Month: August 2016

Berlin in August

I haven’t even been in Berlin that long, but I’m already losing track of my experiences. It’s time to collect them and share them.


What a coincidence I rode by this yesterday!

First of all, excuse me if this post seems a bit rushed. Knowing my writing style, that may actually be a good thing (and you may not actually notice). However, I had written a post and wanted to post it, and in the process of posting it with no internet, lost it somehow. Since it took me so long to finally write to begin with, I’m not having as much fun during round 2.0. But I hope it’s still enjoyable/informative!

August- After weeks of fall-like weather, cool and wet, Berlin was gifted with a midwife’s summer. Still, it wasn’t -fancy-hat-Sunday-picnic weather, more like oh-my-bottles-in-the-freezer-and-bikini-clad-jump-in-the-nearest-Brandenburg-lake weather. I won’t begrudge the Berliners their fun in the sun, but I prefer it cold.

On the other hand, when bicycling around the city to avoid public transporting costs, not having to worry about rain and poor visibility is nice.

These past weeks, I did several things I had never had to do before: sign up at a job agency, sign-up for internet service, volunteered at a race, and arranged for my water heater to be replaced. Some of these experiences I wouldn’t have minded avoiding, but they’re all part of living here.

On the day I decided to register for assistance in finding a job, I discovered that there are multiple agencies in the city that are meant to service certain regions. There’s also a difference between an agency and a center. The Job Center, apparently, is where one goes if one wants to register for Arbeitslosengeld (joblessness money). I think the rate right now is about 480 Euro a month, which wouldn’t be bad, but I actually didn’t intend to sign up for that. I want to see if I can find work first. Because of this approach, I was sent back in the direction of my apartment to the Agentur fuer Arbeit (agency). After only 10 minutes wait (I got lucky!) and 20 minutes filling out all the information one can find on and off my CV, I had a profile and appointment for personal Beratung, or advice. This appointment isn’t until Sept. 20th. It’s a bit late, and I hope to have work long before then. The online profile is useful though, and I use it along with and, as well as jobspotting, to search through and select jobs.

Finding an internet service was fine, and I won’t have to resort to WLAN thievery and prepaid accounts anymore. Replacing my water heater was less fun, but at least I now have contacts and know how to turn off my water and electricity in future events of water catastrophes.

Speaking of catastrophes, have you heard that the German government (some ministry I don’t feel like looking up) recommended a Vorratskauf? Basically, it’s the end of the world and Germans are being told to prepare for the event of a major terrorist attack by storing enough food and water for ten days in their homes. I don’t know which is scarier, this precaution being condoned after thirty years of peace in Germany and having to find a way to store 30 Liters of water in my small apartment, or the fact that such an attack could happen in Berlin where these precautions would be necessary.

On a lighter note, I had my first volunteering experience at a race. I was a helper for the Bambini races of a recent Sport-Scheck half-marathon and 10K designed to help Berliners prepare for the Berlin Marathon. Bambini is the Italian word for “kids.” Seeing the little kids run 200-900 meters, was soothing for my cranky-runner’s heart. In return for three hours of my time (and a 5:30 AM wake-up call on a Sunday), I got a free shirt, lunch packet, and $10 that were supposed to be transportation costs, but I used it for breakfast. It’s a pretty sweet deal, and I only just found out that I get to be on the course of the Berlin Marathon Sept. 25th as well! I’ll be handing out water near kilometer 30. If you’re there, let me call you out!

So that’s something to look forward to, but in the meantime I’m trying to prep for my own marathon, and since I can’t run (broken toe), I have to find creative ways to cross-train. The bad new is, it’s really hard to replace a 20 mile fast-finish run. It requires about 4.5 hours of cycling at more than moderate speeds. The good news is, the city is here to be explored, and so I went on a ride that I doubt many Berliners ever make- from the west to the far east.

Berlin ride

It was a really interesting tour through a lot of what used to be East Berlin and GDR IMG_1730Germany. I had enough reminders that I was in former east Berlin, from a general light shabbiness that seems characteristic of former east-bloc states to street names commemorating some of communism’s heroes.*

But I also had enough reminders that I was in a new Berlin, finding many of its monuments and old Berlin among all the new construction. There were too many moments where I was at a random corner or crossing, and I just couldn’t capture all of them.

I made time for new and old VDAC (Federation of German-American Clubs) acquaintances as well. I met the president of the Berlin German-American club, who is a delightful and inclusive lady. We met in the Himelbeet Cafe, which is a cafe grounded in a community garden in Wedding, a quarter in north  Berlin. I had never been in this region before, so the ride there as well as the few hours sitting with her, collecting the impressions of this community, was memorable.

IMG_1706On invitation from the student-exchange chair lady of the Hamburger German-American Club, I came to Hamburg for a delightful afternoon of Alsterlauf, conversation and sunshine with two lovely ladies. I collected enough impressions here as well, and found it slightly bizarre to be back in the city I had grown to love. I was struck by a lot of its beauty in the sunlight- the view of a ship, a metonymy for the city as sea-trade-capital, reflected on an adjacent building had to be captured.

