Things Berlin Tourists Should Avoid When They Visit – Estimated reading time: 16 minutes
Berlin is renowned for being one of the coolest capitals in Europe, if not the world. From the nightlife where parties last for days, to the international food scene, massive number of parks, (mostly) efficient public transit system, numerous museums, fascinating history, and it’s relative affordability compared to other major cities – all of these things combined make Berlin one compelling place to visit, never mind live.
Things Berlin Tourists Should Avoid When They Visit
As a visitor to Berlin, it might feel overwhelming knowing how to approach your time in the city, such as where to go and what to do, and even more importantly, which things to avoid. Lucky for you, us locals have tons of advice we’re happily willing to dispense.
Read on to find out all of the things Berlin tourists should avoid when they’re on vacation in Germany.
1) Buying drugs from anyone at a club or bar, Görlitzer Park, Warschauer Brücke, or anywhere else.
We know that some of you want to live out some wild travel bucket list dream where you go clubbing, dance your heart out, and get high, but it’s especially irresponsible to consume illegal drugs when visiting a foreign country. No one wants to end up like this woman who overdosed on Ecstasy after a night of clubbing. Have all the fun, but be careful.
2) Walking in the bike lanes.
I was guilty of this when I first came to Berlin. Coming from Toronto, which isn’t the world’s most bike friendly city, I truly lacked awareness that I was walking in a place reserved for those on two wheels. Stick to the sidewalks or expect some stern lectures from locals. Berliners really love to tell people off and inform them of the correct ways to do things. So avoid a public reprimand and if you plan to cycle your way around the city, brush up on the local cycling practices.
3) Complaining that you didn’t get into Berghain.
This popular club, dubbed as one of the coolest clubs in the world, is notoriously difficult to gain admittance to – especially for Berlin tourists. You can try whatever the local blogs tell you like wearing black clothing from head to toe, refraining from speaking, keeping a straight face, coming alone, arriving sober, memorizing the club’s playlist in advance etc. but chances are, they’re going to refuse you entry. Don’t worry about it too much, as most of us can’t get in either. It’s just one of those “Berlin things”. Take yourself to any other club around the city and have a way better time or if you’re really evil like me, stand off to the side, and watch people get rejected one after another. It’s really quite comical.
4) Expecting that you can use your credit or bank cards everywhere.
Germany is a cash loving country and many places won’t accept plastic. Get yourself to an ATM and load up on Euros.
Pro tip – try to get smaller bills, as sometimes shop owners or taxi drivers won’t take large bills (anything over €20).
5) Visiting places like Kit Kat, Insomnia, or even Berghain and not being respectful of the people or the space.
Despite what many newbies to Berlin think, these clubs aren’t for tourists to come and stare at the occupants like they would animals in a zoo. They’re safe spaces for open and like-minded people who want to be there and can handle being there. Expect to see naked people, some of whom may be having sex. Don’t gawk, make jokes at their expense, or walk around taking photos. If there’s a dress code (think leather, ball gowns, and general naughty wear), adhere to it, as jeans and a t-shirt won’t suffice.
Most importantly, don’t automatically assume everyone wants to have sex with you. Want to touch someone who is rather sexy looking? Want to jump into another couple’s hot action? Wait to be invited or ask for permission. If they say no, move on. Likewise, you can can turn down people who approach you.
Know that it’s entirely possible you could spend the whole in a sex club and not get lucky at all.
Staying in Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, going to English-speaking hip restaurants and bars which are identical to those in London or New York, waiting in line for a Döner at Mustafa’s after a night out, and then saying you have seen Germany 😉
— Chris Begley (@BegleyChris) August 15, 2019
6) Taking selfies or conducting impromptu fashion shoots at the Holocaust Memorial.
More things Berlin tourists should not do is this. It’s not only vain, it’s completely disrespectful to the people who were impacted by the tragedy of the second world war. Also, don’t jump along the top of the stones or sit on them. It’s a poignant memorial to people who died in a massive genocide, not a jungle gym. Can you imagine how it may feel for people visiting the memorial for deeper and meaningful reasons? Don’t be that person.
Pro tip – take this advice and apply it to any memorial you’re visiting around Berlin, be it the Berlin Wall Memorial, the concentration camp in Oranienburg, etc.
7) Riding public transit without paying for or validating your ticket.
Public transit operates on an honour system in Berlin and you can easily board most vehicles without proving you purchased a ticket. While this system may seem lax, there are controllers who roam the city and levy fines on those who have not paid for or validated their tickets. Ignorance is not an excuse and it doesn’t give you a right to abuse the controllers. Be kind to them, as they’re doing their job and if you get a fine, either pay for it or contest it later on as you see fit.
