Practical Information

Here is some practical information that we feel is helpful to know when visiting Berlin.  For more information check out our FAQ or useful information pages.

1.  Opening Hours

Berlin has one of the most liberal opening laws in the whole of Germany, with practically no laws about how long businesses can stay open for from Monday to Sunday.  In practice, most shops will be open from around 10am till 8pm, but this varies from business to business, check out their profile for individual operating hours.  Supermarkets in Berlin are generally open from 8am and close anytime between 8pm and midnight although the majority close at 10pm.  Kiosks, known as “Spätis” (Literally Late-ys)in Berlin, sell a selection of beer, wine and soft-drinks, cigarettes and snacks and as the name implies are open late, really late.
Banks are generally open Monday to Friday from 8am until midday and then from 2pm to 4pm.
 
Sunday trading:
 
Aside from a few exceptions, all shops, including supermarkets, remain closed on Sundays and public holidays.  Shops at the airports and the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station) remain open, as do Spätis.  Most restaurants and cafes open on Sunday and public holidays as do the majority of museums, theatres and tourist attractions so you should still have plenty to do.  Although for visitors this may seem very unusual, in practice, when you are living here Sunday becomes quite a cherished day.  It is generally seen as a day to spend with family or friends, going for walks in the park, or catching up on some housework, without the temptation to hit the shops or run errands.
The only exception to the Sunday trading (or lack thereof) is that shops may open on 8 Sundays per year prescribed by the City of Berlin.  Below you will find a list of Verkaufsoffene Sonntage (Open for Business Sundays) for 2013.  Take not that opening on these days is not compulsory but in practice you will find that the all of the popular shopping districts will be open.

20.10.2013,   03.11.2013,   08.12.2013,   22.12.2013.

2.  Walking in Berlin

In Germany, as opposed to the majority of other countries, people generally obey the pedestrian traffic lights.  It is not uncommon to see a group of people patiently waiting at a red light, with not a car in sight.  People that walk on red will often be looked at disapprovingly and tsked at, particularly if there are children present.  Police will issue on the spot fines of between €5 and €10 if they witness you walking against the red.  One unique feature of Berlin’s traffic lights is the East German Ampelmann (Traffic light man).

Many footpaths around Berlin are shared with cyclists.  The section of the footpath designated as a cycleway is often, but not always, painted red, and is usually to the left of the pedestrian zone facing the direction of travel.  Please take care when walking that you don’t stray into the cycleway and when crossing the road don’t forget to look for cyclists as well as cars.  Cyclists in Berlin generally ride quickly and can be a bit aggressive towards people that walk or stand in front of them on the bike path.

3.  Tipping - Trinkgeld (Literally: drink money)

Although tipping is by no means compulsory, It is customary to tip around 10% for service in Berlin.  You can do this a couple of different ways; Give the waiter the amount for the bill including your tip and say “stimmt so” (like “keep the change”), or you can tell the waiter the amount you would like to pay. For example, you have a €20 note,  your bill comes to €11.50, you want to leave a €1.50 tip so you would say Dreizehn(13) and the waiter will give you your €7 change.

Image © Joanna Poe (Flicker)

4.  Local Time in Berlin.

Berlin, and indeed the whole of Germany, is located in the Central European Time zone.  Daylight Savings time runs from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

5.  Post

There are many ways to send a letter or package in Berlin. 

Deutsche Post has branches dotted around the city.  In addition to the Deutsche Post offices there are many sub-branches located in newsagencies and tobacco shops around Berlin – just look for the Posthorn Logo.

If you already have stamps and know the cost of your package there are many post-boxes located on the street throughout the city.  

Prices of common items

Postcard   

Minimum size 140 mm x 90 mm, Maximum size: 235 mm x 125 mm.

To send within Germany: .45c

To send Internationally .75c

 

Standard Letter 

Minimum size 140 mm x 90 mm,  Maximum: 235 mm x 125 mm x 5 mm.  Maximum weight of 20g

Germany €0,58 international €0,75 

6.  Water

The tap water (Leitungswasser) in Berlin is perfectly safe to drink.  It is however considered to be quite hard and if you are not used to it, you could potentially find the taste unpleasant.  Many Berliners have a water filter to remove some of the minerals, especially if they are fussy about their tea and coffee!

In cafes and restaurants you may find it difficult to get free tap water, with mineral water (either still or with bubbles) being the only option.  The exception is when an espresso is ordered; this is usually served with a small glass of water.

If you would like your mineral water with bubbles you can ask for it a number of ways....either "mit Kohlensäure" (Eng: with carbonation) or, much the much simpler varient "mit Gas"  (Eng:  with gas).

Image: © Ron Miguel

7.  Electricity

Germany uses the same round, 2 pin sockets that are used throughout the rest of Europe.  The current is 220/240 v.  If you are coming from Canada or the U.S.A you will need an adapter for some appliances.  Here is a helpful resource with information on the sort of adapters you may require. 

Image © Edvvc (Flicker)

8.  Communication

Internet

Although there are fewer internet cafes since the proliferation of the Smart-phone, tablet and mini laptop, there are still a few dotted around the city for those of you who are travelling light.  Alternatively, if you are travelling with a wifi enabled piece of tech there are loads of Cafes around Berlin that offer free wifi for their customers.

Phone

You will be lucky if you can find a public phone box around Berlin these days and should buy a lotto ticket if the one you find is actually working.  If you don’t have a mobile telephone, your best bet is to find an internet café or call shop.  

Pre-paid SIM

If you have a mobile phone and are planning to stay in Germany for a while it may be worth getting a pre-paid SIM-card.  There are pretty cheap options available including data plans and these can be purchased from any phone shop, electronics store (Saturn, Mediamarkt etc), or even some supermarkets and convenience stores.

9.  Dress Code

First time visitors to Berlin might be surprised to see a distinct lack of "Lederhosen" clad chaps wandering around the city.  It is really only the region of Bavaria that wears this traditional dress, although if you are in Berlin during the city's Oktoberfest celebrations you may see a few wandering about.

There isn’t really a dress code in Berlin per se, however, if you are visiting a religious building you should check to see if one applies.  If you steer clear of sleeveless tops and flip-flops when entering churches you should be ok.

There are also certain dress requirements if you plan to dine, drink or party at particular locations around Berlin.  The iconic Kit Kat Klub for example has a pretty strict fetish wear rule.  Check out our profiles for more detailed information on specific venues.