Berlin has been compared to Paris in the 1920s and New York City in the 1970s; it is modest yet inviting, attracting the young and the restless from all corners of the world. Lifestyle in Berlin is a lesson in bohemian living, and expats moving to the once-divided German capital should be prepared to immerse themselves in the alternative.
Berlin's fashion, design, music, nightlife, art and architecture attract expats from all over who dream of working and playing in Germany's buzzing capital.
Internationally acclaimed outdoor festivals grace the city during summertime, galleries of every description abound, and the fashion district is bursting at the seams. Berlin is a city to be explored with an open mind, and a bohemian mentality.
Nightlife in Berlin
Berlin's nightlife is second to none; boasting full-throttle clubs, intimate cafes and even opportunities to enjoy a night as an opera-goer. Specifically, the districts of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are saturated and any space is likely to become a venue for young Berliners to dance the night away.
Those who enjoy anything with an intellectual edge will find a fertile nesting ground in Berlin. Art galleries and live music venues are often open till late.
Shopping in Berlin
In a city as innovative as Berlin, lifestyle and fashion go hand in hand, and shopping here is an experience defined by both style and originality. While each area in Berlin has its own commercial hub, the two most well known in West and East Berlin are Ku'damm (Kurfurstendamm) and Mitte, respectively.
Ku'damm is a two-mile (4km) stretch of avenue in Charlottenburg where everything from department stores to designer outlets can be found. This area is akin to New York's Fifth Avenue and can seem a bit claustrophobic with both locals and tourists flocking here during peak shopping season. Alternatively, Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse in East Berlin are beginning to rival Ku'damm as the city's premier shopping mile. Once host to a bevy of tacky souvenir shops, these areas are now home to a number of well-known and luxurious fashion houses in recent years.
Mitte, on the other hand, is full of funky finds for those more artistically inclined. In contrast to West Berlin's tradition of mainstream megastores, this East Berlin area boasts an array of second-hand shops and flea markets.
Eating out in Berlin
Expats living in Berlin will find that the food in the German capital is fuss-free and delicious. Much of the local cuisine in Berlin has been influenced by immigrants from neighbouring countries and ingredients such as pork, goose, fish, cabbage, turnips, pickles and potatoes commonly feature in the city's cuisine.
If German fare doesn’t suit expats' tastes, there are plenty of international options to be had in cosmopolitan Berlin. The city is home to a whole host of top-quality restaurants featuring cuisine from across the globe, including Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Italian, French, Turkish and Spanish.
Outdoor activities in Berlin
Active expats will find plenty to keep themselves busy in the city. While football (soccer) is probably the most popular sport in the capital, expats can also take part in a number of different outdoor activities such as horse riding or hiking. Cycling is also a favourite pastime of Berlin residents and there are many great biking trails which will allow new arrivals to explore the city and its surrounds on two wheels. Those who enjoy a round of golf will find some excellent and scenic golf courses dotted around Berlin.
Fresh air is in abundance as there are more than 2,500 parks and green spaces in the German capital. Expats should certainly take the time to visit one of the city's greatest green assets such as Tiergarten or Viktoriapark. These parks offer a great environment for runners, walkers and cyclists, but even those who would prefer to enjoy a good book or have a picnic in the sunshine will enjoy these spaces.
See and do in Berlin
Berlin boasts a multitude of exciting and interesting attractions, from museums and galleries to amusement parks, restaurants and bistros. The Berlin Welcome Card offers discounts on most of Berlin's major attractions, as well as free travel on public transport within the city for one adult and up to three children aged six to 13.
Below are a few sights worth checking out while in Berlin.
This massive sandstone gate was once inaccessible and unusable, abandoned in the 'no man's land' behind the Berlin Wall. It has since been renovated and these days is a popular attraction and a testament to some of the beautiful architecture found in the German capital.
Checkpoint Charlie was the notorious border crossing marking the division between East and West Berlin for nearly 30 years. No longer functional, a museum has been constructed as a testament to the many brave attempts to go over, under or across the wall undetected. While the original metal shed is now on display elsewhere, the soldier's post can be visited, and tourists can be photographed under the border sign.
East Side Gallery
What is left of the infamous Berlin Wall has been transformed into the largest open-air alternative art gallery in the world. Graffiti artists have used the space to showcase their skill on the longest section of the wall, which stretches from Ostbahnhof station to the Oberbaumbrucke. The collection has since become a tourist attraction and is recognised as a memorial to freedom.
