7 things you need to know when moving to Germany

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These tips are for those who are moving, or just have moved, to Germany. Turns out most of them are about German bureaucracy and avoiding fines. But what can I say, they’re the things you need to know most urgently – even before finding where the closest Biergarten is. So let’s start getting used to the German dos and don’ts:

1. You have to register your address at the citizen’s office

Once you have your fixed address in your new German home, you have to get an appointment (Termin) at a citizen’s office (Bürgeramt) of the city where you’ve started to live to make the registration (Anmeldung) of your address. Take your passport and your rental contract with you. This way, the German government knows where you and all the other citizens live. The registration is free of charge, and failure or delay to do it might get you fined. Officially, it should be done in your first couple of weeks in Germany.

If you move to a new address, you have to re-register (Ummeldung) and if you move out of Germany, you have to unregister (Abmeldung).

Just type in on Google: Anmeldung + name of the German city where you now live, and you will find the official website to get the appointment and further information.

2. Health insurance is mandatory

Meaning: even if it’s expensive, there’s no way around it. You will need to present your health insurance number to be able to sign a job contract, for example. The good news is that by law the employer pays half of the cost. There are two types of health insurance in Germany: public and private. And there are several companies which offer different deals at different prices. The vast majority of Germans have a public insurance which covers everything. Some foreigners prefer having a private insurance if they are not staying for a long period of time, as these can sometimes be cheaper. Search online, talk to people and compare the different options to make the best choice for you. You can find more details about health insurance in Germany here.

3. Having a German bank account is not officially mandatory, but in practice it is

You will need a German bank account to pay for your rent and health insurance, to receive your salary or any kind of payments, to get a German phone plan or internet for your home. So even if there is no law saying that everyone who lives in Germany needs to have a German bank account, chances are you won’t be able to manage without one.

4. You must stamp your ticket when using the public transport

This sounds obvious to most people who are used to European culture, but it might be confusing for people coming to Germany from further away. Contrary to other countries in Europe, the public transport in German cities usually doesn’t have turnstiles where you clearly have to insert your ticket to be able to enter. It’s all based on trust. You should always carry a valid, stamped ticket when riding the subway, trains, trams or buses in Germany. Ticket controllers might appear anytime (undercover, wearing no special uniforms) and ask you to present your ticket. If it’s not stamped and valid, you will get a fine (currently €60 in Berlin).

5.  Downloading pirate music and media will get you fined

Whatever you do, DO NOT download songs, movies or TV shows from the internet. That includes torrent: never use torrent in Germany. Better to even delete any torrent programs you might have on your computer. They know how to find you (remember the Anmeldung?) even through your computer ID, and people, usually foreigners, get fined quite frequently for this reason. I’ve heard real-life examples of foreigners who didn’t know about this rule and received an over €800 fine. So better not risk it. The solution: online streaming won’t get you into trouble, or actually paying for the media you are getting (through Netflix, Apple store, Spotify, etc).

6. There is a tax for TV and radio

Every German home pays a tax for the use of TV and radio (Rundfunkbeitrag) – even if you don’t own any TV or radio. It’s a fixed rate of €17.50 per month – per household, not per person. This money goes to support the public broadcasting channels in Germany. After registering your address (see #1), you’ll get a letter asking you to pay the compulsory monthly fee.

To me as a foreigner, this rule doesn’t make much sense, as TV and radio channels still run commercials – which in theory exist to support the channels financially. But all expats agree that there is no way around it, and even if you try to ignore the tax, the system will win in the end and you will just have to pay an even higher amount.

7. You can get some tax money back

Let’s end this list with some good news: if you’re staying in Germany for a while, you might be eligible to get tax refund (Steuererklärung) once a year. If your income comes from a scholarship, it’s tax-free, so you will probably not be entitled to receive it. But if you’re working under a job contract, you can apply for it. You can either search online and figure out all the documents you need for it by yourself (although that might be tricky for non-Germans), or hire a consultant (Steuerberater) who will advise you what to do to get the highest amount possible.

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I hope these tips will clarify some doubts and make your new life in Germany a little bit easier. After the initial settling-in phase, everything becomes lighter. Willkommen! 🙂

Berlin travel itinerary

Most of Berlin’s main tourist attractions are located in the central region, Mitte. Here, I put together an itinerary to see all of them in an efficient order and on foot. It’s doable to visit all the tourist spots in Mitte in 1 day, but it can be tiring. Depending on your pace, this itinerary can simply be paused and resumed the following day. Let’s begin:

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Attractions in the city center (Mitte):

Start at Alexanderplatz (1), with the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) and the world clock. There are many stores around – including the bargain ones, Primark, Decathlon and TK Maxx – and the Alexa shopping mall near by.

