong.

How dare she touch me! I was outraged, but I held my tongue because I didn’t want to really lose my temper.

Drinks 2

Pedantic.

The rules are the rules are the rules are the rules.

Yes. If you are German, this is so.

Dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s, everything has to be just so.

You cannot deviate from the rules, or the unthinkable will happen. What the unthinkable is, I still don’t know.

I once went to the Berlin Festival at Tempelhof with a friend from London. She had just had clear braces fitted, and so could only drink clear drinks for a while.

She went to the bar, she wanted a vodka tonic. However, the menu said just gin and tonic, or vodka and lemonade.

She asked for a vodka and tonic. The bar woman said this was not possible. They just sold gin and tonic, vodka and lemonade. Both were 6€.

My friend said this was stupid, how could she not have a vodka and tonic. What was the difference, they were both the same price.

But the woman held strong. No. It was just gin and tonic, or vodka and lemonade. That was what was on the menu, that was what was available. So my friend got a gin and tonic, and came back to where I was sat.

“It’s no joke about the Germans being sticklers for the rules!” she said, and told me what had happened at the bar.

I laughed. “Welcome to Germany!”

Shhhh

Shhhhhh.

I’ve been shhhhhsh’d on the bus.

I’ve been shhhhhhsh’d in a café.

I’ve been shhhhhhhsh’d in the office.

Ok, I admit it, I can be pretty loud, but I’ve even been shhhhhhhsh’d at a gig!

The Germans just love their quiet. Even at a concert they prefer it when everyone stands around silently appreciating the music, rather than dancing and having fun.

We were shhhhhhhhhsh’d at an electronic concert. I couldn’t believe it! It is not a library, it’s a place where people go to dance, party and let their hair down. How could someone really think it was ok to shhhhh us?

So we were deliberately loud after that. Petty, but childishly satisfying.

But for the rest of the gig I kind of wanted to shake people and shout at them, “Why aren’t you dancing?” dance goddamnit, this is Digitalism.

All words and images courtesy of Rachel Hutchinson. Read more of Rachel’s rants at 28rantslater.blogspot.de.

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Sexpat and the City: Love Me Tinder

by Guest Blogger

Our resident sexpert Lucy vs. the Globe is back, just in time for Valentine’s Day! And, fear not, because she’s got the app antidote to that empty blackness that’s corroding the part of your chest that used to house a heart. Happy V Day!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and, if you are anything like me, you are probably single (and loving it – don’t be so smug, relationship people). But this time of the year is always a weird one. If you have an ounce of doubt in your singledom, you might find yourself slightly depressed – don’t. The answer is simple: Get on Tinder.

I’ll admit it, Tinder is a wholly gross experience. However, in times of loneliness and self doubt it is one of the most magical applications that has ever graced my second swipe iPhone screen. Here are a few tips on how to get started on Tinder, and hopefully this Valentine’s day – you won’t be so lonely. :(

A QUICK GAME IS A GOOD GAME - Deliberating over Tinder is a waste of energy. It’s really not tricky, nor should it consume too much of your brain capacity – you right-swipe or you left-swipe. You don’t diagonal, you don’t half-swipe, you don’t save for later. It’s a yes or no thing. It’s pretty shallow – but that’s life on Tinder. Keep it moving.

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TRAVEL AND TINDER – Don’t stick to your own area. BUH – that’s the worst. Soon enough the eligible dudes and femmes dry up and you are left with matches well outside of your predetermined parameters. Are you headed to Pretzel Berg? Picking something up from Charlottenburg off Kleinanzeigen? Fit in a swift swipe. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to travel to Tinder, but I think the “rules” you set for things like distance are all a bit… not-working. Facts are, you get better results when you make it out to new and exciting locations.

LIKE THINGS - The way in which you assess whether you do or don’t like someone is through your interests, mutual friends and distance (more or less). So if you haven’t liked pages on Facebook since 2007 – you should probably get in there and start throwing some thumbs. It’ll give you a better sense of the talent on offer, and maybe Facebook will become a more interesting place. Here, start with my page – it’s awesome.

