Sunday, January 12, 2014

Back at School

I'm now back at Furman.  My depature from home really crept up on me.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013

Last day of the year!  So I thought I'd do a quick recap. 2013 was definitely a crazy year, mostly good, but I think I'm okay letting it go and starting a new year.

Travel
I did a 3-week trip through my school to South Korea
I studied abroad in Berlin, and while there, traveled to London, Copenhagen, Vienna, Budapest, and several German cities.

New People
I met so many new people this year.  I didn't really know anyone going in on either of my trips, and in Berlin for sure, I made a lot of friends who go to different universities.  When I worked at Furman for the summer, I also met a lot of new people.

Other
I faced a near-death experience when one of two chains holding up a projector screen broke, and it swung back and forth, missing my head, but so close that the breeze moved my hair
I had my first clubbing experience
I ran a 10k

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snow!

Here is the third photograph in a series of three of my backyard, one from each of the seasons I've been here. (I know it's not officially winter yet, but just pretend.)



It started after it was already dark.  I heard my host sister yell 'it's snowing!' so I ran downstairs.  At that point it wasn't really sticking, but there was some icy snow on top of the cars so we scraped it off and had a snowball fight and she took this picture of me.


I thought that was all I was going to get, but it snowed all night and the next morning the cobblestone streets were beautiful!  And the weather was just enough to make my U-bahn line shut down. All the others were fine, but I had a fun time taking 3 busses in lieu of my original route to the Schloss Charlottenburg Christmas Market.  But once I got there I had a banana nutella crepe, and once it got dark there was music and the castle was lit up, so it was definitely worth it.


Now the snow has all melted, but I'm definitely glad I got to experience it!
Just a note: I know it doesn't look like much snow.  That's because the real snow comes in January.  Sometimes it doesn't snow in December at all, so I really was lucky.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ending

This post is going to cover a lot of ground, but this title seemed to cover everything.

A couple weeks ago, I started waking up to frost on the ground and cars.  So I guess winter is here.
Let's start with the last day of German.  That was also, coincidentally Thanksgiving.  We had our exam the day before, so that was out of the way, then had a movie day for the last day.  Since it was Thanksgiving, we all decided to bring something.  (Not like we needed an excuse to bring food.)  I decided to bring pumpkin biscuits.

My German class.  Minus a few who didn't show up.

Cooking in Europe is always interesting, because they measure in grams and milliliters, whereas my recipe was in cups and teaspoons.  Converting the recipe was an adventure in and of itself, because I had to look up the conversions for each individual ingredient.  Finding canned pumpkin was also  an adventure.  Luckily I found it among the pop tarts, reeses, and maple syrup of the "American Section" at KaDeWe.  I started baking only to have my host family's scale break before I completed my first measurement.  Oh dear.  I also had to get creative with the oven, which did not list any degrees on it, but I think the finished products turned out okay.  At least the people in my class seemed to like them!


When I got home, there was some blue sky.  Rare for this time of year in Berlin!  So I went on a bike ride through the woods near my house, and around the trail where I walked with my host mom and the dog on my very first day here.  I wrote about that walk!  I haven't been there much since, since I mostly go around the lake, so it was strange to see it looking so dead.  But it was still beautiful in a different way.  I felt like I was saying goodbye, even though I'm sure I'll be back!

That evening my friends wanted "American food", which meant we went in search of hamburgers.  I was skeptical at first, but I actually ended up being really happy with what I ate. The burgers were interesting.  Mine was a tofu burger with mango chutney.  I realized that it's the first burger I've had since being here, and I actually really like veggie burgers, so it was good.  And of course it was fun just to hang out with everyone.  Because the truth is, we don't have much time left.

I've realized that I'm ready to come home.  Everything is still going great here, and there is still a lot I want to do, and I will be sad to say goodbye to everyone I've met here.  But I just feel like it's time, and I also have a feeling this break is going to be great.

It was November 30 when I started this, so that also fit into the 'ending' category, but now that it's December, I can't believe it's December!  As of today, I have exactly 10 days left.

Much of my time this weekend was spent studying or sleeping.  I don't know why, but I was crazy tired.  We have exams this week.  German is finished, but I had one today, and my final one Wednesday, before the program farewell dinner on Thursday.  However, Saturday night I went to a Christmas Market.  Germany is famous for it's Christmas Markets.  There are multiple ones in Berlin.  They are full of colorful decorations, cider, crepes, Glühwein, games, and presents, such as soaps, candles, wood carvings, socks, and decorations.  They're so much fun to wander through, and there are fires to stop by if you get too cold.  I went ice skating on Saturday, something that normally isn't my favorite, but I had so much fun!  And I swear it snowed some too!  It was short--the snow then turned into sleet and rain, but I definitely saw those few flakes.