Walk by the Rotes Rathaus (2) until you reach Unter den Linden – the long central avenue.

Keep on Unter den Linden: right after the river on the right is the Cathedral (Berliner Dom) (3) and the Museum Island (5 museums, one next to the other).

Continue on Unter den Linden; see the ‘Neue Wache’ memorial, walk by the main building of the Humboldt Universität (4) and keep on the avenue until reaching the Brandenburg Gate (5), one of the main landmarks of Berlin.

Walking through the gate: there is a long avenue ahead with the Victory Column at the end and a large park, Tiergarten, around.

Proceed to the right towards the German Parliament building (Bundestag or Reichstag) (6). You can visit the terrace of the parliament and have an audio-guide completely for free. But you have to book a time slot in advance through this website (‘Visit to the dome’). The building and the view are beautiful. Highly recommended!

Going back towards the Brandenburg Gate and walking straight ahead, you will find the Holocaust Memorial (7), a labyrinth of concrete that looks like a cemetery, with a very striking effect. Walk through it showing respect. There is also a free exhibition underground.

Walking towards the same direction as before, you will arrive at Potsdamer Platz, with the Sony Center (8), a giant and modern dome with restaurants and a cinema inside. Close by is the Mall of Berlin shopping center.

Go on to the Topography of Terror (9), another memorial about nazism, and then to Checkpoint Charlie (10) – a spot that symbolizes one of the former checkpoints between East and West Berlin while it was divided by the wall. But be aware that the checkpoint is not located on the exact spot where it used to be and today is only a tourist attraction.

Finish the route at Gendarmenmarkt (11), a lovely square right in the center of Berlin.


Outside the city center:

The East Side Gallery – the part that is left of the Berlin Wall, covered in colorful graffiti, is a must-see. Get off at the S-Ostbahnhof station and walk by the wall until its end, arriving at the Oberbaumbrücke bridge. It’s also worth it to explore at night the cool / alternative / hipster districts of Berlin, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which are connected by this bridge.

Other tips:

In Berlin on a Sunday with good weather? Don’t miss Mauerpark! And check out the memorial about the wall, on the same street.

Staying 3 or more days in Berlin? Consider going a bit outside the city to visit the Sanssouci Palace and its gardens, in Potsdam (about 1 hour southwest of Berlin), and/or the museum of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in Oranienburg (about 1 hour north).

Want to go shopping? Besides the shopping malls in the city center already mentioned (Alexa and Mall of Berlin), a great option are the Tauentzienstraße and Kurfürstendamm (also known as Kudamm) streets, in the district of Charlottenburg. There, one can also visit the main zoo of Berlin and the Gedächtniskirche: the ruins of a church that was bombed during WWII and whose main tower is broken in half until today.

Going to be in Berlin during spring or summer? Here is a list of the coolest things to do around here in the best time of the year!

Want tips on what and where to eat in Berlin? Check out this post.

Interested in staying longer? Here’s an insider’s view on what it is like to live in Berlin.


I hope you will love Berlin as much as I do! 🙂

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10 things you can’t miss in Berlin in the summer

There’s nothing like spring and summer in Berlin. The city completely transforms itself. As the leaves turn green, people get especially cheerful and make an effort to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Open-air festivals and events start popping up in the calendar like crazy. It is definitely the best time to visit the German capital.

There are a lot of cool things to do in the Berliner summer. Here is a list of my favorite ones:

1) Going swimming in a lake

Believe it or not, Berlin can get quite warm. The temperature reaches around 37 degrees on some summer days. And with the lack of air-conditioned places, nothing beats dipping yourself in water to cool off. Although the city is not by the sea and therefore has no beaches, it luckily has MANY lakes. Most of them have a Freibad, an area you can access for around 3-5 euros, with sand to lay down on, toilet facilities and food kiosks. Some even offer the possibility of renting paddle or rowing boats, kayaks or stand-up paddles. Definitely a must-do in Berlin in the summer!

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Müggelsee lake

2) Open-air cinemas

In the warm months, the city offers several open-air cinemas (in German, Freiluftkino). There is practically one in every neighborhood. Movies displayed include both old classics and recent ones straight out of Hollywood. But if you’re not used to it, beware: popcorn in German cinemas is usually sweet.

