I would absolutely recommend moving to Berlin, not just for the four month study abroad program but also just to live. I’d rather just advise you on general Berlin stuff since being a foreign exchange student a lot of the things you will do will revolve around school, especially since you are required to live at the NYU dorms. To be clear the NYU abroad experience here is amazing and I would suggest it above anywhere else, but the reason I’m staying for an extra semester is because I found that I didn’t really have enough time around my coursework, especially since I took 18 credits (if you’re abroad I would probably not advise this, I only did it because I’m trying to graduate in 6 semesters and because they were all really interesting classes) and four months living in college dorms and going to school every day is not enough to get out of the bubble, regardless of what students will claim.
If you do go in the program, the Marx Nietzsche Freud course is hard but very interesting, same for the German film course. Don’t take 6 credit German unless you have the time. If you take photography take Matthew’s course. I loved what I studies but I felt like I spent too much time in my room and coffee shops (lots of great ones here with hipsters who will press the shit out of some yummy artsy coffee). If you’re not going to spend time here after the semester limit your credits.
If you were to move here outside of the NYU program on a gap semester or the summer here’s what I would advise.
Don’t live near Mitte where the NYU programs are, live instead in South Kreuzberg or on the Kreuzberg/Neuköln border. You can find much larger rooms than the NYU facilities for 250 euro a month with a couple flatmates and no roommates. It’s a way cooler part of town, you will be near a lot of more fun nightlife but also coffee shops/grocery stores/culture and less tourists.
Get a bike. If its not the winter I would even say go without the U-Bahn monthly pass, especially since you won’t have the student discount (why doesn’t NYC have this yet??). Just bike everywhere, occasionally getting a one way ticket if you’re going far. It’s a pretty flat city, everyone bikes, and most of the cool stuff is fairly close to each other. http://kleinanzeigen.ebay.de/anzeigen/stadt/berlin/. Fahrrad is bike. If you can, try and find one that’s fairly nice since you can resell it before you leave and you’ll be using it a lot. That being said everyone has shit bikes anyway. Get a bell and light since cops will fine you for not having it, get a basket for groceries and stuff. you can also just hang it off the handlebars. ok you know you bikes work, this is getting redundant.
If you’re going to go to Berghain go with one friend. No more than two. You can always split up a party into pairs separated throughout the line. Wear all black, look a bit dirty, do not dress up like you would for a club in NYC. Ladies do not wear any heels or a dress. Guys I would suggest going with another guy and throwing your arm around his shoulder. Wait until you can speak enough German to be able to immediately respond to the door guy in a decent accent. He will ask how many people, (in Germany three is indicated with the thumb and two middle fingers btw), and possibly some stuff about age or other simple questions. Go on a night when you know the artist playing or not, but atleast know the style of music. That being said panorama is always house and Berghain proper is four on the floor techno from a function one system. Saturday night will be harder to get in, but if you think you can, go around 1-2am. At sunrise they throw open the blinds at panorama. If you’re doing drugs get some beforehand, and be aware anything you get there will have a lot of speed in it. Be safe.
There’s a lot of ways to live very cheaply in Berlin, with low rent and cheap nightlife. Get your food at markets instead of major grocery stores. That being said Kaiser is really useful.
Be social. It’s not hard to make friends at bars, especially if you speak German. Don’t worry almost everyone 18-25 speaks decent English and is happy to speak in English. “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” is not going to make you look bad. I knew very little going in and a huge part of this advice and my interesting moments here are from making friends with people who know the city.
Once you’ve made some friends, use them to meet other people. Don’t stay at home.
Buy some decent speakers if you can just because those things will make your life way better. Then sell them when you leave, they’re pretty easy to sell here if they make big sound.
Go to abandoned spaces. Yes its a bit obvious but it truly is a very special Berlin opportunity. There’s an abandoned hospital, abandoned rail lines, and my favorite is an old abandoned warehouse that has a small forest growing inside.
It looks like this: http://www.jessewheaton.com/abandoned_greenhouse.html
Go to the theatres here you can find subtitles and there are awesome places.
Go out to the forest. Waldeinsamkeit: the feeling of being alone in the forest.
As far as preparing its pretty much the same as everything else in traveling. Pack light, choose appropriate clothing and only other essentials you can’t get there. Find a place to stay and drop in, see what happens. Going with a friend will be nice for support, but going alone is a great experience as well (in general). In high school I asked a lot of people what they liked most about college and what they regretted the most. Nearly all of them talked about going abroad or taking a semester off to think about what they wanted to do and what to study to get there. Berlin’s going to be awesome, you’re going to love it.