Bachelor of Arts/Science
Bachelor of Arts/Science

I’d spent a year in Germany in 2008; I’d seen New York, London, Amsterdam, Rome and Paris. With these comparisons, it was easy to tell that Berlin was the place to go to in 2011. A more vibrant, tolerant, boundary-stretching city cannot be found – lonely planet describes it as New York in the 80’s (pre-gentrification). With this in mind I booked a flight here two days after my final exams to spend my holidays in Berlin (summer’s much better than winter). I decided to join a student dorm, as the rent is 40 euros a week, but since my wallet got stolen from my room and with all the kitchen issues, a WG (WohnGemeinschaft = share house) might have been a better idea (if so organise this BEFORE you fly over and live near a train station).Technical Uni berlin exchange samuel

You’re here for tips, I’ll try and fit as many in as possible. Firstly, spend your holidays in Berlin, when university starts ‘partying four nights a week’ will be unsustainable, particularly as people enter clubs at 1-3am and leave them anytime between 6am and midday. Take advantage of the night life, initially you might miss ‘top 20’s chart music’, but having experienced this I’ll struggle to set foot in a Brisbane club. Ease up on the drinking, because drinking’s not as popular in Berlin; they won’t let drunk people into clubs as alcohol is too associated with violence and vomit, and if you get drunk you won’t last the night. Instead may I recommend Berlin’s red bull equivalent ‘Club Mate’. In regards to clubs, you must check out Wilde Renate and Berghain (best between 8-10am on Sundays), also Sisyphos, Club des Visionaere and Ritter Butzke. As to bars, there are a lot of cool ones, White Trash appeals to many.

In regards to University, find ~ten courses that work for you and try-before-you-buy, because you sign up for exams, not classes. The system’s disorganised (compared to UQ), so expect this to take up a lot of time. Apply for language courses (particularly the intensive ones in March/September) early and ON TIME before they fill. This is how you’ll meet your buddies, and apart from randoms you meet in clubs between midnight and midday, they’ll be your core mates. They’re all in the same position as you; foreign, struggling to learn the language and in desperate need of friends. Get your student ID asap so you can ride the trains without a ticket. In regards to the language, I only took language courses here which was great for the social aspect (plus learning a language in the country’s really ideal), but it’s doubtful you’ll have all classes in English. Plus you’ll find it easier to make friends, be respected and feel at home if you try hard to learn the language. Nonetheless you can get around fine without deutsch.

None of the other Berlin guides talk about money, so I may as well. The scholarship helps, but also take out the full 5.6k Hecs loan. As it increases only by inflation (2-3%) and you can stick it in a bank account for interest (5-6.5%) – especially as money now (while you’re a poor student) is probably worth a lot more than money when you’re earning more post-university. Depending on your finances and ability to budget, if you’re reasonable you can live comfortably on a grand a month, maybe even 400-500 if you’re really tight. If you’re extravagant, it could be closer to 2k, but remember that Berlin’s ~33% cheaper than Australia. I was over here for 7.5 months and probably spent about 6k.

  • Best sites: Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe (at Brandenburger Tor), Tacheles (Sistine-chapel of graffiti, at Oranienburgerstrasse), Teufelsberg (abandoned ex-American tower built on a an ex-Nazi training yard to spy on the Russians during the cold war, with the best view of Berlin, it’s a bit of a hike but also incredible). Take a free tour as well (but tip at least 5 euros) so you are up to date on Berlin’s history and where to go, a lonely planet guide would be cool as well.
  • Best food: Kebabs = Mostafas (2.90 euros) at Mehringdamm station, Vietnamese = Hamy Café at Hermannplatz station (5 euros a meal, 2 euros a drink), Thai = Chai Yo at Gorlitzer Station (6-10 euros a meal). If you really want typical Berlin, look up Volkskueche (folk’s kitchen), a left-wing movement with the idea that society should be able to eat at a reasonable price irrelevant of social status/financial worth.
  • Cheapest Bar: Downtown bar (studentenwohnheim/college bar at Ostbahnhof station, Wed & Fri only): 1 euro beers, 50c tequila shots, 70c jaegermeister shots. Also Weinerei is cool, you go there, pay 2 euros for a glass, drink as much wine as you want and then tip what you ‘think sounds right’ at the end of the night.
  • Best tip: Make the most of your experience, the people that didn’t have a brilliant time here were the ones that stayed at home and lived on skype and facebook. You’re here in Berlin, you will either adapt or fail, making comparisons won’t help you. This is an experience for personal growth so get involved with as much as possible, take risks (though well-calculated ones) and remember that when you’re 50 years old you’ll look back on your life and regret what you didn’t do, rather than what you did. Make the most of summer, keep smiling, make the effort to meet new people and dive right in!

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