3) Rooftop bars

There is a number of different bars on top of malls or buildings in Berlin, where you can have a drink outdoors while enjoying the view and the sunset. Probably the most famous one is Klunkerkranisch in Neukölln, followed by Deck 5 in Schönhauserallee and House of Weekend in Alexanderplatz (which is also a club).

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View from Klunkerkranisch

4) Thai Park

If you’re up for some nice, authentic Thai food, you should definitely head to the Preußenpark, also known as Thai Park. Everything you need to know about the Thai Park is in this post about the top places to eat in Berlin.

5) Badeschiff

Badeschiff is literally a swimming pool inside the river Spree! For a small fee you can get inside the beach bar area, which also has lockers and bathrooms. From inside the pool, you get a great view to the Oberbaumbrücke bridge linking Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, the big metal sculpture Molecule Man on the river, and to the people passing close by on stand-up paddles or boats. One of the coolest and most different things you can do in the summer in Berlin.

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Badeschiff

6) Having some beer at a Biergarten

Drinking beer is a must in Germany, and in the summer this is done outdoors. Meaning: Biergarten season! There are dozens of options around the city, some near green areas such as parks, and some at actual breweries, offering amazing locally-brewed tap beer.

7) Going strawberry picking

This is quite a different activity you can do as a day trip from Berlin. There are different fields in the outskirts of the city, about 1 hour away, where you can pick strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. In some of them there is a small entrance fee, and in others you can enter for free, pick the fruits and only pay if you want to take some home. Check the calendar of the appropriate season to visit and how to get to some of the fields on this website (only in German).

8) Monbijoupark

This is an area near Hackescher Markt where people sit on the lawn by the river Spree while having a beer and overlooking the cathedral (Berliner Dom). It’s a great place to chill outdoors and also a nice photo spot. Around the corner following the river on the opposite direction to the cathedral there is a bar where you can dance salsa or tango outdoors in the evenings of warm months.

9) Having a barbecue with friends

A common passion that Germans share with Brazilians – besides football – is having barbecues. As soon as the sun starts coming out, you can see grills and smoke everywhere around the city. Having a nice barbecue is something quite typical in Berlin, and can be done in someone’s yard (or even balcony), or in one of the several public parks, which usually have designated areas for grilling.

10) Mauerpark

You will find this tip in every guide to Berlin – and that’s because it is a must. If you’re in town on a Sunday during spring or summer, you need to go to Mauerpark, the hipster epicenter of Berlin. There, you’ll find a famous flea market, food stands, several street artists and musicians from all over the world surrounded by a crowd of cheerful young people enjoying the sound, and lots of people chilling on the grass at the small hill overlooking the park. Also, my favorite part: the open-air karaoke. The park has a small stage with stands around it, where, on warm Sundays, an open-mic karaoke session takes place. Whoever wants to sing gets the microphone, while the crowd and passers-by watch and cheer. There’s just something special about the vibe in Mauerpark.

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Mauerpark karaoke

Hope you enjoy the summer in Berlin!

The Obersee (Königssee) lake at the Berchtesgaden National Park

Most of the scenic locations that are tourist destinations look quite nicer in the Google images than in reality. There you can see the best pictures, by the best photographers, on the prettiest days, and sometimes also with a little help of Photoshop. So I try not to expect too much when I go visit one of those places. However… the Obersee lake was an exception. Surprisingly, it somehow managed to look even nicer live than in the photos I had seen.

It is a crystal clear mirror lake surrounded by the Alps which makes the water reflect the image of the mountains and the sky. Sounds like paradise? And it is.

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Lake Obersee can be found at the end of the Königssee lake, in the Berchtesgaden National Park, in the extreme southeast of Germany, literally at the border with Austria. The Alps mountains that surround the lake delimit the border. Despite being located in German territory, the closest city (and airport) to the park is Salzburg which is also gorgeous! Therefore, I would recommend visiting Salzburg for a weekend (long or not) and go on a day trip from there to Berchtesgaden quite easy to do, even by public transport.

The Berchtesgaden National Park also offers many other activities, such as several trails for trekking and viewpoints. One of them is where the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) is a house that was given to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday as a teahouse for diplomats. Berchtesgaden, by the way, was a place Hitler really enjoyed visiting. But don’t let this discourage you! The sense of peace that nature provides in this park really doesn’t deserve to be associated to that gloomy figure of the past.

