Living in Berlin - Six things I won't miss when I'm gone

Tom Barfield
Tom Barfield - [email protected] • 6 Jun, 2016 Updated Mon 6 Jun 2016 15:34 CEST
Living in Berlin - Six things I won't miss when I'm gone

After spending three years in Berlin, Tom Barfield realized there were more than a few things about the Hauptstadt that got on his nerves.


Moving back to Berlin was mostly a choice made for self-preservation reasons.

I had spent forever boring anyone who would listen about how fantastic the German capital was when I spent an Erasmus exchange year at the Humboldt University.

It was either walk the walk and move back or risk being smothered in my sleep by my frustrated friends.

By and large the experience has been fantastic: Berlin has changed a lot since 2008, but it's also clung on to the welcoming, diverse character and general sense of laidbackitude that I fell in love with aged 20.

But Berlin, there are things we need to talk about that I won't be wistfully thinking of after a glass or two of wine once I've moved away.

1. Schönefeld airport

Schönefeld airport. It wasn't supposed to be this way. Photo: DPA

We've done plenty of coverage of Berlin's agonizing, years-long failure to get its new airport off the ground.

But what we rarely write about at The Local is just why that glimmering new mirage just a few dozen metres from the existing Schönefeld terminal is so desperately overdue.

For the capital of Europe's biggest economy, having an afterthought of a gateway that pales in comparison to Paris' second airport Orly or even London's most depressing airport Luton is gut-wrenchingly embarrassing.

It's also stuck out on the end of a torturously slow train ride that's a pain to get to from the city centre or an even more annoying bus journey.

A capital city deserves more than a hard-to-reach shed stocked with a desultory duty-free, a frequently-closed Burger King and a soulless 'Irish' pub to keep travellers entertained.

And the same criticisms go for Tegel, in the northwest of the city, except the marvellous Terminal A, where you can walk straight to your gate before going through an individual security check.

2. Being stuck out east

An alternative city motto: "Berlin: It's almost Poland!" Image: Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Germany is a beautiful part of the country with many fantastic attractions, from historic Dresden and Leipzig to the castles of Thuringia and the lakes of Brandenburg.

But niceties aside, Berlin is a really, really long way away from a lot of the best parts of Germany and further afield.

It's easy to spend months on end not leaving the capital – which is not short of its own attractions – despite being in the same country as Munich, Cologne, and the Rhine or Danube rivers.

The mighty river Danube. Photo: David McGregor on Flickr

Berlin is several hours of often-expensive train travel away from most of western Germany, as Deutsche Bahn's flagship InterCity Express trains don't hold a candle speed-wise to the French TGV – which will soon bring rail fans 600km from Paris to Bordeaux in two hours.

Passengers on DB's current services on the 700km Berlin-Munich stretch can only laugh bitterly at the idea of similar feats being achieved on this side of the Rhine.

3. Berlin city management

A queue for the Pergamon Museum. If you're moving to Berlin, be prepared to queue. Photo: DPA

If you're a good little law-abiding Brit like I am then you want to make sure that you've covered all your bases and followed the rules when you turn up uninvited in someone else's country.

In Germany that means registering at the Bürgeramt (citizens' office) so the authorities know where you live – which is an important first step towards life-enabling services like bank accounts and electricity.

Unfortunately, in Berlin it's impossible to get an appointment within the two-week time-frame the law would usually allow a new arrival for registering.

Neither can you get through many of these kinds of basic interactions with the authorities online, as you would be able to in the UK.

Friendly staff may allow you to get away with registering late and spare you a fine – but as someone seriously considering taking German citizenship as soon as possible, having a later date on my Anmeldebescheinigung (proof of registration) means I'll have to wait a bit longer before the residency requirement is fulfilled.

More seriously, the refugee crisis has made it clear in costly, human terms how far in over their heads Berlin's local officials are – and it's long past time that politicians in the Rotes Rathaus did something about it.

4. Party people

Photo: re:publica on Flickr

As a resident of the eastern district of Friedrichshain, this is a problem that I haven't been able to get out of my face - because F'hain is ground zero for clueless party tourists from abroad or just other parts of Germany.

A wealth of hostels and AirBnB users have spent years cashing in on the clubs of the RAW Gelände, the bars of Simon-Dach-Straße and of course the reputation of Berghain.

We were all young and over-excited about fairly mundane experiences at one time, of course, and it would be churlish to begrudge the students and wide-eyed world travellers their first experiences of a clubbing culture about a billion times better than they can get in London or Paris or Munich.

I just wish they weren't all concentrated right on my doorstep and clogging up my walking route to the U-Bahn now that I'm over that particular stage of finding myself.

And don't get me started on the people who have lived in Berlin for years but whose highest purpose remains getting their names onto guestlists.

At the end of the day, when you've been in one club, you really have seen them all – and (blasphemy!) even Berghain is just a big room with speakers in it.

SEE ALSO: From punk photographer to Berghain bouncer

5. Hyped-up venues


Lunch vibes. #thebird #burger #fries #instafood #bestoftheday #regram thanks to @mariezcha

A post shared by The Bird Xberg (@thebirdxberg) on Jan 16, 2016 at 4:52am PST

(My apologies to The Bird, who I can personally attest make some of the most delicious burgers in Berlin)

There's no question that almost any western city can complain of an overabundance of social media-friendly bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs which end up all looking the same.

The problem is particularly acute in Berlin, though – and we can't simply blame the huge throngs of migrants from other developed countries in Europe and the US who make up such a large share of the city's Instagram-happy 20-something population.

No, the Germans creating and running many of these places with an eye to making a fast buck – even if it turns Kreuzberg into Williamsburg – have to take their share of the blame as well.

The world has enough coffee shops with exposed brickwork and giant, unshaded filament bulbs. Let's move on to something new.

And don't even think about offering me huevos rancheros when we get there.

6. No-one bothering to learn German

Some handy German phrases on a chalk board. Photo: DPA

This might seem like a bizarre, even self-defeating complaint from the editor of an English-language website about Germany.

But as someone who put in a lot of time and effort to learn German, it does become galling when locals switch to English if they detect event a hint of an accent in your speech.

I didn't spend hours sweating over Tristan and Isolde and Faust to be talked to like some kind of lazy tourist, I will think to myself at the end of another struggle for linguistic supremacy with a barman.

It would be nice if those coming to Berlin to stay for a few days, a few weeks or a few months at least bought a phrasebook and learned how to ask politely for a beer.

And I'm sure that with a little such consideration, tourists could drastically reduce the amount of Berliner Schnauze (Berlin attitude) they're exposed to.

A pipe dream, perhaps, but a noble one.

7. And one thing I will miss... the BVG


#Berlin #bvg #weilwirdichlieben #sunset #train #ubahn

A post shared by Tom Barfield (@tombarfield) on Jun 2, 2016 at 1:06pm PDT

No-one would ever claim that a big city's public transport is perfect, but the BVG is about as good as it gets.

Sure it's still a bit patchy in places where the network didn't quite knit together after the city was reunified.

And it suffers from the occasional late tram or irritatingly long period of engineering works on important stretches.

But other cities have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to all-night trains all weekend that help spaced-out partygoers pick up the pieces after tumbling out into the early morning sunlight.

And they could learn from the BVG's social media team, who are some of the most on-the-ball I've seen for any big organization - never mind a publicly-owned one.

Here's to you BVG - Weil Wir Dich Lieben!


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also