Berlin, Europe, Expat Living, Germany

10 Reasons Why Berlin Is So Cool.

April 13, 2014
Nena at Brandenburger Tor

In June of 2011, I set off on my life’s greatest adventure yet. I quit my job, sold everything I owned and moved to Berlin. I’d never been there, went alone, didn’t know the language or have the security of a full-time job.

During my 18 months in the German capital, I learned how to make friends in Berlin, established myself as a freelancer and had incredible experiences that would not have been possible back in Canada.

10 Reasons Why Berlin Is So Cool

Now at home in Toronto, I look wistfully back at my time in Berlin and realize some of the things that made Berlin so freaking cool.

Here are ten (very personal and silly) reasons that explain why Berlin’s so cool.

Berlin Loves You

1) Biergartens 

So yes, there are biergartens all over Germany, but Berlin happens to be where I got to spend time in them.

This probably means a lot more to a Canadian like me than it does to others. In Toronto, we’re really good at patios but they’re just not as cool as the biergartens in Deutschland.

To me, there’s no better way to pass a warm summer evening than drinking good beer with friends.

Berlin Biergarten

My favourite beirgartens are Prater Garten in Prenzlauer Berg and Café am Neuen See in the Tiergarten.

 2) Drinking in Public

No one cares if you drink in public and I love this! There’s such freedom in being able to drink where you want and when you want without worry of getting fined or arrested by the police (which would totally happen back home).

When I first moved to Berlin, I was shocked to see workers on the tram slinging back a beer at 4:00 p.m. Once I saw a woman on the U-Bahn drinking a beer at 10:00 a.m. on a weekday. Hardcore, yo!

I purposely had bier on public transit from time to time, just to say I did.

Berlin Bier Drinking

3)  Rent a Tram

One night, I was waiting for the M10 tram along Danzigerstr. As it approached, I noticed that it was tiny, with only one car and it didn’t stop.

To my surprise and utter delight, there were a bunch of people having a party on the tram! There was a DJ spinning tunes, people drinking, smiling, and dancing the night away. Imagine, having a party on public transit and making your way around town.

Berlin Party

Also, there are random parties on the normal trams and even in U-Bahn stations. Well known is the M10 that travels along Danzigerstr and then Warschauerstr.

These occurrences tend to happen on weekends when partygoers come together on their way out for the night. It’s basically a bunch of people drinking openly in public, when suddenly someone starts playing tunes and the tram or train station erupts into one big party.

It’s random, it’s awesome. (I can say awesome, because I’m Canadian and we say awesome a lot.)

4) Bier Bikes

Someone must have been drunk when they came up with this idea.

Want to tour Berlin in a unique fashion? Take a beer bike tour where you get a chance to drink and drive while drunkenly experiencing the most notable tourist attractions in Berlin.

I spied my first bier bike at 10:00 a.m. on a cold Saturday morning! I personally can’t think of a better way to start my day.

Bier Bike

5) Döner Kebap

A cheap Turkish eat that’s available 24 hours a day. So good but so very bad for you. It would scare you to know how many calories are packed into one of these babies: um, more than a Big Mac!

My favourite spot in Berlin is Meraba Neuland Döner, as they not only make a tasty döner but they buy their meat fresh from the organic butcher across the street.

Döners are a messy affair and it’s not recommended to eat one on the first date as I found out the hard way. My date told me that he found eating his döner in front of me a stressful ordeal. Save it for a later date, my friends!

Doner Kebab

6) Street Art

After moving to Berlin, I became a huge fan of street art. I truly believe Berlin has the best street art in the world.

Walk through any neighbourhood and you’ll see it everywhere. One of my favourite instances was when someone started leaving spray-painted red hearts all over my kiez of Prenzlauer Berg.

Berlin Street Art

7) ’90s Dance Parties.

I went to an epic ’90s dance party at the Velodrom and, believe it or not, Haddaway performed.

