January 14, 2009

Last hours in Berlin

Somehow five months flashed by, and suddenly I have to pack up all my stuff and leave. That's gonna be hard because I have a lot of stuff. I'm taking a train to Frankfurt tonight and flying at 10am tomorrow. I want to come home, of course, and see everyone and go back to the U of M, but I really, really enjoy living in Berlin. The city is just so lively and accessible, even for a broke American (and when I say broke, I'm not kidding at all...it'll be quite some time before my wallet--and dad!--forgive me).

Tony came to Germany just in time for New Year's at the Brandenburg Gate here in Berlin. It was a ridiculous party--over a million people were there!! Then the two of us traveled around for a little while, visiting Amsterdam, Oldenburg, and Nürnberg. That was my fourth time to Nürnberg--I LOVE that city (almost as much as I love Berlin!). We visited Erika Ilsemann there, which is always a delight. It's amazing that we're actually in contact with real relatives in Germany.

One of my best friends, Karthik, was also in Berlin this past week and is also flying home on Thursday. We had a great time together, making the most of our last days in Europe. We all keep saying that we're coming back--maybe for grad school or something, but we all just know in our guts that we're coming back.

I can't wait to see everyone back home! Forgive me if I seem a little out of it; reverse culture shock + jet lag + only two days at home before leaving again for school = one discombobulated girl. For the last time, love from Berlin!!!!

December 1, 2008

Finals

We have coined a term for actually doing homework: workity-work-work. When someone is doing workity work work you know they're serious. If you call someone and say, what's up, and they're like, "oh, i'm doing some workity work work," you know that they're not coming out tonight.

We're all doing a lot of workity work work. It's impressive. By means of greeting, we just ask each other how many pages of writing we all have left this week. The general consensus this lovely Monday evening is somewhere between 10 and 15 pages due this week. Ouch.

Apart from that, we're all realizing with horror that we only have two more weeks here. No one wants to leave! There's this feeling of having to do everything that we've been meaning to do all semester. I'm lucky though, I'll be staying in Berlin after my program ends until after Christmas, so I have plenty of time to do all those "woulda shoulda couldas." It's just going to be super sad to take everyone to the airport and hug them goodbye.

But first we have to get through finals. Do that first, worry about the rest later!

November 20, 2008

Back From Istanbul, Tons of Schoolwork

It's been a busy couple weeks, and I'm sorry I haven't updated in so long! Follow the link to read about trips to Istanbul and Amsterdam!!!

Continue reading "Back From Istanbul, Tons of Schoolwork" »

November 2, 2008

Interview Project for German Class

I just had the most surreal experience ever. Really, ever. It's made Berlin as a living city seem so much closer to me, so much more accessible. We read about the crazy history of this city in classes all the time--but that's just a history book. So because we're working on this theme in my German class, we have to work in pairs and conduct interviews with random East and West Berliners and then write a paper on it. My friend Bristol and I put some questions together, and today we went out to Friedrichshain Park, right by where we live in the East, and accosted some random people to interview them.

Our first person was a West-German man who also happened to be a history teacher. He gave such good (well-rehearsed, i might add) insight on what it was like in West Germany, how the DDR was a completely different country and no one concerned themselves with it a whole lot. He clearly covers the subject with his students because he knew just what points to hit.

The second lady we talked to was just chilling on a bench by the ping pong tables. She was 70--born in 1938, she told us. She had so much to say! Her family was split when the wall went up in 1961. She and her mom were trapped in the East while her dad continued living in the West. When we asked her if the wall was ever a topic of discussion at home, she just said no. They never talked about it because there was nothing that they could do. They just--and i quote--cried about the wall because it was the only option for them. She only saw her dad twice over the forty years of the wall. He came over once for her wedding and once for the birth of her child. She was never allowed to visit him, even though she applied many times for a travel visa to the West. She could even still list the years that she applied! 1967, 73, 74, 81, 82, 88. Isn't that incredible??? We went on to ask her about shortages in the East, whether the command economy worked out well. She said there were no paper tissues, no jeans, no rain jackets. Baby clothes were hard to find, she said. Finally we asked her if the 9th of November (the day the wall came down in 1989) still meant a lot to her. At this point she began to cry. She said "der tag wird immer zum heulen." That means, that day will always make me weep. I asked her to explain why, and she said because it was the first time her family was together after 40 years. Her mom never saw her dad again after the wall went up--she died before it came down.

