Weird and Wonderful: My life in Berlin



For today's entry in the Americans in Germany series, Drew Sampson discusses his experiences living in the capital while studying at the Free University of Berlin and Humboldt University

In the busy transportation hub of downtown Berlin, Alexanderplatz, nearby walls have in large lettering, “10,000 passersby per hour”. It is easy to lose oneself in Berlin as the city is home to many different demographics – the politicians, the artists, the blue-collared, and the tourists. Flooded with many types of people, the city naturally has its pros and cons, but retains still its own unique flare which draws many Germans and internationals.

I lived in Berlin a few years ago as a student. My time there remains some of the best and most perplexing of my life. I was drawn by the big city appeal but came to learn this drawing force is a double-edged blade. While the city has an endless array of things to do and events one could rarely imagine themselves, the crowded, diverse city has some drawbacks many potential imports do not consider as they are wide-eyed by the limitlessness found only in Berlin.

The rush of a new city can come in many forms. Some take to a new and foreign world with joy and alacrity to find their way, while others can be swept in the notorious culture shock. I, myself, felt quickly at home, intrigued by even mundane aspects of life like shopping for groceries. What I could recognize as milk, bread, and wine were mysterious in that they had different names. I was taken most of all by conversing and thinking in a different language. But as time continued, I began to notice some of the downfalls one can find only when living beyond being a tourist. The ambivalence of the Berliners towards foreigners is an often confusing one. On one side, much of Berlin’s economy is reliant on the 10,000 an hour passing by, but the true inhabitants are often bothered by the live-free, no consequence, urinate-anywhere attitude of the tourists coming to visit the unruly nightlife of Berlin. The relationship between the Berliners and the tourist is a reciprocated love-hate relationship. The former knowing the necessity of them while disliking their inherent refusal to even attempt the German tongue, and the latter feeling often excluded and stared upon with remorse.

Living as a student in Berlin can be a truly rewarding experience. You will live in a city with a Zeitgeist of the past, present, and future; the wall exists even where it no longer stands, Berlin is the “go-to” city for the young and unique, and the endless horizons of cranes show that the city is growing and expanding. On the other hand, it is likely that finding an apartment is extremely difficult, obtaining your residencies and visas can require multiple trips to the Foreigners Office (It took me five times before I received my student visa), and you may have a difficult time finding the hangouts that will accept and integrate you.

Thinking of living in Berlin to study? Yes, there is much to be had, but the true considerations to be made before committing require one to be honest with themselves as to whether or not they have what it takes to secure the most basic of needs in a city that will constantly amaze you but demand that you work very hard to make it.

Interested in studying in Berlin at either the Free University or Humboldt University? Both are ranked among the top institutions in Germany, and offer a wide variety of subjects at the Bachelor, Master, and PhD levels.