A Mexican-American about Berlin

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Sebastian is a Californian young man raised in Mexico. He studied in Heidelberg and has finally made the best decision of his life: to move to Berlin:-) And since it’s damn difficult not to tell everyone about what life in Germany’s capital is like, Sebastian started a blog. He talked to Bonjourberlin about it and has a few very helpful tips for any newcomer to Berlin. 

Sebastian, you were born in the USA and also lived in Mexico. But you’re now “ein Berliner” and have already started to write about our amazing city on your blog, betweendistances.com. One can’t help but tell the world about Berlin, right?:)

Indeed, particularly compared to Heidelberg, which is where I last lived before moving to Berlin. Here in Berlin there’s something new behind every corner—regardless of what you’re interested in. Music, check. Fashion, check. Art, check. There’s a micro-cosmos of scenes here found in very few cities in Europe. Plus, the city has a very unique history and dynamic character. I just hope my blog does the city justice!

It certainly does:-) What brought you to Germany and finally to Berlin?

I came here back in October 2009 for an exchange semester at the University of Heidelberg. Back then I studied at Portland State University in Oregon, but given that education is considerably cheaper here in Germany, I transferred and completed both my BA and my MA in History in Heidelberg.
The need for change brought me to Berlin. Heidelberg is great if you’re a student, but I just missed living in a big city again, and after I graduated I decided my time there was up.

What should a newcomer know in terms of settling in, finding a flat, registering with the authorities etc?

It’s a pain, I’ll tell you that. You definitely don’t want to wait until you’re here to begin making appointments. The people at city hall are usually fully booked for at least two months, and getting an appointment for the otherwise quick and simple procedure of registering as a resident of the city takes forever. And since you need to be registered in order to lease an apartment the already difficult search for a place becomes a bit more stressful. But hey, it’s worth it! I often heard from others that meeting people in Berlin is difficult, but I don’t think that’s accurate at all.

Could you please briefly describe Berlin to someone who hasn’t got to know the city yet?

Berlin is a unique city with a unique history. Every neighbourhood is a world in itself. You’ll find international communities everywhere.

Berlin was a divided in East and West for 28 years. You stumble across the legacy of this period in history all over the city. Do you feel like the eastern and the western districts have blended nicely?

To a large extent I do. The main dividing factor, Communism, is no longer present, and the city has been moving in the same direction for almost three decades now. City authorities went as far as merging together formerly divided areas, such as Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, back in 2001, but that was merely administrative. Immigrant communities were also a bit more bound to particular neighborhoods before but that’s no longer the case, and transplants from everywhere else in Germany, particularly from the South, have made the city more uniform.
Nevertheless, the legacy of Communism is, like you point out, everywhere in East Berlin. After all, East and West Berlin did develop in very different directions for four decades and it’s only natural that the effects of that division are still seen and felt today. I first lived in Prenzlauer Berg, and I remember having very interesting conversations with characters ranging from former dissident writers to nostalgics of Communism. East Berlin was also reconstructed in an architectonic style completely different to that in the West. So, socially, yes. Optically, not entirely, but that’s part of the charm.

What are your favourite places in Berlin?

I like the area around Rosenthaler Platz a lot. Lots of good bars and cafés. Other than that I’m a sucker for Prenzlauer Berg around Kollwitz Platz. I recently discovered an Estonian café close to Bernauer Strasse and have been there a couple of times. I also like going to underground shows in the numerous occupied houses around town. Other than that I still have a lot of discovering ahead of me. What do you recommend?

Now I understand the difficulty of my own question:-)  Berlin is so diverse! This is what I actually like the most: the contrasts. I really like going from Mitte to Kreuzberg, where not only the atmosphere is a completely different one, but even the river becomes like three times wider than in the city centre. And then you have those alternative places like Freischwimmer, fairly close to top restaurants, like Sage. It’s this concoction that fascinates me again and again. I tried to describe it here

What about your top 3 restaurants?

I haven’t eaten out that much to be honest with you, but I know there are a lot of good burger joints here. Out of the three or four Mexican restaurants I’ve tried I would say Tá Cabrón was the best. I really liked the food at Breslau, a Polish restaurant on Prenzlauer Allee. I also really like Haroun on Revaler Strasse. They make some mean falafel.

Is Berlin a fairly safe metropolis?

I’d say it is. At least by Latin American standards. 😉 You still want to take more precautions here than in, say, Heidelberg. I don’t really look German so I probably won’t be hanging out by myself in deep East Berlin at night anytime soon, but generally speaking I think Berlin is relatively safe. Still, no U-Bahn Schläger (thugs in the metro) in Heidelberg, though!

What is different in Berlin, if you were to compare it with other European cities you’ve seen?

The main difference is the unique historical experience of the city. That makes Berlin stand out from all other cities in Germany and Europe.

Thanks a lot for your time and interest! And of course: enjoy your life in Berlin!

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