REMEMBER: IT’S NOT FOREVER - This isn’t marriage, it’s Tinder. So at the very most you’re headed towards a night of loose living, and at the very least? A coffee at 2pm on a Tuesday. This is taking us right back to my first point – don’t overthink this. There is no commitment, there are no guarantees – so don’t get in it too deep. Maybe the really hot guy/ femme you right-swiped is a dope when it comes to the written word, but maybe that “hmm OK maybe I should have left-swiped based on looks” person is witty as fuck and you are all – I COULD DATE YOU. You would have missed something. #YOLO, #FOMO… all those abbreviations work here.

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KEEP AN OPEN MIND - Not everyone is totally photogenic nor understands their angles, so try and stay relatively open-minded. I mean, have you seen a German person’s CV? That serious-vibed photo is bananas. I mean – firstly a photo on a CV is fucked – but secondly, could you at least smile? Look like life isn’t too much to bear. This cultural aspect of the place in which we all live really made me soften my standards when it comes to the ol’ Tinder photos.

SPONTANEITY IS KEY - Be spontaneous. Don’t sit there asking stupid questions via a messaging function. Go out for drinks – immediately. The whole “So – where are you from? Australia cool, me too. How long have you lived here? Oh wow. Four years, that’s ages” YAWN – I am so bored typing that right now, and it’s not even a real conversation. Winter is depressing enough, without having to participate in these dreary back and forth TYPED conversations with someone you really don’t know. TAKE IT IRL.

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Shit and Corruption

by James Glazebrook

By Chloe Zeegen, an excerpt from the London-born author’s debut eBook, I love myself ok? A Berlin Trilogy, available now from mikrotext.

Shit and Corruption

© Chloe Zeegen

 

Hey, so when I was three my playschool had a nativity play and I was picked to be the angel I was freaking out like crying cos I didn’t want it you had to put this long white dress on I hated the thought of my head going through it all the mums were like wtf why are you freaking out all the other girls wish they could be angels and you’re gonna look so pretty but that shit just made me cry harder and all the other girls were like crying cos they wished they could be angels and it was like wah! little girl mutiny in a church hall in Pinner. When my mum picked me up she was like why don’t you wanna be the angel I can’t remember what I said something about the dress and I can’t remember what she said something about the dress but she wasn’t like wtf.

My mum had a pretty fucked childhood she was born in 1946 in Berlin to a seamstress single mother go figure what that was like. Her father was a Soviet doctor she never knew him cos her mother just hung out with him after the war for protection and politics, you know? I dunno how they met mate it’s not important my mother was always like what’s the point? when people asked if she’d ever track him down.

My mum was a tough little street kid you had to ask her permission to play on her turf she saw some pretty hardcore shit people were like killing themselves left right and centre once my mum and her sister were walking down the street in Neukölln cos that’s where they were from and the adults were like get back! get back! so of course they didn’t cos duh child psychology but I guess the adults were freaking out as it was dragged out of the water and I didn’t know this but Berlin has more bridges than Venice and the face was still there and the face was round and revealed something something close to despair and the sound brought the adults something close to despair and please no-one say it but it’s right fucking there and shit someone say what to do what to do when you’ve taken a thread and woven it through.

I was in Kreuzberg yesterday at the Straßenfest it was cool and it was raw I was with a girl she was cute and would send me texts full of smileys just like I like it. We go into a cafe and it’s full of barrels of nuts and olives and smells good. Some guy has a big bowl of white things and I’m like what are they and he’s like have some and I’m like I dunno they look weird and he’s like eat some and I look closely and they’re like the spent shells of seeds and the seeds have been eaten and the bowl is full of the shit you can’t eat and he looks at me with no expression and is like eat them. We turn round and the girl is like he’s taking the piss and I look down and we’re walking on loads of spent shells and we go out and the music’s loud and there’s lots to see and I look down and we’re walking on loads of spent shells.

When my mum was eight she got TB and had to go to some fucking weird hospital in the mountains and on Fridays they’d serve fish in jelly and she’d throw it up and they’d make her eat the vom and her family could visit but only through glass she was always cool with me when I was growing up she had no problem with trolls and games consoles and brands and babysitter books though she was pretty full-on about my grades. Trolls were fucking awesome they were so ugly and cute like pugs and they had friendly little eyes and their hair was a big bit of colour and they had loads of little outfits I even had a Jewish one that had a Star of David on it.

