You hear us on the U-Bahn before you see us because we're usually the loudest ones there. Try as we might, we can't quite knock our horrible accents when we speak to you in German (but let's face it, few of us können Deutsch). And we're constantly seeking out craft beer bars “like we have in the States”.
There are many of us and we are quite diverse, yes, but there are some common attributes that tend to lump us into certain groups.
1. The “artist”
Whether the “artist” came to Berlin with the intention to dive right into its creative scene, or somehow discovered their inner Picasso along their journey of self-reflection here, he or she is quite easily recognized.
This type has an entourage of international, like-minded friends who socialize with bottles of wine rather than beer and always know how to put together the classic all-black Berlin clothing ensemble a tad bit better than everyone else.
They may tend to prattle on about their “work” together – even if they don’t yet have any artwork to speak off.
2. The startup bro/gal
“I've developed an app that makes Berlin look just like San Francisco.” Photo: DPA
There are two main kinds of startup scene American in Berlin: those who were transferred here for a job, or those who took a tech job because they wanted to live in Berlin and couldn’t speak German.
And while truthfully most American expats in Berlin never really learn the native tongue, this lot is the worst for their level of incomprehension because “we don’t have to” due to their English-centric tech work.
You might meet them at St. Oberholz – a hip cafe in the central Rosenthalerplatz – sipping an over-priced cappuccino in front of their Macbook Air. Or awkwardly trying to get into a club wearing a North Face jacket.
3. The student
It’s the first time living in (or even visiting) anywhere outside the US for Berlin students, and the three-month to one-year programmes are bound to be a rollercoaster of emotions.
At first, they’ll dive into everything the capital has to offer that they can’t get at home – drinking in public, 48-hour-plus parties, underground art shows. They’ll tell the folks back home how they’re never coming back, how it’s so much better than the US, how beer is cheaper than water.
“Oh my God, Europe is like so full of history!” Two women take a selfie in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin. Photo: DPA
But sooner than they’ve finished sending out their first selfie by the remains of the Berlin Wall, the tides will start to turn. They’ll lament that they “miss Mexican food”, even though they’ve never been south of the border. They’ll taste their first dose of German bureaucracy – “but how can I register at the Bürgeramt within two weeks of moving if there are no available appointments for six months?!” And they’ll grow frustrated with the rush to buy groceries before shops shut down on Sundays.
This will lead to premature homesickness and feelings of isolation when they complain that “Berliners are not friendly”. And also the eye-roll-inducing explanations to non-American friends of how “In The States, we do this…” and “In the States, we don’t do that.”
Sooner or later, they’ll settle in with their group of fellow student friends, predominantly other Americans, and dream about maybe returning to Berlin one day, if they can ever get that visa stuff sorted out.
4. The Bowie-era lifers
“Hello, this is 1987 calling.” Photo: DPA
They came before the Wall fell and stayed for the anarchic, free-spirited vibe that followed. They can tell you how “Prenzi” – the gentrified neighbourhood of Prenzlauerberg – used to be endless squats and squalor before it became filled with baby-carriages and cool coffee shops. And they have enough experience to know that Wedding will never be “the next thing”.
This group is the most settled-in of the expats having already found their “self” that so many newcomers seem to seek in the city.
5. The Brooklyn-Berliners
Bottles of Club Mate. Photo: DPA
If there’s not already, there should be a Berlin exchange programme for restless hipsters living in Brooklyn, considering the rate at which they seem to come here to “get out of New York”. Go ahead and do a survey around Williamsburg and you’ll find that basically everyone either “has a friend who once lived in Berlin” or “considered moving there before coming to Brooklyn”.
They’ll debate constantly whether Kreuzberg is what Brooklyn wants to be, or in fact Brooklyn is what Kreuzberg wants to be. They’ll compare rent prices non-stop – “I couldn’t rent a broom closet in Bed-Stuy for that much!”
But they will inevitably move back and “revolutionize” the City that Never Sleeps by selling Club Mate for $6 at their bars.
6. The writer
The writer sees their outsider's worldview as giving them a leg-up on all the hundreds of other hopefuls who have come to the city before them, drawn in by its complex history and cool appeal. Maybe they're writing for one of the many successful English-language food or lifestyle blogs. Maybe they're explaining to the world how German parents raise their children better than others, or analyzing the burgeoning international leadership role of Germany through insightful think pieces.
Or maybe they're stuck in a startup job they didn't want, writing SEO reports and editing press releases because Berlin is “poor but sexy” and no one is willing to actually pay you for good copy.
7. The “gone native”
This type has worked truly hard to drop all semblances of their American selves. They almost religiously dress in all black. They’ve perfected their Berlinerisch “jut”. And they do a complete 180 if they ever find themselves heading in the direction of fellow Americans, lest they get roped into that mindless, excited chit-chat of “What brought you to Berlin? How’d you get a visa?” – or worse, become friends with someone non-European.
Still, despite their advanced level of German, they always write their Instagram captions in English, just so their friends back in the States know what a cool Berliner they've become.
8. The permanent drifter
They came to Berlin just to pass through, but fell in love with it and are somehow still here months later, couch-surfing from WG to WG. They live in Berghain, are obsessed with clichéd markers of Berlin cool, like Mustafa’s Gemüse Kebap and Club Mate, and think they’ve figured out everything there is to know about the city.
But inevitably they’ll fear overstaying the automatic three-month tourist visa since they never thought this through and will go back to the US, only to continually tell others about the time they “lived in Berlin” for two and a half months.
9. The persistently American, American
“Hell yeah, my hometown craft brew is better than Bavarian beer!” Photo: DPA
This kind of expat has worked quite hard to build their own little US bubble around them. They have a VPN so they can stream American Netflix shows and get around GEMA’s restrictions on YouTube. They surround themselves with English-speaking friends, only discuss US politics and their eyes start to glaze over if you begin to discuss the shortcomings of Germany’s current coalition government.
Any chance they get, they’ll give friends visiting from the States a laundry list of American products to bring along with them to Berlin. When their local Edeka started selling Sierra Nevada, they were over the moon.
10. The not-so-American, American
“Why am I the only one who realises that sauerkraut with French fries is so delicious?” Photo: DPA
This breed is in a bit of an identity crisis, all the time. They were somewhat raised in Germany because maybe a parent was in the military, or native German, so they know a heck of a lot more about the country's culture than most. Then, feeling a bit out of place in the US, they moved to Berlin hoping to feel a bit more at home. But since Berlin is “ganz anders” from the rest of Germany, they still don't quite fit.
11. The love-torn American
Will they still be so in love when Berlin's brutal winter hits? Photo: DPA
If not seeking parties, tech jobs or artsy-fartsy open-mindedness, many Americans end up in Berlin because of the most powerful force that can drive a person to cross both land and sea: love.
They'll casually mingle with their partner's friends and solemnly wonder whether they really should have moved here when winter hits. But time will only tell whether they stay and morph into one of the aforementioned other expat species, or get fed up, break up and head back Stateside.
12. The “actually I'm Canadian”
— Menaka Raman-Wilms (@menakarw) July 1, 2015
Our northern-dwelling brethren are quite sneaky when living abroad. You can start up a chat with them about the same cultural references, food brands and TV shows that we all know and start to think they're from your home country.
Then suddenly an “aboot” or “ootside” floats out of their throat with that distinct Canadian tone and you know they're from Bieber-land, proud of their Maple syrup and moose.
You might at times feel pangs of jealousy around them because when a German starts to denounce “Scheisse Amis,” they have an easy out: “Actually, I'm Canadian.”