It took three trips, but Berlin has emerged from my extensive travels a favorite European cities. It’s gritty, historic, diverse-ish, unapologetically kinky, affordable and accessible. There are hipster sponsored flea markets, BDSM organized sex clubs, world class museums, Tajikistan tea houses and enough underground music scenes to keep your nights full. My most recent trip was earlier this year when I spent a week living in Berlin. Here are the things that after the trip I think first time visitors should know.
1. That’s A Lot Of Smoke
Toss a couple bottles of Febreze inside your luggage before heading to Berlin. Folks light up inside bars, cafes, restaurants and give zero f*cks about your disdain for cigarette smoke. Roughly one-third of adult Berliners enjoy the occasional cigarette. This means that unless you have access to a hazmat suit, you’re gonna have to deal with second-hand smoke. And inside bars and clubs particularly, you’ll have to deal with a lot. Schools, daycare centers, public transportation and recreational facilities are the only places legally required to be 100-percent smoke free. This however doesn’t mean the law is regularly enforced. You’ll likely see someone smoking at a train or bus stop, and when they do, just pull out the Febreze and freshen up right in front of them.
2. Affordable Adjacent
The Marriott Champs Elysees Hotel in Paris, France has a room available next week for $483. I know because I just checked. A room at the comparable five star Marriott Hotel in Berlin is $153. For the math flunkies, the savings between rooms is $330. Berlin constantly ranks as one of the better value destinations for tourists in Western Europe because it’s remained affordable. Compared with accommodations in London, Copenhagen and Paris, Berlin has the edge. Food is marginally less or on par with most major U.S. cities. And there are plenty of museum passes and discounts for historical sites to keep your days full the credit card inside your wallet.
3. Museum Pass For That A**
Speaking of museum passes, grabbing a discounted 3-Day Museum Pass from the Berlin tourism board’s website is probably a good idea. If booked in advance, a ticket is less than $20. That grants you unlimited access to 30 museums over the course of three days. Included are the controversial Pergamon Museum, Medical Mystery Museum, New Museum where Nefertiti’s bust is on display, Berlinische Galerie and Museum of Natural History. Another benefit of having these passes is eliminating the “What should I do today?” debate every traveler inevitable has. If you have a museum pass, you know what you’re doing. And once you pay the 15 euros, you’ll have to plenty to do without unforeseen costs.
4. Diplomacy Is Not A Thing
Americans have mastered the art of being insincere. It’s a diplomatic tactic learned early to help navigate social anxieties. We nervously ask people how their day is going and stop listening before we finish our own question. We sugar coat things, avoid uncomfortable conversations and so on. Germans don’t do this. In fact, many people find Germans to be abrasive. And, well, a lot of them are. But it’s important to understand there’s no harm intended by their directness. Many would just rather get to the point and have honest conversation rather than bloviate.
5. Cash Only
A lot of shops don’t accept debit or credit cards so carry euros. Few things are more embarrassing than ordering something and not having the money to pay for it. From restaurants to vintage shops, you’ll be shockingly surprised by how many places are cash only. I always recommend making withdrawals directly from bank ATMs. Most of the currency exchange booths found in touristy locations or the airport have crap exchange rates. Determine how much money you think you’ll need for your stay and then make one withdrawal to avoid raking up bank fees.