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BERLIN

People think life in Berlin ends outside the Ringbahn. They’re wrong

Columnist Floraidh Clement explains why a decision forced on her - living outside Berlin’s famed Ringbahn - has been a surprisingly good fit with her lifestyle... and has helped improve her German.

People think life in Berlin ends outside the Ringbahn. They’re wrong
The Rummelsburger Bucht. Photo: DPA

When I tell people I live in Lichtenberg, the response is generally unfavourable. From a smug “so that’s basically Poland” to the more apologetic “well…at least IKEA’s nearby!”, opinions on our decision to live in the eastern district tend to veer towards the negative.

But after six months of defensiveness when somebody questions our choice of district, it’s a decision I still stick by.

Lichtenberg was never on our radar when my boyfriend and I began the search for a permanent base. But when the notorious Berlin flat hunt became more urgent, we decided to look beyond the Ringbahn – the suburban rail line which encircles the inner city. In a city so well connected, we were happy to forget about our preferred districts and just focus on finding a flat with a reasonable enough commute to the centre.

Our new game plan worked. Just two weeks later, we were signing the lease for a Wohnung to call our own. Only two stops outside of the Ring, clean and modern with a balcony and even a pre-installed kitchen, our new flat was the final step in settling into Berlin life. We were delighted, spending the run up to the move bickering about mattresses, as any self-respecting couple should.

Photo: DPA

But the sweet success of finding new digs was short-lived, as friends and colleagues were baffled by our choice of location. Wasn’t Lichtenberg miles away? Wasn’t it still quite… communist? What was there even to do there?

The anti-climatic concerns weren’t quite enough to dampen our glory entirely, but still led us to second guess our decision. We were intent on enjoying our neighbourhood though, both out of sheer stubbornness, and, well, just how bad could it really be?

As it turns out, not so bad at all.

Yes, it’s definitely less trendy than neighbouring Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. We’ll typically travel to get dinner and go to bars. But the beauty of Berlin’s round-the-clock transport system means that what we need is never that far away. And what we do have suits us and our lifestyles: quiet, safe streets, parks aplenty, and an Edeka in the train station which is, to our joy, open on Sundays.

Living here has also done wonders for our German. In our previous neighbourhood of Prenzlauerberg – a fairly anglicized, international district – it was easy to fall into lazy habits of speaking half-hearted “Denglish”, with little incentive to progress further.

Moving to an area less accustomed to English speakers was just the right motivation needed to improve our language skills. Even if this just means better polite chat with neighbours and ordering a McDonalds without stumbling, all of this does contribute toward a sense of genuine improvement with the language.

What Lichtenberg might be lacking in terms of any kind of culinary or nightlife scene, it makes up for with other, less obvious attractions.

The banks of Rummelsburger See are lively and fun, not unlike the inimitable atmosphere found in most Berlin parks on every sunny day. Landschaftspark Hertzberger, once a site for the GDR’s youth camp, is one of the few parks in Berlin which feels convincingly rural enough for somebody with limited tolerance for the fast pace of big-city life. Tierpark and the Stasi Museum – both also based outside of the Ring – also make for interesting days out.

Plattenbauten in Lichtenberg. Photo: DPA

My experiences are a far cry from what others had warned of. But “Lichtenphobia”, as we have begun to call it, had to come from somewhere. Once the home of the Stasi headquarters, then the site of a neo-Nazi problem in the early noughties, the district has something of a chequered past. The Soviet-style high rises in the area are stark reminders of more austere times, suggesting Lichtenberg hasn’t quite caught up with the rest of the city yet.

But writing off a district on the basis of its past misses an opportunity. Life in Berlin certainly doesn’t end outside of its centre – nor will it in most major cities attracting internationals. Exploring and living in a district less frequented by tourists and expats was an opportunity to come to know and appreciate all my new city has to offer outside of the obvious hangouts.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

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.

Oktoberfest
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. German 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 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, comes 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.

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