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.
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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.
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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.
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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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