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A taste of Berlin – Our first impressions

A taste of Berlin – Our first impressions

Last Updated on March 10, 2022

Over the last couple of years, it seemed like everyone was raving about Berlin. Fellow travelers were stopping there for a few weeks or a few months at a time and we started to feel a strange pull to the German capital, as well. But did we really need to go to Berlin now?

Dani is from Germany. Even if we don’t permanently settle, there is always plenty of time to go to Berlin in the future. Why spend the summer there now? Just because it felt like everyone else was?

Plus, neither of us had really loved Berlin the last time we were there. Granted, this was in 2004, nearly a decade ago and we weren’t even together then. Back and forth, should we go, should we not – we toyed with the idea for ages.

Why not spend the summer in Greece (shouldn’t every nomad live on a Greek island just once?) or somewhere in Spain? On the water, somewhere relaxing and romantic? In the end, however, Berlin pulled us there with this pulsing magnetism she seems to have at the moment. Those five weeks ended up being the perfect summer getaway for us and the best choice we could have made.

berlin sunsetWe immediately felt like this was a city we belonged in, and we never stopped moving the whole time we were in town. It took a while, but we have finally processed it and are sharing with you here those first impressions we had of Berlin, and a few Berlin facts that were new to us / surprised us.

We compiled this list of our initial impressions of the city over a lazy brunch one of our first mornings in Berlin:

berlin breakfast

One of many wonderful Berlin breakfasts

1. Berlin is green

A city of 3.3 million people could be covered in cement, but Berlin is one of the greenest cities we have ever visited. The beauty is not just about all the sprawling parks and open spaces, but how the people use these spaces to relax and enjoy the fresh air that really struck us as interesting.

berlin facts

Tiergarten, Berlin’s biggest park, from above

2. Berlin is alternative

To anyone who has been to Berlin, this is as obvious as saying the sky is blue, but in Berlin, alternative is the new normal. There are so many ways to be alternative and in Berlin you find them all. Artists, writers, creative types, punks, hipsters, foreigners, intellectuals, hooligans, you name it and that subculture probably exists in Berlin. Fiddle-playing Spanish monks – there is probably a club night just for them somewhere in the city.

berlin kapitalismus zerstoert

3. Berlin feels significant

No matter how of-the-moment this alternative culture feels, it is impossible not to be constantly aware of the significant historical moments that took place and all that these city streets have seen.

berlin wall bernauer strasse 1961

A reminder of the beginning of the wall construction in 1961

4. Berlin is divided

Most obviously, Berlin is the home of the Berlin Wall – this city was once home to two entirely different countries. And yes, we all know that only-in-Germany famous American celebrity who sang as the wall fell and unified the city. Today it is a sprawling metropolis, but east and west Berlin are architecturally and culturally distinct – the attitudes of the people who are drawn to the neighborhoods on either side is impossible to ignore.

berlin wall

5. Berlin is full of flavor

Eat Vietnamese for lunch, Sushi for dinner and have Thai and Indian tomorrow. Shop at the Turkish market or eat Doner Kebabs every day but no matter which cuisine we seem to find, it’s always prepared authentically and full of flavor.

diverse food

6. Berlin is bike-friendly.

Amsterdam still tops European cities in terms of sheer numbers of cyclists, but Berliners cycle by the thousands down wide bike lanes. There are plenty of places to lock your bike, pedestrians and cars respect your right of way and expect you to respect theirs and bikes are welcome on public transport – for when it rains or you’ve just ridden too far that day.

berlin jess cycling

7. Berlin is an island

Put simply, Berlin is an unGerman city surrounded by Germany on all sides, like Lesotho and South Africa. In Berlin, you hear more English than German on the streets, almost never eat German food, and find a default positive attitude not found in other parts of the country. Fact: Berlin is by far the most diverse city in Germany.

das ist so berlin

That’s so Berlin!

