ich bin ein berliner…

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I have no idea where this semester has flown away to! I have five weeks left over here in this beautiful country and city that I have fallen madly in love with, and there is still so much that I want to do! During this past month I have had the best adventures and experiences of my entire life. I am so lucky and grateful that I have had (and am still having!) this opportunity and am bowled over every single day by the love and excitement I have for this spectacular country. Seriously. I am obsessed with Germany.

I will get the less exciting things out of the way: School Work. My classes really are wonderful and they are contributing to my experience over here in ways that I never imagined. I am loving my Berlin: History, Memory, and Literature class. Everything that we read is about Berlin (obviously) and has enriched my appreciation for the city’s history, culture, and made me a total nerd about the city’s architecture, progress over time, and total destruction. I am also in an Islam and Europe class, which has been an interesting experience. I do not necessarily love the actual class structure, but the material is so poignant considering the huge Turkish population of Berlin. It has been weird to be in a class with such a heavy political edge where not everyone shares the same opinions that I have “grown up with” in Gettysburg. What I love about my program is the conglomeration of American students that have come together who are so different from my home college experience. I am also really enjoying my Pop Culture class because I have been able to understand some of the funny German obsessions (such as “Indians” or Native Americans, Elvis, Black Culture, Jazz, Rap, and Cowboys) and appreciate the influence of imported American culture. My last class is German, which is actually really fun! We adore our professor, Andrea, who is super cool and we have an awesome and hilarious time. I am learning a lot and find myself using my skills, but probably not as much as I should…

At the beginning of October I was very lucky because mom and dad came to visit me for their (belated) anniversary present! They flew into Berlin on Air France, who promptly lost mom’s bag. It was a hilarious mess that was completely solved, and we still had an amazingly full day of all the classic Berlin sights. That night we took a night train to Munich and arrived the next morning to pick up our car. We then drove to Lindau, which is in Lake Constance. We had the most spectacular view of the harbor from our hotel window. Dad had a field day during the whole trip, but this was a rather unbelievable and stunning view that literally took your breath away. It is crazy to think that some things like this exist. After spending the day and next morning there, we drove to the castles Neuschwanstein (the Disney Cinderella castle!!!) and Hohenschwangau near Füssen. These are the castles that Ludwig II and the Wittenberg family lived in. We became a little obsessed with Ludwig and his life story, which was very entertaining. The next day we drove around small Bavarian towns, went to the most unreal Baroque church (Weißkirche), and Linderhoff Palace (Ludwig II’s hunting lodge), which were ripped right out of a storybook. We spent that night near Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany. Travelling up the mountain the next day was, like everything else we did it seems, was amazing and totally beyond words. We got back to Munich that night and spent the next day doing the BMW museum (which was surprisingly really cool and dad was very happy to be there) and the older national gallery with the huge Reubens collection. After another night train, we got to Berlin the next morning and I showed mom and dad my home stay and around parts of Western Berlin. We ended the night with a lovely dinner with my host family, which was really fun! I was much more sad to see mom and dad leave than I had anticipated – I think that it was that little glimpse of letting my guard down for the first time in two months and a small taste of home that I didn’t realize how much I miss. The next two weeks were rough because of the crazy amounts of work I had, but also we were gearing up for our program’s weeklong excursion to Munich and Vienna!!!

Right now I am sitting on a ten-hour train ride. Yes. Ten hours. We are going from Vienna, Austria, home to Berlin. I think we are in the Czech Republic right now. It is the end of my trip with a bunch of my classmates and I had the best time on this trip! We began the trip with a weekend in Munich, which was really fun because I was already a little familiar with the city and knew what I wanted to do with my free time. Our program had a guided tour of the city that specifically focused on the history related to WWI and WWII, which as Berlin students, we are familiar with on the Northern Germany side. My friends and I were able to go all over the city and see amazing sights (the new national art gallery, Olympic stadium/village, Wittenberg family’s palace Residenz) and we spent one evening at the Hofbrauhaus, which was SO much fun because we got to meet a bunch of older German couples and other people from all over the world. The town is so different from Berlin because you feel like you are stepping back in time to a fairytale city. We headed off to Vienna on Monday morning and got there the night of Halloween, which they are starting to celebrate more and more over here! We got onto the U-Bahn and a Grimm Reaper was just standing there at one of the doors – it was absolutely terrifying. That night we walked around the more populated area around St. Stephens Cathedral and had dinner. The next day was our guided tour of the city, which is probably the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I understand why all of these amazing artists, musicians, and intellectuals spent their lives in Vienna. The whole city is just one unbelievable Baroque building after another with beautiful little coffee shops on every corner and wine bars nestled downstairs of main buildings. After our tour on the first full day I went to the Albertina art museum with one of my friends from Gettysburg who is studying in Vienna. Later that night we went to a Strauss and Mozart concert in the Hofburg Palace. It was the most wonderful concert I have been to, I had this huge stupid grin on my face the entire time. Just to hear the music that I love where it was written is a crazy experience that I did not think would affect me as much as it did. The next day we went to Melk, which is an adorable little town outside Vienna right on the Danube River with a huge monastery. Again, words cannot describe the decadence of the Baroque architecture and the beauty of the bright yellow and cream stripes on the outside of the entire massive complex. Thursday we had a tour of the Hofburg Palace where the famous Sissi lived. The rest of that day I went to the Mozart House where he wrote “The Marriage of Figaro.” I got the chills being in the study where he wrote all of these unbelievable pieces. Yesterday I was also able to geek out when I went to the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms. They were beautiful and the entire cemetery was hauntingly beautiful. I ended my trip with going to the Belvadere Museum to see the Klimt painting “The Kiss.” It is infinitely more beautiful in person than I imagined it could ever be. Basically my whole month of October and the beginning of November has been about my perpetual state of being amazed.

