Further academic Programmes  >  The European Semester  >  Living in Berlin



Berlin - The City

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany. About 3.5 million people live in Berlin which makes it comparable to Houston.


Berlin is multicultural. Citizens from 190 states are residents of Berlin. With 31 institutes for higher education Berlin hosts 160,000 students. Most foreigners come from European countries, with the Turkish community being prevalent in some districts. Besides its young and multicultural residents, around 25 million tourists visit Berlin every year.


Its unique history and its young inhabitants create a vibrant and colorful city with street art, music and atmosphere. Although Berlin is the political and cultural capital, the German industry and business centers are Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart. This means the cost of living is substantially lower than expected and also lower than in the U.S. or other European cities. Artists and local businesses take over deserted industrial sites and turn them into cultural treasures, such as parks, bars, and restaurants. 


No other city captures the recent history of the European continent better than Berlin. It was the capital of the German Reich from 1871 to 1945 – during both World War I and II. After the defeat of the Nazi Regime, Berlin became the divided city and one of the most visible symbols of the Cold War. Since 1989, the borders from East to West are open again and the few remains of the Berlin Wall have lost its terror. The full historical experience is best explained in one of Berlin’s 175 museums and monuments.


As capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, Berlin hosts the Federal Parliaments, the Bundestag & Bundesrat, the German Chancellor, the German President at the Bellevue Palace and most of the German Ministries. Germany consists of 16 federal states. Berlin is not only the capital, but also a city state. This gives Berlin a certain degree of independence in policy fields like education and culture. Berlin has its own parliament and the mayor depends on the majority in the Abgeordnetenhaus.



Berlin has a continental climate, meaning cold winters and warm summers. While summers are particularly nice in Berlin, because of the street festivals, the parks, the lakes and the countless outdoor restaurants and Biergardens, winters can be rough. Cold Siberian winds can make being outside uncomfortable. You should pack a coat and boots and other warm clothes because snow and low temperatures are common until April. However, all the pain is forgotten in spring, when the first sunlight wakes the entire city.

Exploring Europe

Inner-European flights are cheap compared to domestic U.S. flights. You might want to consider exploring a little bit more of Europe, while you are here. CIFE is trying to leave Friday and/or Monday free of class, giving you the opportunity to get away.


Berlin has two airports (Schönefeld and Tegel) connecting you to a vast number of European cities. There is a large number of economically reasonable airlines available taking you to your desired destination. EasyjetRyanair, Airberlin or Germanwings are possible options you might want to explore. Barcelona, Paris, London, Rome, Vienna and Amsterdam are only 1.5 flight hours away.


In case, you would like to see more of Germany there is a dense and modern rail network, connecting all major cities. Leipzig and Dresden are only 2 hours away. The ICE trains are the fastest connections. Munich can be reached in 6 hours, Frankfurt in 4 hours. To book your tickets and check the schedules go to the homepage of the Deutsche Bahn.


An even lower priced traveling option are coaches. Many companies offer special deals. Prague, for instance, is only 5 hours and 20 Euros away. Check out MeinFernBus/Flixbus & Eurolines for example.

The earlier you book flights, transfers and accommodation, the cheaper it is. While still at home, you should research destinations you want to visit. London, Rome, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona or Amsterdam are very popular and easy to travel to. You may also want to see more remote locations, like Pompeii, the Alps or Lourdes. CIFE will help you out with travel advice, wherever we can.


Since Berlin is such a multicultural city, there is also a large variety of restaurants. Many restaurants available. Like in the U.S., many restaurants also offer delivery service for food.

Compared to Texas BBQ or TexMex, Berlin has one advantage. It is called Döner Kebab. It is fast food, available at every corner for very little money, and it is good!


Since this is Germany, there is obviously sausage. Berliners love their sausage with ketchup and curry powder – the Currywurst. It is usually served with fries.


