Beyond Here Travel Tips
Tips we feature in this article:
So you want to live in Berlin? The weird and eclectic city that serves as a portal for pursuing your creative ambitions, challenges your way of thinking, and allows you to disappear into a near-dreamland? The year we spent in Berlin was both unsettling and entertaining. The highs and lows would come and go, and by the end it felt like we were leaving our home.
In our last article we talked about how to apply for a working holiday visa; registering in Berlin; finding a job and housing; and learning German. In this article we provide a brief overview of opening up a bank account; descriptions of neighbourhoods in Berlin; where to shop for essentials; Berlin transit rules; and the Berlin street food you will be gorging on during the first month before you settle-in.
Opening up a Bank Account
There are numerous options in Berlin to open a bank account. We spent a solid couple of weeks researching online which bank suited our needs the best. Our interest lay in two important features: no monthly fees, and the ability to withdraw money when we travel without incurring fees.
In Berlin, you can choose from N26, Sparkasse, Deutsche Bank, Das Kann Bank, Comdirect, Commerzbank, Volksbank, and many more.
We chose Comdirect because as an online bank it did not have monthly fees, and as long as we used an ATM with the EC symbol (Euro-Cheque), we did not have to pay extra fees for withdrawing when travelling. If you are in the EU zone, you should be able to take out money easily without fees when you travel to other EU zones. However, make sure to double-check with the bank before you choose.
The process of opening a bank account was simple. The application involved online forms and identity verification through the Postbank in the post office. Finally they sent us an ID card, a debit card, and a “credit card”. Since we didn’t have a credit history in Germany they could not provide us with an actual credit card, so instead we received a prepaid “credit” card. In order to use it we had to deposit money into the card.
For withdrawing and depositing cash or cheques, Comdirect customers need to use the Postbank machines found inside post offices.
Many of the young expats we met chose either Sparkasse for a brick-and-mortar, or N26, if they preferred an online banking app. For us, Comdirect worked out pretty well. The only downside was that if we were out and needed to withdraw cash, we had to find a post office. The ATM machines inside the post offices are owned by Commerzbank, so we could have withdrawn money from a Commerzbank ATM separate from the post office, but we did not see many around.
Whereas, we noticed that Sparkasse ATMs were available on every second street in Berlin.
Here you can find more detailed info on what different banks offer.
Neighbourhoods in Berlin
Each neighbourhood in Berlin has its own centre of activity. Before settling on an apartment do some research to find the neighbourhood that best suits your lifestyle.
East and west Berlin have two different architectural styles. We lived in east Berlin where you will see ultra-minimalist buildings in uniform blocks stripped of flourishes built during the Soviet era. West Berlin buildings on the other hand are more detailed and extravagant in design. In Berlin you won’t find many houses with a back or front yard. Most of the available housing are apartment buildings with a simple outdoor-courtyard in the centre of the structure, behind the front-face of the building.
We preferred east Berlin because the majority of the night life is congregated within this grungy and graffiti-painted area. Here is a brief overview of some of the neighbourhoods in Berlin.
The north-centre neighbourhood of Mitte is popular among upper-middle class Berliners and tourists. This area extends north and west towards Wedding and Moabit. The area is characterized by a higher-income hipster crowd. Many of the main tourist attractions can aslo be found in this neighbourhood, such as Tiergarten, Alexanderplatz, Brandenburger Tor, Museum Island, Unter den Linden Street where the Nazi’s marched, and more.
In southern Berlin, west of Kreuzberg towards the centre, is Bergmannkiez, also home to young, hipster, affluent families.
East Berlin appears to be an artist’s playground, bubbling with intoxicated Berliners searching for that next hit to transport them to an unforgettable (but forgettable) night. There is always something happening in east Berlin, even an afternoon stroll around the area is entertaining. Some of the more interesting neighbourhoods here are, Prenzlauer Berg (closer to the centre), Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln.
In Prenzlauer Berg, many locals and tourists visit Mauerpark on the weekend. The park hosts a large market area along with food stands, and a Karaoke stage with built-in concrete arena-style seating.
In between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg is Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg where the nightlife on weekends is very lively.
South of Friedrichshain is Neukölln where many Turkish immigrants live. There are lots of interesting areas to visit in Neukölln, including Turkish markets to expand your pantry.
