On my first day in Germany, I got the best Vietnamese food of my entire life. I hadn’t eaten anything but grilled cheese, plain pasta, and fries my entire time in Istanbul, I’d just gotten off a flight, and I was starving. I went to the restaurant recommended by my local TA and it was so delicious that I almost started crying. The awkward moment came before that when that when I ordered very slowly and with a lot of miming, used to the waitstaff in Istanbul who rarely spoke English. Turns out that waiter spoke perfectly fine English, as have pretty much everyone I have spoken to here in Germany. The lack of a language barrier has made things a lot easier. Even if the language does cause me trouble, people are happy to step in and help. On the first day I was here, a German woman helped me with the subway ticket machine that was half in English and half in German. The next day, someone helped me differentiate the body wash from the shampoo in the grocery store. Just yesterday, I had someone give me subway directions. Overall, it hasn’t been a challenge here at all. The hardest part has been the pronunciation of German words. Who would ever guess that ß is a double s? Luckily my roommate Clara knows a little bit of German so I mostly rely on her for telling me these things.
This is a huge change from Istanbul where it was impossible to communicate with most local workers. Mostly it involved a lot of pointing and people writing down prices for me. I was really proud of myself for actually getting where I needed to go alone in a taxi (or taksi in Turkish) with a driver who only spoke Turkish.
Since my last post, I’ve made my way to Berlin, a city which I am absolutely in love with. I’ve been able to find delicious vegetarian food wherever I go, the food is still very cheap, and the city is much more LGBT friendly than Istanbul. Yesterday, I went on six hour walking tour of Berlin. I was able to see the remains of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and the memorials for the Jewish and Homosexual victims of the holocaust.
Seeing the Berlin Wall was truly amazing. I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around how a city could be divided in the way Berlin was during the Cold War, but our tour guide actually grew up in the divided city and was able to give us several anecdotes that explained how this actually played out for the citizens for Berlin. It was also very interesting to hear her explain the positives sides of socialism, and why it failed in the case of East Berlin. In my American education, socialism is always viewed in a very negative light and I always imagined East Berlin as an extremely impoverished place, but that actually wasn’t the case. East Berlin was not an impoverished place, it just wasn’t a rich place, instead, people were all on the general same income level. Obviously there were a lot of problems with East Berlin, but it was really great to learn about the situation without the obvious American bias.
Seeing the holocaust memorials was also extremely powerful. As a member of the LGBT community, the memorial to the homosexuals was really intense to see. Although lesbians were not persecuted for their lesbianism during the holocaust (instead they could be persecuted as antisocials), the creators of the memorial chose to include lesbian couples as well as gay male couples in order to symbolize how homophobia plays out today. The memorial for the Jewish victims of the holocaust was extremely abstract, which I think is for the better because it is so difficult to visually portray such a horrific event. Interestingly enough, there is no museum or exhibition at the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide for the fear of the site attracting neo-nazis. It was very shocking to me to learn that this was a serious concern.
I’m looking forward to checking out more Berlin museums in the couple weeks and hopefully I’ll post about those as well!
I have to say that after coming abroad, I have gotten really good at playing charades to communicate with other people who do not speak English very well. Most Berliners understand at least a little bit of the language so I have not run into any major problems, but ordering food is always a tough one. The first week we would all go to meals in larger groups so we could stumble through the menu together and we made it into a fun thing. The people behind the counter usually got pretty annoyed when we would try to sound out the ridiculously long german words that are actually three phrases smashed together.
By the second week I worked up a little more courage to order things on my own, but the one thing that has tripped me up every time is trying to order an iced coffee. In Germany, an ‘iced kaffee’ is a large cup of coffee, two huge scoops of ice cream, and a pile of whipped cream on top. Even though this root beer float kind of thing is really decadent and delicious, it just doesn’t cut it when compared to the good old Dunkin Donuts iced coffee on the way to class. The europeans and Berliners here have been drinking piping hot coffee in the sweltering morning heat while wearing a scarf and jeans. They make it look so effortless, but I just cannot do it.
