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]

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