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Typical Berlin: 18 Things that exist (almost) only in Berlin!

On this page you will find our list of things that (almost) only exist in Berlin, and are therefore "typical Berlin".

In Berlin you will encounter institutions and things that exist nowhere else, at least almost. They shape the cityscape significantly, some have even advanced to cult status.

And there are the very special quirks of the Berliners that not everyone can get along with right away. However, as we have already said, Berliners don't care or as they would say, "schnurz piepe!"

Be amazed and amused while reading this article. Have fun...

1. Berlin is Humor

The motto of the Berliner is: "Everything is better with a sense of humor." So he/she smirks even when there is actually nothing to laugh about. The Berliner loves self-irony, especially when it comes to the misfortunes of city planners. In the process, sayings from the former GDR are gladly adapted.

"The S-Bahn's four biggest enemies: spring, summer, fall and winter," for example, alluding to the many train cancellations at Berlin's public transportation system, which are by no means due to the weather. Or: "Nobody has the intention to open an airport!" What was meant, of course, was the debacle surrounding the opening of Berlin Airport.

On such topics that move the city, the imagination in creating headlines seems almost limitless and one does not always have to use the GDR. When, at the time of the airport breakdown, the "old lady" of German soccer, Hertha BSC, was relegated, the Berliner Morgenpost wrote: "Berlin is when you don't even need an airport to fly out." A bon mot cracker was, "Have you ever had unprotected rail replacement traffic?" And the newspaper taz rumbled, "Berlin can't get it up!"

2. Berlin is Berliner Schnauze

Mocking-smug, straightforward, direct and casual. These are the characteristics that describe the typical Berliner very well and which are reflected in his language, the Berliner Schnauze ("Berlin snout"). This is characterized by a crude humor, which somehow always comes across as cordial. That is why there is talk of the "Schnauze with a heart" or of tough but hearty.

The Berliner Schnauze is, as is often assumed, not a dialect at all. Berlinish, as the language is actually called, is a metrolect. It is a city language that has come into being through the fusion of dialects and languages of different origins.

What makes the Berliner Schnauze is not just the way Berliners talk. What counts is what is said and the attitude to life behind it. Berliner Schnauze means rough humor and brutal honesty. An important point is that it is often spoken without being asked. So don't be immediately offended if you are unexpectedly hit hard but cordially.

If you are interested in correct "Berlinern", you can start learning your favorite words in the Berlinisch translator.

3. Berlin is on a First-Name Basis

While the whole of Germany is pondering whether it is better to be on first or last name terms, the German capital has long since found the answer.

The Berlin transport company (BVG) advertises with the slogan "Because we love you", the police try to recruit new blood with the slogan "There for you" and the governing mayor Michael Müller (SPD) invites to the festivities for the German Unity with the slogan "Only with you".

You too will experience often enough that you are simply addressed by "wild strangers". Don't worry about it and just get used to it. You already know that the Berliner Schnauze is direct and casual and tough, but cordial...

4. Berlin is Traffic Light Man

A relic from the GDR that survived the former socialist state and is now a cult figure that enjoys worldwide popularity. The East traffic light men in red and green decorated the pedestrian traffic lights of the GDR from 1969 and were dismantled after reunification from 1994; to the incomprehension of many. Did everything really have to be replaced with the "West" brand...?

A designer from Tübingen, who came to Berlin as a student, had the idea of collecting the dismantled traffic lights and making lamps out of them. He didn't know then that this would develop into the cult brand Ampelmann, which today turns over many millions of euros as souvenir articles.

5. Berlin is Retro Photo Booth

Hard to believe, but true! The ancient 2x2x1 meter photo boxes attract masses of people. Few among them actually need a passport photo, certainly not in black and white.

Usually there are two, three or more people and it's simply about the unique experience of squeezing into the machine and capturing this event on four passport photos. Especially on weekends, there are sometimes queues in front of the retro photo booths that can be found all over the city.

6. Berlin is Laundromats

There is no talk of a decline in laundromats in Berlin; quite the opposite. Laundromats are cult in the German capital and can be found everywhere. Decorated with retro wallpaper and sometimes even chandeliers from the 50s and 60s, the laundromats also run music in addition to washing machines and dryers. Students, pensioners, singles and the unemployed meet here for coffee.

7. Berlin is "Späti

The Spätverkaufsstelle (late-night store), or Spätkauf for short, or Späti for even shorter, is nothing more than a kiosk that is open outside of normal store hours, some even around the clock.

Most of the time you can find beverages and tobacco products here, occasionally also magazines, groceries as well as things for daily use. But the Späti has achieved Kiez-cult status by the fact that people can enjoy alcoholic drinks here, sitting on garnishes in front of the store, at kiosk prices.

The term "Späti" even made it into the German dictionary in 2017!

8. Berlin is Bus 100, 200 and 300

Looking for a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tour for very little money? Once an insider tip among Berlin travelers, word has long since spread that bus lines 100, 200 and 300 run along the city's most important sights and, if you have a 24-hour or weekly ticket for public transportation or the Berlin Welcome Card, you can hop on and off at any of the stops to see the sights of your choice up close. Quite Hop-On Hop-Off, only with the difference that you save a lot of money.

  • You can find the route of the three buses on the BVG website.

9. Berlin is "Wegbier"

A cell phone in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other. What is frowned upon in other cities is quite normal in Berlin. The subculture even has a name; Wegbier, simply translated to “A Beer On-The-Go”. The sip from the bottle is taken either after work on the way home or to start the party on the way to the club.

Many young Americans are particularly fond of it, because drinking on the street is forbidden under penalty at home. For them, the Wegbier is the epitome of freedom. As a result, you see people everywhere with Wegbier in their hands. In the streets, on the banks of rivers and canals, on bridges, in parks, or just where you can enjoy a cheap beer from the bottle.

