July 12, 2015
posted by Lindsey Trimmer
It’s strange to think our whole program woke up in different areas of Europe and had to navigate our way back to Berlin this morning. Karinne, Michaila, Anna and I woke up in Krakow, Poland, however others of us woke up in Prague, in Italy or in other areas of Germany. I was excited to go back to Berlin; although Poland was one of the best countries I’ve visited, and the sites we saw were some of the most incredible things I have ever seen, traveling is such a pain and I just wanted to make it back to Berlin. Berlin now almost feels like home – it feels safe and comfortable, and it’s a relief to know relatively where everything is and to not feel disoriented all the time.
The four of us went to breakfast at a restaurant in the large, old square found in the middle of Krakow that had huge churches, open aired markets, and carriage rides that were about five US dollars a person. Krakow is almost the complete opposite of Berlin; although there are tourists throughout the city, most of them were from other parts of Poland or from more local EU countries as opposed to the thousands of American and Australian tourists you can find in Berlin. The streets of Krakow are shut down during the day, so pedestrians and carriages can wander through the streets without worrying about cars. Our program has consistently reflected on how laid back the lifestyle seems in Berlin and the importance the culture places on free time to relax and I was very surprised to feel like Krakow had even more of this.
Krakow also seemed a lot smaller than Berlin. The four of us decided not to buy a public transportation card and instead spend the weekend walking around the city. The farthest we ever walked was about twenty minutes when we visited the former site of Oskar Schindler’s factory that now stood as a historical museum highlighting the events that took place in Krakow before, during and after the second world war, it was incredible. Krakow itself seemed small, but as it turns out there are an immense amount of things to do in and information to learn in and around the city. We spent Saturday on a day trip to Auschwitz and its multiple camps but we met multiple other tourists who had visited the salt mines outside of the city instead. Overall, it was an incredible experience and I would love to visit Krakow again sometime in the future, and I can only hope the other members of my program had a wonderful time where they visited as well.
Today was another day of early traveling as our program made our way to Jena, a smaller university town in the former GDR. We all somehow managed to pack our lives back up in our suitcases and leave Die Fabrik for the week. Every time I travel all my items seems to expand ten-fold and my suitcase seemed to grow to an almost unmanageable size. However, made it aboard our train in time and traveled two hours south of Berlin to Jena. Traveling through the German countryside reminded me of the time I’ve spent in Bavaria and the hours spent driving through valleys that had magnificent castles overlooking them from the hilltops.
We all received a warm welcome from Caroline (the director of the North American studies department at Jena) and a couple of her graduate students who took us from the train station to the Mensa where we grabbed lunch and later on met the rest of her graduate students we’d be spending time with while here. We made our way to the senate room, in which we were welcomes to Jena and had our first lecture of our visit by Dr. Thomas Kramer on “The German’s Image of Native Americans between Karl Marx and Karl May”. In his lecture we were introduced to the romanticized ideas of Native American in the United States that were rampant throughout East Germany in second half of the nineteenth century. These ideas of the romantic Native American and the role that media and popular culture play in constructing stereotypes of other nations were a little hard to digest. To me, it always seems like discussing Natives Americans is sometimes a taboo topic due to the atrocities taken against them in early United States history but there are still many people in Germany that participate in the gaudy representation of American Indians.
We then had a movie screening of Die Sohne der grossen Barin/The Sons of the Great Bear” a GDR made film that emulates the stereotypes of both Native Americans and their white counterparts in the Wild West. Throughout our time at Jena, we were already berated with a plethora of American stereotypes both within in the movie and without. The movie showed Americans as drunks that only cared about money and were willing to kill to get what they wanted. Outside of the movie through our coffee breaks and other interactions with German students, we heard assumptions that all people from San Diego torture animals like they do at Seaworld or that we could cure our homesickness by visiting McDonalds.
That night we all had a group dinner at Daheme, a restaurant with local German and Jena food in which we mixed up our groups and again spent time mingling with Caroline’s masters students. I sometimes find myself having to limit how much I participate in conversations with people from other nations, especially around United States politics. As a political science major, I can sometimes get caught up in the details of politics and the nuances of the American political system and can misconstrue the opinions given by people who focus more on of the big picture and buzzwords of American politics. I’ve realized that students I’ve talked to in Germany love to discuss 9/11 and the theories of blowback that emerged in the weeks following the attack and the changing international views of the American system. Although sometimes it is frustrating and I occasionally disagree with some opinions, it is refreshing to hear a different point of view and I suppose it adds into the construction of our American identity.