Houston, we have a problem. Berlin turned out to be awesome and I didn’t want to leave.
Germany was always very low on my list of countries to visit. For some reason, I felt like I wouldn’t like it (even though I really enjoy German beer). We added Berlin to our Slow Travel World Tour only because our friends from Melbourne moved to Berlin last year and we missed them a lot. Things you do for your friends.
And then, about 2 days into our stay, I felt so weirdly comfortable and at home, I started looking at apartments for rent. Long-term. I was happy with the food, the city and the beer. The weather was wonderful too, which everyone told me wouldn’t last long and that it was abnormally warm for September.
Our neighbourhood & accommodation
Oh, my lovely Friedrichshain. Quiet neighbourhood, where streets are lined with trees, cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. It felt safe, even at night, offered everything we needed within walking distance, was filled with small squares, gardens and playgrounds, and had all modes of transport available. It is gentrified but still has some rough edges and doesn’t feel too pretentious. We got the impression that it’s mostly filled with rather young couples.
Our first Airbnb host (also in Friedrichshain) cancelled on us, while we were still in Prague. We had to find a different apartment and what a blessing in disguise it was! The one we ended up with had a perfect location right next to Boxhagener Platz – in the heart of the most lively part of Friedrichshain.
The apartment was definitely a step up from our Airbnb in Prague. The bed was so comfortable we were sleeping in almost daily. It had a dishwasher! And when we arrived there were fresh flowers on the table and in the kitchen as well as a bottle of nice wine. I really wouldn’t mind such welcome in every apartment. Second floor and no lift were a challenge with the suitcases but not a problem on daily basis. If I had to pick my least favourite feature of the apartment it would be the shower curtain – why are we still using these instead of a glass panel? Favourite part, other than my beloved dishwasher, would definitely be the desk by the big window. It was a pleasure to sit there and write.
Our daily morning routine involved grocery shopping in the nearest REWE supermarket (7 min walk), followed by the best flat white in town at Silo Coffee (3 min walk).
Impressions about Berlin – likes & dislikes
Cash is king
Many restaurants, shops and cafes accept only cash. Some places that do accept cards, don’t allow for contactless payments and you need the physical card to pay. Contactless payments seem to be a novelty and some people were visibly impressed when we paid using our phones. And sometimes eftpos decides not to work for some reason and you end up paying cash anyway so I always had some euros with me just in case.
Vegan, Vegetarian, Special
Wow, Berlin really does cater to every diet/fad/special requirement. In some areas, it was taken to the extreme and it was hard to find a simple, regular ham & cheese sandwich.
I did enjoy trying those special foods and had my answer to “what is your favourite vegan yoghurt?” less than a week after arriving in Berlin. Another vegetarian treat I really enjoyed and named the best thing I’ve eaten in a while was Sudanese sandwich with spicy peanut sauce and falafel. A thing of beauty.
Same case as in Prague – smokers were everywhere. And because the weather was so nice, many restaurants had their windows wide open, which was allowing the smoke from the outside enter the inside. I feel like now we’re on a mission to find the most friendly city for people who strongly dislike cigarette smoke.
Späti, or Spätkauf, is a convenience store, usually with a small seating area outside where you can drink alcohol. They’re open late or even around the clock. The prices of beer are slightly higher than in a supermarket but it’s just around 40 cents more and you pay for the experience. The späti experience is a must-do in Berlin and, despite the smokers, I really enjoyed it. There is something fun about casually seating next to a store while drinking good German beers and chatting to friends (or making new friends with random people).
No matter the weather, it seems almost everyone rides bikes to work. The morning rush and afternoon peak hours are crazy – as a pedestrian don’t even think about stepping onto the bike path. And as a driver, you need to be extra careful around bikes.
After doing 60km on a bike in Berlin, I can also say from bikers perspective, the bike paths in the city are awesome. They often have separate traffic lights and special hook-turn lanes. Unfortunately the further from the centre, the worse they get and end suddenly (at times, we weren’t sure if we’re supposed to be riding on the road or the walkway). And the car drivers – some park like assholes blocking the entire bike path but for most times they were very nice – making sure we have enough space to move and patiently driving behind us on narrow roads.
Das ist Berlin
I heard this song (well, it’s a newspaper ad) in a cinema and absolutely loved it. It nicely encapsulates (words and images) what Berlin is about.