I love picking up german words and quick phrases. The language is really beautiful and complicated and I am thinking of taking a german language class when I go back to the states. My favorite and most used word here is definitely ‘enschuligund’ which means ‘excuse me.’ On the UBahn, in line for a restaurant, or while walking around in a tour group, this word is essential. It helps you to blend in with everyone else so you are not immediately picked out as a confused or lost american tourist. It is also fun to say so it is the best of both worlds. Even if you are not sure exactly how to pronounce it, if you say it fast enough people accept it as a polite gesture. Politeness and directness are highly valued by the germans.
This week was the first time that we took the UBahn to the studio by ourselves (not in a big mob of twenty-six people). It was really intimidating to face the german population on their morning commute. The stops are announced over the loudspeakers impossibly quickly, and everything seemed really confusing. But we all made it to class on time. By the end of the program we will be pros. The train system is really cool because it is so fundamentally focused on its actual design. Each station stop has its own font, color scheme, and architectural layout and the design of the train cars is extremely intentional. It includes different funky patterns on the seats and floors that reflect Berlin’s feel.
There is definitely a certain etiquette for riding public transportation in Germany. I quickly learned that Berliners stay relatively quiet on the UBahn and don’t really talk loudly on the phone while in transit. When we are traveling in our large group, we always break that quiet rule and cause a huge ruckus. We have definitely caused more than a few glares from people trying to go about their day while a huge group of americans laughs about something that happened the other day. Another time I was riding the bus while on the phone with a friend from back home, and the looks of disapproval were very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of.
On the weekends at night, Berliners are much more rowdy and open to voicing their opinions about what is going on. They will tell you to move or stop doing something that is bothering them. The weekend also brings trains that are exceptionally packed with people on their way to restaurants, bars, and clubs. It is unbelievable how many people can get packed into the UBahn cars and seem to burst out of the doors at different stops. It is very much a free for all.
On the more lighthearted and fun side of German public transportation etiquette, Berlin is a dog-friendly city and their presence is actually encouraged on public transportation. It has become normal to expect to share a bench with a huge dog for my morning commute to the studio and I love it. Puppies and friendly dogs always get huge smiles from almost everyone on the train and lighten the solemn, isolated feelings of the UBahn.
The UBahn always holds a new adventure each time you walk onto a train car.
In Berlin we live in student housing in the Kreuzberg which is a neighborhood outside of the center of the city. It is a very artsy and progressive area that sort of reminds me of Greenwich Village in New York City but not as busy. There are tons of shops, cafes, bars, and parks to pop into. There are a few hostels in the area, along with german students and artists so it is a very young, cheap, and exciting place to live.
The apartment complex itself houses students from all over the world. We have met students from places as close as Penn State and others from tiny little towns in Lithuania. The apartments are really nice spaces that have one single and one double room, our own bathroom, kitchen, and common room. Everyone also has a balcony so people shout to each other outside all of the time and its been a really fun way to meet new people. People are always out and about in the courtyards and one of the neighbors plays his banjo every night.
Our Northeastern group is a very fun and friendly group of people. A lot of people came into the program knowing each other and many of them have majors under CAMD’s umbrella, but everyone seems to be blending together and its impossible to not get to know everyone very quickly. It is so fun to get to be with a group of people who all have the common experiences of school in Boston while experiencing this whole new place together with our professors. I cannot wait to see what next week has in store for us!
The one word that comes to mind when thinking of Berlin is just sheer coolness. I know that word seems mundane but it is completely accurate. Whether its the stores, people, architecture, or the restaurants, there is something for everyone here. Want to go roller skating on a Monday night? They have that three blocks away. Or sit on a rooftop and see the entire city at night? There’s a place for that too. The city of Berlin is very clean but it also has this lived-in feel because almost every wall and every street corner is covered in street art or graffiti. The only thing that litters the street are old bottle caps that people collect. I have only been here for a week and I already feel like we are all becoming a part of this amazing city.
