Berlin

It’s been a hot minute. Let’s rewind a bit and press play on a scene of standing on a bridge over the Cam watching the sun go down

The last thing I wrote for this blog was about the major events happening in Berlin in October 2018 that I experienced as a sort of Randfigur from the sidelines. And I ended with a slightly ambiguous note about changes.

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Potsdamer Platz likes to get dressed up around the holidays

It needn’t have been so ambiguous, since we are all changing all of the time, but the changes that spiral into other changes seem noteworthy, and those are the ones I would like to focus on today.

Truth is, this post has little to do with the changing of the guards that are our personal sentinels of each year . I’ve been thinking about it for a while and it’s only shortly after the new year, sitting in a plane that will take me back to Germany, that I have the time to finally write it. [edited to add: the time between drafting and posting was about 2 weeks]

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Sky over London

It’s not that I was slacking last year. A quick overview:

I finished up teaching the first class I completely conceptualized and designed myself at a German institution, completed my first year of the PhD scholarship program, had a minor lip revision to fix something left over from cleft-lip repair, presented at two conferences, despite not having presented since April 2015, and finished writing my first chapter for the dissertation.

The less perfect newsreel includes failing to meet the goal of writing two chapters by the end of the year, missing out on my brother for a few months despite us living in the same city, a few hefty debates with my family about the future, getting a speeding ticket on my way to the Darß marathon, not getting a BQ despite running 2 marathons and getting a PR (the Boston Athletic Association made the choice to lower the qualifying time a few weeks before my race), and living a perfectly single life for over a year now (but as they say, it’s better to be single and mostly happy than in an unhappy relationship). I think it’s worth mentioning the negative since otherwise I do present a heavily skewed positive impression of my year.

Now, contrary to the fact that I have been incredibly lapse with this blog, I am not planning on retiring or closing it, like I did with the running one. But I am reevaluating my goals and uses for it.

It’s been apparent for some time now that I have become more sensitive to differences in the US than in Germany, and I no longer find daily inspirations for things that might be interesting to a US reader, since everything I am faced with in Berlin has become more or less usual for me. Now, I experience counter culture shock when I enter a super Target and walk almost a mile around this single store, getting lost in the different departments.
That being said, I am still aware of the differences in mannerisms, traditions, and, of course, language. I also did a few things that I could have blogged about, but now I just think the ship has passed and I’m ready to move on (I’ve got the notes for my own personal reference, which I believe is very valuable to my own development as a scholar, runner, and person):

  • Attended the annual national conference for political journalists
  • Attended 6 Degrees Berlin– talking about citizenship and integration in times of increased migration
  • Attended a podium discussion about language change to reflect our more diverse societies.
  • Organized a workshop meant to help participants identify and understand other ways of being and belonging beyond nation, culture, and genes.
  • Visited cities of Hamburg and Erfurt during Advent
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Erfurt in December

  • Ran (and was first female for) a marathon in the Grunewald, southwest Berlin
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not the marathon win, but a winning combination of warmer weather and beach- Boca 10k Dec 2018
and
  • Came home to south Florida to celebrate Christmas with my family

The good news is that despite not having a lot of motivation anymore to write about my experiences in Berlin, I am in the middle of the start of another adventure. Officially, as of last Monday, I’ll be in Cambridge, England for two terms for research and writing, but I do also plan to see some more of England and Scotland, and therefore I should have enough new and exciting things to write about. The only thing that could get in the way of that are my priorities catching up with me, as by this time next year, I should be pretty close to finishing the dissertation.

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My Pegasus/unicorn is a PhD by summer 2020

So stay tuned.

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Lights, gates, tracks and streets

Hello there! I wouldn’t be hurt if you forgot this blog existed. I kind of forget that myself too, sometimes. I tell myself, if anything, at least I’m posting at least once every calendar month. I’ll try to make up for quantity with quality!

Where to begin? September in Berlin was surprisingly mild and sunny, and this carried on well into the month of October. Being quite more comfortable than July and August, where temperatures were well above 30 centigrade, everyone was happy about the weather except the flora that just didn’t get enough rain. However, as the month wore on, the leaves changed colors, the sky got darker earlier and now a few rain days have refreshed the last bits of green around here.

