Things to Do

north of the south, continued: Blackpool

Mind you, traveling to Blackpool happened on the same day as my trip to Newcastle, so it was a long day. I describe the journey there in detail in my next post, but suffice to say- the transport system failed me for the first time since arriving in England and I arrived in Blackpool 2 hours later than planned, and I wasn’t very happy.

However, the following day’s marathon and a bit of sight-seeing made up for it.

By coming to Blackpool, I manage to become a bit acquainted with the Flyde Peninsula.

The Flyde is a coastal plain in western Lancashire and considered a peninsula, though it doesn’t completely look like one to me. However, the fact that it was on the Irish Sea was unmistakeable and I felt right at home with the seagulls and and beachside vibe, which included more B&Bs than hotels, which I quite enjoyed.

Blackpool is an interesting city. At its height during the 19th and first half of the 20th Century, it was a fashionable sea-resort to which wealthy Englishmen would travel to “take the cure.” Now it’s a popular tourist destination for its major attractions and promises of fun.

However, I have to say, being there in late April when the weather wasn’t that great was a little demoralizing. It was very empty and perhaps, dare I say it, a bit depressing. I wasn’t that surprised to learn in preparing for this post that Blackpool had the fourth highest rate of antidepressant prescription in England in the 2017 national health survey.

Still, I saw how people were having a lot of fun on the promenade as I was running along it during the marathon and saw Blackpool Tower, Madame Tussaud’s, the old-fashioned roller coaster in Pleasure Beach (no, not what you think- it’s an amusement park and actually the most popular in England) and post-marathon meal scrounging meant I got to see a little more of the area I was in, though it was admittedly far away from all the main sites. Perhaps quite alright though.

Immediately after the race I still managed to walk up and down the North Pier. According to all the information plaques along the walkway, the North Pier is one of three piers in Blackpool, but it was the first one and it’s also the longest. It credits theaters and bars to its attractions and while there wasn’t a lot going on at 14:00 on a Sunday, I could see how it would be busy and fun at another time of day and year.

Later, after a shower and a nap, I hung out in a popular local bar, Churchill’s and also did some karaoke, which is only the second time I’ve done it in public and first time without a support group, which tells you a little about my “idgaf” attitude post-marathon. It was a bar full of locales, though, and it was kind of nice to be part of a group enjoying a regular Sunday afternoon.

Then, in search of a proper meal (the fish and chips post-race having long been exhausted), I found this plaza and this beautiful church- St. John’s. The street leading out from the plaza looked pretty interesting as well, but I was done exploring.

The next morning, I did make it to the coast again for my streak mile, and while the first run the day after a marathon is never really any fun, the view was worth it now that the tide had come in.

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I was also rewarded with a full English breakfast after getting back to the B&B. But then I was off, headed back south again to London, and then Cambridge.

I obviously did not really get more than a bare impression of Blackpool and if I went again, I’d find a place to stay closer to Blackpool central station, which is closer to all the attractions like Pleasure Beach, Blackpool Tower, and the Zoo. The only reason I was near Blackpool North was to be close to the race venue (though, I was clearly in a strongly LGBTQ+ friendly sector, so that’s be an argument to return there). I’d also likely come in July or August.

Given that I was limited on time and energy, and it’s my own fault I came at the wrong time of year, I’m not disappointed at all.

Question: Have you ever visited somewhere in that place’s off-season and enjoyed it anyway? Or regretted it?

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Friday (Burns Night edition)

A few more lectures. But I forgot to take a picture of one of the unique lecture hall bench rows. Sigh.

As I mentioned yesterday, these lectures are given for 50 minutes, but they often run over that. Yet, after a few days of experiencing this and rushing off to the next lecture, often in another building because I am visiting both MML and English lectures, I have discovered that these times are not strictly held and my commutes between lectures are now much more relaxed.

Again, I had a panini in the Buttery for lunch, which is a new (dangerous) habit, after the two lectures I visited today.

And then, although I did this last Friday and not this one, I’m going to talk about laundry. I don’t know how laundry is done in every College–

–I interrupt myself to make a note about Colleges in Cambridge: Cambridge University is actually just a conglomeration of 31 autonomous colleges, each with their own histories, reputations, and funding. It makes for a strange distribution of resources and I haven’t quite figured out the ethical logic of it all, but oh well. I’m only sticking around for so long, so I guess one can tell me it’s not really my business.–

–but in my College, which has the billy goat as a mascot, one has to buy tokens to use the laundry machines. A washing token costs 2 pounds whereas a drying token costs 40 pence, but one usually needs a least two to get the clothes dry. Washing and drying both take about 40 minutes each, which is quite decent compared to my 3-hour eco wash in Berlin and drying everything in the frigid air out on the balcony.

Besides laundry, there are other, better ways to spend a Friday evening.

