Berlin

This is the Golden Country

“Isn’t there a stream somewhere here?” he whispered.

Whenever I feel the darkness creeping around my heart during the daily drudge to work or the Uni, waiting in long lines for things I don’t want to do anyway, taking much longer showers than necessary, I go back to my books. Not the esoteric considerations about life, the universe, and everything (which really could have just been summed up with the number 42), but the narratives which always hold a truth and require a bit more work and provide a bit more reward than the halfway satisfying constant streams of Netflix.

Currently, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 with my students, and beyond being able to comment on politics without worrying about freedom of a speech or lack thereof, I’m just inspired by Orwell as a writer and find myself nodding at his aphorisms about language and politics and how those who control language control thought- but that’s a set of contemplation for another day and context. Mostly relevant for now are the descriptions of the Winston Smith’s childhood/dream landscape that just fit so well for the golden country my brother and I visited a little while ago. If you’re ever looking for something to do in Berlin that’s not being a tourist in the city, take your bikes and head to the outer rims of the S-Bahn service.

In the middle of October, the weather in Berlin went from winter coats and wool socks to shorts and tee shirts for a day. Forecast for almost a week, there was an air of anticipation in all my interactions with people. Feeling inspired, my bro and I took our beat-up Brandenburg bike-tour book and bikes and went exploring. In retrospect, it’s a good thing we took advantage of the opportunity before the semester started. The commute to the start point of the ride and then back home was almost an hour. Now, I don’t know if I could have kept calm “losing” so much time- but that’s an issue I’m working on.

At any rate, we took our bikes on the S-bahn without trouble, paying a small price for the bikes on top of our normal public transport ticket, and got out at the almost last stop in the south-east of Berlin: Koenigs Wusterhausen coming across the most quaint town where the streets are named after Russian writers and playwrights, and it didn’t take long for us to get to Schloss Koenigs Wusterhausen where the young Friedrich the Great saw his best friend executed after they had both tried to run away from the strict rule of the Soldier King. After being in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe for over a year now, it was a bit of a shock to walk our bikes on narrow, cobblestone-stoned streets and the small two story houses of the Middle Ages. Granted, there are still quite a few areas directly in Berlin like this, but usually they are bordered by ultra modern buildings and shopping houses. The shining sun was also a bit of a shock to the system, which added to the dreamlike feeling of being here.

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there was a pottery market happening, so we didn’t linger long

The tour was called “Along the Notte Canal” (in German of course) and took us all along the canal. To our left was farming and pasture land and to the right a broad stream framed by trees that were taking one last chance to show off their colors before they would lose their leaves.

I won’t go through the whole tour in words with you, but I feel inclined to describe the feeling of awe and contentment at seeing the beauty- in both nature and old small town architecture- around me.

I also can’t forget to say that we spent about 4 kilometers being lost because we confused a pond for a lake and that the last part turned into an obstacle course as we navigated around the trees knocked down by two strong storms in just as many weeks.

My brother, the better photographer and with the better camera took the pictures that bring a bit of that pleasant late summer warmth to my heart as I hope they may to yours as well.

As a sort of update, I’ve entered a new phase of my life and been forced to spend less time on WordPress and more time looking at other words. It used to be that even if I didn’t post often, I could at least interact with the community a good amount. Now? I have reading lists of 8-10 texts a week and I’m glad if I can halfway read three-quarters of them…and let’s not talk about writing ;-). However, I’m not complaining and this isn’t an excuse; I’m just stating the current situation. I’m taking a golden opportunity to bring some October sunlight into gray November thoughts, and I’ll continue to use the opportunities as they come to write and interact. I’ve been on WordPress rather constantly for three years now, and it has been and continues to be a great virtual space to visit when I feel like I’ve got something to share and have the brain space free to read about opinions and experiences that aren’t my own.

Hope the holiday season starts well for you and too see you again soon!

Cheers, Dorothea

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Little traffic men

According to Google.de and the most recent Google doodle (seriously, I don’t even have to do a lot of thinking to find topics to write about these days), yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the first use of the Ampelmännchen- a quirky design for a street light for pedestrians in former East Germany. After the Berlin Wall fell, traffic light administrators took the design as an icon and honestly, it’s pretty cute, so they continued to use this street sign in the east and it has even spread into the west… mostly west Berlin, but still.

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I had actually meant to write about the Ampelmänner before, and even took a few pictures, so I might as well share one of them now. What’s even more fun is that an Ampelfrauchen (women) is in existence now too.