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How to get there

Take the bus number 840 in Salzburg to the final stop (Berchtesgaden Hbf, the train station). The journey takes only 45 minutes (same by car). From there, take another bus that goes to Königssee. Everything is quite easy to find, also because several other people will be going along the same route. To go back, you just need to take the same buses in the opposite direction.

From Munich, you can reach Berchtesgaden by train with a change in Freilassing, but each journey leg takes around 3 hours (around 2 hours by car).

Arriving at the entrance to Königssee, walk to the ferry dock and get a ticket for the boat ride that goes across Königssee all the way to Obersee. On the way, a guide will explain a bit about the park, indicate a few beautiful waterfalls, and show the echo effect on the lake. The boat first stops at the St. Bartholomä station, where you can get off to visit the chapel and then take another boat (included in the ticket) to the Salet station. From there, a short path of a 5 to 10-minute walk leads to the Obersee lake.

On the other side of the Obersee there is a little house and you can walk there, around the lake along a path on the right (quite easy to walk), and then back. The view from the other side is also amazing! And this house is actually a small restaurant, where you can also find toilets.

Swimming in the lake is not allowed (although some people can be seen stepping in the water by the shore).

When to go

I believe the lake and its reflexions look especially stunning during the summer, on a sunny day. I went in June 2015 and it was a beautiful day, and not very crowded.

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St. Bartholomä chapel by the Königssee
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Obersee seen from the opposite side to the entrance path

For more photos of this destination, click here.

I hope you enjoy this delightful visit to the Berchtesgaden park and its lakes, Königssee and Obersee! 🙂

Fun facts about Germany (part 1)

There are so many facts and habits in Germany that are funny/odd for a foreigner that this will have to be a series of posts, rather than just one! lol

For those who have lived here for a while, like me, these things have already become completely normal and nowadays go unnoticed. But those who are not so familiar with the German culture usually find these facts quite confusing or weird.

Let’s start with 5 of them:

1) At the cinema, you’ll find sweet popcorn

They do have salty popcorn here, but the ‘standard’ popcorn, the one you can usually buy in stalls, is usually sweet. Going to the movies and not even having the option of eating some salty popcorn? How come?

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2) Academic scores are from 1 to 6 (1 being the highest)

In Germany, the grading system doesn’t range from zero to 10, or from zero to 100. They don’t use the A-B-C-D system either. It works like this:

1 = very good
2 = good
3 = satisfactory
4 = sufficient
5 = insufficient
6 = very insufficient / zero

You need to get at least a 4 to pass an exam or course. Universities often don’t even mention grade 6, as any number higher than 4 already means ‘failed’. The grades also have one decimal place, usually with odd numbers. For example: 1.3 – 1.5 – 1.7 (1.3 being a higher score than 1.7). For Germans, a grade ‘2’ is better than a grade ‘3’. Totally counter-intuitive.

The first time I received a grade in my Master’s, the email said ‘1.0’. I almost had a mini heart attack. 😀

3) The second floor is the first one

In Brazil, the ground floor is usually considered the first floor, the floor above is the second, and so on. But in Germany, the ground floor is ‘floor zero’. And the first floor (number 1) is the one that comes above the ground floor. This causes newcomers a lot of confusion. ‘Meet me on the first floor’ – in the beginning my brain was trained to automatically think of the ground floor, which is the first floor on which you step. In many elevators or in the large department stores here, you can see the digit ‘zero’ on the screen referring to the ground floor (and sometimes -1 and -2 for underground floors).

4) When entering a German house/apartment, you must take off your shoes

This is perhaps the most typically German habit of all. Each and every German person takes off their shoes as soon as they step inside the house, still by the door, and puts on a pair of ‘house shoes’, or walks around in socks. They do the same when they go visit someone, and expect it from you when you visit them. Since I’m not a huge fan of walking barefoot, I have to remember to check that my socks don’t have any holes before I go visit a friend around here! lol

The goal of this habit is to preserve hygiene and to avoid bringing dirt from the outside into the house – which is quite understandable. But this habit is so embedded in the DNA of Germans that they follow it strictly even when it doesn’t make any sense. Like in the case of house parties, for example. Parties always cause a bit of a mess, and the apartment will have to be cleaned later anyway. What difference will it make if the guests take off their shoes? 😛

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“Shoes off” = how to get a German house party started (note: there were a lot more shoes that didn’t fit in the picture)

5) Germans love fizzy drinks

Did I say ‘love’? I meant CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT. In Germany there are not two, but three options of mineral water: Still, Medium e Classic. Imagine a tourist or newcomer in the country who just wants to quench his/her thirst and finds 3 types of bottled water for sale. Which of them should be the one without gas? The one that says ‘Classic’, right? WRONG. Classic in Germany is fizzy water. Go figure… Still is without gas, and Medium with a bit of gas (as you can see, they take this very seriously).