On December first, Sunday, Advent started, so of course we all have Advent calendars with chocolate in them.  But I was a little surprised that my host family lit an Advent wreath, and even knew a little rhyme/speech thing to say while they were lighting the first candle. Christmas is a huge holiday in Germany, so I shouldn't be too surprised, but my host family isn't really religious, and while tons of people celebrate and decorate for Christmas who aren't, an Advent wreath seems a little more religious than decorations.  I know in the US Advent is something a lot of people ignore.  But maybe that's bigger here too?  We also had an Advent coffee and cake, with several relatives and friends.  The cake was delicious, and afterwards we went for a walk!  It was quite lovely.

Hopefully that was a good update.  For a quiet weekend, it turned into a long post! I don't know how I'll fit in everything I want to do before I leave, but I definitely am excited to be coming home in just 10 days!  Only one final standing between now and actually enjoying my final days in Berlin.  I promise at least one more post from here before I'm back in the good old US of A.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Celebrating My Geburtstag!

This weekend, I got to celebrate my birthday in Berlin.  The actual day was Thursday.  I don't have to get up until after my host family leaves, but today I'd planned to get up early to eat with them.  That didn't happen.  I've heard your year is supposed to continue the way it begins.  On Thursday I snoozed my alarm several times, was late, got lost, ate some hummus, and walked around outside a bunch.  I think that's a pretty accurate picture.
So I woke up to an empty house, but when I went down the stairs, I saw this note on the kitchen door.


Then I walked out to the table to find this spread.  It was the sweetest thing!  And when I mentioned eating hummus above, this was actually the first I've had hummus in Berlin.  You can get it, but it just doesn't seem to be as popular.  But on one of my first days here, my host sister asked my my favorite foods, and I listed hummus as one of them.  They remembered, and had a container of it for me!  The cake also looked amazing, although I waited to sample it, and I later learned that each of them had written one word.  It was a spice cake, with a walnut creme in the middle, with walnuts and raisins, and chocolate on top.  In other words amazing.





 I had class in the morning, but my teacher had prepared this surprise for me, and the whole class sang.  It was also an excursion day, so we walked around an area talking about the history of squatters there.


 There was origainally a doughnut too, but it didn't make it to the picture.

Then I went back to my homestay.  They'd asked if I'd be free to do something in the afternoon, but all I'd imagined was eating the cake they made at home.  So I was very surprised when we all got in the car!  They did not tell me where we were going, but I knew we were headed toward Potsdam.  And this still feels unreal: we went to a castle.  We walked for about 15 minutes through the grounds, which were amazing.  They looked across the water, the sun was setting, some of the trees still had colorful leaves, and there were a few arched trellises.  I had my camera with me, but I was talking to my host family and playing with the dog, and I didn't want to pause to take pictures.

The actual castle was being renovated, but there's a little cafe next to it, where we got coffee and cake (well, I got chai, but close enough), and talked.  I think it was the first conversation I've had with my host family in a while, just with the way our schedules line up, so that was nice.  Afterward, we walked around a bit more before driving back.

Every week on Thursday, there's an event called Stammtisch.  It's basically just a gathering.  They're generally at bars, but low key.  I think the point of ours is for us to speak German, which happened at the beginning, but did not this week.  There weren't many people there, but it was nice.  The student assistants bought me a drink for my birthday, and it came with four pieces of pineapple!  All the other drink only came with one.  I think it's clear who the winner is here.  Then I went home, to be rested for round two on Friday!

I have a friend here whose birthday was on Friday, so we'd decided to celebrate together.  I've also heard my whole time here how famous and awesome Berlin clubs are.  People from London fly over on weekends just to go clubbing.  We started out at a Mexican restaurant called Que Pasa, which I thought was really funny, but I'd asked the student assistants for a recommendation, and that was what they told me, so we went!  I really enjoyed it.  Around 10 people came.  We'd mostly already eaten, but we got some nachos and drinks.  Once it was late enough, we headed to a club.  It was a disappointment.  According to a guy with us who'd been to several clubs, it was "the worst club I've been to in Berlin".  So that was too bad.  The music was not very musical.  It was like white noise with a beat.  The club wasn't very full either, which is supposed to make it better.  I was also starting to get tired by this point.  We stayed for a bit, because we'd paid an entrance fee, but then headed out.  Even so, I'm really glad I went!  It was definitely something I'd wanted to do before I left Berlin, and I had a great time talking to everybody.  We've all had papers recently, and before that the different excursions, so there were several people I hadn't seen in weeks.


Birthday celebrations!  Cate, on the left, is the friend I mentioned who also turned 21.


It still hasn't quite sunk in yet that I'm 21, but it was a great birthday, and I'm so excited to be starting a new year!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht is on November 9th.

So I'm a little late coming on this one, but this is something I've been wanting to write about for a while.

Coincidentally, November 9th is also the day the Berlin wall fell.  That's celebrated on October 3rd, when official reunification occurred, out of regard for all the other memories November 9th embodies: The destruction of Jewish stores and synagogues, and the beginning of the Final Solution, the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population.

I mentioned that one of the things I like about Berlin is the history everywhere.  Since I talked about East/West Germany and the Berlin Wall on Unity Day, for November 9th, I want to talk about the other main event in German history: the Holocaust.