Thought he was dead? No, he’s alive and well. The half-German artist sang his one-hit wonder “What is Love?” around 2:00 a.m., and I danced (while laughing uncontrollably) for the entire song.

Haddaway

Berlin seems to be the place to see artists who are long past their prime. David Hasselhoff entertained fans at the East Side Gallery last year, singing “Freedom” (the song he feels made the Berlin Wall fall) while eating hamburgers (a true story).

This past summer, I even saw Nena perform “99 Red Balloons” at Brandenburger Tor at a celebration for Germany’s SPD political party.

Weird, hilarious, but also somehow cool.

8) Recycling Prowess

The Germans are a people that recycle with a vengeance. It’s a bit intimidating as an outsider to learn their system.

My apartment building had about 6 bins. One for actual garbage, another for organics, one for coloured glass, one for clear glass (why does the glass have to be separated by colour?), one for paper and a last one that I never figured out. I usually just threw in things that didn’t fit into the other categories.

Drinking is Fine

And no matter what, recycle or else. There was a time when I placed the wrong kind of paper in the paper bin and was sharply scolded by one of my neighbours!

Someone (maybe the old lady who’d lectured me?) reported me to my landlord, claiming I was not recycling at all. My landlord then called me to have a long conversation about this. Upon further discussion, we determined that it was another expat living in the building who was committing the recycling sins. I’m a good recycler, I swear!

9) New Year’s Eve

Nena at Brandenburger Tor

Berlin’s New Year’s celebrations, which Germans call Silvester, are epic in nature. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it and had the best time of my life ringing in 2012.

Early in the day on Dec 31, you suddenly start to hear loud bangs which increase in frequency as the day goes on. Although it sounds and almost feels as if you’re in a war zone, the locals are going crazy setting off fireworks. I remember walking with a friend near Alexanderplatz and having to keep running to avoid having one go off directly beside us.

At midnight, my friends and I (we’d been attending a super club event) ventured outside together to light sparklers and view the firework spectacle. People were laughing, cheering, singing, hugging, dancing and setting off fireworks from their balconies. It was amazing, surreal and so unbelievably fun! And all of this from a quiet residential street in Prenzlauer Berg.

If anyone does New Year’s Eve well, it’s Berliners.

Walking along the city streets over the next days, all you could see was the mess and litter left behind from the burnt-out firecrackers.

10) Long Days

In Toronto, it gets dark around 9:00 p.m. in the summer. In Berlin on the other hand, it stays light until about 11:00 p.m. I loved sitting outside in a biergarten, in the park or down by the Spree at a beach bar with friends, enjoying life.

Berlin Sunset

On the flip side, the sunrise happens around 4:00 a.m. I spent many a late night out (which somehow always happens in Berlin) and loved viewing the gorgeous sunrises during my drunken walks of shame home.

Personal Reflections

I know what you’re probably thinking. I like to drink, party, stay out late, eat poorly and have super bad taste in music. This may or may not be far from the truth (I’ll never tell!) but these were the things that made Berlin so cool for me.

Berliner Dom

I left Berlin just over a year ago and am such a different person now that I’m home in Toronto again. I don’t enjoy life in the way that I used to. I have a full-time job, long commute, German class twice a week (which involves homework and hours of self study) and lastly, travel blog obligations. Somewhere along the way, the fun was sucked out of my life and now I’m the most boring person I know.

I need to take my lessons learned in Berlin, apply them to my life here and really start living. Perhaps the answer is moving back!?

For now, my top ten list above explains the reasons why I love Berlin. I’ll be back someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.

What Do You Think?

Have you been to Berlin? Do you love it as much as I do? Tell me why you love Berlin in the comments below.

I think I’m going to turn this into an ongoing series. There are tons of other reasons why I think Berlin is so cool and I can’t wait to build further on this post!  I may also include some of your comments or suggestions.

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26 Comments

  • Reply Julia April 13, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Having visited Germany a couple of times, and Berlin for the first time in December, I agree with all of these!

