Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany (Part 1)

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

Guten Tag! I’m Adam, a twenty-one-year-old history student from Newcastle (UK) currently living and studying in Berlin, with a greater emphasis on the living.

When Berlin’s former mayor Klaus Wowereit famously assessed Berlin as ‘Poor but Sexy’ back in 2004, personally I think he nailed it and it’s a term I now live my life by! Please join me as I navigate every corner of a city that is currently the undisputed King of Cool, exploring all the fascinating, enlightening and totally insane aspects on offer in this hipster capital. As well as exploring the best food, art, museums, parks and of course jaw-dropping parties on offer here, I’ll also be documenting many of my everyday experiences in order to hopefully convey the essence of this crazy place.

Regrettably, I haven’t done very much travelling during my time abroad so far, largely thanks to the endless number of distractions available here which have kept me firmly within the so-called ‘Berlin Bubble’. However I made some steps towards rectifying this sorry situation a few weeks ago by meeting my sister (currently on her own year abroad in Rotterdam), in Hamburg. This is Germany’s somewhat overlooked second-city which is oft-referred to as Berlin’s trashier and grimier (albeit slightly prettier) cousin. For those considering a Deutsch-trip beyond the sometimes-overwhelming capital city, Hamburg is an obvious choice! This easy-going ‘Venice of The North’ is home to 1.7 million people and unsurprisingly is host to a large number globally-renowned galleries, museums, restaurants and nightlife venues. It is also noted for having a much more distinctly ‘German’ flavour than Berlin (in the traditional sense anyway).

Among the first things people will mention as being one of the best aspects of studying on the continent, is the ludicrously cheap train travel (in comparison to the prohibitively and depressingly expensive rail prices in the UK). Germany is no exception, with the almost 200-mile journey from Berlin to Hamburg costing around 29 euros for a return trip with Deutsche Bahn. To my amazement,  the entire journey takes less than two hours thanks to that famously efficient German engineering. Once your train has glided into the monstrously large Hamburg Bahnhof you may feel at a loss as to what to do next in this sprawling metropolis-by-the-sea. At this point you should direct yourself to the following list of activities and attractions which I believe encapsulates the best that the city has to offer, in order to make your time in the Tor zur Welt (Gateway to The World), as fun as possible.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Photographer: Tony Webster; Flickr)

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Photographer: Tony Webster; Flickr)

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Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany (Part 2)

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

Guten  Abend! In my last post detailing my trip to Hamburg — my first Eurotrip of my Erasmus year abroad — I covered some of the best and most well-known cultural aspects of the city. However, prospective ‘Hamburgers’ may also be looking for some things to do in between all the sightseeing, such as getting drunk on cheap German wine on an old boat, or losing your soul for the night in Hamburg’s notorious red light district. If so I have you covered, so allow me to share with you some of my experiences with Hamburg’s famous and staggeringly varied nightlife, should you want to use this information for yourself next time you’re in the Tor zur Welt. During my time in the city I tried to experience the definitive aspects of the nightlife, as represented by Hamburg’s three central neighbourhoods, each with its own unique flavour.

Hipster Heaven — St Georg

This enclave-for-the-achingly-hip located in East Hamburg, comprised mostly of colourful and lovingly-restored pre-war buildings, is a well-known Mecca for European hipsterism. As well as being the best place in town to pick up a rare craft beer or analyse the wide variety of man-buns on display, it also comprises the nucleus of Hamburg’s thriving gay scene, should any LGBT travellers be interested. In terms of a night out in this eccentric and free-spirited area, your best bet would be to go to any one of the chilled-out, cosy pubs or cocktail bars that line the narrow streets, as the vibe here is undoubtedly more relaxed and casual than anything else. Whilst you are certainly spoilt for choice here, I was most taken by the always-busy Bar St Georg on Rautenbergstrasse.

