Winter in Berlin can easily fool the uninitiated – when the air gets crisp, and the Christmas lights twinkle seductively at every corner, it’s easy to get suckered into the winter wonderland mindset. However, come January when there is nothing to distract you from the cold sinking into your actual bones, the fact you haven’t seen the sun in 2 months, and 50 physical shades of grey become your daily reality (not in a fun way), it’s hard to stay in love with this sprawling concrete jungle. But as a veteran of the nippy season, I’ve got a few tips and tricks up my thick woollen sleeve to help you hold on through to sunnier, happier days.
Unlike Southern Germany, Berlin isn’t pretty in the winter. There are no fluffy pure white mounds of snow, ever-green fir trees, or cute brightly coloured gingerbread houses. We get grey slush flattened into the pavement, brutalist concrete apartment blocks, and green just doesn’t exist. And on top of that – it’s bloody cold because of the wind sweeping on down from Russia. As a result, everyone retreats to their respective Kiez and hibernates for 4 months straight. It’s such a different city in from late November to March and is often lauded as the main reason people don’t stick it out here. I struggled hard with my first winter here – and that was with a nice long summery trip away in the middle. But by loosely enforcing some guidelines in my day to day life, I’ve managed to get through the subsequent winter days without too many hurdles. Keep on reading if you’re battling the mid-season blues, and looking for a helping hand.
Dress yourself appropriately
The key to winter dressing is to favour practicality over style. That’s not to say you can’t do winter looking damn sexy, but when the wind drags the chill factor down to -15 and you’re freezing your arse off waiting for the U-Bahn, you’re going to pick warmth over looking fly. The following 3 tips are key to govern your winter wardrobe.T
Tip 1: Keep your head and your feet warm
This one is basic science – your head and your feet lose heat the fastest as they’re the furthest away from your nice toasty core. If you don’t keep either snuggled up, you’ll feel the cold on another level. Make sure you get yourself a decent beanie (I’m talking a proper wool or fleece here) or I’m a fan of the woollen headband for when I need to tie up my hair. Invest in a pair or two of decent thick socks – go for merino or heat tech, and a lined pair of boots. The Berlin staple is a pair of docs but any boot coming up over your ankle will do nicely – just make sure they’re waterproof! Extra points if they’re wool lined.
Tip 2: Layers are key
The way to deal with the inside/outside (read: freezing/sweltering) transition is being able to peel off or pile on as needed. Aside from the usual recommendation of a thick scarf, thick gloves, and layering your jumpers – invest in some base layers. The heat-tech range at Uniqlo is amazing – the fabric regulates your temperature and keep you cosy in the cold, and cool when you get blasted with the indoor heating. Make sure you get yourself a pair of leggings to pop under your jeans or tights – you’ll be surprised at how cold your legs can get.
Tip 3: Invest in a good coat
A furry little number might look cool but if it stops at your waist, you’re going to freeze. Make sure your coat can withstand some rain, covers your bum, and if possible some leg too. Again, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll get cold in your tum and your thighs. If you have some bank to drop, the cuddliest and warmest coat I’ve ever worn is this one from Artizia, but if you’re on a budget, check out TK Maxx or even Humana – you can find some amazing 100% wool steals in there as well.
Invest in Your Health
Berlin is a grimy, dirty city and the germs here are likely quite different or more aggressive than what you’re used to. If you are from somewhere warm or tropical in particular, get ready to get extra sneezy and congested.
It’s worth considering starting to take some supplements to fight off those germs – Vitamin C, B12, Magnesium and Zinc are my mains, but if that’s a bit extra, introducing even a daily multi-vitamin is a game changer.
Because you’re likely stuck inside an office with no open windows, or forced to take public transport where you could usually walk, your exposure to germs and bacteria will be at an all-time high. Keep a small hand sanitiser and a pack of tissues in your bag to keep things clean.
One last thing to bear in mind is that if you do end up falling victim to the dreaded flu, Germany is super strict about over the counter medication. Lemsip or Coldrex doesn’t exist here – the most you’ll be able to score is some homoeopathic herbal remedy, 200mg paracetamol or ibuprofen and a hearty dose of the cynical German doctor’s advice to go for a walk and drink a tea – even though you can’t breathe, your nose is raw and bloody, and your body can’t physically move from pain. It’s harsh – but don’t expect much sympathy or any effective drugs if you fall ill here.
