Seven ways to fit in in Berlin
Sophie Tanno is a German and Linguistics student from Edinburgh University, currently spending her year abroad in Berlin as a Language Assistant with the British Council. For more of her Berlin adventures, follow her on Twitter.
Considering I had already made several visits to the south of Germany throughout my childhood and teenage years, including a summer job in a hotel in Zweibrücken when I was seventeen, I figured that I already had some solid knowledge of the German culture and language and thus would be well equipped for starting out my year abroad here in Berlin. In my experience, Germans were - albeit of a direct and no-nonsense nature - an extremely friendly, hospitable and open kind of people, with a love for hearty German food (Schnitzel and Apfelstrudel have always been great favourites of mine), occasionally donning the old Dirndls and Lederhosen, and extremely welcoming of new people and cultures. Indeed, staying with my German pen friend Katharina in the sleepy village of Schrozberg back when I was fifteen, I recall being quite the object of attention and fascination to her classmates and teachers alike.
With such ideas in mind, I confidently packed up my suitcase and headed for the capital. I can safely say that I had no idea what was in store for me upon arrival. My previous experiences in Germany were worth next to nothing as unfortunately no one had warned me that the North and South of Germany are so completely polar opposite that they may as well be different countries.
You will often hear people comment that, despite the country’s history, the ‘real’ divide in Germany is not between the East and West, but rather North and South. Nonetheless, determined to fit into this crazy city, I began swigging Club Mate and ditching my somewhat mainstream music taste for pounding techno sounds. After living in Berlin for nearly five months now, I have drawn up a list of six ways to fit into the cool, edgy and decadent city that is Berlin.
1. Wear Black
I’m not kidding. One can easily tell from a cursory glance whether you are a true Berliner or merely a tourist by the colour of your clothes. In fact, the H&Ms here in Berlin even have a ‘black’ clothes section dedicated to the cause. Leave your pretty Topshop outfits behind and invest in a pair of vagabond black boots (the uglier the better) and a long black coat, and people will be mistaking you for a Berliner in no time. Besides, no one ever got into Berghain wearing colour.
2. Go Vegan
You will not find any meat lovers here in Berlin. The gloriously stodgy and hugely calorific traditional German dishes are hard to come by and typical German breweries are solely aimed for the tourists here. My strictly vegan Berlin boyfriend cannot pass a Wienerschnitzel restaurant without a look of disgust and a snide comment about ‘the Southerners’. Bonus points and looks of respect for those who order their Chai Latte’s with soya milk in cafes. I am attempting to make this change to veganism, as I will try anything once, although the pizza I enjoyed with my friends last night shall remain on the down low.
3. Drink Club-Mate
I don’t care if it tastes like stale cigarettes or has enough caffeine in it to induce a heart attack, Club-Mate is the drink of choice for Berliners. A carbonated, mate-extract beverage, Berliners drink this strange yellow liquid like it’s water, and will always have a bottle to hand in the clubs. Mix with vodka for maximum enjoyment.
4. Get a tattoo or piercing
If you really want to get the Berlin look right, taking the plunge and getting some kind of painful body accessory is probably a smart move. You will often see Berliner’s walking around with curious looking body art and a septum nose piercing really is the epitome of cool in this city. If, however, like me you don’t feel like walking around looking like a bull, a small nose stud or tragus piercing will suffice.
5. Become a techno head
I’m sorry but your Ed Sheeran album and David Guetta “Pre Drinks playlist” will simply not cut it in the techno capital of the world. Unless you want to spend your year abroad partying the night away in Matrix (which you don’t), I suggest you do your homework and research some of the infamous German techno DJ’s. Bouncers in the clubs here will often bark at you the question “Wer spielt heute?” (“Who’s playing tonight?”) and if you haven’t done your research, you’re not getting in. In fact, before a night out a friend of mine will often write up a list of the DJ’s playing in his favourite clubs. If you start to view Paul Kalkbrenner (video below) as mainstream, you’re doing it right.
6. Collect vinyl
I am yet to meet a Berliner who isn't the proud owner of a record player and an impressive selection of vinyl. Living in Kreuzberg, I am surrounded by kooky record shops and it's impossible for me not to get sucked into this trend. Not to mention, both my flatmates DJ and have a vast library of records. I may or may not be waiting for my first Technics 1210 to arrive...
7. Get involved in the nightlife
Where would Berlin be without its nightlife? Where would I be without Berlin’s nightlife? When the weekend comes Berliners put down their tools and come out to play. Partying Friday through to Sunday nonstop isn’t extreme; it’s expected. Trust me, you don’t know the true meaning of clubbing until you’re dancing to hard Techno in a former east German factory, with a sound system that makes your whole body vibrate and a dance floor filled with so much smoke you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Unfortunately, the first mission is to get past the quite frankly terrifying German bouncers and their notoriously strict door policies. My advice would be to talk in German, don’t go in groups larger than two, and wear black. Unless you’re heading to Kitkat, in which case leave your clothes at home.
If you speak German, listening to the song “Ich Will Nicht Nach Berlin” by Kraftklub will also give you some insight into how Berlin is perceived. The lyrics are very accurate! Of course, 'fitting in' is not the be all and end all of a year abroad, and it is important to remember who you are and not to do something simply for the sake of 'being cool'. Despite this daunting list and my initial culture shock, I can safely say that I have completely fallen in love with this brilliant city and there is no place in the world that I would rather spend my year abroad.