Thursday, May 21, 2009

exposure to history & cultures in dialogue

Brace yourselves for a long entry in which I want to talk about educating about history and culture, and also about the significance of theater and of service learning. It's been a while since I wrote and I wanted to capture a couple of ideas before they drift away.

Before I do, though, I want to thank everyone who made our trip possible and to thank our instructors here in Germany (who are listed in the itinerary linked to the blog.) Our teachers here have not only presented the "public" views, but have also represented their own views on issues, so they have deepened our appreciation of the issues we have learned about, but also the diverse viewpoints about these.

There were many groups and individuals who made our learning here possible through significant contributions. You helped us pay for our trip and we are grateful. This trip validates the notion of learning by doing in a way more substantial than any trip I've ever taken with a group. Special thanks to our sponsors: OIP for giving me an ISAC grant, to Arts at Michigan, to the Center for Eur. Studies (CES), to the Ginsberg Center, to the RC and to the Brown Fund. And thanks to many individuals , who in a tough economic time still bothered to send some money our way--B.Brown, C. Balducci, C. Zorach, C.Cohen, P.Shin, H.Pierson, I. Mays, M. Scott and many more--too numerous to name, who purchased calendars and wrote checks to us).

This trip has exposed us directly to all the issues we studied in the course (in the abstract). Our tours here have provided us with background to understand what we see (or might not have seen) in Berlin, and they have also given us insight into the themes of the plays and artistic expression that presents ideas and issues in a different way. On many occasions students have commented to me (individually) that they have made connections here to our readings or have been able to bring together points that were raised in our course by experiencing them firsthand. I think that the trip is also signficant, though, in showing others that Americans care about other cultures. Following many of our tours, our guides thanked me for teaching young Americans the importance of history and the signifance of immersion into another culture. Some have asked me to "spread the word" in America about the importance of history, education and cultures, and to bring back more Americans to learn about the issues we have explored. I was proud of our group, which was attentive, inquisitive, and polite throughout our time here. Every tour guide and instructor commented to me about this--to a person!

I took the group picture (above), following a visit to the most progressive (I think) major theater in Berlin. At HAU 2 we saw a play(Radio Muezzin) about (and by) Muezzins in Egypt who have up till now done the call to prayer at mosques. It was an amazing experience and after leaving the theater, I think the group needed to decompress a little following the show. We were a little goofy and silly and it got me thinking of my own roots as an American and how whenever I have immersed myself in another culture (I lived in Germany and in Croatia, and have also lived in Hawaii and in Alabama in the US), I have used the other culture as a way of returning to myself--I'll let you draw your own conclusions to the silliness part and what I just said! I ponder about my own moods and reactions to other cultures and ultimately end up thinking about my own cultural upbringing and where I am comfortable vs. where I rub up against a cultural difference that helps define me in the end and helps me grow. I felt honored to be exposed to the way Muslims pray and to their values (through some of our tours and through some of the theater we saw)--and the same thing happened with my awareness of how Jews can experience their own culture beyond its being just a religion. It is an honor to witness how others can share what is important to them, despite knowing that an "outsider" to the culture can only (ever) absorb part of the significance.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, theater in America is viewed as Culture (with a capital "C") whereas in Germany its role is often to highlight "cultures" and put them up for discussion--theater helps "shape" and create opportunities for learning and growth. We were fortunate to be able to see plays that dealt with Nazi Germany, with Islam, with cultures in dialogue (e.g., persons with a "migration background" living in Europe), with differences between East and West, and with generational differences (i.e, the dif. between first generation immigrants and the third generation, which was born here). The course Cultures in Dialogue and the Berlin trip were designed to expose students to history and to Jews and Muslims in Germany--to get us thinking about how historic and current issues are constantly in the foreground in Germany, and in Berlin in particular.

Germany's past is commemorated and visible at all times in Berlin, in rooted ways (people's attitudes and also architectural remnants of the past) and in cultivated ways (monuments and events designed to make people remember and reflect). I believe that Germans make good attempts to understand their own past and culture and other cultures, as well, partly in response to coming to terms with German history.

Layers of Berlin (photo left)

This may be hard to see on the blog, but the picture shows so many aspects of Berlin that I wanted to include it. In the foreground is the Holocaust memorial. The picture was taken just as it was getting dark, and you can see on the left that some kids are playing on it. When the memorial was first finished, I happened to be in Berlin right when it opened. There were adults and children hopping from stone to stone. At that time, Germans weren't sure whether to allow it (officially) or not because "policing" visitors to the memorial seemed like it would send a wrong message, while not doing so could disturb people, as well. The way the individual blocks are placed (with low ones near the entry) makes it almost inviting to step on them. It is definitely dangerous, though. The blocks are too far apart and at different heights so jumping from one to another on the tall ones especially is dangerous--not to mention that there might be people walking underneath. There is a somewhat spooky feeling one gets walking through the maize of these even without worrying that someone might be overhead. I read last year that the architect who designed the monument had wanted it to cause some controversy as part of the way that the monument provoked people to think and remember. It is, after all, a "Mahnmal"--something that both commemorates like a "Denkmal" (monument), yet also warns.

