Lauren is a third year English Language and Literature student currently spending her Erasmus year in the endlessly fun and cosmopolitan Berlin, Germany. Despite having very little prior knowledge of the German language, only German history, she is thoroughly enjoying learning it in no other place than the capital city itself. For Lauren, Berlin is the gateway not just to Germany but to Europe and she intends to visit as many places as possible before she has to settle down for fourth year. Lauren’s interests include taking walks by herself to discover hidden gems, photography (at least an attempt at it), eating an unhealthy amount of chocolate and being a coffee snob.
So I’m studying English in Berlin, Germany. Ironic I know, If I had a pound (or a euro rather) for every time someone laughed or sarcastically commented on the absurdity of such a thing, I would probably have enough money to pay for all my flights home for the year. Truth be told, I did not sign up for a year abroad in Berlin to enrich my knowledge of English, that would just be ridiculous, but rather to actually experience and enjoy life for once, without being in a constant state of stress from looming essay deadlines and exams. Having the freedom to do what you want without the feeling of guilt for not being in the library 24/7 is something I’ve personally needed for such a long time and I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my year procrastinating, enjoying myself and enveloping myself in the German way of life.
I’ve been here for just over six weeks now and needless to say I have come across some interesting cultural differences in both my student life at Leeds and the UK in general. One would presume that Germany’s culture and in particular life in Berlin would be similar to ours, considering the city is so diverse and multicultural. On the one hand, I can say that I feel more at home here than I would do living in the hustle and bustle of London (since I’m a northern girl). However, there are some bizarre things that I have encountered in my short time here:
1) German Efficiency is a myth!
I don’t know if this can be extended to the whole of Germany or if it is specific to Berlin, but whoever came up with the stereotypical phrase that German’s are efficient was clearly drunk. Admittedly apart from the transport, which most of the time you cannot fault, everything else takes 3 longer to sort out than in the UK. Also, there is SO SO MUCH PAPERWORK! It is essential that everybody must register at the town hall to acquire an ‘anmeldung’ and you need it for pretty much everything. You have two choices, either wait for two months for an appointment and be cut off from everyday civilization, or alternatively you can die of boredom and wait in a queue for 3 hours at an ungodly time in the morning. Fortunately I was an exception to this rule as I sauntered in and got an appointment straight away. My form was in English and I managed to speak to somebody who understood English. Needless to say everybody envied my good fortune, especially one friend who queued for 3 hours only to be shouted at in German and told she needed to go home. Queuing in the cold for at least an hour is a common theme here, usually to be told ‘you can’t do that here’ or you will have to return at the most awkward and ridiculous time!
2) If anybody has a problem with you, you WILL know about it!
Again, I’ve been told that this only applies to Berlin and not the rest of Germany. If somebody has an issue with you whether that be biting your nails or turning the light on in your apartment building by mistake, they will scream at you uttering their dismay at your ‘life choices.’ I was personally almost reduced to tears whilst trying to get a German Sim card and phone by the lady who worked in the shop. I attempted to explain in broken German (at least I tried my best) what exactly I needed and I was met with such hostility, even after waiting (again) for about half an hour. Sometimes I do understand that honesty is the best policy, however I just can’t get used to this directness. In Britain, if we have a problem with someone what do we do? We politely keep it to our ourselves or mutter something under our breath, hoping they will telepathically know they’ve annoyed us.
3) Under no circumstance step in the bike lane unless you have a death wish!
Another situation in which you will inevitably be shouted is if you accidently step into the bike lane, even by a millimetre. I learnt the hard way in my first week because it happened to me several times. I can now safely say I am going to hold a grudge against cyclists for the rest of my life. Even if you don’t inadvertently stray into the bike lane it seems every cyclist seems to have a hidden agenda of wanting to run over any pedestrian they see.
4) Knocking on the table after every lecture and seminar
Another bizarre situation I have encountered is that German students knock on the table in unison after every lecture and seminar, even if it was a terrible one. I personally still don’t understand what it means, but I reluctantly join in anyway to fit in (not that my Mancunian accent is enough to give my real identity away) and show that I am prepared to embrace their strange customs.
5) Nobody cares what you look like
A huge plus of living in Berlin is that everyone is allowed to be their own person and whoever you are, you are socially accepted. If you want to walk down the street with a green Mohawk and a metallic cat suit on then you can and no one will bat an eyelid. They truly are accepting of most things here, even the homeless are respected, they are not shunted along by uncaring police officers. Instead they are allowed to create their own communities mostly by the S and U bahn stops, obviously the situation is upsetting but they really make the best out of a bad situation. They are also honest with what they require money for, by posting signs such as ‘for weed and beer’.
6) The clubs are pretty pretentious..but…
Although in one respect going out here is a real pain due to their pretentious door policies in that you ‘have’ to be 21 and have the right ‘look’! When you actually get in and have reached the Holy Grail you will always have an amazing night as the clubs here have a care-free atmosphere and everybody is there to just have a good time and dance to the music. Most places ban you from using your phones, as photography isn’t allowed. In a way I feel like this should also be implemented in clubs in England. Just think of how much time you probably spend on a night out taking pictures or videoing one of your favourite DJs, we all do it. I’ll openly admit I’m guilty of it. Here they want you to be in the moment with yourself and the people you are with, which makes for such an amazing atmosphere.
Although I’ve spent most of this blog talking about some of the weird and wonderful cultural differences that I’ve experienced so far, I have never felt more at home and safe here. When you think about how much Berlin has progressed in the past 70 years or so and how accepting they are of everybody now, anything goes. The rest of the world needs to take a leaf out of Berlin’s book. It has everything here, history, art, and an amazing music and nightclub scene like no other city I know, the food is great and it’s ridiculously cheap. Also, the city has dogs, literally everywhere and the best part is that they are allowed in the workplace, restaurants and shops with you. Any city that loves Dogs gets my vote! There is nothing more that you could ask from a capital city and I would choose to live here for the rest of my life, over London any day.
‘Das ist so Berlin….’