We know that public transit can be overwhelming for newbies – for help, check the BVG website, use tickets machines and switch to your local language before starting your purchase, and failing that, ask locals for help. You can also download and use the BVG app to buy tickets ahead of your journey.
8) Complaining when people smoke in bars, at beer gardens, and wherever else.
Inhaling second hand smoke blown out of the mouth of another human isn’t nice at all, but making a big fuss about it and bothering other people doesn’t help either. Despite laws against smoking in public, Berliners continue to staunchly cling to their smoking ways inside bars and clubs, outdoors at beer gardens and concerts, and … pretty much everywhere. We know it sucks and maybe it’s better for your health to you speak your mind, but do so at your own risk – there are hardcore smokers in this city who who take their “rights” to smoke rather seriously.
Pro tip – Fret not, there are also plenty of non-smoking venues across the city – get started by searching through this Facebook group for inspiration.
9) Staying at an Airbnb or some other holiday flat.
You may think it’s your right to travel how you like, but companies like Airbnb are doing irreparable damage to Berlin. Greedy investors have snapped up thousands of apartments throughout the city for the sole purposes of renting them out to tourists. The money they make from a holiday flat is far higher than that they’d make from renting out to Berliners. This issue has contributed to locals being evicted out of their homes and robbed many more of us with affordable places to live.
Be a responsible traveller and one of those good Berlin tourists and stay at a hotel or hostel instead. Check out these hotels in Berlin Mitte to get started.
10) Queuing to buy a mediocre Döner at Mustafa’s with hundreds of other tourists.
Every guidebook out there will tell you that no visit to Berlin would be complete without visiting Mustafas to feast on a Döner. Their Döners are good, but they aren’t that good and are certainly not worth waiting for in line for an hour or more.
There are plenty of other places around the city that offer up equal or better tasting treats. Check out local blog, Berlin Food Stories to get started. Even better, ask locals for their recommendations as most of us have strong opinions about where to get the best Döner in town.
Thinking that a flat they rented for the weekend /week is the right place to have a party.
— BerlinCompanion (@kreuzberged) August 15, 2019
11) Renting a bike or scooter and riding on the sidewalk when there’s a bike lane.
If you rent a bike or a scooter when you’re in Berlin, familiarize yourself with German biking laws before you set out on your journey. Whenever possible, use the bike lanes and if you feel you absolutely need to use the sidewalk, do so with the utmost care and respect for pedestrians. Don’t ride with a companion side-by-side. Refrain from ringing your bell to urge people to get out of your way or yell at them when they’re slowing you down.
As with walking in the bike lanes, if you ride your bike on the sidewalk, you’re once again opening yourself up for people to yell at you for not obeying the law.
12) Refusing to speak even the teeniest tiniest bit of German.
“Hallo”, “danke”, and “bitte” can go a long way to make your stay in Berlin all the more pleasant (check out this article for some basic German language tips). Don’t expect everyone to speak English. Contrary to what some local blogs or Youtubers may tell you, many people only speak German in Germany.
Some other tips? Not all restaurants will have menus in languages other than German. Use Google Translate and don’t ask the server to explain everything to you. Whatever you do, if you encounter a German person who doesn’t speak your language, don’t speak slowly or more loudly and keep on repeating what you’re saying. Again turn to the Google Translate app or ask around if anyone knows English. In most cases, there will be someone who’s all too happy to help you out.
13) Talking loudly in public and letting everyone know your business.
Some Berlin tourists visit the German capital and speak super loudly whenever they’re out in bars and restaurants or are riding on public transit. While the enthusiasm is lovely, observing local customs norms is also nice. Most Berliners like to ride public transit or eat dinner in relative peace. People still talk and enjoy one another’s company, but manage to do so in more hushed and respectful tones. Not everyone wants a blow-by-blow recount of your scandalous night out at the club or about the problems you’re having with your boyfriend, so play it cool and take a temperature of the vibe around you before spilling your guts.
14) Getting angry when you have to pay for water.
When I first came to Berlin and found myself paying €4 for a glass of water, I was shocked and even a little offended. Back home in Canada, water is free and often provided without request whenever you’re dining out in a restaurant. This isn’t so common in Germany and most restaurants only serve bottled water – either still or varying types of fizzy water. When you ask for tap water here, it’s possible that the server will refuse to provide it to you. While there isn’t much to like about this, as it doesn’t cost them anything, but consider the tradeoff and that beer and wine is often much cheaper. Prost! 🍺
Refusing to speak a single word of German (Guten Tag, Vielen Dank, Bitte and Sprechen Sie deutsch would be a huge improvement). Further I find selfies at the Holocaust Monument a huge no-no and running the red light or biking/e-scootering on the pavement when there’s a bike lane.
