Author: Dorothea

I'm a PhD student in Berlin, Germany, focusing on contemporary transnational literature and pretending that I can predict how our current media reality will affect the written word. I started this blog in 2014 to record my experiences in Germany while studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany through the Federation of German-American Clubs. I went back to the US for a while, but obviously came back, this time to Berlin. While here, I hope to continue learning about different cultures, people, and politics, to continue exploring the inner and outer experiences of people in literature, and to continue running distances of 13 miles and beyond.

Don’t mention the war, er… BREXIT

There used to be only one topic in the UK whose mention would immediately raise the volume in the room and the blood pressures of all those present…

First of all, a disclaimer about my relationship to British politics. I’m currently living in England, but I don’t plan on staying and no one knows when I’ll be back for more than a visit (not saying it wouldn’t be cool, though). This is the first time I’ve lived somewhere where I have no citizenship rights (other than being a member of the EU- which is a bit ironic in this case) and therefore am less personally involved in the politics here. However, I’ve got ears and eyes and I’m not a stranger to heated arguments after an event or show with a few pints in the system, so I am involved in a small way. I still only have slightly-more-than-rudimentary knowledge about the whole constitutional monarchy thing and devolution. I also inevitably compare everything to what I already know in the US or Germany, so my knowledge is equalized, at best. Still, since I’m here and since it’s a major topic, I figured I’d finally address the elephant in the room.

Though, you know how you mean to do something for such a long time, and you finally get around to it and realize- oh, that moment has passed? For me that moment was writing about Brexit, but luckily there’s nothing more conveniently late to post about than Brexit.

Here we are, nearing 3 years after the original referendum David Cameron proposed to have the constituency vote whether the UK should leave the EU (23 June 2016) , and although the vote was in favor of “leave” 51.9% to 48.1%, the UK is still in the EU. As Daniel Dosenbier (ha ha, probably a pseudonym as I doubt anyone would really be called “canned beer”) put for the Urban Dictionary, Brexiting is like “saying goodbye to everyone at a party and then proceeding to stick around.”

Brexiting

Well, I was sure my moment had passed when Parliament made its decision on the 29th of March,  but since the next chaotic sessions are just around the corner as the 22rd of May approaches, I am technically now ahead of the game.

The 22nd of the month of May is when PM Theresa May (I’m sure I’m not the first to find the name a little confusing this month) wants another chance at getting her deal for Brexit to pass, because May 23rd is the date of the 2019 European Parliament elections (advertisement for it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3tErFvAgag; still haven’t decided how I feel about it– the ad, not the elections). Ideally, the British Parliament would pass the May’s deal, not take part in the EU elections, and leave, and life could move on. However, most likely, there will be no agreement, and the UK will either have to decide to leave without a deal by June 1st or vote in the elections and stay and see whether they can still get a deal by 31 October.

Here’s a rather nifty flow-chart put out in the article by Peter Barnes for the BBC explaining the possibilities.

Allowing what can really only be termed political shenanigans to get as far as they have is possibly just a matter of the possibilities defending  their so-called honor at this point. Or maybe it even has something to do with democracy and respecting the rights of the people. But really, all the politicians have to do it fess up, admit they made a mistake in organizing a referendum for which no plan was in place to carry out all possibilities of the vote, and then propose a new plan with a new referendum (which may be the post 23 May plan). Though who am I kidding? I write “all,” but it’s probably the last thing they would do.

Anyway, having a reelection doesn’t solve the situation that more than 6.7 million Britons have issue the EU, and these can range from conspiratorial fears about open borders to legitimate concerns of distribution of wealth and product management. After all, the UK’s entry into the European Economic Union (precursor to the EU) in 1973 resulted in thousands of changes to administrative tasks and realities for the British people’s everyday lives and economies, whether they are aware of it or not. One could say one of the failures of the EU was not being transparent enough about its role, allowing for the media to create narratives that the people believed instead of really understanding what their representatives were voting on for them in Brussels. Furthermore, there is a continuing reality that many people in the EU continue to consider their allegiance to their national-state before looking towards the EU.

I learned a little more about the situation when I visited a talk the night before the last Parliament vote was supposed to take place called “The Lessons of Brexit.” A new locale meant I got to know a new part of Cambridge and it would be good to get some more informed perspectives on the topic, since pub talk can really only get you so far before you’re repeating yourself or the other person.

