Observations

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

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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.

The Summer of the Hanse

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Vincent D’Onofrio in Daredevil (2015) from the IMDB database

A line from Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil Season One, episode 9 really resonated with me: the moment where Wilson Fisk (played achingly well by Vincent D’Onofrio) states that his one “character flaw” is his inability to quiet the mind. I mean, disregarding the fact that it is not his “one flaw,” I sympathize with his difficulties (though I’m not on par with him being a brutal homicidal guy with messed up ethics). I’ve been pushed by my unquiet mind to finally write this post, in the hope that it will give me the mind-space to deal with some significant life responsibilities. In return, you shall be caught-up on my adventures!

There’s a bit to report from my summer in Germany, but it really came from the last three weeks I was there. I love being a student in Germany. I really do. But one setback is that the semester runs April through the middle of July and once that’s done, there’s not much summer left to overlap with the vacation the rest of my family has. So, most of what I did that was interesting was after the semester had ended and I could take longer trips.

However, I did have a few adventures before that:

Dresden: though I surprisingly took NO photos, it was a very nice two days there. You’ll just have to believe me.

A rose festival: just outside of Hansestadt Rostock, a rose farm finds some people to play some bluegrass and country, some people to sell tea and cake, and then display a vast array of some of the most beautiful roses you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky, some available for sale. It was a beautiful day and the music wasn’t bad, so it was kind of cool.

An organ sermon in the chapel to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. These happen every Saturday at 6 pm, and while the organist may have improvised a little too crazily, a few classic pieces were played too, and it was a nice respite from the hustle of one of Berlin’s main shopping and tourist districts right outside.

A few bike rides: mostly on the Baltic coast, mostly in good weather and as always with beautiful scenery; the sheep on the roof summarize the vast array of quirky things there are to see up north.

When I wasn’t squeezing in family or friend time, I was finishing up the second semester of PhD colloquium at the Freie Uni and keeping up with my part-part time position as secretary to a secretary.

Once the semester was done, my parents rented a car and we used it to go all the places in the north of Germany. I didn’t go anywhere I hadn’t been before, I but I got to know old places in new ways. Plus, we seemed weirdly attracted to the Hanseatic League, visiting four of the remaining cities retaining the “Hansestadt” moniker in Germany: Stralsund, Rostock, Wismar and Luebeck.

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You know you’re in a Hanse city when the harbor hosts a bunch of ships. You know you’ve met a LotRs fan when s/he names his/her boat after Tolkien. Someone must have taken the name J.R.R. Tolkien

For those that want a brush-up on European history, the Hanseatic League was kind of one of the first European Unions. Tired of having to pay taxes or worry about diplomacy everytime a nation’s water territory was crossed, traders, merchants and fishermen agreed that my fish is your fish and saved their tax allotment to build their cities instead. Stralsund we just drove through to get to the beautifully tucked-away island of Hiddensee, and Rostock is the nearest major city of our normal summer haunting-grounds, but Wismar and Luebeck were pleasant surprises in how they’d developed over the last 10 years. Luebeck was especially nice to see again.

Luebeck architecture, like much of the League, was influenced by the Swedish and the vastly popular red brick gothic building style. The Holstentor (top right) and facades of the buildings in Luebeck are very famous throughout the world. I was also enchanted by small courtyards behind almost every house. Fun bonus fact: Luebeck was not attacked during World War II the way other German cities and harbors were because the Allies already knew that they would get that part of Germany as a part of the reparations. They didn’t want to destroy that which they’d later have to occupy.

As mentioned, we also visited Hiddensee (the name does not mean what it looks like it would). There are absolutely no cars allowed on the island as it hosts one of the nation’s largest natural parks and therefore preserves a large number of the native Baltic wildlife. It’s a great island for hiking and I enjoyed walking on the edges of cliffs, eating fish, and seeing a few deer. One gets to the island by ferry and the last one to leave the island was at sunset, so you can imagine the view was amazing. The water was also so still, that at one point, the fine line between earth and sky was almost invisible if it weren’t for a small hint of land.

The weather was not good enough this summer to be motivated to do a whole lot of exploring, so my family did a lot of the same things we do every year, which is sometimes also good.

The time for my parents to return to work and routine was creeping up, though, and now, here we are, back in south Florida and sun and sweat.

However, right before we left, my mother, brother and I visited an art exhibit in Potsdam (that big city outside Berlin, capital of the state of Brandenburg). Called From Hopper to Rothko: America’s Road to Modern Art, I got a good dose of US culture. If you want to get an idea of how Western Expansion weighed on the collective psyche of the US people, consider the change in artwork from the beginning of the 19th century through WWI. While the perspectives excluded a few narratives of racism and genocide, the vitality of America’s frontier mentality- the ability to organize and survive in the face of raw nature, as we see most recently in the Texan’s response to H/TS Harvey, is visceral to the art.

The history of the building where the exhibit was is interesting too. It was sponsored by by operative SAP buisinessman Hasso Plattner. The museum exists on a square that was rebuilt only a few years ago and eerily remove one to a different century. It’s something one definitely does not get in Berlin anymore. Too many new buildings have been built next to the old ones for this kind of impression to be made. Still, there’s a beauty to both.

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Check out my mad cloud-designing skills: the Vocation School for Art, Nikolai Church, and Old Market of Potsdam

aaand that’s that. I’m now happily in my parent’s home in Florida, taking advantage of sun, the pool, and the local library. Hope the school year is starting well and fall doesn’t creep up too nastily.

Cheers, -Dorothea

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

Happy International Women’s Day

I came in for an uncharacteristic mid-week post to wish everyone a happy Women’s Day.

I guess some people need to be reminded that this day does not mean women think they deserve more attention than men. This day is a gesture to acknowledge the achievements of women in the millennia past that have been overlooked by establishments and communities.

