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Culture & Customs

Students at an outdoor market in Berlin

Being on time for appointments, even casual social ones, is very important. Germans address one another more formally than Americans do. Always address acquaintances as Herr (Mr.) or Frau (Mrs.) plus their last name; do not use first names unless you have been explicitly invited to do so. The German language makes a distinction between the informal and formal with a shifting pronoun for the singular second person "you": Formal is "Sie," informal is "du." Even if adults are on a first-name basis with one another, they may continue to use the
Sie form as a mark of respect. A handshake is expected upon meeting someone for the first time and is often customary even when simply greeting acquaintances.

Although it is a close neighbor of France, Germany has a vastly different notion of cuisine to the elaborately gustatory French. A platter of German sausages and sauerkraut is a hearty and unpretentious meal. Although most prices officially include service, tips are appreciated if you are happy with the service. Something like 10 to 15 percent will usually suffice. Most waiters prefer to do the bill and tipping right at the table so be ready to make some quick calculations when the bill comes.

In restaurants, shops, and department stores, you are unlikely to be offered help unless you ask for it. The presumption is that you would prefer to be alone unless you indicate otherwise. Germans are more liberal than Americans in the cultural attitude to nudity: signs that read "Freikörper" or "FKK" indicate that a park or beach allows nude sunbathing. In the sunnier months it not uncommon to see locals enjoying the sun, on all parts of their bodies, in public parks within city limits. This open, liberal way of living extends to other areas of German life and is reflected in a thriving nightlife and vigorous communities for alternative lifestyles.

The People

Generally speaking, Germans tend to be very orderly, practical, and respectful of personal space. They recycle, use public transportation and will be helpful to visitors and other citizens. If you are lost and need directions, they will help you, but do not take it personally if they do not want to have a conversation; think of it as social efficiency, not disinterest. Germans will not typically smile at strangers or ask how you are doing just to be polite. If they ask how are you doing, you know it is because they really want to know. If you ask a polite question, it is likely that they will answer with brutal honesty. They are not likely to be outwardly friendly but open up quickly if you engage them in conversation. Berliners are younger on average than other German cities, and speak excellent English.

Berlin’s many Turkish immigrants bring interesting customs and layers to Berliner culture. It is not uncommon to receive complimentary tea when entering a Turkish store. Turkish attitudes to personal space mean that it is not uncommon for two men or two women to hold hands or even kiss if they are just friends. It is forbidden, however, in traditional families for women to hold hands with men until they are married.


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Issues

Since unification, Germany has made great strides to properly recognize LGBT citizens as equals among its populace. Berlin is an LGBT-friendly city. Schoneberg and Kreutzberg are both districts with vibrant queer communities. As a whole, Berlin is a progressive city when it comes to queer issues, creating an open and comfortable atmosphere for LGBT students.

  • Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany can register for life partnerships, a pact similar to civil unions. In 2004 this law was extended to allow same-sex couples to adopt.
  • Germany possesses strict anti-discrimination laws for the public sector and was the first country to include a clause protecting people from discrimination due to their gender identity.
  • Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, is openly gay, and has made efforts to further the acceptance and proper treatment of the LGBT community.

  • Most couples have no issue being intimate in public and it is very common to see such behavior throughout Berlin and in most major German cities.
  • Though Americans like to think that we are open about
    sexuality, Berliners are often more forward about discussing sex, and more sexually aggressive than American visitors may expect.

  • Bruno - http://brunos.de/shop/ Kleiststrasse 23-26 Tel: +49 030 6150030 During your first travels in Berlin, make sure to check out this gay media supermarket, which provides a multitude of resources: clothing, guides, books, posters, and safe sex materials.
  • Mann O’ Meter - http://www.mann-o-meter.de/ Bülowstrasse 106 Tel: +49 030 2168008 Berlin’s main LGBT community center, provides information on community events, safer sex resources, and is a powerful organization for LGBT education.
  • Some popular magazines are Siegessaule and Sergej. These German-language resources provide current lists of clubs, cafés, restaurants, and events that cater to the LGBT community.
  • Out in Berlin - http://www.out-in-berlin.com/archiv/index.html A guide written in English, aimed at tourists looking to break into the LGBT scene. If you are unable to purchase the guide, check out their website in both German and English.

In Berlin

Sonntags Club

Greifenhagener Str. 28 | Tel: +49 30 4482184 | http://www.sonntags-club.de

  • Both a bar and café, this venue serves as the meeting grounds for many of the active LGBT groups and organizations in the Berlin area. A great place to relax and get involved with the community.
Begine: Meeting Place and Culture for Women

Str. 139 | Tel: +49 30 2151414| http://www.begine.de


  • Potsdamer Café/bar that provides a welcoming atmosphere for women of all orientations to enjoy each other’s company. In addition, numerous dances, parties, and cultural events are held here.


Schwules Museum

Mehringdamm 61 | Tel: +49 30 6931172 | http://www.schwulesmuseum.de


  • The world’s only LGBT museum, sponsoring three rooms of various exhibitions that show the art and work of deceased LGBT icons, as well as the artwork of new LGBT artists within Berlin and the rest of Germany.  


Around Germany

Munich - Capital city of the German state of Bavaria. Home to a mass LGBT Pride Parade and haven for many Germans that are part of the LGBT community. (http://www.gaymunich.de/)

Hamburg - Not only one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. but home to a very vibrant LGBT community centered in the St. Georg district. Also, Hamburg hosts an International Gay & Lesbian film festival every year. (http://www.filmfestivalworld.com/festival/Hamburg_Lesbian_Gay_Film_Festival/)

Bonn - While not the largest of German cities, Bonn is a bustling university town, a hub for international organizations and businesses, and has an active and accepted LGBT population. (http://www.bonn.gay-web.de)


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Pop Culture Inspiration

Listen

  • Sportfreunde Stiller
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Comedian Harmonists
  • Fettes Brot
  • Jan Delay
  • Silbermond Kraftwerk
  • Paul Kalkbrenner

Germany has seen a recent revival of West German 90s hiphop with bands such as Fettes Brot and Fantastischen Vier, meanwhile Berlin has created its own new “aggro Berlin” genre within German hiphop influenced by the Turkish population. Artists like Bushido and Sido are worth youtubing to get an idea of one facet of Berliner culture today. The city is also a hotbed for modern electro.

Read

  • Ghosts of Berlin by Brian Ladd

Watch

  • The Lives of Others
  • Goodbye Lenin
  • The Edukators
  • Comedian Harmonists
  • Run Lola Run
  • The Downfall

Student sitting outside with laptop and headphones

Language

You're required to take a German class while studying in Berlin, but in the meantime here are some useful phrases. 

Bitte (Bittuh) - Please/you’re welcome

Danke (dahnkuh) - Thank you

Prost - Cheers!

Guten Tag (guten tock) - Hello (good day)

Guten Abend (ahbent) - Hello (good afternoon/evening)

Schönen Tag noch (schoonen tock noH) - Have a good day

Schönen Abend (schoonen ahbend) - Have a good afternoon/evening

Welche Richtung zum.. (velHe riHtoong tsoom ...) - In which direction is..?

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