Hopefully useful advice about this blogger's favorite European city.
Tips, huh? You want some tips? Well, I feel barely qualified to dispense advice. Here in my last month of being in Berlin, it seems as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of life here/life abroad. But, I’ll try my hardest!
1. It is okay not to leave your study abroad site city all the time. Seriously. It is. I know students who left Berlin nearly every single weekend, and they barely spent any time exploring the city. Of course, for me, the decision to limit travel was partially financial, which is totally valid, too! Sometimes being at NYU can make you feel like everyone else has so much available money, which can be pretty alienating. But don’t worry! There are plenty of people who can identify with having financial difficulties! And the place in which you’ve chosen to study is probably pretty awesome as well. Being in Berlin on the weekends is truly wonderful.
2. Take walks. Of course, exercise due caution regarding where and when you walk. But, still, take walks. Take walks not knowing where you’re going. Take walks with a map in your bag and the desire not to rely on it. Take walks without listening to music. Take walks in (rather than “to”) places you don’t know. Take walks and breathe and smell and feel where you live. Just take walks. I tell myself this to get me out of my room, since I can tend to be a homebody. This is a pressure-free way to GET OUT and enjoy the city.
3. Go to Schlecker or Rossman (there’s a Schlecker across the street from the Kulturbrauerei, near Konnopke’s Imbiss) for normal “drug store” type things (toothbrushes, shampoo, condoms [because I’m interested in your sexual health and safety], soap, and so on). Go to an “Apotheke” (pharmacy) for medicines. Yes, you will have to ask the pharmacist for over the counter drugs like ibuprofen, and the crotchetier ones may ask you why you are requesting painkillers. I propose giving the most embarrassing explanation possible loudly and confidently.
4. If you are, for some reason, stuck in the dark ages and don’t have online banking set up, fix this immediately. It is the only practical way to keep track of your finances abroad. Also, some American banks have partnerships with other banks internationally that will make it so that you don’t have to pay extra fees when withdrawing from these banks’ ATMs. For example, Bank of America has a partnership with Deutsche Bank, which means that you B of A customers are lucky, lucky people (Deutsche Bank is EVERYWHERE). Credit/debit cards are not very widely accepted in Germany, so have cash on you.
5. Don’t expect to suddenly make tons of friends from the country you’re in. Remember: you’re at an NYU site. Having pre-departure fantasies of drinking coffee in cafes with your fancy European friends is totally fine, but expecting this to happen by virtue of being abroad can lead to disappointment.
6. In relation to that last one, it’s always productive to try to reach out of that infamous “NYU bubble”! Go to events you’re actually interested in (instead of just going out to random bars). Participate in the language tandem program! Just make sure you’re doing things that you would want to do in the first place, rather than just focusing on meeting people. It’s more fun that way, and you’re more likely to find people you’d actually have something in common with.
7. Take that class with Martin Jander. You know you want to. He’s fantastic, and he’ll take you on fun field trips. He loves the zoo, double-decker buses, and the news. Refer to my blog post on him to realize how wonderful this man is.
8. Check out these places: Balkaymak (Turkish restaurant) and Maharaja (Indian restaurant) in Schöneberg; the Märchen Hütte (after dark, of course); Brecht’s East German theatre, the Berliner Ensemble; Ostbahnhof Flea Market; the 6th floor of the department store Kaufhaus des Westens (it’s the food hall); Wild at Heart, if you’re interested in bars with retro themes and burlesque shows; Kreuzberg in general; Schlachtensee, a lake in Berlin; lastly, find a Tchibo coffee shop and try to tell me that this isn’t one of the strangest business models ever.
9. You can love where you are and still be critical of it. I suppose this should be expected of me, since living in Berlin is like being hit over the head with German history every day. But no matter where you are, it’s important to be able to see what is not quite right about the place. Of course, it’s also important to see the positive, wonderful aspects of your study abroad site, and to cherish these. Sometimes we Americans have a tendency to be hyper-critical of our own nation, but then idealize other countries too much!
10. If you’re coming to Berlin, be ready to have your assumptions challenged. Even me, the Germany-nerd, had to face a lot of surprising, wonderful, or disconcerting facts about this place. Come with a desire to learn, to grow, and to soak up this place. Know your privileges, know the stereotypes or idealizations you hold, and try to address them.
Many of these seem kind of “woo-woo” and over-general, but I really hope you can find something useful. You may love Berlin, you may not, but really try get to know it. It can seem huge and crazy and complicated, but you can always try to wiggle into its nooks and crannies, to get deep into the mud (metaphorically, of course) of this city. OH! And a final mini-tip: learn the German. Feel the German. Love the German. And try to speak it so the cashiers at Rewe will stop complaining about American students!
The photo above is of the U-Bahn leaving the station in Berlin. The Berlin transit system is a beautiful thing.