At some places they are just as good as in the U.S.
Berlin Burger International, Pannierstr. 5
Room 77, Gräfestr. 77
Burgeramt, Krossener Straße 21-22
Rebel Room, Seestrasse 93

Sunday Brunch
Germans love Brunch.
Elfida, Gabriel-Max-Str. 15
Rote Harfe, Oranienstr. 13
Café Butter, Pappelallee 73


Germans also like their afternoon cake.
Kuchenrausch, Simon-Dach-Str. 1
Café Milchschaum, Bergmannstraße 3
Martin’s Place, Pannierst. 29


And because we don't want you to miss home too much, we even found a decent burrito place: Dolores, Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 7 and a nice Mexican restaurant: Ta’Cabrón Taqueria, Skalitzer Str. 60


CIFE provides fully furnished, fully equipped and centrally located apartments. Usually two students share a spacious apartment with bed- and living room. A sofa bed in the living room offers enough privacy for you to feel comfortable. The apartments range in size, but they all include Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen, a modern bathroom as well as access to a laundry machine. Linen, sheets and towels are included as well as a hairdryer and an iron. All apartments are located in very safe neighborhoods close to the CIFE office in the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district.


You won’t need to speak German in Berlin, since you will get by with English almost everywhere. In many restaurants and bars in Kreuzberg, for example, the waiters don’t even speak German. English is the language of the young, multicultural crowd. Taxi drivers, waiters, vendors, doctors, policemen, etc. have adjusted to a large number of non-German-speaking people. Still, Germans like it if you try to speak German. As in every culture, it is considered polite to use the language of the country you are visiting, even if you only know how to say Danke and Bitte. It will also make you feel more comfortable being able to express and understand some basic words and phrases. In order to seriously integrate into the German society and get a deeper connection than just a chitchat, speaking German would be an asset. Not to mention that speaking a foreign language is always an asset.
There are online tutorials available that allow you to learn no matter where you are. Babbel or Busuu for example. In case, you consider taking some traditional classes while in Berlin, here you might find what you need: Die Neue Schule, DeutschAkademie, Hartnackschule or Speakeasy.

Get a little dictionary or an offline dictionary app like dict.cc and look up the most important expressions, like please, thank you, hello, my name is, sorry, etc. Here you will find some advice on the most important German words: Omniglot
Sometimes, it might help to keep a language diary, where you write down all the new words you picked up.

Medical Help

General European Emergency Number: 112
In order to reach the police, firefighters or an ambulance simply call 112, no matter in which European country. There are many hospitals in Berlin that provide you with emergency care 24/7. Doctors usually speak English. For less urgent injuries or illness, visit a private practice. They are very common and appointments are easy to get.
A general practitioner close to CIFE Berlin:

Dr. Sylvia Kollmann, M.D. (Bilingual English/German)
Address: Nassauische Straße 25, 10717 Berlin-Wilmersdorf
Phone +49 (0) 30 8738303


There is no need to bring cash or traveller's checks. It is far more common and cheaper to use your credit card to get cash from one of the many ATMs all around the city. Additionally, CIFE provides you with a daily allowance in cash which covers basics, like groceries and cosmetic products, etc. The currency in Germany is the Euro. In France, Luxembourg and Belgium you also pay in Euro. However, not all European countries and not even all member states of the European Union pay in Euro. In Poland for example, you pay in Zloty.

Make sure your credit card works in Europe. Contact your bank and ask, if your card is suitable for European ATMs. Let the bank know in advance about your travel itinerary, so they won’t block your card when you make a transaction in Europe. VISA and Mastercard are the most common cards and accepted almost everywhere - much more than American Express for example. Small shops, bakeries or restaurants usually don't accept credit cards at all.

Public Transport

Getting around in Berlin is fairly easy, because of a sophisticated public transport system. 10 underground lines, 15 S-trains, 22 trams and 150 buses take you wherever you want – also at night. CIFE provides you with public transport tickets for the duration of the program, valid for all U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and busses in the tariff areas A&B. The public transport is run by the BVG, providing you with schedules and all other relevant information to travel within the city.

Although you will mostly need your public transport passes for the areas A&B, it is highly recommended to visit the tariff area C. Berlin is surrounded by beautiful lakes and nature, like the Wannsee, the Müggelsee, the Herthasee or the Schlachtensee.


Packing List

Before you start – inform yourself about the luggage restrictions of your airline (also think about the flight back home). additional weight or bags might cost a lot of money! Don't forget you will arrive in winter and there might be snow and ice on the streets. 

