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Essential information for Berlin visitors

From age requirements to work restrictions, follow our A-to-Z guide to getting by in the German capital

© Shutterstock/Victor Torres

Addresses

German convention dictates that the house/building number follows the street name (eg Friedrichstrasse 21), and numbers sometimes run up one side of the street and back down the other side. Strasse (street) is often abbreviated to Str, and is not usually written separately but appended to the street name, as in the example above. Exceptions are when the street name is the adjectival form of a place name (eg Potsdamer Strasse) or the full name of an individual (eg Heinrich-Heine-Strasse).

Within buildings: EG means Erdgeschoss, the ground floor; 1. OG (Obergeschoss) is the first floor; VH means Vorderhaus, or the front part of the building; HH means Hinterhaus, the part of the building off the Hinterhof, the 'back courtyard'; SF is Seitenflügel, stairs that go off to the side from the Hinterhof. In big, industrial complexes, stairwells are often numbered or lettered. Treppenhaus B, or sometimes just Haus B, would indicate a particular staircase off the courtyard.

Age restrictions

The legal age for drinking in Germany is 16 for beer and wine, 18 for hard liquor; for smoking it’s 18; for driving it’s 18. The age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual sex is 16. 

Customs

EU nationals over 17 years of age can import limitless goods for personal use, if bought with tax paid on them at source. For non-EU citizens and for duty-free goods, the following limits apply:

Tobacco products 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco.
Alcohol 1 litre of spirits (over 22 per cent alcohol), or 2 litres of fortified wine (under 22 per cent alcohol), or 4 litres of non-sparkling wine. 16 litres of beer.
Other goods to the value of €300 for non-commercial use, up to €430 for air/sea travellers. Travellers should note that the import of meat, meat products, fruit, plants, flowers and protected animals is restricted and/or forbidden.

Disabled

Many but not all U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations have ramps and/or elevators for wheelchair access; the map of
the transport network indicates which ones. These stations are equipped with folding ramps to allow passengers in wheelchairs to board the trains. These passengers are required to wait at the front end of the platform to signal to the driver their need to board. All bus lines and most tram lines are also wheelchair-accessible.

Public buildings and most of the city’s hotels have disabled access. However, if you require more specific information about access, try either of the following organisations: 

Beschäftigungswerk des BBV
Weydemeyerstrasse 2A, Mitte (5001 9100, www.bbv-tours-berlin.de). U5 Schillingstrasse. Open 9am-8pm Mon-Fri; 10am-6pm Sat.
The Berlin Centre for the Disabled provides legal and social advice, together with a transport service and travel information.

Touristik Union International (TUI)
0511 5675 0105/www.tui.com). 
The Touristik Union International provides information on accommodation and travel in Germany for the disabled.

Drugs

Berlin is relatively liberal in its attitude towards drugs. In recent years, possession of hash or grass has been effectively decriminalised. Anyone caught with an amount under ten grams is liable to have the stuff confiscated, but can otherwise expect no further retribution. Joint smoking is tolerated in some of Berlin's younger bars and cafés – a quick sniff will tell whether you're in one. Anyone caught with small amounts of hard drugs will net a fine, but is unlikely to be incarcerated.

Electricity

Electricity in Germany runs on 230v, the same as British appliances. You will require an adaptor (G to F) to change the shape of the plug. US appliances (120V) require a voltage converter. 

Embassies and consultancies

Australian Embassy
Wallstrasse 76-79, Mitte (880 0880, www.germany.embassy.gov.au). U2 Spittelmarkt. Open 8.30am- 5pm Mon-Thur; 8.30am-4.15pm Fri.

British Embassy
Wilhelmstrasse 70, Mitte (204 570, www.gov.uk/government/world/germany). S1, S2 Unter den Linden. Open 9.30am-noon Mon, Tue, Thur, Fri.

Embassy of Ireland
Jägerstrasse 51, Mitte (220 720, www.embassyofireland.de). U2, U6 Stadtmitte. Open 9.30am-12.30pm Mon-Fri, by appointment only. 

US Embassy
Clayallee 170, Zehlendorf (83050, visa enquiries 032 221 093 243, www.germany.usembassy.gov).
U3 Oskar-Helene-Heim. Open US citizen services by phone 2-3pm Mon-Thur (visits by appointment only). Visa enquiries By phone 8am- 8pm Mon-Fri.
A new US embassy building opened in 2008 on Pariser Platz, next to the Brandenburg Gate, but consular services still operate out of the original embassy in Zehlendorf. 

Emergencies

Police 110.
Ambulance/Fire Brigade 112.

Gay and lesbian

Lesbenberatung e.V.
Kulmer Strasse 20A, Schöneberg (215 2000/www.lesbenberatung-berlin.de). U7, S2, S25 Yorckstrasse. Open 2-5pm Mon, Wed, Fri; 10am-7pm Tue; 2-7pm Thur.
The Lesbian Advice Centre offers counselling in all areas of lesbian life as well as self-help groups, courses, cultural events and an 'info-café'.