Hallo, ich heiße Helga. I let my German alter-ego roam free in Germany.
Not knowing the language at all (I not only didn’t want to go there but also didn’t want to learn German) I would say I picked up quite a lot. Firstly, a lot of Polish words come from German so I got them “for free”. Unfortunately, they’re mostly not very useful ones like Schlauch – hose or Schublade – drawer. So I focused on more practical ones from my favourite category – food. After 4 weeks I was able to understand most restaurant menus without checking every word in Google Translate.
If you don’t like to learn languages, no worries. In Berlin, you can easily get by just with English.
Berlin felt much more affordable than I imagined it would be.
In September 2018 100 EUR cost us around 162 AUD (at the same time, it would be around 116 USD).
For day to day grocery shopping you can see the prices on supermarkets’ websites. Check REWE, Edeka, Aldi, Lidl and Bio Company.
I’m definitely going to miss the wonderful Hefeweizen beers in outrageously low prices and nifty salad bars in REWE supermarkets where you can DIY your salad.
How much we paid for our groceries? For example:
- 1.5L sparkling water: €0.19 (0.31 AUD) at REWE (plus €0.25 pfand for the bottle which you’re getting back once you return it)
- 6 eggs: €1.29 (2.10 AUD) for regular ones to €2.45 (3.97 AUD) for bio
- 250g pack of cherry tomatoes: €0.89 (1.44 AUD) to €1.19 (1.93 AUD)
- 100g of ham: €1.69 (2.74 AUD) to €2.49 (4.03 AUD)
- butter: €1.79 (2.90 AUD)
- beer: from €0.85 (1.38 AUD) for 0.5L of excellent Hefeweizen to €2.55 (4.13 AUD) for 0.3L of hipster craft beer (plus €0.08 – €0.25 pfand for the bottle which you’re getting back once you return it)
- bread roll: €0.22 (0.36 AUD) – €0.69 (1.12 AUD)
How much you should expect to pay for:
- one small flat white in a cafe: €2.50 (4.05 AUD) to €3.80 (6.15 AUD) – what we saved on beer, we spent on coffee
- a restaurant lunch or dinner: €8.50 (13.76 AUD) – €12.50 (20.24 AUD) for a schnitzel with potato salad, €5.70 for a cheeseburger (paid exactly the same price in 3 different places, 9.23 AUD) and €3.50 (5.67 AUD) – €4.20 (6.80 AUD) for a single serving of the famous currywurst with fries
- for 0.5L beer in a restaurant, beer garden or a pub: €3.80 (6.15 AUD) – €6 (9.72)
- a kebab: €3.50 (5.67 AUD)
How much we spent in 4 weeks (2 people)
Accommodation: €1329.74 = 2114.96 AUD (3 weeks, we stayed for one week with our friends)
Groceries: €365 = 591.64 AUD
Eating out (we went out for meals, snacks or ice cream 36 times): €375.78 = 609.11 AUD
Coffee: €210.90 = 341.84 AUD
Alcohol: €166.78 = 270.32 AUD
Transport (public transport, bike rental): €128.50 = 208.28 AUD
Entertainment (cinema, museums, tours etc): €68.65 = 111.27 AUD
SIM (each): €12.99 = 21.05 AUD
Total: €2671.33 = 4289.52 AUD
A few more things that aren’t just specifically about Berlin but the whole of Germany.
No free plastic bags
Be prepared to buy a bag when you do your shopping or bring your own if you don’t want to pay extra each time. I always carried a small tote bag in case of an unexpected shopping spree.
Sunday is (mostly) a no-go day. Supermarkets and shopping centres are closed. In case you need some smaller groceries there are always convenience stores (or if you’re close to a border that may be a good day to pop into one of the neighbouring countries) but it’s better to stock up on everything on Saturday.
What’s with all those flavoured and sweetened yoghurts, sodas and lemonades? It was hard to find a plain yoghurt (and also if you think it may be plain it’s sweetened and has added vanilla) or a regular tonic water. Does everyone in Germany have a sweet tooth?
(thank you Germany for all the delicious Haribo bears though 😆)
Get your money back for all plastic and glass bottles (which is between €0.08 – €0.25 per bottle). Most supermarkets have machines where you drop your bottles and get a voucher to claim your pfand back. Easy peasy.
Next stop: Marseille