Surviving Berlin: The Green City vs. The Grey City

Dulcie Rosales-Foster headshot
Dulcie Rosales-Foster
April 14, 2023
Painting on Berlin Wall stating Berlin with doodle of Berlin wall and taxi Trabi, Everywhere with a plant and wall as well as a bunny, China showing the Great Wall of China with a cat sleeping under it, and Moscow showing the Kremlin and a dog looking at it

Last month, I finally visited Berlin. This is something I had been planning on doing for a while, if you’re in Germany for a year, you should visit Berlin at least once. But, once I arrived in Freiburg, I realized just how far Berlin is from Freiburg, and just how expensive it can be thanks to hotel and transportation fees. By (direct, ICE) train, Berlin is about 5 hours away from Freiburg. This is pretty good considering Berlin is on the complete opposite side of Germany from Freiburg. But it still is quite the journey, especially when the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s train service, can be a bit unpredictable (Only about 60% of DB trains were on time in 2022). So, I was pretty grateful that IES Abroad Freiburg had a 5 day trip to Berlin that LAS students could participate in, and it only cost $200, which definitely made going to Berlin a lot more affordable and achievable. Before I compare Berlin and Freiburg, and let you know which city I prefer, here’s quick a summary of what I did in 5 days:

Day 1 -

Travel to Berlin, visit Brandenburger Tor, EAT!

Day 2 -

Walking tour of central Berlin (visiting major landmarks and areas) plus a tour of the Jewish Museum

Day 3 - 

Museumsinsel (Neues Museum), Berliner Dom, tour of Berlin Wall Monument, trying Pfannkuchen (Berliners), East Side Gallery, and vegan sushi for dinner!

Day 4 - 

Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Church, tour of Reichstagsgebäude (parliament building), trying vegan Currywurst (with Krautsalat!), Schwules* Museum, and dumplings then Ben and Jerry’s for dinner and dessert

Day 5 -

Travel back to Freiburg :’(


So, this may not seem like much to you but the tours and museums take up at the very least an hour and a half of your time. Additionally, all the tours are in German, so you’re working extra hard to even understand what your tour guide is telling you, which can definitely wear you out.

What I liked:

The main thing I liked was the art, museum, and food culture. Berlin is known as the Grey City, getting its name from the concrete buildings constructed after WWII and the Berlin Wall. But it is also called the City of Artists and Museums. Many famous artists and artist groups have lived there, including the Blaue Reiter (“Blue Rider”) art group which Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, famous for their abstract and expressionist art respectively, founded in 1911. There are, of course, plenty of art museums, but what I noticed that I really enjoyed were lots of murals painted on the Berlin Wall. There’s different sections of the wall all over Berlin. Most of it has graffiti on at least one side of it, but at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, you can see tons of murals artists were asked to paint on a 1.5km stretch of the wall. You will also often see people dressed in very diverse outfits, fashion in Berlin thrives. There is a joke in Germany that everyone in Berlin wears all black and leather jackets, and I definitely did see quite a few leather jackets, but there’s lots of people wearing tons of unique outfits.

Berlin has more than 170 museums! Museuminsel (“Museum Island”) has 5 massive museums. I only visited one of them, called the Neues Museum, which mainly focuses on Egyptian and Greco-Roman history, as well as early- and prehistory in Europe. But this museum was absolutely huge, and it took me over 3 hours to get through 4 floors of artifacts. Some notable artifacts it houses are the Bust of Nefertiti and the Golden Hat. I love visiting museums, especially art museums or anything natural history-related, so this is definitely something that I loved about Berlin. I ended up visiting lots of museums in Berlin, and I definitely feel like I learned and saw quite a lot.

I have found it pretty hard to find any Latin American food in Germany plus Europe in general and when I do, it isn’t always the best. I’m half Salvadoran, and I’m from New Mexico, so I grew up eating lots of spicy food and food with unique ingredients you just can’t find here. I’m only aware of three pupuserias (a type of restaurant that sells Salvadoran food, specializing in pupusas) in the entirety of central Europe. But, in big cities like Berlin it’s a lot easier to find really delicious and diverse food. Three of my favorite meals were: a falafel poutine bowl with beet hummus, veggie dumplings, and vegan currywurst with sauerkraut. Food is definitely more expensive in Berlin than in Freiburg, and the portions are also smaller, but it’s a lot easier to get many different kinds of foods here that are also more often authentic. There is also a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream parlor that I found, which is definitely a plus.