October saw another celebration of the Germany reunification 29 years ago. And while I didn’t know that each year another German city hosts the nation for a week of celebrations, I figured it out this year since Berlin was the host.

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from zeit.de, © Jens Büttner/dpa

The Strasse des 17. Junis basically went from one event prep to the other as just a week prior to this, the Berlin Marathon happened, which saw the world record broken once again (7 times in 15 years!) by Eluid Kipchoge. Just a few days after the Unity Day celebraations, the lights and projectors were set up for the Festival of Lights that happens here yearly. I posted more extensively about this the first time I saw the different exhibitions two years ago.

A week into the Festival of Lights (it went from 5-14 October), there was also the massive demonstration of solidarity with anti-rightwing extremeism, inclusiveness, and anti-racism in Berlin, the #unteilbar Demo. For academic reasons I missed most of the demo, but I was able to participate in the last hours.

Demo

from Tagespiegel.de, FOTO: IMAGO/EPD

So, basically, the Strasse des 17. Junis is open for the first time in over a month. I’m sure Berlin’s car commuters are relieved about this.

Other than riding up and down the street on my bike for the various events/ activities, I also crossed a major goal off the bucket list and ran in one of the most (in)famous stadiums in the world.

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From this, it looks like my smiling self is leading the pack. Not shown: quite a few people who had already made it around this turn of the track.

The Berlin Olympic Stadium, built for the 1936 Olympics, was one of Adolf Hitler’s showcase projects before he started WWII (a very offhand way of putting it, I know. I’m sorry). Jesse Owens famously won four gold medals there in 1936, becoming a game changer much like Usain Bolt, who broke the world record here in 2009.

Fun fact: my brother and I were out on a run once during that summer of 2009 and were able to sneak into the stadium to see the 300m hurdles, because we looked like we were participating athletes. I’ve also done the official hosted tour of the Stadium once or twice. However, I’ve never been able to run on that famous blue track and so when the opportunity came through the European Association for the Study of Diabetes to run a free 5k on the Olympic Stadium grounds, I kind of hoped this would include the track. And it did! And now I can say I’ve run on that track like the exceptional athletes before me.

Finally, to round out the last interesting news from Dorothea in Berlin, there are various literary events happening all over the city on almost a daily basis. It’s almost more exhausting to figure out what to do than to get ready to do something, and my priorities have shifted a little from exploring to writing, but there are still opportunities to join the Friday night revelers in Kreuzberg, Neuköln, and the like, to think about the ways the city is changing. Shifting resources, shifting demographics, the city is constantly changing and sometimes, a bottle of beer in hand standing by the exit to the last station on the line, watching the people come and go to catch the connecting buses or grab a garlic-sauced Döner, thinking about the days behind me and the days ahead, I can just feel myself changing too.

 

the long distance runner’s guide to (west) Berlin

Now, I’ve got a pretty big head, but I’m not delusional enough to think that I run Berlin (and I don’t think I’d want to). I know that this is the Social Democrat Party’s job, helmed by mayor Michael Müller. However, whenever I do a city run, it makes me think “I run this city.”

I’ve most likely mentioned this before, but as a runner I’ve always appreciated how easily navigable Berlin is and the ability to cross more than half the city in a 2 hour run, seeing a lot of the major monuments and landmarks in the process. As a point of reference, I ran 18 miles through London back in July and still only saw about 1/5 of the city’s major landmarks (albeit, I also got lost a bit and repeated some stretches).

Despite being in Berlin for two years now, and many times many summers before 2016, I finally managed to take my camera on the run. Below, you can see my last run through Berlin before heading back to Florida for the rest of the semester break and I’ve numbered the locations of the photos I’ve taken and included in this post. It’s important to note that, seeing as I turned south and then west again at the Brandenburg Gate, this post only covers interesting points in former west Berlin. There are a lot of equally interesting and important monuments and landmarks in the former east as well! I also didn’t include the Grunewald or Wannsee, which easily make up a long run in themselves. But here goes: a guide to running this part of Berlin.

