With nearly 3.4 million inhabitants, Berlin is Germany's largest city. For the most part the population is politically liberal, well educated and well traveled, with good English language skills. The city’s infrastructure is remarkably well designed, with amazingly efficient public transport, environmentally friendly recycling programs and expansive sidewalks lined by bike paths. In fact, bicycles are one of the most popular modes of transportation, so when crossing the street it is wise to look not only for oncoming cars, but also for speeding bikers.
Berliners define themselves by district, and distinct differences can be felt walking from one neighborhood to the next - from bourgeois Charlottenburg to the wealthy Friedrichstrasse to student-filled Friedrischhain. Berlin is an extremely multi-cultural city with large populations of Turkish immigrants as well as Italians, Greeks and Poles. Well before the advent of Starbucks, Berlin was famous for a thriving intellectual café culture. Students are likely to find themselves reading their assignments while sipping Milchkaffee in one of the hip spots in the former eastern neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. Some fascinating eateries are tucked away in the cultural hotspot and former factory space known as the Kulturbrauerei. After packing up their books, they might grab a quick meal of delicious German Bratwurst or catch a film in the trendy courtyard theater at Hackescher Markt. If more reading is on the agenda, there is a fantastic architecture bookstore next door. For later in the evening, Berlin's nightlife is notorious, with an unrivaled club scene that has been on the cutting edge for decades. For a bit of history on Berlin’s transgressive nightlife culture, just watch the musical Cabaret!
Contemporary art is so prevalent and vibrant in Berlin that a visitor is likely to stumble across an installation just about anywhere - like the Black Light Gallery in the U-bahn subway station at Potsdamer Platz. Slick shops and ultra-cool galleries line the streets around Oranienburger Strasse; the center of much of Berlin's thriving cultural scene. Wander over to see Tacheles, the crumbling former department store, now missing its back wall, which was taken over by
artists and has been turned into a bizarre and fascinating multi-story art space.
Modern Berlin is vibrant and hip, known for its youth culture and full of art and artists. It is also a city with a critical place in modern European history. The city bears the marks of its history from the defining cultural avant-garde of the Weimar Republic to the devastation of World War II. The cranes that tower over parts of the city remind the visitor that Berlin is still reconstructing itself, and its identity is still in flux. The derelict traces of the dividing wall run through the city as a powerful reminder of Berlin’s progress from the horrors of Checkpoint Charlie in the Cold War to today's reunified capital.
Berlin is unique within Europe because it is the only city where you can truly experience both Eastern and Western Europe. Both of these cultures (among other new immigrant cultures) thrive in the city and the differences between them are fascinating. Although the wall fell many years ago, that division between East and West is still very real in the minds of Germans. Berlin has a startling mix of the old (war memorials and Renaissance architecture), the modern (Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson dangled his baby off the balcony) and the futuristic (amazing buildings that put the NYC skyline to shame). The art scene is one of the best in the world. The metro is incredibly easy to use, but be sure you have a good map!
Nowadays, Germany is a Federal Republic of States with a Chancellor and Central Parliament.
Coming from New York/the East Coast, you will feel almost at home in Berlin: about the same temperatures in the winter (minus the strong winds), and slightly more comfortable in the summer when the thermometer floats relaxed around 74 degrees.
It rains regularly but not nearly as much as in NY. There is more precipitation in October (the least rainy month in NY), than in June when Berlin gets the most rain. However, Berlin gets less sunlight than NY, especially during the winter months.
Berlin is at the intersection of a couple of types of climate and thus the weather forecast is not very reliable. April is famous for cramming the four seasons in a few hours when quick clouds will scatter for a summery sun only to have a strong wind push in a five minute blizzard, and then spring comes again with birds singing in the trees.
Berlin’s public transport is AMAZING! It is incredibly clean and efficient. The Student Life staff in Berlin will help you obtain a student-discounted pass for the BVG, which includes the U-bahn, S-bahn, buses and trams. We recommend purchasing a month-ticket. You will quickly learn the quickest routes to your regular places and the transit map is easy to read without knowing German. However, if your German is pretty good then try using: http://www.bvg.de.
As long as the weather is good, bikes are the quickest and cheapest way to get around the city. Drivers are much more courteous than in New York, and it is far safer for bike riders. You can buy a used bike from a flea market or the Turkish market at Maybachufer. Otherwise try http://www.Kijiji.de, which is Germany’s equivalent of Craigslist.
Taxis are quite expensive. The only real reason to take a taxi is if you need to get to the airport with a lot of luggage.