A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Saturday

So, like any college student, I like to go out on a Friday night and sleep in, at least a little, on Saturday mornings. However, a) I’m a PhD student, so these generalizations don’t really apply. And b) how can I sleep in when there’s a parkrun to go to?

parkrun

parkrun is a really cool event that was initiated by British-Zimbabwean-South African Paul Sinton-Hewitt in 2004 that has spread out from his little local park in London to 1400 locations world-wide. It’s a free 5k timed race that happens every Saturday and while there’s a lot of glory involved (speed, how many you’ve run, how many you’ve volunteered, etc.), it’s not about prizes or being the fastest. It’s meant to be an inclusive event, and I believe it rather is. While it arrived to the US in 2012, no one has tried it yet in the swampy parks of Florida or the finicky forests of Berlin, so I haven’t had the opportunity to join in on the fun-yet. Last week I jogged across the invisible starting line along with nearly 500 others for the first time and had a great time. This week the same. If I don’t get pulled away by other events on a Saturday, the parkrun is definitely going to be a staple.

Another thing to do on a Saturday is take care of some shopping. This can involve a venture into the almost scarily busy city center for groceries and other supplies. Coming from my own personal Hogwarts a mile away, I sometimes think of the center as Hogsmeade (and the associations are not just mine!). I can see the appeal of Cambridge city centre on a mild winter day. There are a lot of great stores, there’s the market, and there are the gorgeous buildings all around to look at. I was tempted to pull out my camera to take a few shots, but I have an annoying self-consciousness of looking like a tourist when in a new area, so now my blog will suffer for it. When I’m no longer such a dork, I’ll take some photos, I promise!

Speaking of groceries: the first weeks after being in a new place, I tend to go overboard with buying food, mainly because I haven’t figured out my go-to shopping list yet (you know, the standards that one needs to have in the cupboard/fridge to get through a week). Some things I have bought over the last week to keep me alive and running are:

Crumpets, scones, Nakd bars, Cadbury chocolates, and the aforementioned microwavable haggis (I cannot emphasize enough that it’s actually quite good. I think it’s the spices that transform it from a weird mix of sheep intestines and oatmeal to something I actually look forward to eating). I’ve heard the expressions “tea and crumpets” or “tea and biscuits” for ages, but I never actually new what a crumpet was. It’s a small griddle cake that tastes great toasted with cheese or almond butter. I’ve already gone through three bags of them, and I could probably live off those for the next five months. The scones are self-explanatory, though I think they’re probably much better in a café than pre-packaged in a grocery store, and the Cadbury chocolates are a treat that I, unfortunately have to keep as far away from me as possible, because they won’t last a day in my possession.

But the Nakd bars are actually a pleasant surprise, because they are a no-sugar added fruit/nut bar that I discovered in Germany, but never wanted to give my arm for, so I never got them after I found them at a health food exhibition once. Here they run for 50 pence, so it’s easy to stuff a bunch in my backpack to have as a sweet snack during the week.

nakd

from eatnakd.com

Once the shopping was taken care of, I spent a very boring, but productive! afternoon/evening in the library. It is a super nice working space and the lighting is much better than in my room. Not the most amazing way to spend a Saturday, but with some plans over the coming weekends, it’s actually okay to have a quieter one getting things done.

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I’d never seen the desks on the stair-cases before. It’s really cool to ‘perch’ at the desk on top. And during the say, the view outside is nice too. 

Now comes the main question. How did you spend your Saturdays while in school? I’ll admit, it’s only the convenience of having a 24/7 library within 5 minutes walking distance that gets me in a library on Saturday. I never did that in Florida (except maybe while living on campus as an undergrad) or in Berlin.

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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.

quay punt

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.

cujo

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:

haggis

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

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Thursday

American pragmatism and opportunism are what happens when you take the sensibilities of the -English, used to taming their lands over millennia and their people over centuries, and throwing them into wilderness and self-governance. At least, that’s one way of summarizing it if one wants to generalize two completely heterogenous groups. But the point is, although the US and the English speak the same language, they are not the same people (and the fact that it’s the same language is also debatable).

