A culture of reuse in Berlin

Last week I really wanted to focus on doing small things after work to make sure I was experiencing as much of the city as possible. This past week I think I really achieved that. On Tuesday we met up with all the other students in the program at an outside garden space and just spent the evening catching up with each other. It was really interesting to see how everyone is settling into their internships and lives here in Berlin. Some people have really fallen in love with the city and can see themselves living here in the future. Assimilating to the city was easy for them and felt natural. While others have enjoyed the experience so far but are a little homesick already. Wednesday after work I met up with a friend to go explore a new neighborhood. Berlin is really cool because each neighborhood is unique and has different things to offer. The one we went to was very trendy with tons of restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and parks. On Friday I had to work a longer shift at one of our outreach events. My boss had me go to a public space where there was a water fountain installed and spray chalk on the ground to decorate and draw attention to the fountain. The design I painted was essentially a map of the neighborhood and with each water fountain marked symbolically with a water drop. It ended up looking pretty cool! Then, the event started and we manned the water stand for a couple hours. It is difficult for me to talk to people at events where we are on the street because not that many people prefer to speak English. The most support I can provide in these cases is distributing water and small errands to keep the water bar going. It is still a nice experience to be able to meet so many different people from Berlin. It really gives me a good grasp on what people are like in Berlin. For the most part, they are curious and kind. This weekend I met up with people in the program and went to the flea market in RAW-Gelände. The flea market was huge with a lot of younger people selling clothes, jewelry, and furniture. One thing I have noticed about Berlin is their strong culture in reusing things and sustainability. During my job, I oftentimes read about the different laws dealing with recycling/waste management/reuse, and it is refreshing to see that it carries on in other facets of people’s lives here in Berlin. People are very interested in not buying new products, but seeing value in used items. While in Pittsburgh, there is a culture of thrifting and reuse, but I have never seen it at this scale. 

I honestly don’t feel a huge cultural difference between Berlin and America. It is very similar in things like social customs and food. Especially since I have been to places in East Asia that can be a huge culture shock if you don’t prepare well. Things like food and social customs range significantly in Asia compared to America. Therefore, I don’t feel super out of place in Berlin. Granted, there are differences in the culture that are significant. For example, making sure to be dressed more presentable in public, keeping more to yourself, and being more eco-friendly. To me, the biggest difference that I have observed is their ability to balance work and life. People don’t work overtime and often are not in the office on Fridays. Restaurants and parks are always full with people sitting outside and enjoying the weather after work. When I ask what my coworkers do after work and during the weekends, they always tell me about going to pottery classes, concerts, lakes, restaurants, and festivals. Compared to the US, I feel like often times people value spending time at home with their family or just relaxing. I think Berliner’s do a good job balancing their life outside of work and making it a priority. To not live to work, but to work to live. For me, the most difficult thing assimilating to is the food. I really value cooking at home and having all of my ingredients that I normally cook with. Here I have had to branch out a bit and try new ingredients and dishes that I normally would not make at home. It was hard in the beginning, but with time it became fun to try new things. 

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