So here Bristol and I were, standing in the park with a crying old lady. We felt really, really bad, but at the same time, the lady had seemed really happy to tell us about her experiences. Almost as if it were cathartic to tell the whole story to two outsiders like us. She seemed actually relieved. We thanked her very, very earnestly, and went on our way.

After that, we needed a few minutes to recover. That was the first time either of us had ever seen anyone so affected by their past, by the history that we've been learning about in class. My hands were actually shaking!

It took us both a moment, but we managed to get it back together and continue on our quest for interviews. Our last interview was with a red-faced old guy, also about 70, who was sitting on a park bench smoking cigarillos. In contrast to the old lady, he was very bitter. He quickly got quite worked up, saying (with surprising passion) that all the Stasi and SS agents should have been hanged in 1989 and that the DDR was a prison, a real prison for 70 million people. When we asked him about books written about the fall of the wall, he said they're all shit (his word, not mine!). No one can describe anything like East Germany in a book, he said, and why should he read them anyway if he lived through it all himself. We also asked him about shortages in the East, and he informed us that the only two things one could get with any regularity were beer and bread, but "what more does a man need, though?" Finally we asked him whether or not he fells that Germany has been truly reunited. He said no, a strong, fervent no. According to him, the politicians that say all the time that Germany is growing together are full of shit (again, his words!). He added that all politicians are liars and cheaters and they should all be done away with, all of them. Then he showed his true colors when I asked what the new German government should look like. "There's nothing wrong with Socialism. We would do well now with Socialism like we had in the East. The problem in the DDR was what they did to enforce it, they just took it way, way too far." So there you have it, a bitter old Socialist smoking in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

So that's what I did today. I made an old lady cry and I pissed off a geezer. And I'm about to get an A on my German project.

October 30, 2008

Midterms...ugh

So sorry it's been forever since I've updated! I got home from Dresden and school suddenly became all-consuming. I've been soooo unbelievably busy with projects and papers and just getting to class--I've got 30 classroom hours a week, plus all my homework. I gave a 90 minute presentation on the Estonian economy last week, today I did 30 min on a museum I visited yesterday. Last night, Shane, Bryant and I pulled a grade-A all nighter. We ate lots of cold pasta, listened to music, and worked worked worked until 5am. Whew! We all had two papers and that presentation due today, plus our German homework. It was super fun, actually. Midterms are next week, so the professors are really piling it on.

We're also gearing up for Halloween. I still haven't found a costume! My friend Wendy is dressing up as Sarah Palin--that'll be such a hoot! We're planning on going to a party hosted by our program, so it'll be good, clean fun--not like a certain cousin of mine who will be partying it up in Madison on State Street... I wonder if Germans are into doing costumes, or if we'll be the only ones tomorrow dressed up like idiots. I got a shipment of candy corn from home, and it's such a hot commodity here that I could trade it in exchange for such valuable things as dry socks (it's been pouring rain for a week) or hot chocolate from the convenience store on the corner. Shoot, I bet I could even get someone to write my term paper for me in exchange for a meager handful of my candy corn.

The election is also coming up next week! We are all so excited! On the 4th we all have midterms, but that night we're going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show in German, then to an election party that runs from midnight to 9am. It's gonna be an absolute blast! If Obama wins, Germans will be celebrating in the streets. I shiver to think what will happen if McCain wins. Obamania is in full swing here in Berlin. It's actually a little ridiculous.

October 15, 2008

No Big News, Just the Daily Report

It's getting pretty autumnly here in Berlin now and it's making me miss my U of M campus back home. The trees must be so gorgeous right now. I miss just bummeling around campus. In berlin, the uni doesn't really have a defined campus, just a bunch of random buildings. The Mensa is good though. That's like the cafeteria for uni students. You can get a huge plate of hot food for 2-3 euros. That's a steal, by the way. It's soo nice because that's where I get all my meat food--it's too expensive for me to buy chicken breasts or ground beef at the grocery store.

