For some reason I got that question multiple times now from people that moved to Germany but work in companies where English is the language to use for communication - how to best learn German (in addition finding people to talk to).
When thinking about how I got started with English there were a few things that helped: As a child I got some “made for learning English” crime stories to read. In 11th/12th grade we got a Newsweek subscription. When at university I quickly learnt that translations of any man pages or help files to German were not really helpful so I switched my Locale to English. In addition the dubbed versions of Futurama were no good - same for most movies you get to see in cinema. Finally getting into open source meant that there was no other way for communication.
So what sites are there that provide value to the average geek but are available only in German?
Blogs and online resources
- Lawblog publishes posts on legal related matters - despite the name mainly in German.
- Fefe’s blog with all things IT
- Digitale Gesellschaft
- Tim Pritlove’s blog - one of the first people who’s income is dominated by Flattr donations
- Heise Newsticker
- Brand Eins (better to ignore the articles on copyright and digital life though…)
Some music and movies:
- Knorkator - if you are into fun metal.
- Ärzte - if you are into punk rock.
- Rainald Grebe - if you are into cabaret.
- Lola rennt
- If you have children: At least in eastern Germany the Sandmännchen famously helped generations of children to go to sleep.
If you happen to live in Berlin - also take a look at local magazines pointing out current events and special exhibitions. There’s also quite a few books in and about Berlin. Make sure to safe some time to vist the Bundestag and book one of their lectures.
Thomas, thanks! On a similar note - the archive of DRadio is also well worth a look.
I’ve been sharing information on how to get around in Berlin more often than I’d like to type it out - putting it here for future reference.
Before going to Berlin make sure to put an app on your phone that helps with finding the right public transport mix to use for going from one place to another:
- Nokia Public Transit for WP7 phones
- Öffi for Android
- There certainly is a comparable app for iPhones - put them in the comments and I’ll add them here.
If you want to get around for sight seeing - other than making sure to pack a travel guide consider renting a bike for a day or two. It’s rather safe to ride one in Berlin, there are several routes that are all green and calm. Checkout bbbike.de to plan your routes - though not the prettiest website it does have comprehensive information on road conditions and lets you avoid cobble stones or less well lit streets. Try it out - it served me very well.
To actually rent a bike - ask your hotel, usually they have decent offers or can point you at a local bike shop that has rental offers. Prizes should be roughly 10,- Euros a day or 50,- a week.
One warning to pedestrians and anyone renting a car: Bicycles are very common in Berlin in particular in summer. Watch out when turning, don’t underestimate their speed. When walking on the sidewalks watch out for lanes reserved for bikes - usually they are red with white stripes but can look slightly different - see also some images on flickr.
A little bit of inspiration on what to do the weekend before and after Buzzwords in Berlin:
- Ballet in June at the Staatsballett Berlin
- Concerts in June at Konzerthaus Berlin
- Opera in June at Staatsoper Berlin
- Opera in June at Deutsche Oper Berlin
- Concerts in June at the Philharmoniker Berlin
- Opera in June at Komische Oper Berlin
- Theater (German-only, sorry, but open-air) at Hexenkessel Hoftheater
- A summary of what else is available on Berlin stages in June: Berliner Bühnen
- Opera and ballet in Dresden in June at Semper Oper Dresden
- Concerts in Leipzig at Gewandhaus Leipzig (select June as month, interface isn’t restful unfortunately)
With just a tiny bit of luck there is no need to pre-book your tickets - in most cases there are several seats left even an hour before the official starting time. Pre-ordering tickets does have an advantage though when it comes to prizing. One easy way to get your ticket it to book via
If you happen to be younger than thirty consider buying yourself a Classic Card - it costs 15 Euros but allows you access to several locations for 8 Euros only (no pre-booking, tickets can be purchased only an hour before the official start).
There are literally hundreds of bars and restaurants in easy walking distance to the conference venue. And if that is now enough for you, hop on U-Bahn and head east to either Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain to find more. For inspiration check out Tip Berlin - they have a decent, reliable restaurant list.
