Reverse culture shock can be disconcerting, even scary. While driving in my hometown the other day, I had a flashback to my time in Germany when I noticed a few things that Americans do that contrast with normal practice in Germany and Europe. Some of them are funny, but more often they’re scary. Whether you agree with them or not, Americans and Germans (Europeans) tend to do things very differently. Not all of them have to do with driving, but I’ll start with that. Most of these ten items also apply to Austria and German-speaking Switzerland.
I left our apartment for a run on Saturday morning and noticed it immediately: the air was softer, the sun warmer, more people were on the street. In the park round the corner, trees wore tiny green buds, a whisper of the bountiful green to come. In the sheltered spots, daffodils were about to bloom. Yes, the day before Easter, almost at the very end of March, winter was over and spring had arrived.
There is always that moment in Berlin, when you know that though the temperature might drop below 10C again, the harshness of winter has gone for a good for months at least. Exactly when it happens is unpredictable – mid-March is a wonderful treat, mid-April a longer slog. But when it does, you know it. The light changes, the smell of the city freshens, it’s inhabitants crawl out from their hibernation inside apartments and cafes and flood the streets.
In spring and summer Berlin is at its best for visitors. The combination of weighty history, visible on almost every street you walk down, plus superb pavement and park-life, becomes so much more accessible for the casual tourist. Gone are the beleaguered looks of people marching head down to the wind, battling with their umbrellas. Instead, crowds stroll, marvel, repose, taking in everything the city has to offer.
Our repeated advice to visiting friends is to leave time to lounge in Berlin’s many and varied places – to pause and watch the world and his dog go by whilst sipping on a top notch cappuccino. But the worst you can do is pay for overpriced coffee of dubious quality in a tourist trap. So if you’re planning a visit in the next few months, a few insider tips.
La Tazza (Prenzlauerberg): Serving the strongest coffee I’ve ever drunk in Berlin, in a low-key, not hipster overrun atmosphere.
The Barn (Mitte): The focus here is on quality coffee, so a great recommendation if that’s your thing, but mind the many young men and women in skinny jeans, tapping away on their Macbooks. Continue reading
One of my favourite things about working on in Mayfair, London was that I was a stone’s throw from amazing health food shops and cafes. I loved popping out on my lunch break to pick up a sweet potato, pomegranate, and feta salad, or working my way through various ranges of dehydrated vegetable crisps. Yes, I’m a complete sucker for that sort of thing – and always happy to indulge my predilection for obscure but yummy green juices.
Since moving to Berlin, I’ve never quite found anything that could compare. Yes, most cafes sell sandwiches and salads. Yes, the range of organic supermarkets and products is pretty much unbeatable in this part of the world. But, nothing quite to the easy-access health food extreme I had been enjoying in London. Bread and cheese were hard to avoid. Why would you want to, you may well legitimately ask, but sometimes, just sometimes, you fancy something not quite so heavy. Until recently that is, when I made the joyful discovery of three new places all in Mitte, which is conveniently close enough to work and to home. So, if you’re similarly a health-food nut like me, here are three recommendations for when you come to the Hauptstadt. Continue reading