Mann-O-Meter
Bülowstrasse 106, Schöneberg (216 8008/www.mann-o-meter.de). U2, U3, U4 Nollendorfplatz. Open 5pm-10pm Mon-Fri; 4pm-8pm Sat, Sun.
Drop-in centre and helpline. Advice about AIDS prevention, jobs, accommodation, gay contacts, plus cheap stocks of safer sex materials. English spoken.

Schwulenberatung
Niebuhrstrasse 59-60, Charlottenburg (office 2336 9070/counselling 194 46/www.schwulenberatungberlin.de). U7 Wilmersdorfer Strasse. Open 9am-8pm Mon-Fri.
The Gay Advice Centre provides information and counselling about HIV and AIDS, crisis intervention and advice on all aspects of gay life.

Health

EU countries have reciprocal medical treatment arrangements with Germany. EU citizens will need the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). From the UK, this is available by phoning 0845 606 2030 or online from www.ehic.org.uk. You'll need to provide your name, date of birth and national insurance number.

It does not cover all medical costs (for example dental treatment), so private insurance is not a bad idea, too. Citizens from non-EU countries should take out private medical insurance. The British Embassy publishes a list of English-speaking doctors and dentists, as well as lawyers and interpreters.

Should you fall ill in Berlin, you can take your EHIC to any doctor or hospital emergency department and get treatment.

All hospitals have a 24-hour emergency ward. Otherwise, patients are admitted to hospital via a physician. Hospitals are listed in the Gelbe Seiten (Yellow Pages) under Krankenhäuser/Kliniken.

Accident and emergency

The following are the most central hospitals. All have 24-hour emergency wards.

Charité
Schumann Strasse 20-21, Mitte (45050/www.charite.de). U6 Oranienburger Tor.

Klinikum Am Urban
Dieffenbachstrasse 1, Kreuzberg (130 210/www.vivantes.de/kau). U7 Südstern/bus M41.

St Hedwig Krankenhaus
Grosse Hamburger Strasse 5, Mitte (23110). S5, S7, S75 Hackescher Markt or S1, S2 Oranienburger Strasse.

Complementary medicine

There is a long tradition of alternative medicine (Heilpraxis) in Germany, and your medical insurance will usually cover treatment costs. For a full list of practitioners, look up Heilpraktiker in the Gelbe Seiten (Yellow Pages). There you'll find a complete list of chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, homoeopaths and healers of various kinds. However, note that homeopathic medicines are harder to get hold of and much more expensive than in the UK, and it's generally more difficult to find an osteopath or a chiropractor.

Contraception, abortion and childbirth

Family-planning clinics are thin on the ground in Germany, and generally you have to go to a gynaecologist (Frauenarzt). The abortion law was amended in 1995 to take into account the differing systems that had existed in East and West. East Germany had abortion on demand; in the West, abortion was only allowed in extenuating circumstances, such as when the health of the foetus or mother was at risk.

In a complicated compromise, abortion is still technically illegal, but is not punishable. Women wishing to terminate a pregnancy can do so only after receiving certification from a counsellor. Counselling is offered by state, lay and church bodies.

Feministisches Frauen Gesundheits Zentrum (FFGZ)
Bamberger Strasse 51, Schöneberg (213 9597/www.ffgz.de). U4, U7 Bayerischer Platz. Open 10am-noon Mon, Tue, Fri; 10am-noon, 4-6pm Thur.
Courses and lectures are offered on natural contraception, pregnancy, cancer, abortion, AIDS, migraines and sexuality. Self-help and preventative medicine are stressed. Information on gynaecologists, health institutions and organisations can also be obtained.

ProFamilia
Kalkreuthstrasse 4, Schöneberg (3984 9898/www.profamilia-berlin.de). U1, U2, U3 Wittenbergplatz. Open 3-6pm Mon, Tue, Thur; 9am-noon Sat.
Free advice about sex, contraception and abortion is offered here. Call for an appointment.

Dentists

Dr Andreas Bothe
Kurfürstendamm 193D, Charlottenburg (882 6767). U1 UhlandstrasseOpen 8am-2pm Mon, Wed, Fri; 2-8pm Tue, Thur.

Doctors

If you don't know of any doctors in Berlin, or are too ill to leave your bed, phone the Emergency Doctor's Service (Ärztlicher Bereitschaftdienst 310 031). This service specialises in dispatching doctors for house calls. The charges vary according to the treatment required by the patient.

The British Embassy can provide a list of English-speaking doctors, although you'll find that most doctors speak some English. All will be expensive, however, so be sure to have either your EHIC or your private insurance documents at hand if seeking treatment.

The doctors listed below speak excellent English.

Dr Joseph Francis Aman
Franzisksus Krankenhaus, Budapester Strasse 15-19, Tiergarten (2638 3503). U2, U9, S5, S7, S75 Zoologischer GartenOpen 8am-6pm, Mon, Tue, Thur; 8am-1pm Fri.
Dr Aman is an American GP with a practice in the Roman Catholic hospital opposite the Intercontinental Hotel.