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sorry about the poor photo quality… but you can see both the stop and go Ampelfrauchen in Dresden here.

While I’m at it, I also had saved some pictures of a multi-level parking lot for bicycles outside one of the S-bahn stations in Berlin. I couldn’t get over the fact that someone had designed devices to put up multiple bikes in public spaces like this, and I really wanted to share this with you.

Other than that, there’s not much to report from Bretzel land, and I guess I’m keeping my head low because the semester is about to start, which means I’ve got a lot of work. Iran nuclear deals are being talked about, we just had hurricane force winds take down a lot of signs/trees throughout northern Germany, but Oktoberfest is basically over, so tourists are slowly trickling back out again. Still, they are taking time to stop by the Festival of Lights happening in Berlin through the end of this weekend (recall that I wrote about this last year), and my brother and I will join them and take advantage of a “golden October.”

Hope there’s some of that golden light in your regions too, this weekend!

Cheers, Dorothea

German Unity Day 2017

Side note to get us started, but what did we do in the days before Google Doodles? How else did we know why the stores were all closed or which obscure media theorist had his birthday in the middle of July?

The Google Doodle for Tuesday celebrates October 3rd, of course. I talked a lot about the significance of the day for Germans last year here. This year, I used the day off to catch up on work and take advantage of some opportunities in the city with my brother. It was nice to have a mid-week day with him again, too.

We started off having American pancakes in a new personal favorite of mine in Berlin: Zimt und Zucker (Cinnamon and Sugar). It’s a “sweet” little place, in the style of Vienese coffee houses of the 18th and 19th centuries, in Berlin Mitte (kind of the center of Berlin near the old Cold War checkpoints and the Brandenburg Gate, etc.). One has a large menu of breakfast type items to chose from all day, and it is very popular, especially on weekends. I (in a rare moment) thought ahead and had reserved for my bro and me, so it was a nice start to the day. If you are in Berlin, I can recommend the salmon and green onion crepes or the bacon and sour cream pancakes. 🙂

Then, we walked over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) that had opened its doors to the public for the holiday. Accordingly, the place was packed, but people were in mostly good spirits and I brushed up on my early modern German history. The exhibits ranged from pre-middle ages to WWII.

Visiting the museum reminded me of the large role the Reformation had in European history, and wouldn’t you know it, but this year it’s been 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door. You can imagine this is being celebrated in Germany, not the least on Reformation Day, which isn’t too long from now: October 31st. Even stoic Berlin, usually exempt from religious holidays, grants its citizens this day off this year.

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So many Protestants… I wonder how much more quickly Luther’s ideas would have spread (and/or been ignored) had there been the internet…

Yesterday, I also used the free entrance to visit the special exhibit to explore the first press-photography in Germany with the Bild Zeitung. Leopald Ullstein was a big name in the late 19th and early 20th centuries being responsible for making photos a part of news for the first time and for his influential role on how the way the population viewed politics. Apparently then, like now, the press liked to focus on the big names on the political scenes and forgot to look at the protests, demonstrations, and stuff happening on the sidelines. It was also interesting to see the role his enterprise played in the Nazi propaganda machine. Since I’m professionally interested in media and its impact on culture, I appreciated the exhibit very much, even if it was crowded, darkish, and one could not take photos. After seeing the other exhibit, the special one was a bit of a letdown. Still, it put into perspective how our media changes over time.

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My brother and I were both impressed with the craftsmanship of this edition, and the ingenuity of writing these laws and their explanations within each other.

After we had our fill of the museum, my brother and I headed down Unter den Linden with the masses of people who were enjoying marginally okay weather. Most people were heading for the street-fest by the Brandenburg Gate, but after the disappointment last year, my bro and I opted for a coffee stop and side streets heading to our next destination: free dance classes as a chance to get to know one of Berlin’s dance schools.

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Typisch Berlin: old, new, and then a TV Tower sticking up in the middle of it all. Fun fact: the old building to the left was the first institution for experimental psychology in Germany. I’m not sure how pleasant a place it was at the time, though.

I made it to the school, my brother opted out. I danced Zumba, Salsa, and Boogie-woogie, and called it a day. It was a good day, rounded out with my regular English-language practice with members of the German-American Club of Berlin. As one can see, I really did a little bit of everything.