10. Berlin is "Cornern"

Outdoor partying is so popular in Berlin that it already has its own word: "Cornern".

Taken from the English word corner, Berliners like to party on street corners, with “Wegbier” in their hands. In fact, quite a few street corners have become more fashionable than any bar. However, it becomes unpleasant when drunken tourists equipped with masses of cheap canned beer from the supermarket invade the trendy neighborhoods bawling.

11. Berlin is House Number Chaos

Berlin is sometimes chaotic, especially when it comes to house numbers. The famous U.S. writer Mark Twain noticed this even back then when he said after his visit to Berlin: “But the numbering of the houses – there has never been anything like it since original chaos.”

The chaos is self-made and has grown with the city, because when they began to number the city's houses in 1799, they did so according to the horseshoe principle. In this case, the house numbers begin on the inner side of the city and move consecutively to the end of the street, returning on the other side of the street. At the end, the highest number is opposite the number. The streets have red numbers.

This proved to be a bad idea, but it wasn't until 1929 that the decision was made to use the zigzag principle that is still common today, with the even numbers on one side of the street and the odd numbers on the other. The house numbers in these streets are blue.

Let's hope you don't have to search for a house number. If you do, here's a tip: Under each street sign are almost always the ascending or descending house numbers to the next street corner.

12. Berlin is Boarding Houses and Guest Rooms

Especially in Charlottenburg and around the Ku'damm there are still the classic boarding houses and guest rooms, at that time often run by war widows who had lost their husbands in the First World War. They rented out furnished rooms in an apartment in an old building, with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall, to supplement their meager widow's pensions. That was fine with those who didn't have much themselves.

Today, most boarding houses are run professionally. The rooms now have showers, but the toilet can still be in the hallway. And the elevator up to the third floor is probably missing, too. But even today there are many people who can not afford the prices of hotels and still want to stay in Berlin.

13. Berlin is Unisex Toilet

If you have to go to the toilet in a Berlin restaurant, you might look in vain for the ladies' or men's room. Very often they do not exist! Either the location is so small that there is simply no room for two toilets, or it is so hip that the Berlin trend of the "urine-free unisex toilet" is followed.

So don't be surprised if you find yourself quite unexpectedly engaged in conversation with the opposite sex while washing your hands. That's one way to get to know someone, isn't it? The only question that remains is whether the man sits while urinating or not...

14. Berlin is Gambling Hall

More vice than pleasure! With flashing neon signs and sometimes annoying noises, slot machines promise great fortune and entice many a gambling addict to get rid of his last penny. In some streets of Neukölln, Wedding and Moabit, there are more arcades than stores. There are well over 500 in the whole of Berlin, and every day about half a million euros go into the slots of more than 6,000 slot machines.

On the one hand, Berlin has the strictest law in Germany for regulating legal gambling halls. But on the other hand, the gambling halls generate around 40 million euros in entertainment tax and are good business for the city administration. A malicious person who thinks evil of it...

15. Berlin is Street Market

No matter what day of the week. Somewhere in Berlin is always a market and there is always something going on. Street market in Berlin means not only fruits and vegetables, potatoes and other food.

Street market in Berlin means old books and records, household goods, fabrics, shoes, some knickknacks and tinnef and much more. Street market in Berlin means to experience and enjoy urban city life up close. Just have a look where the next street market in your area takes place.

16. Berlin is a Kiez Pub

Even though they are becoming fewer and fewer, they still exist: the small corner pub, as Peter Alexander once sang about. In the daily meeting place of the neighborhood, the Molle, which is a glass of beer in Berlin, is still affordable.

Hans-Werner has been standing behind the bar for what feels like 50 years (how old is he really?) and plays old hits. One guest in the back corner lives above the pub, the other at the counter diagonally opposite.

Dare to enter one of these Kiez pubs (neighborhood pubs). Show yourself open and cordial, then you will, after an initial critical pattern, also quickly addressed and experience the real Berlin and its people up close.

17. Berlin is Berliner Weisse

Berlin without drinking Berliner Weisse is hardly imaginable. Every Berlin tourist, especially the foreign one, wonders what that green or red stuff is that people drink everywhere. Most curious people try it. You too should try a Berliner Weisse, especially in summer, when it tastes best.

Berliner Weisse is a tangy top-fermented beer brewed with a mixture of wheat and barley malt, but it should not be confused with Bavarian wheat beer. Since the beer is slightly sour when neat, it is often drunk with a shot of raspberry or woodruff syrup. Hence the red or green color, respectively, which immediately catches the tourist's eye.

18. Berlin is Dog Excrement and Urine Smell

Yes, that too is Berlin! The Berliner has long since become accustomed to it and dribbles casually around the small and large piles of dog excrement. You, however, should be steadily on your guard to avoid stepping in one.

An estimated 165,000 dogs live in Berlin. They produce well over 300,000 piles, and that's per day! That's about 55,000 tons of animal droppings, which often lie around on the streets as a tread trap. Solution to the problem? Not in sight...

Another nuisance is the urine smell that spreads from pee corners, preferably in underground and suburban train stations, in front of closed snack bars, in underpasses or green areas, but sometimes, if the bladder was about to burst, even the next house wall.

At the same time, at least according to the city administration, there are enough public toilets and porta-potties. That calls for a bit of self-discipline. But tell that to someone who's about to pee his pants when there's not a toilet in sight. Solution to the problem? Not in sight...

Now you know what is typical Berlin. For more exciting information and activities about Berlin's real character, be sure to check out our Berlin Lifestyle Guide!

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