Readers can actually watch the panel event themselves by clicking the link here or the video below, but my main takeaways were: Brexit has caused us to question democracy, even if it also helps show the strengths of having a democracy, and that maybe the British should pay a little more attention to the people who are unhappy and try and understand why they voted the way they did rather than writer them off as ignorant or ill-informed.

I found it interesting how a vote about staying in the EU could reveal so many other issues the UK has had since WWII, for one a deeply woven prejudice against working-class people in Britain, especially in Britain’s north. Everything that non-leave voters accuse “leave” voters for: narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, isolationist tendencies are traits the “cosmopolitan” (I put this in quotes, because it’s not the cosmopolitanism I believe in) bourgeois and academic class have accused the working class of having for years. Much of the peace Europe experienced since 1945 is because of the EU, and many of the benefits of what has become a welfare state are intertwined with EU policies, however the scales are bound to tip as the last of the generation who lived during the war and are still alive to talk of its lessons pass away.

I say don’t mention Brexit, because most people I talk to now are weary of it- I am too, but it’s a situation that involves questions that should not be ignored.

On a complete aside, but slightly related in this sort of moody post, in “Burnt Norton,” the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I get a very strong time-machine vibe, and not just because Eliot goes on about the past and the future being present in the present.

I invite you to read these excerpted lines from 1936 and then tell me whether they seem eerily applicable to today’s mediated world. I think so, and I’m not all that surprised, since all media are just remediation anyway.

Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker [Flickr?]
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Scarily appropriate, even today.

Finally, stay tuned! Like a boss, I’ve actually got two more posts lined up for this week. Hope you like them!

Guest post: “Erasmus gave me an opportunity I would never otherwise have had”

At the risk of putting a Meatloaf song in your heads, this opinion piece by Eloise Millard for The Guardian takes the words right out of my mouth.

You can read it here or in the text below.

The loss of the scheme would be a devastating blow for the social mobility of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Fri 22 Mar 2019 09.00 GMT

Joining the tremendously long list of downsides to the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union is the possible loss of the Erasmus programme, an exchange scheme that has given more than 3 million students the chance to study in 37 countries since 1987. Of course, there are many other exchange schemes across the world, but the majority require the student to have several thousand pounds spare for tuition, accommodation and so on.

Losing Erasmus is another devastating blow for the social mobility of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Not only are they about to lose the freedom to live and work in the EU, they have also lost incredible opportunities to immerse themselves in another culture and build invaluable skills, which research has proven sets them up for the world of work much better than their peers who don’t undertake Erasmus placements.

After the sudden death of my father during my second year at university, I decided to apply for a placement in Berlin. The prospect of having to perform academically while I was grieving was one I couldn’t face. Escaping it all with €2,500, which I spent visiting many European cities, and my student loan, seemed more much appealing. I won’t pretend it was an easy year; the minimal studying and endless partying was reserved for wealthier students who’d headed off to the US and Australia. I moved to Berlin not knowing anyone and with a very loose grasp of the language, courtesy of my lack of GCSE German tuition.

For the first couple of weeks I lived in a hostel, trying to bag a flatshare in Berlin’s rental market, writing hundreds of emails a day in patchy German. Over the year, I encountered doctors, bank managers and civil servants, none of whom spoke English. Before I left, I was pretty socially anxious – even making a phone call was a daunting prospect – but I was forced out of my shell because no one was there to help me. Berlin undoubtedly made me more confident, independent and open to the unknown. I learned an incredible amount about myself and the world. I now have couches to crash on around the globe, from Venezuela to Vietnam.

I undertook rigorous German lessons and spent my evenings learning verb conjugations rather than frequenting nightclubs. At the start of the year, I was immediately detected as a Briton the minute I opened my mouth to mumble a Haben Sie uhhh …, which was typically met with eyerolls and a reply in English. But practice makes perfect, and, by the time I left, I was even able to banter with Berliners. I was one of two native English speakers in the class. For both of us, German was our second language; for everyone else it was their third, fourth or fifth. I soon realised British students were far less rounded than their international counterparts, and I felt a sense of shame at my own shortcomings. However, this was nothing on the profound embarrassment I felt eight months later when I arrived in class on 24 June 2016, my peers, like myself, at a loss as to what had just happened.

It deeply saddens me that I was one of the last cohorts to take an Erasmus year, and that these unique, mind-broadening experiences have been ripped from the hands of students who would have felt the benefit for the rest of their lives. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be writing for the Guardian if I hadn’t lived in Berlin. Now, I’m much more the type to grab life by the cojones, rather than resigning myself to my comfort zone. I will be forever grateful for the scheme, which gave me the confidence to take the plunge into a field I’d long wanted to work in, and to be myself, unapologetically.