We were informed by our German language teacher that east of Lichtenberg and north, in Pankow, is where the conservative German nationalists live. So, we did not venture out into those areas.
West Berlin lacks the dirty-but-appealing aesthetic of east Berlin, but the architecture here is beautiful and reminds one of a by-gone era. Famously, David Bowie lived in Schöneberg, southwest of the central area. This neighbourhood is known for their LGBTQ+ community dating back to the 1920s, when it was famous for their exhilarating party scene which still continues today. Since then many neighbourhoods share the LGBTQ+ identity, including Kreuzberg.
Other neighbourhoods in the west are Wilmersdorf and Charlottenburg, where you can visit the majestic Charlottenburg Castle. These are more quiet neighbourhoods with wealthier neighbours.
Taking Transit in Berlin
Berlin is a large city with an excellent transportation system that can deliver you from east to west, and north to south, very easily. Travelling anywhere in Berlin usually takes between 30-40 minutes. There are different ways to get around: the S-Bahn, U-Bahn, the red-and-white Deutsche Bahn regional trains, buses, trams, and of course, biking (the lack of hills in Berlin makes it easy to cycle around).
BVG owns all the Berlin transportation systems, and Deutsche Bahn owns all the regional trains in Germany.
There are three zones in Berlin: A, B, and C. The A-zone covers most of the inner circle of Berlin. The B-zone covers a greater area outside of it. Finally, the C-zone sits further outside of the main central area of Berlin, and includes both the Berlin airports— Tegel and Schönefeld.
BVG only allows for one-way travel through Berlin, so you have to buy a second ticket for your return trip.
Price of a single adult ticket (AB zone): 2.90 Euros
Price of a single adult ticket (BC zone): 3.30 Euros
Price of a single adult ticket (ABC zone): 3.60 Euros
You can also purchase a short distance ticket (Kurzstrecke) costing 1.90 Euros, and is valid for three stops with the S- and U-Bahn trains. You can switch between trains, and the ticket is also valid for six stops on buses and trams, but only if you do not change vehicles.
A day ticket (Tageskarte) allows travelling during the whole day for as many trips as desired. Transportation fares for up to three children aged six to fourteen are included in the ticket price. The ticket is valid from the day of its validation until 3 a.m. the following day and costs 8.60 Euros in zones AB, and 9.60 Euros in zones ABC.
The 7-day ticket is valid for seven consecutive days from the day of its validation. The ticket costs 34 Euros in zone AB and 41.00 Euros in zone ABC. Its validity ends on the seventh day at midnight.
You can get a monthly pass for each combined zones:
AB zone – 84 Euros
BC zone – 86 Euros
ABC zone – 104 Euros
Berlin even offers monthly passes at a reduced price for those who do not begin their commute until 10am in the morning. View here for pricing details.
You can purchase tickets at the ticket machines on the train platforms, or at a kiosk inside certain train stations. Make sure to validate (date stamp) the ticket at the machine before boarding the train, and after boarding the bus or tram. Without validation, if you are caught by a transit officer, you will be fined. There are no gates barring entry to the train platforms, so many do attempt to travel without purchasing a ticket.
The transit officers are usually in civilian clothing so they are unnoticeable until after the vehicle starts moving and they begin checking your tickets. We were told by locals that the “officers” are actually petty criminals who are offered the transit officer job once they have done their time, but we are not entirely sure if that is true.
Although drinking is prohibited on all transit vehicles, many people still violate the rule because it is often not enforced by officers.
Grocery Stores to Visit for Essentials
Here is a brief overview of the different grocery stores and supermarkets you will encounter in Berlin:
Aldi & Lidl & Penny
These are budget-friendly discount stores. They have a modest selection of fresh veggies, and any essentials you need for a cheap price. The only drawback is that they do not offer a wide variety of different brands, or less-frequently-bought veggies such as radishes.
Apart from all other grocery essentials, Rewe and Edeka also offer particular specialty items, including a variety of health products, and an assortment of cheeses or deli meats. It is pricier with more choices, and the market is not only better stocked, but also cleaner in appearance.
