Ich Bin Nicht Ein Berliner: Why I Hated Berlin

Last month Pointsandtravel wrote a post about her visit to the Berlin Wall. I found it very thought-provoking and we ended up messaging back and forth about our experiences in Berlin. It’s becoming one of those cool, hip places that everyone wants to visit. There’s the art scene, perhaps a teardrop moment by The Wall, and God knows what else people find interesting about Berlin.

Berlin Wall

When the Berlin Wall fell, my parents left Poland and came to Germany. I was 3 years old and my earliest memory was stopping by the side of the road on our way from Hamburg to “East Germany” as it was still known then.

I grew up in Hamburg during the 90’s and my parents had friends who lived in Berlin. We would visit them often and each time it was not something I looked forward to. Berlin had this incredibly dark energy and even as a kid, I got a bad vibe from it. The depressing architecture, the drab weather, the graffiti.

It didn’t help that it was populated by those gothic/heavy metal types that wore tight leather pants, heavy army boots, and sported colored mohawks. These people not only looked scary, they despised foreigners and let their feelings be known. I have wonderful memories from my childhood in Germany, but it wasn’t all sunshine and tulips all the time.

Chalk it up to me being young, but even now I can’t see the appeal. I feel like Berlin is one of those overrated cities that doesn’t have much to offer, yet everyone feels compelled to rave about it. I found this post by the Lost Londoner to be a very honest piece about the city and I agree on the following points: It’s dirty, hideous, and there isn’t much to look at or do that makes it stand out among other cities in the world. Maybe I’m being unfair. If you’re a fan of the city, I’d love to know why.

Has a city ever given you a “bad vibe”? Is there any place you feel is overhyped or that you refuse to visit?

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  1. I feel the same way. I first visited Berlin as a student back in 2002, and back then it was full of cranes/construction. I visited Berlin five years later in 2007 and still found a lot of cranes/construction. I prefer visiting Dresden or Munich rather than Berlin.
    Another city I get a negative vibe from is Dubai. Yes, the glitziness and novelty factor is quite nice, but seeing all these expats from third world countries working there like slaves just gave me a negative feeling about the place.

    • PointChaser

      @ Joey, agree with you on Dubai. The attitude seems to be, “Oh well. These people are bottom feeders and don’t deserve the same level of respect as everyone else.” No thanks, I’ll take my business elsewhere.

      • As long as people work there out of their free will, I don’t see any problem with expat working in Dubai. Granted, I have never been there, but the notion that a city is to be avoided simply because it employs cheap labor is quite bizzarre to me, in the same way that some people feel guilt or avoid apple products because their iPhones were made by cheap labor. In the end, without apple’s business, most these workers would be much worse off. (I don’t like apple myself, but for different reasons)
        What I want to say is, we are not the only beneficiaries of globalization.

        • PointChaser

          @ Y.Jiang, it’s a matter of what your conscience can handle. Personally, it doesn’t sit well with me that a few miles from my luxury hotel, the workers who built it are living in slums. They did choose to work in Dubai, but many were lied to about the salaries they would receive, and are stuck working for low wages so they can buy themselves a ticket home.

          • I’ve never been to Dubai, and their treatment of guest workers is ‘dubious’ at best from what I’ve read. However, right here in America we have people that pick the fruits and vegetables we enjoy for long hours, breaking their backs and doing work that pretty much no ‘Merican will do, and then we treat them like criminals and pay them crap. So are we really that much better?

          • @ Matt, you’re right. Exploitation is everywhere (including right here in the US), but it’s a little too in-your-face in Dubai for my comfort level.

        • Y. Jiang, you’re obviously either very lucky and have never *really* had to work (by this I mean: your pregnant wife and three kids are starving, and you live in a country with no welfare system, and your wife can’t work or she’ll be raped on the way home because there’s no lighting in your town, and the only way to avoid all of you living on the streets and/or dying is for you to move to Dubai and work for a few pennies an hour, in order to send some money home). Or maybe you do know that this is what it means to *really* need to work, and just don’t give a damn. Either way, your statement: ‘the notion that a city is to be avoided simply because it employs cheap labor is quite bizzarre to me’ is just totally wrong. People with a little thing called ’empathy’ give a damn about that ‘cheap labour’ because they understand that labour is made up of people like themselves. Or they have a little something called ‘an education’ which tells them that the work conditions in Dubai are hellish, and totally exploit desperate immigrants from developping nations.

