Friendly Berliners: Don’t Get Used To It
2 Sep 2013

Friendly Berliners: Don’t Get Used To It

Not long ago, as a few friends and I dozed in the summer haze at a Berlin lakeside, some departing picknickers approached us.

“Would you like this?” they asked, offering us half of one of the enormous watermelons you see for sale everywhere here, which undoubtedly inspired the design of  Germany’s similarly over-sized zeppelins of yore.

Hell yes we did.

We thanked our benevolent sun worshippers and as they went on their way my Berlin-born buddy turned my way and said something which confused me.

“Mate, don’t get used to it.”

I wondered what he meant by this.

“This kind of thing never happens,” replied Rob, “Berliners just aren’t usually that friendly”.

This statement seemed to lie in direct contradiction with the experience of the previous two weeks I’d spent living with Rob and his very welcoming parents (who both grew up in Eastern Berlin) and the vast majority of the people I’d met in that period, ‘real Berliners’ or not.

A Berlin Gathering

A Berlin Gathering

However, by now I’ve heard the sentiment echoed over and again, particularly from Germans.

Commonly, when I respond saying actually I’ve found it particularly friendly, the response is something along the lines of:
“Well, then have you been here in winter? Oh, just you wait for your first winter…”

Apparently Berliners get quite shouty when the glorious days of summer are only a wistful memory. Especially in traffic.

Especially at silly expats who make nuisances of themselves in traffic.

While I can only hope the year I spent living in the Netherlands has given me enough bike etiquette to safely guide me through the winter months, I still can’t help but question this assertion that Berliners are an unfriendly bunch.

It just doesn’t ring true to my experiences.

The welcome has been sweet, whether it’s come from the old lady who walked up to me on Museum Island and kindly advised that I ought to visit the Neues Museum to see the bust of Queen Nefertiti and then go spy on the paparazzi waiting outside Parliament, to the extended family of students in and around my short-term WG (shared flat) who adopted me, or the patience of shopkeepers city-wide, on whom I’ve imposed my no doubt hilarious Dutch-German language hybrid.

So on that note I’d be interested to know what other people’s experiences have been, whether they be travelers, expats, relocated Germans or ‘echten Berlineren’ (real Berliners).

Are Berliners friendly or not?

About the Author:Joe Dodgshun

Brand storytelling consultant creating stories to scale solutions in social enterprise, cleantech, climate action & responsible travel. What's your story?

6 Responses to Friendly Berliners: Don’t Get Used To It

  1. It’s now 6 mounths I live in Berlin and I haven’t experienced exessive unfriendlyness from Germans. I find them quite helpfull and eager to speak to other people. It is true that some of them can be reserved and apear unfriendly at first, but if you go throught this first impression, you actually discover interesting people most of the time. It is true that for some reason, German percieves themselves as unfriendly, it is typically german to critisise themselves for ther manners or they lack of openness, so what Bob said is typically German, from my experience. It’s actaully not that bad 😉

  2. I never correlated the winter with an overall downturn in people’s friendliness, but it is true the whole city is a little sour between Silvester and when the warmth finally reappears. Every time I think we’re used to the Berliner demeanor, it kicks us in our ass. Good luck to us all….

  3. What you really need to perceive this evil side of unfriendliness is running some errands at some public departments, or as they say “Ämter”. Most notoriously at the “Ausländerbehörde” (Foreign Affairs), they seem to be trained to be particularly unpolite.

    But you’re right. People are usually friendly and the rule is, almost always, to be extra-polite. Which really helps maintaining the environment stressfree.


    • I’ve heard the same thing, Daniel. Perhaps I had a lucky day as the woman I was dealing with when I went for my visa was as lovely as could be – even putting up with my first attempts at German before taking over in English. And this was pretty early on a Monday morning! You’ve got a good rule – if you always approach politely, you at least have grounds to give sass back in case of rudeness.

      Ebe: Winter is coming… =o Sorry, couldn’t resist the Game of Thrones reference. It’s human nature to be grumpy in winter and Berlin is one of the more northerly European cities (completely ignoring the Nordics – a whole different ball game), so it makes sense. Good luck indeed!

      JB: I think you might have put your finger on it there. It’s not actually just the Germans who do it though – all of the Swedes I met this summer seemed to have the impression all of the other Swedes were particularly unfriendly, despite the good people I kept meeting. I’m glad you’ve found some nice Berliners, though!

  4. So did you eventually change your mind about Berlins unfriendliness of not…?

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