After one long plane journey, I am once again safely home! I have already written on ways to deal with leaving Berlin (although this was before I had left), but I think enough other people have covered the subject. Instead, now that I have had time to reflect, I want to explain some key differences between Germany (or at least, Berlin) and the U.S.
To start, the most important difference I found in Berlin: water is not free! I think most Americans consider water a basic human right, so when it’s summer and it’s hot out, it’s perfectly normal to go into a restaurant and simply ask for a glass of water. Not in Berlin. Not only can you not ask for water, but even when you’re sitting down to eat, water is not free! In fact, water is often more expensive than other soft or hard drinks, hence why many Germans favor drinking beer when they eat out.
Don’t think you can just go into the bathroom to fill up your water bottle, either. Using public restrooms costs money in Germany, often between fifty cents and a Euro. At least using a restroom in the larger train stations often results in a coupon for a nearby grocery store! Personally, I never had to pay to use the toilet in Berlin––try to plan it well: always use the toilet right before you leave home and at the IES Abroad Center, use it any time you’re leaving a restaurant and often in museums or other similar attractions.
Another well known difference is that Germans love to smoke. Where in the U.S. you can ask someone to stop smoking near you (especially if you have asthma, like me, or if there are children around) in Germany this would be unthinkable. People smoke outside and inside. Even in the train stations where smoking is not allowed, most people do it anyways. Most museums and many apartments, however, enforce the no smoking rule more strongly.
While those are the most important differences, there are smaller ones that other Americans may also find surprising. For example, ice doesn’t really exist in Germany––you will probably never get ice in your drink even if you ask for it. If a restaurant does have ice they will likely charge you more for two or three tiny cubes––which really does nothing on a sunny Berlin day.
German windows are very air tight and so to keep rooms from growing too musty you have to open your window for twenty to thirty minutes a day. Sounds fine right? Except Germans have large beautiful windows––and no window screens! This means that bugs can easily come into your room, especially if you have the light on and it’s nighttime. Once I even had a pigeon fly into my room! My host family said that doesn’t happen often, but surely it’s something to worry about when the birds (and other small creatures) can theoretically get in whenver they want?
Finally, I have one small difference that is more annoying than anything else. Are you thinking of bringing a folder to Berlin to put your homework papers in? Or maybe even a binder? Well keep in mind that in Germany paper is longer than in the U.S.––really! Standard paper in the US is 8.5 x 11 inches but in Germany it’s 8.27 x 11.7 inches! German papers just don’t sit in American folders right.
All of these differences should not scare you away from studying in Berlin––eventually you become used to them and work around them. Most of these things are annoying or confusing, not very difficult to deal with. Overall Berlin is a wonderful place to stay in if only to experience the cultural differences of the Germans who live there, which certainly goes beyond these few minor things.
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<p>I study Nutritional Sciences and Linguistics, with a focus in Dietetics and Sociolinguistics respectively, in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. I am also minoring in German and Korean. Outside of the classroom I volunteer with the Beekeeper's Club and LGBTA Resource Center at PSU and work part time for Hillel (delivering kosher soup, actually!). During breaks I like cooking, gardening, and playing D&D with friends. </p>