Spend any time here and you’ll know that Berlin has a pretty unique soul. Unusually for a capital city, it’s not the nation’s financial hub – that’s Frankfurt’s crown. Instead, Berlin’s identity is shaped by its diplomatic and cultural status and the monumental ravages of 20th-century history.
In terms of lifestyle, it’s less about a harassed commute to your stressful banking job (although there are undoubtedly some of those), and more about taking the time and space to enjoy some good old-fashioned quality of life – even if you are completely broke.
There’s also a certain attitude and aesthetic one can’t fail to notice among the young folk, so if you’re keen to pass yourself off as the real deal, here’s our guide on how to be a Berliner.
1. Get yourself a bike
Some cities are just made for cycling. Berlin, with its wide roads, proper cycle lanes, canalside paths and plentiful parks, is one such city. Biking through the leafy summer streets becomes a truly magical pastime in itself, with day trips to lakes and festivals an integral part of life. Just don’t get too sloshed to cycle home.
2. Be casual
Eagle-eyed visitors will start to spot a distinct look amongst established Berliners. The idea is to remain understated at all times, emanating an effortless cool in trainers, T-shirts and some ‘90s vintage. A sizeable proportion of your clothes should be black, obviously.
3. Take your time
If you’ve experienced life in Paris, London or any other hectic city, you’ll be accustomed to impatiently jostling for pavement space and cramming yourself onto public transport each morning. None of that in Berlin. For a start, the roads are wide and there is space for everyone. What’s more, Berliners actually seem to have time to wait for the green man before they cross the road – an infectious habit which says a lot about the optimal pace of life here.
4. Don’t bat an eyelid at anything, ever
There’s an unwritten code in Berlin that pretty much anything goes. Whether it’s a drunk lady shouting on the U-Bahn or a gaggle of resplendent drag queens striding past the bus stop, the correct response is….not to bat an eyelid. Seriously, just let people do their thing and carry on with yours.
5. Späti beers + Pfand culture
If you don’t know what a Späti is yet, you’re in for a treat. These ubiquitous establishments sell the usual corner-shop fare, but the reason they’re worth mentioning here is that they also provide some no-frills pavement seating – perfect for people-watching when you’re on a budget. Grab yourself a beer and hang out with some randoms. And when you’ve finished said beer, remember to leave the bottle somewhere accessible so a Pfand collector can pick it up for a few extra cents. It’s a great and efficient system with no discernible downsides.
6. Make your voice heard
Political expression has become a vital part of Berlin’s post-reunification identity. Rarely a day goes by without a demo, large or small, for which streets are closed and people are actively engaged and prepared. The most significant protests are usually held in the city centre near Brandenburger Tor or other historic landmarks, adding a gravitas that feels fitting. Make yourself a banner and fight the good fight.
7. Go clubbing on a Sunday afternoon
This one might take a little getting used to, but the peak cool time to go for a dance in Berlin is actually on a Sunday, in the daytime. Whether you’re up bright and early to beat the queues at Sisyphos or saving yourself for the legendary Sunday evening Berghain slot, you’re in for a hedonistic treat that’ll feel even more wild because you should be at work tomorrow.
8. Learn how to order a kebab
There is no better way to end (or begin) a Berlin night than with one of the city’s excellent kebab offerings. Whether you’re a schawarma, döner or falafel person, there’s something to suit every taste. Just make sure you learn how to say ‘no onions, please’ in German.
9. Get used to lake swimming
If you’ve never swum butt-naked in a cool, tree-lined lake when it’s 37°C, you’re really missing out. Heading to one of the Berlin’s many natural bathing spots is an essential weekend activity during the sweltering summer months, with families arriving early to nab a secluded little spot by the water. It’s also a far nicer way to get some after-work exercise than the gym, and it’s free.
10. Be OK in your own company
There’s something about Berlin’s relaxed, nonchalant attitude that encourages its residents to enjoy moments of solitude. In a city that doesn’t judge or speculate, people can often be found sipping coffee, reading a book, or even going clubbing on their own. It feels like a perfectly natural thing to do and is, ironically, a great way to make new friends.