Welcome to Berlin 2: The Reckoning

Clarissa Grunwald
June 14, 2016

New students have arrived at IES Abroad. They began trickling in yesterday morning, jet-lagged and nervous-looking, all fretting over whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate to use the formal case with their guest families, and trying to figure out what the proper thing to say to someone is when you bump into them on the subway.

Now there are a bit over fifty of them, huddling together in massive crowds. Safety in numbers. One moment they’ll be together in the student lounge, three or four per sofa. The next they’ll be on the patio, sitting at picnic tables that probably have not been sat at since last fall. All asking the same questions that everyone asks: Where are you from? Where do you go to school? What do you study? Do you like it?

Déjà vu.

They don’t want to look like tourists, they say. Of course, they’re not tourists, quite. They live here now, but then again, they don’t, exactly. This isn’t quite their city and will never really be their city, but for these two months they’ll ride the Bahns and shop for groceries and do their laundry and live in houses, which, some days, might even feel like their houses. Then again, other days they might feel like tourists in their own living rooms.

They don’t want to sound like Americans, they say. Of course, they are Americans, but that’s not the point. The point is the accent in your words that maybe you can’t even hear. My friends back home would tell you that it can be difficult to get me to shut up. It was in Berlin that I learned what it meant to be nervous about speaking. 

Maybe I’m projecting. Of course I’m projecting. I can’t help it. I feel like I’ve watched my past self, multiplied by fifty, arrive from the airport, drag their suitcases in the door, and immediately take all the good seats in the common room.

Among the new students was one very familiar face: Olivia, my best friend, whom I have known since middle school, has arrived in Germany. We got breakfast before class today, at a café in Kreutzberg.

“I still have to get groceries,” she told me, before adding that she had no idea how to navigate a German grocery store.

“It’s literally just a grocery store,” I said. And, I mean, it is. Like, there are precious few differences between German supermarkets and their American counterparts.

But then again, that’s not the point. I remember the weeks after I got here, how successfully purchasing and cooking spaghetti was a victory worthy of being bragged about on this blog. I’ve been there. Sometimes, I still am there.

Welcome to Berlin, new arrivals. Download a map to your phone and try not to get lost in any Biergartens.

We’ve got a month and a half to go. 

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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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