Living as a Local
"The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in the details of daily life."
- William Morris
After several weeks of living in Berlin, I have started to feel more and more like a local in my everyday activities. The way that I spend my afternoons, the food that I eat, how I choose to travel across the city – so many aspects of my daily life have adapted to the world around me. With every passing day, I feel more confident navigating the train system, locating a nearby ATM, or finding the closest place to pick up a quick bite to eat. I feel increasingly comfortable in my commute, on my errands, and in my spare time.
One of the first things that comes to mind when I think of local culture here is the subject of food. Here in Berlin, I have had many positive interactions with the culinary scene. Whether it be stopping in a little café or bakery, walking down a path lined with street-food vendors, or sitting down for a long dinner, this city has so much to offer in the way of food. The tastes and smells of fresh vegetables, grilling meats, and rich seasonings are characteristic of this area, no matter where you are within the city.
So far, I have tried a few things that are considered staples of Germany, including a döner, which I thought was very tasty. However, here in such a diverse and international city, some of the best food is not local to Berlin. Many of the most well-reputed restaurants and food stations serve incredible dishes from all over the world. Among my personal favorites is the Vietnamese cuisine here, which also seems to be a very popular choice among those who live here.
One thing I have to keep in mind when buying food – or many other things for that matter – is that Germany, like much of Europe, is a far more cash-based economy than the U.S. is. Many vendors, especially smaller restaurants and businesses, will only accept payments made in cash. For me, this was a very difficult adjustment to make, as I usually carry very little cash with me, relying on my debit or credit card for most of my purchases. Now, I make sure to carry enough euro to get me through the day.
During my week, I will frequently use the train system. At first, I was intimidated by how quickly everyone was able to locate their next train and could get where they needed to go. Often, I would need an extra second or two to gather my bearings and to determine the direction I needed to go next. Fortunately, I can now navigate the train system just as seamlessly as anyone else, usually not even needing to check a sign to know that I am headed in the right direction.
When walking, I am sure to wait for the correct signal before I cross a street by watching for the iconic Ampelmann. Here in Berlin, large intersections are far busier, and they can certainly be more dangerous if you are not careful. In addition to the cars and buses that drive past, there are plenty of cyclists utilizing the bike path between the road and sidewalk. It is always important to keep an eye on the bike lane, and to not mistakenly wander into the way of someone riding towards you.
Even at this time of year, when it is still very cold in northern Germany, cyclists and pedestrians alike are still happy to be outside enjoying the fresh, brisk air. Large, green parks are open and usually quite full, and outdoor shops selling small trinkets and art pieces are crowded with people. Berliners do not let the weather determine their lives, and they will often go out and enjoy the city despite heavy winds and dark, chilly evenings. As long as you have a large coat and a long scarf, you are ready to go out.
The longer I stay in Berlin, the more I fall in love with the small details of local life here in the city. These little moments allow me to feel very at home here, safely settling into the routines of a true local. I now have my regular stops, my favorite train, my local grocery, my nearest bank, and so many other things that I didn’t have before. I love the impression that this city has already had on me, and I look forward to its lasting effect on my life.