Berlin

Guest post: “Erasmus gave me an opportunity I would never otherwise have had”

At the risk of putting a Meatloaf song in your heads, this opinion piece by Eloise Millard for The Guardian takes the words right out of my mouth.

You can read it here or in the text below.

The loss of the scheme would be a devastating blow for the social mobility of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Fri 22 Mar 2019 09.00 GMT

Joining the tremendously long list of downsides to the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union is the possible loss of the Erasmus programme, an exchange scheme that has given more than 3 million students the chance to study in 37 countries since 1987. Of course, there are many other exchange schemes across the world, but the majority require the student to have several thousand pounds spare for tuition, accommodation and so on.

Losing Erasmus is another devastating blow for the social mobility of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Not only are they about to lose the freedom to live and work in the EU, they have also lost incredible opportunities to immerse themselves in another culture and build invaluable skills, which research has proven sets them up for the world of work much better than their peers who don’t undertake Erasmus placements.

After the sudden death of my father during my second year at university, I decided to apply for a placement in Berlin. The prospect of having to perform academically while I was grieving was one I couldn’t face. Escaping it all with €2,500, which I spent visiting many European cities, and my student loan, seemed more much appealing. I won’t pretend it was an easy year; the minimal studying and endless partying was reserved for wealthier students who’d headed off to the US and Australia. I moved to Berlin not knowing anyone and with a very loose grasp of the language, courtesy of my lack of GCSE German tuition.

For the first couple of weeks I lived in a hostel, trying to bag a flatshare in Berlin’s rental market, writing hundreds of emails a day in patchy German. Over the year, I encountered doctors, bank managers and civil servants, none of whom spoke English. Before I left, I was pretty socially anxious – even making a phone call was a daunting prospect – but I was forced out of my shell because no one was there to help me. Berlin undoubtedly made me more confident, independent and open to the unknown. I learned an incredible amount about myself and the world. I now have couches to crash on around the globe, from Venezuela to Vietnam.

I undertook rigorous German lessons and spent my evenings learning verb conjugations rather than frequenting nightclubs. At the start of the year, I was immediately detected as a Briton the minute I opened my mouth to mumble a Haben Sie uhhh …, which was typically met with eyerolls and a reply in English. But practice makes perfect, and, by the time I left, I was even able to banter with Berliners. I was one of two native English speakers in the class. For both of us, German was our second language; for everyone else it was their third, fourth or fifth. I soon realised British students were far less rounded than their international counterparts, and I felt a sense of shame at my own shortcomings. However, this was nothing on the profound embarrassment I felt eight months later when I arrived in class on 24 June 2016, my peers, like myself, at a loss as to what had just happened.

It deeply saddens me that I was one of the last cohorts to take an Erasmus year, and that these unique, mind-broadening experiences have been ripped from the hands of students who would have felt the benefit for the rest of their lives. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be writing for the Guardian if I hadn’t lived in Berlin. Now, I’m much more the type to grab life by the cojones, rather than resigning myself to my comfort zone. I will be forever grateful for the scheme, which gave me the confidence to take the plunge into a field I’d long wanted to work in, and to be myself, unapologetically.

-Eloise Millard is a journalist and filmmaker, focusing on poverty and inequality

More on BREXIT (yay) coming soon!

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a(n) (unfair) comparison between Cambridge and Berlin (part 1)

Despite being  unqualified to comment on differences between Berlin and Cambridge, since I’ve only been here for a month, I figure that’s more than a lot of people, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Also, it may seem unfair comparing a small university town in England to the capital of Germany- but there you go, those are already the first differences.

I was asked yesterday what my favorite part about Cambridge is and after thinking about it for a second answered: how close everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the public transportation in Berlin is amazing and for every point of departure and destination, there are at least 3 options leaving within 5 minutes or so. However, the city is quite large and the commute times can be a bit rough. My brother had an hour long commute for a year and mine to the university are always at least 35 minutes (if the connections are all perfect). In comparison, almost everything within Cambridge is within 1.5 miles and a 10-minute bike ride. I go home a lot more in-between classes, library work, and evening work or activities, which is a nice lifestyle change.

