Cam River

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

 

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

Although, as I’ve mentioned, the week here doesn’t “officially” start until Thursday, it doesn’t make getting up Monday morning any easier. However, it helps to have the obligatory lecture to get one out and ready long before noon.

Today I visited a lecture on colonialism and anti-colonialism, a history with which I am fairly familiar, but can always use a brush-up, especially by scholars who have devoted much of their careers to researching and understanding the topic. It’s a bit surreal to talk about British imperialism and colonialism from within Britain, whereas I’ve always talked about it from an outsider’s perspective, either the U.S. or Germany. I also visited two talks in a research group I’m participating in (on Nationality Construction and Identity, I think you can kind of start to get an idea of what I’m interested in for my PhD). They were in Gonville and Caius College, and I’ll give you three guesses on how to pronounce Caius. Much to my surprise, this is the “Gonville and Keys” everyone was mentioning my first week here. Why “Caius” is pronounced like those things you use to get into your car or front door has to do with the vanities of an Englishman from the 17th century. It’s not a lot different than Hyacinth Bucket trying to get others to call her Mrs. Bouquet in Keeping up Appearances, mind you.

Name aside, the college is old- almost as old as Trinity. And maybe even more beautiful because of its relative smallness.

And today helped me begin to understand why Noël Coward sang “”Only Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Since being here, I’ve only properly seen the sun twice. One of those times was today- and oh, what a sight. It made me want to stand in its full strength and just let it warm me up- which, in 3 degrees Centigrade is quite a feat. It also made me want to take pictures of places I’ve been talking about:

The University Library, lengthwise and vertically to try and give an idea of how impressive this building is.

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The river Cam, with a few people getting punt rides (I’ve yet to go on one of those- or do rowing, for that matter)

and

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The back of Clare College

The crazy thing is, these sites are all within 5 minutes of one another.

For dinner I had reheated noodles with pesto and cheddar cheese, so that pretty much tells you how exciting the rest of my day was. I’ve been here for two weeks now! So, I think one can say I’ve pretty much moved in.

Side note: I will reply to the comments to yesterday’s and today’s posts tomorrow! I just wanted to get this post out on its proper day, but I really should be finishing something else first. Thanks for your replies, though! I do appreciate them.