I imagine all my non-German friends (and those not in Germany) spent the day with normal weekday stuff, but I hope it was good! Hope you have a good rest of the week as well! -Dorothea

It’s Coalition Time: Quick Facts to the German National Election

Posting this, I am back in Germany and operating on little sleep while embracing nicer temps than those in Florida. It’s weird to be back after being in the US again. Yet, I’m also noticing how much less I’ve reverted to old US habits. I guess I didn’t integrate into the culture as much this time; if I’m not careful, I’ll end up taking on expat habits. However, I also know I just have to balance my bicultural identity a bit better. Part of that is taking an active interest in the politics of both nations. I’m not ashamed to say that choosing between coming back on Sept. 23rd and Sept. 25th was a matter of being able to cast my vote on Sept. 24th.

Yep, this Sunday Germans are heading to voting stations to vote for candidates and parliamentary parties to take power in the Bundestag. Since no one lives in a vacuum in this globalized age, I figured many readers may be interested in a little more information about what’s at stake and what it could mean.

  • Germany is a parliamentary democracy
  • It has the fourth largest economy in the world
  • It is one of the founding members of the European Union
  • Germany has two houses of Parliament, the Bundestag (lower house) and Bundesrat (upper house, representing the 16 federal states).
  • Each German state has its own parliament and a regular election, and every four years the national parliament is newly elected
  • Germany has a complex voting system for electing its Bundestag, or lower house, largely due to negative experiencesduring the Weimar Republic. The post WWII system seeks to combine the benefits of both direct and proportional representation while guarding against political fragementation. More specific facts here
  • The ballot contains two votes: one for a candidate- the district representitatve- and one for a party
  • There are 598 total seats in parliament; 299 of these are the winners of the constituent vote. The other 299 are delegated  proportional to the percentage of the vote won by the party.
  • There are six recognized major parties: CDU (center right), SPD (center left), FDP (libertarian), Linken (left/neo-communists), Grünen (environmentalist and center left), and the AFD (anti-Europe/nationalist/right).
  • There are over a dozen other parties up for election and seats
  • Anyone wanting to disassociate him/herself from the neo-Nazis will disassociate him/herself from the AFD
  • The party with the most seats has the most power in parliament
  • The leader of the party with the most votes is the Chancelor
  • The German chancellor is head of state and has the most political power in the nation
  • Dr. Angela Merkel (CDU) has served three terms
  • There is also a president, a largely symbolic head of state, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who was sworn in in March 2017.
  • While the party with the most seats has the most power, it cannot rule alone unless it has 50% of the seats. Therefore, the leading party will often join into a coalition with a junior partner with which it can pass most legislation.
  • For the past four years, CDU and SPD were coallied, which made for very bland, centered decisions.
  • This year, that coalition may be an option as well as CDU-FDP-Grünen or SPD-Linken-Grünen.
  • No one wants a coalition with the AFD.
  • However, no one (in their humane mind) wants them as the main opposing party in parliament either
  • This is getting a large number of German voters hopefully mobilized.
  • More than 60 Million Germans are eligible to vote in the 2017 election

My brother and I are two of those voters. We’re interested in the results. Hope I could raise some interest in you as well.

Fun fact: The Berlin Marathon is also happening on Sunday. How Berliners will navigate the logistics of getting to their voting stations will be interesting to follow.

Edited to add: the AfD has more than 80+ seats in parliament as of 19 o’clock. This is… well, the adjective I’d like to use wouldn’t be very polite.  Also up for election in Berlin was keeping use of the Tegel Airport, thought to become obsolete once the BER airport is finally completed.  I flew in there yesterday and like to fly there, since the ‘port is so small (easily navigated) and close to home.

Sea and See here, time for some time off

Hidyho!

Or not. That expression looks/sounds a bit funny. Anyway, hi.

Last time I posted I was preparing for my mom’s visit, and now she’s here and I’ve been splitting my time between academic work, work work and family time. I’ve been struggling to get some running and blogging time in there too, but since it’s been tough and is only going to get more difficult once my Dad joins us as well, I’ve decided to post the yearly “off on vacation, laters” post now and catch you all when I come back in August-ish.

I’ll continue doing some traveling and cool stuff in Berlin, so there’s something to look forward to reading about when I’m back.

Before I go, I need to tell you about how my mother, brother and I did hit it off right away by visiting the Berlin Zoo.

