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. Schöneberg and Kreuzberg 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.


Pop Culture Inspiration


  • 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.



  • Ghosts of Berlin by Brian Ladd


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

Student sitting outside with laptop and headphones


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..?