What you shouldn't expect in Berlin

Since everything else on our website is about what you can do and should expect, we thought it's a good idea to add a page about things that people often wrongly expect when visiting Berlin...

► Don't expect medieval architecture
Many people expect to see old-style half-timbered houses like in some other German cities and towns, but even before the war, Berlin didn't keep much of its old infrastructure. It was often replaced with newer buildings over the centuries. And naturally, the air raids during the Second World War didn't help either. What you will get to see in terms of pre-war architecture are modern 19th-century brick houses.

► Don't expect to see “old Nazis"
Although a few of those who were young adults during World War II are still alive in nursing homes, it is hard to imagine you'll come across them. The old people you'll actually see around you were typically born after the war had ended or during the war. And even if they were born before the war, they were only children during the war. So you shouldn't spend time thinking if that old man sitting next to you on the train might have been a Nazi soldier.

► Don't expect an Eastern European Jewish story
At the very peak, before the Nazis came to power, there were about 520,000 Jews in Germany, amounting to about 0,7% of the general population (in Poland it was about 10%). In other words: Hardly anybody was Jewish in Germany. Even in Berlin, the largest Jewish community in Germany, Jews were less than 4% of the city (in Warsaw Jews made up about a third). So as you'll be walking around, you shouldn't imagine pre-war Berlin as if it were an Eastern European city or town. We've all seen movies about Eastern Europe's very substantial Jewish world (“Schindler's List” is probably the most famous one) - but precisely because of the strong effect these images have on our mind, we should be aware of how much smaller the Jewish scene was in Germany.

► Don't expect a neglected East Berlin 
Yes, some parts of East Berlin were quite neglected during communism, but not everything. And in the last three decades, a lot has changed. The former East has really become the place to be. Specifically in the central neighborhoods, almost everything got renovated and gentrified.

► Don't expect a substantial Kosher scene
Berlin is not New York, London or Paris. The vast majority of Jews in Berlin are not observant (and thus also not visibly Jewish). Jewish restaurants are not a common thing here.

► Don't expect clear differences between East and West 
The city has healed its wounds pretty well. The former border system has been replaced by new buildings, squares and streets. More often than not, you will be crossing the former borderline without even noticing. And everyday life is basically the same in both parts.

► Don't expect a "Holocaust museum"
It seems so obvious that Berlin should have a Holocaust museum like Jerusalem or Washington D. C. - except it doesn't. There is a pretty small and basic "information center" at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe; there's a chapter about the Holocaust in the Jewish Museum; and there are quite a few other places that deal with it, such as the Topography of Terror and the House of the Wannsee Conference. But there is no Holocaust museum per se.

► Don't expect a lot of cars 
As locals we always complain about it, but Berlin actually has a very good public transportation system. Many people don't own cars. In fact, almost everybody at our age doesn't. Instead, we have subscriptions for car pools and use cars whenever we want or need to, which isn't very often. So although Berlin has its fair amount of traffic, don't expect the streets to feel as if it were NYC.