Replace the Sun
The one thing that will impact your mood in conjunction with your physical health is the absence of that warm bright thing shining in the sky. You can most likely count the number of times you will see the sun in winter on the fingers of one hand, so you need to find a substitute. You can break the benefits of sunlight down into the following:
- Vitamin D: I mentioned supplements before, but try and get some Vitamin D in your multi-vitamin at the least. Other good places to source this are in fatty fishes like salmon and mackerel (or hit the cod liver oil pills), egg yolks, and mushrooms.
- Light: Ahh the perpetual darkness. The sun hardly ever manages to battle its way through the clouds, and the dim grey only seems to pervade from about 9 am to 3.30 pm. If you live in the back apartment building, this is especially depressing. Invest in a daylight lamp, and you’ll find it makes a big difference.
- Warmth: Get on board with hot drinks – herbal teas, Glühwein, a cheeky hot toddy – all have a warming tingly effect on your body. Another great option is to spend a day at a local spa – these tend to be reasonably priced, and sweating it out at a sauna is surprisingly therapeutic for your mood as well as your warming up your core. I recommend local fave Vabali, or the slightly more bougie Liquidrom. If you’re uncomfortable being in a mixed spa, there are also plenty of women-only Hammams around due to the high percentage of Turkish and Middle Eastern expats settled here. Bear in mind that Germans are extremely comfortable with nudity and it is compulsory to strip down to use at least the sauna facilities here – so this option may not be for everyone.
- Tan: I’m highly against using sunbeds – but pick up some fake tan and give yourself a good coating – or better yet, take advantage of the ridiculously cheap flights throughout Europe and head somewhere south with a bit of sun. Being nice and tan is more of a placebo effect than a long term fix, but it definitely helps.
Take Care of Something
When life seems a bit lacklustre and you lack drive, it’s far easier to keep on keeping on if you have something or someone to do that for. If you have something to invest a little bit of love in, you will see that reflected back to you. This could be a person, a pet – even a little goldfish can spark some joy – but for the broke among us I would highly recommend adopting a plant or two. Go low maintenance – spider plants, cacti, hanging ivy – but you’ll cheer up when you see that little bit of greenery growing under your careful eye.
Surround yourself with positive things
Both your physical and mental environment stand to take a beating – so take matters into your own hands and change things up. Make sure there’s a bit of colour in your home – invest in something new – anything from a cheery mug, colourful cushion, or a new piece of art. Play some tunes, read a book, subscribe to a new podcast (I’m loving the Guilty Feminist for an empowered giggle atm), or learn something new! Take a class – Youtube is your friend here if you don’t want to leave the warmth of your home or spend too many EUR.
Move your body
Yeah yeah, exercise is the lauded tip for almost every ailment – but the cold hard fact is that getting physical will produce endorphins, which in turn will keep your mood boosted. Anything goes here – from walking in one of the many parks, dancing the night away in one of the many clubs, or I don’t know, even an actual work out. Urban Sports Club is a good option – you can pick from a number of gyms, pools, saunas, and classes – you can literally try anything from Tango lessons to Trampoline lessons.
Book a Holiday
The one thing that keeps me going through the dark and the cold, is the idea of getting away for a week or two. As aforementioned, I like to try and head somewhere sunny in the middle of winter. Both Ryanair and EasyJet have super cheap flights in the offseason to the Spanish islands where it’s always balmy. I usually start with Skyscanner, pick a month, and search all the places I can run away to. Alternatively, if you’ve always wanted to do a big trip down under, why not save up and head somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere where it’s actually summer? Most workplaces are happy to grant leave in January/February when no one else wants time off.
Practise Self Care
Winter is a good as time as any to go to town with treating yourself. When it’s cold outside and the sleet is hitting the windows, there’s nothing better than a hot bath and a glass of wine. Indulge yourself – invest in a nice candle, a bath bomb, a face mask, an intense moisturiser – and show yourself a little love. Take time out mentally too – read something you’ve always wanted to, or if you’re so inclined, go down the meditation route – whatever floats your boat, put some time aside a day to do something that you want to do.
Photos: Outdoor Breeze