Before World War II, a full third of Germany's Jews lived in Berlin.  Nearly all were deported from Grunewald Station.  Today, you can still see the tracks where those trains left from.  Now left to be overgrown, to symbolize that no trains will leave from there again (although the rest of the station is still used), along the walkway is a chronological listing of each deportation, the date, the destination, and the number of people.  It's simple, but very impactful.

At a different train station, where the Kindertransports left from, bringing Jewish children to England, there is a statue commemoration that, but  also the less fortunate children on other trains: trains to concentration camps.

There is a concentration camp in Berlin, Sachsenhausen.  It was primarily used for political prisoners, but still sobering.

The Final Solution was made right here in Berlin, in the House of the Wannsee Conference.  Today it is a museum.  I was there only briefly, but it was still unsettling to be standing in the place where the decision that destroyed so many lives was made.

But it's always the subtle things that get me the most.  Stolpersteine, literally 'stumbling stones', are just that.  They are little gold cobblestones, that you don't notice until you stumble on them.  They are placed outside locations where Jews lived before being deported, and contain the name, birth date, and date of deportation, if known.  If this person perished in a concentration camp, there is also a death date.  This project was started by Gunter Demnig in Berlin, where it still primarily is, but it has also spread to the rest of Germany and several other countries.  This isn't happy history.  Every time I see one of these I feel angry, and sad

So why would I be glad they're there?

I was talking with someone the other day about how we feel like most people (or at least Americans, as far as we've observed) don't define Germany by the Holocaust anymore.  I mean, everyone knows it happened, but we think Germany is so cool.  If you ask an American what comes to mind when thinking about Germany, I would say the responses are usually more along the lines of: Beer!  Bratwurst! Potatos! Schadenfreude! Lederhosen! Oktoberfest! Oh yeah, and Hitler, maybe?

I think it would be unfair to define Germany by the Holocaust forever, because there are many good things and many good people here too.  But Neo-Nazism is still a problem here, and a much bigger one that I realized before coming.  Jews in Germany often report feeling unwelcome, and if you go to the old Jewish neighborhood in Berlin, the area surrounding the synagogue, it's shocking to see how little there is now compared to before the war.  Where once blocks an blocks of Jewish community life stood, is now the synagogue, and I think one school.  That's it.  And there are other forms of racism too.  If you want to go clubbing in Berlin, and you're not white, you will have a harder time getting in anywhere, as many bouncers have been instructed to make the clubs feel more 'European'.  I babysat for a German family a few weeks ago, and after they got ready for bed I was reading them some stories they'd picked out.  There was one with a Native American as one of the characters, and it was so so politically incorrect, and so insulting, that I had trouble reading it.  I don't think it meant to be; it was likely just ignorance, with no hateful intents, but it's still a problem.

Americans, or at least the other students in my program, have a tendency to romanticize Europe.  When the US government shut down, there were jokes about staying in Germany, where 'they do things right' and 'have things figured out'.  The United States has problems. (have problems? I don't know if that should be plural or not.) Definitely.  But I don't think we're alone, and I don't think it's beneficial to ignore that.  Just because Germany's government is incapable of shutting down, doesn't mean everything is perfect.

I like being reminded of the work there still is to do, and being reminded to care.




Gleis 17, the memorial at Grunewald train station


"Züge in das Leben--Züge in den Tod", "Trains to Live--Trains to Death"
The five children are going to death, the two to life.  These are not my pictures please don't sue me.


 Sachsenhausen



 House of the Wannsee Conference


Some Stolpersteine on my street, and a stone on a friends street, being remembered on November 9th

I just wanted to add at the end, that of everyone I've personally met in Germany, I have not seen this attitude.  Everyone I've met has been great.  I just know from speaking to other students and adults that these views are still prevalent.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hamburg and Copenhagen

It's paper time, so I've been busy.  I still have one to go, but I didn't like the Hamburg/Copenhagen trip hanging over me.
This trip was through our program.  We got to choose between Hamburg/Copenhagen and Strasbourg/Paris.  It can be difficult to make things work with 80 people, but I enjoyed it and thought we saw a lot of interesting things.
We went to Hamburg first. Hamburg is a port city, so it has an interesting emigration history.  I think my favorite part there was the emigration museum.  We also did a walking tour as a whole group, then explored some in smaller groups and got to see the sun set.  Our hostel had a great view across the water.



I loved Copenhagen.  Everyone we met was helpful, and it was so walkable and pedestrian friendly.  It's not even that big, but there was always more to do.   And every single person there rides a bike.
Our first evening there, we could feel the winds from the hurricane near the UK.  It was crazy.  Our tour guide on the canal tour the next morning said those were the strongest winds Copenhagen had ever recorded.  We did get to see some sun while we were there!  But with the time change, it did get dark really early.  My favorite things were the National Museum, Amalienborg (where the royal family lives), Davids Samling (an Islamic art exhibit), Hamlet's castle, a dance performance I went to, and some Moroccan food, but I really could go on longer.
Blue sky on the canal tour

The Little Mermaid
Hamlet's Castle

Amalienborg