Monday, August 19, 2013

Can't Bring Myself to Over Think & Drain My Energy

Here's to the last day of my Euro-Adventure...

I am currently at my 'Au Pair' house in Lucerne, Switzerland. The weather is rainy for maybe the second or third time in the last month, and I think it sets the tone appropriately. I cannot believe this time in my life is coming to a close. What I am looking forward to is celebrating my memories with family and friends--as well as my senior year at Simmons College!

I know it won't be my last time in Europe because I love it here too much. As for education, Berlin's looking more and more like the place I want to get my Master's Degree.

There's so much I want to say about my adventures here in Berlin, but I don't think any amount of stories or little factoids will bring my experiences back to life in a way that's vibrant enough to do them justice. I suggest all readers to actually just get out there and live. Maybe not Europe, but life is meant for living!! The places I went meant very little in comparison to the people that inhabited them.  My personal opinion is that people make a place--must be why I love Berlin!

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's About Time!

Greetings Earthlings!

It's been a long time since I wrote on here, and now I feel like I have been in outer space! If you'll please excuse my tardiness, I'd love to catch up! So much has happened since my last blog entry...Where to begin, where to begin...

Okay, so Frankfurt. This business trip was really great. We went on a boat tour on the Main river, took an old city tour, had an appointment with the V.P. of development at Deutsche Bahn's Headquarters, got poured on in the rain (HEAVY rain) haha--and actually learned a lot of business knowledge and career tips.

Also, my trip to Munich was so much fun. If I could choose another city in Germany to have done my study abroad, Munich would be it! The whole city is small enough that you can get around fairly quickly and easily.  I went for a long weekend with Riley, Juan, and Lindsay from my CIEE group--as well as Sayaka and Aki from Japan, and Megan from Idaho, USA. We took an awesome walking tour through the city and even made a day trip to visit Castle Neuschwanstein! That trip further into Bavaria was really interesting because our guide told us the history of the castle throughout the whole tour. I must say, although it rained almost the entire weekend, Munich couldn't have been more welcoming! After our city tour, our guide suggested we make a stop at one of the focal points of the city--the Hofbraeuhaus am Platzl! So we did just that...and boy was it fun! We sat down at a long table full of other small groups of people, and I even practiced my German with an older German couple and a group of older couples from the Netherlands! It was quite an experience to be in such a beer hall, we were there for about 5 hours, from 3pm to 8pm! Of course I enjoyed the beer...I don't think I'll like the beer in the U.S. when I get back!

Recently, my best friend Emily came to Berlin for a visit! She flew over and was only able to stay five days, so you know we did a lot :) :) First things first, of course I gave her the grand historical tour: Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery), Brandenburger Tor, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin's Liquidrom, and engaged in other normal Berliner lifestyle activities.

In reality, I meant to upload this post months ago. I am just finishing it now, but didn't want my writing to go to waste (aka unread)!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Are You Into Mini-Novels?

So. About a month has passed by already since my last entry! I sort of hate to think of it, but it's about time I start accepting the inevitable. One thing I am strongly considering is doing a Master's Program here in Germany! Not sure how that's all going to play out, but I've begun researching. That eliminates the hardest task a.k.a. starting...

I always want to write my blog entry in some awesome and cohesive format, but then I get bored writing it and feel like it's a chore more than something meant to be enjoyable. Currently, I am sitting the cafe of our hotel here in Frankfurt am Main! The CIEE group and I were casually strolling down the riverside and all of a sudden, it started POURING rain!! It was so funny. I ended up being able to wring out my jacket like a sponge when we finally got back to the hotel! Now we have a little free time to just work on schoolwork, relax, or catch up with family & friends. I am planning on accomplishing a little bit of all three :)

In other news, I want to catch up on the some of the fun events I have done over the past month! I will list them and then write a couple notable things that I like/remember from the events. (Post-Writing Note: I wrote a lot more than a 'couple' things haha) ...Let's begin!:

Easter in Oslo, Norway: It was so beautiful the whole weekend, and the history there was really interesting. We visited a park with a unique collection of totally nude sculptures. That was kind of unexpected haha, but we soaked in as much as possible...We even went to a museum about Vikings! The artifacts were unbelievable and I was able to read all the informational plaques since they had English translations everywhere. Can't deny that being a native English speaker has its advantages ;)  Back to Norway...we managed to book an awesome 6-person hotel apartment that gave us plenty of space for the weekend. We also took a GORGEOUS three hour boat tour around the fjord. We saw colorful houses all situated on the hillsides of the islands and even found a patch of water that was still frozen over. Can you believe that it was sunny enough to sit outside in the stern in such a chilly bay? That's what I meant by beautiful weather...check out these pictures!

