Berlin in their own words

Is Germany's capital hip or all hype? The Local proudly partners with Exberliner – the magazine that’s helped English speakers negotiate life in Berlin for the past six years.

Berlin in their own words
Photo: Exberliner

Berlin might be the planet’s most hyped city at the moment, but English language print magazine Exberliner was along for the ride well before The New York Times got hip to the German capital’s charms.

On June 25, just a few months after Editor-in-Chief Nadja Vancauwenberghe was quoted by the paper discussing the hyped-up cliché that Berlin is “like New York in the 80s,” the monthly magazine will celebrate its hard-won sixth anniversary.

Founded in 2002, by what Art Director Ioana Veleanu calls “three journalists tired of working for other people,” the magazine with a monthly circulation of 20,000 emerged when Berlin was poor, but few thought to call its ramshackle streets sexy. It has since become Berlin’s go-to city guide for English-speaking expats and visitors hungry for a piece of the edginess that many of Berlin’s denizens fear may soon disappear.

“I feel like a privileged witness,” Vancauwenberghe told The Local, sitting in the magazine’s busy pre-war office building in the heart of Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg district. “It’s the city where everything is going on. There are so many creative people and you can really feel that something is happening.”

And as curiosity continues to mount over Europe’s hipster haven, Exberliner is often the first stop for reporters sent to Berlin by the The New York Times, Vancauwenberghe said.

But things weren’t so certain for Exberliner in the beginning, Vancauwenberghe said. Originally from France, she found herself in Berlin after the Russian government kicked her out for reporting on the war in Chechnya.

“I lost everything because I couldn’t get back into Russia to get my belongings,” she said.

With nothing to lose and a nascent idea for a magazine, she called up two friends from her time at City University in London, where they had studied in a graduate program for international journalism together.

Her best friend of now 20 years, the Romanian-born French citizen Veleanu was working for The Village Voice in New York City at the time. She said she welcomed the opportunity for a change of scenery after 9/11, and moved to Berlin to begin the project. With their friend Maurice Frank – a native-English-speaking German who had worked for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and daily Die Welt in London and Berlin – the three set out to create a magazine based on The Village Voice alternative press model.

“We really dropped everything to do this,” Vancauwenberghe said. “We’d been through quite a lot, but we put everything in it and worked 17 hours a day at the beginning.”

The magazine’s first incarnation was entitled The Berliner, and was distributed for free in newsprint. A lawsuit over the name forced the trio to rename their publication after just three issues, though, and they chose Exberliner for subsequent issues as an ironic retort to their legal problems.

The free newsprint format didn’t last long either. “The German market didn’t get it,” Veleanu said. “They thought it was something for next to the Klo [toilet].”

A change to glossy format and a €2 charge legitimized the magazine for the German media industry, but the post-reunification Berlin economy meant the trio could only make small, gradual improvements as they frequently watched new ad clients go bust with their own new projects.

But six years later, Exberliner has eight full-time employees and walls lined with more than 70 covers that show the evolution of both the magazine and Berlin. They also host readings and performances at the city’s legendary Kaffee Burger, where their sixth anniversary party will also be held.

Much like the city they’ve opened up to the non-native community, Vancauwenberghe calls the magazine “an engine.”

“We’re overwhelmed by the power it has to carry new ideas,” she said.

The magazine’s anniversary also coincides with a new partnership with The Local. Beginning in June, we will carry exclusive articles and “The Best of Berlin” city highlights from Exberliner each month.

Click here to check out the first feature exploring why Berlin has more abortions than elsewhere in Germany and here for the magazine’s Best of Berlin this month.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.