Tap water is safe to drink around here – and still, some Germans prefer to buy sparkling water in the supermarket (even having to carry all that weight home). You can even get a ‘sparkling water maker’ appliance for your home to transform normal water into fizzy water yourself! The addiction is real.

The Bastei and the Saxon Switzerland National Park

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The Bastei bridge and the Lilienstein mountain in the background

Saxon Switzerland (in German, Sächsische Schweiz) is a region and national park located 43 km southeast of Dresden. It got this name because the landscape full of mountains may resemble Switzerland – but it’s actually Eastern Germany, almost at the border with Czech Republic.

The most popular attraction of the national park is the Bastei – a sandstone rock formation formed during the Cretaceous period (100 million years ago). There, one can see the famous Bastei bridge (Basteibrücke), 194 meters above the Elbe river. There are a few viewpoints at the Bastei that allow a nice outlook of the bridge and the mountains around.

On one end of the bridge is the Felsenburg Neurathen – the ruins of an old rock castle. Admission is only 2 euros. It is an open-air museum with beautiful views to the region in suspended bridges.

The access to the Bastei is easy and no real hiking is needed to get there – only climbing stairs, if you don’t go by car. But those who want to go hiking or trekking have several options throughout the national park. Besides the Bastei, another popular landmark of the region is the Königstein fortress. We prefered to visit the small town of Pirna by the river instead.

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Entrance to Felsenburg Neurathen

How long to stay:
One day was enough for us to visit the Bastei and Pirna. If you want to see other spots or go trekking, add more days.

How to get there:

By car: drive towards the Bastei Berghotel, where the entrance to the Bastei is. Since only guests staying at the hotel can park their cars there, leave your car in the parking lot of the national park, 3 km before getting to the hotel. From there, a bus can take you to the entrance of the Bastei (and the Berghotel) for 2 euros (return ticket).

By train: take the S1 in Dresden direction Bad Schandau (it takes 30 minutes), get off at Kurort Rathen and take a ferry to cross the river. From there, climb the stairs up until you reach the Bastei.

We went by car and the access was quite easy (we rented a car in Dresden for 22 euros per day). But we saw many people climbing the stairs up to the Bastei. It looks tiring, but it’s doable. The stairs are wide and relatively new.

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Entrance to the Bastei bridge
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View to the Elbe river

Saxon Switzerland is an area where one can wander around nature and admire the views to impressive rock formations. Dresden is 2h30 away from Berlin, and there are quite cheap buses doing this route. So it’s a very feasible option for a weekend trip from Berlin – or a day trip from Dresden or Leipzig.

Festivals in Germany: Baumblütenfest

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The Baumblütenfest (literal translation: festival of the tree blossoms) is a festival that takes place annually in the small town of Werder (Havel), very close to Potsdam and 45 minutes from Berlin. The name was given because it takes place at the beginning of Spring, but doesn’t suit the festival so much. Instead, maybe it should be called something like ‘festival of the sweet wine’. 😛

In this free, open-air street festival, people who live in Werder sell their own home-made wine, a very sweet and liqueur-like wine, right outside their houses. So you walk along the town streets and eventually stop in front of houses to try out and purchase some of the home-made wine. There are several flavors available, usually wild berries: strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, amongst many others. Prices in general are 2 euros per cup and 7-9 euros per bottle.

The town is taken over by young people, lively and cheerful from the wine. For safety reasons, it’s forbidden to walk around with glass bottles, so you’ll only find beer in specific places. The wine is super sweet, which really disguises the actual amount of alcohol. And since the combo ‘people + alcohol’ may eventually cause some trouble, there are police officers watching over throughout the whole town.

The town is also full of tents selling street food, some spread out stages with live music, and even an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and other rides. And going up a street from the main square will lead you to the top of a hill, where you’ll find a big open-air area, with a stage, a Biergarten and a nice view of the surroundings.

I’ve already been to this festival in 2 consecutive years and plan to keep attending. The best thing about it is that everyone there is happy and laid-back (of course, the wine helps, haha). It’s a really cool and fun vibe (which sometimes can be rare in Germany). A great option for those who don’t dislike crowds and want to enjoy the start of the warm and sunny weather outside.