When I was ten the school I went to had a choice between religion and ethics lol I know and my dad was like a devout atheist so I was in the ethics class. The teacher was like this half-assed dumb-ass and one time she’s chatting about boys and girls and like what you should and shouldn’t do and it’s pissing me off and I think about who she is where she is why she is and I know just what to say and how to say it I can sense an open nerve I can see it spitting sparks I can feel it flicking round like an angry tail so I take it in my mouth put my little teeth round it and bite good and hard. She rises up goes a colour opens her mouth and loses it her eyes are like boiling and every word she says makes it worse and I just sit there in silence a smug little shit my face like ha ha. At the end the kids are like wtf and leave while she gives me one last bollocking then goes and finds my mum cos my mum was a teacher at the school fucking nightmare and was like “Your daughter has been disrupting my class” and my mum was like ha ha that woman’s an idiot.

He’s got a tattoo of Sharon Tate on one arm and a Star of David on the other and I said I once thought about getting a yellow ‘Jude’ star tattooed onto my upper arm and he’s like don’t do it and I’m like yeah no-one likes that idea except me repenting with a tattoo and he’s like repenting is Catholic and I’m like I know and he’s like are you Catholic and I’m like no and I’m like tattoos aren’t kosher and he’s like I know and I’m like are you Jewish and he’s like no and I’m like interpretation is creative and when Charles Manson got a swastika he trusted too much.

My mum was like obsessed by the Holocaust she had shitloads of books and she would always wanna talk about it and she would get a lot of shit for it. When she taught her kids history they had a day where they all dressed up and spoke about who they were. It was hilarious there were loads of little Churchills Hitlers Mussolinis and Luxemburgs running round drinking Capri Suns and eating Haribo some of the other teachers were not into it at all but the kids seriously were.

When she was fifty she got really fucking sick that was before people had the internet so you’d spend your evenings in bewildered isolation it wasn’t skin cancer but you could see it from the outside turning in on itself like something unbridged. It took ages to operate cos things were complicated she was vomming the whole time and getting poisoned and what you know slips away I was sixteen a self-absorbed little fuck I failed her I would tip- toe past her room when I should have gone in and been like mum! fuck! are you scared? I love you! but instead
I gave her the gift of bitter isolation and her life’s love and her life’s work said sorry you’re wrong this is it now you’re alone and she checked her options realised they were shit and kept breaking down in tears.

It’s feeling like summer now I buy an ice cream and go for a walk to the Bierpinsel. There’s a fountain underneath it which doesn’t suit it and when I moved here it was full of ice. A family come up mother child grandmother. The kid is playing around in the fountain, trying to grab a handful of water. When he chucks it there are only a few droplets left but the grandmother acts it up nice and reacts like she’s just been hit by a water cannon. The kid’s delighted I laugh we all smile.

Give a gift of bitter isolation. Be the oligarch, your guy will call. He’s found something, you’re going to like it. You’re a path she’s degraded. See it sweep in. Look, a helicopter.

Still here. Find a child. Drape it. Move it forward. There are other ways. Give it something. Now watch. Let me guess. Tell it to read our minds and then let’s leave here. Yes let’s leave here. Who washed it away? No com- ment, no more questions. No more questions now.

I go to a bar on Oranienstraße. There’s some random there and we chat for a bit but pretty soon he’s like just moved here have you? think you’re an artist? it’s people like you who are destroying Berlin you fucking tourist. I laugh in his face give him the finger but I don’t just give him the finger I pretend to run my tongue over it up and down to show him just how much of a creative little bitch I am and that really pisses him off and his friends are like leave it leave it.

When I get home my spell check is like wtf babe I can tell you’re trying to say something but I can’t figure out what. I consider uploading my entire fucking life to first-world-problems.com but I don’t because that’s bullshit. I reflect an image in Photoshop and it creates a skull. I Google ‘Facebook Star’ and take a screenshot because the returns are irrelevant. I update my status to find everlasting life and I tell you I mean it and I tell you it’s real.

