Wanjiku Mwaura, a Kenyan poet and creative, was in Berlin earlier this year for a language course and she shared some of her experiences including her first winter and below on 9 random things she learnt during her stay in Berlin and 7 places she would recommend to people who may be visiting and/or new in Berlin.
- The climb up and down the Nollendorf strasse U-bahn station and the walk from Alexander Platz to Weinmeister Strasse was good for my cardio.
- The winter cold (January) was not really that cold. But then, my expectations of my first winter may have been over the top.
- I learnt more about their social policy for the homeless while in transit. Some of the homeless men and women sell publications in the trains and they get to keep a percentage of the sales. They are registered by the employing organization.
- “Why would I need a car? I don’t even know how to drive.” – (T. 26yrs) The public transport system is well orchestrated, snaking through the city, making drops and picking up people, always moving. In Berlin, you can; cycle, take the U-bahn, S-bahn, Tram or drive. All these are reliable except during repairs and on some occasion heavy traffic.
- A couple of years ago they started having bus companies traveling interstate, they are cheaper than driving or flying.
- “Hallo” – This was a cultural surprise for me. It was said mostly without a smile, as a polite form of “NEXT!” in shops. This bothered me because, coming from the village(almost village), a hallo may be the beginning of a long/short conversation depending on the season and the last time you met.
- Dogs. They are most loyal. They wag their tails and can be the sweetest creatures when you come home from a journey. But where I was staying, the streets were full of dog traces on the ground, reminded me of the ‘shit police’ documentary I once watched where the officers chased owners that didn’t collect their pets excrement.
- “… but when you get to know them, they are really friendly…” “Berliners from the East are friendlier” It’s the cold, you know… it messes up people” I did start feeling gloomy towards the end. Homesickness coupled with the cold FINALLY got to me! I came close to understanding why people seem colder there, except for the Turkish Dӧner man near the u-bahn station, the polish lady who greeted me with so much enthusiasm that it rubbed off the whole day! The Ukrainian guy who stopped me on the street to talk – Of course they were more, like my classmates, who being together in the same room for 5 hours a day, meant
- Berlin opened my eyes to opportunities in Kenya I was aware of, but not entirely appreciative. E.g. Farming. We can eat food straight from the shamba! I came home and DEVORED mangoes like my life depended on it. I appreciated this Mangoe season more than I ever have.
And the places to hang out in Berlin
This list is not full of touristy stuff necessarily, I am sharing the places I went to with purpose and it worked out well for me.
- Volksbuhne – On my first weekend I watched a musical whose plotline was about an elderly lady looking for love on the internet. The play was in German and was much longer than what I am used to in Kenya. And for these reasons I found myself drifting off. Before going, I had been warned by my host to expect anything, apparently the theatre is known for its experiential plays and the characters sometimes throw apples to the audience among other allegations. I recommend it because, who wants something predictable? Also, the history of the Theatre is quite fascinating.
- Wollen Berlin – When I started following them on Instagram, I did it for my mother. She wanted me me to use my phone to get knitting patterns for her projects. I never thought I would get to step foot in there. But on the second last day, I googled the location and found my way there. It was wool heaven! From accessories to a warm vibe of the Proprietor to the almost friendly prices. You can find almost anything you need for your knitting project at this shop.
- A dӧner shop -They have shawarma. We have shawrma. Food unites us. They will speak to you in German but so long as you can point at what you want, you will be fine, and full.
- Berlin Connect: if like me, you travel alone, and are looking for a Christian community, they embrace you with arms wide open! They have Sunday services from 11am-9pm. I made some blessed connections there.
- LOTTO – If you need to send anything or buy a local number where you won’t have to buy into a calling plan. Before I knew this, I walked to the Safaricom equivalent near Alexanderplatz to get a line and they asked for my passport and it would have been 10 more.
- The swing dance studio near Wachshauer strasse on Monday evenings. – I kept sweating a lot even with the cold; because of the stairs I had to take, because I walk fast, but never before did I remove layers so fast than when I got to the dance studio for a dance I have never danced before. It was great! In hindsight I was clothed in bliss and my shame meter was broken. I think when you dance around lots of people that know the moves; you start feeling like the joker on the dancer floor. I had a great time!
- The sky bar – For the view, the fruits and the drinks.