Tonight I just went to my bff Karthik's house. Kar's from LA, and he's a Libertarian borderline Democrat too :-D We agree that Sarah Palin is going to be our nation's next maverick savior (joke, joke! don't worry!!). And, another reason Kar is cool: he can recite all the presidents in order with dates in office. He and I are supposed to be putting together a 30 minute presentation about one of the "Transformationsökonomien," transformation economies (if the blatant cognate didnt give it away for you!), in one of the Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004, but Kar's German friend, Nick, was there, so instead i got Nick to help me with my German grammar exercise homework. We have a quiz on Präpositionelle Funktions-Verb Gefüge tomorrow. Then we all watched Boston Legal.

I don't think I have any more wildly exciting news. I'm headed to Dresden on Saturday morning. That was my favorite city that I visited last summer, and I'm so excited to go back. The whole city was firebombed and burned to the ground during the war, but it's been carefully rebuild using as much original material as possible, so the whole city has this sort of blackened, burned look to it. And I'm hoping the visit the art museum again. The Dresdner Kunstgallerie is one of the best art museums I've seen. They have my favorite painting in the world there--Leda and the Swan by Peter Paul Rubens. The full report on my trip will come next week.

October 7, 2008

Class Reports

OK, good news! Classes are going great! I thought it would be really hard to have all the teaching and reading and homework in German, but it's actually not that bad. There's something wildly satisfying about seeing pages and pages of notes that I've written all in German. My vocab is also growing by leaps and bounds! Here are some of the words I've learned just today:
taufen-to baptize
niederbrennen-to burn down
Ereignis-event, incident
Mangel-shortage
Pinzel-paint brush
grenzen an-to border
bekehren-to convert (religiously)

My Eastern European economics class is so interesting!! The prof is mega-boring, but the subject matter is so engrossing that I don't even care. I have three close friends--Shane, John, and Ross--with whom I have all my economic and political classes. We're the polit-econ core. We just set up camp for the day and settle in for hours of fun. My art history class also turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The prof is ridiculous, always moving around and scribbling on the whiteboard. His lectures are the rare kind where, when it's over, you sigh disappointedly and wish for another two hours of class.

Apart from classes, my social life is still chugging along faithfully. Last week I went to my friend John's for a fancy wine party. We got a bottle of really fancy French wine and John's host taught us all how to sample wine like snobs. Then we ate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that John's parents had sent him. On Saturday we went dancing at a Latin club called Zappata, last night we went to the Oktoberfest beer garden set up in the middle of Alexanderplatz. Once a week we go out as a big group to our favorite Indian restaurant on Oranienburger Street, and that's what I'm doing tonight.

Last night I also went to the Deutsche Oper (German Opera) again. A Russian company is visiting now, and they put on an Opening Gala with samples of opera and classical ballet. One of the singers got so wrapped up in performing her song that when she was done she fell to the floor completely out of breath. Wow. And I had seats in the second row, right in the middle. Double wow. The ballet was also awesome. A ballerina performed "Death of a Swan" from Swan Lake. All the lights were out except for a ghostly blue spotlight on the dancer, who was dressed up in the full swan getup, complete with foofy white tutu and feathery thing on her head. It was so powerful!

Apart from all that, I'm finally, finally falling into the routine that's going to last for the rest of the semester. It is SUCH a good feeling. I'm getting really good at being a Berlinerin (a girl Berliner), I think.

October 1, 2008

Back "Home"

So first off, my trip was AMAZING! I'm so surprised that more people don't go to Eastern Europe. It's just as interesting as Berlin or München, but half the price and with a quarter the number of tourists. Bratislava, in particular, is a hidden little gem. So quiet and small, but full of history and boasting an excellent opera house. Also, the city has an excellent burrito joint called Taco Rey with the spiciest salsa ever (a much-needed commodity after weeks in Germany where ketchup is considered spicy!) One of my favorite things we did was go to a farm in rural Hungary, about 3 hours by bus out of Budapest. There were Hungarian cowboys in traditional garb who showed us around, put on a horse show for us, and served us the most delicious lunch in the history of lunch. After a month in a city as huge as Berlin, in was a very pleasant change of pace to be "auf dem Land," or out in the country. Instead of smelling like cigarette smoke and sewer, it smelled like hay and horses and growing things. Mmmmmmm :) I lovelovelove living in the city, but more and more I'm starting to think that I might be a farm girl at heart. Prague was also stunning. The whole city looks like a painting. There aren't even cigarette butts or bottle caps on the cobblestones--the place is pristine! The one bad thing though was the sheer volume of tourists. On Saturday it was an absolute zoo. I don't know how residents of Prague put up with it day in and day out.