This city just has so. much. history. There's remnants of the Berlin Wall everywhere, and tons of museums dedicated to different aspect of Berlin and events in history. My favorite museum I visited on my own, called the Schwules Museum*, focused on the LGBT+ history of Berlin and Germany. On the east side of Berlin, you'll notice a little man on the street lights. He's either red with his arms outstretched, or green and walking. He's called the Ampelmann, and was the pedestrian sign in eastern Germany. You'll see art and even a shop dedicated to this little guy all around the city. 

In general, I would say that Berlin is the most similar to New York when it comes to its culture and general vibe; Lots of history, delicious food, and incredible art. 

What I didn’t like:

Berlin is a capital city. So, naturally it has lots of people. 3.64 million people to be exact. I’m not really someone who likes big cities, I did when I was younger but now I’m more of an outdoorsy person who likes living in quieter areas with nature, and mountains to hike around. Berlin is not like this, it can definitely be loud, and it does feel like the buildings tower over you wherever you go, even though there aren’t any skyscrapers like in other big cities. There aren’t as many greenspaces as there are in Freiburg, and it’s definitely noticeable. 

What I do love about big cities is public transportation. Berlin has plenty of it. But, it takes 30-40 minutes if you want to get anywhere in town, and it just doesn’t really feel like much of a walkable city. The subway is also often packed at all hours of the day, and it’s quite loud and crowded, on top of that, the doors don’t stop and open if you’re caught in between them, which is definitely scary. I didn’t realize just how good Freiburg’s public transportation was by German standards until using public transportation in Berlin. Of course, Berlin has to cover a lot more space and has more people using it, but the majority of people in Freiburg use public transportation or bike, and the VAG (transportation system in Freiburg) rarely has any issues. It’s always quiet, on time, and reliable. There have been strikes recently, but this has been all over Germany, and you are informed of them ahead of time, plus there are bikes you can rent for free (depending on how long you use it) or for about 3 euros. It just felt like it was hard to get anywhere in Berlin, and Google Maps was not great at navigating throughout the city. There were some things that I wanted to see that I just couldn’t because it would take me too long to get there, and they weren’t even attractions that were on the opposite side of the city. 

Berlin is also a lot more expensive than Freiburg. I have found food to be more affordable in Germany, which I love but, since Berlin is a major city, a large $7 meal becomes a small $17 one, and even more if you’re anywhere near a tourist attraction. On top of that, trying to find anywhere to eat that has space is a challenge. I learned pretty quickly to make reservations at places I really wanted to try if I wanted to be able to sit down in them. 

Which city did I prefer? 

Overall, although I really enjoyed Berlin, visiting it made me feel a lot more confident in my decision to study in Freiburg. I may have grown up in San Francisco, but I’m definitely more comfortable in outdoorsy, small town-New Mexico. As I mentioned before, Berlin is a lot like New York; it comes with both such a unique culture and steep prices. If you’re deciding on whether to study here in Freiburg or in Berlin, here's my advice:

If you prefer big and lively cities, having access to LOTS of museums, trendy fashion, diverse food, and beautiful architecture, I would recommend Berlin. If you prefer a smaller, quieter city with a medieval feel that still has public transportation, and enjoy hiking/ the outdoors, cherries, and German fairytales, I would recommend studying in Freiburg and exploring the Black Forest.

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Dulcie Rosales-Foster headshot

Dulcie Rosales-Foster

Hi there! I'm from Taos, New Mexico and I go to school at Westminster College, Missouri where I major in both Environmental Science and Spanish Translation. I love studying languages, thrifting, playing videogames, and reading in my free time. A fun fact about me is that I speak three languages fluently: English, French, and Spanish. But I'm working on German right now so hopefully it'll be four!

2023 Spring
Home University:
Westminster College (MO)
Environmental Studies
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