Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


What makes us locals? What turns us into part of a new environment? And is it at all possible to become a Berliner not having been born in the city?

Those are questions that we, the “new” arrivals in Germany´s capital have been asking ourselves over many a glass of beer. How long do we have to have lived here and what deeds do we need to have amassed on our private little CVs to merit the title? Is 5 years enough? Or 10? Or perhaps 50? Plus a career in local administration to boot? Or is it all in vain and we will never ever deserve that description?

Having just been accused by one of my (now, thankfully, former) readers of being a “Polish émigré” “who has no business” in meddling in Berlin´s past or present, I felt compelled to consider that question again. And just as on previous occasions, I needed less than 60 seconds to decide what my stand on the matter was.

I was born in Poland and Polish is my mother tongue. Since I learnt English it became my mother tongue, too. So much so that I have always found it much easier to write in English than in Polish, in fact. In the year 2000 I met a fantastic German guy and three years later moved to Berlin for ever. I learnt (passably good) German, I live here, I work here and – first and foremost – my family are here: all of my three sons are born and bred Berliners.

My house stands in a Berlin street, I buy my groceries in Berlin shops, I pick up my sons from a Berlin school and a Berlin kindergarten. I go out in Berlin, I cycle through Berlin, I sit on Berlin park benches and like so many others, I am so fascinated by this city that I spent most of my working and free time reading about it, researching it and gladly sharing my knowledge with others (whose choice it is to accept the offered bits and pieces of local revelations or to question and even reject them – as long, of course, as they do so in a civil and friendly manner as per default I absolutely refuse to engage in any exchange that doesn´t meet those requirements).

So am I a Berlinerin or just an impostor, considering that my birth certificate says “Polska” on it? And considering that I am planning to spend the rest of my life in this city and to be buried in a well selected cosy spot in Bergmannstrasse when I pop my Berlin clogs?

I should like to answer that query with one of my favourite Polish jokes (do pardon my French, though):

“A guy goes angling with his rod in a lake in the forest. He stops on the shore, throws the angle line in and immediately starts feeling uncomfortable. He looks around and sees this frog sitting on a big floating leaf and staring at him calmly. “Fuck off!” he says to the frog.

The frog stares a bit more, then opens its eyes even wider and answers: “Fuck off? FUCK OFF?! But I LIVE here!”

Let us round it off with a brilliant song by a Berlin group Wir Sind Helden – whose great hit “Denkmal” was the very first German song I ever sang along to.

“Gekommen Um zu Bleiben” – Here To Stay (translated lyrics available here).


  1. themissinglinka
    Mar 31, 2015

    Love it, thanks for your wonderful blog here. I am writing a bit about the city & came across your writing here, it’s refreshing and informative.

    • notmsparker
      Mar 31, 2015

      Thank you:) it’s real passion (and a bit of hate) that are behind that blog.

  2. berlioz1935
    Apr 6, 2015

    You have nothing to be ashamed off. Berlin was always a city of migrants. It was always said, that the best Berliners are coming from outside. Actually, it was Breslau, but the point was, they were not from Berlin.

    You are not “meddling” in the past, you are digging up the past for the dumb Berliners and people who are actually interested in Berlin.

    Someone was once asked, how long it takes for a stranger to become a Berliner. The answer was, when someone jumps into Berlin on a parachute and on landing starts to grumble and complain (meckern), then he is instantly a Berliner.

    The people who complain about others who came from somewhere else are just “Kiez-Nazis”. I think you are a good Berlinerin.

    • notmsparker
      Apr 6, 2015

      Thanks so much for this, Peter. I appreciate it the more considering it comes from you, a born&bred Berliner and Kreuzberger. Love the anecdote about the parachuting oneself into Berlin – I’m quite positive I’d pass that test; -))

      • berlioz1935
        Apr 7, 2015

        E.T.A. Hoffmann was such a Berliner, born in Königsberg, worked in Poznań and Warsaw, married a polish woman and made Berlin famous. He was one oft he greatest. That he worked at the Kammergericht in Lindenstrasse was told to me by my father with pride when I was about six or seven.

  3. Verfasser
    Apr 23, 2015

    We all are Berliners if we feel like it. People who argue with that “Du bist kein Berliner”-T-Shirts and place of birth nonsense need to be reminded that only some 1500 years ago just some randoms slavic tribes lived here among boars and wolves.
    Keep on rockin’!
    btw.: It’s “Denkmal”, not “Mahnmal” 😉

    • notmsparker
      Apr 23, 2015

      Well, even the name ofthe city is Slavonic, innit?;-) It seems I come from a long line of Berlin settlers.Thanks for correcting the song´s title!

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