Berlin

Spring cleaning and some new (to me) Berlin

Happy Monday!

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

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

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

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

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Tiergarten Town Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you have a good week! -Dorothea

The New Synagogue in Berlin

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

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

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©1999 Valerie Kreutzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 posts and there are green leaves against blue sky outside my window

Well, it certainly feels like it’s been at least a year since I last posted, but it’s just been a month and a few weeks. Time is a funny thing.

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In this time, I turned 26, flew more than 10,000 miles, was invited for a scholarship interview and had that interview. Went from part-time to part-part time work (i.e. 8 hours versus 20). Celebrated Easter with my family. Celebrated my birthday, a friend’s birthday, and my cousin’s birthday. April babies= best babies; no bias there. Basically I lived and celebrated living.

In the meantime, I wanted to write a kind of special post. Seeing as this marks the centennial edition of my humble beginning in July 2014, I decided to reflect on blogging and what it means to me, and why I find it worthwhile to continue. Basically, I’m here to say “I’m back! And even if I take breaks, I will likely always come back.”

First of all, I thought long and hard about why I write. There are a lot of reasons, but in the end, I noticed blog writing is about celebrating ourselves and our productivity as writers. I see a level of egoism in this and a kind of consumerism, but on the other hand, I value the positive things blogging can bring, so I will focus on that.

I write to:

  1. motivate myself to get something done by asking for some implicit accountability
  2. share experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen or thought, partially as checkpoint for others taking the same or similar journey, partly to record these things for myself. I do occasionally go back and read posts and am often surprised by the person I was then, and how I still understand this person like it was me, but see her as separate from me. I can always learn something from this person
  3. inform the few family and real life friends who do check up on me with this blog what I’m up to and that I’m still alive. I’m not as bad in staying in contact as I tend to make myself seem, though. Most of my family and friends don’t rely on my blog to know what I’m doing or how I am. That’s what coffee dates, Skyping, and lengthy personal emails are for, still these kinds of readers are at the back of my mind when I write
  4. find affirmation for the choices I’ve made and the person I present myself to be
  5. for therapy, I can work through certain fears and challenges by writing them out, but also benefit from the comments made at the same time… because otherwise, honestly I could just focus on my hard-copy journal
  6. gain practice in writing. 10000 hours, after all

Of these six reasons (too bad it’s six, but I didn’t want to fake a 7th for the sake of a nicer, for me, number), the one thing I learned over the past month(s) is that I don’t need to write for number 4 anymore. I mean, I still have my insecurities and brand of ego to share and fuel, but I don’t really think I have to anymore.

Of these six reasons, I plan to whittle the list down the reasons to 2, 5 and 6.

In other news, a three month construction project started in my apartment building, which has meant power-drilling at 7 AM and maybe is helping me wake up earlier even if I still have jet lag and need to work on getting to bed earlier as well. My mother broke her second bone in 5 months, got operated on, but is on her way to full recovery, I may finally have financial security to stay in Berlin for at least three years as of the Fall, I am moving forward with my dissertation, barely run more than 10 miles a week and have found my peace with that, and a lot of other things that will slowly become relevant as I post regularly (for me, it’s meant about 2 posts a month) again.

I still read a lot of WordPress even if I don’t post myself, but I don’t mind if you tell me one (or three) significant things that has happened since I last posted. How do you deal with in-house construction at what feels like o’dark thirty on a hangover? Do you do mental checks with yourselves to refigure out why you’re doing something?

Cheers,

Dorothea

James Turrell and the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

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

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

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

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

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The Glass Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Life in Berlin in Winter

A week ago I wrote on my running site that I was going to post to my “other” (this) blog soon. A week is still “soon,” right? So much for posting about life in general. I guess  I’m too busy living it to write about it much. But let it be said, things are mostly good and Berlin is cold and gray, but still a lot of fun.

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Things I did recently worth writing about:

  • I visited a national Turnkunst exhibition. Turnen is a sport similar to gymnastics, but while we associate gymnastics in the US with girls, it used to be a “bro” sport in Europe and involved the typical bro culture. In Germany especially, Turnen fraternities were largely responsible for the mobilization that lead the to the (failed) 1848 revolution to get Germany to unite from all its little kingdoms and townships. Going there introduced me to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • I also visited the International Grune Woche: basically a convention for world produce, agriculture, bee culture, farm culture, rock gardens, nutrition…, I think you get the idea. I was impressed by a device exhibited that’s supposed to determine the sex of the chicken in an egg while it’s still an eg. This device would help prevent waiting for the egg to hatch before killing the chicken if it’s a male. I was also excited about all kinds of free samples and thought it was neat to be in Berlin’s convention center for the first time. It was pretty cool!
  • Finally, I most recently  (as mentioned in my running log) traveled with my brother to Lower-Saxony and had a skiing vacation in mountains of the Harz national park. It’s so beautiful there… and has a reputation for its deli specialties and witch motif. Apparently, witches celebrate Walpurgis Night (featured in Goethe’s Faust as well as re-imagined in Joyce’s Ulysses) on the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz, and the theme is carried out in all the shops, restaurants and hotels- partially for the sake of tourists, but also an homage to this history and it’s suitable for the region. Wandering around the quaint German town (I had forgotten about the German architectural stereotypes living in Berlin now) after dark was a bit exhilarating.

Looking forward, the Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Fest is currently in its 67th rendtion, and I am actually willingly leaving my flat on weekends to participate. I’ve opted for only one day of the weekends, not both, and I’ve limited myself to watching 5 of the many, many options. I’ve never participated in a media event of this magnitude before. I guess living in Berlin does have it’s perks!

And it’s not all gray.

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p.s. I continue to follow the news in the US with great interest.

Breidtscheidplatz 19. Dez 2016

I don’t have anything useful to add to the news reporting about what happened in Berlin last night, but I think two people said it well:

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière:

There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation.

and

The UK Labour party’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry:

Our thoughts are with all those killed and injured in the horrific incident in Berlin, and with their families. We stand united in sorrow and solidarity with all the people of Germany, as well as with all those affected by today’s attacks in Switzerland and Turkey.

These lights will shine differently tonight.

Advent and Christmas Spirit in Berlin

I know the title is about Berlin, but I have a few photos of my visit to Hamburg last weekend that I wanted to share as well. Same theme, different (beautiful) city.

I’ve been meaning to post for some time now and just found myself overwhelmed by school, work, work for school, applying for scholarships, trying to get some social life in… not to mention, exercise, eat, and sleep–it’s all a bit much. But I figured I’d relieve some of the pressure that I’ve put on myself by making a short post about Christmas in Germany, round 2.0 (see the archives for Round 1.0 in Hamburg in Dec 2014). That way, I can decide to tune-in a few times through the rest of the year with photos and maybe an end-of-year post that probably is too self-reflective anyway to be super interesting, but I won’t feel bad if I remain tuned-out of WordPress and tuned-in into the rest of my world.

That aside, there are two things that make the holiday season unique in Germany:

  1. Advent
  2. Christmas markets

img_2013Now, I think it’s pretty clear that Germany is developing into a recognizably multi-cultural, -ethnic, -religious space. However, its social life is still heavily framed by a Christian (mostly Lutheran in the north and catholic in the south) background and traditions, and these traditions play out in various corners of the social spheres. One way that Advent is noticeable by living in Germany is the sale of wreaths and evergreen arrangements with four candles, one for each Sunday of the waiting for the baby Jesus. People wish each other a happy Advent Sunday and it’s assumed that households will have a candle set of some kind in their homes and light one more candle each Sunday as the 24th draws near with their inner family circle or with friends and extended family. It’s a time of togetherness, quiet, and reflection… and a lot of goodies: Lebkuchen, Domino Steine, Zimtsterne… the baked goods in Germany are delicious anyway, but around December they are especially good.

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Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, the Advent season is as long as it can ever be: 5 weeks. Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving (good thing most Germans don’t celebrate both!) and carrying through the 24th, Advent is a chance to feel legitimately festive all through the month.

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Included in Advent are the Advent calendars. One sees these boxes with little doors for each day of December in US stores now too-most notably Trader Joes, Aldi (both German, btw) and The Fresh Market. However, in Germany they can get a lot more elaborate, there’s many more brands to chose from, and many people make their own for their loved ones.

Still, while people may not have heard of German Advent customs, they most likely have heard of the Christmas markets. Nuremberg is an extremely popular one in the US, but each German town will have one or more, and while some are just a place to get Christmas-y festival food and drink (basically every other stand has waffles or crepes or candied almonds or mulled wine [Glühwein]), a lot are still special with hand-made crafts, carol singing, and unique items for sale that may make a good gift after a mulled wine or three. A few larger markets will have amusement rides, which aren’t really my thing, or ice-skating rinks… which I wouldn’t mind visiting!

So I leave you with a few choice images of Adventszeit in Berlin, and I wish you a healthy, safe, and as-stressfree-as-possible holiday season.

–  Dorothea