If you require healthy, organic, and environmentally-friendly products then BioMarkt has a variety of options under this category for home products, and health foods such as flax seeds or vegan “meats”.
Rossman is a pharmacy that stocks various vitamins, including self-care products for your hair or body.
Kaufland is an everything store, similar to Walmart. You can find supplies for your house, crates of beer, food, spices, toys, home decor, anything you can name.
One of our favourite places to shop was at the various Turkish markets available in Kreuzberg or Neukölln. We mostly visited the large Turkish market found by the Spree River near Kottbusser Tor bahnhof. Not only do they sell cheaper produce but you can snack on street food while shopping.
Also, if you go towards the evening when the market is closing up, since they need to sell their produce for the day, some vendors drop their price substantially to get rid of their goods. A friend of ours was able to buy an entire box of avocados for only 2 Euros!
One thing to note about grocery shopping in Berlin is that, since Angela Merkel is traditional, all shops are closed on Sundays. So, you have to plan ahead or shop on Saturday. Another option is to visit the grocery stores, such as Edeka, inside S- or U-Bahn stations. However, since those are the only grocery stores open on Sundays, the lines can extend far.
Berlin Street Food
When you first move to Berlin and are still in the getting-settled phase, the best options for eating out are the local street food. Here are some of our favourite destinations for street food.
A diverse collection of vegan restaurants can be found in Berlin, but the city has the best döners we have ever tasted. The Berlin Döner is a modern take on the traditional Turkish sandwich, and is one of the many influences Turkish immigrants have had on the fabric of Berlin. The combination of spices used in the meat, mixed with roasted or fried veggies, fresh veggies, and various sauces, are absolutely mouth watering. Even the Turkish flatbread used is deliciously warm and flavourful, with a hard crust and a soft interior.
Döners are the tastiest and cheapest food you can purchase in Berlin, usually for 3.50 Euros. Our favourite places were Mustafas (quite popular with both locals and tourists); Favorit Gemüse Kebap on Turmstraße in Moabit; and Gemüse Kebap & Friends on Warschauer Straße.
There is a difference between your standard kebap döner and gemüse doner. Gemüse in German means vegetables. The gemüse döner includes additional veggies which have been cooked or roasted with the grease below the meat on the spit. Some cafes offer gemüse and others don’t.
Regardless, any döner place in Berlin with a gemüse option will be delicious.
Currywurst is another cheap fast food dish you can find on the streets all over the city. What is currywurst? It is pieces of fried pork sausage bathed in ketchup (with mayonnaise if you want), and curry powder. The currywurst cafe named Konnopke’s Imbiss, established under an U-bahn train line on Schönhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg is a well-known destination in the city. It is one of the oldest currywurst cafes, existing since the 1930s.
There are plenty of places to try currywurst, so when you go to Berlin, wander and find your favourite spot.
Getting settled in Berlin is not very difficult if you are not a citizen of the EU zone. All you need is some hustle, endurance, and hope: hope for your current circumstance of struggling to keep afloat among paperwork and non-stop job searching, to one day change.
In the end, the experience of attempting to start a life in a different country is incredibly valuable. It can teach you a lot about yourself and what you are capable of. Viele Glück!
Copyright © Beyond Here 2020
More German Travel Guides
Interested in moving to Berlin? Find out everything you need to know about applying for a Working Holiday Visa, registering in Berlin, searching for housing and jobs, and learning German.
Multicultural and progressive, Berlin is also a modern-day form of a city-wide bacchanal, dedicated to seduction and indulgence. In search for freedom and wild experiences we travelled to Berlin, riding the city’s waves of sorrow and elation. Read our feature travel story on our year in Berlin.
Berlin has experienced a whirlwind of political turmoil during the 20th century. Much of the city is defined by the Berlin Wall and its distinctive separation of east and west Berlin. Travelling to the city will not only provide you with crazy nightlife stories but also a deep knowledge of its historic past. Find out the best of Berlin—its landmarks, bars, activities, and places to visit in the surrounding areas.
A tormented and progressive country, Germany was central to the never-ending wars and power shifts of 20th century European history. In our guide to Germany, we travel to eight different cities from west to east and provide a taste of the country’s modernized major cities, most of which have been reconstructed since bombings during World War II. Read here for more.