Explore Berlin in 90 seconds.
Back and forth. Back and forth. He walked from the door of the restaurant to the outdoor patio for five straight hours. Each time, carrying at least 1 liter of beer, and at times carrying up to 6 liters of beer. The hard working old man was working on a Sunday, serving some crazy Americans who were (over)celebrating their friend’s recent Berlin marathon finish.
Back and forth. Back and forth. All night long, for six hours straight, he never stopped smiling. He made sure our liters were never empty. He joked with us and laughed with us. About three hours in, he introduced himself as Ralph. He even began joking and dancing with us. When he carried out the beers, we shouted, “Ralph!!!!!” applauding him for his great service.
Halfway through the night I noticed Ralph was hugging a family from afar. He gave a child a kiss on her head and hugged a few others. I could tell they were his family by the way he treated with them. He continued to serve us, stopping to enjoy a few minutes of family’s company who were sitting at a table inside each time he went in to refill our liters. It wasn’t long until I noticed Ralph’s feet were deformed. They were oddly shaped, causing him to walk on the outside of his foot.
How could this man be so happy? He was working as a waiter on a Sunday away from his family as they enjoyed a nice dinner together. His deformed feet and tired hands hadn’t had a rest in six hours. He was watching his American customers have the time of their lives celebrating life.
And he never stopped smiling. Ralph’s smile taught me something that night. He taught me always to be happy and thankful. Life can be tricky. It can feel like you’re walking the same path over and over again, back and forth, with deformed feet and tired arms. During those times, you just have to smile and be grateful that you have the opportunity to walk because things could always be worst.
Danke schoen, Ralph.
To witness Ralph’s extremely positive attitude and smile, visit him at the Bombay Indisches Restaurant in Berlin.
Tipping is always a topic of discussion while traveling abroad. In America, it’s common to tip 20%. In Italy, just a few extra Euros would bring me extra bread and a free half gallon of wine. In Prague, an extra koruna or two got you loads of gratitude and an after dinner shot for free at times. In Germany, I learned a very different lesson about tipping.
Late night Berlin celebrations led my friends and me to a feast at a bodega where we bought out the deli and wine aisle. We cheered to my friends’ recent Berlin marathon finish. Not only did he finish, but he beat his goal. Prost! Soon, cell phones were dead, and we had no way to get back to our Airbnb. My friend went inside the bodega and asked the cashier if he could plug in his phone. The man recited something in broken English and offered out his outlet. My friend took out some coins and replied “Danke. Here you go.”
The cashier motioned no with his hands. “I don’t accept tips here. I sell my products for the price they are marked. More money will not make me happy.”
“But you did something extra for me. So here’s a tip,” explained my friend.
The man motioned no again, and my friend placed the coin on the counter.
“Look at me,” demanded the cashier.
My friend looked at him.
“Being human isn’t extra,” replied the cashier and he passed the coin back to my friend.
How do you tip in Germany? You tip in kindness. Pay it forward.
As I stepped off of the plane at the Berlin airport, I quickly pulled out my passport, holding it like one of those characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who won one fo those golden tickets The long-awaited stamp on my passport was about to happen. I had managed to have customs organize my Italian stamps so well back in the Spring, and I had found the perfect place for my Berlin stamp on page 3. I walked and walked and walked and soon realized; there would be no stamp in Berlin. Disappointed was an overstatement. Why was the stamp so important? Because it branded (no pun intended since I’m a brand strategist 🙂 ) me as a temporary resident of Berlin for the next four days. My blank page 3 looked disappointed as well.
After a long journey by train and foot, we arrived at our Airbnb in a cozy little neighborhood in Berlin, but our apartment was difficult to find due to lack of technology, sim cards, and a delayed schedule. We found our building and my boyfriend hunted to find the internet to get the key from our Airbnb host. I sat on the steps of the apartment, still upset that my passport would never tell the story of my travels to Berlin and overwhelmed by jetlag. I just wanted to get in the apartment, take a shower, and unpack.
I began to notice the neighborhood. It suddenly hit me that it was not an ordinary neighborhood. People set out their glass and plastic bottles outside the public garbage cans so those who were less fortunate could trade them in for money. Older kids rode their bikes slower, so their younger siblings didn’t have to ride home alone from school. People shouted from balconies “Hallo” and asked if they wanted a coffee from the shop down the street. Another tenant in the building even offered us her phone and let us in the lobby so we could take a break from the sun. Was I witnessing extreme amounts of kindness in this foreign city? It seemed so much different than anywhere I had visited.
Soon, our wonderful host Vilius arrived. He was a no-nonsense type of man and welcomed us as if we were his friends. He pulled out a map, telling us where to go and what to see. He warned us about the not so nice parts of town. The apartment was clean and modern. No complaints! I highly recommend staying at his place if you visit Berlin. He was patient and kind despite our late arrival and he even cracked a smile behind his stern, Germany personality. He seemed to fit right in with the other nice folks in the neighborhood.
It hit me after a few days. It wasn’t the wonderful apartment or Vilius’ amazing hospitality that made our stay so wonderful. It was the apartment’s front steps and windows that overlooked the neighborhood. It was the people that lived outside the walls of our Airbnb. They helped us experience what it means to be a Berliner: kind. If it weren’t for Airbnb, we would have never experienced the people of Berlin the way we did. I gave Vilius’ apartment five stars, and his front porch ten stars. 🙂 I wish there were a “made me feel like a local” rating dimension for Airbnb.
Sometimes it’s not about the cleanliness of the apartment or how many beds it holds or if the WiFi is fact. Sometimes it’s about if your Airbnb apartment will introduce you to new people and make you feel like a true local. I soon realized I no longer needed a passport stamp to feel like a Berliner. I just needed to be kind to everyone around me. Thanks to Vilius’ Airbnb apartment, I learned what it means to be a Berliner.
Check out Vilus’ place here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/88981?checkin=09%2F24%2F2015&checkout=09%2F28%2F2015&guests=3&s=XKpw