Monday, June 29, 2015

Days 13 and 14

Day 13: Sunday, June 28 2015

It was sunny yet again today so it looks like it's finally summer in Berlin! In the morning, many of us spent time at Salon Schmuck doing research. Salon Schmuck is this cute little cafe with decently priced food and good WiFi. I got a good number of little errands and emails done, so that was productive although boring.

 Fake American soldiers (above) and a preserved portion of the Wall (below) at Checkpoint Charlie.

In the afternoon/evening things livened up. I went and visited Checkpoint Charlie with a few other people from our group, which was informative. Checkpoint Charlie is a former Wall checkpoint that the Allies used to get into East Berlin during the Cold War. I had heard various opinions of Checkpoint Charlie (which is also a museum), one opinion being that it's a tourist trap. To be fair, this statement was well supported. Two men dressed as American soldiers stand guard at the former checkpoint, and for only two euros you can get your photo taken with these fake soldiers. Because a giant wall dividing a city where people died in attempts to cross are totally what I want on my Christmas card. The shops around the checkpoint definitely catered to this tourist mentality as well. None of us actually went inside the museum but I plan to do this sometime during the week to see if it can make up for the petty exterior.

After Checkpoint Charlie, I made my way to Friedrichstrasse for a planned group boat tour around Berlin. Everyone in our study abroad group boarded this cute little boat for a tour around the river(s). It was a very peaceful ride-- I really enjoyed it. We got to see a lot of iconic places in Berlin such as the cathedral, Museum Island, the Reichstag (my favorite building in Europe), and the chancellery which was a huge hit among us Angela Merkel fans.

 The Reichstag (above)
 The Chancellery (above).
The Pergamon Museum on Museum Island (below)

Naturally after our hour long boat tour, hunger set in. Manka, one of our program leaders, had planned to make dinner for us at her apartment so we headed over there after departing the boat. Dinner consisted of salad, pasta with either a tomato, meat and bacon sauce or eggplant sauce, daal, and of course bread. It was delicious to say the least, plus it was a good time to just relax and hang out with everyone.

With my stomach full (thanks, Manka), I made my way back to the hostel. At the hostel a few of us hung out in the courtyard and recapped the day.

Day 14: Monday, June 29 2015
Today was a relatively uneventful day for me. A few people in the group visited a German high school in the morning to learn more about the German education system. I opted to get some research and writing done in the cafe. 

After that morning work session, I headed to the Topography of Terror in the afternoon. It was a very informative experience, especially with regard to the more nuanced details of WWII. What I found to be particularly interesting was the post-WWII information the museum presented-- like how certain individuals in the Nazi part were prosecuted for their crimes. In addition, I learned that during the war the United States also had work camps for Germans. This was completely new information to me. The museum stated that working conditions were obviously much better than those of Nazi-run work camps, but obviously it was still forced labor. It's not like there was only one camp either-- there were quite a few in the US (see map below).
 A map of concentration camps for German prisoners in the US (above).
A remaning portion of the Wall outside the Topography of Terror (below).

After Topography of Terror, I went and had some shawarma, which was sub par, but cheap. In the evening I went for a nice venture walking around the river. It's getting much warmer out (it should be in the nineties later this week) so I'm preparing for some good weather!

Day 11 and 12

June 26th:

Friday! It was a lovely day, After weeks of raining, Berlin finally receive sunshine. With all the sun, Berlin could be the best place in this world. After one day full of lecture, We meet at HU for a research check in. Different group has different schedule. We briefly introduce the current status of our research. Julie and Manka give us some connection and advice. It is going smoothly.  After a short lunch, we meet at the same room to hear the story of a once asylum seeker, Andre Ngomsi’s story. He did not speak German at the time he had arrived in Germany. The government did not support language class and only given coupon for them to get food. Nowadays, somethings has changed but there are still lots of unfair and even logic bug in the law. Andre however has learned German very well and become as the founder and director for refugee organization. As time goes to 3 p.m. GORKI theater is our next place to visited. However, It was Friday afternoon, everyone was sleepy and tired. In order to weak us up, we played several fun game. Everybody enjoyed it. It is a workshop at GORKI theater to teach people about how our brain worked. First, we get a picture and we need to guess everything about this guy including name, nationality and lifestyle. After share everyone’s assumption, we got to know the real answer. It was truly a surprise for us. Our “nice professor” was a serial killer, “BMW engineer” is the founder of the IKEA and billionaire. Also different group of people from different origin has different perspective to a person. What we think as a computer science professor has been seeing as a bus driver. With different background, people see things differently. The second game is to pass a certain action to next people with out change it’s meaning. First we thought it must be a simple game, but after about 8 people, the last man have no idea what he is performing. It was a great way to end our busy week in this workshop.  

