What I love most about Berlin / Germany

  • Vehicles coexist peacefully with, and even defer to, bikers and walkers. Streets are built with pedestrians and bicyclists in mind. Pedestrians stop for lights at crosswalks, even if there is no traffic in sight. (Note: increasingly less true in Berlin). I consider this an essential German trait.
  • The bread is amazing and inexpensive enough to defy explanation. The kinds of breads you might be inclined to avoid in the US—full wheat breads, dark breads—are in fact the best.
  • I love euros; they are fun to stack and count.
  • Döner kebaps: cheap, delicious, everywhere. Best not to ask about the source of the meat log they shave it from.
  • On New Year’s, the city explodes with life and celebration that easily lasts until 2 AM. There’s no point in even trying to sleep.
  • The next morning, city employees are out first thing, cleaning it all up, dressed in bright orange jumpsuits.
  • Public spaces are given priority. There are parks and playgrounds everywhere and they are all beautiful. People congregate to watch their kids play, to chat, or to enjoy a drink.
  • Christmas markets.
  • They build child play structures that would take the breath away from American personal injury lawyers.
  • In the winter, at any sign of sunshine, people spill out onto the streets, dressed head to toe for warmth, sunning their faces and just being still.
  • Despite much malignment, the German language is beautiful. In Berlin, there is no shortage of opportunities to practice, but you can also get by without it (especially if you make an effort).
  • Kindergeld: every month, the German government dumps a sizeable sum of tax-free euros in your bank account, for every child you have. For some reason, they do this not only for citizens, but also for temporary residents.
  • The schools are all good, and are designed so there’s one in every neighborhood and therefore kids can walk. The school day is out around 1:45 in the afternoon (this can be extended till 6 via the “Hort”, for working parents).
  • School vacations are spread out throughout the year. Two weeks in the fall, over Christmas, and in the spring. Six weeks in the summer. Just the right amount.
  • You can get most anywhere via public transportation. I was amazed how often I had wanted to get to a new place and could do so directly, without a change.
  • The windows are all six feet tall, and can either swing open or tilt from the top.
  • There are very few mosquitos, and the ones that do exist move very slowly and congregate in the open on the ceiling.
  • Strangers will correct your behavior. They are often right.
  • There are an uncountable number of bike rental services. You can find them anywhere, rent them with an app, and leave them where you like.
  • The ceilings are all 12 feet high.
  • Working spaces even in open offices are large enough for three people.
  • You are never far from a cheap ice cream cone. They’re small enough that you eat them without guilt.

What I don’t love

  • There are no drinking fountains anywhere.
  • The Mexican food is best avoided.
  • The bureaucratic vocabulary is large, disjoint from that of everyday life, and mostly noncompositional.
  • The streets are covered in dog excrement.
  • Housing prices.
  • There are prominent ads for places like “Dildo King” even in the nice parts of town.
  • Alexanderplatz—where you find the TV tower that is a symbol of Berlin—is kind of a dump.
  • They are quite fastidious about schooling. Homeschooling is illegal. And there are stories about die Polizei stopping families at airports who took their kids out of school a day early to beat vacation crowds. I believe these stories.
  • Glühwein is overpriced (except at the Alt-Rixdorf Christmas Market in Neukölln).

With apologies to my undergraduate advisor.