Dr Christine Rommelspacher
Oldenburger Strasse 37, Tiergarten (391 1701) U9 TurmstrasseOpen 9am-noon, 4-7pm Mon, Thur; 9am-noon Tue, Wed.

HIV & Aids

Berliner Aids-Hilfe (BAH)

Kurfürstenstrasse 130, Tiergarten (885 6400, advice line 19411, www.berliner-aidshilfe.de). U1, U2, U3, U4 Nollendorfplatz. Open noon-6pm Mon; noon-2.30pm Wed; noon-3pm Thur, Fri. Advice line noon-10pm Mon-Wed.
Information on all aspects of HIV and AIDS. Free consultations, condoms and lubricant are also provided. 

Pharmacies

Prescription and non-prescription drugs (including aspirin) are sold only at pharmacies (Apotheken). You can recognise these by a red 'A' outside the front door. A list of the nearest pharmacies open on Sundays and in the evening should be displayed in the window of every pharmacy. You can get a list of Notdienst-Apotheken (emergency pharmacies) online at www.akberlin.de/notdienst.

Helplines

Berliner Krisendienst
www.berlinerkrisendienst.de

Mitte, Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Tiergarten & Wedding (390 6310).
Charlottenburg & Wilmersdorf (390 6320).
Prenzlauer Berg, Weissensee & Pankow (390 6340).
Schöneberg, Tempelhof, Steglitz (390 6360).
All Open 24hrs daily.

For most problems, this is the best service to call. It offers help and/or counselling on a range of subjects, and if they can't provide exactly what you're looking for, they'll put you in touch with someone who can. The phone lines, organised by district, are staffed 24 hours daily. Counsellors will also come and visit you in your house if necessary.

Drogen Notdienst
Genthiner Strasse 48, Schöneberg (19237/www.drogennotdienst.de). U1 Kufurstenstrasse. Open 8am-9.30pm Mon-Fri; 2-9.30 Sat, Sun. Phone line 24hrs daily.
At the 'drug emergency service', no appointment is necessary if you're coming in for advice.

Frauenkrisentelefon
615 4243, www.frauenkrisentelefon.deOpen 10am-noon Mon, Thur; 3-5pm Tue; 7-9pm Wed, Fri; 2-9.30pm Sat, Sun.
Offers advice and information for women on anything and everything.

ID

By law you are required to carry some form of ID, which, for UK and US citizens, means a passport. If police catch you without one, they may accompany you to wherever you've left it.

Internet

Many cafés, bars and restaurants will offer free wi-fi, though the networks are usually password- protected. For longer stays, a number of local mobile networks offer affordable data plans.

Sidewalk Express Internet Point

Dunkin’ Donuts, Sony Center, Tiergarten (www.sidewalkexpress.com). U2, S1, S2, S25 Potsdamer Platz. Open 7am-1am Mon-Fri; 8am-1am Sat. 
Dozens of computers, no staff, mechanised system to buy time online, and plenty of doughnuts to hand. Some other branches are similarly lodged with Dunkin’ Donuts.

Other locations
Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, Potdsdamer Platz; Bahnhof Alexanderplatz Dunkin Donuts; Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten; Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse (ground floor, and Dunkin Donuts basement); Hauptbahnhof Burger King. 

Left luggage

Airports
There is a left luggage office at Tegel (4101 2315; open 5am-10.30pm daily) and lockers at Schönefeld (in the Multi Parking Garage P4).

Rail and bus stations
There are left luggage lockers at Bahnhof Zoo, Friedrichstrasse, Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, Ostbahnhof and Hauptbahnhof. In addition, Zentraler Omnibus Bahnhof (ZOB) also provides left-luggage facilities.

Legal help

If you get into legal difficulties, contact your embassy: it can provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers in Berlin.

Libraries

Berlin has hundreds of Bibliotheken/Büchereien (public libraries). To borrow books, you will be required to bring two things: an Anmeldungsformular ('Certificate of Registration') and a passport.

Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek
Blücherplatz 1, Kreuzberg (9022 6401/www.zlb.de). U1, U6 Hallesches Tor. Open 10am-9pm Mon-Fri; 10am-7pm Sat. Membership per year €10; students €5.
This library only contains a small collection of English and American literature, but it has an excellent collection of English-language videos and many DVDs.

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Haus Potsdamer Strasse
Potsdamer Strasse 33, Tiergarten (266 433 888/www.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de). U2, S1, S2, S25 Potsdamer Platz. Open 9am-9pm Mon-Fri; 9am-7pm Sat.
Books in English on every subject are available at this branch of the state library – as seen in Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire.

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Haus Unter den Linden
Dorotheenstrasse 27, Mitte (266 433 888/www.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de). U6, S1, S2, S5, S7, S9 Friedrichstrasse. Open 9am-9pm Mon-Fri; 10am-7pm Sat.
A smaller range of English books than the branch above, but it's still worth a visit, not least for its café.

Lost/stolen property

If any of your belongings are stolen while in Germany, you should go immediately to the police station nearest to where the incident occurred (listed in the Gelbe Seiten/Yellow Pages under Polizei) and report the theft. There you will be required to fill in report forms for insurance purposes. If you can't speak German, don't worry: the police will call in one of their interpreters, a service that is provided free of charge.