June 27th:

It was a Saturday after our busy week. I get out of the Hostel for the Christopher Street Day. It was a amazing experience.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Days 9 and 10 in Berlin

Day 9 -- June 24th, 2015

Happy Wednesday! Today, we started off our day by journeying to Humboldt for class. We discussed our reactions to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and transitioned into a conversation about the way that Germans confront their past in a productive way, whereas in America, we tend to hide it or ignore it. Many comments were mentioned about the recent Charleston, SC shooting and the push to ban confederate flags from personal use-- which brings up the question: where is the line between individual rights and the unity and health of the community? I thought this was a very interesting discussion, and something I had been thinking a lot about on this trip as well as in previous classes. We transitioned our discussion into talking about our changing impressions of Berlin and German identities based on our experiences in the city as well as visits to museums and other places. A couple of my peers mentioned that when visiting the school on Friday, they learned that the students wouldn't say that they're "German," but rather "from Germany" or "of German ancestry." I think this is interesting, since "I'm American" is such a common phrase and I don't feel particularly odd saying it, even though I don't necessarily have a really strong connection to or pride for the USA. So why is this different for German people? Is it indicative of a larger disconnect to the country and national identity, or merely a semantic nuance?

After a short break for coffee, we got to hear Rhissa Rhaba, a former occupant of the refugee camp in Oranienplatz, talk about his experiences with being an immigrant and the ridiculous contradictions of the German immigration system (being forced out of the country one month before being able to apply for citizenship status). His talk was very eye-opening, as there are a lot of narratives concerning Africa and the living conditions that are thrown at Americans; Rhissa said that most of these stories are not true (he has never seen the poverty that is implied as permeating every African country). I think it's very important to hear this from someone who has lived in these places, since especially in America, the majority (white people) tend to talk both over and for the minority (people of color), and this leads to misinformation and a lot of skewed perspectives.

Lunch was at the Mensa at Humboldt. I dined with Kendra and got rice, potatoes, and meatballs, all of which were very tasty, however very expensive. Navigating new dining halls are always stressful for me as I never want to stick out or mess up the intricate flow of cafeterias, and this feeling was only increased in a foreign dining hall. However, we were successful and dined like real Humboldt-ians. After lunch, we headed to the Stasi museum and learned more about life in East Berlin. Our tour guide grew up in East Berlin and had a lot of her own pictures to show us and little anecdotes about her friends, which was really interesting to hear about. We walked around the whole museum after the tour and enjoyed the lens into life back in divided Berlin, with listening devices and secret cameras... we all agreed it was very "1984."

After the Stasi museum we were free to go back to the hostel or around Berlin for dinner. I went back and did some blogging, and then ventured off on my own for dinner. Currywurst is always a delicious choice, and walking around Gölitzer Park on the nice evening. Since it was Wednesday night, a group of us went back to Madame Claude's for music trivia! Our team, Cascadia, got 3rd place and generally dominated. We hope to come back weekly and maybe even host a trivia night in the future!

Day 10 -- June 25th, 2015

We started off our day with class where we discussed Rhissa's talk and Manka and Julie offered some statistics on immigration and education in Germany. After lunch, a professor in the American Studies department, Markus Heide, came and lectured on film studies and portrayals of Turkish people in German films. He showed us various film clips and we discussed some of our impressions of the representations of immigrants, as well as how these representations have changed over time. I really enjoyed this talk, as media studies and representation is something that interests me back in the States.