          But that’s just business right? Every shiny pretty thing is bought at the cost of human lives and if you want shiny pretty things, you have to stop giving a damn about dead people.

          Or do you…?

  2. Hmm. Wow. This has given me a lot to think about. I visited the first time in 2005, moved here in 2006 and am still in love with this city. I agree, it’s not “pretty”, although a number of neighborhoods have really been spruced up quite nicely. But Berlin has a whole lot that other (European) cities don’t have: space, a relaxed pace. It’s a broken city, which fits with the many broken people that live here. It’s not about perfection. It’s not New York or DC, where everyone is trying to “be” someone or judge you by your business card. (Don’t get my wrong, I adore both of those cities.) And it’s not London, Paris or Madrid – interesting cities, but relatively static. They know who they are. Berlin is lost, discovering its identity. It’s dynamic. And it’s cheap 🙂

    • PointChaser

      @ schmerj, I like your observation: “It’s a broken city, which fits with the many broken people that live here.” Makes sense. So does “it’s cheap.” 🙂

  3. I agree that Berlin is not a beautiful city, but it’s one of my favorites. While many of the cities I love to visit are stunning in the architecture, etc., they feel like museums, almost like the best days are behind them.

    In Berlin, I’ve always felt there’s an air of creativity and possibility. If I were to live in Europe, Berlin is probably where I’d choose.

    • PointChaser

      @ Brent, thanks for offering your perspective. I guess it all depends on what you want out of a city.

  4. Slightly off topic but any comments on Munich and Frankfurt?

    • PointChaser

      @ caveman, not at all. Loved Munich and Frankfurt is just so-so. I like old, historic cities and don’t care for tall shiny towers. Frankfurt had an abundance. Also loved Heidelberg…

  5. I didn’t like Berlin either – felt excessively spread out, dirty, and devoid of culture. Visited back in 2001 on a post-college trip and it was one of my least favorite cities in Europe, even though I speak German and adore pretty much every other German-speaking locale. In contrast, Munich is one of my favorite destinations – there is a warmth and joy there and a true cohesiveness to the look and feel of the city. Or maybe that is just the beer talking. Or maybe I’m just Bavarian at heart.

    • PointChaser

      @ tripswithtykes, agree with you on Munich and much of Germany is beautiful. Berlin is pretty much the exception and it’s not even so much about it being ugly, than the energy it gives off. I’ve been to lots of ugly cities (Kabul), and still felt at peace there.

  6. I’ve never yet been to Berlin, and have always struggled to figure out what might draw me there – and I”ve read guidebooks, watched travel shows, read things, etc on the city. I’ve been to other parts of Germany and loved it, and will visit the country again – just not Berlin other than perhaps a one night stopover to visit the wall or something.

    We didn’t care for Auckland at all – some minor attractions, city center itself is kind of bland outside of the harbour views, people were a bit rude (in stark contrast to people in the rest of NZ) – again, we absolutely loved the rest of the North Island outside of Auckland – like two different worlds.

    • PointChaser

      @ Ryan E, interesting RE Auckland. It’s getting lots of rave reviews and I was wondering if its was all hype.

  7. Maybe a quick look at a dictionary could have helped express your dislike in a gramatically correct way: “Ich bin kein Berliner”

  8. “Hate” is a STRONG word.

    • PointChaser

      @ RRK, indeed it reads much stronger as a headline. Didn’t mean for it to come across so strongly – I don’t enjoy Berlin as much as the average traveler, that’s all.

  9. Berlin is a great city to visit. It’s easy to get around, yes, even driving, and it’s a city still under construction. Great culture, restaurants. Speaking German helps, especially good if you encounter ‘real’ Berliners and especially if they were from the former E. Berlin; there aren’t many of them left as Berlin’s demographics resemble today’s multikulti formula found in much of the West’s large cities. Those too young to know, it was much nicer in the 60s when you traveled to Ireland, for example, and there were, gasp!, Irish people. Today Dublin’s demographics are a cookie cutter big western city. Seen it everywhere from Stockholm, Madrid, London, Athens, Sydney. Go to the countryside, smaller locales when traveling. Point: People, the natives make the atmosphere, not just buildings and sites. Visit Austria! Many Austrians still greet with ‘GruB Gott’. How long will that last before any mention of a diety is banned under the new rules of generic, one size fits all, politically correct globalisation take permanent hold rendering the need to travel obsolete?