For our photography class, we have a beautiful studio that is about a half hour commute on the UBahn train which is Berlin’s metro. The studio space has huge windows and tables and I am so psyched that we get to work in such an open and beautiful place. It is located in an area with a lot of restaurants and shops that attract both students and business professionals. A few of us have already made friends with one of the local shops that sells döner which has become a staple in my german diet so far. The student apartments we are staying at are equally as nice. A bunch of other students from all over the world live in the cluster of buildings we are in and our neighborhood Kreuzberg is known for housing artists, students, and young professionals. While It is so easy to meet people. While I was taking out the trash the other day, I met some french students who were interning in the city for the summer.
This past Monday we had orientation that covered safety tips for living in the city and also the introduction for classes. We are going to be spending two days a week going out on excursions with our culture professor Jan and the other two days will be spent in the studio either editing our work or going out to shoot more photographs with our professor Andrea. Each Friday we will be going out on a longer excursion to other German cities in the area for a guided tour. This Friday we went out to Potsdam and explored the town. Its architecture was mainly inspired by Dutch traditions so it had a much more classic, “typical” european feel when compared to the faster paced, hip vibe of Berlin. I had my first schnitzel in Potsdam from a street vendor who barely spoke English, but he was still very helpful when helping me pick which one was the best. And it was definitely the best thing that I have eaten here so far.
It is hard to pin down where my favorite place in Berlin is. There are so many monuments and historical sites plus really cool new spaces that have been built recently. Before coming to Berlin, I had read a lot about the Jewish Holocaust Memorial site and everyone I know who had been to Berlin posted pictures from this tourist hotspot. I expected to get there and experience something really deep and introspective, but I was shocked when little kids were climbing all over the large block stones and other tourists were shouting in the maze of pathways. To top it all off, there was a memorial guard who would pop around corners and yell at people who stood up on top of the massive blocks, but he allowed people to sit on them. It was like no other memorial I had ever been to and it really changed my perspective on what a memorial is or what it could be. They do not necessarily have to be a place of silence and seriousness because they can provide a space to celebrate life.
The Brandenburg Gate is another tourist spot that I love. A massive structure sits on the edge of a large square of embassies and tourist traps. So much history happened at this location and it is just incredible that people can casually visit where so many historical hot shots had stood before. I remember seeing paintings and pictures of people like Napoleon and Hitler storming through the gate to make their presence known so it was so crazy to visit this place with our class. Other pictures show a bombed out Berlin with a damaged gate covered by soot. Today it stands clean, tall, and strong.
The next place that I hope to venture off to on my own is Berlin’s East Side Gallery. This is a portion of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and it is right in our neighborhood Kreuzberg. Mural artists came in and emblazoned the wall with huge works of art and pattern work and I am so excited to see it in person. Graffiti is considered an art form in Berlin and it is very much a part of Berlin’s aesthetic and its people as well. In America, graffiti can mark territories and make an area seem threatening, but here it is just a way people express themselves and contribute to the overall feel of their city.
Each Friday we have been going to a city or town outside of Berlin to explore Germany a little more. For the past two weeks we have met up with a local german man named Helmut who is the best tour guide we could have asked for. Even though he is around seventy years old, he was definitely the leader of the pack and marched us all around Potsdam and Dresden in his matching sweater and oxford shirt combos. Even though we were exhausted by the end of these tours, we covered so much ground and heard so many stories about his childhood and what it is like to live in Germany. Potsdam was a gorgeous place. It may sound odd, but it really reminded me of a European Cape Cod. There was beautiful dutch architecture, little shops lined the streets, and street performers stood on the busier corners. We got to go inside palaces and walk through a huge park that housed a few other palaces as well. Dresden was more modern and spread out than Potsdam was. It had other large and beautiful government buildings and former palaces mixed with clock towers and huge churches. In one of the city squares a man had his xylophone and was playing the Titanic song. The song was echoing throughout the whole city and made it seem like a surreal place.
This Friday we are going to Dessau to see the Bauhaus which was one of the first schools of modern design. The founders and students of this school revolutionized architecture, graphic design, and theatre. I have done so many papers and projects about this amazing place and I cannot wait to get on the train and see it.