Early Morning 'Bake-a-thon': So after meeting Caleb's, another of the U.S. students, host family, I was invited to go over early one Sunday morning to bake from scratch with one of the host brothers, Nicholas, who I guess finds baking as a kind of passion. Anyways, I went over a 7:30 am and learned how to bake homemade bagels (what what!), English muffins with raisins & cranberries (Cape Coddah fo' Lyfe), and even a special buttery pound cake with a sugary, almond topping! That sounds like we had a feast, but another 9 people live in the house, so it was all gone rather quickly! Unfortunately, I forgot to take some pictures. You'll just have to trust me that everything turned out delicious. It was so much fun learning how to make dough, weighing in the Metric System, and practicing the patience to bake/make things perfectly. I seriously completed one of my personal goals to learn how to bake from scratch!! Bonus: The cookbook was in German, which I correctly followed when doubling the recipes...woop woop!

Schnitzeljagd!: About two Fridays ago, I also participated in a Schnitzeljagd-which is German for scavenger hunt! Since the CIEE group is only 6 students, a couple other students came along to make the teams a little larger. Also, James and Caleb (two CIEE'ers) were quite cocky about beating me in the hunt, and I made it a point to say they were largely mistaken. We couldn't choose our teams, but it turned out Juan & I plus two guests students were pitted against Caleb, James, and a couple other students! I was so determined to win that we solved the riddles and found the hinted locations very quickly :) A great part was during a break at the Brandenburger Tor, where the woman who had created this whole activity gave us each a hot cup of coffee and a cookie--no big deal until you consider she made them look like the Tor! So cute hehe. I have to mention that one of each team's on-going tasks was to take pictures of as many Berlin Bear emblems as we could find. They needed to be authentic emblems, so that was part of the fun in what I am about to tell you...As we walked around the Bundestag searching for our tasks, we walked past a group of police officers. I remembered that they each have a Berlin Bear on their sleeves and sometimes on their hats, so I boldly approached them and asked in German in we could take a picture of them! They smiled as I positioned them in a line and had them sport their arm badges for the photo :) That was such a fun experience. Need I mention the icing on the cake when our team beat the other team (Caleb & James--mwahaha) by only one thing. All other points being equal, our team had 1 more Berlin Bear photo than it's quite appropriate to say the police saved the day! ;D

Goya & Mauer Park Weekend: To start off this section, I find it relevant to briefly discuss my bicycle situation. Basically, I have not ridden a bike since I was about 8 years old. I practiced once or twice before coming to Germany, but I was still very nervous after arriving! Well, since spring is here, my host parents gave me my bike to ride when and where I want it. I needed my host dad to help me out the first few days I practiced. And then a week ago, my host mother and I went on an hour-long bike ride through the woods with the dogs! Safe to say I am gladly riding it to and from the U-Bahn stations, parks, and also through the woods at my leisure! I never thought I'd see this day so soon where I would feel so comfortable (and free!) on a bike. The breeze is always so nice--it makes me tempted to try a motorcycle, but no moves in that direction yet! Moral of the Story: On the Saturday evening before last, I took my bike to the U-Bahn and then took to the subway to Wittenbergplatz and met up with Sophia. We went to a club/theater house called Goya because there was a 'semester kick-off' Berlin universities party! There was a live instrumental band with a dance team when we first walked in (along with vouchers for 2 free Jaegermeister shots). Later, a band with two singers went on a stage and performed about 10 party-faves live for us! Mostly Justin Timberlake songs which, as a young female American, you know I enjoyed singing along to! To top off a great night out, we went to the Mauer Park flea market on Sunday morning! We didn't buy anything, but we just strolled about with the rest of Berlin's people and explored/teased each other with all the funny and weird things people were selling. Some things were cool like artwork, leather bags, and homemade jewelry, while other things like complete sofa sets and used thing-a-ma-jigs were outrageously bizarre!

Sophia's Birthday: Sophia's birthday is the first of  May, which here in Germany is a holiday! We had no classes and went to a HUGE festival near Warschauer Strasse--a very lively part of Berlin with a big park named Gorlitzer Park. There were literally thousands of people all over the place with bands playing, people dancing (including us), and plenty of food and drink to make the merry even more, well, merrier! One side note: I used my recently acquired baking skills to make Sophia homemade vanilla bean cupcakes with chocolate icing! They came out perfectly sweet, but once again were gone in a flash due to the 5 people living at my house--and also many of them going to Sophia!