We had a bit of time to ourselves before going to the Reichstag, so Kendra, Mira, and I walked towards the Brandenburg Gate and snapped some pics of the iconic structure. Lots of selfies were seen being taken, and lots of selfie sticks were used as well. What a world. We walked around the Tiergarten and saw a memorial to the Roma people who were killed during World War II as well as a memorial to the Soviet soldiers, written entirely in Russian. There was a really nice secluded fountain and benches that we found and sat down in the shade for a bit before heading to the Reichstag. The Reichstag tour was really interesting! I'm not super into politics or history, but the tour guide was really great and engaging. The architecture of the building was really cool too-- most of the original building was destroyed in the war, so it was a mix of new and old and I love that juxtaposition. There was also preserved graffiti from Russian soldiers who wrote their names and dates on the interior walls after invading Berlin, and that was a really awesome piece of history to see. After the tour we walked up into the dome, which provided a great view of Berlin from above.

My German friend, Leonie, came to Berlin for the weekend and I met up with her after exiting the Reichstag. We haven't seen each other for 2 years so it was a great reunion! We went to Hackescher Markt and wandered until we found an acceptable place to eat, then walked to a park and had a little picnic on the grass. We got ice cream shaped into a flower afterwards, which was delicious, and then headed back to the hostel. Leonie hung out in my room and we talked about some of the issues me and my peers had been discussing, and it was really interesting to get a German youth perspective on identity, immigration, and German history. I look forward to hanging out with her more this weekend and having more enriching conversations.

[note: will post pictures later, haven't gotten a chance to upload photos from my phone]

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Days 7+8

June 22th:
     This week started with an intense and cloudy day. In the morning, we gathered at our hostel at 8am and went for our World War two Underground Tour. This bunker was unique in the way that it was not bombproof as the other bunkers, but it was kept because of the railway station above it. Since we were not allowed to take pictures inside the bunker, I took some notes during the trip. As we entered the bunker, some of us felt quite uncomfortable due to the lack of oxygen even though we only had around 20 people at that time. It was hard to imagine what the situation was like during the war, when hundreds of people needed to stay there. The first area we went to was a women’s restroom. The toilets we saw was rebuilt after the war since the original ones were already destroyed. The tour guide told us that this was the only private place that people could have at that time, which was also the place where many women committed suicide after they lost everything during the war. Then, we went to one room where there were several benches. According to the tour guide, people waited in this room when there was bomb outside. In normal cases, the room could only accommodate around 50 people. However, the number of people mounted to several hundred during the world war two. The increasing number of people in the bunker caused the lack of oxygen. In some extreme cases, people even confronted the dilemma when they were going to suffocate due to the lack of oxygen, but they couldn’t go outside because the war was still going on. This underground tour was a special experience, which let us experience more closely what those people went through during the world war.
     In the afternoon, we went to the Youth Museum Schoneberg. They were having a diversity project in the museum. For the project, some immigrants from different countries are invited to decorate a room in their own way, reflecting their cultural backgrounds. We were assigned into a group of 2 or 3 to each room, and need to find out some information about the person based on the decorations or stuff in the room. After the exploration, each group did a short presentation on what they found out about the person.
     In the evening, we had a group dinner at Clarchens Ballhaus, where we had a fantastic time. It was really good that all of us could have dinner as a group and share our feelings about this trip so far. The salsa dancing after dinner was also a lot of fun.

June 23rd:
     Today was a cold and rainy day, which fits perfectly with our Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp tour. We met at our hostel at 8:30am today, and travelled together to the concentration camp. It was quite surprising that Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp is located in a small and peaceful town. After several blocks of walking, we arrived at the camp. I knew we were there when I saw those walls made out of stone, which gave me a feeling of heaviness. The tour guide showed us the buildings where prisoners used to live. In a pretty small room, they had more than 100 people living there. Just as our tour guide said, there were some nice people trying to help each other out in the room. But since all the prisoners came from different cultural and religious backgrounds, it was inevitable to cause conflicts. After I saw how those beds were arranged in the room, I could not stop but imagine the tension between those prisoners’ relationship since they didn’t have any privacy for themselves. The last place we went to was where the mass murder occurred. Everyone listened quietly when the tour guide described to us the steps of how those people were killed. And we went to see those rooms where tons of people were killed.
     Even though the weather was terrible, today’s trip did make us to think a lot about this past history and what it really means to us right now.