    • PointChaser

      @ Philip, I understand your concerns about preserving local cultures. For example, in Afghanistan I felt I had more of a “local” experience in the rural areas than the big city. I think this is a common pattern throughout the world. Big cities are also where most advancements are made, so if globalization eradicates barriers and creates tolerance and advancement, I’m all for it.

  10. Voice of reason

    Obviously everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

    My opinion is that you should stick with vacations at Disney World and other artificial environments scrubbed clean of anything that may challenge your delicate vanilla sensibilities.

    • PointChaser

      @ Voice of reason, my sensibilities are far from “vanilla.” I’ve traveled to and enjoyed many non-conventional cities, including throughout Northern Afghanistan. And that’s far from an artificial or “vanilla” environment.

  11. I agree and that is why i am off to Munich in two weeks!

  12. Berlin: while sometimes dirty and always crowded has great history, museums, restaurants, and nightlife

    Dubai: Las Vegas in the third world. Pass

  13. Blixa Bargeld

    I have one good reason why Berlin is a great city. It produced Einsturzende Neubauten!!!

  14. Berlin- Birthplace of the doner kebap. That alone ranks it pretty high in my book! While it has been a few years since I have been there (2002) I remember in particular the Berliner Dom (cathedral) as being one of the most beautiful places to visit. I do remember a lot of cranes all over-seemed like the entire city was under construction. Interesting to read from others that the cranes are still there.

    • PointChaser

      @ BothofUs2, it was actually invented in Bursa, Turkey. But they are kind of like the adopted local dish of Berlin and taste way better than the ones I’ve had in Turkey.

  15. The cranes are still there, the winter is still nasty and the vibe is raw. It’s just not a place I would recommend to travelers, who only have a few weeks or days off a year, why would they bother, when there is Paris and Rome, and countless other cities that offer so much more? I don’t care that other people love it, it is just not for me in the dead of winter, however, maybe the summer in Berlin would be nicer? I can’t say, as I haven’t experienced that (yet) but karma is always knocking at my door…

    • PointChaser

      @ Pointsandtravel, I’ve been there in the summer too – you’re not missing out. I think you hit the nail on the head: With limited vacation days, I’d prefer to go somewhere a little less depressing.

  16. Montreal. (Plastic Paris). Never again.
    Rude. Dirty. Corrupt.

  17. Bratislava, Slovakia. Or as we called it Bratisla-sh~thole. Hated every minute there, even though it’s just a half day. People being rude, ticket controllers are a-holes, city being very run down. Well, lets just say, Euro Trip, the movie, is a documentary.

    • PointChaser

      @flyer708, really? It looks so charming in pictures…

      • You are probably looking at only the palace. Trust me, the bus ride from the airport to the central terminal was rough.

        • PointChaser

          Even a google image search turns up beautiful photos. But I know that’s not alway accurate. Sorry you had a crappy time. 🙁

          • That’s alright. I can tolerate run-down streets. What really got us, was the unfriendly ticket controller. We bought the bus tickets, but didn’t realize we need to buy 3 to be exact. It was an honest tourist mistake. But he threatened us to go to the police station and such. The ticket itself cost 20¢, and he fined each one of us €35. We later realized we didn’t even get a receipt. Ripped off?

          • I can’t stand these local officials on a powertrip, especially when in comes to foreigners. I’ve learned a little bit of entitlement helps in these situations. But I understand not wanting to piss off an authority figure in a foreign country.

          • Seems like you are judging an entire city based on one interaction with a ticket taker.

            I really liked Bratislava. Probably not worth spending more than 2 days there, but we liked the old town, the castle, another ruined castle about 30 min away, the food, the crazy UFO bridge, etc. We arrived by boat from Vienna, so didn’t get the airport experience, but we rode the bus and had no issues at all. We found the people to be pretty nice and had no issues at all.

  18. thegrailer

    The first report on Berlin that captures how I felt after my visit. I can’t understand the typical rave reviews. It’s edgy, it’s this, it’s that. To me it’s a city that seemed to have dark cloud hanging over it – not a place that I plan on returning to.