After 8 days of traveling, though, we were totally ready to come back to Berlin. We missed our rockin' nightlife (trains generally quit running at midnight in Eastern Europe) and our friends who hadn't come along on the trip. We were always saying, Bristol would love this or I wish Shane were here! We had a big reunion dinner at an Indian restaurant on Monday night that lasted like five hours.

Back in Berlin, we only had half a day to recover before classes started bright and early on Monday. I'm taking six classes:
-Business and Trade with Central and Eastern Europe
-Berlin in Literature--Literature in Berlin
-Early 20th Century German Art and Architecture
-Germans and Jews [a history of the relationship between the two within Germany since WWII]
-German Politics and Security Issues from WWII to the Present
-Advanced German Composition and Conversation

All the teaching and coursework is done in German, which is overwhelming now, but I think I'll get a handle on it in the next week or two. Our semester is actually a month shorter than a normal one in the US, so we're going to be pummeled with information. The faculty here are all really good, too--true experts in their fields. I honestly don't know how my program managed to nab such top-notch staff. It's gonna be awesome!

September 19, 2008

Nach Budapest

I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon for an eight day tour of Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague. It's amazing how fast that snuck up on me! Pretty much yesterday I was in a huge panic trying to pack for Germany--Prague was so far away that I didn't think once about it. Now all of a sudden I'm going! Packing list is simple--three or four tshirts, tooth brush, an extra pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, rainjacket, and a deck of cards. That's still pretty darn luxurious compared to last summer when I spent five weeks in Europe with exactly two tshirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, and a sweatshirt.

Some of my friends aren't going with the program to Eastern Europe. Bristol is going to Athens, Ross and Shane to Amsterdam, Günay to Spain, and so on. Everyone is going to have a million stories to tell when we all get back! The funny thing is, though, that even though I've only known my crew here in Berlin for three weeks, I'm already totally attached to them all. Bristol and I are besties, and I won't see her for over a week! She left this afternoon, and we actually got a little misty-eyed when we hugged and said goodbye.

Today I took a placement test for my semester-long German course. It's the same test used by Humboldt Uni to place new students, and it covers every level of German from zero to absolutely perfect. My prof said that she took it and got a 93 out of 100, and she's a native Berliner! I got a 76. Not too shabby right? My friend who lived in Germany for two years got a 77. I'm pretty proud of myself right now, if you can't already tell :)

Tonight is salsa class again. It's SO fun, and so unexpected! Did not know that there was any sort of a salsa scene in Berlin. Surprise! My partner is a med student who also studies at Humboldt. He always skips the pauses on beats 4 and 8, though, so it's exhausting to dance with him! Good excercise, I guess. After class the two of us and my friend Anna are all going out for drinks, then Anna and I are going to her place to cook breakfast for dinner. I have a major hankerin' for fried eggs!

I'm not bringing my laptop on my trip to Eastern Europe, so don't be sad if you don't hear from me for a while.

September 15, 2008

Life As Usual

This past week, nothing out of the ordinary has happened. I went to German class, hung out with my friends afternoons and weekends, and spent waaaay too much time on Facebook. It's good to finally have an actual routine. Relaxing. I'm also catching up on sleep. For a week or two there, I hardly had time to shower, let alone get 7-9 hours of sleep! Let me tell you, learning theoretical German grammar bright and early after 5 hours of sleep is not fun!