And now I am on the train. I am floating on Cloud Nine, grinning from ear to ear, and absolutely exhausted!

adventures…

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It has been a while since I have updated this! I have done so much in the last four weeks and been having an amazing time.

A few weeks ago my program went to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Oranienburg, which is in North Eastern Berlin. Most of the buildings had been destroyed after the Soviets turned it into a camp of their own, so seeing many of the ruins was unexpected. Sachsenhausen was used as the model for many of the other camps during the time that they were being built around Germany and Poland. The camp was basically a self-sufficient city and was about 1000 acres, but we were only shown about 1/10th of the camp. The actual nature surrounding the camp was gorgeous and the wild flowers growing on the grounds were an ironic and horrifying juxtaposition to the “housing” for prisoners. The last part that I visited during the tour was the demolished area where the incinerators and gas chambers were. Although the greater parts of the walls were gone, the foundation was still there and there was about one foot of wall all the way around. There were also a few oven doors and their iron support systems, but generally it was complete wreckage. Standing in the middle of this area, there was a plaque with a description of the exact process – with room numbers pinpointing each step in the operation – that the prisoners would go through when taken to the gas chambers. This was the most unbearable part. The rest of the day had a whole different feeling, obviously, and nothing that I did seemed really important or relevant. There is this underground thing in Berlin where if you find out that people who lived in your building during the war were killed in a camp or while trying to escape, an artist will make a little gold-ish plaque to put on the ground outside the building with their names, occupations, date of birth, and place of death. I walk past two of these plaques every day because a couple in my apartment building was one such instance. Having an experience like this was very sobering and completely changed how I look at this city and where I live.

Later that weekend I went on a field trip to the East Side Gallery – the longest stretch of the wall still intact. Artists have painted murals on each slab of the wall, which is truly amazing considering one would be shot immediately for even touching the wall when it was still functioning. One of the most controversial artists, Günther Schaefer, gave us a tour of the wall and told us his life story and how the wall essentially split his family apart.

Last weekend I went to Copenhagen with some of my friends from my Berlin program. We got up at 4AM on Friday and flew into Denmark and had a full day of seeing everything we could in the city. We did a canal tour that took us everywhere and showed us all of the important things to see! The Little Mermaid (like most things that are built up…) was much smaller than I had imagined, but I loved seeing it. I had forgotten how much I miss water and Copenhagen was the perfect fix! The city is so different from Berlin: everything is so much more airy and open, all historic buildings, and parks everywhere. I also met up with some of my friends from Gettysburg, which was so much fun and a wonderful reminder of home.

As I enter midterms week, I can hardly believe that I am about one third of the way through my program. In no way does it feel like I am actually in “school” because with every annoying assignment, I have the realization that I have absolutely nothing to complain about – I’m in BERLIN!!!

Settling in…

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I apologize for my tremendous delay in updating this- I knew I would have issues in that department!

