What I learned from being a Berliner

READING TIME: 7 minutes

Berlin is a very special place and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have lived there and experienced its magic. Berlin has well and truly been a great adventure, a mixed bag of challenges and helped me process a whole lot of realisations that may not have been so obvious to me had I been in a country that was much more similar to my own. It is a place like no other even though we decided that it wasn’t somewhere we wanted to be forever. I found myself reflecting on my time there while on a train through Italy. Finally, I am able to share my lessons learned from being a Berliner with the world! 

1) You can be whoever you want to be

It is said that Berlin is a city where those who are “different” flock to. This is because it makes them feel at home. I regularly observed people being outwardly whoever they wanted. Whether that meant having a septum piercing on show, rocking a green mohawk, wearing a vest and matching tailcoat down the street. Whenever I left Berlin and returned, I soon felt at home when I saw my first “weirdo”. Being a weirdo is not a bad thing in Berlin, it is embraced and encouraged. While I consider myself pretty vanilla compared to them, I never felt afraid to be myself or try new things. I rocked pink hair for a while, getting brighter and brighter with each re-dye. I enjoyed people not batting an eyelid when I wore my nose ring to work.

Arguably the most open and relaxed environment was inside the safety of a club. Berlin clubs have crowds who are carefully curated by the door staff. Your experience of bouncers may be that they are unfriendly people with authority complexes. However the Berlin door staff are so strict because they are trying to create an environment where everyone is safe to be themselves inside. I frequently decided, like many other people, to dance in Berlin clubs with my shirt off (bra still firmly on!). No one made any comments or even took a second look.

Good luck trying to pull off anything like that in Sydney or London. You would probably be wolf whistled to shame and escorted outside by the staff for being too drunk. I will continue to fight tooth and nail for myself and anyone I know to be themselves, no matter how different. You should not have to move to Berlin to be accepted (but you could visit if you want to feel how fantastic the vibe really is).

2) You really should care about the environment

I will admit that prior to my time in Berlin, the environment did not really factor into my list of “things I care about”, unlike most millennials. Now, I’m not committing to becoming a vegan anytime soon, which a lot of Berliners are already, but I am now much more aware of my individual impact on the environment. No one uses plastic bags. There’s a deposit placed on all plastic and glass bottles which ensures there is no bottles left behind in parks, festivals or inside most clubs. Instead of keep cups you can pay €1.50 for your first reusable cup and swap them at participating shops for a clean cup for free.

“Bio” (aka organic) shops are just as common as regular supermarkets and their products, such as natural soft drinks are readily available at most bars and food stores. It is also not hard to find vegan and / or organic cafes which do not charge ridiculously high prices just because they are so. In case you’re wondering, that’s not graffiti in the photos, that’s street art. Puzzlingly, the only thing about caring for the environment that Berlin has wrong is the only thing we have right. Putting your rubbish in the bin!

3) You shouldn’t “take things lying down”

Germany and Berlin in particular has a long, dark history which I’m sure everyone is aware of. As a result of this, they do not stand for any of their basic rights being violated or threatened. Privacy is a BIG deal, almost no Germans have their real last name on Facebook, their personal data is not given away so freely as I have previously given my own. They are always skeptical when someone is asking for your personal details.

Recently on a job application I was asked my ethnicity, this is also common in London. Of course you can decline and the data is collected in the name of promoting diversity and inclusion. However, this is not something they would dare even ask in Germany. It was difficult to even evaluate some of our work programs because of the privacy laws protecting individuals. Sometimes it felt silly, but given how personal information has been misused in the past, I started to become skeptical myself.

When the AFD (aka modern day Nazi party) came to Berlin for a rally, the whole of the Berlin dance community came together for a peaceful protest in the name of love and music. It was a great party in the street. Berliners protest about important issues – housing prices, animal rights, refugees, you name it. One of my friend’s Mum’s even told her that she’s sad that they don’t protest as much anymore, that it used to be fun and a social activity. To fight for better and not just whinge on social media.

4) Spending time on your own is more than ok

As I mentioned before, a lot of people in Berlin are a bit odd, and I can’t 100% confirm the correlation but I am guessing that a lot of these people are either used to and / or enjoy spending a lot of time alone. Even me, a self-confessed super extrovert, had a significant amount of alone time thrust upon them when Blair managed to secure a job 3 months before I did. Initially I hated it, until I realised that there were a LOT of other people alone, just like me.

There was no pressure to pretend to look at your phone or start up a conversation with a random person to fill the air (unless you wanted to). Shock horror, you were actually allowed to enjoy spending time alone. I saw many people biking along singing or smiling to themselves around town. When I was by myself, I started smiling too, if I wanted to. Why not? It’s also perfectly normal (in some clubs it’s encouraged) to go by yourself. Dancing on your own is not seen as weird, it is seen as liberating and a true example of someone who is truly there for the music.

5) There is more to socialising than getting drunk

Everyone knows I’m no stranger to drinking and I’m partial to a wine or three. But it really isn’t pressured onto you like it is in Australia or the UK. It is completely interlinked with socialising back home, whereas in Berlin, the aforementioned availability of organic soft drinks / non alcoholic beer and typically European focus on taking it slow when with friends or family means you can sit for hours somewhere and only buy one or two drinks. No waitress will force you to leave, no one will shoot you a dark look if you’re not leaving after you’ve finished consuming your product.

Quite often we would meet up with friends to drink one beer by the canal or have a glass of wine at a hipster cafe. Then we would go home. Revolutionary huh? There are also a huge amount of meet ups you can go to about anything. I attended a women’s circle, herbal workshop, blogging meet up – and I could have attended a whole lot more. The bar is certainly not the only place to make friends and getting drunk together is not the only way to get to know someone.

Final reflections

I have a lot to thank Berlin for and where possible I hope to carry these lessons with me wherever I go. I know that I could have seen a completely different side to it, had I been at a different stage of my life when I arrived here, as I mentioned in my post Discovering Berlin’s Spiritual Side. But I was ready to see, do and be more. Now we’re back living in the Southern Hemisphere, I hope to combine the best of Berlin with the best of what we get back home. After all that is why we travel, change, learn… to grow and become better than when we left.

How has travel made you grow and what lessons did you learn? Share your stories with us in the comments below!

Photo credit: Mon Poirier (check out her instagram here)

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