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What it’s Really Like to Live in Berlin

by Kayla Klaus

Living in Berlin has been an experience like no other. The city is so large, so diverse, and so exciting. You can never run out of things to do with the endless amounts of museums, historical sites, and events. Although I could go on for hours about the many sites to see and things to do, in this post I want to give you all a little glimpse of what it’s like to live in Berlin.

First of all, something to know about Berlin is that the city is a state within Germany and therefore has its own flag. On that flag is a bear, which originates from one of the earliest city seals of Berlin. In 2001, the city held an art contest where each artist had to paint a Berlin “Buddy Bear.” Since then, you can find various bears all around the city, each decorated differently. It’s a lot of fun to spot the different ones and snap a quick picture before moving on.

Another thing about Berlin is that they, along with the rest of the country, are environmentally conscious. If you want to fit in while visiting Germany then you should definitely partake in recycling. German recycling often consists of dividing garbage up into 4-5 sections: paper, plastic/packaging, light glass, dark glass, and restmüll – or regular garbage. When living in Germany for any period of time, you should try to adhere to the German “garbage rules,” as I like to call them. You’ll definitely feel good about saving the environment.

A random native recently told me that Berlin is the City of Thieves. Although this may be true in some ways, as pickpocketing is quite common in all major cities, I see Berlin instead as a City of History. It was of major importance in World War II and the Cold War, so while walking around I’ve found myself surrounded by tons and tons of history. For instance, if I turn right out of my apartment building and walk down the street for five minutes, not only do I pass the demarcation of where the wall used to be, but I also pass a few Stolpersteine. Literally translated to tripping stones, Stolpersteine are small gold blocks in the ground that serve as reminders of Holocaust victims – the former residents of the buildings they lie outside of. All of these little historical details are what make the Berlin experience for me.

Of course, I can’t talk about Berlin without mentioning food. There are a wide variety of food options available around the city. You can choose from traditional German schnitzel (meat) and kartoffeln (potatoes) at one of the many biergartens, or you can try the very popular Turkish specialty, the döner kebab. But if you want to eat something authentically from Berlin, you definitely need to try currywurst. This meal is so popular that you can practically find it anywhere in the city. Currywurst is a bratwurst, or sausage, cut into small bite-sized pieces covered in special ketchup and curry seasoning. It’s usually served with French fries, or pommes, as they call them in Germany. Although it’s not the healthiest option, I would definitely choose currywurst over a cheeseburger any day.

One aspect of Berlin culture that is may not be quite as well know is the graffiti and street art. It all started with the Berlin Wall. The West Berliners used the wall as a medium to paint on to express their feelings about the division of Germany and to improve the eyesore. This artistic culture has continued in Berlin since then and now around almost every corner you can find either interesting works of graffiti or huge murals on the side of tall buildings. AIFS took us on a graffiti and street art tour in Berlin to learn about the different artists and types of graffiti and street art. In light of that tour, I now realize that you can chose to see the city in one of two ways:

  1. You can chose to see the graffiti as an eyesore that makes the city look more urban and rundown.
  2. You can choose to see the street art and graffiti as a part of the culture of Berlin, and appreciate it for what it is: art.

Another thing I’ll say about life in Berlin is this: most Berliners speak English. There is always a big fear when traveling to a foreign country as to whether or not you will be able to communicate with the locals. Since Berlin is such a diverse city, many locals speak English, and they probably speak better English than me sometimes. If you ever want to study abroad in Berlin or just visit, not to worry, you will be able to communicate with little to no problem.

I hope this post has provided window into life in Berlin. As a country girl living in a big city, I can honestly say that I am really enjoying it here and I hope you can see why.

This post was contributed by Kayla Klaus, who is spending her summer studying abroad with AIFS in Berlin, Germany.

What it's Really Like to Live in Berlin | AIFS Study Abroad

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