Map of running (west) Berlin

  1. Schloss Charlottenburg
  2. Schlosspark Charlottenburg
  3. Siegessäule  or the Victory Column
  4. Statue of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
  5. Großer Tiergarten
  6. Soviet War Memorial
  7. Brandenburg Gate
  8. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  9. Entrance to the Zoologischer Garten
  10. Breitscheidplatz, ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and remains of the European Track and Field Championships

Start at Theodor-Heuss Platz, which is the western end of the Kaiserdamm that begins in Berlin Mitte as Unter den Linden and extends straight for about 4 miles. This little green-covered plaza is marked by a nice blue monument that turns clear to allow the late sunlight to come through in the evenings.

Heading east, you can run by with the Convention grounds and central bus station mere houses away to the south. Head east until you get to aptly named Schloßstraße, which will get you to Berlin’s largest castle with grounds that have a circumference of more than a mile.

After running through the Schlosspark, which features mausoleums, flowers galore and even some sheep (royal properties are expensive to maintain, need to save somewhere), one can head out east again, this time on the Spree River that runs through Berlin. Factories often got placed on rivers in the 19th and 20th centuries, so one can find Nivea, BMW, and other well-known names running back towards the Kaiserdamm, which has now changed to Strasse des 17. Juni. One can continue to head east here until one reaches the golden angel which stands on top of the Victory Column.

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This is easily one of the most well-known monuments of Berlin. It features a 270 step climb to a viewing platform that I wouldn’t advise to visit on the run, but could deserve a separate visit. Instead of visiting the column, one could continue along the round about, featuring other famous monuments to pre World War generals and, of course, Bismark.

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These sculptures and the Tiergarten in general add to the feeling of a Berlin before the destruction of the World Wars. The park initially served as hunting grounds for the king before being transformed into a green space in the middle of the city where one could see and be seen (or not, it was also a hiding spot for some illicit activity as well) on weekends and in evenings.

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Continuing through the Tiergarten, one eventually comes back onto the Strasse des 17. Juni, where one eventually happens upon a monument to the Soviet’s role in World War II. The history of Berlin during the war deserves it’s own post, but it may suffice to say that Berlin was one of the last battlegrounds of the war, and the allies had agreed to the Soviets advancing on the city first, trusting they would split control of the city after the war. The war memorial just south of the Reichstag reminds of this role and of the many Soviet soldier’s lives WWII took.

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Like most post-war Soviet memorials, the display features impressive life-size tanks and a larger than life model of a soldier.

Now, while I didn’t do this on this run, one can easily skip a little north of this memorial and see the home of the German government (Bundestag) in the Reichstag. Instead, one can also just continue heading east to find THE German monument par excellence: the Brandenburger Tor.

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Now, unfortunately, there’s some construction going on the right side, but at least there are not a lot of people. This is only because it is 7 AM. Come anytime after 8 AM and you won’t get a people-free shot. This is why it’s recommended to be an early-rising runner.

It’s also recommended because then one can beat the crowds in this part of Berlin, which is Berlin Mitte and very popular with the tourists, politicians, and business people. It’s also near a lot of important embassies such as the French, USA, UK, and others.

To continue, one can head down the east or west side of the Brandenburg gate to come back around to the front of the US embassy. From here, one can see the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

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Placed on about 4 acres of land, this memorial is one of a few memorials in Berlin to victims of the Holocaust, though this memorial is specifically to the Jewish victims and some people like the author of this opinion piece explain some of the controversy of the design and the name. I personally can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the meaning of the columns and the feeling of angst incited walking among these tomb-like structures, but there is some question about the effectiveness of the reminder it represents. As a runner, I run by it, but it also deserves a separate visit. There is a documentation center in the center that takes some time to go through as well.

The west side of this memorial faces the Tiergarten again, and it is this space, the southern part this time, that one can continue along, passing even more embassies. The architecture of these buildings is always unique and decorated by the flags of countries all over the world with some cultural note that could be a tour in itself.

This last part of the run, other than bringing one through more of Berlin, is pretty uneventful until one gets back to the Kurfürstenstraße that leads to the Berlin Zoological Gardens and, of course, eventually the U- and S-Bahn station of the same name. I visited the Zoo with my mom and bro last year, so one can read about that here.

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The entrance way is iconic and there’s just a little bit of cultural appropriation here, but it is an interesting visit as well.

Just a little further down the road one finds the Breitscheidplatz and the ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This summer some of the European Championships were held in Berlin, so the stands for spectating were just being taken down as I ran by. Those are obviously not always there.

