Just being out and about on the road, you stumble onto scenes that give insight into different worlds. On my latest swing through Central Europe — Berlin, Prague, Vienna — I enjoyed being a “cultural lint brush.” Here are some slice-of-local-life insights I picked up.
Berlin’s late-night convenience stores — like bodegas in New York City — are nicknamed “Spatis” (meaning roughly “late-ies”). And when there’s a big soccer game on TV, they’ll set up a TV on the sidewalk, put out some milk crates for customers to sit on, and host a party. For the cost of a grocery-store beer, the neighborhood gathers and enjoys sharing the event together. My Berlin friends — who say “this would never be allowed in Munich” — love these examples of Berlin community.
In the last couple of years, a new fake tradition has been born in Prague: stands selling chimney cakes, or trdelník. You’ll see these stands on virtually every corner, with saucy medieval maidens hard at work baking rotisserie pastries…all conspiring to be seen as a local custom. But chimney cakes have nothing to do with Czech culture or traditions (they’re originally from two countries away, in Hungary). They’re just another clever way to make money off tourists.
In Prague, ATMs not attached to real banks offer famously bad rates. Every local knows to avoid these rip-off ATMs.
In Vienna, the city government — knowing both locals and tourists are dealing with hotter days than ever, thanks to climate change — have put out big cold-water stations with reminders to stay hydrated.
You see a lot of marijuana leaves and green packaging throughout Europe these days, and you might think, “Wow, I didn’t know pot was legal here.” But this is CBD cannabis — legal only if it contains less than one percent THC. CBD makes you calm and is considered a medicine. THC pot — the stuff that makes you giggle — is not yet legal here. Don’t worry (that’s OK)…be happy (not yet).