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Different wine flavors at the Baumblütenfest

When: the Baumblütenfest lasts for 1 week, including the weekends before and after, always at the end of April / beginning of May. In 2016, it goes from April 30th to May 8th.
How to get there: by taking a regional train RE1 from Berlin and getting off at the station ‘Werder (Havel)’. Price of the transport ABC ticket (each way): 3,30 euros. In Berlin, the train leaves from the main stations, such as Hauptbahnhof, Friedrichstr., Zoologischer Garten and Charlottenburg.

Tips: what and where to eat in Berlin

Berlin is a city that has a lot of good things to offer, and one of them is food! It is perfectly possible to find good and affordable places to eat around here. And note that I said places and not restaurants. That’s because street food has a very strong presence in the German capital.

Here are some tips of where to find food that is Berliner style: tasty, multi-cultural, inexpensive and far from posh.

  • 1) Döner kebab
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How can one not recommend a döner to someone who comes to Germany? Of Turkish origin, it’s one of the most popular fast foods in the country. It’s delicious, cheap and is worth for a whole meal. The döner kebab is usually served as a sandwich, in a crunchy, triangular Turkish bread. The meat is roasted in a rotating spit with the shape of an inverted cone, and the crispy meat is then sliced vertically, like a barbecue. The classic version has lamb meat, but some places also offer the chicken option. The döner also has a lot of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions, red cabbage) and sauce (herbs, garlic or spicy). The vegetarian alternative to döner is the falafel which, instead of meat, has the tasty deep-fried balls of chickpea with spices. It is also nice for the Berliner carnivores that wish to vary a bit from the döner. Another variation is the dürum – instead of a sandwich, it’s like a wrap: it comes in a thinner type of bread in the shape of a cylinder (and is usually even bigger than the döner).

Usual price: between 3.00 and 3.50 euros (above this, it’s overpriced)

Where: in one of the thousands of kebab kiosks throughout the city. One of Berlin’s favorite is Mustafa’s, which offers not the classic döner, but one with chicken, cooked vegetables and feta cheese. Because it’s so famous, the lines are always long, even in the middle of the night. (Subway station: U Mehringdamm)

  • 2) Santa Maria

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    Chilaquiles in Santa Maria

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you have to go to Santa Maria. There they have real, authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex. Every time my friends from Mexico visit Berlin, they insist that we go eat there. Santa Maria is a small and cozy restaurant, with very reasonable prices: around 7 to 12 euros per meal (well-served). They also have Taco Tuesdays: tacos and tequila for 1 euro each. But be aware that it’s better to arrive with a bit of spare time – they don’t make reservations. Recommendation from my Mexican friend Sharlen: get the ‘chilaquiles’ with green sauce (for those who enjoy spicy food) or the ‘tacos de carnita’ (if you’re weaker, like me).

Where: 2 locations, the original one on Oranienstr. 170 (subway station U Kottbusser Tor) and a new branch on Krossenerstr. 18 (U Warschauer Str.)
http://santaberlin.com/
→ A good thing about Germany: restaurants usually show their menu (with prices!) on their websites.

Another option for good Mexican good is the Taqueria Ta’Cabrón (U Schlesisches Tor).

  • 3) Thai Park

The “Thai Park” is an example of the peculiar multiculturalism that defines Berlin. It is a public park (official name: Preußenpark) where dozens of Thai people at small stalls sell the most diverse typical homemade dishes from their country. Fried dumplings, fried bananas, fried shrimp… Fried everything! They also sell a delicious dish of sticky rice with coconut sauce and mango slices. You will find even insects to eat at the Thai Park. Unfortunately, this culinary wonder only takes place during the warm months of the year. Highly recommended to those who are in Berlin in the summer! You can find it any day of the week, but on Saturdays there are more stalls. A tip: the 5-dumpling dish with different fillings of your choice for 5 euros.

Where: Preußenpark (subway station: U Fehrbelliner Platz)

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  • 4) Al Andalos

Al Andalos is a Lebanese restaurant, the kind that only locals know about. Small and unpretentious, I only found out it existed because a friend took me there. The menu behind the counter, in German and Arabic, offers sandwiches and very well-served dishes, typical desserts, and vegetarian or meat options. The food is not only tasty and authentic, but also quite cheap, with sandwiches for 1.50 euros and dishes for 5 or 6 euros. A tip: for two people, order the Al Andalos dish, which comes with a bit of everything (falafel, halloumi, kafta, Lebanese rice, salad, etc.) for 11 euros. This amazing place with friendly staff is open until very late in the night. Although the food is Lebanese, the background music is usually salsa or flamenco. Hard not to love.