What to bring:

  • A solid pair of boots
  • A warm winter jacket or coat
  • Wool socks, a hat, gloves and a scarf will keep you warm
  • You will have to study (a lot), so bring a laptop and don’t forget the charger
  • Get one or two adapters for your electronic devices, because U.S. sockets differ from European ones
  • Bring pictures of your family or your favorite teddy bear or small posters from home, because three months is a long time and there will be times you miss home and you’ll want something to comfort you
  • There are helpful lists on the internet you might want to check out. For example SmarterTravel
  • Search for useful apps, for example offline maps: Maps.Me

Sheets, linen and towels will be provided by CIFE. You can always contact us if you have any doubts about what to bring. your programm manager Sarah is happy to assist you. just write an email to european-semester@cife.eu.


When you are new in a country, things work differently. Therefore, this list of warnings is meant to help you avoid the most common traps for foreigners.

  • The hair straightener - Voltage in Europe is significantly higher than in the U.S. Despite adapters, it is not advisable to use a U.S. hair straightener in Europe, because even a slightly higher temperature might damage your hair. Better buy one here. They can be purchased in every drugstore and there won’t be any trouble.
  • The bicycle lane – Whenever the weather is nice, people in Europe ride bicycles to the extent that they have their own lanes. Usually the sidewalk is divided into one area for bicycles and another area for pedestrians. Cyclists tend to get rude, whenever you walk or stand on their lane. So always watch out where you are going!
  • Water – Water dispensers are uncommon (as well as ice makers) and water in restaurants is usually not free and sometimes not even the cheapest drink on the menu. Therefore, Germans tend to take a refillable bottle and simply drink tap water. Tap water is of very high quality and can be consumed without concern.
  • Sparkling water – Europeans prefer sparkling water to still water. You will have to find out for yourself, but be specific when ordering water in a restaurant.
  • Tip - Giving more than 10% is uncommon. Usually you simply round up. For example, if something is 7.80 € it is completely okay to pay 8.00 € in a bar or restaurant.
  • Walking – Berliners try to avoid taking the car. There is simply not enough parking space. Therefore, everyone uses public transport, bicycles or simply walks. We will walk a lot, too - so be prepared!
  • Numbers - In German handwriting the numbers 1 and 7 are written differently than in the U.S.
  • To find out more about specific German habits and peculiarities, you can check out Adam Fletcher's not entirely serious blog on "How to be German".


The most common religion in Berlin is protestant, but you can find any service or place of worship. Besides the many Christian churches, including an Anglican church, there are synagogues, mosques and even a Buddhist temple. Some churches offer an English service, like St Bernhard's, All Saints or St Albert’s.


Compared to other European cities and U.S. cities of the same size, Berlin is relatively safe. Violent crimes are rare. Around tourist areas you should beware of pickpockets. As a general rule, all areas within the circle line are safe to travel alone, even at night. But always try to travel with a friend.


Don't worry, if you forgot something at home or couldn’t find winter clothes in Texas. There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Berlin. Several grocery stores, drugstores and bakeries can be found within walking distance to your apartment. For pharmacies watch out for the red A. The post office has a yellow logo with a black horn. Experience shows, that at some point you will have to buy electronic devices like adapters and chargers. MediaMarkt or Saturn, the biggest electronic chains in Germany, can help you. In case you are interested in buying books in English – Dussmann has a large English section.

Shopping Streets and Malls
A very popular place where you can find H&M and Nike, but also Gucci and Versace is the street Kurfürstendamm (stop Kurfürstendamm or Zoologischer Garten). The mall Bikini Berlin is also there. Other big malls are the KaDeWe at Wittenbergplatz, the Alexa at Alexanderplatz or the Arkaden at Potsdamer Platz. an especially picturesque place for shopping is the "Hackescher Markt" with its numerous little designer shops, bars and restaurants. 


There is one specialty in Berlin that you won’t find anywhere else in Germany. Berlin is well known for its several 24/7 little kiosk shops, where you can find newspapers and soft drinks, but also basics like milk, coffee, toothpaste and whatever usually runs out while the normal grocery stores are closed.

All regular grocery stores, shops and malls are closed on Sundays and only restaurants, bakeries and Spätis are open for customers. Exceptions are the big train stations like Zoologischer Garten, Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof, where you can find supermarkets open on Sundays, but better you do your shopping before.


