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Peculiarities of Berlin, Germany

by Globetrooper Todd | 16 Responses
Strange Berlin Germany

So far, we love Berlin. It’s right up there, next to Montreal, as one of our favourite cities on Earth. What makes both special is that people seem liberated enough to do their own thing. They don’t seem under the big brother spell, opposed to people in say New York, Toronto or Sydney. They seem free-thinking (and free-acting).

That said, Berlin isn’t without its quirks. In fact, because you expect Europe to be more normal than say India, you tend to get a kick out of each and every peculiarity. Some things still blow my mind; they make no sense at all. At least India makes sense.


The traffic lights are green, the pedestrian lights are red, but there isn’t a car in sight. Not here, not there, not anywhere. Nonchalantly, I go to take a step. But out of the corner of my eye I notice the other 20 people don’t even dare. The pedestrian light is red, and red means stop. So, no one crosses. We all just wait.

Berlin Pedestrian Lights

Cross on RED or risk growing a third leg!

I thought it was just me. Maybe I’m too impatient. Maybe Asia has rubbed off on me. But over and over I noticed people would just wait on the quietest streets without a hint of even wanting to cross to get on with the day. It started to drive me nuts. Just cross goddammit!

I now just cross when the time seems right, but my goodness, the stares! I read Germans consider it bad etiquette to break rules in front of children. I guess that’s a good point if you’re grooming them for the Stasi, but then who am I to tell people how to raise their children. Of course,this isn’t a big deal by any stretch, and if anything, I guess it’s a little charming that people here are so patient.

Square Pillows

While obeying red lights has a certain charm, square pillows are a downright abomination. I’m not talking about those square decorative pillows that adorn king-sized beds in expensive hotels. Nope, I’m talking about regular pillows you sleep with. And the square ‘regular’ pillows in Berlin aren’t just like normal pillows with four equal sides. Nope, they’re just the same as those huge hotel pillows, but with a consistency more like a bean bag than a pillow.

Now before you judge me as pedantic, just try to sleep with one of these huge bastards.

You know, maybe it’s because everyone here is so tall. Maybe those huge square pillows are ergonomically more suited to people over two metres tall. Nope, I’m not buying it. Berliners, please, abandon the square pillow.

Shower Baths

Imagine a shower that’s really a bath, except it has a big hose and a shower head that extends from the bath spout. Oh, except there’s no show curtain and there’s no fixture to hold the hose above your head. Well, in Berlin, that constitutes a shower. And it’s reached the point where even new houses are implementing this old-world Berliner ‘ingenuity’.

Berlin Shower Bath

Sorry Berliners, that's a bath, not a shower.

Check out AirBnB, Wimdu or any apartments in Berlin and you’ll see what I mean. But you won’t grasp the total and utter inconvenience until you actually shower in one of these things. You only have one hand free, because the other is holding the unruly serpent, and your entire bathroom becomes soaked.

Berliner shower baths are a good example of needing to leave the past behind.

Door Numbers

Berlin Doorbell

Okay, okay, it makes sense.

Where do you live? Oh, number 13? Is it a house? No, an apartment. So, which apartment? Ummm, my apartment. Yeah, but which one is yours. The one with my name on it. Why is your name on your apartment? How would you know it’s mine without my name? Well, you’d have a number. Why would I have a number, you already know my name. Um… good point.

So yeah, Berlin apartments don’t have numbers, they have the names of the occupants. And those names are written and placed alongside the doorbell. Sounds crazy, but as per my dialogue above, it makes sense.

Criticising the absence of door numbers makes me feel a bit like that American guy off the Amazing Race who said “[Chinese people] don’t even understand their own language”. Here I am saying that Berliners need numbers on their doors, when all along it just makes sense to have your name.

Posted in Featured, Germany | October 10th, 2011

16 Responses to Peculiarities of Berlin, Germany

  1. I also noticed these peculiarities on my recent visit to Berlin. However I also noticed them in Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Wittenberg. Definitely a German cultural thing. The square pillows are a particularly fiendish invention.

  2. We’ve experienced three of the four so far in Berlin (thankfully our apartment doesn’t have one of those shower-baths; it’s just a tiny stand-up shower). The pillows are so bizarre (but kind of comfy for lounging!), and having a name on the door doesn’t work so well when you’re renting a place and they never told you which name to buzz…. =/

    • Apparently you’re supposed to register your address with the local authorities even if you’re just renting. In fact, you can’t apply for a longer visa without doing that first. I guess that helps with mail getting to the right place in case the doorbell label disappears or is illegible. We haven’t done it yet, sounds like overkill. Just like waiting for the pedestrian lights. :)

    • It’s about time soneome wrote about this.

  3. The shower baths are the worst!! so uncomfortable and i don’t feel clean afterwards!

    • Not clean + remaining soap on your right side from holding the hose in your right hand and mostly washing your left :) #firstworldissues, hehe

  4. Brilliant.

    I find the square pillows and door numbers the most frustrating. I’ve gotten used to the lack of jaywalking and kinda like it actually! Slows me down, even if just a little bit.

  5. haha, you tourist guys are just too funny :D

    • We aim to keep locals amused. We’ve been running at 7am in shorts and t-shirts with the 2 degree C weather. Locals look at us like we’re nuts.

  6. I think I read somewhere that jaywalking carries heavy fines in Berlin! Beware!!

    p.s. I loved Berlin when I visited it a few months back. Have fun there! :)

    • Hi Abhijit, yes I think you’re right. Well, I think they classify jaywalking as crossing the street anywhere put the pedestrian crossing, which only has a small fine. But I’ve heard if you cross against the red light at a pedestrian crossing, and you have a driver’s license, it’s a similar fine as if you drive through a red light. I’m all for safety, but sometimes it’s just ridiculous with the lights here.

      Nice blog, by the way :)

  7. Running early morning at such cold temperatures is a little extreme Todd? Mind you exercise will keep you surprisingly warm.

    Have you hired a car at all out there or using the public transport, what the the roads and traffic like in Berlin? If its anything like London you have my sympathy.

    • Yes, it’s getting dark here too. But people keep getting up for work at the same time, so the last few nights we’ve been running in the dark with lots of traffic, which isn’t much fun. This morning was good though; very few cars on the road, so much more peaceful.

      I imagine London is much busier than Berlin. It really seems quiet here some time. You should visit if you haven’t; we’re thinking about returning after a couple of months in Australia.

  8. Hi! We are called 365 docobites and we were recently in Berlin and made many mini documentaries about the happenings in Berlin from festivals to the Berlin Carnival of Cultures! Please feel free to take a look at our website , , and enjoy!

  9. Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i
    read this post i thought i could also create comment
    due to this good piece of writing.

  10. The square pillows are annoying…

    But what about the weird toilets !

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