If you leave something in a taxi, call the number that's on your receipt (if you remembered to ask for one), and tell them the time of your journey, the four-digit Konzessions-Nummer that will be stamped on the receipt, a number where you can be reached, and what you've lost. They'll pass this information to the driver, and he or she will call you if they have your property.

BVG Fundbüro
Potsdamer Strasse 180, Schöneberg (194 49). U7 Kleistpark.Open Office 9am-6pm Mon-Thur; 9am-2pm Fri.
Contact this office if you have any queries about property lost on Berlin's public transport system. If you are robbed on one of their vehicles, you can ask about the surveillance video.

Zentrales Fundbüro
Platz der Luftbrücke 6, Tempelhof (902 773 101). U6 Platz der LuftbrückeOpen 9am-2pm Mon, Tue, Fri; 1-6pm Thur.
This is the central police lost property office.

Media

Foreign press

A wide variety of international publications are available at larger railway stations and Internationale Presse newsagents around town. Bookshops Dussmann also carries international titles. The monthly Exberliner magazine has listings, as well as articles on cultural and political topics in English.

National newspapers

Bild
www.bild.de
The flagship tabloid of the Axel Springer group. Though its credibility varies from story to story, Bild leverages the journalistic resources of the Springer empire and its three-million circulation to land regular scoops.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
www.faz.net
Germany’s de facto newspaper of record. Stolid, exhaustive coverage of daily events, plus lots of analysis, particularly on the business pages.

Handelsblatt
www.handelsblatt.com
The closest thing Germany can offer to the Wall Street Journal, the Handelsblatt co-operates with that paper’s European offshoot.

Süddeutsche Zeitung
www.sueddeutsche.de
Based in Munich, the Süddeutsche blends first-rate journalism with enlightened commentary and uninspired visuals. On Fridays, there’s an English-language feature supplement called The New York Times International Weekly.

Die Tageszeitung
www.taz.de
Set up in rebellious Kreuzberg in the 1970s, the ‘taz’ attempts to balance the world view of the mainstream press and give coverage to alternative political and social issues.

Die Welt
www.welt.de
Once a lacklustre mouthpiece of conservative, provincial thinking, Die Welt has widened its political horizons, though it’s still thought of as a yuppy paper. Not very popular in Berlin.

Local newspapers

Berliner Morgenpost
www.morgenpost.de
This rather staid broadsheet is the favourite of the petty bourgeois. Reasonable local coverage, and it’s gained readers in the East through the introduction of neighbourhood editions, but there’s no depth on the national and international pages.

Berliner Zeitung 
www.berliner-zeitung.de
This East Berlin paper has passed through the hands of a number of owners since it was relaunched in the early 1990s. Though it is profitable and its journalistic ambitions less sullied than of its West Berlin competitor, Der Tagesspiegel, it remains a local read, with a circulation largely confined to the Eastern districts.

BZ
www.bz-berlin.de
The daily riot of polemic and pictures hasn’t let up since it was demonised by the left in the 1970s – but its circulation has.

Der Tagesspiegel
www.tagesspiegel.de
Owned by the conservative Holtzbrinck publishing empire from West Germany, this paper has fallen from the pre-eminent position it once held in West Berlin. The paper has dumbed down to boost circulation, losing the intellectual underpinnings that once attracted well-educated, upmarket readers.

Weekly newspapers

Freitag
www.freitag.de
‘The East-West weekly paper’ is a post-1989 relaunch of a GDR intellectual weekly. Worth a look for its political and cultural articles.

Jungle World
www.jungle-world.com
Defiantly left, graphically switched-on and commercially undaunted, this Berlin-based weekly can be relied on to mock the comfortable views of the mainstream press. Born of an ideological dispute with the publishers of Junge Welt, a former East Berlin youth title, it lacks sales but packs a punch.

Die Zeit
www.zeit.de
Every major post-war intellectual debate in Germany has been carried out in the pages of Die Zeit, the newspaper that proved that a liberal tradition was alive and well in a country best known for excesses of intolerance. The style of its elite authors makes a difficult read.

Magazines

Focus
www.focus.de
Once, its spare, to-the-point articles, four-colour graphics and service features were a welcome innovation. But the gloss has faded, and Focus has established itself as a non-thinking man’s Der Spiegel, whose answer to the upstart was simply to print more colour pages and become warm and fuzzy by adding bylines.

Der Spiegel
www.spiegel.de
Few journalistic institutions in Germany possess the resources and clout to pursue a major story in the way that Der Spiegel can, making it one of the best and most aggressive news weeklies in Europe. After years of firing barbs at ruling Christian Democrats, Der Spiegel was caught off guard when the Social Democrats were elected in 1999, but remains a must-read for anyone interested in Germany’s power structure. There’s substantial English content on its website.