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What is there and not photographed is the small memorial to the victims of the 2016 Christmas Market Attack (this is just behind those stands).

Unfortunately, as apparent from the run, the occupants of the city cannot escape its history, as the reminders are always all around. At least there’s a lot to also keep from dwelling too much on this as well (i.e. live music at an Irish Pub advertised in this photo). Berlin is a sobering, ugly, and yet beautiful and lively history-conscious city, all at once.

Speaking of not dwelling on things, the run doesn’t end here (though it easily could). For me, it lead on the Hardenbergstrasse past the station, the Technical University, and to Ernst-Reuter Platz. From there, one can head west again on the Bismarkstrasse (aka Strasse des 17. Juni aka Unter den Linden aka Kaiserdamm) until one gets back to where one started.

Given the right conditions and the right training, this tour is manageable in under two hours. There are enough quick shops and stations along the way (even a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts by the Brandenburg Gate) to get one through the run if one has some spare change. I wouldn’t encourage using the Tiergarten as a toilet, though it is possible in emergencies. However, there are some public restrooms at the Victory Column, the Gate, and near the Zoo Bahnhof.

Obviously, this tour is just one of multiple options of runs to complete in Berlin. However, for the tourist who is also a long-distance runner, this does the job of seeing a lot in a little time and having a lot to write home about.

tschüß,
Dorothea

Catching up (c’mon, keep up!)

Hello readers! I know that most of you who have been following my blog for a while have gotten used to the rather sporadic posting. I think, before disappearing, I’d settled with a comfortable post a month. However, to go four months without blogging? Well, I can’t really say that I’m consistent (except maybe in my inconstancy). But I have to say that when the summer semester started at the Freie Universität, I got sucked into three seminars, a colloquium, and actual writing for the dissertation. Then my parents arrived for their yearly vacation in Germany and all bets were on that I’d barely make it to WordPress.

It’s difficult to summarize all the things that happened and the things I did and the posts I could write. Here are a few titles and photos for those imaginary posts:

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  • “How medical operations are like races”. I drafted something about relationships of the doctor’s appointments, pre-surgery clearance, getting high off anesthesia and feeling like crap afterwards to the reality of running something like a marathon (spoiler: the recovery is rough for both, but gets easier the more you do it!) but that post will have to wait. This post would have been in conjunction with another post that I may actually get to post at some point about having a craniofacial birth defect.
  • “Jagdschloss Gelbensande, or how all of Europe’s royal houses converge in a tiny little hunting lodge in Mecklenburg Vorpommern”

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  • “Hamburg revisited” Three years after studying in Hamburg, I finally visited with all three of my family members and was able to show them the part of the campus I studied at as well as the Speicherstadt and part of the Hafen.

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  • “Salt Life Baltic Style”

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  • “Let’s go see the river Marlowe also flowed down”
  • “Hogwarts: in real life” (these last two titles would be for the posts where I talk about my conference trip to Cambridge with a little detour to London).
  • “Germany’s super summer and bike tours that go wrong”. Seriously. If you think it’s a bad idea to try to go out for a ride when the temps are above 30 degrees centigrade, you’re probably right. It doesn’t help getting lost or flat tires without repair kits on you, either.

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  • “Four reasons why living in a big city is not so great”. To include the noise, the smell, and close-contact with people who don’t know their limits on drugs or alcohol. Bascially a college campus on the weekend, but on a larger (maybe more dangerous) scale.
  • “Revisiting old haunts with new eyes”. Despite traveling to the Baltic coast every summer since I was 4, there’s always something new to experience or something old to experience in new ways.

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  • And finally, “running through (west) Berlin”. Stay-tuned, because I’ll actually be posting this one!

In summary, I had a good summer. Mostly work, but also a lot of play. Hope you did as well and good luck to those getting ready for new school years and semesters!!

Cheers,
Dorothea

p.s. While being a goof off the web, WordPress celebrated my four years of being on their site. Yay. Happy writing anniversary to me.

Livestock and Airports

Before I start, no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

It’s been three weeks since I flew out of cold Berlin to the Sunshine State, and now I’m back again. I actually meant to write a post about the trip home right away, for, you know, prosperity’s sake. Because my opinions are, like, really important. But now I have 2 more airports to talk about. I could just scrap the post, seeing how late it is, but some interesting and funny things happened and it’s almost the end of the week (or the weekend when you read this) and you could really use a fun read, right? I’ll at least try to keep it fun.

