Nicolas Bouliane

Lessons from a month in Berlin Posted on

This article was written as I was just moving to Berlin. Since then, I have started a website where I help other people deal with German bureaucracy and start a new life in Berlin.

My first month in Berlin will soon end. Due to a lack of discipline, and perhaps a slight dip in morale, you will have to forgive yours truly for the lack of updates. This article barely scratches the surface when it comes to describing the past two or three weeks, but I am not known for my memory nor my storytelling skills.

At first, it sucked

As a somewhat introverted and solitary person, I did not expect to feel the bite of loneliness in this new city. In Rome, I was unfazed by the lack of social interaction because I had a good book and a tight schedule. More importantly, it was just a stop. The occasional Facebook chit chat with my distant friends largely sufficed. My first week and second weeks Berlin were characterized by interesting encounters and unexpected adventures, so I didn’t think much of it.

My morale took a nose dive during my third week in the city. As my new acquaintances faded away, I felt crushing loneliness. I still considered myself an outsider at my company and didn’t know a soul in Berlin. Staying home and binge-watching Community only made things worse. I was definitely worried about this trip becoming a failure for a brief period of time, and I didn’t know who to tell.

Then it got better

After a particularly uneventful weekend, I decided to spin things around and signed up for as many activities as I could. Supportive words from a dear friend back home definitely helped me get back on track. After a few hours on and, I had at least one event scheduled for every day of the week, starting with a späti crawl on Friday.

This is where things went from bad to great.For the uninitiated, a Späti is like a 7-11, or a dépanneur, and a späti crawl is like a bar crawl, but with beer between 0.80€ and 3.50€. Every 15-20 minutes, the group moves to the next bar. Two spätis in, I had already met the friends I’d spend most of the weekend with. After a few spätis, I lost the group while going to the bathroom. I found two other stray späti runners who joined my search party. We somehow never found the group, but I made another friend and had a nice stroll around the city.

The next morning was the weekly ultimate frisbee and picnic combo at Treptower park. I went unprepared the previous week and intended to return with comfortable clothes and plenty of water. There I met a member of the previous night’s search party and some new people. Plans were made to go to the Carnival of Cultures, another excuse for Berliners to throw a huge street party.

Our new ad hoc group went to the Carnival market after a few hours at the park. A mix of techno, russian pop and folk music blared from various speakers while oddly dressed party animals served drinks and street food to the crowd. Flammkuchen, thick burgers and absurdly cheap drinks were had.

The next day, we met again on Gneisenaustraße to watch the parade. The police officers preceding the convoy pushed the crowd out of the street to make room for the procession. At that point, the crowd was uncomfortably dense and we could not see any of the parade. We made a few attempts to find better spots before splitting off and leaving.Determined to make the best of this perfect summer day, I biked to Alexanderplatz and fell asleep in the lawn chairs overlooking the square. About an hour later, a friend from the späti crawl joined me and we went for beer and cottage pie at an Irish pub. The pie was so good I kept eating despite burning my tongue. A black velvet (Guinness and cider) is something every sane person would love.

We left to meet a couple of his friends and ended the night in a bar in Neukölln, on Berlin’s liveliest boroughs. Our first idea was to go to a formerly secret spot atop the Neukölln arcade, but we turned back after seeing the queue.

Today was an equally nice, albeit much more relaxed day. A quick brunch in Charlottenburg with a lovely friend followed by a walk to Charlottenburg castle. We then took the train to Wannsee to eat strawberries by the lake, laying in the grass and enjoying the sun.

To all who will listen

All in all, it was a perfect 3 day weekend because I wanted it to be. It started with a personal effort to go out there and meet people. It’s perfectly normal to feel lonely at times when you are travelling, but there are plenty of opportunities to make great friends when travelling abroad. Solo travel is the most social form of travel, because you must put yourself out there.

To be fair, I also had some great adventures even during the harder times. I have made a wonderful Canadian friend (hey Jacky), got kidnapped by a friendly Leipziger in a club line, saw the sun rise on the Spree and had BBQ on a rooftop. Perhaps the true lesson would be to keep my chin up and avoid letting minor setbacks snowball this much.

My love for Berlin was renewed by these great moments, and I think this brief rough patch only made me appreciate my trip better. Great times lie ahead, and I’m glad I got to go on this adventure and meet all these great friends.