After being born in Germany, I’ve only gone back to my “home country” once. This was a quick city break to Berlin, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In my view, Berlin bears its scars of the past with true homage to those who’ve lost their lives, but is also a city that is trying to move beyond what the history books tell us. This is why I’m super pleased to bring you this week’s local’s interview, which showcases more of Berlin, why you should consider it as your next travel destination and what you need to know ready for your visit…
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and where you come from?
Hi, I’m Ali Garland, I’m a full-time blogger, and I’m addicted to traveling. Before my 30th birthday, I made it to all 7 continents. I’m originally from the US, but in 2011, I married another American who was living in Germany, and I moved to be with him. We were living in Freiburg, which is in the Black Forest, but now we live in Berlin.
2. How long have you lived in Berlin? And what brought you here?
I’ve been living in Berlin now for almost 3 years. My husband had a contract here for 3 months a few years back, and we fell in love with the city. A year later, we made the decision to move, and despite the cold, gloomy winters, I’m glad to be here.
3. What do you love most about your hometown?
Berlin is so full of history. It’s unique for lots of reasons, most notably the Cold War and the Berlin Wall. While many parts of Europe have a rich history connected to this time period, there’s nowhere else that was literally divided by a wall. The two sides of the city grew and changed in different ways because of that wall, and you can still see the differences today. I highly recommend visiting Berlin because of its interesting past. I also love Berlin’s laidback vibe. This is not one of those European cities where you need to dress nice to fit in. I often tell people they could walk around in fuzzy slippers and no one would care, because I’ve actually seen people do this. Another aspect of Berlin that I really love is how international it is. People from all over the world live here, the restaurants are diverse, and I can easily hear a dozen different languages just riding the U-Bahn.
4. Is there anything that frustrates or annoys you when tourists visit Berlin?
I mostly get annoyed when people come to Berlin expecting the stereotypical German image and then they get disappointed when they don’t see it. Berlin is not like the rest of Germany. Too many people expect giant beer steins and pretzels and people dressed in lederhosen and dirndls. Go to Bavaria if you want to see that. Sure, you can find pretzels in Berlin, but it’s more of a southern Germany thing and you certainly won’t find the really big ones here. Beer is ubiquitous in Germany, but those 1 liter mugs are in Munich. Berlin is gritty in some sections and pretty in others. It’s filled with so many international restaurants, you might struggle to find a decent schnitzel. Germany is known for rules, efficiency, and expectations, but in Berlin those things often go out the window. So come to Berlin, but please don’t expect it to look like the rest of the country.
5. In your opinion, which places should be at the top of any visitor’s wishlist when in Berlin?
My number one recommendation for visitors to Berlin is the Bernauer Strasse Wall Memorial. The Wall was a huge part of what defined the city for decades, and it affected so many lives. The visitors center shows two short films (alternating times for English and German) about the Wall that are really worth watching before wandering through the memorial itself. This is a stretch of the Wall that divided one side of a street from another, forced people out of their homes, and even resulted in a cemetery being displaced. It’s well worth spending an hour or two here. Other must-see places I’d recommend are the TV Tower for incredible views of the city, Tempelhof Field to see a historic airport that is now a park, and Brandenburger Tor for that iconic symbol of Berlin and Germany.
6. What foods must visitors eat when in Berlin?
The food you should try when visiting Berlin isn’t really the same as the food you should try when visiting the rest of Germany. Berlin is a very international city with almost any kind of cuisine you could imagine. In fact there are so many countries represented here that I’ve started my own Berlin international restaurant project to try at least one restaurant in Berlin for every country in the world. To narrow things down for you, Berlin has lots of great Turkish and Vietnamese food due to the large numbers of people who moved here from those countries after WWII. You can also find good Thai, Mexican, and many other cuisines. If you’re looking for something a little more German, try currywurst. It’s sausage with ketchup and curry powder.
7. What’s your favourite German word? Why? What does it mean?
Fernweh. It doesn’t really have an exact English translation, but it’s sort of like farsickness, wanderlust, the yearning to travel. Basically the opposite of homesickness. I love this word because I love to travel!
8. What advice would you give to somebody moving to Berlin from another country?
If you’re moving to Berlin from another country, be prepared to deal with lots of paperwork. German bureaucracy is famous for its love of forms and documents. Find out what you need well ahead of time, make appointments as early as possible, before arriving in some cases, and bring every relevant document plus anything else that has even a slight chance of being useful. Talk to people who have done it before. And if you don’t speak German, bring someone along who does because the foreigner’s office and other offices you’ll have to go to won’t speak English.
9. If you could describe your hometown in just one sentence, what would you say?
Berlin is gritty, gloomy, and gorgeous, and a city where you can simply be yourself.
10. If tourists were to know one thing about the German culture, what should that be?
I think most people know of Germany’s reputation for punctuality and efficiency, but something I didn’t realize until living here is how direct people can be. Germans are not know for small talk or sugar coating. They don’t worry about people’s feelings getting hurt, which might come across as rather blunt or even rude if you’re not used to it.
Thanks Ali – we’ve loved getting to know you and Berlin better!
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