Bilder der Schriftstellerin Chloe Zeegen in ihrer Wohnung. Maja Hoock, Journaistin, war anwesend. Fabian Blaschke für das Fräulein Magazine. 29.11.2013 Ready to print © Fabian Blaschke

© Fabian Blaschke

Chloe Zeegen will be reading with Kevin Junk at OLFE OMG LITERALLY SO LITERARY, 19hrs Sunday 23 Feb, Möbel-Olfe, Reichenberger Straße 177, 10999 Berlin. I love myself ok? A Berlin Trilogy is available from mikrotext.

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The GIF Illustrated Guide to Writing about Berlin

by James Glazebrook

Inspired by Stuart Maconie’s excellent article “How to write about the north”, here are some pointers for journalists with their sights set on Berlin.

First: remember that “the real Berlin” is what you make it. Your New York Times article is only going to be read by expat hipsters and friends back home living vicariously through them, and neither group would know how to pronounce “das echte Berlin”, let alone where to find it. Get in touch with that friend-of-a-friend who moved here last year, ask them to show you around “their Berlin” (the square mile around their apartment), and then start drawing conclusions. Try to include as many of the following ideas as you can:

“Poor but sexy”
This soundbite has been keeping journalists in copy for nearly a decade, and shows no sign of losing popularity. It’s a neat shorthand for everything you’re going to write, about a city full of creative people seeking refuge from the rising rents of East London, Williamsburg, or wherever they should really be living – a place so international that its (gay!) mayor threw an English word into its unofficial slogan. If you want to sound really authentic, use the German “arm, aber Sexy”, or, if you’re penning a particularly visionary piece, flip it on its head: “Berlin is still sexy… but not so poor!” [insert image of George Clooney stepping out of the Hotel Adlon]

Mention the war
Whatever you write will reach five times as many readers if it has either the word “Hitler” or “Nazis” in the title. As far as you and your audience are concerned, German history starts in 1933 and ends in 1945 – and everything that’s happened since can be traced back to then. If you’re writing about Hitler’s toilet, his Nazi brides or some other “new” “important” discovery, then lucky for you: guaranteed hits. If not, you’ll still probably want to mention whether Berliners do or don’t deal with their “dark past”, note your surprise that the city now welcomes people from all over the world, or concentrate on the city’s outer districts, where neo-Nazis still “run rampant”. As a rule of thumb, you can’t use the N-word enough.

Life’s a Cabaret
Amateur historians will want to reach further back into Berlin’s past, to the hedonistic years of the Weimar Republic. It’s fun to draw parallels between the nightlife of the 20s and 30s and today’s weekend-long parties, and, as long as you have a DVD of Cabaret (research), a sockful of class As and a spare 72 hours, it’s easy too. Depending on whether you’re pitching to The Mail or The Guardian, you’ll want to portray the modern-day Isherwoods you meet as either “lost” or “liberated” – or, if you’re on a particularly bad one (busted, Sunday Times), as mindlessly fucking their way into the gaping mouth of Hell.

Forever blowing bubbles
Tech journalists: ignore what we’ve previously written and turn the crank on the Berlin startup hype machine. Before you land at TXL, you should have already decided whether the German capital is Europe’s answer to Silicon Valley, or just a tech bubble full of hipsters (hardly) working on innovative ideas that are doomed to fail. Your headline should be something like “Forget ___ – ___ is Europe’s hottest tech hub”, with one of the blanks reading “Berlin” and the other “London”, “Paris”, “Tel Aviv”, or wherever you would like the expense account to take you next. Oh, and mention SoundCloud.

Kreuzberg and Neukölln are over
Unfold the map from the middle of your Rough Guide, take out a pen, and draw concentric circles of “over” emanating from the TV Tower. Forget all the places where all the people you know live – the very fact that you know someone with an apartment there means that the district is now too bourgeois to bother with. Mitte might as well be Frankfurt, Kreuzberg and Neukölln are long gone (especially that “Kreuzkölln” your editor told you about) and even outlying areas like Wedding are well on their way. Look a little further afield and you might be able to find an expat artist squatting in Lichtenburg to use as evidence of the district’s “renaissance”.