Last Friday I went to the Staatsoper, the State Opera, and saw Fidelio. I was a little disappointed because it was "modernized," with costumes and sets from the 1940's or so. I was really hoping for some super elaborate gowns and whatnot, but alas, there were only tweed suits. The singing was amazing, though. Not a wrong note or grating tone the whole night. I just love going to the opera! That's definitely something I'll continue doing after I come home. I've been meaning to go to the Minnesota Opera for a while now...

Also on Friday, my whole friend group had a sleepover at my buddy's apartment :) We stayed up late and watched movies and pretty much just talked the whole night until morning. Then we all went out for waffles.

*****Reason to love Berlin #397: you can get AMAZING waffles for breaky for the low, low price of 2,25€!

September 10, 2008

Turkish Market

Yesterday I went with my buddy Bryant to the Turkish Market in Kreuzberg. As you may know, there is a thriving Turkish community in Berlin, particularly in Kreuzberg (Berlin has different boroughs, like NYC). I live in Mitte, like the tourist center, so it's always an adventure to take the subway down to Kreuzberg. Everything just seems more raw, less glossy and expensive. The "Turkische Markt" consists of many, many stalls lined up and down a long street. There were a lot of fruit, cheese, and fabric stands. I guess those Turks like to sew or something, because there were a LOT of different fabrics. I went crazy at the fruit stands. I got 10 figs for 2 Euro, a Hokaido pumpkin/squash, aubergine, cactus fruits, tomatoes, and onions and garlic. Waaaay cheaper than Aldi! The Turkish goat cheese that I got is also delish! It was also my first chance to use a little Turkish. I got to "pazarlik etmek," bargain, with many of the sellers, and I always said "tesekkur ederim," thank you.

This week I also got in touch with a school for disabled students and will start volunteering there at the end of the month, after I get back from Prague/Budapest/Bratislava. I'm so excited! Not only will I get to do something that I'm familiar with and good at, but I'll get to do it in German!!! The school is in Prenzlauer Berg (another borough), but not too far away--about 20-30 min by train.

By the way, I am getting wicked good at navigating the train system here in Berlin! I'm always the one giving directions, toting the map, etc. It's funny because that's how it is in Minneapolis, too. Somehow I always end up as the group navigator.

Tonight I'm going to a small independent film opening in Prenzlauer Berg. My good friend James lives nearby, so we're going to meet up at his place and maybe eat a little dinner, then head over to the theater together.

August 31, 2008

Settling In

Things here in Berlin are finally beginning to fall into a pattern I can recognize :) That's such a relief! Things with my program at IES are running along smoothly. Last week we took a placement test for our German intensive courses, and I somehow tested into the highest level. I'll be in class with guys who have studied in Germany for a year or have a German parent or something. It's wildly intimidating. The intensive German course will be starting on Monday, and run every day for four hours for three weeks. I am going to learn SO much and I am SO excited! The classes will be at Humboldt University and taught by actual faculty.

Apart from the IES school part of things, I'm making a bunch of new friends. There are about ten of us from the fifty IES-ers that really get along well, and we hang out like every day. The cool thing about Berlin is that there is just so much to do all the time! Yesterday we went shopping at Alexanderplatz, on Friday we went on a pub crawl in Kreuzberg, today we're just chilling in a park near my apartment. I think later tonight we're going to my friend James' apartment to watch Project Runway.

My apartment is really nice, apart from all the cat hair. But the cats are so cute that I don't even mind the hair everywhere. My host ladies are currently on vacation in Switzerland, so I haven't actually met them yet. Their good friend Sabine is staying with me, and we get along well. We love enjoying long, leisurely brunches out on the patio. My new favorite toast topping is a soft boiled egg with salt and pepper and then sprouts and sheep cheese. YUMMY!

I guess back home things are also kicking back into gear for the new school year. My cousin Maddy will be starting kindergarten this year (Have fun, Maddy! Learn lots!) And all my friends from the U are moving back onto campus. It's a little sad that I'm not with them, but I'm pretty sure they'll still be there for me when I get home. It's the hardest thing in the world to call home, though, with the time difference! I either have to call at like 2am and catch MN people in the evening or right smack dab in the middle of my day at 5pm and catch them in the morning.

August 26, 2008

Well hello again, Berlin!

