Berlin. Germany’s capital. The “New York of Europe.” An epicenter for culture, history, and art. Home of LISPA (London International School of Performing Arts), where I am honored and thrilled to be studying for the next nine months through Columbia College Chicago. After years of wanting and months of planning, I am finally here. I am aching for adventure and learning.
…and the only thing I can focus on at the moment is which one of these 40 washer settings will launder my clothes without turning them into a tangled mass of boiled loose threads.
Having the chance to live abroad is an incredible opportunity, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Some of them are obvious (the electrical plugs and wattage differences) and some are not (pickled strawberries?!), therefore I’ve compiled a list of some of the things I’ve learned in the last week so that you can be better and wiser than I have been.
1. On the topic of jaywalking…
Don’t do it. The end.
2. Weigh your produce.
When buying obst und gemüse at the grocery store, there will be an attendant to weigh and price your fruits and veggies before you go to the check out line. You will not make friends with the cashier and the six other people in line if half of your groceries have to be sent down an impromptu assembly line to the produce aisle and back.
Speaking of shopping…
3. Many stores do not take Visa.
Some larger stores will, but smaller or independently-owned shops will not. Plan to use MasterCard, cash, or open a Deutsche bank account once you have your student permit. You would then be issued a EuroCheque (EC) card, which is accepted in all places that take cards, and you can use this card to withdraw from most cash machines in Germany and the rest of Europe with minimal fees.
4. Bring your own reusable bags! Everywhere!
Otherwise prepare to buy them at the store.
5. Pharmacies are for medicine, not shampoo.
From over-the-counter to vitamins to prescription medicine, a pharmacy (or apotheke) is the place to go. No matter how small or large the ailment is, you will likely need to go to the counter to get your medicine. For toiletries you’ll want to go to either a large grocery chain or DM (Drogerie Market). You won’t find any Chex Mix or back-to-school notebooks there, though.
6. Pay for public transportation…or don’t.
Berlin offers a subway system (the U-bahn and the S-bahn), trams, and buses.
Tickets operate on an honor system. No turnstiles, no staff checking the tickets…you just walk on! The catch is that on occasion the Kontrolleurs, or ticketing police, will enter a train to check for valid tickets. If you don’t have one, you are immediately penalized a 60 Euro fine. I’ve heard some people never pay for a ticket and just accept the fine when it happens, but I choose to be law-abiding.
7. Most Europeans use a drying rack or clothes line instead of a clothes dryer.
And washing machines (as mentioned) have at minimum fifteen settings. Queue up Google Translate now.
8. Wine flows more freely than water.
…Not really, but they do cost about the same amount. Tap water in Berlin is safe to drink, but only bottled is served in restaurants. You will also get a funny look from your server if you drink an abundant amount. They sip water like you (are supposed to) sip wine. I recommend getting a water filter and a water bottle to save on cost. You’re welcome.
9. Server stereotypes are different from the US.
Servers in Berlin make a living wage, so tipping is seen as a courtesy. As a result, they are a bit more curt than ones in the US. Tipping 5-10% is perfectly acceptable. We tipped our first server five euro on a thirty five dollar check and he looked at us like we were aliens dressed in human skin.
Also, servers will typically stand at the table and make change there. It is not rude to tell them how much change you would like back after tipping. On the contrary, it saves them time.
To say I’ve learned a lot in this last week is an understatement. It’s a different world, and I’m incredibly thankful for Richie and Raquel, my two roommates and cohort collaborators, for turning these uncomfortable lesson into laughter-filled memories. I suppose that leaves me with the last one…
10. Take risks. Make friends. Take risks together.
And don’t go back to that one grocery store.
Classes begin next week, where an entirely different scope of learning will begin. There is so much more to follow. Auf Wiedersehen!