BERLIN is SO over
Feeling bold? Forget Berlin altogether, and visit either Leipzig (the next Berlin) or Dresden (the next Leipzig). Or, if you want to really stir shit up, dismiss both “Hypezig” and “Dregsden” (“Doucheden”? You might have to come up with your own…) and simply pick any city from the former Eastern Bloc to nominate as Europe’s next “capital of cool”. Why not find out if you can get a decent flat white in Zwickau?

Have we forgotten anything? Leave your tips for journalists thinking of covering Berlin in the comments below!

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What I Know About Berliners: 25 Observations

by James and Zoe

Last weekend a *certain* Berlin newspaper interviewed us about our first book, What I Know About Germans, and asked us to come up with a similar list specific to Berliners. It should come out soon, in German, but for those of you who don’t speak Deutsch – or Berlinerisch – here’s our new 25-point list, illustrated by the super-talented Maria João ArnaudWhat I Know About Berliners

1. Berliners are not Germans.
They’re a special breed all of their own. Berliners have about as much in common with, say, Bavarians as Londoners do with people from the north of England, or New Yorkers do with the southerners in their own country.

2. For example: Berliners just aren’t as obsessed with punctuality as other Germans. 
Sometimes, they’re even late :O

3. Berliners don’t even speak German.
Berlinerisch goes so much further than saying “Icke” and replacing “g” with “j” – it’s pretty much a whole language of its own. We vividly remember the final class in a German course after we’d not mastered, but *dealt with*, everything (we thought) the language could throw at us, and our teacher played a CD of Berlinerisch. Minds were blown; tears were shed; hopes were dashed.
berliners-1&3
4. One concept that Berliners don’t have their own word for is manners.
It’s not that they’re particularly rude, it’s just that holding the door open for others, and thanking people that do so, just aren’t things here. Back in London we would step over our fallen grandmother to make sure we got on the Tube, but we’d at least say a polite “sorry” as we did so.

5. Berliners are punk as fuck.
And not just the die-hard crusties stomping through Friedrichshain, or their offspring loitering on Görli Park. That middle-aged checkout lady with bright red hair and a few too many earrings? Your postman, who pairs his Deutsche Post uniform with cut-off shorts and beat-up Dr Martens? Punk. As. Fuck.

6. Berliners don’t care what you look like.
You could be an überhipster with a sky-high beanie and painted-on meggings, or wandering the streets in your pyjamas, and Berliners will treat you with the same indifference that they do everyone else.

7. Berliners don’t wear suits, and don’t trust anyone that does.
In this city, there are only two types of workers that wear business dress: landlords and politicians. And no one wants to be mistaken for either group.

8. Berliners may not always act like it, but they care.
If they have a problem with the Government, its policies, or its treatment of certain sections of society, they’ll take to the streets and shout about it. No matter the state of parliamentary democracy, in Berlin grassroots activism is alive and kicking.

9. Berliners – the vegan Germans.
berliners-21
10. Berliners won’t be told what to do…

11. …or what to smoke…
The real problem with the new mayor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s plan to decriminalise marijuana in her district? The only people to benefit will be tourists too scared to approach the dealers in Görli Park; Berliners are going to keep smoking whatever they like, regardless of what the law says.

12. …or where to smoke it.
The fact that smaller bars successfully kicked back against the 2007 smoking ban is a slight but significant signal that Berliners will NOT be told what to do. Each cigarette smoked indoors is a tiny torch of freedom, and every handmade “Raucherbar” sign might as well say “don’t fuck with me”.

13. In Berlin, there’s a fine line between independence and insanity.
In a city that has always attracted the fringe figures of western society and tested German norms to their limits, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the “life artists” and the crazies. Every time you see a shellshocked-looking person trudging through the streets mumbling to themselves, check their supermarket trolley for “found art” or look for someone with a video camera capturing the whole “happening”.

14. Berliners know how to party…
Berlin’s awesome clubs are full of friendly people who have their drug intake well under control, and plan to keep going well into Monday morning. The only troublemakers who managed to get past the ruthless door staff are invariably Ausländern. As a waiter told us on our first visit to the city, Berliners “make good party”…

15. …but they make for the worst concert crowds we’ve ever encountered.
Berliners reserve their enthusiasm for the last few hours of weekend-long techno parties and hardcore punk gigs in squats. Their reaction to every other performance of every other genre of music is to stand stock still and, if they really like what they hear, occasionally unfold their arms to slowly clap.

