Berlin is a wonderful sprawl. Wide open plazas, enormous public parks and adorable European bike lanes take the place of skyscrapers, concrete and traffic. Everything is achingly beautiful because it’s Europe, yet remains practical because it’s Germany. Imagine the Renaissance masters taking time off from sculptures and murals to design banks and government buildings.
Some people dress like teuton stereotypes — perfectly creased formalwear, military posture. Everyone else either wears all black, or makes it very clear through bright colors and piercings that they’re fresher, hipper and cooler than mere American sensibilities can handle. These distinct classes of fashion correlate far less with age than you’d imagine — I’ve seen my share of older men in studded leather pants. But, regardless of fashion choices, everyone smokes.
I generally start my day by cooking breakfast. Produce in Berlin is shockingly cheap; I once bought 500 grams of spinach for $0.79, and my crippling ravioli addiction only adds up to a bit more than eight euros per week. Whether you live at Charlottenstraße, a traditional dorm, Adina or Mondrian, literal hotel rooms, you will likely have a stove and assorted cutlery, so there is no excuse not to save ridiculous amounts of money cooking for yourself.
Then it’s off to class on the U-Bahn, Berlin’s subway system. You can technically sneak on without a ticket, as there are no turnstyles or ticket collectors anywhere, but if you’re caught fare-dodging by undercover employees you face a 60 euros fine. Buy a monthly pass. It is cheap if you’re a student, and God help me if there’s anything more satisfying than flashing a valid ticket and watching some other loud tourist get kicked off the train.
Classes are similar to those at the Manhattan campus. Professors know what they’re doing and the workload is manageable if you don’t procrastinate. Prepare to review the same cross-section of German history in every single humanities course — Imperialism, World War I, Treaty of Versailles, Nazis, Berlin Wall. You will have to take German. It is not that bad, except for the gazillion definite articles.
After class, there’s homework, exploring, naps, internships, shows and pretty much anything else you can imagine doing in an artistic city that caters to college students. If you want an internship, talk to your advisor during the application process. You will need to go through an additional step, but people deem it relatively straightforward. Plus, foreign internships look great on resumes, so why not take advantage of this opportunity?
On weekends, most people travel or go to bars and nightclubs. If you want to travel, it’s so freaking cheap if you plan ahead by a week or two. Spend money. See Europe. You will not regret it. The combined cost of every trip I’ve taken so far — Warsaw, Prague, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Athens — is less than my round-trip flight from New York to Berlin. No, I’m not exaggerating.
Also, there are so, so many clubs and bars, and most of them are cheaper and better than the New York variety. Expect to spend less on entry fees and drinks than you would in the United States, and if not, go somewhere else. It usually isn’t worth it. Everyone has their own favorite club. I personally liked Tresor, Watergate and KitKat. Since you are an uncool American, popular clubs like these might not let you in on a busy night, but don’t worry. There are plenty of others to choose from. Let your clothes air out when you get back the next morning, as they will smell strongly of cigarettes. Regardless of where you go, pregame beforehand if drinking is on the agenda. Alcohol is ridiculously cheap in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Overall, Berlin is a wonderful study abroad location for artsy folk in search of a reasonably priced European experience. There are plenty of tourist sites to see, shows to attend, bars to crawl and clubs to frequent, but often the best days are spent reading a book in the park. Prepare for weather that switches between rain and sun on a worryingly frequent basis, and don’t forget to call your parents every now and again to update them on your adventures. It will make them very happy.
Email Leo Tulchin at [email protected]