Stern
www.stern.de
The heyday of news pictorials may have long gone, but Stern still manages to shift around a million copies a week of big colour spreads detailing the horrors of war, the beauties of nature and the curves of the female body. Nevertheless, some say its reputation has never really recovered from the Hitler diaries fiasco in the early 1980s.

Listings magazines

Berlin is awash with free listings magazines, notably [030] (www.berlin030.de; music, nightlife, film) and Partysan (www.partysan.net; a pocket-sized club guide) and their gay cousins Siegessaeule (www.siegessaeule.de) and Blu (www.blu.fm). These can be picked up in bars and restaurants. Two newsstand fortnightlies, Zitty and Tip, come out on alternate weeks and, at least for cinema information, it pays to get the current title.

Exberliner
www.exberliner.com
Berlin’s current English-language monthly is a lively mix of listings, reviews and commentary, mostly written by youngish American expats.

Tip
www.tip-berlin.de
A glossier version of Zitty in every respect, Tip gets better marks for its overall presentation and readability, largely due to higher-quality paper, full colour throughout and a space-saving TV insert.

Zitty
www.zitty.de
Having lost some countercultural edge since its founding in 1977, Zitty remains a vital force on the Berlin media scene, providing a fortnightly blend of close-to-the-bone civic journalism, alternative cultural coverage and comprehensive listings. The Harte Welle (‘hardcore’) department of its Lonely Hearts classifieds is legendary.

Television

Germany cabled up in the late 1970s, so there is no shortage of channels. But television has never been
viewed as an art form. That means programming revolves around bland, mass-market entertainment, except for political talk shows, which are pervasive, but often very good.

At its worst, there are cheesy ‘erotic’ shows, vapid folk-music programmes with studio audiences that clap in time, and German adaptations of reality TV and casting shows such as Big Brother and Star Search. Late-night TV, in particular, is chock-a-block with imported action series and European soft porn, interspersed with finger-sucking adverts for telephone sex numbers.

There are two national public networks, ARD and ZDF, a handful of no-holds-barred commercial channels, and a load of special-interest channels. ARD’s daily Tagesschau at 8pm is the most authoritative news broadcast nationally.

N-tv is Germany’s all-news cable channel, owned partly by CNN, but lacking the satellite broadcaster’s ability to cover a breaking story. TVBerlin is the city’s experiment with local commercial television, but it’s still catching up with ARD’s local affiliate RBB (a merger of Berlin and Brandenburg stations SFB and ORB), which covers local news with more insight.

RTL, Pro7 and SAT.1 are privately owned services offering a predictable mix of Hollywood re-runs and imported series, plus their own sensational magazine programmes and, sometimes, surprisingly good TV movies.

Special interest channels run from Kinderkanal for kids to Eurosport, MTV Europe and its German-language competitor Viva, to Arte, an enlightened French-German cultural channel with high-quality films and documentaries.

Channels broadcasting regularly in English include CNN, NBC, MTV Europe and BBC World. British or American films on ARD or ZDF are sometimes broadcast with a simultaneous soundtrack in English for stereo-equipped TV sets.

Radio

Some 29 stations compete for audiences in Berlin, so even tiny shifts in market share have huge consequences for broadcasters. The race for ratings in the greater metropolitan area is thwarted by a clear split between the urban audience in both East and West and a rural one in the hinterland. The main four stations in the region have their audiences based in either Berlin (Berliner Rundfunk, 91.4; r.s.2, 94.3) or Brandenburg (BB Radio, 107.5; Antenne Brandenburg, 99.7). No single station is able to pull in everyone.

Commercial stations 104.6 RTL (104.6) and Energy 103.4 (103.4) offer standard chart pop spiced with news. RadioEins (95.8) is the most adventurous, offering mostly new and old indie music, while Fritz (102.6) plays things a little safer. Jazz is round the clock on Jazz Radio (106.8). Information-based stations such as Info Radio (93.1) are increasing in popularity. The BBC World Service (90.2) is available 24 hours a day. 

Money

One euro (€) is made up of 100 cents. There are seven banknotes and eight coins. The notes are of differing colours and sizes (€5 is the smallest, €500 the largest) and each of their designs represent a different period of European architecture.

They are: €5 (grey-green), €10 (red), €20 (blue), €50 (orange), €100 (green), €200 (yellow-brown), €500 (purple).

The eight denominations of coins vary in colour, size and thickness - but not enough to make them easy to tell apart. They share one common side; the other features a country-specific design (all can be used in any participating state). They are: €2, €1, 50 cents, 20 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents, 2 cents, 1 cent.

ATMs

ATMs are found throughout the centre of Berlin, and are the most convenient way of obtaining cash. Most major credit cards are accepted, as well as debit cards that are part of the Cirrus, Plus, Star or Maestro systems. You will normally be charged a fee for withdrawing cash.

Banks and bureaux de change

Foreign currency and travellers' cheques can be exchanged in most banks. Wechselstuben (bureaux de change) are open outside normal banking hours and give better rates than banks, where changing money often involves long queues.

