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Instruction Manual for Berlin

Brenda Strohmaier, author of “Wie man lernt, ein Berliner zu sein” (i.e. How to Learn to Be a Berliner), talks about what makes Berlin special.

© dpa/Schoening Berlin - Berlin feeling

Ms Strohmaier, why does Berlin enjoy such international popularity?

Compared with London, New York or Copenhagen it is still good value for money. Artists were the first to come to Berlin and could not believe how cheap it was to rent a studio. Added to this was the fact that Berlin has so much open space, and to some extent still does to this day.

How would you define the “Berlin feeling”?

It is the sense that more is possible in Berlin than in other cities. Berliners like to boast that you can wander around naked here without anyone even noticing.

Berlin is currently undergoing very considerable changes, and more and more people are moving to the city. Will Berlin not lose its charm as a result? 

I don’t think so. Looking back at the city’s history, Berlin has already seen periods of much faster growth than today. Three million people moved to the city between 1860 and 1910 and adapted to life here. This is still the case today. The rough-and ready, laid-back sides to Berlin remain unchanged. We fight for tolerance here – an attitude we are not going to give up anytime soon.

Can you learn to be a Berliner?

Not everyone can. One aspect of this is to realize that tolerance is the positive side of the “don’t give a damn” attitude that is widespread here. However, there are those who do not integrate and always see only how dirty the city is or focus on all the graffiti on the walls of buildings. To feel at ease in Berlin long-term, you have to understand that the city offers a great deal of freedom. Living here makes you more tolerant.

Do you have any advice for people coming to Berlin?

I recommend getting off the beaten track. Simply jump on the S-Bahn, travel somewhere and then get out and explore. For example, it is worth heading to the west of the city, out to Spandau, which is home to a very large number of born-and-bred Berliners. If you find yourself a corner pub there, it is still possible to find the real, authentic Berlin, with typical characters like “Knatter-Kalle” (chattering Karl) and “Hertha-Harry” (Harry the Hertha fan).