-Eloise Millard is a journalist and filmmaker, focusing on poverty and inequality

More on BREXIT (yay) coming soon!

playing tourist- central Florida and the Bahamas

The old irony–that one can live in the same place for 10-20+ years and still it takes a visitor or special occasion (like a hurricane) to actually see some of the things people come from all over to see–is true.

In the past, it took guests visiting us (or one very special birthday) to head up to Walt Disney World, family friends (my dad was in the Air Force) going up in space ships to see Cape Canaveral, and Hurricane Irma to actually take a cross-Florida trip. I used to take the trip across Alligator Alley every other week when going to school, and a few times I would drive with family or friends through the state to visit other family in Atlanta, SC or NC. However, despite taking all kinds of trips in Europe, it’s been a while since I took a trip in the US.

This past Spring Break- well, my mom’s spring break. I had more of a semester break, if you will-, my mom and I had a kind of wild time. The first goal was to visit a friend in Tampa, and then see where we get from there. We’d crossed New Orleans off the list (south Florida to Mississippi and back in 4 days? N’uh uh) and even decided Tallahassee would be a bit too far. Instead, after a nice evening walking around Safety Harbor, a neat little city on the Tampa Bay, we headed east towards Winter Park, planning a stop in Winter Garden to check out the West Orange Trail. This was after realizing that we wanted to go to Winter Park, not Winter Haven. Honestly, you’d think Florida in winter was some kind of thing.

Turns out, it’s hard to travel with a decades old GPS, faulty notes, and little sense of direction. What should have taken 2 hours turned into 4 and just as the afternoon sun had more than peaked, my mom and I landed in Winter Garden, which was a surprising little town. It’s actually quite beautiful and the West Orange Trail was quite put together, even if in hindsight it was all very Disneyish. There was also very little actual nature along the trail, which was a shame. Admittedly, actual nature in Florida gets pretty nasty, so maybe that was okay. If you can make it, do find a way to drive through Winter Garden on your next trip through Florida.

After a surprisingly eventful bike ride due to a flat tire and no spare, my mom and hopped in the car and tried to make it to Winter Park before dark. The question was whether we would try to book it back home that evening or spend an extra night. After stumbling upon a Quality Inn and the historic district, and then a Trader Joe’s, we decided it would be worth spending the night rather than driving tired and arriving home exhausted.

Turns out the idea was good, except the hotel location clientele made for a creepy experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except to someone I didn’t really care about. So that’s that. Also, public service announcement, if other hotel guests warn you to bring the bikes up to the room and not leave them locked outside, listen to them.

All in all, it was a bit stressful of a trip, but good considering that we basically waited until the morning of before we decided to even go.  And it meant I got to see some more of my home-state. I think my favorite part was driving up the 471 through the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve and the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. There was just such a feeling of old Florida and it took me down memory lane. It reminded me of a time in fourth grade where I was in charge of explaining all the flora on my elementary school mini wildlife preserve. I really enjoyed that. I even won a young maple tree for an Earth Day design contest once and it’s hopefully still in the yard of my family’s old house. If I ever go back there, that’s what I’ll go to look at.

Anyway, it was really cool to do something like this with my mom and connected me back with Florida. Just when I was thinking it was the last place I’d ever want to go back to…

Another cool thing I got to do with both my mom and dad (hi Papa!) was visit the Bahamas. More specifically, we visited Grand Bahama. And even more specifically, we visited Freeport. But most specifically, we spent more time on the boat than any of the Bahamas. It was okay, though.

My parents and I decided that next time we would visit one of the other islands, and we noticed that we were rather isolated on the trip, spending an hour on a tour of the city, where some pretty cool things were pointed out, but I also almost laughed out loud when Wendy’s and Burger King were pointed out as attractions; I’m glad I didn’t, though. Apparently, the city was hit hard by the past few hurricanes and the economy has been suffering for a while, so it was actually a bit of a sad site. After the bus tour, we were dropped off in Port Lucaya and were the only people there, other than the vendors and shop keepers. The beach was beautiful, but had one too many locals to give a firm “no” to, so that was slightly too uncomfortable to enjoy properly.