    • Interesting. My perspective is a little odd, since the only time I was in Berlin was in 1988 when the Wall was still up. I only spent a few days there, but thought West Berlin was very much like the rest of West Germany. Going through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin was literally stepping into a different world, with grey concrete slab apartment buildings-the red geranium flower boxes on the windows or balconies did nothing to alleviate the depressive monochromatic color scheme. I would enjoy going back to see what changes have taken place since my visit then.

      • PointChaser

        @ Scott M., interesting perspective. I think visiting Berlin then would have been alot more interesting. Crossing the border, walking in the shoes of the repressed masses is a unique experience.

  19. I actually enjoyed Berlin. Yes, it’s cold (both in winter and emotionally). However the amount of history there is just mind-numbing. I had a blast riding a bike around the city and seeing all the different neighborhoods. Kreuzberg was a fascinating section of the city and seemed like a place I could spend a couple of weeks. I also thought the food was pretty good. And although the doner kebap wasn’t invented there, it was definitely perfected there. Still might be my favorite thing I’ve eaten in Europe.

  20. Hey,

    Thanks for referencing my post. I totally got that dark vibe too. I don’t know what it is but nothing appealed to me! There are such beautiful and fascinating cities to visit, Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona….but Berlin isn’t visually stunning in the slightest. I wish I got it!

    • PointChaser

      Sure! I think your story about the tower summed it up nicely – it’s hyped up and leaves you underwhelmed.

  21. I thought Berlin was alright. One person’s “dirty” is another person’s “edgy” I guess.

    As for overrated, I really felt that way about Shanghai. I’d read so much hype about China booming and Shanghai being the financial center. There is truth to that, but Shanghai just gave me a “bad vibe,” like you felt with Berlin. Best way I could describe it was a first-world city with third-world problems.

    When I went to Hong Kong, I liked it a lot better. That place felt like “the blueprint,” this was what Shanghai and other mainland China cities wanted to become.

  22. I’ve lived here a few years and finally figured out what nags me repeatedly about this city: it’s empty. And I don’t meant that it’s just physically empty (that’s kind of an upside) I mean: its hollow. A total cultural void. The only thing that is remotely well developed here is the nightlife (and even that’s kind of monotone – sounds mass produced in the extreme). Everything else that Berlin is ‘famous for’ is dead: dead history, dead cultures, dead beliefs, dead philosophies and dead politics. I’m always surprised at the number of churches and Christians living here. Given the bad vibes in the air, I’d expect the people here to be sacrificing bunny rabbits to the Dark Lord. Lol…

    Another thing (you could call it a warning!): if you live here a long time you will notice that no one who stays here a few years smiles or laughs very much… and I’m talking, people who come from the smiliest and sunniest cultures on earth. They all scowl and again, the emptiness isn’t just in their faces, it’s inside them too. Call me crazy but that’s why I’m planning to leave ASAP. I like my joi de vivre. It’s gotten me through so much sh*t and I won’t last long if it gets sucked out of me.

    My only question is did the sour, self-defeating Berlin attitude create all the endless sh@tty predicaments that have befallen this city over the years, or did the endless sh@tty predicaments make people as sour and self-defeating as they are? It’s the chicken and egg question.

    By the way: if you have never lived in Berlin or spent time here outside of the May-September tourist season then please don’t write back criticising these statements. The negative energy in this place is a well-known fact to almost anyone who spends a whole year or more here. Unless you have a serious drug habit, you will notice it! Come live here and see for yourself.

    Wow, sorry about the long rant -I just meant to leave a really brief comment! Lol.

    • You summarized it perfectly. That negative energy – I don’t know if it comes from the people or the place itself, but it’s undeniably there.

  23. I lived in Berlin for five months over winter. I desperately wanted to like it but eventually stopped trying. There is lots happening culturally but the entire atmosphere of the city is very depressing. I tried to reach out to the ex-pat community but 90% of the people I met were ridiculous hipsters – perhaps I just got unlucky. On the upside the city is very cheap, which made an enormous difference to my quality of life. I live in London now and am constantly angered by prices.

  24. I’m happy I found this article. The Xenophobia I experienced growing up in Berlin made me the tolerant, open minded person I am today. I never wish those experiences on anyone, Just the thought of going back makes me depressed all over again.

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