Willkommen in Deutschland: The Bubble vs Berlin


Swap cheese for techno, potatoes for currywurst and quaddies for beer and you’ll have the perfect beginners’ recipe for life in Berlin. I’m currently coming towards the end of my 6 month year abroad internship in Germany’s capital, where life is very different to our cosy Durham experience – in good ways and bad.

For a languages student, a typical Durham timetable consists of around three lectures or seminars spread throughout the day. This gives us convenient breaks for last minute vocabulary learning, scribbling down seminar notes or, preferably, meeting friends in one of Durham’s many coffee shops.

In Berlin, however, my daily routine has been completely different.  I’ve been working for a translation company for 5 hours a day, alternating mornings and afternoons. This has given me ample time to explore the city, visiting various lakes in summer and heading to the shops to escape the crisp autumn breeze.

After a day of work comes a well-deserved evening meal. In Durham this usually involves rustling up a dish including pasta, which in second year seemed to replace the plethora of potatoes on offer in Durham’s college canteens.  A treat usually involves heading to Spags for more pasta, or to the lesser known but equally appealing “Bistro Italiano” on Claypath (which I would strongly recommend).

In Germany, on the other hand, tea (or dinner depending on where you’re from) is a less important affair.  It often revolves around bread, salad or – in our case – the occasional trip to the Döner shop next door. First introduced to Germany by Turkish immigrants in the 1970s, kebabs are very popular here and often made with fresh cheese and flavourful sauces rather than the pure fat and grease you find in the UK. Even quality dining out doesn’t break the bank in Berlin, where you can easily enjoy a meal and drinks for around 15 euros.

Admittedly, in both Durham and Berlin you can find cuisine from all over the world. While in Berlin you can try a new restaurant every week, an advantage of Durham is perhaps that sense of “community” you feel when being given that nod of recognition by the Urban Oven worker as he hands over your post night out cheesy chips…

Regarding nights out, there are few similarities between the two cities. While in Berlin the true clubbing nightlife is mainly to be enjoyed at the weekend, we can head out to party any night of the week in Durham. A night usually begins with pre-drinks at around 9pm with the aim of cheap and rapid inebriation. This may lead you to either collapsing into bed at midnight or running into Klute cheering along to “Reach” – and then vowing never to return again the next day.

In Berlin, a night really gets started at around midnight.  Pre-drinks aren’t part of the culture as you can simply head to a funky bar or grab yourself a reasonably-priced beer from one of the hundreds of 24 hour “Spätis” to have on the way (yes – drinking on the street is allowed). One thing I’ve definitely realised is that British-level drunkenness is not so common here. A fun night now consists of a few beers, dancing until around 6am (or even later) and waking up with no headache the following afternoon. Admittedly, such a routine has severely affected my sleeping pattern; I wonder how I will fare back in Durham with 9am lectures and 2am curfews…

As for places to go, Durham is basically limited to mainstream and house music. The occasional salsa or Invitations night at Fabios do, however, allow for a little diversity. Although entry fees in Berlin are higher (on average 10 euros), the quality and quantity of clubs available, as well as the later closing times, make the extra expenditure worthwhile. From the techno of Watergate to the indie rock of Lido, there really is somewhere for everyone – not just the infamously difficult to enter Berghain. I’ve really got into the salsa scene in Berlin and truly admire the stamina of some of my Spanish/Latino friends who are in their 30s and still able to party until 8am.  If you think us students know how to work and play hard, these people are on another level.

As well as Latinos and Spaniards, many other nationalities are abundant in Berlin, especially in the eastern area of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where around 20% of the population is foreign-born.  People of many different cultures coexist relatively harmoniously, which I feel contributes to the open-mindedness and liberalism for which Berlin is renowned. This is something I will truly miss when back in Durham, where there is a disproportionately low representation of ethnic minorities and a divide between the older locals and the students.

In Berlin, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how old you are. Interestingly, most of my friends here are at least 25 and either from other cities in Germany or from other countries in Europe or Latin America. I know I’ll be dying to burst the bubble when back in the North East.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I (and many others on their year abroad) do miss life in Durham.  Its quaint cafés, beautiful castle and cathedral and college system give us a unique student experience. I miss drinking too much wine with college friends at formals, saluting the Klute bouncers and always bumping into people on the way to lectures.

However, what I love about Berlin is having no routine whatsoever and being able to discover somewhere new every day. In summer this meant visiting markets and lakes, and now winter is here there are dozens of ice rinks and Christmas markets to discover.

If you ever fancy a break from the bubble, I would highly recommend a trip to Berlin.

Photograph: Lucy Woods 

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