Stasi Museum

Youth Museum

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Days 5+6

This was our first weekend in Berlin and the city had so much to offer. Two major festivals were going on over the weekend, the Fête de la Musique and the Lesbian and Gay City Festival. The Fête de la Musique draws music lovers from around the globe. Musicians and singers of all different genres perform for free throughout Berlin to big crowds. On Sunday, a group of us went to a restaurant near our hostel in Kreuzberg to hear a jazz and rock group perform. Many of us also participated in the Lesbian and Gay City Festival where there was lots of food, drinks, and anti-homophobia stickers to be had.
This weekend I also had the chance to explore Hackescher Markt, only a few S-Bahn stops from our hostel. This open-air market includes fruit stands, handmade jewelry vendors, and one very charismatic man selling solar powered key chains with which you can charge your smartphone. Here I also had the opportunity to try my first Döner which was absolutely delicious.
On a far more serious note, I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe with two of my peers. The memorial is composed of hundreds of big concrete slabs. As you walk through the memorial you feel overwhelmed as the deaths of these murdered individuals loom on all sides of you. An underground exhibition provides a wonderful tribute to those who lost their lives under National Socialist rule. In one room, the names and stories of victims are read. If all the names of those killed were read in this manner, it would take over six years to hear them all. Another room contains the letters and diary entries of those affected. I was moved by one man’s suicide note to his family as he sought relief from the terror around him. In another letter, a young woman wrote her father saying she desperately did not want to die. Photos showed dead, frail bodies being bulldozed in concentration camps. It was difficult to handle the horrors depicted but I was so impressed by the museum’s ability to share individual’s stories from across Europe.
I also visited the Eastside Gallery which is one remaining strip of the Berlin Wall. Various images from the Wall can be seen below:

Posted by: Anna Gallagher

Days 3 & 4 in Berlin

June 18th

The day started with a group breakfast in our hostel’s cute dining area. We met Manuela in the lobby and started our walk through the neighborhood.  The air was crisp and cool: perfect walking condition. Our first stop took us to the edge of Kreuzberg where the Berlin Wall once stood dividing East and West Berlin.  An untrained eye might have missed the landmark because it was simply a change in brick patterns to form a line in the sideways and streets.  Manuela’s story about being welcomed into West Berlin was heartwarming. I can’t imagine the amount of excitement in the air when people were able to pass freely between the Wall.  Throughout the walkthrough, there were incredible street installations and graffiti images that caught my eye.  Since my research project is on street art, I’ve found myself being very aware of the presences of the art.  We then made our way to the Soviet Memorial where 7,000 Soviet soldiers were buried after World War 2.  The memorial was incredible. Huge trees bordered the long grassy stretch of burial grounds and 16 reliefs, which represented the Soviet’s 16 states, depicted a story leading up to a giant statue.  So far, the memorial was my favorite part of the city.
Today’s class period was great. It was nice getting to just talk about how we were feeling about Germany and our overall adjustment.  We went around the room and shared one thing that we were surprised by, one thing that we appreciated, and one thing that bothered us.  I said that was extremely surprised by all the wonderful food here.  We can walk into any restaurant and the food is diverse and delicious! I also appreciated how trendy and active Berliners seem to be. Everyone is always biking or walking which is very cool to see. So far, the only thing that I’ve been moderately bothered by is the fact that nowhere accepts credit or debit cards. Everything is cash only, which makes me a little uncomfortable because now I have to carry cash around the city.  Overall, people talked about how friendly and open the people of Berlin have been and how much they hated walking up for 5 flights of stairs to our rooms.  Manuela then shared her experience of coming to the US for the first time.  She told us that she traveled for weeks by herself, just enjoying her own company.  I felt like I could connect more with her story now that I know what it feels like to be traveler in a foreign country. 
After class, I also felt like I had a better grasp on what I need to focus on for my research project. It was nice to get designated time to just talk with my group about our next steps. I’m currently writing up survey questions to present to a class of students at Humboldt.
As a group, we ended our day with an international student mixer at a bar near the university. It was a cool space where Berliners and international students could meet and talk. Everyone was so nice and they really appreciated when we tried to speak German with them.  And with that marks another incredibly busy but successful day.