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Entrance to the Berlin Zoo 

I have mixed feeling about zoos, since I am opposed to the idea of a bunch of animals twice as big as me occupying spaces not much larger than my home in the States, animals not following their hunting or gathering instincts, or how things like agreements for panda bear twins being loaned to the Berlin Zoo can make German citizens forget about human rights grievances in China. On the other hand, it was a nice day in Berlin, the animals could all be outside, and the zoo is a historic feature of Berlin. Still, history shows us that we’ve been able to let go of some barbaric practices… and it’s about time we realized that zoos could go the same way as gladiator fights, slavery, etc.. my idea: rather than allowing more animals to be bred in zoos (which I’ll admit seems a bit cruel, too-but may be the best we can do at this point), allow those domesticated to the point that they wouldn’t survive in the wild to live to a ripe old age and then re-purpose the space for something else cool, like a playground or a park. I did visit the zoo, so I can’t get on my moral high horse. It was a family decision and I didn’t want to spoil the chance to do something nice together. The good news is, we walked ourselves off our feet, and everyone declared they didn’t have to go to another zoo for at least another 10 years, so perhaps by then it won’t even be an option anyway.

Something I had no moral qualms about was a visit to the Baltic Sea. German geography knowers will be aware that Germany borders the North and Baltic Seas to the north. This played a huge role in German trading and wealth through to the 20th century, and one can find imperial wealth along these shores as well. But mostly, one can enjoy beautiful landscapes and amazing bike ways- which is what we did, along with sun bathing, and even a few runs. 

We spent some time on the east and west shores of the German Baltic. The pictures below are from Heiligenhafen in Schleswig-Holstein – the northwestern-most state of Germany. The boardwalk into the sea, Strandkorbe (literally sandbaskets) and dunes are standard for the Baltic and classic features of Germany seaside towns. The idea may sound strange for people used to lounge-chairs and cabanas for the beach, but a Strandkorb is a glorious way to have a place to hang out on the beach, off the sand but able to enjoy sun and be sheltered from the wind. It’s still too early in the season for the beaches to be full, but the weather was gorgeous and I’m looking forward to some summer days on the coasts these next months as well.

I’m sure many of you have beaches in sights soon, as well. Or mountains! At least some sun and fun. Hope everyone has a good summer and I plan to keep-up with your blogs in-between life. Just apologies in advance if I don’t comment.

Stay cool!

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Yo, my star sign is capricorn

Spring cleaning and some new (to me) Berlin

Happy Monday!

Hope you had a good Mother’s Day weekend. I couldn’t be with my mother on Mother’s Day for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?), and it was harder than I thought it would be. Still modern technology like FaceTime makes these kinds of situations much better.

However, I did use the weekend to prepare for my mother’s imminent arrival in Berlin (yay!), and this resulted in a bit of spring cleaning, both on- and off-line. Yesterday, I randomly got sucked into my email inboxes and deleted all old mails that had been resolved. I forwarded myself the ones I needed to do something with this week, and went from over 400 mails between all my inboxes to “just” 80-ish.

Of course, real-life space is less forgiving and I had a bit of mass to get rid of. Saturday consisted of going throughout the entire apartment (which, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is actually my parent’s apartment?) and cleaning/removing most traces that I’ve been living here like a bachelor for 10 months. It doesn’t help that my brother (the actual bachelor) joined me for four of those, so the task was arduous. But we got it done! And we get to benefit from the cleaner/neater space as well.

I haven’t just been spending my time indoors, though.

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Tiergarten Town Hall

 Most recently, I’ve discovered Berlin-Moabit, the grungy sister to Prenzlauer Berg (where all the starter-ups and hipsters hang out). It’s part of the greater district Tiergarten (home to the famous huge park of the same name in the middle of Berlin) and a little more low-key compared to the rest of Berlin, but still very cool.

In Moabit, my brother and I discovered a hole in the wall there that’s been turned into a burger-joint and plays mix-tapes (from actual boom-boxes hung on the walls). I also discovered one of Berlin’s old 10 in-door markets right across from, I kid you not(!), a training ground for bicycle riders. I couldn’t get a good photo yet, but one day I will post the tickle-me-pink neatness of the road and bike lane replicas, the traffic lights and street signs that are to aid the youth of Berlin in navigating the city on their bikes safely.

Moabit is also home to a lot of great old Berlin architecture and generally not visited by many tourists, so I think I’ll visit there more often, if just to get away from the steadily increasing masses on Ku’damm, in Potsdamer Platz, and all Berlin’s main attractions.

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Pickles in a jar, pringles and bagels that weren’t half bad when I toasted them

In other news, Aldi (which extended its long arm to the US a while ago in Trader Joe’s, and now under its own name) had “America Week” this past week, where all it’s special items were America-inspired. Asides from the items I bought, they had a whole assortment of peanut-caramel-chocolate concoctions that they think represented US sweets. Good job, you guys.