8. Berlin is cheap

Although locals will tell you gentrification is ruining the city, our rent was only €550 for the five weeks we stayed in Berlin, lunch specials were always under €5, a large bottle of beer in the supermarket is €0.65 and this giant brunch we ate as we wrote this was €10 each – including baskets of good bread, slices of cheese, cubes of cheese, cheese spreads, eggs, salads, juice and coffee.

Cheap market finds

2 boxes of strawberries for €1, a watermelon for €2, a box of kakis for €2 – just a few of the cheap market finds in Berlin Kreuzberg

9. Berlin juxtaposes old and new brilliantly

How one city can be so cutting edge on the one hand, and yet so entirely connecting to history on the other is fascinating. How often these two things happen within one photo frame, even more so.

berlin cathedral and tv tower

10. Berlin is Fun

No matter what you call fun, Berlin has it. Clubs are open 24 hours (if that’s your thing), you can sign up for a Trabi Safari and cruise around in a typical East German Trabant car. Quirky shops, independent museums with odd collections, markets, Sunday funday karaoke in front of thousands, laying on a river bank all afternoon drinking beers with friends, playing mini-golf just off the 5km landing strip at a decommissioned airport in the center of the city – there is an intellectual sense of humor and joie de vivre in Berlin unlike most other cities in the world.

Berlin fun

11. Berliners seem to have a lot of free time

There are downsides to Berlin, one of which is sky-high unemployment rates. Many people live ‘on the dole’ here, and gladly it would seem. But because Berlin is also a place where artists, musicians, designers, media folks and entrepreneurs all call home, there are so many people wandering the streets at all times of day, it seems like there are endless amounts of free time to be enjoyed in the city.

Spree River Beach

12. Berlin is gritty

This goes along with being unGerman. Unlike other cities, like Munich – where you could eat your bratwurst off the street, Berlin has it’s dark and gritty sides. There are still lots of abandoned buildings and many in need of restoration. Often times, a beautiful cafe or concert space sits behind one of these abandoned looking buildings, too, so you come face to face with the grit, rather than it being relegated to a certain area of town.
berlin facts

Have you been to Berlin? What were your impressions? Got any Berlin facts to share? Share in the comments below!

Stella

Monday 10th of August 2015

Yeah I`ve been there like a thousand times and I still find everytime new places and things changes so quick there. i`m german and you really got berlin :-) Great

Love Stella

http://www.aheartforfashion.com

Adrienne @ AdrienneAway

Friday 13th of June 2014

Berlin looks super cool! Definitely on my list of places to go next.

Dany

Tuesday 17th of June 2014

YES!! You'll have to let me know when you make it there; if I'm there, too, I'd love to show you around!

A new chapter | GlobetrotterGirls

Thursday 1st of May 2014

[…] March, I returned to Berlin, a city Jess and I had chosen as a potential future base for the two of us after falling in love […]

Nicole @ Vegan Nom Noms

Tuesday 25th of March 2014

Hah, I must have been living in Berlin too long because I read 550 EUR rent and thought, "ahh so high!" I think I'll never be able to go to a high rent city again, I'm spoiled now. When I hear my friends in NYC or the Bay Area tell me their rents it stops my heart for a second, hah.

Dani

Wednesday 2nd of April 2014

Well, the apartment we stayed in is actually 400 per month and having looked at apartments in Berlin for the last month I have to say that they've got a pretty sweet deal!! Rent seems to have gone up like crazy over the last couple of years!! Still amazingly cheap compared to London, our last permanent base :)

Sebastian

Saturday 7th of December 2013

I love the alternative vibe that Berlin has and for me as a very creative, chaotic and alternative (in one word: untypical) german who loves to write and who dreams of a nomadic lifestyle this city is just perfect to find like minded people.

"Berlin is an unGerman city surrounded by Germany". With this sentence you described why I love Berlin so much. It is not typical German and therefore a nice place to live (hey, I am allowed to say that as a German ;-) )

As I lived in South East Asia and currently in London I could never imagine myself to live in another city of my home country than in Berlin.