My trip on March 15th started with a 3:30 wake-up call, because the plane was leaving at 6 and I’ve heard stories of people who headed to one of Berlin’s two operational airports only to find out their plane was leaving from the other side of town. I obviously wanted to avoid missing the flight!

I would have missed this:

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and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss celebrating birthdays and Easter with my family, either, of course.

Although I checked five times already, I still left early and it felt good to arrive at luggage check-in with more than an hour before human check-in. There, I was reminded that Tegel Airport is the small, old airport that it is.

And when I mention Tegel’s age, I actually need to acknowledge Berlin history. Berlin once had 8 airports, and, as one can imagine, these were heavily used during the World War II. Most of these airports were key for the war efforts and were meant to be closed after the war. In fact, Tegel (TXL) would have been shut down after WWII if it hadn’t been for the Soviet Blockade of West Berlin in 1948 and the ensuing Berlin Airlift. But since the airport was needed, it lived to serve Berlin through the Cold War. And since the major BER airport, under construction since 2006 and meant to be opened in 2011 STILL is not opened, TXL lives to fly good people like myself in and out of the city. And that’s a wonderful thing, since while Schönefeld and BER are 18 km out of the city center, TXL is a mere 5km and 20 minute bus ride away.

But woops, I got off track. So I was saying that I was reminded of TXL’s size and age, and this is because my walk from check-in to security check was 20 meters, and the security line itself was only 50 meters long. Can you imagine a time where security wasn’t necessary? You could after being in Tegel. But anyway, before I knew it, I was out of the waiting area of the terminal, and I barely had time to check out the same 5 kinds of candy and alcohol and perfume in any duty-free shop in any airport in. the. world.

First stop: Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I’m ignoring the namesake for brevity’s sake (look him up!), but I do want to talk about something that struck me about this large airport in Paris: its two priorities seemed to be the highest end shopping I’ve ever seen in an airport and the fancy patisseries and, well croissants. They were awesome. I felt so cool with my high school French ordering cappuccino and croissant until having to revert to English when they needed smaller change for my payment.

The stark contrast between Charles de Gaulle and the German and US airports I’ve been to made me more aware of the other airports I went to: Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale International. Travelling through several international airports, I learned that one can tell a nation’s priorities based on the venues offered. European airports seem to feature a mix of shopping and food. German airports especially have a lot of news/book/paper supplies stores.

But then Atlanta also surprised me with its very well done decorations between terminals. Besides having one food place next to the other, the airport still gave the impression of being interested in sharing its history, geological heritage, and culture. One of the busiest airports in the world, Atlanta (or Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International) airport features an indoor railway that brings people from terminal to terminal. One could opt to take the shuttle, but my layover was long enough to walk the not-so-long distance between terminal F and A and see the sights along the way.

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And I’m not telling you where this was, because I want to encourage you to walk and discover for yourself. Or I forgot.

What really impressed me was a timeline of the history of Atlanta. Created by the artist Gary Moss, ‘A Walk Through Atlanta History’ is a permanent exhibit in the transportation mall between terminals B and C, it reminds people of the Cherokee and Creek tribes who inhabited Georgia before they were forced to leave their lands during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.  For a country that likes to wash over this difficult part of its past and present, acknowledging the indigenous people of Georgia is a bold move (and if you think “duh, of course it had to be acknowledged,” check out some history books from before the 1960s). The Indian Removal Act that led to the “Trail of Tears” was not mentioned, but I admit… that may have been too much to ask (or perhaps not? Comments below!).

But yes, I enjoyed my walk and after Atlanta, arriving in Fort Lauderdale was a bit of a letdown. It’s a bit too old and unimpressive with low ceilings and gray walls to really make a great airport to come home to. But I’m sure plans for renovations are in place.

Okay, enough with the history lessons and facts, already. You’re probably asking where the funny stories are, that I promised.

