The Döner Project: My Berlin Budget as a College Student

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Traveling abroad on its own sounds like a great expense, but Berlin is a city like no other. Artsy yet beautifully bleak, you’ll find yourself at the edge of the world. Though the city is quickly gentrifying, there are still many cheap eats and local spots you can visit on a night out. Here is a peek into my budget as a student at Bard College Berlin.
At my home school, I worked in a federal work-study job as a film cave assistant to help pay for my tuition. I saved enough money during my summer paid internship before I left for Berlin to cover my expenses––flights, eating out, phone cards, etc. I also received a substantial scholarship, both merit, and financial aid, from Bard College Berlin and Bennington in order to be able to study in Berlin.
With organic meals prepared by lovely chefs, I usually do not need to worry about spending money on food. Beer and certain clubs can be affordable here too. However, I wanted to portray an average week in Berlin without any of the school’s privileges. In Germany, the VAT is already included in the price. Keep in mind that the American counterparts will have an additional sales tax.
This is what my expenses looked like when I lived on my own accord and American equivalents to my purchases:
Monday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
Landing in Berlin, I feel at home again on the 128 bus toward Osloer Straße. The semester BVG ticket is 180 EUR but that’s already been paid, so I don’t have to worry about weekly fares. I go to Rewe, a mid-tier grocery store, to buy some essentials. I drink bio instant coffee, surprisingly very good, to save trips to cafés. It’ll last a long time. To save on drinks, I grab a six-pack of Berliner Kindl beer as well. Plus, you can get pfand, your bottle deposit, back at any späti you come across. A large bag of four cheese tortellini can be a delicious fix for over a week. After preparing the tortellini, simply add some olive oil to a heated pan and mix in the thyme and pesto. Guten Appetit!
Landing in Berlin, I feel at home again on the 128 bus toward Osloer Straße. The semester BVG ticket is 180 EUR but that’s already been paid, so I don’t have to worry about weekly fares. I go to Rewe, a mid-tier grocery store, to buy some essentials. I drink bio instant coffee, surprisingly very good, to save trips to cafés. It’ll last a long time. To save on drinks, I grab a six-pack of Berliner Kindl beer as well. Plus, you can get pfand, your bottle deposit, back at any späti you come across. A large bag of four cheese tortellini can be a delicious fix for over a week. After preparing the tortellini, simply add some olive oil to a heated pan and mix in the thyme and pesto. Guten Appetit!
4,49 € ($5.33) Berliner Kindl Weisse Himbeere 6x (Rewe)

Berliner Kindl White Raspberry
Compared to: Blue Moon 6x $10.49

3,92 € ($4.65) REWE Bio Instant Kaffee 100g

REWE Organic Instant Coffee
Compared to: O Organics Coffee Organic Instant 3.53 Oz $4.99

3,92 € ($4.65) 4-Käse-Tortelloni 1kg

4-Cheese-Tortellini
Compared to: Buitoni Four Cheese Tortellini 20 Oz $7.99

2,93 € ($3.48) Barilla Pesto alla Genovese 190g

Compared to: Barilla Pasta Sauce Pesto Traditional Basil Jar 6 Oz $3.69

0,97 € ($1.15) Thyme 15g

Compared to: O Organics Organic Thyme 0.66 Oz $1.99

Tuesday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
I stop by Aldi to add some money to my phone plan before meeting up with my friend. A short tram ride to Schwedter Straße, Café Morgenrot is a left-wing collective designed to engage in discourse and meaningful exchanges. Sometimes I like to grab a seat at the bar when I’m alone and drink a hot chocolate with rum over a good book. There’s ping pong downstairs when you need a study break.
7,99 € ($9.49) ALDI TALK

Compared to: Mint Mobile, $25 per month

4,50 € ($5.34) Heiße Schokolade mit rum (Café Morgenrot)

Hot Chocolate with rum
Compared to average U.S. spiked hot chocolate cost: $15+

Wednesday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
As a treat, I like to keep a bouquet of flowers on my windowsill, so I go to the Schönhauser Allee Arcaden. Blume 2000 has a wide selection of house plants and perennials to choose from. I also go to the pastel heaven of Søstrene Grene to buy some stationery for school. With affordable home goods and items like love tea (3.58 € / $4.25) and bunny finger puppets (3.49 € / $4.14), you can easily get lost within its maze of classical music. I head to Eberswalder Straße to grab a quick bite at my favorite kebab joint.
“I wish I could easily grab cheap falafel in the States,” said artist Tyler Peterson.
I stroll around for a bit afterward, admiring the shop windows before heading into Love Story of Berlin to look at books.
2,49 € ($2.96) Tulips (Blume 2000)

Compared to average U.S. bouquet cost: $9.99-17

Søstrene Grene
5.60 € ($6.65) Floral Print Umbrella

Compared to Target: Floral Print Umbrella $14.99

3.43 € ($4.07) Watercolor Set 12 pcs

Compared to Target: ARTEZA Watercolor Professional Artist Paint 12 pcs $12.99

3,90 € ($4.63) Falafel im Brot (Rüyam Gemüse Kebap)

