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Experience the German capital like a local by embracing old-school customs and cherished traditions.
“Du bist verrückt mein Kind, du musst nach Berlin!” cried composer Franz von Suppe. The popular quote, which literally translates as, “You’re crazy, my child, you must go to Berlin!”, appears in looping spray-painted graffiti on brutalist buildings from Kreuzberg to Neukölln. The Hauptstadt may have changed radically throughout the decades, but it’s always possessed a certain madness and a vibrant energy that few cities can match. Today, the city lures creative types from all over the country and, increasingly the continent.
Berliners are well aware their hometown is something special. Even in the face of rising cosmopolitanism, locals remain fiercely proud of their traditions, especially the quirkier ones. Want to blend in? Start by ordering your currywurst without the casing, pick up a box of jelly doughnuts, then snap a vintage-style photo outside a club. Whether you want to go all-out and channel your inner Berliner with a swim in the buff is up to you.
Eat a Berliner
Pfannkuchen or Krapfen, the powdered sugar-kissed, jam-filled fritters particularly beloved around New Years, are so popular in the Hauptstadt that the rest of the country refers to them as Berliner Pfannkuchen or simply Berliner. Though the origins of the yeasted confection are murky, urban lore attributes them to a Berlin baker around the 15th century. Popular lore claims that President John F. Kennedy mistakenly referred to himself as this particular type of doughnut. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with the phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner,” just as there’s nothing wrong with wanting to snag a Berliner as a snack.
Go for a Dip in Your Birthday Suit
In the summer months, Berliners flock to the shores of nearby lakes such as Wannsee and Müggelsee. Germans are famously fond of Freikörperkultur, or FKK for short. Literally translated as “free body culture,” it refers to the local tendency to bare all, especially when the sun is high and the weather is just right for a swim.
Sample Berlin-Style Street Food
Admittedly, Berlin’s best-known street eats are something of an acquired taste. The most famous, of course, is currywurst. Legend has it that a frugal housewife by the name of Herta Heuwer first spruced up a dish of chopped sausage with a sweet tomato sauce and a sprinkle of curry powder shortly after the end of World War II. Her thrifty creation became so popular that it now boasts its own museum and a dedicated jingle by singer Herbert Grönemeyer. Berliners are so enamored of the dish that they scarf down more than 800 million portions annually. Order like a local by asking for it mit Pommes (with fries) and either mit or ohne Darm (with or without casing). Another popular favourite, the döner kebab, may be no more authentically Turkish than chicken tikka masala is Indian, but it can be delicious when done well. When in doubt, choose kebab stands with a brisk turnover and a sizeable queue for the freshest results.
Take a Picture
Even in this selfie-obsessed age, Berliners prefer to capture the moment at one of the dozens of retro photo booths scattered throughout the city. The exteriors may often appear dilapidated, but the black-and-white pictures that come from an old-school Fotoautomat make for a far better souvenir than anything saved on a smartphone.