Soccer is THE favourite sport of the Germans, especially since the German team won the World Cup in 2014. The local team in Berlin is called Hertha BSC. Not visiting a soccer match while in Germany is comparable to not watching a football game while in Texas. Think about it. Basketball is far from being as big as it is in the U.S., but Berlin has a decent team called ALBA. The same can be said about ice hockey and the Berlin Eisbären (polar bears). The handball team, the Füchse (foxes) are quite popular, too. 


Things to do

Discover your Kiez
Berlin districts are called Kiez. People in Berlin love the Kiez they live in. In order to become a Berliner you need to fall in love with your Kiez. The best way to explore is on foot or by bike.

Tourist Attractions
There are some famous tourist attractions you shouldn’t miss: Brandenburg Gate, TV-Tower, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Zoo, Charlottenburg Palace, Holocaust Memorial, a boat ride on the river Spree, etc. Just to name a few. Or you visit some of the very best museums (go to at least three of them during your stay!): Story of Berlin Museum, Jewish Museum, Topographie des Terrors, Martin Gropius Bau, National Art Galleries. There are many more depending on your interests! For inspiration look up the most popular places on VisitBerlin.

For most museums and cultural events in Europe, but also swimming pools, public transport and sports clubs you get a student discount on the entrance fee of around 50%. So it is worth bringing your TAMU student ID with you.

RAW Gelände
The former Reichsbahn Railway Repair Workshops (RAW) is today the go-to spot of Berlin hipsters. Artists and alternative entrepreneurs have taken over the industrial ruins and turned them into a temple of street art and night life. The U1 Warschauer Straße takes you there. Worth visiting is the Street food Village Market on Sunday at Neue Heimat,
try bouldering at the Kegel (Note: If you are into bouldering also check out Ostbloc, Hauptstraße 13, 10317 Berlin) and relax at the Biergarden at Cassiopeia.

Blacklight Minigolf
It feels very much like a scene from Tron or a Michael Jackson 3D movie from the 90s. It consists of 18 illuminated holes spread across five rooms and decorated with mind-blowing visuals inspired by cyberpunk, sci-fi and psychedelic art. The U1 Görlitzer Park will take you there.

Treptower Fleamarket Halls
It is a labyrinth of things you can or cannot imagine. For ages traders have accumulated the weirdest items and stuffed them into shelves, waiting for the one moment when this random person asks for this random thing from this random century in this random color and the triumph will be theirs! Don’t get lost, but in case you want to get there, the U1 Schlesisches Tor will take you.

Tempelhofer Feld
The airfield of the Tempelhof airport, an inner-city airport that is no longer in use, has been opened to the public and turned into one of the biggest parks in Europe. The huge open space is ideal for kites of all kinds, even kitelandboarding. Entire families spend their weekends on the BBQ areas. Joggers, cyclists and sports of all kind are common and there is even a Baseball field. It is a place where people relax and simply enjoy the space. 

Sunday Mauerpark & Fleamarket
It is a park in the district Prenzlauer Berg and was, in the past part, of the Berlin Wall’s Death Strip. Today, the scene is characterized by laughing, singing, juggling and BBQ. On Sunday at the amphitheater, the Mauerpark karaoke attracts many locals and tourists alike. Feel free to do a performance yourself! The karaoke singers are as diverse and colorful as Berlin, but that’s exactly what makes the karaoke so entertaining. Every Sunday there is a flea market next to the karaoke, where you can find mostly handicraft works from Berlin artists. U8 Bernauer Straße or U2 Eberwalder Straße are the closest public transport stops.

Exercise and Working out
Jogging in Berlin is very common. It is not unusual to jog in the neighborhood, but it is more common to go jogging in the Tiergarten by the Zoo. There is also a gym at Prager Platz not far from the CIFE offices. You can find almost every sport in Berlin: Rock climbing and bouldering, yoga, pilates, karate, capoeira, basketball, soccer or volleyball, you name it. Your program manager Sarah Bremm will help you find the right place to exercise if you are interested.

Meet People
Every month on the first Monday the Young European Movement (Junge Europäische Bewegung) organises a get-together at Café Chagall, Georgenstraße 4. The movement unites young students dealing with the European Union like yourselves. Besides casual get-togethers, they organize special lectures or events concerned with EU politics. And don’t be afraid – they all speak perfect English! We highly suggest you try it!