    I loved the Turkish food in Berlin and had one of the best falafel kebabs for a ridiculously cheap price. I also agree wholeheartedly about the beer gardens – they are so much fun. I just moved to Amsterdam and one thing I’ve always loved about the place is the light nights – definitely looking forward to them in the summer!

  • Reply Cheryl Howard April 13, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Hey Julia –

    Thanks for your kind comment.

    There is really great Turkish food to be had there. I miss that a lot, for sure.

    And the biergartens and the beer! Ha ha … although the craft brewery scene in Toronto’s pretty good too.

    Congrats on the move to Amsterdam. That’s another city where I would not mind living. 🙂

    Cheryl

  • Reply kami April 14, 2014 at 4:51 AM

    I’ve been visiting Berlin at least twice a year and have been living there for a while back in 2007. And I just have to agree with everything you wrote! I’d maybe only add the alternative vibe in the city that makes it super cool too! Great post! 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard April 14, 2014 at 11:30 AM

      Hey Kami,

      It’s hard not to love Berlin. And yes, the alternative vibe is definitely another reason that makes it so cool.

      Cheryl

  • Reply Harry April 14, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    Hey Cheryl,

    I too spent a lot of time living in Germany, about 18 months between Cologne, Bonn, and Muenster. I have to say that my top 10 list would probably match yours. It’s still a dream of mine to get back to Germany and spend some solid time there. If you even happen to make it to NYC shoot me an email! I love hearing the good stories other people have about Germany.

    Tschuss!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard April 15, 2014 at 12:46 PM

      Hi there Harry,

      Thanks for your comment! So kind. I hope we both make it back to DE someday and for sure, if I’m ever in New York, I’ll let you know!

      Cheryl

  • Reply Cathy Sweeney April 14, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    I’ve only spent a little time in Berlin on two trips, but I love what I know of it and I’m eager to get back. It would be so fun to rent a tram – I hadn’t known that before. I can understand how you’re feeling back home in Toronto when it seems that your love is for Berlin. I think you’ll be resolving that issue soon — either applying your Berlin lessons in Toronto or moving back. You’ll know what to do.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard April 15, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      Thanks for your kind comment Cathy! Yeah, I just need to find a way to strike balance I guess. Anyway, I’ll be in Berlin for a short vacay over the next couple of months so at least I can get my fix. 🙂

  • Reply Tam April 15, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    We visited Berlin for the first time in March and fell in love with the city. We were amazed at how quiet the streets were to wander around on a Saturday morning; I think it was nearly lunchtime before we saw civilisation! Staying in Mitte we were able to explore the historical centre quite leisurely whilst still being close to nearly all other areas thanks to the great transport links. We will definitely be returning 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard April 15, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      Thanks Tam. I know that feeling well. 🙂

      Hmm, it’s usually quite a busy place even early in the morning. I guess it all depends on where you are in the city.

  • Reply Kemkem April 16, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    I love this post. I’m sure since they have 90’s dance parties, they must have 80’s parties somewhere! I would love to see Nina Hagen and Kraftwerk. I can’t wait to experience the beer gardens in June when we will be there for a week. We ended up visiting Budapest for only 4 days despite my telling my hubby that 1 week would be better. He regretted not listening to me as we barely scratched the surface, he didn’t even get to go to the Baths. Now, we are looking to go back soon. I didn’t tell him that Berlin was for a week till l had booked the tickets! He said there wouldn’t be enough to do, l said..”I’ll check Cheryl’s, Oneika and Adam’s blogs and we’ll be fine”!!!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard April 16, 2014 at 11:31 AM

      Thank you Kemkem! The biergartens are lovely, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them very much. 🙂

      Too bad you didn’t stay in Budapest longer. Just means you have to go back now.