As I also mentioned yesterday, the afternoons at Cambridge seem reserved for independent work and supervision sessions- meetings with the people for whom the undergraduates have to write their weekly essays. But these afternoons are also reserved for graduate seminars, which are often meetings for graduate students to present their work to one another, much like the colloquia in Germany. The nicest part about these seminars on Friday, though, is that people tend to go out to a pub or restaurant afterwards and get a few beers and split something like a yard-long pizza.

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The Punt, which is quayside in Cambridge, serves these pizzas that are a yard long and comfortably feed six people. (image from their website)

Then, there are the musical events at Cambridge, which are composed of by many students who have musical talent, training, and experience. I’ve only ever had somewhat compulsory training myself, but I can appreciate good music. These are a nice thing to go to in the various spaces of the college, and the concert I visited tonight by the CUJO (Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra) was exactly what I needed this second week of figuring out Cambridge and actually, finally getting into serious work again.

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Photo: TrevorLeePhotography.co.uk

But the real bees’ knees on this Friday, 25 January, is that tonight is Burns’ Night. And somehow I missed the memo, but I could have had this for dinner:

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Haggis is made from a mixture of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs and mixed with oatmeal. It’s usually carried into a hall on a silver platter and with much pomp and circumstance, sometimes bagpipes playing, and a reading of the Burns poem. CREDIT: VISITBRITAIN/BRITAIN ON VIEW/GETTY

Instead, I had the microwavable version on a bed of lettuce, which was also quite nice.

For those not in the know (and I honestly wasn’t until my PhD supervisor brought it up in our graduate seminar a year or two ago), the poet Robert Burns (who would have been 260 today) is a part of the narrative of Scotland, and his “Address to a Haggis” is a favorite. I give you the English translation, since I’m sure the rarest reader of my humble blog will understand the Scottish dialect. (Alright, I’ll leave the first stanza, just to give you a taste)

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

[…]

My favorite line is “great chieftain o the puddin’-race!”

Address to a Haggis Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

I know, I know, the poem makes haggis sound absolutely revolting, but the point is that here the myth of the strong, stout warriors of Scotland is created, and they keep their strength because they eat haggis, not some ragout like the French. (sorry if you’re French and were offended. I really do quite like French food and think it has made quite a respectable race… I really don’t know why the English, Scottish, and other British Islers rag on the French so much… it must be the ragout).

– Cheers! Dorothea

 

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

One of the most beautiful places in the world…

I’m not just saying this to give the overused statment another whirl. The Fischland Darß, found in the north east of Germany, is really one of the most beautiful places in the world. Give me the Darß, 15 degrees, and a lot of sun, and I’m soooo happy. It helps that I like running marathons and managed to do that too.

On my running blog site, I’ve been posting about marathon training for the past 16 weeks. I figured I would spare non-runner folks the details*, but I don’t want to deny you the grand finale: I ran the Darß Marathon 2018 (and I have the t-shirt, too!).

Darß as a part of the larger map

I must have mentioned the Darß on this blog before, because since I was about 7 years old, my family would take bike tours around the Bodden (the body of water between mainland and peninsula) and break up the long 100+ km with lunches, coffee and ice cream. We’ve had a lot of good rides and some not so good rides. Sometimes it’s broken out into storm halfway through, causing us to ride home shivering and wrapped in beach towels on the bus. I even rode it by myself once, just to enjoy a late summer jaunt and see the leaves changed in the heart-memorized northern German coast and landscape.

I’ve always thought it would be amazing to go through the landscape a little more slowly and combine two things I love.

In 2016, I was hunting around for a marathon to run in the Spring and found the Darß Marathon. The Darß was a place I knew well, I’d have logistics taken care of easily, and I would have something to train for (always nice to have as a runner). Unfortunately, I didn’t get to run the race in 2017 due to other responsibilities, but it was always at the back of my mind to try again.

This year, the opportunity arose; I paid my entry fee, even rented a car to drive up north from Berlin, and started training. Things were good until about a week ago when I started having a pain in my foot that my doctor and I both feared could be a stress fracture, and so I waffled back and forth for a week trying to decide if I should even start the race.

I ultimately decided with the support of family and friends to just go to the race, start it, and see how far I could go.

I set goals for myself: first 5km, then 7km, then 10km… keeping a check on my foot and updating my plans on what I’d do if the pain in the foot sparked at any given moment. I ran without music to stay in tune with my body, and I was therefore able to have an open ear for fellow runners along the way. I found out what is meant by the sportsmanship drug Runner’s World talked about the other day in reference to Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden, using energy I would have used otherwise for a PR to ecourage other runners and gaining some enery and distraction in return. The miles kept ticking by, no real change in the pain in my foot.

I didn’t plan on running a marathon anymore when I prepared for the trip, so I only had one sport gel on me, but the coke, water, and sport’s drink offered along the course, along with bananas and apples, kept me going all the way through 42 kilometers.

I also walked all the water stops and took a lot of photos, prompting a few runners to ask me if this was my first marathon. “Nah,” I’d always answer, “I’ve done four already. But this run is about getting to the end and enjoying myself along the way.” It’s not often one can say that about a marathon, but I really did enjoy myself.

