Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Six Unexpected Surprises Waiting For You In Your New Life In Berlin

Welcome to our first post in the "curiosities" section! Although we have done a little bit of research into some of the topics, this section is by no means completely factually accurate, rather a place to vent about all the weird and wonderful cultural differences we have experienced in Berlin. Here goes!

Below you will find just a few of the interesting cultural differences we picked up on in our first few weeks here in Berlin.  

A completely empty flat

Germans tend to take all their belongings with them when they move house so many a time a flat will be on the market unfurnished. Now, an unfurnished flat for me still comes with at least a fitted kitchen and light fittings. Think again! Expect an empty shell. Absolutely no furniture, no light-fittings, no bed or even a fitted kitchen in many cases. We even saw a “kitchen” with nothing, I repeat, nothing in it. Not even a sink! So, be prepared.

Unabashed public nudity

Nude sunbathing, at least topless, is normal for many Berliners (not in the winter of course) and it only takes a little bit of spring sun to get them completely out of their clothes and relaxing in the park. In fact there are some parks that are specifically allocated for this very past-time. The Tiergarten park is one such place. So, get your kit off and head to Tiergarten! (maybe do that the other way round) 

Crazy tramp-like people drinking on the streets (that may just be in Kreuzberg!)

I don’t think this is an experience that every newbie has in Berlin but, for us, it was one of our first and cherished memories. We didn’t walk around the neighbourhood much at night after that. Well, it’s not just crazy people who drink on the streets in Berlin. It is fairly common for normal people too as it is not illegal. The thing we like is that there are many shops in Kreuzberg that have benches outside. So, if you are looking for that bar terrace atmosphere without paying bar prices, these places are a great alternative. You are allowed to drink almost anywhere public even on public transport (although the laws may have changed recently) so crack open a beer and wander the streets!

The "Pfand"

Recycling of glass and plastic bottles.

Germans take their recycling very seriously. There is a huge culture of recycling especially of glass and plastic bottles. If you look carefully on the bottles there is sometimes a recycling label which tells you how much the “pfand” is. The pfand is a deposit you pay for the actual vessel aside from buying the contents. Beer bottles, for example, normally cost you 8 cents extra and some plastic bottles fetch 25 cents or even a euro. So don’t be fooled by the displayed price as the phan is normally added on when you pay. Some containers are “pfandfrei” which means you don’t pay extra but you can still recycle them.

This deposit can be claimed back when you return the bottle to a recycling-point. Most supermarkets have them, they are the plastic spinny and crunchy-sounding, hungry-looking bottle-eaters. Usually placed in a dark corner that takes you two hours to find. Beware, it can get confusing! I have had machines spit bottle back out at me in disgust! Some recycling machines don’t like glass and some are snobby and only accept containers bought at the specific supermarket (Lidl for example is one such snob).

Once you feed the machine what it wants you get a little ticket that can be used at the checkout that is then deducted from your next purchase or exchanged for cash (if you’re desperate). A note or caution, don’t go to a recycling machine with just one bottle in a busy supermarket. There is normally a queue of 50 Germans with 100 containers each. Germans WILL laugh at you for trying to skip the queue to get your 8 cents back! I still don’t fully understand the system but it is fun to see the machines eat your bottles! Where the bottles go from there….noone knows!

Credit card refusal!

This is one thing that really stumped us when we first arrived in Berlin. We didn’t have much direct cash available to us so we were planning on paying for food on credit card the first few weeks. Oooops, that didn’t go as planned. There are very few shops, bars and supermarkets that actually accept credit card payments (Kaisers and some Edeka supermarkets are the exceptions we've found). Most places only accept cash or German bank cards which are only useful inside Germany. Even German credit cards are no use in this situation. So, cash only it is then. Better get recycling those bottles for the pennies!

Corner shop beer

I love beer! There is no lack of it in Berlin either. As we mentioned in a previous point, drinking on the street is common so there are many places to buy cold beer. Every corner shop has at least 3 fridges filled with loads of different kinds of German beer (amongst some imported beers) and there are some cheap but tasty beers to try out too. Mainly, what we love about buying beer in the corner shop is that you can walk out onto the street with a freshly opened cold beer because no Berlin corner shop is complete without a bottle opener tied to the counter by a piece of string. Many shopkeeps will gladly offer to open your beer for you as you leave. Also, if you arrive with an empty bottle, your beer is a little cheaper, a reward for helping the shop with their recycling!


  1. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
    RS Glass bottle

  2. Berlin is a magic city full of new sights and sounds

  3. We had a fancy bottle of Chianti with a basket, but the glass was kind of thin and we cracked it.
    ........750ml glass bottles for sale,