Hey Tourist, News Flash: Berlin's Not as Cool to Live as it is to Visit

Updated: Dec 6, 2018

By Shir Drucker

People in real life

It all started when we were heading to bed after yet another exhausting day, and out of nowhere my husband turns to me to say, “You know what?! I just don’t understand why you’re so negative about everything here. Tons of people dream about relocating to Berlin, but you can’t seem to stop whining about it. You should be grateful we’re are not stuck in a city without simple things like running water; then you’d have a real reason to be depressed.”

Upset and speechless, I turned off the lights and closed my eyes. In a fury, I obviously couldn’t sleep. His words echoed in my head over and over again; “Be grateful.”

I felt rage going through and heating up my entire body. He had to of known what was coming, and he only had himself to blame. I could tell he heard me trying to fake sleep, as I was doing my best to keep my breathing calm and collected. He knows me too well, though. He knew the bedtime boomerang he threw would come back to hit him straight in the face. At any moment.

And just like that, war face on, I stormed out of bed, flicked on the lights and started throwing fierce words of defense his direction. “Well excuse me Mister, but it’s my life and I will bitch about it as long as I please. Just because I live in Berlin and not in some rural village doesn’t mean I lose my right to complain!”

At this point, he knew he had two options for a response. He could throw fuel to the fire, being condescending and say, “But don’t you just love the fact they have such efficient public transportation here?” This would definitely start a third world war between us.

Or he could play the romance card and be sweet with, “I know being here can be hard Honey, but at least we’re in this together, right?”.

As always, he surprised me with a diplomatic third option saying, “I know our lives here are different from what we had back home, but you have to admit that this city has its own magic.”

What he didn’t know was the unfortunate timing of our heated conversation. I had been beaten down with remarks from loved ones who thought my life was just good and dandy here.

For instance, a few days prior, a friend from back home also dismissed my complaints about my challenging relocation experience in telling me over the phone, “I don’t get you. You are in Berlin! It’s the coolest, most hip city in Europe. Just get out of the house and have some fun!”

I had also just received an email back from another friend reading, “Sure, I hear you. But seriously, how hard can it be? After all, you’re in Berlin!” This was in response to a heartfelt email about how lonely the weekends could be here for me and how much I missed home. Even my older brother, who came to visit us the previous weekend, fell into Berlin’s trap. He wandered around the streets and was overly thrilled by everything.

“Look at all the beautiful buildings,” he’d say in amazement, “and all this cool graffiti. Don’t you just love Europe!?” And there I was walking beside him doing my best to hide my frowning anger as I gave the classic tour – from Alexanderplatz to the East Side Gallery, then all the way to Checkpoint Charlie.

When it came to be Sunday, I announced to my brother that Berlin was completely closed for the day, I was secretly hoping for a quiet day at home. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out for me, as my always-happy-tourist of a brother wanted to go to one of Berlin’s cool flea markets and then after party at Watergate.

He said he heard it was “ the place to be.”

That’s when I snapped: “When exactly did you become such a fleamarket fan? I thought you absolutely hated them. And what after party are you talking about? You don’t even party! Your nephews have been asking when their uncle would be taking them to the playground!”

On his last day visiting, I realized how hard it would be for him to go back to reality. As the comforting sister that I am, I tried to comfort him in saying that I understood not wanting to leave the fun behind and that he should plan his next vacation to ease the pain.

He responded with, “What do you know about reality? You are living in Berlin! You have all the fun this city has to offer right at your doorstep!”

Only then did I realize that my family and friends think I’m living a never-ending vacation!

When they think of my life in Berlin, they imagine me walking around with a backpack on and taking selfies next to all the landmarks, then strolling around KaDeWe with my hands full of shopping bags and a Time Out magazine. She must be just grateful, they’d believe.

Photo by Raphael Nogueira on Unsplash

On one hand, I would hate to burst their bubble. There’s nothing like being a tourist in a city with the reputation of one of the coolest, grungiest in the world. Who doesn’t dream about sitting in hipster cafes during the day, clubbing all night and eating Doner for every meal?

Go for it, if that’s your thing. I’ve been there and done that. And you are right, Berlin is a great city (to visit). But give me a break, I live here. Do you really think I spend my day's art gallery and museum hopping? Do you honestly believe I can handle drink margaritas all day long?

Sorry, but nope!

First of all, Germans can’t make a decent margarita if their lives depended on it. And secondly, because I live here, I have all the time in the world to visit the cultural points of interest. I only see the remains of the Berlin wall while driving my kids to school, not because I took time out of my day to pay it a visit. Alexanderplatz is a place I’ve only been once since moving here, and it was only because my mom insisted on going to Primark. And I know it’s shocking, but after five consecutive days of Doner, your body craves something else!

I’m simply done with being a tour guide every other weekend. So I decided that as of today, my goal is to give my visitors a glimpse of the real Berlin. This way they can experience how things really work here. Dear family and friends, if you come to visit, know you’re grocery shopping, picking up the kids from school and fueling up my car during rush hour. And in due time, you will see what it’s really like. It’ll test your patience as you wait upwards to two hours in the waiting room for the doctor. You will grow thick skin as you get used to having locals roll their eyes at you for silly reasons and you will learn some German having to eat in restaurants with German-only menus.

Oh, and there will be plenty of fresh laundry that needs folding. Always.

Willkommen in Berlin!