Vanlife in Berlin: Learn the best tricks nobody taught us!

There aren’t many places where we stay as long as we spent our vanlife in Berlin. Part of that was, because I could really identify with the young startup city. The other reason was, that - once figured out the basics - it was actually really easy living in the van.

There aren’t many places where we stay as long as we spent our vanlife in Berlin. Part of that was, because I could really identify with the young startup city. The other reason was, that – once figured out the basics – it was actually really easy living in the van.

 

There’s no hiding for Vanlife in Berlin

Van with front yardWhile we had had to live in constant fear of having the police come up to us in Vienna, Berlin proved to be the exact opposite.
Countless times the police passed our van Mercury, without even considering to stop.

Why is that? Simply because the entire street was filled with vans, RVs and people reciding in them.

Everybody had warned us, how hard it would be to live in a van in Berlin. But – as so often – all the fear producing warnings turned out to be wrong.

 

Parking the van in Berlin

Berlin has a couple of hurdles for van dwellers, but parking isn’t one of them.


Fire fighter vans are very popularOnce you arrive, you will realise, that there are camper vans scattered all over the city. A few have even established little spots, called ‘Wagenplatz’ (wagon square), where they park their caravans, and construction site wagons to live in them. Those are usually settled and not for travellers, though.

Genereally, Berlin was the first (and to this day the only) place I’ve been, where you can find so many caravans, just parked on the street. Some of them very obviously inhabited. People simply don’t care.

 

Umweltzone to ruin everything?

I hardly dare to write this down here, but it seems like – at least in Berlin – nobody actually controlls the green stickers, cars have to have in order to be allowed inside the Umweltzone.

What is the Umweltzone? It translates to ‘environmental zone’. You can find it in most German cities, and Berlin is one of them. At some point – going towrds the city center – you will encounter signs, saying ‘Umweltzone’. From that point on, you better have a green sticker (workshops can check if your vehicle would get the green, yellow or the red sticker).

That’s the theory. In reality, the capital of Germany has far too little police staff in order to make vanlife in Berlin hard.

This might change in the future, though.

 

Tempelhofer Feld as vanlife gold mine

Sunset above the Tempelhofer FeldThe Tempelhofer Feld is the former air port of Berlin. These days it’s being used as a huge park, that’s perfect for wind sports and biking.

Another thing it’s perfect for, is parking next to it.

As a matter of fact, the almost two months we lived in Berlin, we stayed parked outside the South East fence of this beautiful park.

The only mean thing is, that the environmental zone starts only a few meters down the road.

But as I said earlier, it’s unlikely you will get a ticket, unless you decide to park in the very city center.

The Tempelhofer Feld has a lot of reasons to stay next to it. Coming up…

 

Finding public toilets and drinkable water make vanlife in Berlin hard

As in every city we’ve been to in Germany: Public toilets are hard to find and uaually cost at least 0,50€ (Okay, at Kottbusser Tor we found one for 0,20€).


IMG_20160817_180030Drinkable water is even harder to find in public spaces in Germany. Don’t let the big, green water pumps tempt you: They used to be for horses and will most likely cause you at least a little poisoning.
Their water colour varies from clear to deep brown. Either way: It is not drinkable!

 

However, this is another reason to park by the Tempelhofer Feld. Here you can find proper toilets, which don’t cost you a single cent.

Also the water from the tab in most of these toilets is drinkable (one has a sign that says ‘No drinking’). If you use the toilet for disabled people, the sink and tab actually have a decent size, which makes it possible to fill up bottles or canisters. Also, you have more privacy.

Important to know on this note: The Tempelhofer Feld is only open in certain months of the year. And then it has closing times that you should think of when you plan your toilet day.

 

Knock your head against WiFi

Due to a stupid law (that finally got changed only recently), finding free WiFi can be a pain in entire Germany.

As our friend Sam from Indefinite Adventure put it so delicately: “Finding WiFi in Berlin is kind of like finding public toilets. If you actually manage to find it, it will most likely cost you money.”

For somebody who’s only just started out searching for WiFi here, this will be a sad truth. Especially, if you are an avid user ov WiFi Map, you will be disappointed in Germany. But the longer you search, the wiser you get.

 

If you can, become FON member

Especially when it comes to Germany, I can’t rush this enough.

FON is a company, that enables a network of people to share their WiFi with a small, additional router. If you share your WiFi (or the WiFi of your mum, as in my case), you as a member of the network, can now use the shared WiFi of other members.

These days some internet providers are already cooperating with FON and integrate their service automatically into theirs. That means, whenever you are close to a Telecom router in Germany, there is a  good chance you will have WiFi.

This system has saved us so freaking often.
It’s not only Telecom in Germany, that have FON integrated, these days.
I also know of KPN in the Netherlands, BT in the UK and tomething I can’t remember in France (even though it worked really badly in France…)

You can find a map of all the current WiFi FON hotspots on the FON Website.

Don’t expect high speed internet. But it works like a charm, if you need to use email, facebook or some navigation app. Perfect for vanlife in Berlin anyway.

