BERLIN. Where to start? What an incredible couple of weeks it has been in this ultra cool city!
My two fellow University of Toronto exchange students and I, who are studying at the Hertie School of Governance this fall, landed at Tegel Airport in Berlin in late August, and we hit the ground running.
To celebrate our arrival in Germany on that beautiful Saturday summer’s eve, we (quite appropriately) enjoyed our first German beers at the bar just next door to our AirBnB apartment, a pub called Wiener Blut (readers beware, many more hilarious German words to follow throughout this blog series). With outdoor seating and some hipsters at the neighbouring tables, we kicked off the start to what would surely be, and so far has been, an awesome semester.
Before being able to see many of the famous historical sites or explore the numerous museums and galleries, we had to see to finding permanent accommodation. So the day after our arrival, we grabbed our laptops and happened upon an incredible cafe-restaurant called Morgenland, not 5 minutes from our AirBnB apartment.
Little did we know, Morgenland is a well-known Sunday morning brunch spot. It was packed, but we managed to get a table outside and enjoy the enormous spread of delicious foods, even being told after we paid that we could take our time and try more. The two young American guys that arrived ahead of us, to save space, were seated at the same table as a young German couple, one of whom was rocking a futuristic, silver space suit and the other the funkiest mohawk you’ve ever seen. The two pairs were positioned at the table so that they faced the other couple, rather than their respective partners. It must have facilitated some rather interesting dialogue because by the end, we noticed these unlikely new friends laughing it up and really enjoying each other’s company. I think it was at that moment, not even 24 hours in, that I first fell in love with this city – its openness, its freedom from constraint, inhibition, timidity, its unique way of bringing people together, no matter their backgrounds.
Pulling out our Macbooks, we spent the afternoon in Morgenland using the free Wifi to begin the search for rooms in shared flats, which are called “WG,” short for Wohngemeinshaft (…see, I told you). It took a few days, but I eventually found a well-located sublet for a big, bright room in a WG with 4 Germans, a close group of friends all about my age. They remind me of the TV show Friends! Each with a unique personality, and a truly fun and pleasant bunch of people who I hope can put up with my bad German and many questions these next few months…
My flat is on what I like to call “Dude Street” – really Dudenstraße – mere steps from the now-closed, historic Tempelhof Airport (which was a wicked backdrop to the free David Guetta concert I saw there last weekend)! The nearby U-bahn (subway) station is called Platz der Luftbrücke. As my AirBnB host, a born-and-raised Berliner, explained to me, luft = air and brücke = bridge, and this was the site of the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, in which the Allies supplied the people of East Berlin by aircraft after the Soviets cut off all water and land access to West Berlin. I swear every single corner of this city has some fascinating historical tidbit behind it.
Getting a cell phone, opening a bank account, and registering with the City of Berlin (you are given €50 “Welcome Money”!!!) were some other things that needed to be taken care of in the first days. Prepaid phone plans are extremely affordable here, and the diversity of your options in general puts the Canadian cell phone industry and its major companies to shame. The cost of living, in general, is quite a bit lower than Toronto, to my delightful surprise. Rent including everything, even Internet, is €330 or about $450 Canadian. And since I know some you are curious, beers are I’d say €2.50 on average!
Based on my experience (only in Berlin so far), Germany is a well-organized, clean and friendly place. Many people speak English and I’ve had no trouble communicating, although if you are ever here, do try to learn at least a phrase or two in German! Public transportation is fast, vast, and easy. The extensive U-bahn and S-bahn trains (the equivalent of the TTC subway) even run all night on Fridays and Saturdays! I hope I don’t need to be more explicit about how incredibly awesome that is?!
I feel welcomed by the Hertie School’s administration and faculty and I just love the über international feel of the student body! Nationalities represented include Belgian, Dutch, English, Greek, Polish, German, Italian, French, Russian, Mexican, Colombian, Brazilian, Chilean, American, Canadian, South Korean, Chinese, Turkmenistan and surely many others.
During O-week (Orientation Week), incoming students were spoiled with a great big variety of social events and activities, ranging from indoor beach volleyball, to a “pizza & quiz” night at school (with complimentary beer!) to a Floating Boat Tour on the Spree River complete with kaffee und küchen (coffee and cake… a German thing, from what I’ve gathered…also brilliant), to the grand finale of the “Semester Opening Party.” I think it’s safe to say that a fabulous time was had by all and some lasting friendships will come out of this memorable week.
I am blessed and excited to be able to spend the next few months here in Berlin and I plan to explore as much of it – and Germany – as possible!
In the next post: more about Berlin’s many districts, karaoke at Mauerpark, museums and historic sites, the Berlin Wall, and other tidbits…
Stay tuned! 😉