Let’s start with me informing you who/what the real MVP of my trip was: my bladder. Marathon training and international trips don’t mesh well. After the trip, I was glad for my excellent hydration habits. During? Not so much. My short trip from Atlanta to FLL was the only one where I had an aisle seat. From Paris to Atlanta, I spent 9 hours stuck between two guys and since I hate asking people (unless it’s my brother) to get up, I just kept it down to  three requests to get up. Window seat guy didn’t get up once. Seriously?!

See? I’m terrible at telling funny stories. I’ll try again. This time, it starts with a Ukrainian in seat C on the way from Paris to Atlanta. Not being one to start conversations with strangers, I kept my earbuds in and tried to be a responsible PhD student and work on my much-too-large for an airplane laptop, and then digressed to watching Despicable Me 3 (yes, I’m an adult child-though I laughed enough to make window seat guy start watching it too, not sure if he had much fun as I did). At some point, though, after the second time asking him to get up, aisle guy, in a thick accent proceeds to tell me that he’s Ukrainian and his English isn’t so great. Could I help him fill out the customs form? “Sure!” I say. And then we proceed down the sheet. I get through mostly okay. I don’t tell him that I took three years of Russian (which is related to Ukrainian) in college in order to avoid unnecessary attempts to hold a conversation after this good deed is done, but when we get to the question about handling livestock, I wish I had. I also wished my three years of study had taught me what livestock are in Russian. I tried as many examples of livestock that I knew. I wasn’t even sure if chickens counted as livestock. For some reason, I only mentioned hooved animals. Mostly, I was hoping he would understand with the word cow… He didn’t. And I couldn’t even tell him the Russian word, because I’ve forgotten all my Russian, it seems. So remember, kids. Take your language studies seriously. You never know when you might need them!

In an interesting series of coincidences, a conversation while home with my former Russian teacher (also Ukrainian!) happened to remind me of корова, which also happens to be the name of a Russian candy:

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from RussianFoodDirect.com

And then, the walls of the airport in Amsterdam were covered in cows. So maybe the universe was telling me it’s a good thing I never finished my post in Florida, because now I can say:

no, I don’t think airports are great places for cows either.

Unless it’s these cows:

Cows in Amsterdam

Let’s not forget the windmills.

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check out the shadow effects!

Clearly, Amsterdam Airport’s priority was making sure you didn’t forget you were in the land of windmills and cows.

Cheers! Until my next attempt at entertaining posts,
Dorothea

Finding the political in everything

About a week and a lifetime ago (every week is a lifetime when on a break from normal routine), I just finished attending the Berlinale. As previously explained, there are various sections of the Berlin film festival, and I attended mostly the Generation 14+ movies with a K+ Awards ceremony thrown in. It’s not that I’m not ready for the “adult” movies yet. It’s mostly that the Generation section movies are easier to coordinate and attend. And honestly, they’re not any less demanding of empathy, understanding or ability to feel sad. This year, I saw four 14+ movies: 303, which I mentioned last week, Kissing Candice, High Fantasy, and the winner of the 14+ section: Fortuna. Of the four, 303 and Kissing Candice were more about growing up and becoming an adult. However, Kissing Candice, an Irish movie with a sub-plot about a gang of unruly, drug using, violent boys, also already crossed the border of entertainment into political commentary- which is what High Fantasy and Fortuna definitely were.

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Director/Writer and two main cast members of Kissing Candice 

Before I continue, I should mention that I’ve always been weirdly involved in politics. Perhaps my transnational heritage caused me to question the point of nation, and therefore of state, and therefore of borders and therefore of what happens within those borders, etc.. But despite my degrees in literature, I’ve visited my share of political seminars and my PhD project is actually a weird intersection of literature, media, and politics (aka cultural studies) and so I consider myself qualified to talk about politics. Also, as Percy Bysshe Shelley proclaimed, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” so who knows!

I know that you are probably rolling your eyes right now. It’s okay. I roll my eyes at myself a lot too.

Anyhow, as far as Berlinale goes, my favorite movie was High Fantasy, a South African movie questioning the success of the “rainbow nation” and highlighting contemporary tensions in race politics and discrimination. It wasn’t just the topic that had me on board. I just really enjoyed the story, how the characters switched bodies, and the nod to 80s style sci-fi a la Stranger Things. Race Politics and the way People of Color were treated in South Africa through the 90s did not disappear with the end of Apartheid, of course. We see this in the USA too, and here we supposedly ended segregation decades earlier. On top of continuing tensions between People of Color and Whites in South Africa- showcased in various high profile events and protests in the past few years, there is also an increasing awareness of LGTBQ+ rights. So where do these issues find an audience? In front of the Berlin 14+ audience. Unfortunately, the movie has yet to be screened in South Africa, but maybe building up a portfolio of positive responses elsewhere will give director —- the strength (and financial means) to show it in South Africa and perhaps even get action-inciting conversation going.

