The mistakes people make when visiting Berlin are not usually enough to ruin a trip here, but they could potentially mean that you’re not getting the best out of your visit. Or they could mean you get quite a big fine – there are a few peculiar laws and rules that you should definitely be prepared for.

    Berlin culture is really unique, even among other German cities, which makes it surprisingly easy to make an embarrassing mistake or suffer quite a severe culture shock. We’ve gathered some of the most important points to remember when preparing for your first visit so that you’ll hopefully fit right in and be able to really enjoy yourself.


    Using the S-Bahn to get from the airport

    With trains departing every 10 minutes, it does seem like the logical choice to ride the S-Bahn from Schönefeld Airport to the city centre. While a lot of guidebooks do recommend this option, what they don’t tell you is that the train will stop at every single station along the way. It could take you up to an hour to reach the middle of Berlin. While they only run every 30 minutes, the Express Train (RE7 or RB14) takes only about 25 minutes. Hotels located near Alexanderplatz station serve as a good central base for your travels.

    photo by julienghien1 (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Not validating your ticket at the train station

    You’d think that just buying a train ticket would automatically make it valid. In Germany, you’d be wrong. Look out for the small yellow-and-white machines on the platform and stick your ticket in there to get it stamped. It seems like a weird trick just to punish unaware tourists, but it could get you a hefty fine if you forget.


    Not waiting for the little green man

    The instinct in many countries is to cross the road whenever there’s a gap in traffic, but Germans take jaywalking seriously. In the spirit of setting a good example for the kids, it’s a finable offence to cross the road anywhere other than a proper crossing, when the green man is showing.


    Walking in the cycle lane

    It often comes as a surprise to first-time visitors to Europe that people here actually use cycle lanes for cycling! The lanes are coloured red, with very clear symbols showing that this is a bike-only zone. If you happen to wander into one without looking, you can confidently expect to have a close encounter with an angry cyclist. For your safety and theirs, be careful where you walk.

    photo by Dirk Ingo Franke (CC BY 3.0) modified


    Concentrating on sights and not neighbourhoods

    Berlin has no shortage of fantastic sights to see, like the iconic Brandenburg Gate, the historic Berlin Wall and the remarkable Reichstag Building. However, Berlin is so much more than just its famous places. It’s the stylish Mitte, the multicultural Kreuzberg, the classical Charlottenburg, the gritty-but-groovy Neukölln; it’s a city of diverse and delightful districts, each as worthy of your time as any old building or museum. Unlike most other popular cities in the world, you get the best experience of Berlin by just walking the streets.

    Stay in a hotel conveniently located in the city centre to ensure you can explore it all on foot.


    Only eating German food

    Naturally, the instinct when visiting a new city is to try the local cuisine, and we certainly like a good German sausage as much as anyone. However, if we spent every day in a traditional biergarten, we’d be missing out on this truly multicultural city’s amazing diversity of dining. Great cheap eats include döner kebabs, vegetarian curries, Vietnamese spring rolls and some really outstanding burgers. Thanks to its large immigrant populations from around the world, each of these exotic flavours (and many others) have the genuine local taste.


    Running out of cash

    Berlin is a modern city by any definition of the term, but many small businesses – especially restaurants – still only take cash. This often comes as a bit of a surprise to visitors hoping to pay with plastic, who find themselves short of Euros when it comes time to pay the bill. To make matters worse, ATMs are often located inside the banks, not on the wall outside, meaning they’re only accessible during normal opening hours. Make sure you keep a good stock of small denominations on you, but also be wary of pickpockets, especially in the U-Bahn.


    Expecting small-talk and a smile

    Berliners have a reputation for being quite blunt, which some people interpret as being rude. The almost complete absence of small-talk, coupled with the unsmiling stare many visitors get from the locals, can be deeply unnerving. Don’t take it personally – Berliners are quite thick-skinned and give each other the same treatment. As for the staring, it’s just that direct eye contact is more socially acceptable here than in other countries.


    Expecting shops to open on Sundays

    Germany has historically been quite a religious country, and they still take the whole ‘no working on the Sabbath’ thing seriously. The result is that quite a few visitors nip out to the shops on a Sunday to pick up a few essential supplies and are surprised to find that everything is closed. Restaurants remain open all weekend, but supermarkets, pharmacies, high-street stores and even some museums don’t.


    Being shocked by public nudity

    Germans generally are not at all ashamed of their bodies. While “free body culture” (Freikörperkultur or FKK for short) is perhaps not a mainstream thing, it is prevalent enough that you’re likely to encounter it at some point. Many of Berlin’s public parks have a nudist section and you’ll find plenty of people with everything on show at saunas, swimming pools and the nearby lakes and beaches. There are also nightclubs which are famous for their extreme [un]dress code. It’s important to remember that cameras and photography are not allowed anywhere you see the FKK signs, for obvious reasons.

    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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