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Six things that surprised me most about Berlin

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Six things that surprised me most about Berlin
Vietnamese food. Photo: Flickr/Karl Baron
15:12 CET+01:00
After surviving four months in Berlin having moved from the UK, The Local's Lucinda Watts explains what aspects of life in Germany - particularly in the capital - have surprised her most.

1. Dogs walk around without leads

Photo: DPA

As a dog owner back home, I was impressed to see dogs practically walking themselves in Berlin, without a lead or seemingly any instruction from their owners. I've even seen one independent pooch carry its own poop bag around with it.

In keeping with the German stereotype, even Germans' pets are strict rule followers and often trot alongside their owners obediently, whether they have a lead on or not.

The only time I haven't seen a dog behave perfectly in this city, in fact, was when I saw a man take his tiny puppy on what must have been its first tram ride - and even then it only barked twice.

2. An abundance of Vietnamese food

Photo: Flickr/Karl Baron

One of my favourite things about Berlin is the vast array of cuisines on offer at the thousands of restaurants, but my personal highlight definitely has to be all the Vietnamese restaurants scattered around the city.

Hailing from England, my takeout order of choice has always been Chinese food, but I was shocked to discover how few Chinese restaurants there are here.

My crusade to find sweet and sour chicken soon became unnecessary, however, when I had my first taste of Vietnamese food.

Here in Berlin, the three main food groups seem to be Vietnamese, burgers and Italian, so you're sure to always be in sight of at least two of these types of cuisine.

3. Political protest

A demonstration in front of the Reichstag. Photo: DPA

In the UK, student protest is largely uncommon and usually ineffectual when it comes to changing policies, so I was pleasantly surprised by how involved people are with protest movements, and by the positive impacts protests can have.

The biggest example of this is with tuition fees in Germany. In 2005, when the government removed the ban on tuition fees, German students revolted. So much so, that political parties (including the Christian Democrats, initially the strongest advocates for the tuition fees) made a U-turn and now all bachelors degrees at state universities only charge a small administration fee.

When I arrived in Berlin in August the German election was well and truly hotting up, and so were the accompanying protests - a welcome sight given the worrying increase in popularity for the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

4. Cheap lunch menus galore

Photo: DPA

Another food-related surprise was just how cheap lunch is here. Berlin certainly isn't your typical capital city, and this is once again proven by the low prices restaurants charge for lunch.

Unless you're in the properly touristy places like Alexanderplatz, a main meal in a restaurant needn't cost you more than €5 or €6 - not exactly breaking the bank.

Prices as low as these definitely didn't do anything to curb my addiction to eating out, but who cares when it's so reasonably priced?

5. Nikolaustag

Photo: DPA.

Anyone who has visited Germany will know that nobody else does Christmas quite as well as the Germans. From the huge number of Christmas markets to the variety of Lebkuchen, Stollen, and Glühwein, Germany knows what it's doing during the festive period.

But what I didn't realize was that Germans have added in an extra day of present giving and chocolatey goodness, in the form of Nikolaustag.

READ ALSO: Celebrating Nikolaus before Christmas

When I came home on December 5th I was puzzled when my flatmates asked me whether I'd polished my shoes. Assuming I'd tracked mud into the flat I quickly apologized, but was delighted when they explained the tradition of polishing your shoes to have them filled by the "Weihnachstmann".

True to their word I woke up the next morning to see my boots carefully filled with nuts, choccies and biscuits - a prettier sight than the boxes of chocolates I had nipped out to gift my flatmates in return.

6. Brunch is for English speakers?

This one may just be based on my personal experience, but wherever I've chosen to go for Sunday brunch, the restaurant has always seemed to be filled with English speakers.

Perhaps the Germans just haven't caught on to the joys of brunch yet, but wherever I go to get my fill of pancakes and avocado toast, I always struggle to spot a native German speaker.

You could put this down to Germans' taste in breakfast (preferring a selection of meats and cheeses to waffles or scrambled eggs )or maybe even to the Sunday culture of staying in and relaxing. But one thing's for sure: Germans are missing out.

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