I finally got to Berlin yesterday! After almost 10 days in Germany, I am nearing my ultimate destination: Mollstrasse 10, Berlin. Yesterday I had a four hour train ride from Erika Ilsemann in Erlangen to this awesome city of awesomeness. I had facebook planned a meeting at the train station with Perry, a girl from my program, and later on the two of us met up with another girl from our program. We spent the day just touristing around town, seeing a few sights. I was here last summer doing the same thing, and I kept seeing things I'd already seen or places where I'd already eaten or whatever. It was a weird feeling, as if the year in the middle never happened...except I was with two college students instead of thirty something high schoolers.

Last night I stayed in the Baxpax hostel right in downtown Berlin. It's nice, small, clean. But right now it's like 10 in the morning and everyone else in my room is still sleeeping, so for lack of anything better to do i decided to come down to the lobby and surf for a while. It was a totally fun night last night in our room. One of my roomies was a young woman from Chile, so we spoke Spanish for almost an hour! I spoke more Spanish than German yesterday! The other guy in our room was from Australia, and he wanted "travel around the world" before moving to the States. He started in Japan in may and has been going ever since. That's so cool! It's wild, the people you meet hanging out in these hostels!

August 20, 2008

Schloss Verssanerie

So going to Kassel yesterday was super cool. Jule's university was small, but nice. I was also introduced to the Mensa, which is like a student cafeteria. You can get a hot lunch there for only 2 or 3€, which is a great deal. Afterward we visited a castle on the top of a mountain, and I was pretty sure I was going to die from all the climbing. Then we got there and found out that we had just missed the last tour. So then we decided to climb up to the "ruins" that the castle guy had built just because the wanted ruins on his land. First there was this nearly vertical path, then an awful, decrepit old staircase. We definitely earned our stripes trooping up the side of the mountain! So then we finnnallllllly get to the top........and find that the ruins had just closed. All that climbing and no tour :( Oh well. About two minutes later, a bus that circulated around the castle grounds showed up at the ruins (most people aren't dumb as us to climb all over the place). We jumped on the bus and let it take us down to our car waaaaay at the bottom of the mountain. Whew.

Then on our way out of town, we got totally lost trying to figure out which direction to go because the Autobahns are wildly confusing. They don't go by direction like American highways--north south east west, you know, they go by which cities are coming along down the line. So we could choose between either "Frankfurt Erfurt Hannover" or "Dortmund Paderborn"................ummmmmm..........................................we got good and lost, but eventually we got ourselves on the right track. Gott sei dank!

Today we're going to Schloss Verssanerie by the town of Fulda. Much closer than Kassel. Jule says the inside is gorgeous, so I'm so excited.

This morning on Facebook I got in touch with a few people from my program who are also arriving in Berlin a day or two early. We're hoping to meet up on Sunday or Monday of next week and bum around town together until our program starts on Tuesday.

August 19, 2008

Nach Kassel

Big day yesterday of mountain hiking and sliding and general good-time having. We went to a mountain called the Wasserkuppe. Because it's the highest point in the state of Hessen, there's like a whole little village built on its peak. There were a couple restaurants, a glider museum, a weather observation station, and a Sommerrodelbahn, which was the coolest thing ever. A Sommerrodelbahn is like a cross between a slide and a rollercoaster built going down the side of the mountain. There's this little scooter thing with a brake on it, and you go flying down the mountain in a metal gutter with banked curves like a waterslide. It was wildly fun--we each went down four times! I posted a bunch of pics and a video on Facebook, so go take a look!!!

Today Jule is taking me to Kassel to show me around her university. I'm really excited to see where she goes to school. I know I LOVE showing friends around the U of M, so I bet Jule's excited too. After visiting the Universität, we're going to a cool castle (the name escapes me now...) that Jule tells me is totally gorgeous. I love the whole castle thing. I'm sure I'll end up taking a hundred pictures and keeping my ticket and the whole shebang.

Yesterday...or Sunday, I think, I bought my train ticket to Erika Ilsemann's town of Erlangen. I get to ride the ICE (the fast train) all the way there for only 29,00€! That may seem like a lot, but for the ICE it's a great deal. My train departs Thursday night and it'll take about two hours to get to Erika's.

Tschüs!