All in all, it actually reminded me a lot of Florida, except people drove on the left side of the road and the people seemed nicer. The weather and the flora was very similar to what we had just left. However, we made a point to eat the local dishes: conch, stewed fish, sheep’s tongue and we even drank some “Bohemian bears”- which is what it sounded like when the tour guide said Bahamian beers. The sheep and fish was better than it sounds, and while the conch was a bit disappointing, I wonder if it would have tasted better in a salad. I’d definitely try to find the Sand’s beer again.

But as stated, the trip was short, only 6 hours off the boat. It was my first first cruise, so I kind of enjoyed the experience on board as much as off. And once we got back to solid land, it was back to normal routine for my parents and some normal Florida sun ray catching and running (and even a bit of working!) for me.

IMG_3064

Call this post a prosaic ode to Florida, if you will. The weather wasn’t always perfect (a bit too hot and humid for March) and the normal life stresses can get one down, but a visit home is always nice, there are enough things to do, and it’s kind of wonderful to call Florida home (until the next local news pages just make me reconsider).

Cheers!

 

a(n) (unfair) comparison between Cambridge and Berlin (part 1)

Despite being  unqualified to comment on differences between Berlin and Cambridge, since I’ve only been here for a month, I figure that’s more than a lot of people, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Also, it may seem unfair comparing a small university town in England to the capital of Germany- but there you go, those are already the first differences.

I was asked yesterday what my favorite part about Cambridge is and after thinking about it for a second answered: how close everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the public transportation in Berlin is amazing and for every point of departure and destination, there are at least 3 options leaving within 5 minutes or so. However, the city is quite large and the commute times can be a bit rough. My brother had an hour long commute for a year and mine to the university are always at least 35 minutes (if the connections are all perfect). In comparison, almost everything within Cambridge is within 1.5 miles and a 10-minute bike ride. I go home a lot more in-between classes, library work, and evening work or activities, which is a nice lifestyle change.

Another thing I really like about Cambridge is how everything feels like it’s designed to take care of as much of the extras of adulting as possible. People who live on campus in the US know this feeling of having meals and some housekeeping taken care of, but in Berlin, this is not a thing. I can have amazing meals in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the day, but on days I don’t go to the office or classes, I’m on my own. Even though I like preparing my own meals, if I didn’t I would still be much better taken care of in Cambridge.

That being said, the prices here take some getting used to. Maybe it’s the conversion that’s just making me anxious,  but after coming from Berlin, I feel like I’m spending twice as much a week on groceries. Thank goodness for Aldi, because that at least balances out 12 pounds spent on the cheapest entree and a beer at any pub around.

At the same time, in Cambridge’s favor (and being a student here), I do appreciate the housekeeping. Initially I thought it would be weird to have someone come in my room once a week to clean- I mean, my mother taught me better! I can do it myself! But now I do appreciate it. I don’t have to think about it and can focus on work- which is the idea, of course. I also am grateful that the communal kitchens are cleaned, because from experience I know that the chore charts only work as long as EVERYONE follows it.

Alright, that last one wasn’t Cambridge proper, mostly just dorm life, but since the life here seems to revolve around students (and tourism), it’s not a far stretch. That’s something I miss about Berlin- the diversity of people and diversity of the things people do. It’s the center of political and cultural life in Germany, and since those are two of my priorities, I feel quite comfortable and always engage in a lot of intellectual conversation there. Here in Cambridge, a lot of people do things other than studenting- there are tons of music and sports groups- but it feels like everyone has to do everything so well and people take themselves too seriously. They tell themselves they don’t take it so seriously, and try to be tongue-in-cheek about it all, but then they do seem ind of disappointed if you didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, Cambridge gets a lot of credit for being an intellectual hub, but it’s like they only know how to be intellectual in theory. They’re missing some of the practicality of life getting in your face that I’m so used to in Berlin. Still, it seems like Berlin is facing its own challenges with increasing hipsterfication and gentrification, so who knows how long it is before I’m complaining about this in Berlin as well. I will say that for its small size, Cambridge offers more than its share of theater and music.

Let’s see; I’ve covered food costs, student life, intellectual life- I guess what remains to comment on is the feel of the city and its architecture and green spaces.