Reisebank AG
Zoo Station, Hardenbergplatz, Charlottenburg (881 7117/www.reisebank.de). U2, U9, S5, S7, S75 Zoologischer GartenOpen 8am-9pm daily.
The Wechselstuben of the Reisebank offer good exchange rates, and can be found at the bigger stations.
Other locations: Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse, Mitte (2045 5096); Berlin Hauptbahnhof, Tiergarten (2045 3761); Ostbahnhof, Friedrichshain (296 4393).

Credit cards

In general, German banking and retail systems are less enthusiastic about credit than their UK or US equivalents, though this is gradually changing. Many Berliners prefer to use cash for most transactions, although larger hotels, shops and restaurants often accept major credit cards (American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa).

If you want to draw cash on your credit card, some banks will give an advance against Visa and MasterCard cards. However, you may not be able to withdraw less than the equivalent of US$100. A better option is using an ATM. 

Lost/stolen cards

If you've lost a credit card, or had one stolen, phone one of the 24-hour emergency numbers listed below.

American Express 069 9797 2000.
Diners Club 0180 5070 704.
MasterCard 0800 819 1040.
Visa 0800 811 8440.

Tax

Non-EU citizens can claim back German value-added tax (Mehrwertsteuer or MwSt) on goods purchased in the country (it's only worth the hassle on sizeable purchases). Ask the shop to provide a Tax-Free Shopping Cheque for the amount of the refund and present this, with the receipt, at the airport's refund office before checking in bags.

Opening hours

Most banks are open 9am to noon Monday to Friday, and 1pm to 3pm or 2pm to 6pm on varied weekdays. Shops can stay open from 6am to 10pm, except on Sundays and holidays, though few take full advantage of the fact. Big stores tend to open at 9am and close between 8pm and 10pm. Most smaller shops will close around 6pm.

An increasing number of all-purpose neighbourhood shops (Späti) stay open until around midnight. Many Turkish shops are open on Saturday afternoons and on Sundays from 1pm to 5pm. Many bakers open to sell cakes on Sundays from 2pm to 4pm. Most 24-hour petrol stations and many internet cafés also sell basic groceries.

The opening times of bars vary, but many are open during the day, and most stay open until at least 1am, if not through until morning.

Most post offices are open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. 

Police stations

You are unlikely to come in contact with the Polizei, unless you commit a crime or are the victim of one. There are few patrols or traffic checks.
The central police HQ can be found at Platz der Luftbrücke 6, Tempelhof (46640), and there are local stations at: Kruppstrasse 2, Mitte; Charlottenburger Chausee 67, Charlottenburg; Friesenstrasse 16, Kreuzberg; Eiswaldtstrasse 18, Schöneberg. But police will be dispatched from the appropriate office if you just dial 46640. For emergencies, dial 110.

Post offices

Most post offices (simply Post in German) are open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 1pm Saturday. For non-local mail, use the Andere Richtungen ('other destinations') slot in post-boxes. Letters of up to 20g to anywhere in Germany cost €0.60 in postage. For postcards it's €0.45. For anywhere outside Germany, a 20g airmail letter or postcard costs €0.75.

Postamt Friedrichstrasse
Georgenstrasse 14-18, Mitte (0228 4333 111). U6, S1, S2, S5, S7, S25, S75 Friedrichstrasse. Open 6am-10pm Mon-Fri; 8am-10pm Sat, Sun.
Berlin has no main post office. However, this branch, which is inside Friedrichstrasse station, keeps the longest opening hours of the Berlin offices.

Poste restante

Poste restante facilities are available at the main post offices of each district. Address them to the recipient 'Postlagernd,' followed by the address of the post office, or collect them from the counter marked Postlagernde Sendungen. Take your passport with you.

Safety and security

Though crime is increasing, Berlin remains a safe city by Western standards. Even for a woman, it's pretty safe to walk around alone at night in most central areas of the city. However, avoid the Eastern working-class suburbs if you look gay or non-German. Pickpockets are not unknown around tourist areas. Use some common sense.

Smoking

Many Berliners smoke, though the habit is in decline. Smoking is banned on public transport, in theatres and many public institutions. Many bars and restaurants have closed-off smoking rooms. Smaller, one-room establishments (under 75 square metres) may allow smoking if they want to, but must post a sign outside denoting a 'Raucherkneipe' (smoker pub). There's no problem with smoking at outside tables - which means that even in winter there are now lots of places with outside tables.

Study

Germany’s university system is currently in a state of flux. Under the Bologna Process (the EU’s initiative to create a unified standard of education throughout Europe), the traditional Magister degree – which lasts between nine and 12 terms, during which time students can take a wide variety of courses – is being replaced by internationally recognised bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Confusion reigns among lecturers, and the gradual changeover has created a two-tiered system, with students on different courses at the same university receiving discrepant levels of education. Magister students are often favoured by employers because of the length and depth of the degree compared to the three-year bachelor.

Berlin retains its pull on scholars from across the world. There are currently almost 150,000 students in the city – approximately ten per cent of whom are foreigners – divided between four universities and 16 subject-specific colleges.

