This summer I wanted to try something different for my vacations. Instead of going to the beach or some touristic trip I thought it would be a good idea to go to Berlin, set a remote office for a month, and get deeper insight of the thriving startup community in the city.
I moved to Berlin all August. I joined Betahaus, a great co-working space, and I worked the whole month from there. Maybe we can’t strictly call it vacations then, but it was the only way I had to extend my stay and dive deep into the Berlin startup scene.
This post though, has nothing to do with my experience within the startup community in Berlin. Instead, I’ve tried to recap some facts of that have surprised me the most from the city. Think of this as thoughts of someone that regularly lives in Barcelona, so I could be biased by that in a way.
The city is huge and walking distances are an illusion. Back in Barcelona I walked everywhere. It took me no more than 30 minutes to get anywhere near the center with some combination of walk and public transport. In Berlin, walking is out of the equation.
Get a bike. It is by far, the best way to move around the city, at least during the summer. I was fortunate enough to have a bike with me all the time, it was included with the rent. Despite public transport works great, the city is specially designed to bike. It’s flat, has bike lanes all over the place and cars really respect them. Moreover people don’t stole them, so you can easily park them anywhere and don’t worry about it, which is a peace of mind.
Bike lanes are sacred. Don’t dare you walk inside the bike lane. Bikers get really angry about it and they will yell at you.
Some drivers are really aggressive. It is usual to hear car engines loudly roar at a green traffic light. They really like to show off their cars power or something.
I’ve spotted an unusually high number of Teslas. To be fair, there's also a lot of American muscle cars, both original models from the 70s and the current revised models.
Smarts can park orthogonally. I’ve seen lots of them and police didn’t seem to care.
Uber works great. I know this is not a big deal, but back in Barcelona the service is banned. It’s true that it was working for a while, but it was not like taxi service, it was ride sharing style. I used it a couple of times and you immediately get the feeling that this is the way transportation should work within a city.
Drive Now. I spotted a lot of white BMWs and Minis with Drive Now stickers. I didn’t know what it was at the beginning, but two things were clear: the cars were not average (premium city cars and also well equipped) and people were using them because you could saw them driving all over the city. I researched on them and it turns out that it is a joint venture between BMW and Sixt that provides carsharing services.
Traffic lights are suboptimal. There’s a huge overlap where both lights in an intersection are simultaneously red. Moreover, the pedestrian light goes directly from green to red without blinking or warning it is about to change, leaving really small time to cross. The only good thing traffic lights have is that when transitioning from red to green on the car side, they get an intermediate state where the yellow turns on, so you know the green is coming.
You never know in which direction a street goes. It’s really confusing because there are no marks in the road and traffic lights are inexistent on smaller streets. The best option is to go all in and try, because it is usually bidirectional.
There’s no center. Once you start rambling around the city you get the feeling that there’s no such thing as a centric area. Instead there are several centric areas! This is a particular manifestation of an underlying trend that spreads all over the city: Berlin has almost two of everything. It makes sense though, because after the wall fell in 1989, the city was duplicated in a way.
Neighborhoods are not uniform. Usually in a city each district has a unique theme. It’s no exception in Berlin and you have the Turkish neighborhood, residential areas, the more commercial ones… But what it is really surprising is how quick inside the same district, the landscape can abruptly change. By that I mean, housing, architecture, street layout… you just move one street further and it seems you have changed cities.
The city feels safe. It’s pretty amazing the sense of security that the city transmits in every single corner.
There is no police wandering around. You don’t usually see police cars in the road neither police patrolling in the street.
People drink in the street, all the time. You get to see a lot of people with bottles of beer in the street, drinking in places like the subway.
There are broken glasses all over the place. First I didn’t understand and I blame drunk people for that, but it’s not (mainly) because people break them out of pleasure. Instead, in Berlin you can get money out of empty bottles. The broken glasses happen because some people leave them in the street (with good intention) so other people can grab them and earn the thing, but an unexpected event broke them before.
You can smoke inside some places. At first I could not believe it, but some places like restaurants and bars allowed people to smoke.
People makes a lot of outdoors living. At least during the summer. It’s amazing the amount of people and the variety of activities people do outside. Barbecues, yoga, read club, board games… the preferred spot for those is usually their huge parks.
Parks are H-U-G-E. It’s surprising the amount of green area the city has dedicated to public parks. Despite is not the biggest, I’d like to emphasize Tempelhofer Feld: an actual airport (yes you hear it right, an airport) where you can still run, bike or whatever in the same tracks where airplanes landed.
Respect for historic events. It's both stunning and admirable how the city has preserved a lot of the remaining pieces from the war. No one is proud of what happened, but they hold onto it to show future generations what was really like.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The most amazing monument I've (not seen) lived so far. It's brilliant how the architect captures and recreates, inside the stone blocks, the feelings that jews experimented during the nazism.
There are a lot of bees. Back in Spain people fear them, I mean they can potentially bite you and it hurts. Here people has learn to seamlessly live with them.
People party all the time (at least during the summer). There are outdoor clubs, pubs, gatherings in the street, even after hours running all the time.
People is also eating all the time. Maybe because of the mix of cultures, eat times overlap with one another and this translates to occupied tables at any given time: 2pm, 5pm, 7pm, 10pm... you'll never know if they are having lunch, dinner or the thing in between.
Small business thrive. Although I don't know how well they do, there's a huge amount of small shops and retail that you don't usually see in other cities.
The city is home for lots of cultures. There’s literally people from all over the globe. Despite, locals don’t speak the great English northern countries are known for.
There’s not that much work (outside the tech world). If you are a software developer, come to Berlin, really. But if you are not, and you don’t speak german either, there’s not that much options for you in Berlin.
It is cheap (if you go to the right places). The city is cheaper than Germany in average, but the touristic places and the most commercial areas will prove this statement wrong.
No credit card. Only the fancy restaurants and "premium" business will accept credit cards. Cash for the rest.
The sun raises early. But not Spain-early, the first day I woke up at 5:00 am because the sky was already literally blue. I was told that winter is the other way around.
Big windows. German people love light. Windows are huge and I haven’t seen a single one with blinds. First floors don’t have fences, which also relates with the security thing.
There’s no elevators in residential buildings. If you want to go up, just climb the stairs.
There’s no air conditioning, anywhere. Which makes sense though, because it’s hot 2 weeks a year.
Many apartments don’t have living room. The epicenter of the Spanish home, the living room, is somehow absent in some flats… I find some kitchens with the bathroom inside, which I found at least curious.
...This is an ongoing list, so expect some changes as I'm discovering more things :)