Darß Marathon Küste Ahrenshoop

This is the face of a happy person; water behind me, miles ahead of me.

So, details? I finished. I actually had several goals for the race: place top-three women, PR, sub-3:30… all those I threw out the window with the foot injury. Still, despite all the dilly-dallying and worrying, I finished 3:55:49, which, as runners will know, is not too shabby for an injury. It also manages to land smack in the middle of my race results, so I know I’ve done better, but I’ve also done worse!

And now, for some photo evidence of the beauty:

There you have it, tourist advertising and marathon recap in one. If you are a runner and think about doing this race, let me know… because I wouldn’t mind doing it again!

Cheers and happy days,
Dorothea

*insert chart of training recap here, 600 miles and 78 hours.  Darß Marathon

p.s. that injury? Well, I had an MRI lined up for today, the day after the race, and no stress fracture! Not even a stress reaction! No clue what it is yet, but I’m sure the doc will have some theories for me next week.

D & D: Den Haag and Duisburg

It’s amazing how long a weekend feels when you leave your comfort zone and routines and just take things as they come.

Back in February, I finally decided to visit some friends I knew from childhood, and with whom I coincidentally shared a city in 2014-2015 in Hamburg. I also wanted to visit some friends of the family who were partially responsible for helping me get to Hamburg for the study-abroad. I booked the tickets on a late night, being able to take advantage of some sales-prices and my DB BahnCard25, and before I knew it, travel day had arrived. Of course, the main goal of the trip was to reconnect and have good times, but I also got to see some pretty impressive cities while I was at it.

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First stop: Den Haag. It took a while to get there, though. The trip I had planned to Den Haag Centraal was with only one change. I ended up taking 5 trains and one bus due to a technical failure in Bad Bentheim, but miraculously, I only ended up arriving two hours later planned, so it turned out to be alright.

And what a sight awaited me. To be honest, I always thought of Den Haag, or the Hague, as it is otherwise known, as a nice little coastal town of the type one sees in England. Little houses, small cafes, no high rises… The city blew my expectations away. Sure, there’s a whole beach district with absolutely beautiful, wild dunes (upon which the city was originally built, in fact) and wild Scottish cows running about freely.

But it quickly became apparent to me that I’d ended up in the 3rd largest city in the Netherlands and one of the world cities of Europe.

I also had a few reminders that Holland still, in fact, has a monarchy. Sure, one doesn’t hear about them as much as the British monarchs, but they’re there, and their palaces in Den Haag are always nicely taken care of. I’m actually not totally clear about politics in the Netherlands. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, but unlike the UK where devolution happens yielding power to the nations, the UK has provinces…yeah. This isn’t a politics class though, so that’s where I’ll leave it.

But I can’t say enough about the architecture, both interiors and exteriors. The city is over 600 years old, but like many major cities in Europe, it has learned to feature the old and new right next to each other. I mean, just check out the skylight in the H & M building below (for those who don’t know, H & M is a low-end designer label). It is clear that Den Haag has a rich architectural history, with a lot of modern designs and no fear of experimentation.

However, I think the part I liked most, other than seeing my friends again, was seeing a beach in winter. It has a beauty all of its own. Coming from Florida, I’ve never had the opportunity to see the coast covered in snow and icy tide pools.

My friend and I had a very cold walk on the beach, and she told me about the way that whole buildings are set up on the beach in the summer for all the people who visit. They’re taken down in winter, but one could just see how people were slowly getting the containers on the beach, opened and ready to set things up again.

As one can see, Den Haag alone would have been enough for the entire weekend, or longer. But I had to leave less than 24 hours later to make it to Duisburg. I had a half-hour delay there, too (I mean, what is it with the Deutsche Bahn lately? Or is it just whenever I ride it? Maybe it was just winter), but I made it easily enough.

I’d been to Duisburg a lot when I was younger, at one point even spending two weeks there to do an internship with the President of the Federation of German-American Clubs (who is also one of the family friends I mentioned), but I didn’t realize the city’s social, economic, or historical significance at the time. I mean, it’s the WORLD’s biggest inland port. It was responsible for a lot of the commerce of North-Rhine Westphalia. It’s also an old city, dating to the Middle Ages, and was a court of the Frankish Kingdom, but a lot has been done lately in the city to make it interesting and a “happening” place.

Unfortunately, I had just as little time in Duisburg as in Den Haag, and I didn’t even get to take photos, but I just wanted to mention it, to put it on the map for many American readers. It’s not far from Dusseldorf Airport, so even a day-trip there before flying on is well-worth it. It helps to have friends living in cool places, though. I’m glad they were willing to let me dirty sheets for only one night.

Hopefully this post doesn’t come off as too flat. I was actually planning to write and explain a lot more, but I’m running out of time. I wanted to post it before it becomes irrelevant. And if anything, there’s pictures!

Cheers! -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…