Berlin, Germany

Berlin, the English-speaking, artsy German city with a burgeoning tech scene but a fear of electronic payment. I spent a week in Berlin in March, 2015. I might have only used cash.


Berlin is a reasonably-priced city by European (or at least Western European) standards. Having just come from Warsaw, where good food and drinks were quite cheap and getting around on the metro or tram was easy and inexpensive, Berlin felt only a bit pricier than Warsaw–and possibly a bit easier to navigate. I’d say that’s pretty good for a huge city in an expensive European country.

But Berlin has a distaste for cards that goes well beyond small shops and buses. You could find more places in Cambodia that took credit cards than you could in Berlin. Even the metro ticket machines are cash-only unless you have a German debit card. Fiddling with cash to buy metro tickets is annoying, especially when the tourist numbers for Berlin aren’t paltry. What’s frustrating is nowhere in Berlin takes cards, even debit cards (unless they’re German). Coupled with the regular inability to change bills larger than €10 and cash machines that are routinely out of order–Berlin becomes a place that’s hard to spend money in less because of prices and more because of an inane resistance to electronic payments.

Oh my god the Smoking

There’s only one way to describe smoking in Berlin: rampant.

Germany updated its anti-smoking legislation about a decade ago, but through some challenges to the constitutionally of the laws, Berlin bars smaller than a certain size (effectively, smaller than would allow for separate smoking and non-smoking sections) allow patrons smoke indoors. Because a high percentage of German youths smoke (something like 25%), this means opening a small bar where people are literally shoulder-to-shoulder, drinking imported lager, and chain-smoking is very common.

Smoking indoors is always a bit gross and insensitive to me, but in large, well-ventilated areas I can tolerate it. Berlin bars aren’t like this though. To take advantage of the city’s smoking ban exemptions, they are tiny bars full of stale cigarette smoke. If you can’t stand indoor smoking, avoid bars in Berlin.

That said, the odd bar that doesn’t allow smoking does exist, and some of them are quite fantastic. Just be sure to seek them out.

Avoid Mitte

You’d think with a name like “Centre” coupled with the fact that it’s right next to the train station Mitte would be a smart place to stay. It’s not. Don’t stay there. Neighbourhoods just northeast of it are much livelier and more interesting, but Mitte and the neighbourhood near the station itself are quite a dead-zone, especially at night and on Sundays.