16. Berliners can’t see street art.
Years of over-exposure to grafitti have led them to develop a kind of snow blindness to tags, stickers, murals etc. And with good reason: if Berliners took the time to really look at all of the street art daubed across their city, they would never make it where they were going, and in the most severe cases, their eyes would pop out of their heads.

17. Berliners talk about the weather a lot.
This is great news for us Brits, who treat complaining about the weather as a national sport, and can insert ourselves into any conversation with a few well-chosen references to “Scheißwetter” and “Schnee”.

18. Complaining aside, Berliners make surviving harsh winters look easy.
They pull on some sturdy boots, wrap themselves in layers of Jack Wolfskin, and head out to the U-Bahn, which invariably runs (pretty much) on time. Coming from a country where a few snowflakes on the train tracks brings the nation’s infrastructure to a halt, winter in Berlin is refreshingly “business as usual”.

19. For Berliners, it’s never too early for ice cream…
As soon as temperatures rise above O°C again, winter-weary Berliners are like “fuck it, let’s get Eis”.
berliners-1820. …or for Glühwein.

Even when the Weichnachtmarkts won’t open for months, you can pick up a cup of the hot stuff from early October onwards in your local Späti. Time to swap out your morning beer for something more festive!

21. Berliners don’t eat Currywurst.
It’s just a culinary joke they play on gullible tourists.

22. Berliners never set foot in the “centre” of Berlin.
The closest they get to Alexanderplatz is changing U-Bahns underneath it, they know better than to venture within a square mile of the tourist trap/construction zone around Unter den Linden, and wear the fact that they’ve never seen Brandenburg Gate like a badge of honour. For Berliners, their Kiez is the real heart of Berlin.

23. Berliners don’t want a new airport.
They’re secretly hoping that if construction drags on any longer, the city’s just going to give up and stick with TXL.

24. Berliners don’t hate tourists, they hate douchebags.
If you come here and treat Berlin like your personal playground, blaring your way through Sunday morning leaving a trail of broken beer bottles in your wake, then locals will (justifiably) hate you. Even if you’re just staying in a holiday apartment that is intended for residential use, they’ll probably still hate you – but that’s your douchebag landlord’s fault. In Berlin, you get what you give – and if you disrespect the city, it will disrespect you right back.
berliners-24
25. Deep down, Berliners are teddy bears.

They might seem cold to outsiders, but take the time to talk to Berliners, in their own language – if not Berlinerisch, German will do – and you’ll find them to be funny, warm and welcoming people. Underneath that chilly exterior, there’s a teddy Bärliner just waiting to embrace you!

Tell us, Berliners, do you agree? If we’ve got anything wrong, or forgotten anything, tell us in the comments below!

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What Do You Know About Berliners? Tell us and win a free book!

by James Glazebrook

[EDIT: this competition is now closed. Click here to see if we're running any open competitions] 

If you’re a fan of this blog, you’ll know that we recently launched our first book, What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations. Well, if you haven’t bought a copy yet, here’s your chance to win one – by telling us what you know about Berliners.

We’ve already written about how Germans stare, love their dogs and are refreshingly comfortable about nudity, but what makes Berliners special? According to our article You know you’re a Berliner when…, daily acts of crazy, lost weekends and regular Berlinergasms are signs that you belong here, but what about the people who were born and raised in the Hauptstadt? How are Berliners different to people from the rest of Germany?

We’d love to hear from you, and in return we’re giving away a copy of the beautiful print version of What I Know About Germans – plus one of these awesome überlin tote bags! Scroll down to find out how to win.

What I Know About Berliners

HOW TO WIN A “WHAT I KNOW ABOUT GERMANS” BOOK PLUS AN ÜBERLIN TOTE BAG:

Just answer this question in the comments below:

What Do YOU Know About Berliners?

You have until 6pm on Sunday 8th December. Good luck!

The Boring Bit (yawn, RULES):

1. You must be at least 18 years old to enter.
2. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON!
3. Our favourite comment wins. It’s that simple.
4. We will announced the winners via our Facebook page on Monday 9th December.

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