I was in Berlin for an extended weekend recently, and the whole time I found myself agreeing again and again with what I had read about the city in Maneesh's (hackthesystem.com) post about it. It's a great post and introduction to Berlin, even if he oversells his reasons a bit. Below is his article, with some of my additional thoughts in italics.
It had been a long time since I’d stayed in one city for so long, but I’d engineered it so I could spend my final quarter of Stanford abroad…and receive financial aid at the same time. I’d heard nothing but great things about Berlin, and when Stanford offered me a paid summer internship, meaning I’d be living scot free in the city, I couldn’t say no.
Within weeks of arriving, I understood why Berlin had received so much praise—the only other city I’ve ever seen as revered is Buenos Aires. Let me tell you now exactly why you should log on to kayak.com and buy a ticket to Berlin, Germany.
1) Incredibly cheap cost of living for a European capital
I was blown away when I saw the prices in Berlin. Living expenses are as cheap, or cheaper, than most cities in South America! (Buenos Aires included). I could afford dinners an the nightlife—Berlin is by FAR the cheapest capital city in Western Europe. Here are some examples of my costs (everything is converted into dollars at 1 € = $1.50)
- My rent (huge room with a host family): $225/mo
- Entrance to excellent bars and clubs: $0-4 on average, top clubs $15
- Average expenses at a grocery story/week (compared to my USA expenses of $60): $40
- Cost of a used bicycle on Craigslist – $40
- Beer from a bar: $4
- Beer from a kiosk (you can drink legally on the street or on the subway): $0.90
[Side note: one time I only had 1EUR on me, and I entered a gas station to buy water. Water cost € 1.25. Beer cost € 0.60. Needless to say, my decision was made for me]
As you can see, prices are incredibly reasonable…especially for a city as awesome as Berlin.True that - although this was partly due the fact that I was couchsurfing and met up with some generous friends while in the city, I realized that at the end of my 5 days in Berlin, I had spent less than 60€ in total. Thats less than my easyjet flight round trip from Barcelona was!
However, it is important to note that before all you digital natives pack up and move there, for whatever reason, Berlin hates credit cards. Literally the only places in the city I found that accepted them were a fews uber touristy museums, and a Mcdonalds, after some difficulty. I was even denied by a Subway-wtf! So keep that in mind and have a lot of cash on you - obselete, heavy, inefficient cash.
2) Berlin has an amazing startup culture
Berlin is also home to the fabled Betahaus, an open startup coworking space, where you can rent a spot to work for dollars a day (or work in the cafe for free). I co-founded the weekly 4 Hour Workweek meetup, which continues to meet at Betahaus every week. You can also access their workshop that offers unlimited access to tools and wood to build anything. I used this space to construct our famous Mobile Disco.Sure does. I was amused to find myself in a post industrial warehouse based startup workspace that was so filled with young hip passionate people with big ideas that, were it not for the snow outside and the obviously Communist inspired architecture around me, I could have sworn I was in San Francisco. It was a trip to see all the crisp little logos and business magazines lying around exactly the same as back home, except all in German.
3) Incredible music scene and nightlife
The nightlife in Berlin starts late and never ends: Berghain, for example, starts around 1am on Friday night and doesn’t end till the middle of the day on Sunday.
I generally went out 4-5 nights a week, and there was always something to do–Monday included. Europe’s most famous clubs are located in Berlin – Berghain, Watergate, Cookies, Bar 25, and Club Der Visionaire. If you’re looking for a hardcorse, thumping, music part scene, check out Berghain or Watergate. For a chiller, more relaxed scene, go to Luzia’s bar or (my personal favorite) Club Der Visionaire.
If you like electronic music, Berlin will be your Mecca. Minimal house and techno reigns supreme, but you can find whatever you’re looking for. I loved it so much that I began DJing and producing. You can check out my music at http://soundcloud.com/maneesh.
You’ll find people of all types out every night, eager to meet new people. Germans, tourists, expats–you name it, you’ll find them in hordes. And everyone speaks English, if languge learning isn’t your thing (and it should be!)Definitely. And more than clubs, there are plenty of old temporary music spaces that pop up around the city in disused shop space to host a few months worth of open mic nights and aspiring DJ sets in the basement before shutting down. I attending one where we forked over two euros, then headed into the back and went into what was literally just a hole in the ground to find what looked more or less like a German teenager's basement, with halfhearted decorations and LED lighting strewn around the walls. We were treated to a few dudes with guitars pounds out several frenzied and heartfelt songs that could only be described as “gypsy music”. So its not just techno in clubs in Berlin.
4) Beautiful nature, lakes, canals, and parks
Berlin is famous for being ‘Europe’s greenest city,’ and residents will let you know instantly that there are more canals in Berlin than any other city in the world, including Amsterdam or Venice. Make a friend with a boat or take a canal cruise—either way you’ll love to see how connected the city is via water.