      And thanks for being such a fan of the blog. I’m honoured! 🙂

  • Reply Melissa @ Suitcase and Heels May 5, 2014 at 8:57 PM

    Berlin sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it lately: how it’s very artistic and hip and also expat/freelancer friendly. I’m going to have to visit soon.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard May 6, 2014 at 9:45 PM

      Berlin is a whole LOT of fun, Melissa. 🙂

      I’d say it’s somewhat expat and freelancer friendly. It’s not as easy to live there as many come to Berlin thinking. The bureaucracy is tough to navigate, taxes are high, you need to know German. However, it’s not impossible provided you do it right and you have a good attitude. 🙂

  • Reply Maja May 6, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    I love Berlin too! I am quite often there and hopefully will move there soon. I always have the impression that Berliners are so relaxed, they love sitting in Biergartens and cafes or bars. Berlin lives on the street! It is also a very friendly city for vegans (I became vegan couple months ago and explore this new world now 🙂
    I liked your post about making friends in Berlin. Maybe it will be helpful for me soon 🙂

    Greetings
    Maja (Poznan, Poland)

    • Reply Cheryl Howard May 6, 2014 at 9:48 PM

      Hi Maja! Well, you don’t have far to come if you’re only coming from Poznan. 🙂

      I also heard that Berlin is a mecca for vegans. If you’d like some tips about restaurants and such, pls send me an email.

      I wish you all the best in your move to Berlin. I bet you’ll make tons of friends.

  • Reply Veronika June 16, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    Hey Cheryl,

    Great post..! I’m putting together something similar for my blog 🙂 I’m glad there are still people who love Berlin and think it’s still one of the coolest places on Earth. I don’t agree with the US press saying that Berlin’s over!
    I also love to visit Berlin often, but it’s easier for me from Prague!
    Anyway, keep enjoying travelling and good luck on staying in Berlin more! 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 16, 2014 at 12:14 PM

      Hey Veronika,

      Thanks for dropping by! Glad you enjoyed the post and even better to know there are some other Berlin lovers out there as well.

      I’ll be back to Berlin in 6 weeks. I’m also slowly working to move back but for now, I’ll just enjoy the occasional visit. 🙂

      And PS – feel free to link to any of my Berlin posts. 😉

  • Reply Emilio June 26, 2014 at 5:50 AM

    Tons of stereotypes about Berlin and his hype. You need to be pretty provincial to find a Biergarten and even a Kebap a kind of “cool” and “hype” stuff.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard June 26, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Hey Emilio –

      Why so negative? Lighten up. 🙂

      I lived in Berlin for some time and know what’s it like there. From my perspective, these are some of the things that make Berlin cool. Maybe you have different reasons but regardless, we’re all welcome to our own opinions.

      Cheers,
      Cheryl

  • Reply Laura July 16, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    We absolutely love Berlin and agree with all of these reasons! Would love to live there 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard July 16, 2014 at 9:09 PM

      Berlin is forever in my heart. I want to move back!

  • Reply Anastasia March 6, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Lovely stumbling on your blog Cheryl, since I’m frantically attempting to prepare myself for the move to Berlin next month. Even though I’ll be moving with my german lawfully wedded partner in crime, it’s still quite an adventure! I’m not estranged from expat experiences, having moved alone to the UK from Russia six years ago, but it’s nice to read through your experiences, seeing things to look out for and have a glimpse of what it’s like there since, naturally, every place is different. Wishing you the best on your adventures, wherever you are now.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard March 7, 2015 at 4:25 AM

      Hi Anastasia –

      Sounds like a fun new adventure for you and your husband! Congrats and all the best with your move. 🙂

      I am back in Berlin now (for just over three months) and am enjoying every moment of my new life.

      Cheryl

  • Reply Maria Aman March 26, 2015 at 3:49 AM

    LOVE LOVED this post!! So true… I was in Berlin only one week and most of these still applied to my visit. Currently looking for employment there (reading up on your latest post about finding work) , hopefully I find something! Keep up the great work!

    Cheers,

    Maria

    • Reply Cheryl Howard March 26, 2015 at 10:37 PM

      Hey Maria – heartwarming to read that you liked this post so much. I’m blushing. 😉

      Good luck on your quest to find work! Hope that my blog provides some useful information.

      Cheryl

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