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road on the way to King’s College, Cambridge

So, some things I’ve noticed, since being here for a week, range from the very obvious (driving on the left side of the road!) to the subtler and more unique to Cambridge.

Since these first weeks of being here are all so unique and there’s a lot to comment on, I’m going to break it down into daily observations.

Thursday:

The Cambridge University week begins on Thursdays. It’s how they set up their timetables and my guess is that it has something to do with Maundy Thursday in the Christian tradition and the Last Supper. It’s not a off-the-wall guess, seeing as the terms are named after Christian periods: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter, but I could also be totally wrong.

There are lectures to visit all week, usually in the mornings, and there was one I wanted to visit today on “the creation of Britain and the appearance of “others.” My main take-away: the Brits were interested in religion more than blood-line when it comes to “othering,” though conflating skin color with virtue was starting to happen in the early medieval era. Unlike lectures in the US or Germany, which usually run 80-90 minutes, these are 50-minute lectures and involve, as it seems in the English faculty, a list of quotes that the lecturer incorporates into a general talk about a specific concept. My lecture today had the lecturer incorporate some questions to his students that even I, as the most senior in there, didn’t quite know how to answer.  But it was over quite quickly and I can understand now that this is just the impetus for students to go off and write their weekly essay for their tutor.

So, the afternoons in Cambridge seem blocked off for reading, writing, or for graduate seminars, for which I’m thankfully not signed up for this term. I used some of this “free” afternoon to get my bike looked at.

bike shops in cambridge

For a town as small as Cambridge, there is an unusually high number of bike shops. They range from high-end, bike sport enthusiast shops to the more expensive bike department store type place. And then there are a lot of second-hand bike shops that trade heavily in student bicycles. I had opted to find mine online, on a local Craig’s List type service, but I got my helmet, bike lock, and lights from a second-hand shop. The bike I bought shortly after arriving in Cambridge was put together by a guy who takes second-hand parts and builds his bikes from scratch and I have to say, it’s probably the best deal on a good bike I’ve ever gotten (other than a slight mismatch of the rear-quick release, which he sorted for me today). The frame and tyres (I like how the English write it this way) are excellent quality and I may even attempt a bike tour on them before leaving.

Since the bike fix went so quickly, I had time to meet with a PhD student I’d gotten in contact with while still in Berlin, since we are interested in similar topics. We met in the Buttery, which is a university-run café/cafeteria that can be found on all the college campuses and serves warm paninis (if you get them in time!).

I rounded out the afternoon with a visit to the University Library, which is an impressive building not far from the English and Modern and Medieval Languages Faculties. It’s hard to describe the library. One can tell it was built in the 1930s, but it smells of books and manuscripts much older than that. I really like walking up its narrow staircases and between the rows of books. It feels cozier than most libraries I’ve been to, and I’ve figured out the book-order system they have, which, although they have an online catalogue and requesting system, is still quaintly paper-bound in the physical room of the main reading room, which looks like those libraries you see in movies.

Finally, before heading home to do more work there, I stopped by Aldi. I love getting my groceries at Aldi in Germany, and it’s quite cool that it’s also in several locations in the US now, but it’s really good to have in Cambridge where the pound outweighs my other familiar currencies and I feel like I’m going broke, even though I know it’s just a side-effect of starting somewhere new on a mere 23 kilo of suitcase filler.

And now here I am, sitting in my room in a graduate dorm, having eaten my share of veggies and microwavable haggis (going to have to find the real thing at some point), and trying to figure out how I’m going to read all those books I’ve checked out in the past few days before they’re due back to the library.

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

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

some more magic

Potsdamer Platz likes to get dressed up around the holidays

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

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

sky above london

Sky over London

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

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

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

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

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

  • Attended the annual national conference for political journalists
  • Attended 6 Degrees Berlin– talking about citizenship and integration in times of increased migration
  • Attended a podium discussion about language change to reflect our more diverse societies.
  • Organized a workshop meant to help participants identify and understand other ways of being and belonging beyond nation, culture, and genes.
  • Visited cities of Hamburg and Erfurt during Advent
erfurt dec 2018

Erfurt in December

  • Ran (and was first female for) a marathon in the Grunewald, southwest Berlin
    boca10k_2018
not the marathon win, but a winning combination of warmer weather and beach- Boca 10k Dec 2018
and
  • Came home to south Florida to celebrate Christmas with my family

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

a bit of magic

My Pegasus/unicorn is a PhD by summer 2020

So stay tuned.