That being said, this means that men can celebrate this day as well. That is, men can celebrate unless they don’t think women had any achievements, in which case I’d invite them to imagine a world in which they are required to both work full time and be 90-100% responsible for the care and upbringing of their children, held morally and ethically responsible for every accidental pregnancy that occurs, be witty, entertaining and fit while also kept out of schools, places of discussion and worship, and physical sport, and a world in which the structure of DNA hadn’t been discovered, we didn’t know how to program computers, we didn’t have hypertext fiction, nuclear fission (though that one, given the atomic bomb, may be worth imagining a world without), pain and Alzheimer’s treatment, signal flares, polonium and radium, HIV and AIDs treatments, IVF treatments, or radio pulsars…all things trail-blazed by women  that I think we can all be grateful for and (those are just a selection from the things that we know about).

I think most everyone gets this. However, I still struggle against those who say that they are willing to let women do anything and that they respect women when these same people hold women to standards of behavior and expectations that limit the opportunities women have to reach their full-potential… and it’s not just men who are at fault here. Women often limit other women in their expectations and standards, and I find this whole cycle frustrating and worth talking about.

I celebrate this day inspired by all achievements of all people, curious about those I don’t know about- because I know there are a lo we haven’t/don’t hear or read about-and imagining my future based on my potential that is unbridled and wholly me. I just want to know that whatever I want to do will be allowed and supported by the government, laws, and people around me, and that whatever achievements I make won’t be overlooked or stolen from me. That’s not a lot to ask, and it’s something I ask for both men and women and anyone in-between/ or without.

James Turrell and the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Of course, given all the talk about my name in the past week, I had to visit the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof yesterday.

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The Dorotheenstadt cemetery, officially the “Cemetery of the Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder Parishes,”  is a ‘landmarked Protestant burial ground located in the Berlin district of Mitte’ (Wikipedia) which dates to 1762 and in which many, many famous Germans are buried: Bertoldt Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel, who also happened to live next door to the cemetery, Hegel, Fichte, Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig, Anna Seghers, Regisseur Heiner Müller and the Prussian architects Friedrich August Stüler and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, among others. It’s called the “Prominenten [basically VIP’s] cemetery” of Berlin and is located in Stadtmitte (a city district in the center of Berlin) near Oranienburger Tor, which used to be the north entry to a much smaller Berlin. It’s also near the Jewish Synagogue of Berlin and the Bertoldt Brecht Haus. A lot of the cemetery and the chapel were affected by WWII, but the chapel was reconstructed in the 1960s and a dedicated space for James Turrell’s (a US American artist and architect) concepts of space and light since then. It is this chapel my brother and I visited yesterday, having been to the cemetery in the past to appreciate the space and resting grounds of many important German thinkers.

Since being in Berlin 2017, I’ve tried to do something unique to Berlin at least twice a month. Lately, it’s been something at least once each weekend. The past two weekends were taken care of by the Berlinale- Berlin’s international film festival, which featured some really great movies (better, dare I say, than some of the movies up for Oscars tonight).

To just return to those viewings for a second: The really neat thing about the Berlinale was that the directors, producers, and/or actors as well as others involved would be available for Q & A after the movies. The awards ceremony for the Generation group (movies with kids as a main focus) was especially fun to watch.

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The Glass Bears

However, this weekend, I spent a leisurely Saturday morning while preparing for my long run, came back from my long run and felt like a zombie, and decided it was a good reason as any to get some blood pouring through my legs again. I had looked for things to do in the morning, but didn’t really find much except for a play and a few random destinations. So I went for my run.

After refueling with pancakes, I looked again and stumbled upon the “tips for the day” put out by the Berlin event planner thingie (don’t know who’s job it is to arrange these things, but I’m glad they’re there!) and found an event that met my expectations: interesting, I knew where it was located, and it was inepensive- cost 5 Euro reduced entry free.

The event started at 5 pm, which I later found out was so that one could see the chapel during the day and then experience sunset and the effect of the light changes from inside the chapel. Being there a bit early gave me the chance to catch a few shots from outside and surrounding gardens:

After getting seated in the chapel, which was arranged like any other chapel- benches, alter in the front, space in the back for the organ, but otherwise rather spartan, I tried to wrap my head around the unusual lighting. There was a bright blue light coming from the walls, and bright green coming from the alter that while pleasant enough, just seemed artificial. I didn’t feel like I was properly in God’s space. It didn’t help that people were chatting and laughing and on their phones.

But then a member of the parish came up and introduced the space before introducing the curator of the art installation. The young curator told us about James Turrell and his work, as well as his ideas for the chapel. It is an interesting coincidence that the one event I chose this weekend in Berlin had to do with a US American, but it’s also a refection of how globalized we are.

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At any rate, I was thrown back to my art studies and how complementary colors work and how lights affect ability to gauge dimensions, and so I was really into the design aspect of the space. Then, the parish member lit the candles of the alter, and I was surprised at how the natural light balanced the artificial light that no longer was unappealing to me anyway.

There were some great violets and oranges that I didn’t photograph. Once the prayer was said and the candles lit, the space was mostly quiet and it was a great chance to reflect and let the lights do their magic… and it really was magic.

Leaving the chapel, my brother remarked that what we did was low-keyed for a weekend outing, but it was really nice. It got us a chance to see something unique and participate in a little event that not many knew of or were there for. I know many people who come to Berlin are more interested in the big monuments and events of the city, but one shouldn’t forget the small ones. I guess getting to know them is part of the perks of living in that space, and not just visiting.

For those interested, the event happens every Wednesday and Saturday half an hour before sunset, and costs 10 Euro, 5 Euro reduced for students, veterans, seniors, and those on benefits.