My last two weeks here in Berlin have been an absolute rollercoaster and I have adored every single moment. Now entering my third full week of classes, it is a little weird to be taking classes away from my academic “home” in Gettysburg. I am generally enjoying the classes I am in – Islam and Europe, Popular Culture of the US and Europe, and Berlin: History, Memory, Literature – but having each of my content courses once a week for two and a half hours is supremely weird to me and start to feel very long after a while. I have German twice a week for three hours at a time and we also have fieldtrips to supplement what we are learning in class. Last week I went to the supermarket with my class and it was surprisingly quite entertaining! I am not sure if the German people shopping there enjoyed the horde of Americans running around the store with a work sheet, though…

In addition to the fieldtrips that I have specifically for each of my academic classes, we have weekly excursions as a whole program – all 144 of us. It can be rather frightening and loud when we are all together. Friday we went to an area called Potsdam, which is about 30 minutes outside of the city, to visit two castles. One was where the Potsdam Conference happened with Truman, Churchill, and Stalin in 1945. Our tour was of their offices that were set up and the large conference room where all of their talks happened. Later that day we went to Frederick the Great’s summer castle, Sanssouci.  It was spectacular, even though it was raining!

In addition to being a part of the Freie University’s program (the large 144 student part), I am in a smaller program within that called CIEE. We have our own fieldtrips and seminars throughout the semester. Last weekend we took a trip to a five story bunker built during WWII that has been converted into a private art collection and someone’s home. The art was extremely avant-garde and absurd, but the actual building was preserved in a way that some pieces of art almost became part of the building. During that same excursion we went to a building called Tacheles, which is covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti. Artists are able to rent out rooms for their private studios, so we went to visit one of our professor’s friends in his studio. This has been one of my favorite experiences so far because he works specifically with German history and approaching individual Holocaust stories in a very personal way.

This morning I went to the American Berlin Church for the September 11th memorial service. It was a great experience, although it was not as religiously focused as I had hoped. Because it was the official service, the American Ambassador and German President Christian Wulff were in attendance. It was much more focused on thanking political figures for being in attendance than on why I was actually there. There was a cool international aspect to it with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim political figures, and at least four different languages. I am so glad that I was present for the service.

During the little free time I have, I have been able to go see my host dad’s Shakespeare in the Park show, go to a German theatre and see a show that was like a Tim Burton movie on crack, walk around a super cool flea market, explore the shopping areas, and spend time with some great new friends. I already feel like I will not have enough time here in Berlin to experience everything that the city has to offer, but I am trying to make a pretty good start!

 

 

Entschuldigung…

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In German, the term “entschuldigung” means “excuse me” or “sorry.” I have been making great use of this word since I arrived here, Monday morning. Since I have virtually zero German speaking abilities, I pride myself on using my manners and polite terms in an attempt to blend in. So far it is kind of working! I can hardly believe that it is the end of my fourth day here, but it also feels like I was in the states years ago. For the past few days we have been really focused on orientation-esque things and just getting used to travelling around the city. The U-bahn and S-bahn (basically underground and above ground metro systems) is a total dream and so easy to use, so I have found myself quickly being able to navigate around the city. What I have seen so far, which is not very much, is so diverse in terms of architecture, language, kinds of people, and the different vibes of each neighborhood. It has become evident during these few days the differences between Americans and Berliners, one of which is a loudness factor. Whoever is reading this most likely knows me very well and suspects that I stick out like a sore thumb in that regard, but when a group of one hundred and forty-four American college students are standing on a platform of the U-bahn at 8:45 in the morning, obviously it is not just me. The way that people interact is so much more polite and private in some ways, something I hope influences me while I am over here! Berlin is just so much more relaxed and steadily paced than any other city I have been to and although I know I will have my ups and downs throughout the semester, I am glad that I will be in this gorgeous city (living with the most perfect host family!) that I have so much to learn from.

life is a cabaret…

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It only seems appropriate to quote Liza’s famous line from Cabaret since in a few days I will be in Berlin, the birthplace of cabaret itself! I can hardly believe that I will be leaving in exactly six days and that I will be in the beautiful city of Berlin in one week. I have been quite busy this summer with a short internship in NYC, an acting program, and some wonderful family time. It has not hit me yet that I will be in Berlin for four months instead of my comfy college bubble, but I am so excited to become immersed in German culture and to have an amazing European experience.

I will be living in Spandau, which is a suburb of Berlin, and I will be taking classes during the week in the city at Freie Universität. My program is specifically focused on “Language and Culture,” so I will get to study all of the humanities and artsy stuff I love! I am hoping that I will be able to travel around Germany and Europe as much as possible during the weekends in addition to all of the excursions I will be taking with my program. During my time across the pond, I am planning on seeing lots of museums, historical buildings and architecture, cabarets/theatre, art exhibits, and anything else to do with all of the different cultures I hope to experience.

Everyone says that the time absolutely flies by during semesters abroad, so I am going to try my darndest to absorb and cherish every single moment. I will also try my best to update this blog with what I have been doing and to add lots of pictures! Excuse any technical difficulties since I am not exactly the most skilled blogger yet!

Sara

PS I thought I should include this :)