Art by Gica Tam
Travel Destinations

How not to look like a turista in Berlin

Two decades since The Wall fell down, the city has transformed itself into a multi-facted nerve center now known for its edge and originality. If you're planning to fly over to the German capital, here are some pointers from Berliners to keep you from stumbling around drunk, wearing uncomfortable shoes.
Michaela Lola Abrera | Aug 01 2019

Beneath its battle-scarred exterior, Berlin oozes with mystery and excitement.

More on blending in:

Touted as the zeitgeist for the 21st century, the seductive German capital beckons travelers with its atmosphere of change and creativity.

In this metropolis, pushing boundaries is the lay of the land. Converting fallen GDR structures into hip hangouts, urbanites use the city’s scar-laden landscape as their canvas for expression and experimentation. It's no surprise that artists and writers from all over the globe flock to this transient hub to make their dreams a reality.

Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, Berlin has transformed itself as the world’s political, economic, and cultural nerve center. Europe’s most restless state liberates long-held desires and buried impulses, leaving no choice but to succumb to its thunderous beat. 

Berlin Wall. Photograph by Nancy Wong on Wikimedia Commons

With over five million visitors per year, the capital is one of Europe’s hottest destinations. Whether to explore the city’s beguiling history or to simply revel in its multi-culti anti-everything vibe, there’s something for every kind of interest in this ever-evolving metropolis. That being said, tourists in a city that thrives on a reputation of edge and originality, often get a bad rap.

If you’re eager to blend in and step into their oft-vintage-bought boots, then take these local-collected tips to heart:

 

“Ladies, kick your heels off!

  • Jia Chung, marketing director and living in Berlin for 6 years

Cobblestoned streets are certainly not made for walking (in high heels)! You’ll sooner find a local walking barefoot in even some of the grungiest streets in Berlin, than wearing heels. In Berlin, there’s no greater giveaway than teetering around in heels. Berliners pride themselves in matching comfort with style. There’s nothing that says Berliner more than looking like you just rolled out of bed and threw on the first thing you could find. Yet…Berliners still look sharp. An accent pin made by a local artist or your grandmother’s sunglasses, to dress like a local means having key pieces that tell a story.

 

“Get the BVG ticket app”

BVG (the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe) is the local transport company of Berlin, which is in charge of all the bus, tram, and S-Bahn (fast train) and U-Bahn (underground) trains. And nothing screams tourist more than seeing one (or more!) travelers stressing while buying a transport ticket on those big yellow machines. Save yourself the hassle—while passing as a local—by downloading the app and just jumping into the next train toward your next destination.

 

“Learn a few words or phrases in German”

  • Lola, writer and founder of The First Reel: Philippine Film Festival in Berlin, living in Berlin for 4 years

Unlike many German cities, one can live or get by without speaking a word of German. With so many travelers and expat communities, English is pretty much spoken everywhere. However, this development has often been a source of frustration to locals especially when being approached by a tourist. Thus, learning a few key phrases such as “Wie geht’s?”(How are you?), Können Sie mir helfen? (Can you help me?), Vielen Dank (thank you!), and Hallo/ Tschüss (hello/goodbye informal) makes a world of difference. For most Berliners, just showing that you are willing to make an effort to try and speak their language makes them more open to help you out if needed and even possibly make friends.

Photograph by Stefan Widua on Unsplash

 

“One shot, two shots, three shots and then next thing you know you’re making out with a street sign! Take it easy with the drinks”

Berlin draws in party folks from all over the world. Famed for its bar and club scene (such as the historic Berghain), the city is a great place if you want to knock back a few. But keep it under control. While Berlin is extremely open about alcohol—you can carry a beer with you on the streets, biergartens (beer gardens) are a big thing, and many enjoy a glass of wine with their meal—locals still know the fine line between "a little to relax" and "one-too-many that becomes sloppy." Unfortunately, as one of Europe’s biggest and most affordable party hubs, it’s a common sight to see tourists stumbling all over the street. And as of late, going alkoholfrei (alcohol free: beer and sekt) has turned into a positive trend.

 

“Let the city reveal itself to you: wander, explore, and don’t overthink it. Just enjoy the adventure.”

Berlin demands that you let go and see for yourself what the city has to offer. Jump on a city bike and cycle down its many cycling-friendly streets. (Just stay on the bike lane though, use your bell, and keep the pace as locals bike fast and furiously!) Wander into one of the city’s quirky bookshops or striking galleries, explore the diverse districts (gritty yet cool East, posh and proper West), get lost in the many outdoor markets (the Turkish Market on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Maybachufer, Saturdays at Kowilltzplatz, Sundays at Mauer Park to name a few), or simply follow the trail of your favorite graffiti artists (Banksy, Shepard Fairy, Space Invader, Blu), there’s a lot to discover in here.