 

Berlin Freifunk is antoher life saver

Streetart in BerlinWe still don’t know who organises and pays for the Freifunk hotspots in Germany and some other EU countries, but they are amazing.

The WiFi is not very fast – and seriously anything but reliable – but it does the basic things you need to check emails, Facebook, ect.

Often you just stumble upon them by chance. However, you can also search your app or play store and you will most likely find a – not too up to date – map of all the Freifunk spots.

We were lucky enough to find parking next to Tempelhofer Feld, that gave us access to FON as well as Freifunk!

 

Last but not least: Cafés

Working in cafésThey usually make it quite hard for you. Some places do only have passwords  (and those are amaing), but due to previously mentioned former law, many still run on interent providers, where you have to go through a pay- or non-pay wall. Pay was never any option for us and the non-pay often just don’t work.

If you want fast, reliable WiFi for work, we can recommend:

 

Telefonica Basecamp

A big coworking café, where it’s likely, nobody would complain if you didn’t even buy a cup of something (Do it anyway. They are amazing.)
They have a non-pay wall on their WiFi, but it’s super fast. Also, there are plenty of electricity plugs.

 

The LoisLane

It’s close to the Tempelhofer Feld and I got the cheapest tea of all Berlin there. It’s usually quiet (go to the back!), very cosy and the WiFi works like a charm. Just ask for the password. Also, you can find enough spots to charge laptop or battery bank. And tip them. Cause they are a small business and very lovely.

 

Café Engels

Unless they have some irritating Hiphop on, café Engels is great for working, has decent prices, good cakes, electricity plugs and fast WiFi. The back might be a little dark, but it’s calm.

 

Pele Mele

Not my favourite, but the WiFi is decent and it’s a calm atmosphere. Our friends like to come here frequently to work.

 

If you want more recommendations for more cities

Make sure to follow me on Foresquare. Or Swarm. Or whatever. My username is Raindropcatcher, as on so many other platforms.

 

Cheap food in Berlin

This is not necessarily for vanlife in Berlin, but who doesn’t save a bit of money on good food?

Again, friends and Foursquare saved the days here.

 

Get fruit from the Market

Every Tuesday and every Friday you can find a Turkish fruit and veggie market by the Maybach canal close to the U8 station Schönleinstraße.

bargain from the Turkish MarketIf you come there at 5pm, walk around a little to compare the prices, you will notice, that the prices drop by the minute. That’s because the market closes at 6pm.

So at 6pm you actually start buying, The dumping prices are amazing. The cheapest bargain we got once was 2€ for 24 avocados. For two Euros you usually don’t even get ONE avocado in Central and Northern Europe.

Make sure you don’t buy too much, though! If you don’t have a fridge in the van, the food might go bad soon (uncut peppers go a long way. So do tomatoes, zucchini, apples, and pome grenade). And also, you still have to carry all of it home.

Bread, spread, sossage, ect, you usually get cheaper at the nearby Netto supermarket.

 

How does this shop even survive?

That’s what we asked ourselves, when our friends showed us Restaurant Al-Rahme at Karl-Marx Straße. It’s a Turkish (?) shop where you can get falafel sandwiches for 0,49€.

Yes, you read right. 50 Cents.

Usually you need two or three to fill you up. If you eat meat, it’s nice to sometimes mix a Shawarma for 0,99€ in there. Yes, you read right. It’s only 1 Euro.

 

More food tips for Berlin?

I’ve also reviewed plenty of cheap restaurants on my Foursquare account. Username: Raindropcatcher.

 

Transport in Berlin

The public transport system in Berlin is really well built and it’s easy to get anywhere. However, using the U-Bahn is not cheap. Especially considering that you want to do the vanlife in Berlin. Four one-way tickets cost you about 10€. So you can imagine, that you go poor soon, if you want to see more of the city.

RV Life in BerlinWe were lucky enough to have a bike rack on the back of our van.

So, after mainly walking anywhere, we finally decided to buy two bikes. The fruit market by the Maybach Canal doesn’t only sell fruit. Sometimes you can find people, selling bikes at the bridge around the corner. I should add, that the source of this bikes is most likely theft, though. Otherwise you would probably not get decent bikes like these for only 40€.

Exploring the city by bike is great. It gives you an overview of the city and brings you to your desitination much faster. Also, you never know what weir art project or huge mural you run into, when you take a slightly different route than usually. 

 

Would I recommend vanlife in Berlin?

Skyline of BerlinThese days I definitely would! It’s a vibrant city, filled with creative, young people.

You never know, when the environmental zone regulations become more strict or when people get more sensitive to people living in their van.
Therefore I can only tell you, that I wrote this article in the Summer of 2016 and I will try to update it, every time we come to Berlin.

 

Have you lived the vanlife in Berlin yet? If so, do you have tips you think should be added here?
Or maybe you have questions for your upcoming trip to Berlin?

Let us know in the comment section below!

And don’t forget to share this article with friends and followers, who might find it interesting as well!

 

Join the Adventure!

Robin’s RoadTrip Mix