Similarly political, but closer to home, was the movie Fortuna. Chosen as the winner of this year’s 14+ section for the Berlinale by both the international and public jury, Fortuna was honestly one of the most difficult movies I’ve seen in a while. It wasn’t terribly traumatic or tmi. Rather, it was just painfully slow. I’m sorry that I say that like it’s a bad thing. I’m definitely a fan of artistic movies, and agree I that we don’t need fifteen shots in just as many seconds and that the Hollywood combo of comedy and action just grates the sensibility to finely shredded stinky cheese. However, some humor is needed. And while the black and white cinematography was aesthetically beautiful, and the close shots of two men having a conversation for 15 minutes quite, well unusual , I was finding it hard to focus.

The story revolved around a 14-year old refugee from an African country and her fate- specifically, her ability to chose her fate (Catholic faith and questions about abortion played an important part in this movie). She had been sent to live in a Swiss convent led by a group of well-meaning, but perhaps unprepared monkish type men. The movie, despite having some artistic merit, clearly won due to its attempt to take on the socio-political topic of the decade- refugee seekers in Europe. The focus on an individual and her fate as an unaccompanied minor, as well as all the Swiss government beuracracy and the humanity in the face of inhumane forces (none the least an icy-coldness that I could feel in my own bones, despite the fact that it was only an audio-visual representation) maybe is what won. I don’t know. I can’t judge the 16 movies that were up for selection, but I felt that the other movies I had seen had just as much merit- if in different ways.

But oh well. That was that. The 14+ section also featured some great, slightly politically involved movies. The short film that won was Field Guide to 12-Year Old Girls, an Australian movie that I could relate to and enjoyed, and the feature film Les Rois Mongols (meaning “the idiot kings,” awkwardly translated in English as “Cross My Heart”). This movie wasn’t as political as the 14+ section films, even if it included some Quebecois left-wing politics and French versus English Canadian identity. However, it reminded me of the need children have to be included in decisions concerning family, and of their need to be taken seriously. They can understand more than we give them credit for, and that should never be underestimated, it looks like.

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The Glass Bears awarded to the public jury chosen short and feature films

So there you have it. Berlinale. Four glass bears awarded and I am 7 great movies richer for it.

Moving on, I also took a few hours of my Saturday (after a long run, before the K+awards ceremony) to pop into the Kennedy Museum (after spending an hour to discover that this wasn’t the same as the Kennedy Haus) and visited the photo exhibit of Pete Souza’s selection of photos taken during the Obama presidency.

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As found on the Kennedy Museum Website: https://www.thekennedys.de/english/

An exhibit for Obama in the presence of a permanent exhibit about John F. Kennedy was no coincidence. Both had a special and curated relationship with the people via the media, and this much can be seen in the photos taken of both throughout their presidencies. I personally am guilty for letting my impression of Obama take over my feelings about his political actions while in office (and afterwards). For me, he presents one of the most intelligent, upright characters that I know. This is, of course, based only on what I (am able to) know about him, but I also hope that my opinion of him is never shattered by some news about what he did in office or afterwards.

At any rate, many Berlin fans will know that Kennedy once gave a speech in West Berlin where he states “ich bin ein Berliner” (I won’t explain the joke that Kennedy called himself a donut- you’ll have to look that up yourself), and the visit from which this speech came endeared Kennedy to the hearts of many Germans, and hence a whole 100+ sq. meters dedicated to the man in one of Berlin’s more expensive corners. It’s a pretty well put-together museum, and I enjoyed my hour there. I can advise it- but only if you’re not allergic to politicians and photos.

And thus endeth one post, with plans for the next one to cover a trip I took to Duisburg and Den Haag.

As a small preview: small Blaumeisen, which are now my favorite birds. Yellow breast and blue heads and feathers. You can’t really see it here, but it’s still a nice photo, I think.