So, bureaucracy, training, participating, Hamburg… there. I think I’ve reached the end of it. Berlin has a lot to offer in the late summer, and I couldn’t take advantage of all of it. For example, there was the long-night of museums, where 77 (or more, I forget) museums in the city were open with events and exhibitions from 6 PM to 2 AM the following day. There was also a Schlosser-Nacht in Postdam, neighbor of Berlin and capital of the state Brandenburg. This night of palaces is something I hope to take advantage of next year.

Looking forward to September– the International Literature Festival of Berlin is happening next week, I have several events I’ve been invited to by the president of Berlin’s German American Club, and I have several meetings at the university- school starts mid-October and it’s time to start getting in the academic spirit!

Happy last day of August,


* It is impossible to be in Berlin and not be reminded of its history. I’m not talking about WWII and the only history many US Americans seem to think happened in Germany, but the Cold War history. The city had been divided for forty years, and the divide is mostly stitched together, but by many different surgeons with many styles. One can find the scar of this divide, rigid and bumpy, not only in the landscape of the city, but in the mentalities of its citizens. My generation 25 and younger, don’t remember anything about this divide. However, anytime I talk to an older Berliner about the city, things to do, or traveling through it, I’m reminded that they experience/d the city in a much different way. The Berliner’s relationship to this history is complicated and fascinating. I hope to explore it more as I live here.




Imagine if Turkey disappeared tomorrow…

Also, kommen Sie raus aus Ihrem Realitätszentrismus. Schnell. Das Internet ist unser Neuland. Und Instagram eines seiner wichtigsten politischen Organe. Wie also kam es dazu, dass Justin Biebers Instagram-Account verschwand, und was bedeutet das für uns?

I’m not a real pop fan. I swear, I’m not. I may know a little more than I want to about singers like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande (who went to the same school as some of my friends, by the way), but that’s only because while surfing the Internet about politics, social sciences, philosophy and literature, I also inform myself about sports and pop culture. 

Plus, I’m not the one who chooses to include articles about these people in between what should be serious news. 

The quote above is from an article by Julia Friese on a German news site Die Welt reporting on Justin Bieber’s decision to deactivate his Instagram account (oh? You didn’t know? Well now you do. You’re welcome). I am sure the whole article is a farce, and that the writer is making a joke of this event, but uncareful readers may actually think that she is really concerned and wants to get across how significant this event is. Considering that Justin Bieber has had nearly the same number of followers as people living in the dictatorship state of Turkey, the reporter remarks that the loss of his account is like erasing Turkey off the map. 

As if Justin Bieber’s ego needs more inflation. 

And this is how German reporters share this news with German readers. Seriously. 

I still think it’s a satirical piece, and the subtle message by the end is that if Bieber can live without his account, we all can live without one. I read the article to begin with, because I’m interested in reasons to stay with/leave social media (see “Shaky Streaming Quality” below). 

Upon closer reading, what I see in this article is commentary on the power of the Internet. 

Das Internet ist unser Neuland. Und Instagram eines seiner wichtigsten politischen Organe.

“The Internet is our ‘New World.'”(there’s thankfully more truth to this signifier than the first time it was used for N. And S. America). “And Instagram is one of its most important political bodies.”

You there, sitting in front of your screen, think this is insane (I figure you do, since you’re sensible enough to spend your free-time reading blogs like these). But what you maybe do not consider, is that 77 million + teenagers and young adults, those people who are up for some important political, medical, social positions in your future, are devastated affected by this. Should we be worried about these kinds of shifts? Maybe. 

As a closing note, if you opened this post hoping for some information about the situation in Turkey -sorry. I can tell you that the people of Turkey do not deserve to be compared to Bieber Instagram followers (even if a few of them were), and that I’m extremely concerned about Euro- German-Turkish relations, especially given that people from Turkey and with Turkish heritage make up the largest minority in Germany and given the large number of Turkish-Germans who declared their loyalty to Erdogan not so long ago. 

Just thought I’d post about this, this morning. I’m in the process of setting up daily routines that work for me, and so far, reading the news while listening to the RadioKlassik station and eating breakfast is something I’m enjoying. What, too snobbery for you? Deal with it. I’m reading about Justin Bieber for god’s sake. I can’t be that sophisticated. 😉

Hope you have a great day! 

Sunshine in Berlin

This morning, I woke up for the second time alone in Berlin. After two months of being with my family in closer-than-usual quarters, I feel alone whithout them, but I know I’m not alone and I don’t really feel lonely-not yet. The excitement and work of getting one’s life in order and doing things on one’s own prevents the feeling of loneliness to creep in. But it’s barely been 48 hours, so I’m not saying it won’t happen. 

As you may know, I decided to move to Berlin to pursue a PhD. My personal history obviously inspired this decision. My mental and emotional constitution (as well as a lot of support!) allow me to follow through. 

