BERLIN IS THE COOLEST CITY I’VE EVER BEEN TO. My first time visiting the German capital was in May over a weekend, and I fell in love with it so I decided to spend a month in the city this July. The city is full of character and it’s a place where everyone can be themselves and feel like they belong – whether it is to get electric blue and pink hair (my Bla Bla Car hosts), be an a musician that performs with masks (my flatmate), or have a face tattoo (the Berghain bouncer).
So, of course, you see plenty of peculiar but endearing things walking about Berlin, because Berliners really don’t give a sh*t about what you think.
1. Mario Pipes
Everywhere else in the world, sewage pipes belong underground out of sight and out of mind. In parts of Berlin, they run overground, flashing loud colors and begging for me to take a picture.
2. Portable Toilets on the Sidewalks
Porta-potties have a huge market in Berlin. Every other block has a portable toilet. The most common brand is Dixi, so “Dixi” is also synonymous to a portable toilet. They are usually placed there for construction workers, but I’ve seen many that are also just chilling on the streets, with no construction work in sight. I have never been brave enough to enter one of them, but hopefully their tank gets emptied out habitually…
3. People Flipping out on Sunny Days
Berlin rains 164 days in a year – 45% of the year. Its average temperature in July, the hottest month, is 18C (65F), and coldest month in January is -1C (30F). I’m pretty sure it rained more over my month in Berlin than one year in Barcelona combined. So, when the weather is nice for once, people flip out and EVERYONE is on the streets, in the park, or sitting at a restaurant terrace. Actually, for a city that has so many bad days, I’m really surprised by the prevalence of restaurant outdoor terraces… Pretty much every single restaurant has one. I love them!
4. No Green Space Left Unturned
Thanks to all the rain, the vegetation is always nice and green. Berlin is the greenest city I’ve ever been to – 35% of its space is green and devoted to parks, gardens, rivers, lakes, and more. It has more than 2,500 green spaces!!! Berliners really love their green spaces on a nice day — if it’s green, they will sit on it – whether it’s a riverbank, park, or even the sidewalk grass island…
5. Drinking Beer Everywhere
There are no open bottle laws in Berlin, so people can drink whether they want (you’re not supposed to drink on the metro, but people do anyway). You’d see people just holding a huge beer while they’re walking around alone and taking swigs out of it, as though it were water. Yes, both the guys AND the girls.
6. German birds flying onto tables
Berlin has the most daring birds (house sparrows) I’ve ever encountered in my life. They are always hoping on and off of the outdoor tables, even if you are sitting at the table, trying to steal your food. How did they become so gutsy here? Superbirds!
7. Alexanderplatz Fake Hot Dog Vendors on Wheelchairs
In Alexanderplatz, dead in the center of the city, by the S-bahn station, there are many hot dog vendors in hot dog carts built on a wheelchair. Thought it was handicap thing, until I saw two vendors stand up for a stretch and have a smoke next to their cart…
Photo Sticker Booths were popular in Asia about ten years ago, when I was in middle school. In Berlin, they have not gone out of fashion yet. These photosbooths are literally everywhere and in the most random locations.
9. Club Entry Bullcrap
Berlin’s techno clubs have the most frustrating door policy ever – that is, that the bouncer decides whether or not you get into a club and there is no stated criteria; they just feel out your vibe. You can be in line for an hour, then asked to leave the club. What an immense waste of time that makes you feel like you’re waiting to get picked by a ball team in middle school! After a couple weeks in Berlin, though, I started to feel like the “face control” was necessary. There are many tourists that come to Berlin for its legendary clubbing, and to protect the vibe of the club you just don’t want to let in people with the wrong party attitude.
10. Ubiquitous Bottle Collectors
Glass bottle collectors are omnipresent in Berlin, as you get money back from recycling (EUR 0.15-0.25 depending on the bottle). And, since everyone drinks beer everywhere in the city, many glass bottles are left discarded on the streets or outside of clubs. That’s when an old man in his shopping cart or bicycle sweeps in and collects the bottle. It’s a lot of money, to think of it…
11. Naked People
German is the nationality most comfortable with being naked in public. I witnessed this in Berghain. Though I have not seen this myself, my German friends tell me that at camping festivals like Fusion Festival, there’s only an unisex shower with no curtains, but it’s really not an issue. They said I can wear a swimsuit in, but I’d stand out as I’d be the only one…
I’m not local enough to take the naked step, but I like blogger Adam’s account of being naked in Berlin.
12. Club Mate
Instead of Red Bull, people drink Club Mate in Germany as their energy drink. It’s actually quite tasty – try it! But be careful, they’re strong and you may have trouble sleeping afterwards. So, instead of red bull vodka, people drink Club Mate vodka; instead of Jagerbombs they drop Jager in Vodka.
13. Cycling to Club
Berlin is a cycle friend city and Berliners cycle everywhere. The bicycle per capita rate is 0.7. I get a huge kick out of seeing a solitary Berliner silently bike over to the club, chain the bicycle to the fence, and slinks over to the entrance.
14. Solitary Creatures
Berliners are so cool that they are totally fine and even enjoy spending time with number 1, whether it is eating out alone, chilling in a park the whole afternoon solo, or going to a nightclub alone (again, I make reference to my Berghain experience). In my month-long tenure in Berlin, I feel that I learned so much about being true to myself and gained a lot of confidence from observing the behavior people around me.
I LOVED Berlin’s attitudes and quirks and I can’t wait till the next time I go back to discover more.