June 19th 
Today we visited a German secondary school and I can honestly say this was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever had about education.  We got to learn more about the tracking method and how students are placed within the system.  The school we visited was called the Heinrich-von-Stephan Oberschule, a school that combines both the Hauptschule and Realschule, or the lower two tier, tracks.  Karin Jaegar, a teacher, showed us the methodology and philosophies behind their program.  We were then able to sit in a class and watch a typical German class.  I sat in on a group of younger students in a math class. The class was taught in German, but most of the students spoke English.  The language barrier made it difficult to completely understand what they students were doing, but it looked like the start of algebra because they were working with graphs and shapes.  The class seemed to be organized in a more casual style than most US classrooms. Students were clearly given freedom and trust from teacher, which was really cool to see.  Within the class, the students got a math test back and the teacher explained that they had an opportunity to raise their grades on the spot if they were able to apply their math skills to a real world situation. The teacher was very patient with his students, even though some seemed to be a little bit of troublemakers.  I’m really grateful for this opportunity to glimpse inside the German education system because it is something I have never come across. 
Posted by: Michaila Forte

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Days 1 and 2 in Berlin, Germany

Day 1 June 16, 2015

Today (yesterday?) I flew out of Vancouver International airport with a few of the other students who are part of the study abroad program.  The flights were uneventful in all the ways you would hope, and i ended up watching Into the Woods, reading some Words of Radience by Brandon Sanderson, and taking a short nap here and there. I actually got quite a few meals and complimentary drinks and snacks, which was nice. Though the lines for security were long, we didn't run into any hiccups until we reached Berlin.  At the Berlin airport i found out my checked bag did not make it on the flight to Berlin with me! So, i am waiting for my bag to be delivered to my hostel tomorrow morning.  In the meantime i had a dinner of Currywurst and french fries, and a short adventure to find a toothbrush and now i'm ready to cuddle up in my bed and call it a night!

Image of Humboldt University by Kendra Ferrier

Day 2 June 17, 2015

Today was the first day of our official program, which started with breakfast at 7am. The rolls were fresh and warm, the granola full of fiber, and the coffee strong enough to grow hair on your chest.  I still didn't have my luggage at the time, so after breakfast I braided my hair and borrowed a fresh shirt and to my surprise found the wifi was fast enough for me to video chat with a friend back home.  After i finished my call I went down to the lobby of the hostel to meet up with the rest of the group and to meet Manka, Julie, and Manuella.  From there we departed to Humboldt University where we met in a classroom with faculty from Humboldt to learn about the American Studies program at the University and our syllabus for the program.  We had a short coffee break, and i was delighted to find that the cafe we went to offered lactose free milk without additional charge! Coffee in hand we trecked back to the classroom to finish our class time before we headed out to lunch.  After lunch Manuella took us on a tour of Humboldt University and some surrounding attractions around the University including the memorial for the book burnings, the Palace Humboldtforum and the history of its controversial nature, and the memorial for the Palace of Tears. Once the program events for the day were over, a group of us went and explored Alexander Platz, which is a large shopping area full of stores both familiar and new to us.  Soon our exhaustion caught up with us and we started the journey back to the hostel.  Once back at the hostel I had a glorious reunion with my luggage and was finally able to change into a fresh set of clothes. There is nothing quite like wearing the same thing for over 48 hours to make you appreciate a clean shirt.  Once we had all taken a short rest we met back up to have dinner, and felt quite proud of ourselves for ordering a beer with several other members from our group that we found sitting outside a bar. From there we stopped at a Backerai and made our way to a bar that one of us had found on yelp before leaving.  It was a small place with lots of character and we didn't do so bad at the first round of American music trivia.  A study abroad group of engineers from Michigan blew us out of the water with the video game theme songs though. Dang those nerds!  Around 11 pm we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hostel, were we continued to stay up until 12:30 talking until we finally thought it might be wise to go to sleep so we could get up at 7am again the next morning. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Deutschland 83" - an Earnest Stasi Spy

‘Deutschland 83,’ a SundanceTV Series About an Earnest Stasi Spy

This new series depicts a young East German posing as a NATO general?s aide in West Germany in 1983, when Cold War tensions were high and a peace movement was in full swing in Europe.

Read more....

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Research Groups

Immigrants and Society: Education, Economics and Politics 

The Human Medium: Identity in Film, Fashion, and Theatre

Memorialization and its effects on national and urban identities

Formation of Identity and Minority Identity through street art and social media