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So you Didn’t get into Berghain: The Best of the Rest (and how to get in)

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

If you’ve spent any time in Berlin, or have even so much as Googled the place, then you’ll know that techno music and world-class nightclubs run deep through the veins of this popular party city. Even if you aren’t a fan of electronic music, you’re still pretty much guaranteed an unforgettable time should you choose to rave the night (and following day) away at any one of Berlin’s jaw-dropping and outlandishly-decorated party venues. Note: clubs in Berlin often open Friday night and seldom close before Sunday afternoon! Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Berlin’s stratospheric rise to nightlife capital of the world will of course be aware of notorious superclub Berghain. This impregnable pleasure palace is a titan of the electronic music scene, housed inside a former power plant in the rapidly-gentrifying Friedrichshain neighbourhood.

Berghain, so exclusive that the owner himself decides who comes in and who doesn't. (Photographer: Oh-Berlin.com; Flickr)

Berghain, so exclusive that the doorman himself decides who comes in and who doesn’t. (Photographer: Oh-Berlin.com; Flickr)

Unfortunately, the club’s reputation as a byword for unbridled hedonism is somewhat overshadowed by its famously brutal door policy. The long queue of taxis waiting outside the club at all hours to take home rejected revellers is a testament to the highly discerning tastes of Sven Marquadt, the long-time gatekeeper of the club. So let’s face it, you probably won’t get into Berghain, regardless of how cool you think you’ve dressed and the fact that you’re willing to queue in the rain for three hours on a Saturday night to get in. Don’t worry though, you certainly aren’t alone in that department, and legend has it that even Britney Spears was denied entry by Sven himself back in 2004.

However, what this certainly doesn’t mean is that you should simply call it a night or, even worse, head to Matrix (a cheesy, backpackers’ paradise synonymous with bad music and an even worse crowd). Instead, you should start by consulting this brief guide on some of the other amazing clubs in Berlin, all boasting bone-shattering sound systems, top DJs every week, an achingly-hip clientele, and plenty of that eagerly permissive atmosphere you just can’t get at home. So go ahead, drop your plans, drop a few names, even drop your pants, and as always, viel spaß!

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A Love Letter to Club Mate

This entry is part 4 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

After eight months here I’ve finally figured out what it is I’ll miss most about Berlin — not the Currywurst, the street art, the free-spirited nature of the city, or even the techno clubs. Nope, the thing I’ll pine for most when I’m gone costs €1 (€1.20 with the glass deposit) and comes in a little glass bottle. That thing is the notoriously addictive and hyper-caffeinated miracle-potion known as Club Mate (pronounced ‘klub-ma-teh’ for the non-German speakers among us).

'Mate Tea' or 'Yerba Mate' hails from South America, and eventually made its way to Berlin (albeit in a different form!) (Photographer: Joshua Blount; Flickr)

‘Mate Tea’ or ‘Yerba Mate’ hails from South America, and eventually made its way to Berlin (albeit in a different form!) (Photographer: Joshua Blount; Flickr)

Drinking this on the U-Bahn during your morning commute may draw some disapproving stares from the uninitiated, given that it looks suspiciously like beer, but Club Mate is actually a carbonated iced tea drink based on the famous Mate Tea which is popular in South America. Whilst I had never even heard of this drink prior to my arrival in Berlin, it burst onto the club scene in the early 2000s and has since achieved somewhat of a cult following among the local populace.

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Berlin’s Swimming Pools: How the ‘Stadtbad’ salvaged my health 

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Poor But Sexy: A Student Guide to Germany

I must admit that my time in Berlin has seen my personal fitness level fall to record lows, and all my plans to be more active (such as going jogging through any of the city’s spectacular parks, or living like the locals and getting a bike), have generally come to naught. I initially thought I’d counteract this lack of regular exercise with all the walking I’d be doing, however the efficiency and well-connected nature of public transport here has resulted in me opting to use my free travel pass and allowing the U-Bahn to carry me wherever I need to go.

Whilst I have never been much of a fitness enthusiast anyway (my gym membership in freshers’ barely lasted a month), I figured the best way for me to attempt a somewhat healthy lifestyle amid the sea of cheap beer and kebabs, would be for me to engage in a physical activity that I actually enjoyed doing and wouldn’t feel like a chore. Enter: the ‘Stadtbad’. I have always loved swimming and used to do it very frequently, however the expense and lack of facilities near me in recent years had put me off it for a while.


Had five too many kebabs? Go swimming! (Photographer: Jaysmark; Flickr)

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