-A Broad Abroad
I can’t believe that I’m already getting to leave Istanbul. I feel like there is still so much left to see in this city. Istanbul is huge, but surprisingly, I’ve only used public transportation once while here. Most of our lectures take place in the conference room of the hotel at which we’re staying, so for me, “getting to class” mostly involves rolling out of bed two minutes before lecture time, throwing on some pants, and running downstairs. Although, even then, I’m usually one of the first people there because Turkish culture is very lax about being on time. We’ve also had quite a few field site visits, including to the Gulen Movement, Istanbul Aydin University, and the old city. To get to these sites as a group, we have a charter bus and an English speaking tour guide.
As for my own personal explorations of the city, I have done a ton of walking. It’s not unusual for the pedometer on my phone to tell me that I’ve walked twenty miles in a day. There are buses and trains that you can take to get around the city, but I really have no idea how to use them. I like walking because I get to see things that I wouldn’t notice on a bus or train. I did take a train once to get back from dinner. It cost 4 lyra or a little more than $1 and was a little like what the green line would be if it was nice. I got this cute little token to use as my fare for boarding the train and I almost bought an extra because I didn’t want to part ways with it.
I am very happy to report that I LOVE everyone on my dialogue. We have a lot of variation among ages, backgrounds, and programs of study within our group and it makes for a really great experience. Some people have traveled everywhere you can think of while this is a few people’s first time outside the United States, but most importantly, everyone is super willing to include everyone and make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable. The one time I felt uncomfortable with a comment someone made, we talked it out, and it turned out to be a misunderstanding and we’re now better than ever! I have no worries about spending a month with this group.
Currently, we’re staying in the Hilton bordering the neighborhoods of Tesvikiye and Besiktas, right down the road from Taksim Square. We got to choose our own roommates when we got here (two people to a room) and I chose to room with someone named Clara whom I had met beforehand but didn’t know that well. I’m really happy with my decision because it gave me an opportunity to make a new friend with someone I knew had similar interests to me. So far Clara and I have have spent a good amount of time together and we get along really well.
Every morning, once Clara convinces me to get out of bed, we have breakfast at the hotel restaurant overlooking the city. The first morning I spent more time appreciating the view than eating. Mostly I was amazed by how many different types of cheese were offered. Where do you ever go that you can eat unlimited amounts of several different types of fancy cheese? I’m basically living the dream.
This week I arrived in Istanbul, which is a truly gorgeous city. It is also MASSIVE in comparison to Boston. When we were driving from our hotel to the airport it seemed like the city just kept going and going. There are tons of beautiful mosques and the people here are so diverse and interesting. I can look out the window and see Asia while standing in Europe which is pretty amazing. I kind of want to stay here forever. The only reason they’re going to be able to get me to leave is because I am so excited to see Berlin as well.
As soon as we got here, I went out with a group of students, some of whom I know and some who were new, and explored looking for a restaurant to eat dinner. There are tons of street dogs and cats here and everyone in the city helps take care of them together which is really awesome. My professor told me I probably shouldn’t pet them because they’re dirty but they’re so cute that I can’t resist so I have pet a few anyway. Last night there were five cats sitting right outside my hotel window! That might be the best part of this country.
We also went on a beautiful cruise on the Bosphorus and I have never seen anything so gorgeous. We were served delicious food and hung out with our cool guest lectures and ended up having a private boat dance party. Even Professor Turam’s eight year old son danced with us.
As far as orientation the first morning, I can honestly say I’ve never felt safer in the hands of any professors. Both my professors are avid feminists, and one is a native of Istanbul while the other is a native of Germany so we have local expertise wherever we go. We had a discussion about consent and sexual harassment, both within the group and at the hands of the locals, and it made me feel very good that we addressed these common issue early on and I knew I could safely approach my professors about it. Their main emphasis was on making sure that we were safe at all times and giving us advice about how to do so. I am so happy to be with these two professors that I feel happy and comfortable with.