10 things I dislike about Berlin

Every place has it’s good and bad things. Berlin has plenty of good things, which I will write about in another post. But there are also some things about it which drive me crazy. It reminds me of a nursery rhyme my grandmother used to recite which had the lines: “When she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!”

1) the fight with agencies / landlords to get back a deposit (Kaution). After moving out it’s not uncommon to wait 6 months or more and have to send several letters to get your money back. In my opinion, many landlords hope you will give up so that they can make an extra buck.

2) the spitting. So far I haven’t seen another city where you can find so many blobs of spit on the ground, or have someone spitting right as they are passing you. Once I slid and almost fell on someone’s spit. Apart from being disgusting enough to induce gagging, it’s also a great way to spread germs like hepatitis, tuberculosis and influenza.

3) the weather. In my first year here I was lucky – although it was one of the darkest winters on record, there was lots of snow, which made up for it, and the summer was long and hot. But since then there have been many, many months of grey, hanging skies. The lack of sunshine seems to influence people’s moods here too – not many smiling faces around.

4) the lack of consideration on public transport and the ongoing war of bad behaviour between and among cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians. Never mind manners in Berlin, most people race through the tram or train doors to the empty seats with little or no consideration for others. Normally at least one person will stand for somebody elderly, but many people avert their eyes and hope that somebody else stands first. Carrying heavy bags, luggage or a musical instrument? Don’t expect that someone carrying nothing will give you any priority for the seat. A pregnant friend (who was very obviously pregnant) complained that not only did no one offer her a seat, people would still actually race her for the seats. It’s very much an “every man for himself” attitude here. The lack of consideration extends in some cases to selfish behaviours like cars stopping in bike lanes and bikes delaying cars by going through red lights. The result: travelling anywhere by any means can be frustrating. Can’t people just be more courteous?

5) the bad service of companies for electricity, heating, phone lines, etc. In most countries, you would make an appointment at a convenient time for a serviceman to visit your home. In Berlin, you are sent a note that someone will come on a specific day “between 7 and 13” and instructed to be home. Whether or not you have other plans (like going to work) – no one cares. To make things worse, sometimes they don’t show up. For some reason the concept of service is very different here – you are paying for something yet somehow you don’t have much say about the process.

6) narrow-thinking. In general many people here are very efficient at following a protocol. The problem comes when the circumstances don’t fit the protocol or when you would rather do something another way. Instead of thinking of an alternative option, making a spontaneous plan or trying something new, they will usually simply shrug and say “we don’t do that” or “you can’t do that”. No further thinking required. People are generally a lot more inflexible than in most countries. Often they follow the orders without even thinking about whether or not they make sense. Of course, this is not true for everybody, but it’s enough people that most foreigners notice this and comment on it.

7) the lack of ” wild”. Somebody once told me that all the trees in Berlin are numbered. I’m not sure if this is true, but at any rate, it is hard to find any natural environment around here. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that everything is so orderly, it’s more just a matter of personal taste. Although people may talk about hiking around Berlin, there is no real hiking to be found in this area. First of all, it’s too flat, and second of all, you are never far from civilisation. But much of central Europe seems too urbanised when you come from a country with many natural areas. When I first moved here I felt a bit like I imagined a wild animal would feel when moving to a zoo. It is safe and pleasant, and some areas are lovely, but there is a lot of concrete and even the green areas are usually too planned. Walking trails are often neatly manicured, and at some point on a hike you will always end up in a village or by a road with cars. So every now and then it is necessary to escape the area for some nature.

8) slow construction. Invaliedenstrasse has been an invalid since I arrived in Berlin. For almost a year there was a giant hole in between Friedrichstrasse and Französischer Strasse that had to be walked across when taking the U6. At almost any time there is a gap in some train line, sometimes a whole stretch of it. And let’s not even mention the new airport that was supposed to open 2 years ago. Berlin is a growing city, so construction is natural, but the pace of it is painfully slow here.

9) Walking while smoking. Immediately upon coming to Berlin I noticed that there seem to be a lot more smokers around than at home and than in some other places I’ve been to. I would be interested what the overall percentage would be. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if when smoking people would just stand somewhere and smoke, but what often happens here is that smokers walk along the street with a cigarette in their hand – which means if you get stuck behind them then you end up inhaling all the smoke too, which is a real problem for people with asthma or allergies (or for those who just hate the smell). I’ve even come across people smoking on their bikes in the bike lane, so that you have to cycle through their cloud of smoke as you are on your way somewhere. There is also always one idiot smoking inside the bus shelter when it’s raining so that you have a choice between breathing in the disgusting fumes or standing in the rain. More considerate smoking would be welcome.

10) Not returning greetings. If you ignore somebody’s greeting in South Africa, it’s the same as giving them the middle finger. If you walk past a colleague for the first time in the day it is normal to greet them. I’ve been at my job for two years and there are still some people who stare back without answering when I greet them (in German). Other people I know have had the same experience. Obviously this is not everybody as I have some lovely German colleagues who always greet, but I still find it shocking every time someone just ignores my greeting. In contrast, everyone greets random strangers when entering and leaving the lift or a doctor’s office. I like this custom but it’s strange that it doesn’t extend to returning greetings in other situations.

These are some of the things that bother me here, I’m sure other people have others. Next time I’ll write about some of the things I really like about Berlin.

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