So it has been quite an eventful week, having just arrived in Berlin! This post is going to give a brief outline of the highlights of week one broken down by day. Expect a follow up soon of things that I like and things that I despise in Germany!
I arrived fairly late in the day compared to everyone else, so I only got to meet a couple of people in IES before going home with my homestay family. The mother is extremely nice; we chatted for an hour or so over dinner and then went for a bike ride in the surrounding area and to my school and back. I also live with her son who is 14, so she’s dealing with the typical 14 year old problems, sketchy friends, too much phone usage, not wanting to do homework, and so on. However, talking to him he seems like a good kid overall, my only complaint being he hangs out with a lot of Turks, so he speaks a heavily Turkish influenced German. I can barely understand him. Their house is much more spacious than I was expecting and it’s nestled among several parks, so there are plenty of running trails nearby!
Orientation day at IES! After biking to school (including passing through the Brandenburger Tor), I spent the majority of the day with other IES students going through orientation, which included lots of downtime for chatting with one another. Everybody here is really outgoing and friendly and hardly anybody here knew anybody else before coming, so we’re all fairly eager to make friends. It reminded me a ton of freshman year: the same rush to make friends and figure out who you’re going to hang out with while you’re in school. We also went on a walking tour of the surrounding area which is quite nice. For those who know Berlin, the IES center is around the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn stop, Monbijou Park, Museumsinsel, and Humboldt University. All in all, it’s a fairly choice location. It’s fairly close to the center of the city, with the Brandenburger Tor and Alexanderplatz being a walkable distance away, and convenient access to lots of public transportation. After dinner as a group on Wednesday, we decided we were going to go out, but I wanted to drop off my backpack at home, so I decided to meet up with everybody where they were going. However, we were not specific enough as to where we were meeting up, so I ended up wandering around for 20 minutes looking for people until I found a bouldering park, where I was able to rock climb for a couple hours until I got tired and went home. So getting lost isn’t always a bad thing!
Thursday was my first day of classes, although I only had one. It is my literature course and it seems like it will be fairly interesting! It’s all about Berlin literature from 1900 to today, so we will get to go to several of the areas discussed in stories and authors’ residences as well as reading their works. I am a firm believer in context while studying the arts, so this will give me a ton of background information that will help illuminate the works we discuss. On Thursday, Tory and Spencer (my sister and her fiancée) came into town, so we wandered around the city and went to Body Worlds, one of the exhibits where they remove the skin from dead bodies and you can see peoples’ muscles and organs. Yes, it was as disturbing as it sounds, but also quite informative and interesting, especially their frequent comparisons between healthy and cancerous organs.
I don’t have classes on Friday! However, I am in a film class for which we have to watch movies before our Monday class, so it seems like I will normally be watching a movie on Friday afternoon. In this case, we watched Wings of Desire, a film told mainly from the perspective of angels who can read peoples thoughts. While it is a fairly dry movie with little in the way of plot, there was one scene in particular which really stuck with me, where two angels are talking about observations they made of humans. They simply stated their observations such as “A woman on the street folded her umbrella while it rained and let herself get drenched. A schoolboy described to his teacher how a fern grows out of the earth, and astonished the teacher.” The angels do not interpret why we might do these things, they merely watch. It is up to the viewer to interpret what these actions might say about the human condition.
After the movie, I went out with a couple of friends and had a beer in the park before wandering in the direction of the Brandenburger Tor, where we knew there were going to be festivities in conjunction with the soccer game to be played on the next day. On the way, we stopped by the Holocaust memorial, which was an enchanting memorial. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is a city block of raised stones representing graves. They are aligned in rows and columns, but the middle of the block is sunk into the ground, so when you walk into the rows, the stones tower over your head. Because you can only see the rows and columns at your intersection, you can be with a friend one second, and have completely lost them the next if they make one slightly different turn. While it is not a labyrinth, it is just as confusing as one, which expertly conveyed the feeling of disorientation that the European Jews must have felt as their world completely changed around them.
After the memorial, we went to the area behind the Tor, where screens were set up to view the game, live DJs played, PS4s, cars, and other products were set up as advertising to the crowds come to watch the game. We hung out there for an hour or so and then I headed home for the night, not wanting to trek across town at midnight to meet up with more people.
On Saturday, Tory, Spencer and I went to Potsdam to check out the many sights there, especially Fredrick the Great’s palace Sans Souci. We took a bus tour around Potsdam, which was nice, but certainly not anything special. Especially compared to Berlin, where all the plants are green and beautiful, it was odd to see a lot of dead grass on the ground in the royal gardens and plants growing between the cobblestones. I got the feeling that upkeep of the several royal palaces in Potsdam was extremely costly, so they seem to focus only on a couple small key areas, and neglect much of the surrounding land. I don’t blame them, but I was expecting royal gardens to be fairly beautiful and luscious, so it was odd to me that it was more of a partially cleared forest with a few statues scattered about. However, we got off of the bus in a scenic area with shops lining both sides of the street, and that significantly increased my respect for the city. It was a gorgeous little area, complete with a market and children doing traditional dance routines in the street, fully dressed in their flowing costumes.
In the evening, we went to a Russian Ska band at a random club in Berlin and it was a great concert. Ska is a fairly upbeat rock with lots of brass and unique instruments. The band we saw had an accordion, trumpet, trombone, guitar, standup bass and drums and was extremely high energy. I ended up dancing for around 2 hours straight, and it looked like most of the other people in the bar were having as much fun as I was.
Tory and Spencer left Berlin, but before they did, we took a boat tour on the Spree. It was a fantastic day outside, so although I had already seen most of the sights, it was nice to just sit in the boat and relax. After they left, I went and read in a park for a couple hours before meeting up with some friends at the top of the Fernsehturm, a TV tower with a revolving restaurant at the top and a perfect view of the entire city. After eating a very expensive meal we headed down and went to a bar where we relaxed and got excited for classes the next morning.
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<p>I am Robin Clower and currently I'm earning degrees in Secondary Education: Mathematics and German, as well as an additional major in Mathematics at Oklahoma State University (Go Cowboys!) I lived in Germany as a child, but am now headed back after studying Germany's language, culture, and history for four years at OSU. My main passion in life is teaching, so I hope to teach y'all something while I'm in Germany and learning about myself.</p>