Explore like a local
Local life in Berlin is not as settled upon as in other cities but is defined to some extent by the enormous influx of neo-Berliners from abroad and other parts of Germany. It's comparatively easy to engage with locals and to participate in their daily lives.
Dining Like a Local
Berliners love to dine out and do so quite frequently, from scarfing down a quick doner at the local kebab joint to indulging in an eight-course tasting menu at a Michelin-starred dining shrine. Eating out is rarely just about getting fed – it is also a social experience. Meeting friends or family over a meal is a great way to catch up, engage in heated discussions or exchange the latest gossip.
Going out for breakfast is a beloved pastime, especially on weekends. Enjoying a meal out at lunchtime is no longer the domain of desk jockeys and business people on expense accounts, as many restaurants (including Michelin-starred ones) now offer daily specials or set menus at a discount. The traditional German afternoon coffee-and-cake ritual is more the realm of more mature generations and not practised widely among Berlin millennials.
The main going-out meal is dinner, with restaurant tables usually filled at 7.30pm or 8pm. Since it's customary to stretch meals to two hours and then linger over cocktails or another glass of wine, restaurants – for now – only count on one seating per table per night. Servers will not present you with the bill until you ask for it.
Partying Like a Local
Most Berliners start the night around 9pm or 10pm in a pub or bar, although among younger people it's common to first meet at someone's home for a few cheap drinks in a ritual called 'Vorglühen' (literally 'preglowing'). Once out on the town, people either stay for a few drinks at the same place or pop into several spots, before moving on to a club around 1am or 2am at the earliest.
In most pubs and bars, it's common practice to place orders with a server rather than pick up your own drinks at the bar. Only do the latter if that's what everyone does or if you see a sign saying 'Selbstbedienung' (self-service). Among Germans it is not expected (nor customary) to buy entire rounds for everyone at the table.
Once in the club, how long one stays depends on your inclination and alcohol and drug consumption. Hardy types stagger out into the morning sunshine, although the most hardcore may last even longer. Since some clubs don't close at all on weekends, it's becoming increasingly popular to start the party in the daytime and go home at, say 11pm, for a normal night's sleep. But don't feel bad if that's not your thing. Partying in Berlin does require some stamina…
Shopping Like a Local
Berliners pretty much fulfil all their shopping needs in their local Kiez (neighbourhood). There will usually be three or four supermarkets, including at least one 'Bio' (ie organic) supermarket, within walking distance. Most people don't get all their grocery shopping done in one fell swoop but rather make several smaller trips spread over the course of the week. Since some supermarkets have started home delivery, ordering online is becoming more popular.
For many locals the farmers markets are the preferred source of fresh produce and speciality products like handmade noodles, artisanal cheese and Turkish cheese spreads. Days start with fresh Brötchen (rolls) bought from the bakery around the corner. Nonfood needs such as gifts, flowers, books, hardware and wine are also met locally where possible.
Clothing will come from a mix of places that may include high-street chains, indie boutiques, vintage stores, flea markets and, of course, online shops. When Berliners venture out of their neighbourhoods to shop, it's usually to buy big-ticket items like furniture or vehicles, or speciality items not available locally. There are a few big malls in the city centre, such as Mall of Berlin and Alexa, but generally these are more commonly located in the suburbs.
Living Like a Local
The typical Berlin dwelling is a spacious rented two-bedroom flat on at least the 1st floor of a large early-20th-century apartment building (no one wants to live at street level), probably facing on to a Hinterhof (back courtyard) full of bicycles and coloured recycling bins. The apartment itself has very high ceilings, large windows and, as often as not, stripped wooden plank floors. The kitchen will almost invariably be the smallest room in the house and right next to the bathroom. Some kitchens have small pantries and/or storage rooms.
Apartments in new buildings follow a more contemporary layout and usually have an open kitchen facing out to the living/dining room, walk-in closets, guest toilets, lower ceilings and balconies.
Berlin flats are usually nicely turned out with much attention paid to design, though comfort is also considered. At least one item of furniture will come from a certain Swedish furniture chain. Depending on income, the rest may come from the Stilwerk design centre, Polish crafters, a flea market, eBay – or, most likely, any combination thereof.
Relaxing Like a Local
Although they are passionate about their city, Berliners also love to get out of town, especially in summer. If they're not jetting off to Mallorca or Mauritius, they will at least try to make it out to a local lake on a sunny day. There are dozens right in town, including the Plötzensee in Wedding, the Weissensee near Prenzlauer Berg, the vast Müggelsee in Köpenick and the Wannsee in Zehlendorf – all easily reached by public transport. Hundreds more are just a quick car or train ride away in the surrounding countryside of Brandenburg. Everyone's got their favourite body of water and, having staked out the perfect spot, tends to return there time and again.
With equally easy access to some fabulous parks, Berliners love heading for the greenery to chill with friends and a cold beer, relax in the shade, play frisbee or catch up on their reading. Some parks have areas where barbecuing is permitted.
Sightseeing Like a Local
Most locals – especially more recent arrivals – are very appreciative of Berlin's cultural offerings and keep tabs on the latest museum and gallery openings, theatre productions and construction projects. It's quite common to discuss the merits of the latest play or exhibit at dinner tables.
Although they love being a tourist in their own city, Berliners stay away from the big-ticket museums and sights in summer when the world comes to town. More likely they will bide their time until the cold and dark winter months or visit on late-opening nights with smaller crowds. The annual Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of the Museums, usually in August), when dozens of museums stay open past midnight, brings out culture vultures by the tens of thousands.
Many Berliners live and die by the fortunes of the local soccer team, Hertha BSC, which has seen its shares of ups and downs in recent years. After a brief stint in 2. Fussball-Bundesliga (Second Soccer League), the team returned to the top-level Bundesliga in the 2013–14 season – much to the relief of locals. Still, true fans don't quit the team when it's down and, during the season, many will inevitably don their blue-and-white gear to make the trek out to the Olympiastadion for home games. In 2018, they cheered especially loudly when Hertha player Marvin Plattenhardt was selected for the Mannschaft (German national team) playing at the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Berlin's other major team, 1. FC Union, plays in the second league and has an especially passionate following in the eastern parts of the city.
- The Weather
Many locals are hobby meteorologists who will never pass up a chance to express their opinion on tomorrow's weather or on whether it's been a good summer so far, whether the last winter was mild or brutal, what to expect from the next one, and so on… So if you run out of things to say to a local, get the conversation going again by mentioning the weather. Other popular topics are rising rents, the perceived ineptitude of the local government or the much delayed opening of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
Need to Know
For many Berliners, the preferred way of getting around town is by bicycle. Rent your own or make use of the ubiquitous bike-share schemes. Alternatively, and especially in bad weather, take advantage of Berlin's excellent public transport system. For sightseeing on the cheap, hop aboard bus 100 or 200.