— Emma • Doen in Berlijn (@doeninberlijn) August 15, 2019
15) Stereotyping Germans as being unfriendly, humourless, or worse.
If you’re travelling to Germany and are coming armed with preconceptions about Germans, forget all that you think you know and check your assumptions at the door. There are all sorts of common stereotypes out there, like that Germans aren’t friendly, lack a sense of humour, wear Lederhosen all of the time, have an obsessive need for order, and more. Even worse are those that label all Germans as Nazis or racists. While far-right crime is grow at an alarming rate, applying a stereotype to an entire nation of people is grossly unfair.
So when having conversations with locals, instead of assuming things, just get to know them instead. Inquire about their experiences, hear their tales, and tell them yours. We all can learn so much by sharing with one another. Best of all, there are tons of interesting characters to meet in Berlin who will gladly oblige in meeting up with you for a brilliant conversation over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Use our list of Berlin’s top social meetups to get started.
16) Standing on the left side of the escalator or when queuing for something.
You may be on vacation, but some of us are in a hurry to get where we’re going, and nothing is more annoying when someone stands on the left side of the escalator in U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations and prevents us from making our train our time. Weirdly, the same applies when you’re standing in line for a coffee or at the supermarket. Not doing so simply blows the minds of locals, so avoid being on the receiving end of local snark by positioning yourself to the left whenever you’re in a queue of any kind.
17) Partying your heart out and forgetting that people live here.
We respect that you want to experience the thrill of drinking beer in public and partaking in our legendary nightlife as much as we do. We know you’re here on holiday and want to maximize your party time fun.
Alas, some of us live here. When you stay in an Airbnb and treat it like a hostel dorm where partying until all hours is tolerated, you’re disturbing the lives of people who live in the building. Aside from this being just another reason not to rent an Airbnb flat, we deserve to sleep because some of us have families or need to work the next day. Same applies when you’re being loud in public late at night, are puking your guts out in the street, or are carelessly depositing your trash everywhere. You’re just degrading our quality of life.
We encourage you to let go and indulge in all your hedonistic fantasies while you’re here, but treat Berlin like you would your home.
18) Sticking with the tourist route and not deeply exploring the city.
Tourist sites are popular for good reason. No one will fault you for wanting to see Brandenburger Tor, the Berliner Dom, the East Side Gallery, and more.
Recommended reading: 10 Cool and Alternative Things to Do in Berlin (That Won’t Break the Bank)
We also encourage to get out of your comfort zone and visit more off the beaten path places like the Soviet War Memorial near Treptower Park, Schlosspark Biesdorf, etc. Get to know some of Berlin’s different districts – do a food tour in Neukölln for example, and get a feel for the city beyond tourist filled Mitte or crazy cool Kreuzberg.
19) Drinking so much (or getting so high) that you’re not able to take care of yourself.
This is another thing Berlin tourists should not do. This goes hand-in-hand with Berlin’s party culture. Aside from not buying illegal drugs from strangers or disturbing locals, we also want you to play it safe. This advice can be applied anywhere of course, but becomes even more important when you’re out and about in Berlin.
When you’re drinking, pace yourself, and drink plenty of water. Don’t drink more than you can handle or accept drinks from strangers. Keep your phone fully charged at all times in case you need to call for help (see emergency numbers here).
Avoid public transit and taking long walks on your own – take a taxi or an Uber instead, and if you can, share your location status with your friends, even if it’s someone who’s not local. There’s stories of people drunkenly falling to their death off of Oberbaumbrücke and of women being sexually assaulted when on dates, at bars, or walking alone late at night while inebriated.
Assuming you can pay for a meal out by credit card. Not knowing tickets need to be validated on BVG. Giving Checkpoint Charlie any more than a passing glance.
— Graham Fallowes (@Bloodyromcom) August 15, 2019
20) Wearing high heels and attempting to walk down cobblestoned streets.
We’re a chilled out bunch here and it won’t take you long to realize that most people in Berlin prefer their casual sneakers over their dressy high heels. Rare are the creatures who can walk in high heels for any length of time and not meet the pavement face-to-face when their heels break on a cobblestoned street. Respect if you can do it, but you may find anything more than a long distance painful.
21) Tipping excessively and flaunting your wealth.
Germany is thankfully a nation where you’re not expected to dole out 20% on a service like a meal, taxi, or haircut. Many people roundup to the nearest Euro and if the service was really good, they generally tip around 10%. Exceptions may occur if you’re staying at a five star hotel or eating at a Michelin star restaurant.