Another thing I really like about Cambridge is how everything feels like it’s designed to take care of as much of the extras of adulting as possible. People who live on campus in the US know this feeling of having meals and some housekeeping taken care of, but in Berlin, this is not a thing. I can have amazing meals in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the day, but on days I don’t go to the office or classes, I’m on my own. Even though I like preparing my own meals, if I didn’t I would still be much better taken care of in Cambridge.

That being said, the prices here take some getting used to. Maybe it’s the conversion that’s just making me anxious,  but after coming from Berlin, I feel like I’m spending twice as much a week on groceries. Thank goodness for Aldi, because that at least balances out 12 pounds spent on the cheapest entree and a beer at any pub around.

At the same time, in Cambridge’s favor (and being a student here), I do appreciate the housekeeping. Initially I thought it would be weird to have someone come in my room once a week to clean- I mean, my mother taught me better! I can do it myself! But now I do appreciate it. I don’t have to think about it and can focus on work- which is the idea, of course. I also am grateful that the communal kitchens are cleaned, because from experience I know that the chore charts only work as long as EVERYONE follows it.

Alright, that last one wasn’t Cambridge proper, mostly just dorm life, but since the life here seems to revolve around students (and tourism), it’s not a far stretch. That’s something I miss about Berlin- the diversity of people and diversity of the things people do. It’s the center of political and cultural life in Germany, and since those are two of my priorities, I feel quite comfortable and always engage in a lot of intellectual conversation there. Here in Cambridge, a lot of people do things other than studenting- there are tons of music and sports groups- but it feels like everyone has to do everything so well and people take themselves too seriously. They tell themselves they don’t take it so seriously, and try to be tongue-in-cheek about it all, but then they do seem ind of disappointed if you didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, Cambridge gets a lot of credit for being an intellectual hub, but it’s like they only know how to be intellectual in theory. They’re missing some of the practicality of life getting in your face that I’m so used to in Berlin. Still, it seems like Berlin is facing its own challenges with increasing hipsterfication and gentrification, so who knows how long it is before I’m complaining about this in Berlin as well. I will say that for its small size, Cambridge offers more than its share of theater and music.

Let’s see; I’ve covered food costs, student life, intellectual life- I guess what remains to comment on is the feel of the city and its architecture and green spaces.

I can say that right now I appreciate Cambridge and Berlin equally- Berlin has so much innovation in its architecture and the mix of old and new just hits me every time I see it, but there’s something ultra charming about the old English houses and I also just keep stopping and snapping a photo when I see a new angle on one of the old colleges, or go down some new cobbled street. I so often feel like I can’t take a breath that’s not imbued with history. And don’t get me started on the Cam River- how clean everything feels- or the pretty flowers that are appearing everywhere.

it’s beginning to look like Spring. back end of King’s

I guess, as a runner I’m also grateful for the proximity of Cambridge to seemingly endless fields. I say seemingly, because as I discovered during my first runs in Cambridge, there are a lot of private fields and, in general, just a lot of fences in Cambridge. Colleges are closed off from one another with them, streets often end in more fences. It’s a bit frustrating, since even though Berlin is a concrete jungle, I can just keep turning another corner and almost never end up in a dead-end. Furthermore, Berlin has the Grunewald and the Tierpark and various other green spaces. Cambridge’s green is around the city- still very green, but you have to find it first. And it’s not many trees- just a lot of open fields- which is lovely until you’re trying to get across in 25 mph winds.

But I’m not complaining. I’m quite happy here and I’m getting done what I came here to do, so that’s the most important part.

On that note, here’s the lecture hall photo I promised. It doesn’t seem as novel as it did the first time I saw and sat in it, but it’s still pretty cool.

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Cheers, – Dorothea

 

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

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

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Potsdamer Platz likes to get dressed up around the holidays

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

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

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Sky over London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Pegasus/unicorn is a PhD by summer 2020

So stay tuned.

Lights, gates, tracks and streets

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

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

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

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from zeit.de, © Jens Büttner/dpa

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

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

Demo

from Tagespiegel.de, FOTO: IMAGO/EPD

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Map of running (west) Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tschüß,
Dorothea

Catching up (c’mon, keep up!)

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

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

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

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

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  • “Salt Life Baltic Style”

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
Dorothea

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

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…