Now I‘m not going to lie, I‘ve not had the best experience in Berlin. HOWEVER, this has not dampened my spirits, nor has it meant I‘ve spent the last 3 months scowling at the Brandenburg Gate. I have taken many positives from a mixed summer in the Hauptstadt!
Walk or get a bike
Berlin is incredibly well-connected for those of you of the bicycle-riding persuasion. The S- and U-Bahn and bus services are regular but they tend to run through the grey, depressing areas of the city. Now a lot of the city is grey, I‘m not going to lie. But when you cycle or walk, you will find some beautiful buildings hidden away in a side street, unnoticed by the locals. They may even bear the marks of Berlin‘s violent history in the form of bullet marks in the façades, still visible all these years later. That is part of the beauty of this city - the way it stares its history in the face, unabashed and open.
Berlin by night
Now wherever you go, you are going to be bombarded with people saying how brilliant the night life is in Berlin, but in case you fancy a night off partying, I have a suggestion. Starting at dusk, take a walk through the Tiergarten, a large garden in the centre of the city. If you start at the station Zoologischer Garten and walk through the length of the garden, you‘ll walk around the side of the zoo and be able to see some of the animals for free, even the elephants (personal favourite)! Once you‘ve walked through the garden, you come out at the Brandenburg Gate which is much more pleasant in the evening, with the crowds dispersed and warmly lit up. Wander round the outside of the Reichstag and walk along the Spree to the Hauptbahnhof where you can then get to wherever you want to go afterwards. It‘s really nice to do in the evening!
Take your time
If you‘re staying here for more than a few months, I would definitely recommend looking around for a good few weeks for somewhere to live. There are lots of short-term rents available through the university holidays (these can be found on the sites already suggested on thirdyearabroad, like wg-gesucht.de) and it may be worth taking an ok-ish room for a few weeks to give you the time to find the right flat and flatmates for you. Or if you‘re not averse to hostels, there are plenty of cheap ones here, too. You don‘t want to end up like me, with a housemate who doesn‘t pay his own rent or bills and renders you without hot water and almost gets you both evicted...But that‘s another story, for another blog. Or my future therapist...
Berlin is not Germany
In exactly the same way that London is not England and Paris is not France, do not assume that once you‘ve experienced Berlin, you‘ve experienced Germany. Travel around a bit. You may be able to find enough to fill your time with in Berlin, but if you have the time, visiting the cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Hamburg - amongst others - which are all close-by, is something that I would definitely recommend. And in that vain...
Potsdam is a gorgeous city, containing so much history and the picture postcard pastel-coloured buildings synonymous with Germany. Parts of it are being rebuilt, which detracts slightly from the charm, but not to be missed are the Innenstadt, the Dutch Quarter, the Orangery, Schloss Sansoucci, Neues Palais, Alexandrowka and the many lakes surrounding the city, especially my personal favourite - Heiliger See. I don‘t have the space to describe all these places but a quick Wikipedia/Google (other search engines are available!) search will tell you all you need to know! If you get the RegionalBahn from the centre of Berlin, you can be in Potsdam in half an hour. So why not?!
If you‘re coming to Berlin to study, you have it made. The city ticks all the student boxes: cheap, great nightlife, cultured and quirky. The Germans know how to treat their students, so from the transport system to random discounts all over the place, you‘ll find you don‘t have to spend much here to have a good time.