Even as I told myself I had very few expectations for my time abroad I was still planning non-specific pieces in my head. Foremost amongst them: I planned to throw myself into German culture absolutely.
I was going to discover every facet of the unfamiliar and make it my own. I was going to leave everything behind. Of course, as with so many things during study abroad, that’s not exactly what happened.
More often than not, I’m finding myself doing things that aren’t necessarily unique to German culture. Still, even though I felt almost a little resigned going to those events because I thought they wouldn’t offer me anything new, I quickly learned that relegating yourself to new things is just as limiting as sticking with the familiar. Here are a few activities I thought would be completely familiar but turned out to offer entirely new experiences that I never would have sought on my own.
I mean, come on, swing dancing is one of the very few things that America can actually claim as originating from the States. (Just by the way, “American as apple pie?” is a total misnomer. Apple pie has Dutch origins). Given that swing dancing originated in Harlem in the U.S., it really wasn’t on my list of ‘must-do’ cultural activities in Berlin. I certainly wouldn’t have gone on my own, but one of my friends, who is a dancer himself, invited me along and I figured I might as well go. It is now one of my favorite activities to do in Berlin.
And apparently, Berlin has its own deep roots in swing dancing. The dance became a form of rebellion during World War II after everything American and particularly anything with its roots in African American culture became taboo under the Nazi regime. Apparently, there’s even a movie starring Christain Bale and Robert Sean Leonard (of Dead Poets Society) about this particular counterculture. So, even in an activity marred in American traditions, I find moments for the cross-cultural connection I’d craved when planning this trip. On my first night at one of the dance halls, I taught a German couple the one swing combination I know, carefully instructing them through each turn in what little German dancing vocabulary I have. Even though I thought the night would offer me nothing but a taste of home I found myself participating in a new culture.
When I went to Monster Ronson’s Ichiban gay karaoke bar, it seemed to be pretty much like any other karaoke bar in the U.S.. There were private rooms for shy singers (like me) and there was a stage with an MC calling out people's names and the songs they’d chosen. My and friends bounced between singing booths and watching the performers, laughing at the goofy ones and being largely impressed by the quality of the singers. But even Karaoke ended up having its own German twist.
Several members of the audience (including one of my friends) and the MC got up to sing an Anti-Nazi anthem in defiance of a march organized by neo-nazi movements that’d taken place that day. Standing in the audience as queer and straight Germans alike rose in defiance of fascism I couldn’t help but feel hopeful. There was no way to know if any of this would be publicized, no way that any neo-nazis could here us but there was something powerful about singing our resistance even if was just for ourselves.
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Hello everyone! My name is Eliza DuBose and I'm from the area surrounding Boulder, Colorado. I'm a junior at American University studying Foreign Language and Communication Media, which is (very) basically a Journalism and German double major. This is my second time living in Germany and I am so thrilled to be studying in Berlin for the year. In my free time, I spend most of my time hiking, reading, writing, or consuming an inordinate amount of media.