I think I have given enough updates to take a breather and continue with the rest of my life ;) More to come soon about Frankfurt am Main and even about Munich--since I going there this upcoming weekend!! So much Germany, so little weit so gut! By the way, I am improving my German at a rapid pace! I almost can't believe how much I can say and understand already!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Meine Hause und alle die deutsche Dinge

About my home-stay & host family:

My host family is amazing. They make me feel so welcome and comfortable! I think they are enjoying my company so far, and I am very happy about is the best and most important thing to me since I am fortunate enough to be a guest in their home (which I love, by the way)! I have a host mother, father, two sisters, two brothers, & two dogs. I love feeling cared for and also invited daily to delicious dinners with the family! We speak only in German all the time, so my German is continuing to get better and better! Here is a photo of the view from the balcony off my room :) Also, here's the woods nearby where I walk one of the family's dogs, Filou-who is actually in one of the pictures! Of course, things look a little different now since the weather is starting to warm up and melt away the snow :)

About my Berlin discoveries:

To try and discuss all that I have uncovered and experienced here in Berlin so far would be too much like a textbook! I have gained a lot of knowledge about Germany and of Berlin's past, present, and somewhat unpredictable future. Three notable quotes which I have been told (more than once) are:

"Berlin ist arm, aber sexy." (Berlin is poor, but sexy) -Klaus Wowereit

"Paris is always Paris and Berlin is never Berlin!" -Jack Lang

"Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein" (Berlin is a city damned forever to becoming, never to being) -Karl Scheffler

Basically, these short blurbs illustrate the reality of Berlin. It's a city where money isn't really the root of all happiness. New York is definitely the kind of materialistic city you would consider rich. I think of Berlin as rich in culture, diversity, and in the ability to accept people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and origins. I've crossed paths with nothing except genuinely nice people here in Berlin. Also, the Paris quote hints at the fact that no particular population dominates the city or determines its direction. There are so many small niche groups that make up the city as a whole. I mean, less than a century ago Berlin was destroyed in every way possible. It has been rebuilt from the bottom up with the intentions of starting fresh and with solid footings. The only real dilemma is that Berlin will--in a cultural and political sense--never be set in stone...Perfect for people like me because as an outsider, you're actually right where you belong :) My program leader said,  "Berlin can change you, but you too can change Berlin." We'll see about that, haha. It seems a little ambitious, but I am always up for a challenge!

I love learning about the city via tours, films, museums, etc...But what has truly been the most valuable are the people themselves. You cannot get an accurate feel for Berlin's disturbing past with historical sites alone. The DDR museum is memorable, but nothing beats talking to people who were alive during World War II. I was privileged enough to meet Günther Schaefer, one of the first artists to paint a portion of the official artwork on the Berlin Wall! His work is on the wall at the East Side Gallery. My program group went on a tour with him and even got to go to his private home/studio and hear a short biography about his life. Those kinds of human interactions absolutely top a museum. I could really feel the emotions he had about his childhood growing up in a divided Germany. His recent artwork insinuates that those experiences are still prevalent and influential in his life today...And to think he's only one of many here in Berlin who have their own stories from those hard times...Here's some pictures related to the wall, and also a few of Günther!

About other noteworthy Berlin sights:

On an excellent city tour with my CIEE group, our guide named Dennis was really entertaining! He was funny enough that you paid attention, but he was also thoroughly educated on the sights and could answer every question he was given. We went to points such as the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and walked a fairly extensive stretch of where the Berlin Wall once split family-filled neighborhoods right down the middle. Certain stories were almost comical, for example why Victoria, atop the Brandenburger Tor, is looking towards the French Embassy in Pariser Platz. She was named 'victory' (instead of 'peace') when she was returned to Germany after Napoleon stole her. The plaza was deemed 'Pariser,' so that it symbolized 'Victory over Paris/France.' I think it's pretty clever and even funny that she was re-sculpted to stare right at the French Embassy. Anyways, there were also other stories that touched my heart and brought me close to tears. A prime example is the story of Ida Siekmann. She is known as the first 'victim' of the Wall...There are lots of other people who literally 'fell' victim to the wall's erection, as they sometimes tried jumping over and out of buildings to reach the other side. But since Ida's the first, here's her story. The Holocaust Memorial evoked lots of thinking as well. I was told the artist made it with no real, concrete, or intended meaning. It is what you make of it, so any and every interpretation is valid and acceptable. One detail I find interesting is that the actual Jewish Victim Memorial lies beneath the dozens of stone columns--almost as if to remind us (present-day visitors) that the past for Jewish people in Germany is always going to be dark and considered  something most people prefer keeping hidden...


Above: Me in the midst of the Holocaust Memorial columns, an appropriately dark and grim photo depicting a portion of 'No Man's Land,' a portrait of Ida near where she once lived, the Reichstag, an up-close view of what a person might have seen when peering into 'No Man's Land' (fantasizing about what lies beyond the Wall), and the Holocaust Memorial from afar.