For anyone thinking of moving to Berlin, my sincerest advice would be: don’t move here in January. This is coming from someone who moved here in January. The shutters on every window are closed; those 9-foot-tall double-doors signature of Berlin apartment style, the ones that lead to beautiful and enchanting courtyards, are definitely; the streets are cold and grey and empty. The entire city seems to be abandoned, totally absent of any human soul. The clubs are still cool, the bars are still fun, the hidden galleries and worth-a-visit tourist attractions are still there. The thing is, though, everything about Berlin that manages to be fun under the cold, bleak, sunless winter sky, is about thrice the fun once Berlin warms up. Like some glacial city beginning to thaw, Berlin cracks it’s windows and door’s open once April comes around, and everyone seems to wake from their hibernation. People start smiling more — an act entirely absent in a German winter, but somewhat frequent in a German spring. I would definitely recommend Berlin as a study-abroad site; the city is teeming with a unique combination of history and youth, and (as corny as it is to say) it’s truly unlike any other place in the world. I just wish I knew in advance how much the city can open up when the weather turns. If you can, come here when it’s warm; it’s easier to fall in love with a place when the dogs are roaming the parks and the flowers are in bloom. Regardless of the cold beginning, I still grew to love Berlin.
I live in Kreuzberg, bordering Mitte. NYU doesn’t give students the option of living outside of the dorms, but I know a few people who were so miserable in a freshman-year-like living situation that they got cheap apartments in East Kreuzberg. Because the dorms are so near where West Berlin city limits once were, this area is slightly more commercialized, slightly less charming. If you take the M29 bus just a few stops East, just past Moritzplatz, things start to get better. Gorlitzer Park is kind of like Washington Square Park in the sense that walking through it, you can see people from all walks of life; children and parents, groups of hobos sunbathing, animals on the run, teenagers drinking. I would recommend venturing out of the immediate vicinity of the dorms as much as possible, and as soon as possible — there’s a whole other city outside of Checkpoint Charlie.
Here’s some key advice from someone who overthinks just about every single thing: don’t overthink Berlin too much. There’s not much you can do to prepare in the weeks and months before the abroad semester begins. As long as you have an open mind and are willing to engage in different ways of living with weird and interesting new people, you should be fine. Maybe if you can get your body used to a violently alternating sleep schedule (getting up for German class at 9:30 AM on weekdays, staying up past that time on weekends), that might help. Learn a little bit of German first — just bitte (please) and danke (thank you) go a long way. Bring a book you love for long U-Bahn and S-Bahn rides. Bring the willingness to walk places on your own and get lost; that’s how you get to know the city. Be ready to feel a little bit alone at times, because like all the best cities, Berlin can be as isolating as it can be inviting. Don’t worry too much about adjusting, because your affection for this city will sneak up on you in no time.