Traveling and transplanting is always a challenge. Some people are more equipped to deal with it than others- perhaps they’ve been traveling transcontinentally or internationally all their lives. Perhaps they were raised with more than one language and one culture. Perhaps they left home early and set out on their own way the moment the candles were blown out on the eighteenth birthday cake (or even before). I was lucky… And I’m reminded of this everytime get I tell people my situation. Yep, being raised with three cultures, two fluent languages and many chances (read: every summer) to travel, I can’t really take the credit for being culturally savvy and a globe trotter. But, since my first study-abroad two years ago and this step of mine now, I’ve been making the choices myself, and this makes me step out of my comfort zone. True, the way has been blazed by my childhood, and I have the incredible support of my parents and others, but I’m doing things on my own now. 

I’m grateful that I haven’t been facing the same anxiety I did my first weeks my first time studying abroad. This time, I have experience at my back, and know how to deal with the stress and worry of figuring everything out better. The hardest part to figure out, really, is what needs to be taken care of. I’ve been having a lot of flashbacks to my first days in Hamburg. I can’t believe that on my first day I already had an appointment for my check-in, insurance clearance, bank account opening, and getting introduced to the university. Thank you, Hamburger DA Frauenclub! This time, though, I got to organize everything myself. 

What I’ve done so far:

  •  moved into my home. I got very lucky with getting an apartment in Berlin. It’s really difficult these past few years. It’s a 1.5 room place with a kitchen and bathroom… Close to several landmarks and excellent transportation connections. It’s only possible because of my parents, and while I know they won’t let me forget how lucky I am, I know they’re glad to know I’m well taken care of. 
  • officially registered as a citizen of Berlin. Since I took care of the appointment so early, I could do this right away. Usually, there’s a month of waiting before one can register (Anmeldung). I even have my voter’s registration card already for the Berlin State elections in September, though I think one only immediately gets this as a German citizen (usually, one has to live in the area for more than three months to be allowed to vote). It’s cool to vote in Germany, but it’s no where as interesting as in the US this year! 
  • opened bank account. I had Sparkasse in Hamburg, and decided to go for it again in Berlin. 
  • signed up for Haftflichversicherung. I only found out after signing up that it’s not totally necessary, but it does put my mind a little at rest. I don’t know if we have this in the US- it’s a personal responsibility insurance. Basically, if I do anything stupid in a public or private space, and I get held responsible for it, my insurance covers it. For example, if I spill wine over someone’s white slacks during a fancy evening event in Berlin, I don’t have to pay all or any of the cost. It may sound silly and I hope I never have to use it, but I also hope it’s worth it (if I ever do have to use it).
  • appointments for taking care of paperwork to be registered at the university… There’s so much, and the Frauenclub took care of this for me in Hamburg as well. I have three appointments for this already, and will probably have to make more after meeting with the individuals.

To be done: 

  • Health insurance. I have an appointment today to find out about my status as student, since they have different relationships with insurance companies. Then, I have to figure out the best insurance for my income (currently: 0€). In the meantime, I’m trying to stay healthy and safe! 
  • Get money on my German bank account. This is a two part process- one part is easier, one harder. First, I have to transfer most of my savings. I expect to need 1000 Euro for this first month of taking care of business. Second: get a job. It’s scary to be spending my savings without making any money- job hunting is the main task of the month and it’s good to be in the country, since Germans prefer it that way. 
  • Get a job, this point is so important, it gets its own bullet. Until I can reaply for scholarships to support my PhD work, I need other means of support. The goal is to be self-sufficient by the end of the year (right, Papa?).
  • Figure out water and electricity bills. It’s the first time I’m doing this, in the US or Germany, so this is one “grown-up” experience of a few for me. 
  • Figure out Internet. I never realized how expensive being able to surf and stream seemingly endlessly was until I started comparing prices. People are telling me it’s less expensive than in the US, but when I don’t know what my next source of income is (see above), any per month expense is too much. Still, I want to be able to regularly read and write posts, right? 
  • Officially register for the university. I’m a bit anxious about this, since there are so many requirements (list of required documents is 10+ items long). I’ll admit things may still go wrong, which is why a JOB is also so important. I definitely, most definitely want to avoid the FaceTime with my parents where I have to say I’m in trouble and need help… But I admit that I know when to ask.

I don’t think I have to be so worried. While this all is a challenge, challenges are exciting and I always have at the back of my mind that I’m not the first person to work on independence. In fact, I’m older than many who have succeeded and I have experiences and the maturity to feel well enough prepared. This is not to say that moments of being overwhelmed are banished… I have snippets of this throughout the past few days. 

But I also have snippets of pure happiness. I’m grateful to be in Berlin, Germany. I’m grateful to be able to pursue a PhD in comparative literature. I’m grateful to be able to speak German every day and shop for German foods and take advantage of the cultural attractions. I’m grateful for my family, immediate and extended, who support me from both sides of the Atlantic. I’m grateful for my friend network that I started building in Hamburg and hope to continue building. I’m grateful for invitations to multiple events before the end of the year. I’m grateful for the thriving Berlin job market…

 Yes. I have a lot to be grateful for and I’m arming myself with these springs to jump over the hurdles in my way. Now, where’s my CV? 

Thanks for reading through the start of my big, new adventure! Have you, or did you ever want to, studied/y abroad? From where to where? If you’re a reader looking for tips on how to get started, let me know! I love to offer lots of unsolicited advice. 🙂