How to Berlin

In Berlin, Tips, The Art of Travel Fall 2014 by Lila Faria2 Comments

When I first arrived at NYU Berlin, I got swept up in the “college” atmosphere. I was suddenly surrounded by a limited number of students, who all focused on doing a limited number of things. During my first few months in Germany, I spent a lot of time tagging along with these students, in an attempt to be social. I tagged along on bar hops and clubbing trips, awkwardly dancing and trying to connect (the way teenagers do).

About half way through the semester, I realized I’d tagged along to tons of events, yet had not made many close friends over the course of my time. Even though I’d participated in everything most other people had, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I had different interests than most people here; the NYU Bubble didn’t fit me.

Now, I am not the only student to experience this. One of the most common “tips” I’ve heard regarding NYU Berlin, in fact, is to get out of the bubble, and try to bond with the natives instead. Although I agree with this piece of advice, no one ever told me how to pursue it.

So, here are some tips for how to get out of the NYU Berlin Bubble:

1. Do your own thing. NYU Berlin’s campus is fairly small: This semester’s program included about 75 students. The small setting and universal dorm life gives the program a much more typical collegiate feel than NYU’s NYC campus. Try not to get swept up in the “college” atmosphere. If all the students are off doing something that you are not interested in doing, don’t do it. Just because you are living with these people, doesn’t mean you have to connect with them on every single level.

2. Don’t make assumptions. When I first arrived at NYU Berlin, I had no notion of Germans other than the stereotypes. I’d heard they were reserved, even quiet, and hard to befriend. Upon coming here, however, I’ve met all sorts of Germans: Outgoing, introverted, and everything in between. I’ve also met other people from all over: A woman from Lithuania, a number of Swiss folk, and a whole lot of French and British men. See who you end up meeting before making assumptions about what they might be like.

3. Embrace the language gap. One of my biggest regrets is the amount of time I’ve spent silent in NYU Berlin. Since I didn’t know an ounce of German before coming here, and had heard people might be rude to me if I tried to speak English, I deemed silence as the most polite way to approach the city. Turns out, even if silence is polite, it is also lonely. If I were to redo my experience, I would try to be more open with the city. Berlin, for the most part, is friendly… Plus, due to the way it is developing, it contains more expats to Berliners. Many people here recognize the English language as important, and even find it cool (“toll”) to speak it. If you come here, act as you normally would. Try to approach people, despite the language barrier. If you keep trying, it will ultimately improve your knowledge of the language; and, you will probably meet some pretty cool people along the way.

4. Calm down. Although Berlin is a large city, it is a lot calmer than New York. People aren’t in a rush here. If someone has free time here, they might relax in a park. If someone is about to miss the U-Bahn, they’ll wait for the next train. Try not to rush too much. You may enjoy yourself more.

5. Learn to be alone. Berlin is a city that was built for more people than it has. As a result, the people per square foot ratio is lower here than in other cities, such as NYC. Walking alone, you will find yourself amongst a greatly reduced population. Suddenly, you can go to the grocery store without seeing over 10 people, rather than 100. You can even isolate yourself completely by walking into Tempelhof Field and sitting almost everywhere. It’s easy to be alone here. Embrace it.

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  1. Lila,

    I loved the way that you approach the language gap within your post. It’s a really beautiful representation; “the silent Berlin” is something which I definitely have experienced, but in French. I wonder if you ever found that Berlin’s silence really lifted for you? That’s something that I am reckoning with in French, and trying to deduce whether or not I’ve begun to actually hear the French, despite the fact that I am listening to them constantly. There is something that is extra quiet about hearing voices all the time, very few of which you can understand.

    This is all really great advice, and I hope you really found your niche in Berlin after all.


  2. Hi Lila, I really enjoyed reading about your time in Berlin, and of course tips on just “How to Berlin”. In my opinion, your advice applies not only to NYU’s Berlin campus, but to many of the university’s study away campuses. I found both during my time in London last year, and during this semester, that it is incredibly important to pop the “NYU bubble” as you put it.

    As for language barriers, I can relate with the “silence” approach. My Zhongwen (Chinese) has improved, but it is many months away from being truly serviceable. As I’m sure you can understand, there are a handful of words that are worth their weight in gold for getting around.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed your time in Berlin. Safe travels home.

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