In most cases, tipping more than that is just weird and comes across as arrogant and as though you want to purposely flaunt your wealth.
22) Feeling shocked by public nudity.
When I first moved to Berlin, I wrote about what it was like to be naked at the sauna for the first time and later, I wrote another post and answered a very important question, “Do Germans Swim Naked?“
Many Germans are down with the idea of being naked in the public. Whether it’s at the sauna, lake, or even a local park, they don’t hesitate to strip down to nothing. So don’t be surprised if you see a lot of nudity when you’re here.
If you’re brave enough to try it out yourself, we recommend that Berlin tourists pay a visit to Vabali Spa in Berlin.
23) Assuming that Berlin is like the rest of Germany.
People come visit Berlin and think they’ve seen Germany or that they really know German culture. While Berlin can easily be the only place you stay when you’re here on vacation, don’t leave thinking that Berlin or its people are anything like the rest of the country. Other cities like Schwerin or Dresden are far more beautiful, Hamburg is a tad more sophisticated, Warnemünde is more welcoming to their hordes of summer tourists. Other cities like Munich or Frankfurt tend to be more conservative, with bars shutting down at early hours.
Recommended reading: 10 Favourite Things About Berlin
We’ve a special and unique spirit that can’t be found anywhere else in Germany and we pride ourselves on this.
24) Taking our rudeness personally.
This one is the toughest one for Berlin tourists to swallow. I can personally attest and say that it’s still hard to deal with it even when you live here. It breaks my spirit at times and to make myself feel human and loved again, I travel to Canada for time amongst friendly people. I’ve mentioned multiple times throughout this article about how people won’t hesitate to tell you off for your “offensive” behaviour and how they often won’t be apologetic, even when they’re in the wrong.
It’s unsettling and disheartening, but don’t take it personally and chalk it up as part of your “Berlin experience”.
That wraps up our list of 24 things that Berlin tourists should not do. Have we missed any good ones? Let us know in the comments below.
Good To Know
1) If you need somewhere to rest your pretty head when you’re in Berlin, check out your options.
2) While in Berlin, go on a guided tour and get to know the city better.
3) If you need inspiration about what to do when you’re visiting Berlin, check some of our most popular posts:
- 15 Exciting Day Trips From Berlin (As Recommended By A Local) – Experience more of Europe with these day trips from Berlin. Expect quirky architecture, postcard scene Old Towns, and plenty of food and drink tips.
- Berlin Christmas Market Guide: WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt – If you’re looking to experience a Christmas market in Berlin, then visit the atmospheric WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt in the heart of the city.
- Five of the Most Photographed Landmarks in Berlin – If you’re looking for photography inspiration when you’re visiting Berlin, consider this list of the most photographed landmarks in Berlin.
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* Disclosure – This post contains some affiliate links. If you book a tour or hotel through any of these links, I’ll earn a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support!
Nice article, but I cannot agree with the point about complaining on cigarette smoke absolutely everywhere in Berlin, even when it’s forbidden. As a Berliner I hope it will change in the nearest future and only people can make change. Not important, wheter they are tourists or inhabitants. We must say it loud, that selfish smokers are the bad ones and not those, who dare stand against. It’s the only way to take care of our health, cleanliness in the city and enviroment!
Hey Sylwia – Thanks so much. You have a valid point that smoking doesn’t help anyone’s health. But it’s a person own risk to try and argue with Berliners, as the reaction could be quite tough. 🙂
Great post, Cheryl! I’ve never tried Mustafa’s (with Curry36 across the street, why?) but there’s no way a kebap is worth that kind of hype. Pass! I would like to suggest, as an alternative to Airbnb (which is, yeah, not only detrimental in many ways but ridiculously expensive for longer stays) to sublet a Berliner’s flat while they’re on holiday. Helping a local pay the rent + not paying inflated prices = win win.
Thanks Cynthia. 🙂 I’ve tried Mustafa’s and it’s good, but there’s also so many other great places across the city. Some local “conspiracy theorists” believe they even go slower on purpose.
Yes, subletting is great! I’m fully onboard with that and am considering doing that when I go to Canada this fall. 🙂
Great post, Cheryl!!! Have to admit – this really makes me miss Berlin!
Thanks Adam! I’m so happy you are coming here soon. 😀
Great Post! I’ve visited Berlin in August for two weeks and already miss it – this city draws one into its spell like no other!!
Berlin for sure is one heck of a great city! Glad you enjoyed your time here and hope you make it back again soon.