Where: Sonnenallee 40 (between subway stations U Hermannplatz and U Rathaus Neukölln)

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Al Andalos in Neukölln
  • 5) Burgermeister

Another example of the “it-had-to-be-in-Berlin”: Burgermeister is a street burger place located beneath the tracks of a subway station, where the public toilets of the station used to be! Recently, a “restaurant version” branch opened near the original one. The name is a wordplay: Bürgermeister (with umlaut) means “mayor” in German, but in this case they are referring to the “master” (meister) of burgers.

Where: original “kiosk” version at the U Schlesischer Tor subway station and the “fastfood restaurant” version at U Kottbusser Tor.
www.burgermeister.berlin

burgermeister
Burgermeister at U Schlesischer Tor

Other places to eat a good hamburger in Berlin:

Kreuzburger (another wordplay!): has 3 stores in Berlin (Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg) that stay open until late or make deliveries. Make sure to order the sweet potato fries!! It’s one of the things I most love in this city.
www.kreuzburger.de

The Bird: a very famous restaurant. It’s best to book a table in advance and go with some time to spare, because it usually takes a while for the burgers to be served (2 locations: subway stations S+U Schönhauser Allee and U Schönleinstr).
www.thebirdinberlin.com

kreuzburger
Kreuzburger and their divine sweet potato fries

Guten Appetit!  : )

How the German school system works

classroom

The German school system is quite different and curious.

The first level, equivalent to pre-school, is Kindergarten – a famous German word that is also used in English. It is not mandatory in Germany; parents decide whether or not to enroll their children. Then comes Grundschule, the elementary or primary school. It lasts 4 years, usually from ages 6 to 10. Starting from Grundschule on, education is mandatory (and free!) for everyone.

Until that point it is quite similar to other countries. It starts to look different at the end of Grundschule.

When the child is almost finishing Grundschule, around the age of 10, a decision needs to be made: which of the 3 types of school he/she will pursue. This is usually decided by the teachers and advised to the parents, based on the child’s school transcripts.

Now let’s go through the different types of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule and Gymnasium.

Putting euphemisms aside and explaining it in a clear, straightforward way (as the Germans do): the difference between these 3 schools is the level of difficulty and demand on the students.

Hauptschule is the easiest school out of the three, demanding less from the students. Realschule is the one with intermediate level of difficulty and demand. Gymnasium is the hardest one, where the intellectual demand is the highest of the three and the student has to dedicate more time and effort to the studies. At the end of Gymnasium the students take an exam called Abitur (also referred to as Abi), which is somehow similar to the SAT in the U.S. or the Baccalauréat in France. The student who does not have high enough grades to pursue the Gymnasium straight after primary school can still (given that his/her performance improves) attend Realschule first and then Gymnasium, or even take a longer path of Hauptschule, then Realschule and then Gymnasium.

But what about those who attended Hauptschule and/or Realschule, without having finished Gymnasium and Abitur? They pursue vocational training, or technical courses.

Something one should know about German society:

In Germany, a university diploma is not a necessary requirement to land a good job with a good salary. That’s because there are hundreds of vocational training courses (Ausbildung), which are schools that prepare people for all the non-academic professions. For example: retailer, mechanic, hair dresser, product designer, dental assistant, among many others. And all professions are relatively well-paid. Of course some get better salaries than others, but the discrepancy is not as big as in my home country Brazil, for example. This results in a society with skilled workers in all areas, of both manual and intellectual labor. Each technical course lasts at least 3 years, and the apprentice has to go through theoretical and practical training and evaluations to be able to practice the profession. While in Brazil it’s very common to hire an electrician, for example, only based on referral, in Germany one can, in theory, trust any professional electrician, as they are all equally well-qualified.

Therefore, it is natural that not all Germans decide to go to university – since there are other attractive options where one can start working and earn money sooner. Some people also say that those who go to university spend years learning many things in theory but, at the end of the day, have no work experience and don’t know how the profession works in “real life”.

Indeed, a store salesperson probably does not earn the same amount as a medical doctor – but he/she earns enough to live well. In Germany each person has the opportunity to make the professional choice they consider best for themselves.


