berlin in a blur, part 1

Two weeks in Berlin went by so quickly, and I’m going to miss it! I was so busy every day that I didn’t write anything down, but I took 1000+ photos that are helping me to remember what I did every day so here goes…

I was there for two weeks for a beginner’s German course at a language school downtown, and staying with a host family in the suburbs. DAAD RISE offered a limited number of spots in the course, (almost) all expenses paid, and I jumped on the opportunity! When I signed up, I knew that the course would be free, but I soon realized that we would also get free accommodation and pocket money while we were there. It was a pretty sweet deal!

I started my language course the day after I arrived, and it was a relief when none of the other students in my class (all other DAAD RISE interns) spoke any German! It seemed really unusual for my host family to have a student that spoke literally no German at all so I was a little worried at first. The other student staying with my host family was from Mauritius and spoke French, so we spoke French as he showed me how to get to the school! I spoke way more French in those weeks in Berlin than I’ve spoken in three years in Montreal.

After class, we all went to a nearby cafe for lunch and then split up to wander the city. A bunch of us found the nearest Aldi (the discount grocery store here) to get some snacks and SIM cards for our phones, then wandered to a shopping street that turned out to be a most expensive and high-end shopping district in Berlin (oops). We didn’t even go in, and when it started raining we decided it was more a museum kind of day and headed to the Jewish Museum.

If you’re ever in Berlin, this museum is really amazing! The student admission is only 3 euros and it was well worth it. We spent at least 3 hours there and didn’t get through everything – we only left because we were all starving.

The architecture is the first thing you notice – from the front, it looks like an oddly misshapen concrete building. From above, though, it’s a big zigzag that you work your way through as you move through the museum. There are art installations incorporated throughout, like the room below (not sure what they called it), which was a small room with concrete walls, a high ceiling, and a light in one corner.

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There’s also the ‘memory void’ where you can walk on steel faces that represent not only the Jews murdered during the Holocaust, but all victims of war.

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The most interesting part for me was learning about antisemitism long before the Holocaust – it goes back to the Renaissance and even earlier. They also had a section of the museum dedicated to discoveries of Jewish scientists – did you know that Fritz Haber, who invented the Haber process for the synthesis of ammonia used to make bombs, was Jewish?

There was also a really interesting temporary exhibit on women’s head coverings – Jewish, Muslim, and others. Apparently as of recently, women working in the public sector in Germany are no longer allowed to wear religious face coverings such as a burqa. It’s such an interesting topic that touches on secularism and feminism – I don’t want to spark a debate and I’m not really sure where I even stand on the topic, so I won’t say much more… so far, I’d say I agree most with this article – where are the burqas in Germany that everyone is so concerned about?

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When we were all too hungry to spend more time in the museum, we left and bought food at the first place we saw – a classic Berlin döner place. This was when I learned that ‘falafel im brot’ is basically German for the best and cheapest vegetarian meal that you can find on basically any street corner in Berlin. tldr; I ate a LOT of falafel in Berlin.

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To finish off the day, we went to Kreuzberg, the trendy/edgy area of Berlin and ended up in a chill gay bar with happy hour until midnight!

I didn’t end up staying until midnight since I had no idea how to get home and figured it wouldn’t make a very good impression with my host family to get home at 1 am. It took me well over an hour to get back, and they were waiting up for me at 10:30, asking if I got lost. Oops…

Sadly I have no pictures because from the night, but it was a cool place! It was called Barbie Deinhoff’s – check it out on if you’re ever in Berlin on a Tuesday!

The next day after class, we all went for currywurst after class. Currywurst is basically the poutine of Berlin – sausage with curry sauce and fries (usually, although I skipped them this time). Turns out that a lot of places in Berlin also have a vegan sausage option! So, on only my third day in Berlin I had vegan currywurst, and drank a (Czech) beer with it on the street because apparently that’s legal here?!? Crossed several things off my Berlin bucket list that day.

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We then walked to the Bradenburg gate, which was built in the 18th century and later became part of the border between East and West Berlin.

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We saw a stage being set up and realized there would be live music there that evening, and decided we would wander around the city and head back later. While we were there, we checked out Riechstag, the German parliament building. That’s me in front, getting my hair caught in my backpack like a classy lady.

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We walked through Tiergarten to the Victory Column, taking way too many pictures along the way.

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Because we clearly hadn’t done enough for a day, we walked to the holocaust memorial nearby that has a free museum. It takes up an entire city block, and many people say that the concrete blocks represent graves of the Jews murdered during the holocaust, although apparently that’s up for debate. According to the architect, it’s designed to represent “order out of touch with human realism” (from Wikipedia). As you walk through it, the blocks get higher and higher until you’re in a maze of blocks much higher than you are tall. When you take a moment to think about what it represents, it’s very powerful.

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The museum is underneath the monument and features letters and personal stories of Jews during the Holocaust.

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To lighten the mood a little afterwards, we found a cozy traditional German pub for dinner. By this point, I had given up on eating vegan while I was out with friends in Germany, and I had some (admittedly delicious) scrambled eggs for dinner.

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Then we grabbed some street beers and went to meet up the rest of the group from the language course at the Bradenburg gate to listen to the live music!

cheers from Berlin! 🍻 with @uc_1 #daad2017

A post shared by Shannon (@youngseamstress) on

We hung back in the park rather than in the crowd so that we could talk. It was a really fun night and it was close to a train station that meant that I didn’t have to transfer a billion times to get home, which was nice. My host family didn’t wait up for me that night… I think they learned pretty quickly not to. I felt a little bad because they were very sweet and clearly liked having students around, but I just wanted to see the city and spend time with the other students!

I thought that I would cram my first week in Berlin into one post but I think that’s enough for now. Tschuss!

 

Shannon

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