I can say that right now I appreciate Cambridge and Berlin equally- Berlin has so much innovation in its architecture and the mix of old and new just hits me every time I see it, but there’s something ultra charming about the old English houses and I also just keep stopping and snapping a photo when I see a new angle on one of the old colleges, or go down some new cobbled street. I so often feel like I can’t take a breath that’s not imbued with history. And don’t get me started on the Cam River- how clean everything feels- or the pretty flowers that are appearing everywhere.

it’s beginning to look like Spring. back end of King’s

I guess, as a runner I’m also grateful for the proximity of Cambridge to seemingly endless fields. I say seemingly, because as I discovered during my first runs in Cambridge, there are a lot of private fields and, in general, just a lot of fences in Cambridge. Colleges are closed off from one another with them, streets often end in more fences. It’s a bit frustrating, since even though Berlin is a concrete jungle, I can just keep turning another corner and almost never end up in a dead-end. Furthermore, Berlin has the Grunewald and the Tierpark and various other green spaces. Cambridge’s green is around the city- still very green, but you have to find it first. And it’s not many trees- just a lot of open fields- which is lovely until you’re trying to get across in 25 mph winds.

But I’m not complaining. I’m quite happy here and I’m getting done what I came here to do, so that’s the most important part.

On that note, here’s the lecture hall photo I promised. It doesn’t seem as novel as it did the first time I saw and sat in it, but it’s still pretty cool.

IMG_1745

Cheers, – Dorothea

 

some London

Well, it’s been over a week since I ended the “week in the life” series and I thought I’d get back with a post much sooner, but now you get to read about three adventures scrunched into one.

But before I do that, let me start off with two notes:

  1. I’ve thought a lot these past days about my choice to come to Cambridge after just two years in Berlin. I have to admit, it’s hard again to be in a new place with new people having to meet with strangers every few days under the guise of networking and socializing. I get really anxious beforehand, get through it alright I guess, and then am anxious about it afterwards. I also wonder if there’s something about me that the first time I’m in the same city for more than a year since undergrad, I find a way to leave again. I know part of it is ambition and wanderlust and seeking out opportunities for academic growth and getting to know new things, but part of me thinks I’m constantly running away from something. I can remember very clearly in high school when my parents were thinking about moving three states north and I was actually excited about the possibility, because I thought it would give me a fresh start. What am I running away from? only I can answer that, and don’t worry, I know here and now is not the time.
  2. on that note, why is it so easy for me to go on for 20-30 minutes writing, but I sit in the same kitchen as a housemate who’s cooking  for the same amount of time and can’t exchange more than five sentences with him? I know it’s not just me, but seriously, I wish I could be as relaxed, cool, and charming as I am in writing (or how I like to believe I am in writing).

But enough of that. Let’s start with the journey to the town centre (don’t kid yourself, Cambridge, you say you have a city centre, but you’re really just a town) where I found the weekly market. It’s a great place with all the typical stalls plus delicious food booths (one offered everything made with Halloumi) in the grace of the Great St. Mary’s Church.

Cambridge City Centre Market

As one can see, the majesty of the buildings and spaces in Cambridge just keep one in awe. But then there are also the small things around town that also make me smile once in a while, like this statue/fountain type thing:

Cat and Mouse fountain

But I have to say, Cambridge very quickly can feel too small. I say it’s only a town in jest; it is a city, but it really does just feel like an overgrown village. A multitude of libraries, churches, and stores do not a city make. To be honest, I was even beginning to miss the sound of 18-wheelers rolling outside my window and so last Wednesday, taking advantage of a return ticket to London I had accidentally purchased on my arrival to Cambridge, I drove to London.

Beyond the fact that it’s just so cool to say “I went to London for a day-trip,” the city, its sights, food, and people, gave me a bit of sanity of which this ancient academic high-pressure-pot had threatened to relieve me.

I did some touristy walking:

And some research exploring:

And some fangirling:

I walked from London Bridge Station to Brick Lane, over Spitalfield, Shoreditch and Finsbury, and through Saint Pancras to King’s Cross. And I generally had a good time, rounded out by some draft Guinness across from the British Library, for which I’m now also a registered Reader. I came back to Cambridge, quite happy with my adventure and three days later made the same journey, though this time with the Hounds and Hares to make it to the Hyde Park relays.

Now let’s not kid ourselves, I was easily the slowest person in a Cambridge jersey, but it was a nice experience all the same. Plus, I got to see a little more of all the cool things just south of Hyde Park that I missed over the summer. 

And I got to see the Royal Albert Hall get dressed up for the 72nd British Academy Film Awards…

Preparing for the BAFTAs at Royal Albert Hall

And? Am I happy about returning to Cambridge at the end of such another day? Of course! Especially since it means I’ll be getting back to work 😉