Pros and cons of the German education system:

  • CONS:

It is quite segregationist, since students are divided into schools of different difficulty levels.

It is a way of labeling students by their potential, and judge them for their school grades.

Kids are forced to decide on their future at only 10 years of age. They are too young to know what they will want to do afterwards.

If the children from Hauptschule were surrounded by dedicated classmates during high school, as the ones from Gymnasium, maybe that would motivate them to study more.

  • PROS:

This system is already so embedded in the German culture that they don’t see it as segregationist. Children grow up knowing this is how it works, and nobody thinks of it as ‘perverse’.

Different people have different rhythms and interests. Not everyone is meant for university. Not everyone is willing to study really hard at school.

A society is not and shouldn’t be made of only intellectuals, but also of skilled workers from all areas.

Placing all students in one single type of school would mean to slow down the ones who are willing to study harder because of those who prefer to pursue the path of technical training.

The decision is not irreversible. There is mobility and the students can change their minds and swap their school type if they want to and show interest for it.


This is a basic summary of the main points of the school system in Germany. It varies a bit from state to state and there are some exceptions, such as the school that integrates the Hauptschule and Realschule (Integrierte Sekundarschule) and the Gesamtschule.

I find some points very interesting, but disagree with others. But in general, this curious school system seems to work, and is strongly related to the job market and to the German society.

Germany’s Romantic Road

rothenburgThe Romantic Road (in German, Romantische Strasse) is a route that leads through several small medieval towns and villages of Bavaria, in Southern Germany. It’s a region known for its castles, vineyards and colorful half-timbered houses (typically German). The full road is 350 km long and goes from Würzburg to Füssen (where the Neuschwanstein Castle is).romantischestrassekarte

Which towns to visit

This theme route was created by tourism agents in the 1950’s as a marketing strategy to encourage tourists to visit those small villages. In fact, nowadays there is also a Romantic Road in the South of Brazil.
But the main destinations to visit on the Romantic Road in Germany are:

  • Würzburg
    wuerzburg wuerzburg2
    Würzburg shares many similarities with Prague, such as a bridge with statues (which resembles the Charles Bridge) and a fortress on the mountain top on the other side of the river (Festung Marienberg), giving the city a fairy-tale look.
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauberrothenburg2Rothenburg is the most famous town in the Romantic Road and perhaps the most charming one in Germany. Walking along its streets makes one feel like in a Disney World park (that is, it’s lovely).
  • Dinkelsbühl
    dinkelsbuehl dinkelsbuehl2
    Dinkelsbühl is a small historic and preserved town that still has walls and towers from the Medieval times. And (many) colorful houses.
  • Nördlingen
    noerdlingen noerdlingen2
    Like Dinkelsbühl, Nördlingen is also surrounded by old medieval city walls. Seen from above, the city is shaped like a circle and displays 5 equidistant towers in the perimeter (perfect for those who love symmetry, like me). Fun fact: Nördlingen is shown in the original version of the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
  • Neuschwanstein CastleneuschwansteinThe Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen needs no introduction. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Germany. The best view spot to admire it is from the Marienbrücke bridge. The Hohenschwangau Castle can also be seen nearby.

How to get there and to go around

The best way to go along the route is by car. There are also bus tour companies, and some people even make the journey on bicycles! However, if you don’t have much time to spend and would like more freedom to choose where to go, taking a car would be ideal. Inside each town it’s perfectly possible to walk around – they are all very small.
The road is in general well signposted, with road signs indicating the Romantische Strasse. Before going, we thought the Romantic Road itself would be a longer, slower path going through all villages, parallel to the fast lane (Autobahn). But actually, most times the Romantic Road was being indicated on the Autobahn itself. So this route is not just a road per se, it is the whole region.
Coming from a different country, the closest airports to the Romantic Road are Frankfurt (north of the route) and Munich (south of the route). And, of course, you can make the journey in any of the directions (north-south or south-north).

How much time to spend

That depends a lot on how many towns you want to visit. The complete road comprises 27 small towns and villages. To visit the main destinations on the circuit presented here, you’ll need at least 3 days. I’d recommend: 1 day in  Würzburg; 1 day in Rothenburg + Dinkelsbühl + Nördlingen; and 1 day in Füssen. As the route is very customizable, more days could be added to also visit Munich, for example, or other villages along the road.

romantischestrasse2The Romantic Road is a great choice for those who want to visit medieval, picturesque and typically German towns of Bavaria (Bayern, in German).

To see more pictures, click here.