You can swim in most of the major lakes in spring and early summer. The city is incredibly flat, so it is easy to get around by bike. There are beautiful parks every few hundred meters. What’s not to love?More bridges and parks, as well. However, you cannot take advantage of them as often as you can in other cities because of the brutally cold winters. That said, the parks are still beautiful with a dusting of snow on all the trees and benches. Check out Teufelsberg in Grundewald - former NSA listening station on top of a tower in the middle of a huge forest. Or Tempelhof park- until 2003, it was a functioning airport dating all the way back to Hitler! Full of windsurfers on the runways.
5) The awesome history, abandoned buildings, and street art (and relaxed police)
There are amazing abandoned buildings all over Berlin. Berlin’s population was twice as large during World War II (explaining the cheap housing prices) so many of the buildings have been left abandoned and open to exploration. Check out the Abandoned Building Twilight Tour where you get to explore the abandoned buildings by night.
I remember playing hide and go seek in an abandoned beer factory, and I threw my most memorable DJ gig on an abandoned boat offshore in a canal. The cops shut us down at 5am, shouing “Please stop the music after this song! We like this song!”
And check out some photos of the amazing street art below.I’d say each one of these aspects deserves their own spot on this list. The history is prevalent everywhere- from the different styles of Ampellmen (green street crossing men) to the obviously Communist high rises in the east, to the smattering of shiny new buildings right in the center of the city where the wall used to stand; you cannot escape it. And yet Berlin has definitely reinvented itself - while the past is all there and inescapable, it is not something that the residents seem to fixate on,- given the vibrant local culture, flourishing businesses, and location as the seat of German politics. There are so many sides to the city, and yet they are all colored by its past.
The street art is something else. You’ll turn a corner and be greeted by a five story tall astronaut reaching for you from the side of a building, or find some small quote pasted into a subway stop that will make you stop and laugh (riots not diets, who the fred is fuck?). The area near Kottbusser Tor is so carpeted with graffiti that you can barely see the buildings' original paint - and yet is is an active central part of the city - not some forgotten corner.
Check out abandonedberlin.com for an exhaustive list of some prime abandoned locations near the city
6) Berlin’s central location makes it easy to travel around Europe
Berlin is placed squarely in the center of Europe, so it’s super easy to get around. I used a car sharing web site, www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de , to get to Amsterdam for just 30EUR. You’re only a few hours away by train from Prague, Budapest, and Munich, and dozens of other cities. And budget airlines fly out of the city’s two airports–I flew roundtrip to Oslo for just €12!It is a good portal to eastern Europe, but I would say that it is too far east and north to be considered “the center of Europe” - that"s probably still closer to Zurich. It is the first airport I have seen that has it's airports directly connected to the metro system - no overpriced transfer buses or anything - just go down the stairs and there is the S Bahn.
Not only that, but it is incredibly easy to get around the city itself. There's a U bahn station literally everwhere you look, and super fast commuter trains that run in uninterrupted rings around the city center. The S Bahns give you fantastic views of the city as you race past on raised railways - you could get a good sense of the city just from riding those around in circles. Plus, the whole system relies on validated tickets rather than gates at every stop, so technically you don’t need a ticket every single ride (but you better stay lucky to avoid the 40€ fine!)
7) The amazing, delicious döner kebabs
Berlin is home to the world’s biggest collection of Turkish residents outside of Istanbul. One of Turkish cuisine’s most prevalent dishes–the Döner Kebab—was actually invented in Berlin. You’ll find Kebab shops open 24 hours, serving delicious spinning meat and veggies in a special type of bread. Usually, they cost less than $4. Perfect after a night out.
Writing this article has already made me research tickets for going back. You can fly there for just $578 R/T from NYC if you leave this weekThis is the only point that I don't agree with wholeheartedly. Doner kebabs are a staple of European street food, and even if they were invented in Berlin, I don't think you will find the tastiest example there anymore. Mustafas was delicious, but I have had better doners in Barcelona hands down. Not as cheap, though.
Instead I'd go for the super German delicacy currywust, which is like a crunchy hot dog soaked in ketchup and french fries. I haven't seen that anywhere else, and its salt and fat soaked goodness is just as perfect after a night out for sure. Don't limit it to any one type of food, now that I think about it: Burgermeister has some of the best burgers I have had this side of the pond, and it is located in a former UBahn Bathroom. Hows that for hip?
I hope you love Berlin as much as I did! Just beware the winter: it gets pretty cold.‘Pretty cold’ is an understatement. This place is colder in february than Russia was in December. It saps the strength from your bones and makes you want to hide in your room under covers rather than head out into the night again. Don’t visit Berlin in winter - it's vibrant cultural landscape is severely dampened by the cold, though you can still have a great time (at least I did).