Finally, in spring news, this being my first spring with actual planting space, I’ve discovered my thumb is more green than I previously believed.  Growing up in south Florida, there was gardening to be done year round and I always associated it with trimming hedges and trees, pulling weeds that never froze and died, or digging in a sandy soil that was as unforgiving on my hands as for the plants. I never thought of the fun part of gardening where things you plant in fall pop out in spring. Turns out, I like gardening!

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Oh, and finally for real this time, I got that scholarship I was hoping for last time I wrote. You are now reading the work of a fully-funded PhD student. My parents are so relieved proud. 

Hope you have a good week! -Dorothea

The New Synagogue in Berlin

I’ve barely been back in Berlin for a week, but I’ve already noticed how much more free time I have since being demoted to 8 hours a week. Granted, it means I have less money and am on the brink of an exist-ential crisis, and I should be using my extra time to work on my dissertation, but I’m also using it to fall back in love with Berlin in Spring.

While on my way to revisit the Dorotheenfriedhof with a friend who had come into town, we passed by the Jewish Synagogue, which is about 1 km from Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof (Cold War buffs will know this was the crossing point from East to West for civilians). While I was excited to show my friend the graves of Brecht, Fichte, et al., I did suggest we visit the Synagogue.

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©1999 Valerie Kreutzer

My friend, who had been to Berlin several times but never made it inside, since the last time the opportunity presented itself, a series of bomb threats closed the place down for a few weeks (months?).  Even if the Synagogue and museum were now open, there were police guarding it, as they do every Jewish or Turkish building of significance in Berlin. It’s, as one person in Google Reviews posted, sobering. Germans are in a constant battle against their history and themselves in the form of blatant or covert neo-nazism.

Still, while the same Google Review comments largely suggested that going inside the museum was a waste of time and money, I think I already mentioned that I had the time, and the 5 Euro on museum entrance and visit to the dome weren’t terrible. Granted, I thought I would be able to go into the main hall of the Synagogue, since I’d been able to visit the Old New Synagogue in Prague once upon a time, which impressed heavily on my faith questioning as a teenager, but I understand why that area would be closed to the public.

At any rate, I paid my five euros and spent about thirty minutes going through the exhibition. First of all, the Synagogue isn’t new, but it was the new one when it opened in 1866.  A lot of the information in the exhibit was about the destruction of the building in the 1938 Pogrom-Kristallnacht and World War II, as well as the rebuilding. But what I liked about the exhibit was how much information was given about how the Berlin Jewish population was living in Berlin in the 1930s and 40s. One got insight into the Jewish Schools for Boys and Girls in the surrounding area, famous artists like Maz Liebermann who were part of the congregation, and the way members of the congregation would worship, celebrate and learn in the building. After seeing how the large orthodox Jewish population in south Florida observed Passover the past week, I was personally moved by the way this building afforded a place of security and community for more than fifty years and hundreds of thousands of people before Hitler and the Nazis came to power.

I was also surprised to learn that of the 14 synagogues attacked in the night of November 9, 1938, the New Synagogue was largely able to escape most of the destruction due to the intervention of the chief of police of the precinct, Wilhelm Kruetzfel. While most of the fire brigade and police on that night stood by and watched, Kruetzfel and those under his command forced the SA troops to leave and then called the fire brigade. Of course, he had to answer for it and managed to get by on the point that the building was a “historic cite” and deserved protection, but I believe it was more than that and I’m glad to know that somehow, in the face of a majority who go along with what is morally and ethically wrong, there are those who resist- or those who at least stand by what they know to be right.

Anyway, after the exhibit, my friend and I spent a while trying to find the way to the dome. When we found it, we did indeed find a smallish room with a not terribly spectacular view of surrounding Berlin, but I appreciated it. One got an idea of how “mitten drin” the Synogogue was in the center and I had a chance to reflect on the purpose for the dome as bringing closer to God and as a symbol.

My friend and I talked a little more about the symbolism of the building and the police guarding it after leaving. We both agreed that of all place to attack, a synagogue would not present a lot of victims and really just is a pile of fancy looking bricks. Still, I commented on the symbol of the place, and the way it has regrown into a center for learning and worship for the Jewish community, and that the message an attack would send, even if the destruction were not too terrible, would be enough to cause a good amount of damage to the feelings of community, security and tolerance the place provide. So, yeah.Good reasons to guard it.

We ran out of time (I guess I still do have some limits) to see the Friedhof, but I’m glad I went inside the Synagogue for a bit of history and reflection. I’m also always amazed at how well Berlin derails me from plans and often offers me better ones instead.