Julia Blue Arm is a student at Colorado State University and an ISA Photo Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Berlin, Germany.
Berlin is truly a city that never sleeps. It has overcome adversity to become a city of life and progress, history and culture, and endless possibilities. I have been surprised so many times with what I can find throughout the city. The vastness and fast pace, however, can be initially intimidating and overwhelming as a foreigner. It may take time to get used to the flow of the city and the character of Berlin’s people, but be patient! After a month of exploring, I am feeling more and more like a local in Berlin. Here are a few tips that helped me feel like a local and may speed up the process for others.
1. Learn your way around the city.
Get lost; that is one of the first things to do in Berlin. Hop on the U-Bahn, get off at a random stop, explore, and then reorient yourself. Getting lost and finding your way home was the best way for me to learn the layout of the city and immerse myself in the fast pace of Berlin. Although it may seem initially overwhelming, the public transportation system is actually very simple once you get used to it. When I first arrived in Berlin, the U-Bahn and S-Bahn maps were a jumbled mess, and it seemed impossible to find my way around. A month later, however, I have figured out a sense of direction and how to read the public transportation maps. Once you gain confidence traveling around Berlin, it makes it so much easier to feel like a local and get comfortable exploring the city.
2. Be open to eating new foods.
Those studying abroad in Berlin may have expected to find an abundance of German cuisine, such as sauerkraut, schnitzel, and potato dumplings. I definitely did, but that has not been the case. Authentic German food can be found at many restaurants, but for the most part, the city’s food culture is very eclectic. Because Berlin is such a diverse city, it has developed its own food trends, such as the famous Turkish Döner Kebab and currywurst. To fully get the Berlin experience, you must have at least one. They are addicting! There is also a variety of foreign cuisine, like Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Greek, and Italian; the list goes on and on. Berlin also has a recent vegan and vegetarian food trend, so vegans and vegetarians can find options at most places. As an avid foodie, I have loved wandering around to find small dives with authentic foreign dishes. Being willing to eat all types of unfamiliar foods has been a great way for me to get immersed in Berlin culture.
The market is open every Thursday evening from 5 to 10 pm. It is run by the Turkish community of Kreuzberg, but the food options include much more than Turkish food. This sandwich is an interesting take on a roast beef sandwich. “The Fluffy Mexican” was loaded with shredded beef, arugula, and chipotle and avocado sauces on wheat bread. So delicious!
3. Explore: Go where the locals go.
Another great way to feel like a local in Berlin is to venture beyond the tourist attractions and visit places where there are less tourists and more Berliners. If you explore different city districts, you will find that each one has its own sort of sub-culture and atmosphere. One of my favorite places is Kreuzberg. It is the hipster and cultural center of Berlin and is a great destination for those is search of Turkish, Vegan, and other types of cuisine. Berlin also has a thriving art scene, with everything from high art galleries to run down buildings covered in graffiti. Seek out some small art exhibitions, but also make it a point to notice how the whole city has become a canvas for local artists. There are endless other local treasures to discover in this beautiful metropolis. Go explore!
Recently, my ISA group and I visited Tempelhof Airport, which is an abandoned former-Nazi-controlled airport in the Tempelhof-Schöneberg district of Berlin. The airport is now used by locals as a huge open park for recreation, while the building itself now houses refugees temporarily. The giant open space of runways and walking paths has been turned into a public park, where people ride bicycles, fly kites, have picnics, and let their dogs run free. Pictured here is a community garden that locals collectively care for. It is very rustic, with small wooden seating areas scattered throughout a maze of sunflowers and other plants. Everyone is welcome to take a seat, relax, and enjoy the serene park. I highly recommend a visit!
The world awaits…discover it.