First Impressions of Berlin

Clarissa Grunwald
March 9, 2016

1. “Ladies and gentlemen,” the stewardess says in German. “Welcome…airplane…airplane…beautiful weather…airplane…thank you for flying with United.” There are other words in there with the airplanes, but they aren’t ones I understand. Even the fact that I’ve heard this speech before, in English, doesn’t help me piece together what all those mucky-sounding spaces are supposed to be.

This cannot be a good sign.


2. The streets of Berlin are emptier than I expected. In New York, you can’t take two steps in any direction without finding someone’s armpit in your face. Even in Lancaster, where I go to school, there are crowds, and Lancaster only makes it onto maps because it’s the only thing in the area that isn’t farmland.

Berlin has the look of a city full of people. It has parks and museums and odd modern public sculptures. But the people themselves seem to be missing. The only crowds are on the trains, which are packed, and in the train stations, which are huge sprawling glass buildings crammed full of shops and escalators. I imagine a whole metropolis of people just getting on and off of trains. 


3. My German isn’t good enough for eavesdropping. I manage to communicate with people when they’re talking to me, but when they’re not, I don’t have a chance.

This bothers me. It shouldn’t. Eavesdropping is not a hobby of mine. Listening in on people isn’t something I try to do. But then again, I’ve never needed to try. It seems a fact of nature that when you are standing around with a bunch of strangers, and some of those strangers are making small-talk, you will come away knowing slightly more about a few unnamed people’s pets, business ventures, or familial relationships. 

Only, now the strangers are speaking German, and I am lost. It’s weirdly isolating. I feel as if I’m watching a movie. The world goes on off-screen, but I can only see what the director intends.


4. The bed at my homestay is amazing. I’m not just saying that because I spent the night before my arrival attempting to sleep on an airplane. This bed is so comfortable. The mattress cover is ridiculously soft. The blanket is basically a pillow. The pillow—don’t get me started. Everything is lightweight and somehow manages to never get too hot. If a dragon saw this bed, he would give up on the sleeping-on-gold nonsense in a hurry. I find myself doubting that any of the wonders of the world could fill me with more awe than this bed. 

And then, on the other hand, I now understand why Germans take such short showers.


5. Within reason, I am a believer in When in Rome. But unfortunately, it’s harder than I expected to figure out what the Romans do. Do they put bags in their trashcans? Do they leave their toothbrushes in glasses on the sink? I’ve never had a unit on Random Everyday Norms in a German class before.

Additionally, it is exceedingly difficult to play a game of Find the Light Switch in a strange room when you don’t even know for sure what the light switch will look like when it’s found.


6. Last night, I had a dream that I was in Berlin. I woke up at 3 in the morning in a mild panic to discover that I actually was. 

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Clarissa Grunwald

<p>Writer, composer, musician. American student with a terrible sense of direction set loose on Germany. After years of telling people that I love to travel, this is my first time actually leaving the country.</p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
Franklin & Marshall College
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