THE BLOG

From A Native Londoner To A Berliner: An Expat's Perspective On Germany's Capital

27/09/2016 12:28

When I graduated from university last year, I felt incomplete. I now had my degree, yes, but I'd remained at home with my mum and dad in London for the entirety of my course. I felt like I had missed out on something. That my peers were far more ahead of me; had earnt some money doing minimum wage jobs, lived in shared accommodation, coped (somewhat) without their parents, the works. So eventually I set out to do all that, and in fact, ended up inadvertently one-upping my peers, as I left the British Isles for Berlin.

Never to be entirely without my comfort zone, I must admit I was not exactly new to Germany, given that my mum herself is German and that because of this, growing up; I'd spent most summers in her hometown of Eisenhüttenstadt with my grandparents. Unfortunately for my younger self, Eisenhüttenstadt is a small and unexciting town in Brandenburg, East Germany. I hardly ever visited Berlin as a child, and so I was almost completely new to the kind of big city excitement that Germany could offer as was my German flatmate who moved from a small town in Nordrhein Westfalen.

One of the first things you notice when moving to a new city is the demographics of that city. In Berlin, the phrase "Multi Kulti", is often used in connection with the city's multiculturalism yet Berlin's is a different kind of diversity than I was used to. In London, there's a much broader range of ethnicities, with noticeable portions of all kinds of ethnicities. My friendship group alone includes people of Chinese, Sri Lankan, Ghanain, Irish, Pakistani and Kenyan descent etc. Whereas in Berlin, a considerable portion of ethnic minorities are of Turkish descent.

In a bid to combat xenophobia, there are lot of anti-fascism stickers around the city, often with the words "Nazis Raus" (Nazis Out) or "Kein Mensch is illegal" (No person is illegal). There are also a number of events set up to connect Germans with Syrian refugees. However, as with any multicultural city in Europe, there is a lot of polarised opinion on immigration and multiculturalism in Berlin. Casual and overt racism tends to be directed at Turkish people. In fact, I remember seeing a guy on the U Bahn ranting about immigrants while repeating the word "Kanake", an anti-Turkish slur. Ironically this very man chose to get off the U-Bahn at Neukölln, an area known for its predominant proportion of Turkish people.

Political correctness is pretty big in London especially, but also England as whole. And while I wouldn't say Germans aren't politically correct to a degree, they are not really ones to beat around the bush. For instance, I was once flat out asked whether my Zambian father came to England as a refugee. You wouldn't really hear that kind of thing in England, it would be more like "So what brought your dad to England?" or they just wouldn't ask at all. The funny thing is Zambia is actually one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. In fact, many refugees from its neighbouring countries have sought asylum in Zambia. To be fair though, African immigration it not as high in Berlin as it is in London so I think that kind of ignorance can be excused. And plus British people are known to be exceedingly polite and being polite often involves refraining from making assumptions.

Speaking of politeness, when I first got to Berlin I was gently warned by some Germans that Berliners have a reputation for being rather blunt which can sometimes be misconstrued as rudeness. It even has its own name- the Berliner Schnauze. So for instance, if you come across a shop assistant who has been pretty abrupt with you, it's best not to take it personally- it's a Berlin thing apparently. Although I have to say, after having lived in Berlin for eight months, this isn't something that I have personally noticed. I have met a lot of lovely Berliners and of course some not-so-lovely ones. So just putting it out there, Berliners are no more or less rude than Londoners, I would know, being the overly sensitive soul that I am.

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