Language classes

Goethe-Institut
Neue Schönhauser Strasse 20, Mitte (259 063, www.goethe.de). U8 Weinmeisterstrasse, or S5, S7, S75 Hackescher Markt. 
Although considerably more expensive than most of its competitors (a four-week course costs €1,070, or €1,580 with accommodation), the Goethe-Institut offers the most systematic and intensive language courses in the city. Enrolled students can benefit from extra-curricular conversation classes, as well as a cultural extension programme that organises regular cinema, theatre and museum visits. Exams can be taken (with certificates awarded) at the end of every course.

Tandem
Bötzowstrasse 26, Prenzlauer Berg (441 3003, www.tandem-berlin.de). U2 Eberswalder Strasse.
For a €5 administrative fee, Tandem will put you in touch with German speakers interested in conversation exchange. Formal language classes are also available at €370 a month.

Universities

Freie Universität Berlin
Central administration, Kaiserswerther Strasse 16-18, Dahlem (information 8381, www.fu-berlin.de). U3 Dahlem-Dorf.
Germany’s largest university was founded in 1948, after the Humboldt fell under East German control. Centre of the 1969 student movement, the FU was for a long time a hotbed of romantic left-wing dissent. Sadly, though, not much of this idealism remains. Since the Wall came down, the FU lost much of its prestige and influence to its fierce rival, the newly restructured Humboldt, and the vast, anonymous campus is embroiled in the same bureaucratic structures as any other modern (and German) university. However, the FU got one up on the Humboldt with its relatively new ‘elite university’ status. The resulting €21 million a year for proposed new research projects is welcome in the strapped-for-cash capital.

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HUB)
Unter den Linden 6, Mitte (20930, www.hu-berlin.de). U6, S1, S2, S5, S7, S25, S75 Friedrichstrasse.
Humboldt was founded in 1810 by the humanist Willem von Humboldt. Hegel and Schopenhauer both taught there, Karl Marx was a student, and other departments have included the likes of Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Heinrich Heine and Max Planck. The HU entered a dark period in the 1930s, when professors and students joined enthusiastically in the Nazi book-burning on Bebelplatz. After 1945, the university fell into decline under Communism. Since 1989, the HU has regained much of its former reputation.

Sprach-und Kulturbörse an der TU Berlin
Raum 411, Fraunhoferstrasse 33-36, Charlottenburg (3142 2730, www.skb.tu-berlin.de). U2 Ernst- Reuter-Platz.
The TU’s Language and Cultural Exchange Programme for foreigners, the SKB is open to students from any university in Berlin. It offers a range of services, including language courses and seminars on international issues.

Technische Universitt Berlin (TU)
Strasse des 17 Juni 135, Tiergarten (3140, www.tu-berlin.de). U2 Ernst- Reuter-Platz.
The TU began life in 1879 and is strong in chemistry, engineering and architecture. In the 1930s, the emphasis on development, business and construction made the TU a priority for the Nazi government, which allocated it more funds than any other university in the country. After the war, the TU was reopened under its current name and expanded to include philosophy, psychology and the social sciences. It is now (with some 30,000 students, 19 per cent of whom are foreigners) one of Germany’s largest universities.

Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK)
Hardenbergstrasse 33, Charlottenburg (31850, www. udk-berlin.de). U2, U9, S5, S7, S75 Zoologischer Garten.
Formerly the Hochschule der Künste (a name most Berliners still use), this was founded in 1975 as a single vocational academy comprising the former Colleges of Art, Drama, Music and Printing. The range of subjects has been broadened over the years, and courses are now offered in everything from fashion design to experimental film and media. The eclectic variety of artistic and academic disciplines, along with the appointments of some high- profile teachers, has secured the UdK a well-deserved reputation as one of the best establishments
of its kind in Europe.

Useful organisations

Studentenwerk Berlin
Behrenstrasse 40-41, Mitte (939 3970, www.studentenwerk-berlin.de). U6 Französische Strasse. Open InfoPoint 8am-4pm Mon-Wed; 10am-6pm Thur; 8am-3pm Fri.
The central organisation for students in Berlin will give advice and provide information about accommodation, finance, employment and various other essentials.
Other locations InfoPoints: Hardenbergstrasse 34, Charlottenburg; Otto-von Simson-Strasse 26, Dahlem. 

Telephones

All phone numbers on this site are local Berlin numbers. Numbers beginning 0180 have higher tariffs, and numbers beginning 015, 016 or 017 are mobiles.

Dialling and codes

To phone Berlin from abroad, dial the international access code (00 from the UK, 011 from the US, 0011 from Australia), then 49 (for Germany) and 30 (for Berlin), followed by the local number.

To phone another country from Germany, dial 00, then the relevant country code: Australia 61; Canada 1; Ireland 353; New Zealand 64; United Kingdom 44; United States 1. Then, dial the local area code (minus the initial zero) and the local number.

To call Berlin from elsewhere in Germany, dial 030 and then the local number.

Making a call 

Numbers prefixed 0180 are service numbers charged at €0.04-€0.14 per minute when calling from a landline, and up to €0.42 per minute when calling from a mobile, depending on the network’s policies. 