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okay, in reference to the post title, maybe not everything…

That time I met Benjamin meet Brecht

You know how some people wait until the absolute last day to go to an exhibition that’s been going for months, and suddenly come together to fill up a small space, that’s been sparsely filled for weeks, with damp shoe smell and garlic Döner breath? Well I’m one of those people.

Hi everyone! It’s been a while. I have to be honest and say I went through a pretty rough time since the summer, and it’s taken me a while for the process of ‘open the “write post” page and type something in’ to be easier…but if you’re reading this, the drought may finally be over.

While I’ve been neglecting WordPress and you, dear readers, I wrapped up a pretty nice Christmas season with a lot of Weihnachtsmärkte and at least 6 mugs of Glühwein. I even made it down to Nürnberg again, and longtime readers will remember how ridiculously full the Markt gets and ridiculously silly I get, but this time I was kept responsible by looking after a few cute kids.

Here are some pretty pictures of some of the markets my brother and I went to. It was his first Christmas season ever in Germany, so I made sure he got a good idea of what the markets are about (clearly: food).

 

I went home again to Florida for Christmas and fully took three weeks off school, which may or may not have been the best decision I’ve made last year. I came back early January and zoomed into the semester again, and now here we are, end January and I’ve visited a lot of lectures, done some writing, a lot of reading, and saw people do mad acrobatics/gymnastics in the Mercedes-Benz Arena again.  My brother and I also spent time being dorks in the snow, since we’re still Florida kids and just get excited by the white powdery stuff, you know?

 

And today I visited said exhibit that’s been open in the Berlin Akedemie der Künste since October: Benjamin and Brecht: Thinking in Extremes.

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yes. Berlin is just a grey and dreary in winter as people always say it is.

Oh, you didn’t know that one of the 20th century’s most celebrated playwrights and poets had met and worked with the 20th century’s favorite (okay, my favorite) cultural and literary critic? Oh, good. Me neither (and if you did… can we meet and talk?, because  you sound pretty interesting).

 

It makes sense that they’ve met giving the timing and both their fates as exiled from the 3rd Reich under the National Socialists in Germany, but as the title of the exhibit demonstrates, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht were pretty different and their coming together in theory and practice was a bit explosive sometimes. Benjamin was a kind of straight-laced, tweed wearing (though I don’t know if he wore tweed), briefcase carrying rationalist and Brecht was a cigar smoking, scuffed sneaker, gesturing dreamer. Both believed in the necessity of art for social and political critique, though, and that much was clear in the exhibit.

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The exhibit was part record of their conversations and conversations about B and B, but also artwork that commented on their theory or generally continued the work of the two.

I especially appreciated Zoe Beloff‘s work. She submitted two of her paintings and a movie to the exhibit and if her movie Exile (still a work in progress) is ever available to own, I will definitely procure it.

And I don’t know if I was just in a good mood today, but seeing the community aspect of criticism and art just made me happy. I like to see the working habits of writers, how they spend their days and the kinds of lives they lead. This impression was created by the hanging boards with pictures and quotes of/about the men’s lives. Very little was said in the exhibit about the women in B’s and B’s lives, but most of the quotes about their relationship came from women. And both Benjamin and Brecht had children (something one doesn’t hear a lot about), so I’m assuming some part of their lives were spent wiping poop away off something.

It was an artfully done exhibit, taking advantage of the multiple technologies we have today (including a self-playing chess board… it was magic!), and I’m glad I went, though admittedly I got a bit anxious by the end because my work was calling and the exhibit got to be too full of people by the time I left. I’m not the only one who waited until the last day and looked for a bit of literary and cultural history on a bleak Berlin day.

Looking forward, the semester in Berlin is about to end (only three more weeks!) and in the meantime, I’m slogging through trying to get a working model of my theory done. It’s harder to pin-down than it is to think about it in a fragmentary nature though.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention that in this time of not-writing-about-going-ons-in-Berlin, I also visited a lecture that was meant to provide a mid-term evaluation about Trump. It was, interesting… but writing more would be its own post.

Hope the first month of the year was good for you, and that the next one is good, if not better!

Cheers, Dorothea

p.s. sigh. You can totally tell that the quality of my bro’s camera is better than mine.