The Jewish Museum has gained international acclaim for its unique exhibition space and dynamic architecture. Visitors enter the Jewish Museum through the Berlin Museum to explore the exhibition rooms, which are clustered around the main axis void, designed to signify the invisible aspects of Jewish history.
Potsdamer Platz was originally one of the busiest junctions in Europe, but the damage done during World War II left the vibrant square in a state of decay. Now, years later, large-scale efforts have been made to revitalise the wasted space, and today the square once more boasts an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes, cinemas, shopping centres and theatres. Expats, locals and tourists alike will find something to enjoy, whether it's the Sony Centre, the Imax Cinema or Berlin's popular Film Museum.
The Reichstag has been the seat of the German parliament since 1894 and is undoubtedly one of Berlin's most famous buildings. Damaged in the carnage of World War II, the structure was famously wrapped in white fabric in the late 1990s by the well-known conceptual artist, Christo.
Schloss Charlottenburg was built in the baroque style in 18th-century Berlin. The structure is the largest palace in Berlin and was constructed as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Elector Frederick III, the Prussian king.
What's on in Berlin
Regardless of whether expats enjoy culture, film, music or sport, there is sure to be something on Berlin’s busy calendar to entertain them.
Below is a list of our favourite events and festivals that take place each year in Berlin.
Berlinale Film Festival (February)
This is Berlin’s major international film festival and takes place each year in February. It is one of the largest film festivals and most reputable movie events on the German calendar. Moviegoers can choose from up to 400 films shown at cinemas across the city, and people flock from all over Europe to attend.
Carnival of Cultures (June)
This annual event is a celebration of Berlin’s ethnic diversity. It is definitely one of the city’s most colourful and vivacious festivals. Here one will find thousands of representatives from more than 70 different cultures who get dressed in the national costumes and take to the streets of Kreuzberg. With a number of purpose-built stages playing host to all sorts of performances, this is an event not be missed.
Berlin Marathon (September)
Each year in September, around 30,000 runners from across the globe gather at the Schloss Charlottenburg to take part in one of the world’s most prestigious marathon events. Participants run through 10 different districts of Berlin covering the 26-mile (42.2km) distance before crossing the finish line through the historic Brandenburg Gate. Those less enthused about long distance running can cheer on the competitors from the side, perhaps with a cold German brew in hand.
Berlin Oktoberfest (October)
Speaking of beer... This event really requires no introduction. The Berlin version of the Oktoberfest is a celebration of beer and German culture. While Berlin’s Oktoberfest, held at Zentral Festplatz am Kurt-Schumacher-Damm, can’t be compared with the main party in Munich, it's still a fun-filled event and something that expats living in Berlin shouldn't miss.
Jazz Festival Berlin (October)
Since 1964, Jazz Fest Berlin has brought jazz musicians from across the globe to the city. The swinging concerts and great atmosphere across the city are a real treat every October, and for expats partial to jazz, this is unmissable.
Christmas Markets (late November/December)
A German tradition that should not be missed by expats living in Berlin, the Christmas markets are held throughout the city and bustle with locals and tourists, who indulge in all manner of Christmas cheer, Glühwein, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. Eager shoppers will find plenty of traditional decorations and Christmas paraphernalia on sale. The biggest Christmas markets in Berlin are held on Alexanderplatz, Unter den Linden and at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Where to meet people and make friends in Berlin
Making friends in a new city can be intimidating. One of the best ways to start meeting likeminded people is to join a local club or meet-up group. Here are a few suggestions.
The ideal group for bibliophiles looking to make friend in Berlin. The Booker Tea group was initially focused on titles awarded or shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but is broader in nature nowadays. Discussions are casual rather than academic in nature. It's free and fun, and meetings are held at the residences of members.
Berlin's Rotary Club is perfect for the city's international community looking to meet up and make friends. Meetings are held in English, and the club represents dozens of nationalities.
Midnight Runners is a volunteer-led run crew that meets up for late-night runs of varying distances. It's fun, friendly and the perfect place for active expats to meet likeminded fitness buffs.
►For more on what to expect of the German lifestyle, see Culture Shock in Germany.
Are you an expat living in Berlin?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Berlin. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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