Falafel in Bread
Compared to average U.S. falafel cost: $10+

3 € ($3.56) Ryoko Nagara Illustrated Postcards (Love Story of Berlin)
Thursday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
I decide to visit the botanical garden in Steglitz, so I grab a Zeit für Brot cinnamon roll from Denn’s––yes, they sell them there, it’s a hidden secret––on my way to S+U Pankow, our local train station. It’s a sunny ride on the S-Bahn, and I transfer onto a double-decker bus before arriving at the gardens. The greenhouses are a refuge from the bitter coldness outside. I’m not very hungry, so I grab some fries on my way back. I stop by my friend’s bar in Wedding and catch up over a few beers. His treat.
3 € ($3.56) Botanischer Garten

Botanical Garden
Compared to average U.S. reduced student cost: $6

2 € ($2.37) Pommes

Medium French Fries
Compared to average U.S. cost: $1.50-4

Friday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
I love having a slow, fulfilling Friday, so I go to my usual spot, Unser Café for brunch. It’s a cozy place offering all-day breakfast dishes––all under 10 euros––and homemade Portuguese pastries. Their chai lattes are the best, but I hold off this time. I order their English Breakfast: toasted brioche, baked beans, sausages, fried egg, bacon and grilled tomato. I work on some writing and people-watch before crossing the bridge across the street that’s a short-cut to Mauerpark. My friend has a drag show at Tipsy Bear, so I go there and have some jello shots, before heading out again. Sameheads is a funky spot in Neukölln for music and dancing if you don’t want to go anywhere too crowded. It’s so hard in the States when you’re under 21 and expensive. I get some filling Turkish pizza nearby and stop at a späti for a beer.
8, 90 € ($10.57) English Breakfast (Unser Café)

Compared to average U.S. English Breakfast cost: $16+

3 € ($3.56) Tipsy Bear
1 € ($1.18) Turkish Pizza (Lahmacun)

Compared to average U.S. Turkish Pizza (Lahmacun) cost: $8.25

1, 50 € ($1.77) Rothaus Pils
7 € ($8.31) Sameheads 

Compared to average U.S. Alternative/Indie/Techno Club cost: $16 adv / $20 doors

Saturday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
Depending on what time in the morning I head home, Saturdays can be spent in bed. The sun is already setting again by the time I get up. I make some tortellini before doing some shopping on Schönhauser Allee. Vintage Revivals always has great finds and sales. I find a cute lavender slip dress I could wear over a turtleneck. My friends want to go to the usual Disco Bizarre at KitKat so I tag along. We dress up in matching sparkly cowboy hats and fishnets. Some döner and googly-eye Kleiner Feigling––quirky fig vodka–– beforehand; it’s always a fun time. Without a phone, you really get sucked into the techno trance. By 10 a.m., you can find yourself in the psychedelic room dancing to 80s music with bubbles floating in the air, unaware of the daylight outside. Who needs that when there’s Day-Glo?
5 € ($5.94) Slip Dress (Vintage Revivals)
4 € ($4.75) Chicken Dürüm Döner (Rüyam Gemüse Kebap)

Compared to average U.S. kebab cost: $12+

3,50 € ($4.16) Kleiner Feigling 0,1l
10 € ($11.87) KitKatClub

Compared to average U.S. fetish/techno party cost: $20+

Sunday
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
The Mauerpark flea market awaits. I borrow a Donkey Republic bike and head to the park as soon as I get up from my Sunday rest. Most stores are closed on Sundays, so a lot of temptations are out of reach, but the flohmarkt is one of my weekly pleasures. With an abundance of vintage finds, local artwork, and karaoke, there’s a lot to explore. I usually get one of the best fried chicken burgers there, but this time, I have a warm bowl of ramen at Hako. Then I sip some comforting sahlep as I check out all the new antiques and records.
“I miss getting good quality clothes at a flea market or a vintage store for six euros of cheaper,” said Bard College sophomore Aislinn Feldberg.
Funky coat galore. The tram ride back home is a relaxing time to unwind and listen to Belle & Sebastian as I pass by all the linden trees.
1,50 € ($1.78) Donkey Republic

Compared to: Lyft Bike $2 and FordGo Bike $3 (30 minutes)

9 € ($10.69) Hako Ramen

Compared to average U.S. ramen cost: $14

2,50 € ($2.97) Sahlep
Week Total: 109,04 € ($128.93)
Photo by Ashley D. Escobar
Spending Breakdown:

Groceries: 11,74 € ($13.88)
Eating Out: 28,8 € ($34.05)
Transportation: 1,50 € ($1.78)
Drinks: 19,49 € ($23.04)
Going Out: 17 € ($20.10)
Leisure: 3 € ($3.55)
Personal Care: 19,52 € ($23.08)
Essential: 7,99 € ($9.45)

So, this is what a week with a lot of eating and going out would look like. I usually ate my meals at the dining hall, which I left out here. Berlin has a lot of wonderful before-midnight entrance fees and a lot of good cheap eats, so eating out should never be too much of a financial burden.
“I really miss being able to eat out for less than $10,” said Bard College sophomore Tabitha Booher.
My ALDI TALK card was one of my only monthly expenses, lasting four weeks, but came with enough GBs and unlimited text and call. Lidl, Kaufland, and Aldi are all inexpensive choices compared to Rewe and Denn’s! If anything, the view of the swans in the canals are free.

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