How living in Berlin has changed me for life

After nearly four years in Berlin, The Local's Emma Anderson is leaving Germany for Belgium. She says she will never be the same thanks to life in the capital city.

How living in Berlin has changed me for life
Photo: DPA

Over the years, as visitors from my home in the US have come to visit me in Berlin, I've always tried to show them what makes this city so great. But this is hard to do in just a few days, as what I love most about Berlin is the unexpected: stumbling upon an S-Bahn party, discovering a hidden, basement jazz concert, and finding a taxi driver who will sing Backstreet Boys with you along your 6am ride home.

Just as unexpectedly, I’ve realized that I am no longer the same person as I was in 2013 when I first came here, and probably will never break the habits I’ve picked up since.

1. Never wearing heels to a club again


The club culture I knew in most cities I visited or lived in prior to Berlin was pretty much the same: both men and women dressed to impress, which generally involved heels or other uncomfortable clothing for us females – which I always hated. Dressing down could mean you didn’t make it through the door, especially at the more famous venues.

But the rules are turned on their head in Berlin, where you’ll likely hear a “nein” from the bouncer if you dress up too much, particularly at Berlin’s exclusive – and probably best – club, Berghain. Explaining this to those outside the city can elicit looks of shock as well as wonderment.

So I’ve come to embrace this laid-back attitude towards nightlife, where the people in sneakers and ripped jeans get ahead of those in designer stilettos or button-downs. And never do I plan to look back.

2. Expecting a wide range of cheap, tasty food and beer



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Berlin’s food scene continues to grow in correlation with its hipster population, and the fact that it’s still somewhat “poor but sexy” means most places likely won’t stay open unless they offer hungry artists delicious meals on the cheap.

Unfortunately this means that whenever I go anywhere else, I always measure the food and drinks against the bar set by Berlin – and it’s quite hard to find equal competition in any other Western capital.

3. Knowing that it’s possible to have one conversation in three languages

When I first started taking German classes in Berlin, I was lucky that none of my classmates were native English speakers, thus basically forcing us to communicate in German outside class.

But one of my first classes was also made up of a large number of Spanish speakers, meaning there were often comical instances of people saying “Ich hätte gern – ¿cómo se dice?”

And as a result, I think I have somehow simultaneously improved my Spanish while living in Germany.

Though years later we can all now hold conversations completely in German, the journey to get to this point took a lot of what I’ll call Deuspanglish – a mixture of German, Spanish and a bit of English sprinkled in.

Given that Berlin is so full of immigrants from all over the world, getting to create this kind of mixture of languages has been a unique experience I don’t know that I would find anywhere else.

4. Getting really good at dealing with and collecting paperwork

Applying for my first visa to stay in Berlin as an American was a daunting task and something I grew to dread. But now that I have had three visas under my belt, I consider myself something of an expert, and gladly offer up advice to friends.

I even once considered charging people for my consultation services, but that would have probably actually violated the terms of my visa.

I’ve come to view the bureaucratic process as a bit of a scavenger hunt, with each piece of the application process a new challenge to overcome. I even find it a bit fun.

5. Feeling (slightly) more comfortable with nudity

The first time I was invited to go swimming at a German lake with Germans, I was shocked to watch as everyone around me freely and openly changed or completely stripped off for all to see. And I actually became the spectacle myself as I asked my companions to hold up towels for me so I could feel some sense of privacy putting on my swimsuit.

READ ALSO: The dos and don'ts of public nudity in Germany

Fast forward four years and I’m still no FKK enthusiast, but at least I’m not as prudish about my own or others’ bodies.

6. Learning to work to live, not live to work


Perhaps the biggest adjustment I will have to make living elsewhere is the importance Germans and Berliners place on taking time to really enjoy life. The fact that they have a term for the time of day after work hours – Feierabend – and that this term truly carries weight says something about the culture. When the supermarket manager chides you for showing up right before their doors close because it’s already Feierabend, you know he’s really upset. It’s a sacred time, Feierabend.

Then there’s the legally mandated vacation days, nine public holidays, sick days you don’t have to accrue – I highly doubt I’ll ever find such perks in the US.

Basically from how I approach my social life, to how I approach my professional one at work, Berlin has taught me to relax, worry less and let go more. And that’s surely something I won’t lose.

SEE ALSO: Living in Berlin – Six things I won't miss when I'm gone


REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. Germany is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with being strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, come with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.