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 Indeed.com and stepstone.de, 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.
It was a really interesting tour through a lot of what used to be East Berlin and GDR Germany. 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.
A statue of Friedrich the Great, the Prussian emperor who played a large role in the success of Prussia and Berlin as its capital.
“Wir schaffen es”- relateable to Obama’s “Yes we can.” German’s view on this issue is split, but it’s always a topic for conversation.
Everyone knows what this is.
A group of buildings on the Spree. The Wahlplakate, or political campaign posters, are scattered around the city like weeds. Elections are on the 16th of September.
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.
On 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.