uberlin

Berlin Supermarkets: A User’s Guide

by Guest Blogger

Words and infographic by Federico Prandi.

Four years after claiming independence and moving to Berlin, the supermarket still feels like the most iconic place of my adulthood and one of the most fascinating Berlin places to write about. While other bloggers document colourful night scenes and vivid cultural environments, I find myself in a complicated love triangle with Lidl and Rewe, and am now ready to disclose the dynamics of these relationships. My user guide to Berlin supermarkets will lead you through a correct, satisfying and 100% German grocery shopping experience.

CHAPTER 1: “I’M A PFAND MACHINE READY TO RELOAD”

First: Enter your supermarket of choice.

Second: Head towards the Pfand machine.

Any respectable trip to a German supermarket includes a mandatory stop at the Pfand machine, which is usually located before the actual shopping area. Not stopping there would be like going to IKEA without eating meatballs.

Glance at the 75-year-old lady who just beat you to the line by one fraction of a second. Using her last remaining life force, she’s carrying seven plastic bags full of bottles and is now feeding them into the machine.

Very. Slowly.

Consider leaving the line but then change your mind: it would be a drag to go through the whole shopping process with a bag dripping a mix of Club Mate and beer (probably a real cocktail recipe somewhere in Berlin). Also, you could do with freeing up an extra three square metres in your room before your flatmate calls the crew of Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Years pass. The lady lets you know she’s done by smiling at you and saying something incomprehensible, which is probably German for “I’m a rich bitch now. So long, suckers!” Watch her pink-haired body floating away with what was probably hundreds of Euros and a smile of victory on her face.

It’s your turn now.

You only have five bottles, so this shouldn’t take long. Unfortunately for you, after the first bottle has been sucked in, the machine notifies you that the containers placed on the other side of the wall are full. “You need to press the red button”, says the Pfand-bot.

The red button is the last trace of a Germany that wants you to feel in control. Clearly, its only purpose is to give you a false sense of safety, just like the numbers on Lost. Don’t even mind the button and do the only rational thing: cry out for help.

Don’t lose hope: someone will come.

CHAPTER 2: “WE FOUND CAKE IN A HOPELESS PLACE”

You’re now inside the shopping area and you’re looking for the items you need, maybe even following a list.

There is only one rule concerning where to find them: forget logic.

In a perfect world, those small Bahlsen cakes you like to dip in your morning coffee would be placed next to cookies, because that would make sense.

Not here. Not in Germany. You’ll only find them if God wants you to – and only after wandering for hours among shelves overloaded with sausages and far too many kinds of Quark, taking care not to make eye contact with your fellow grocery shoppers. Remember to treat them like ghosts from a parallel dimension, and even if you bump into them try to convince yourself it was an ESP experience.

Once the desired item has been retrieved, shove it into your tote bag and try to avoid feeling like the Winona Ryder of Marzahn. It’s fine: the evergreen excuse “I meant to pay for it” is – unsurprisingly – taken literally in this country; no special police unit will barge in and attack you with trained dogs while you whisper through tears the words, “Ich bin nicht shuldig”.

Just remember to pay for everything you grabbed when the moment comes. That’s it.

Infographic: German supermarket checkouts

CHAPTER 3: “QUIT PLAYING GAMES WITH MY DIET”

You’re at the Kasse now. It’s almost over, but you can’t let your guard down.

Among all the spots inside the supermarket, the Kasse is where your morals are ambushed and your diet is tested. Just as Orpheus had to refrain from turning back on his way out of the underworld, you should resist the temptation to buy small bottles of Jägermeister, because everyone knows you’re gonna keep them in your pockets and sneak a sip whenever your boss isn’t looking.

Also, chocolate bars made of 20% caramel and 80% peanut butter are not a good idea unless you’re OK with never being able to find your teeth again.

Also, 3 Euro reading glasses can’t possibly be good for your sight.

Also, Hello Kitty partnering with Kinder Surprise is indeed exciting news, but the answer is no.

Also, there be cigarettes.

If you were strong enough (and I want you to be) you are now out of the temptation zone, placing your groceries onto the conveyor belt. Here comes a crucial part, which you should carefully execute if you wish to live your Berlin supermarket experience to its fullest.

Start eyeing the Kassentoblerone (yes! that’s its real name!) from afar, when it’s still out of reach. Focus on it impatiently as if it’s been the object of your desire for years and start tapping with your fingers in excitement. Picture in your mind all the terrible things that would happen if your groceries actually brushed against those of the person standing in front of  you.

Grocery confusion, food STDs, maybe some kind of explosion.

When you’re close enough, grab that divider and place it on the belt in a triumphant manner, as if it was the coronation of a life lived in struggle.

Can you feel the joy?

The clerk has been scanning each and every item you purchased and now presents you with the bill. While you look for money in your wallet, he will take advantage of your distraction to slide in an unsettling question that will make you freeze in fear.  “Haben Sie noch ein Wunsch?” – “Möchten sie Geld abheben?” – “Brauchen Sie ‘ne Tüte?”.