For quick orientation: Berlin is no one city center but many districts that all have their own look and feel to them. Those most interesting for eating and drinking:
- Schöneberg is a bit more calm, well suited for eating out until late evening. The two areas that are most interesting are around Akazien-/Golzstr (head north from Hauptstraße up until Nollendorfplatz), Crellestraße, as well as the area around Bayrischer Platz.
- Friedrichshain is the area to go for drinks in the evening and to see the young, urban Berlin. Get lost in the famous “Simon-Dach” quarter (”Simon-Dach-Kiez” as we say in Berlin) with its cobble stone streets, wide sidewalks, bars, restaurants and cool little shops. If the weather is as nice as it has been on the weekend, it might be worth walking or cycling a little farther to Holzmarktstraße. Between the streets “An der Schillingbrücke” and “Michaeliskirchstr.” (see http://bit.ly/cNqLZq) there are a few really nice outdoor beach bars right on the banks of the River Spree.
- Kreuzberg comes in at least two flavours: For coffee and food head over to Bergmannstraße, for drinks at night go see Oranienstraße, for young and vibrant head over to Wrangelstrasse (do not miss Heinz Minki, Freischwimmer and Club der Visionäre), for a relaxed “down by the river” evening head over to Maybachufer (do not miss Van Loon, also check out Bethanien close by).
- Prenzlauer Berg - young, family friendly, slowly being turned into a German Kleinstadt
- Mitte - a bit more fancy, gentrified, great if you love culture, museums, ballet, concerts. Remember to explore the city by boat. If you are hungry head over to Linienstrasse and explore the little streets around. There is tasty cheese fondue available at Nolas am Weinberg. Go dance at Clärchens Ballhaus, get a coffee and code while drinking at web2.0 cafe Sankt Oberholz.
Two special recommendations for breakfast:
On the weekend before the conference days are best started with a long and tasty brunch. My personal recommendation if you love tea is to head down to TTT - apart from serving best tea in town you can also get really tasty food there. And best of all, buy tea, tea cups and pots. I tend to take keynote speakers to that place - so far none has complained
Another option is to start your day on top of Bundestag - enjoy the view of the city, take an audio, tour, eat breakfast in the Käfer Restaurant and maybe add a brief lecture on German legislation afterwards. Make sure to book about a month in advance!
For burgers there is no better place than Burgermeister in Kreuzberg. Best Falafel is on sale at Habibi. Judging on where to get the best ice cream actually is a bit harder: Aldemir is the location in Kreuzberg, Pinguin Club is the location in Schöneberg (Inka Eis beats that only if you are more for unusual types of ice cream), if you are in Mitte close to Brandenburger Tor consider visiting Der Eisladen - lots of different types and really tasty.
Ever made the mistake of booking a flight to a city and trying to decide on what to do only after you arrived? That type of planning does work for Berlin - though you may end up with quite a different schedule than originally intended.
The only thing that needs a bit of planning ahead (about a month) is visiting the Bundestag - fast way to discover it is to just go up to it’s dome. You can book a table at the restaurant up there if you want to have breakfast above Berlin. In addition the visitor service offers various presentations for free that can be booked from their web page.
Some hints in addition to visiting a tourist information after your arrival:
When I have guests I usually recommend to either buy a day (or week) BVG ticket - you can use public transport as often as you like with these tickets. That includes S-Bahn, tram, busses, tube and ferries (but not the tourist roundtrip boats with moderation). If you know you’ll be going to several museums, a Welcome ticket might be worth it’s prize. Alternatively just get a bike - unless you want to reach destinations outside the s-bahn-ring or want to visit in winter (don’t) all distances should be easy to do by bike. To plan your trips use bbbike.de - they know road conditions to e.g. let you exclude larger streets or prefer green routes.
Your best bet to see most of the attractions for less than five Euro is to take the regular bus line 100 from the Bhf. Zoo train station down to Alexanderplatz and line 200 back. Though no audio guide is known to me there should be guides available for sale in local tourist information offices.
For guide books: Lonely Planet is a good start. If you speak German the city box might serve you well. It contains 30 cards with proposed walking tours including brief explanations. Also the book “Die schönsten Berliner Stadtspaziergänge” has been great to discover areas that are less known.