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.

tag-der-deutschen-einheit-feier

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.

013_Tracs_Berlin_Highlights_2018

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 Romantic Conservative

It’s taken me longer to publish this post than most. I think perhaps because it’s a more difficult topic than my usual cultural observations and fun-time running. It’s also about someone who only recently died, and I’ve always taken a while with paying my respects.

I also realized that the longer I waited and the more I read other news and opinion pieces this week, the less I had to add except, perhaps, the European perspective. So I’ve decided to focus on that as well as a handful of personal notes.

A few days before Senator John McCain’s family shared the news of his passing, I came across an article in The New Yorker. Being a liberal literature nerd [1], it was the title that caught my eye: John McCain and the End of Romantic Conservatism“. Benjamin Wallace-Wells made me aware of McCain’s role in the senate following Trump’s election as well as his cancer diagnosis and his role in the Vietnam War. I know this seems ill-informed, but I was too young to acknowledge McCain as the 2008 Republican nominee in 2008, and I hadn’t really had reason to read up on him since. Even now, despite my interest in POWs due to another observation in my immediate surroundings [2], I read this article, thought, “hmm, I didn’t expect that,” forwarded the link to my Dad, and didn’t think too much else about it.

Less than a week later, the U.S. flags were all at half-mast.

Photograph by Ludovic, featured in the article

The Romantic

The Romantics (and here I mean those involved with the literary and art movement, not the band) celebrated independent spirits and the subjective interpretation of the individual.  Wallace-Wells calling McCain a romantic already set the precedent of what to expect: a Lord Byron type figure coming from established nobility but going off to fight for what he thinks is right (at the time, some war of the Greeks) and dying in the process. This is a bit extreme, but McCain did leave behind a void to fill in an extremely partisan Congress that now needs another romantic hero to cross partisan lines and fight for the people, not just the party.

McCain has been called and called himself a maverick. Of course, he was unorthodox and independent in his actions. He was willing to put himself at odds with his own party and reached across the aisle on several occasions to push for action on issues like campaign finance reform, climate change and immigration. This, for him, was the definition of being a Republican. In his last appearance on the Senate floor to oppose the 2017 proposed Health Care Act and call for more work on the bill before it could be passed, McCain described what he saw as his task and that of his fellow senators. Speaking of senators of the past, he [3] pointed out that

however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively. Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.

Collaboration. Cooperation. Compromise. What has happened to communication and trying to come to agreements in Congress? It’s now big stick ideology without the soft voices. I connected to McCain’s type of heroism in the political arena- without forgetting  the military heroism that he is remembered for as well. His willingness to go against the established norms and conventions of the current political positioning and to oppose Trump, and in turn much of the party aligned with the president, would, of course, win me over.

And not just me. In the days following the news of his death, McCain was remembered not just by the United States media, but also in European countries like Germany.

Some German coverage

McCain two

A freeze shot from the Heute news report from ZDF, one of Germany’s state television channels on 26 August 2018

McCain oneIt’s not often the German news has prepared tributes (you know, the archives of narrated collected video clips about VIPs available for broadcast without too much preparation in the case of death) for more minor (relatively speaking, of course) politicians like US senators. Yesterday, ZDF news reporter Claus Kleber explained some of this interest by comparing a US Senator to a Bundesminister, a member of the federal cabinet. The it’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ll let it pass because McCain was arguably more than just a senator, and I guess if anyone honors romantic heroes, it’s the Germans (in case of doubt, see Schiller). But the tribute made it clear that McCain came on the radar for his stark contrast to Trump as well as the other reasons he’s mourned by the nation.

In between news of their own democratic crisis: the rise of neo-nazism and xenophobism in cities like Chemnitz, the German broadcasters delivered the news of McCain’s death as well as his funeral, noting explicitly Trump’s exclusion. However, one should emphasize McCain’s idealism, which meant he would stand up for what he thought was right, even if it meant going against the man holding the highest office, officially his commander-in-chief.