And my favourite: “Sammeln Sie Herzen?”

Which literally translates into: “Do you collect hearts?”

That has to be the most horrifying and inappropriate question I’ve since the time I ordered sushi for myself and the delivery guy asked if I needed three sets of chopsticks.

But relax: Kaiser’s is not investigating your emotional life nor conducting a survey to determine the percentage of serial killers among their customer base. They simply have a loyalty system where the points are called  “hearts”.

Just answer “Nein, danke” to whatever they ask and hand over the money.

Now it gets tricky. Once payment is completed, the space at the end of the Kasse where half of your groceries are still lying doesn’t belong to you anymore. In fact, the clerk is already throwing new items down there at supersonic speed. Suddenly overwhelmed with pressure, you now need to pick up your stuff and carry it to the nearby table-for-slow-people, quickly and dramatically as if you were rescuing a baby from a fire.

When you’re ready to go, head to the Ausgang while taking a skeptical look at the receipt and making sure that the very cheap bananas you bought (genetically engineered in Steglitz) haven’t been priced as if they were the BIO ones from Colombia.

If everything looks fine toss the receipt in the trash can just outside the door, where millions of others are nested. In the background the ghostly, naïve voices of future generations are asking their elementary school teachers what a tree is.

Ignore them blissfully.

Follow Federico on @amorequietplace and read more on his blog, A More Quiet Place.

Big Stu’s Big Guide to Berlin’s Supermarkets by the legendary Big Stu.

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Cards Against Humanity: The Berlin Edition

by James Glazebrook

Cards Against Humanity Berlin Expat Edition

Kennst du Cards Against Humanity? It’s the “party game for horrible people”, where players attempt to one-up each other, by providing shocking and disgusting answers to seemingly innocuous questions. Naturally, we love it.

The only problem is that you can’t buy it in Germany. The makers tell us that this is a distribution challenge, but we also wonder whether is has something to do with not knowing the Deutsch market. If you don’t understand Germans, you might not realise that their minds are as filthy as the Americans and Brits, or know where they draw the line between “wrong ;) ” and “WRONG!!!!”

Thankfully, Cards Against Humanity have made it possible to produce your own game. On their website, they provide the standard set of black and white cards for printing at home, and blank sets so you can make your own. A couple of fans have even produced German translations – check them out here and here.

Introducing Cards Against Humanity: The Berlin Edition. We’ve created a set of cards that reflect all that is weird and wonderful (but mostly weird) about living in Berlin, so you can test your friends’ local knowledge as well as their intestinal fortitude! Just download it here, get horrible and enjoy yourselves!

Cards Against Humanity Berlin Edition 1

Cards Against Humanity Berlin Edition 2

Have you got anything to add? Let us know what black cards you’d like to see, and maybe we’ll make an expanded pack. Leave your filthy comments below ;)

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Ask überlin – the Podcast

by James Glazebrook

ask überlin podcast

Ask überlin is back – and now it’s a PODCAST! Zoë and I are going to start answering your questions again, only this time you’ll be able to listen to the advice coming straight of our sweet expat mouths. In the past, we’ve helped people move to Berlin, find an apartment, find a job, learn German and even, well, blame us for our Kiez’s “gentrification nightmare” :( .

If you have any questions like these (maybe not like that last one), we’d love to hear from you! Maybe you want to get practical advice, our opinions on something happening in the city, our turn-ons and turn-offs, or all the details about our life with Olive. Hit us up and we’ll help you out!

Got a question for us? Drop us an email at ask@uberlin.co and we’ll answer them on the Ask überlin podcast (coming soon!).

PS: If you don’t want us to read your name out, keep it anonymous! We won’t share your email address or anything else that you don’t write in your email.

PPS: We also need theme music for the podcast! Let us know if you want to donate a track, or make us a new one, in exchange for a shout out!

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Free Your Stuff Berlin is getting weird

by James Glazebrook

Free Your Stuff Berlin is more than just a Facebook group where Berliners can give and get all sorts of um, stuff, for, well, free. It’s also a gathering place for Berlin’s poor and tired, its huddled masses, its wretched refuse – whether object or human. We’ve been watching the wall on the lookout for freebies, furniture and nicknacks for our new space, and, well, it’s been getting weird…

The strangely specific

_boros

The overly optimistic

_optimism 1

_optimism 2

The cheapskates

_frisbee

The persistent

_muffin 4

_muffin 1

_muffin 2

_muffin-3

Seriously, just buy a muffin tin.

The inattentive

_inattentive

The spammers

_spam

Hilarious name for a mix, mind.

The poorly-prepared new parents

_parents

The colour blind

_colour 1

_colour 2

The bonkers

_bonkers-1

The busybodies

_busybodies

The dreamers

_dream

Awwwwwwww.

The up-to-no-good

_no good

What’s the hurry? Homeowners set to return soon?

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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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