Public phones

Most public phones give you the option of cards or coins, and from Telekom phones (the ones with the magenta 'T') you also can send SMSs. Phonecards can be bought at post offices and in newsagents for various sums from €5 to €50.

Operator services

For online directory enquiries, go to www.teleauskunft.de.

International directory enquiries 11834.
Operator assistance/German directory enquiries 11833 (11837 in English).
Phone repairs 080 0330 2000.
Time (Zeitansage) 0180 4100 100 (automated, in German).

Mobile phones

Check with your service provider before leaving about service while you’re in Germany. US mobile phone users should call their phone provider before departure to check their mobile’s compatibility with GSM bands. 

Time

Germany is on Central European Time - one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. When summer time is in effect, London is one hour behind Berlin, New York is six hours behind, San Francisco is nine hours behind, and Sydney is nine hours ahead.

Germany uses a 24-hour system. 8am is '8 Uhr' (usually written 8h), noon is '12 Uhr Mittags' or just '12 Uhr', 5pm is '17 Uhr' and midnight is '12 Uhr Mitternachts' or just 'Mitternacht'. 8.15 is '8 Uhr 15' or 'Viertel nach 8'; 8.30 is '8 Uhr 30' or 'halb 9'; and 8.45 is '8 Uhr 45' or 'Viertel vor 9'.

Tipping

A 10 per cent service charge will already be part of your restaurant bill, but it's common to leave a small tip too. In a taxi round up the bill to the nearest euro.

Toilets

Coin-operated, self-cleaning 'City Toilets' are becoming the norm. The toilets in main stations are looked after by an attendant and are pretty clean. Restaurants and cafés have to let you use their toilets by law and legally they can't refuse you a glass of water either.

Tourist information

EurAide
DB Reisezentrum, Hauptbahnhof, Tiergarten (www.euraide.de). S5, S7, S9, S75 Hauptbahnhof. Open Mar, Apr 11am-7pm Mon-Fri. May-July 10am-8pm Mon-Fri. Aug-Oct 10am-7pm Mon-Fri. Nov 11am-6.30pm Mon-Fri. Dec 10am-7.30pm Mon-Fri.
Staff advise on sights, hostels, tours and transport, and sell rail tickets.

VisitBerlin
250 025, www.visitberlin.de.
Berlin’s official (if private) tourist organisation has information points at Kurfürstendamm 22, Charlottenburg; Brandenburg Gate; Hauptbahnhof (ground floor, Europaplatz exit); Tegel Airport (next to gate 1); and at the base of the TV Tower at Alexanderplatz. All are open daily. 

Visas and immigration

A passport valid for three months beyond the length of stay is all that is required for UK, EU, US, Canadian and Australian citizens for a stay in Germany of up to three months. Citizens of EU countries with valid national ID cards need only show their ID cards. Citizens of other countries should check with their local German embassy or consulate whether a visa is required. As with any trip, confirm visa requirements well before you plan to travel.

Residence permits

For stays of longer than three months, you’ll need a residence permit. EU citizens, and those of Andorra, Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Malta, New Zealand and the US, can obtain one by doing the following.

First, you need to register at your local Anmeldungsamt (registration office) – there’s one in the Bürgeramt (citizens office) of every district.
A list can be found at www.berlin.de/politik-und-verwaltung/buergerservice. You don’t need an appointment, but expect to wait. Bring your passport and proof of a Berlin address. You’ll be issued with an Anmeldungsbestätigung – a form confirming you have registered at the Anmeldungsamt.

At this point, take your Anmeldungsbestätigung to the Landesamt für Bürger und Ordnungsangelegenheiten Ausländerbehörde in the Moabit district of Tiergarten. Also bring your passport, two passport photos and something to read. There are always huge queues and it takes forever – people start queuing hours before the office opens – but all you can do is take a number and wait. Eventually, you will be issued with an Aufenthaltserlaubnis – a residence permit. If you have a work contract, bring it – you may be granted a longer stay.

If you’re unsure about your status, contact the German Embassy in your country of origin, or your own embassy or consulate in Berlin.

Landesamt für Bürger und Ordnungsangelegenheiten Ausländerbehörde
Friedrich-Krause-Ufer 24, Tiergarten (info 902 690, www.berlin.de/labo/auslaender/dienstleistungen). U9, S41, S42 Westhafen. Open 7am-2pm Mon, Tue; 10am-6pm Thur (or by appointment via email).

When to go

Berlin has a continental climate, which means that it’s hot in summer and cold in winter. In January and February, the city often ices over. Spring begins in late March/early April. May and June are the most beautiful months.

On public holidays (Feiertagen), it can be difficult to get things done in Berlin. However, most cafés, bars and restaurants stay open – except on the evening of December 24, when almost everything closes. 

Women

Women's centres

EWA Frauenzentrum
Prenzlauer Allee 6, Prenzlauer Berg (442 5542, www.ewa-frauenzentrum.de). U2 Senefelderplatz. Open 11am-10pm Mon-Thur; varies Fri-Sun.
Website in German only. 

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