Character and Heroism

Wallace-Wells also describes part of McCain’s appeal:

McCain’s deepest idealism, which he reserves for NATO and the defense of the West, is not much shared in the Republican Party now, subsumed as it is by Trump and nationalist retrenchment.

It’s McCain’s idealism that may likely have come from military service and even before. Very likely also being raised by strong woman. And it’s this kind of character that I actually associate with Republicans versus Democrats; the ability to have values and stick to them, no matter what, is sometimes both extremely infuriating and incredibly admirable. But this kind of adamant value-holding is only good if one examines one’s values and puts them to the test. The ultimate test may be: with these values, am I treating others the way I want to be treated? McCain’s is a similar character I see in my Dad, who went to the same high school (albeit twenty years later) that had the honor code:

“I will not lie.
“I will not cheat.
“I will not steal.
“I will report any student that does so.”

McCain followed this code of honor to the best of his ability throughout his life, even while in captivity. In fact, when one asked him about his time, McCain would mention his own faults- stealing someone’s washcloth- as much as what the Vietnamese did wrong with POWs, even though McCain would be the only one who would judge him for it. It’s the foundation for the character that made him refuse to be released from the Hanoi POW camp out of the order in which he was captured. This is part of his heroism. But not all would agree.

“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said, early in his Presidential campaign. “I like people who weren’t captured.” (Wallace-Wells)

Trump’s logic that being captured is not heroic is based on his incomprehension of what it means to survive the capture or refuse the opportunity to be released earlier- no less, what it even means to be in a position to be captured to begin with- that is, what it means to be willing to lay down one’s life for one country.  And yet, surprisingly, Trump’s approval rating continues to remain higher with veterans than with the general public a year after his election.

It makes me wonder about the contemporary US voter and what’s important to people.

What now?

I didn’t intend to bring up the Midterm Elections when I started this post, but McCain’s passing occurred within the same week at the Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma primary elections, and of course the rather solitary Wallace-Well’s article has been joined by a lot more writings. Those who continue to approve of Trump and anything he does think that there’s a lot of “fake mourning” going on for McCain, especially from liberals. This does not surprise me, but it does continue to sadden me. I think anyone who mourns McCain’s passing mourns a man who had character, served his country in every way he could, and did a lot of good for the people of Arizona and the US.

While John McCain stood for integrity in leadership and bipartisan politics, Aretha Franklin stood for women’s and African American rights. The funerals of both these people within the past week have provided spaces to openly discuss simmering issues within US society and politics. Why do we wait for these symbolic figures? It only makes sense if we intend to continue the work they began.

What are the ways in which we can still do something powerful when Twitter comments overrule one another by the millisecond,  when partisanship has ruined communication on Capitol Hill and we have one of the most contested presidents in history? We can vote. It’s not the only thing we can and should do, but it is one thing.

With the Midterm Elections and the death of McCain, the vote is out on who can be the romantic hero McCain was. But my primary hope, for now, is to find people to vote for who can play nicely with others- be that Republican, Democrat or other.

In the words of McCain:

What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions? We’re not getting much done apart. I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work. There’s greater satisfaction in respecting our differences, but not letting them prevent agreements that don’t require abandonment of core principles, agreements made in good faith that help improve lives and protect the American people.

Florida, Arizona and Oklahoma had their first chance to find those willing to try to work together at primaries Tuesday; the midterm General Election is on November 6th. I’ll be in Germany again, but you can bet I’ve got the mail-in ballot ready.

Related posts:
US civic duty while across the pond 
A little bit of democracy: Election Season

[1] really nerdy would be to point out the recognized romantic conservatives in the literary world, the Inklings.

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[2] These past weeks back in south Florida, I became aware of the National League of Families POW/MIA for the first time when I  noticed the flag flying in my neighborhood and along the route I use to get to uni. Turns out, Federal Highway, or United States Route 1 north from Key West, Florida, to the border with the State of Georgia is part of the routes designated with the POW/MIA Memorial Highway Designation Act  in 1995 as a POW and MIA Memorial highway. The reminders are fitting. These men and women should not be forgotten.

[3] note Mark Slater was McCain’s speechwriter

 

 

 

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