The city has two bi-weekly magazines that feature lists of concerts (both modern and classical), exhibitions, markets and more: For one there is Zitty, the other one Tip Berlin. Both are quite good, which one to prefer depends on personal taste. In addition both publish restaurant guides, books on where to go shopping, special issues on where to go and what to do. In addition their online restaurant reviews are quite decent.
Two final hints: If you happen to know locals (or anyone who moved their a while ago) - make sure to ask them for recommendations. Also, try to stay at one of the many B&B locations - in general you host will know several local recommendations.
I’ve heard of several people who are not quite sure yet whether they should visit Berlin Buzzwords or not - in particular when having to travel far and cross 9 time zones to attend. My general recommendation is to plan to spend some more days in Europe. The conference is conveniently scheduled on Monday and Tuesday which gives you one weekend before to explore the city and the whole week afterwards to go and see more either in the city or around.
In case you are wondering whether the city is a worthy destination when travelling with children - below is a list of things to do and places to go I sent to someone recently. Hope it helps with your decision as well. In general the city is pretty green, there are several locations specially amenable to a visit with kids - so treat the list below as what it is: An incomplete listing of some of the most obvious locations that might be of interest collected by someone who knows a few parents and their children. Also in case you speak German make sure to check out one of the many guide books for Berlin with children available in local book stores - Dussmann and Hugendubel generally have the largest selection though Chatwins is my preferred one for anything about travelling.
In the city
In case of good weather:
- Tierpark Berlin - make sure you visit Tierpark (not Zoo) - it’s much larger and friendlier. See also images taken by Berlin Buzzwords fotographer Philipp, general images.
- There is a huge park in walking distance of Brandenburger Tor: Tiergarten for recreation after sight seeing.
- For swimming head over to either Wannsee or Schlachtensee
- For exploring a NSA listening station head west to Teufels-berg
- On warm evenings plan for some time at Maybachufer
For bad weather:
- If your kids like tech go to Technik Museum (it features one of the first computer (the one built by Zuse that is))
- If you kids like nature go to Naturkunde Museum
- If you are interested in science - make sure to be here for the long night of science (web page may need google translate unless you speak German.)
- For a city tour check out the following scribbles - they also include some interesting parts of the bus line 100 and 200
Close to the city:
If you have some more time to spend make sure you also explore the closer surroundings:
- 80km north: rent a canoo and explore Mecklenburg
- 200km north: visit Rügen, spend some time swimming, some time to see the amazing chalk cliffs, some time to see the isle by bike
- 250km south: go hiking or rafting in Elbsandsteingebirge
- 80km south: rent a canoo and explore the canals in Spreewald
Recommendations from friends
- Dawid Weiss: Badeschiff - a pool-on-the-river thing. It’s not something you get in any ordinary city
- Steve Loughran: My son’s favourite part of a trip to berlin (age 9) was actually the Bauspielplatz: Smaller kids get a play area where they can use the sand + water to build streams, dam them and generally make a mess, while the 8+ get a playground where they actually help build it under adult supervision. They also run a good open air waffle/pancake/coffee shop. They’re open in the afternoons.
Hope to see you in Berlin in June. If you need more information or recommendations don’t hesitate to ask.
Berlin currently is of growing interest for software engineers, has a very active startup scene and as a result several community organised meetups. Listed below is a short, “highly objective” selection of local user groups - showing just the breadth of topics discussed.
- Berlin Hadoop Get Together
- Berlin DevOps
- Berlin Buzzwords (conference, no meetup)
- Berlin Scrumtisch
- Java User Group Berlin/Brandenburg
- Berlin Google Technology User Group
- Atlassian Usergroup Berlin/Brandenburg
- Erlang meetup Berlin
- Clojure Meetup Berlin
- Django user group
- FSFE Berlin
- Data Science Day (organised by Klaas Bollhöfer)
- Recommender Stammtisch
- Berlin Graph DB meetup
- Elastic Search UG
- MongoDB User Group Berlin
If you want to discover new meetups: It helps attending one that is closest to your interest as usually people follow several user groups. In addition watching the scheduled event at co-working and hacker spaces like co-up Berlin, betahaus, c-base can help.