In the background are some pricey restaurants, cafés, and embassies. Far off in the distance (actually in the center of the photo) is the Fernsehturm (TV tower) on the Alexanderplatz, the defining marker for East Berlin. So from this one vantage point you can see reminders of Berlin's famous history and also what defines Berlin's present as a cosmopolitan city.

We became a part of the Neukölln Community--our service learning project. . .
This picture was taken at the MORUS 14 community center, which was our partner for a service learning project. We brought many new English books and games to use in our tutoring project here (thanks to the Ginsberg Center at U-M for awarding me a mini grant that made the purchase of these possible). Each of my students met with kids and their local German tutors to work on homework and also work on their English skills; the tutoring sessions sometimes entailed going for a walk and identifying things (talking in English) or learning the colors, practicing numbers, etc. It took no time for my students to assume almost the role of big brothers or sisters to their kids. One of the biggest pleasant surprises was being invited into the families' homes! Soon after arrival, the U-M students and kids began planning what else they were going to do together, i.e., besides the tutoring sessions. This exposed the U-M students to kids' life in Germany in a direct and tangible way. I know that today (our first hot day) many of the students are going swimming with their kids, spending their last day in Berlin getting some quality play time in!

I'm seriously doubting that the students (had they merely been tourists) would have ever had this kind of contact and relationship with the kids, had the non-profit MORUS 14 not already had a success record for working within the community. Special thanks to Gilles Duhem, who patiently listened to my ideas about letting us come into the center and participate in the tutoring program short term. Gilles and the others at MORUS 14 were fantastic towards us and welcomed us as gracious hosts. (Photo left: Frank (MORUS 14 chef, myself, and Gilles)

There was a good turnout for our first reception where we met kids, parents and tutors for the first time (May 8th, which seems like a year ago!). And many turned out for the meal that the Americans prepared. My students did a terrific job planning the entire meal (for 50!), getting ingredients (converting the recipes to metric), and cooking, serving and cleaning up afterwards. The tutees and their families and local tutors got their introduction to macaroni and cheese and broccoli slaw. We also took the kids to see "Lilly unter den Linden" a children's play about a young girl in West Germany, who becomes an orphan and moves to East Germany to live with her aunt there, despite all the warnings from everyone on both sides: "But why would anyone move from the West to the East?" We were told afterwards that the kids we took (mostly kids with a migration background) possibly were not even
aware of the Berlin Wall, and most certainly were not aware of differences between East and West (ancient history to them, I suppose). We learned on our Kreuzberg tour that the areas nearest the Wall in the West were evacuated by Germans (who found it too painful to live that close to the Wall), but the spaces were gladly inhabited by migrant families, who found it a safe place to live (since kids could play outside right next to the Wall without having to worry about cars). In that sense, the Wall also served as a protective barrier for Germany's newest community!

Photo left: Alyssa and a tutee on the U-Bahn on the way to see GRIPS theater

Sunday, May 17, 2009

51 km = 31.7 miles - FAHRRADTOUR (Bike Tour)


Well well.... we all certainly have some sore bums tonight.  We had an amazing experience today that started at 8am.  We went to pick up the bikes that we had been fitted for last week at the Police Station.  These bikes were all made from recycled parts- our tour guide (one of the police officers) said that it normally takes 20 used bikes to make one of these "recycled" bikes.  So, that the entire adventure was interesting from the start on.
Then we met Gilles and others from the community/MORUS family (only 2 kids came).  We felt pretty sweet being led by Police on bike riding thru the city of Neukölln.  We rode shortly to the S-Bahn and took that to Königs Wusterhausen (here's a satellite view of the city:  KÖNIGS WUSTERHAUSEN

Notice all of the green & blue!  The landscape was amazing.  We agreed that it felt like up north in Michigan, but just the houses were different- very beautiful, might I add.   We biked for quite a bit before we settled down for a picnic.  And, after having a feast of their own, the mosquitoes finally let us be :-(
It didn't even feel like we had biked that far because we had stopped so often on the way there.  After lunch, which was very enjoyable and relaxing, we rode shortly to the lake (I'm not 100% which lake this was, but it was beautiful!).  We all enjoyed refreshments with the police and MORUS family.  Then, we were off for our ride back!
We only stopped once on the way back, I think.  A quick sip of water, and off we go!  We were riding in the evening sun- very beautiful (really, no other word besides beautiful, or "schön".  
And, around 6:30pm and 51 kilometers (31.7 miles) later, we were back to S-Bahn and heading back to Neukölln.
We were all pretty spent energie-wise.  Wheww!  What an accomplishment!  And although we were sore and tired, it was sooo worth it.  I really enjoyed it! 
It was really my first taste of summer!  I hope I can bike ride more often this summer in Michigan than last summer....

Dead tired but had a lot of fun!
Peace out for now! 
-die Lauren

GRIPS: Lily unter den Linden


We took some of the kids we have been helping to tutor to the theater last night (GRIPS Theater) right in Alexander Platz.  It was really fun to ride the U-Bahn (subway) with them, goofing around and taking pictures.  I had a lot of fun pretending like I was a kid again.

The theater piece itself was interesting...I appreciated the acting, and the set was sweet (background turned like pages turning in a book)- kind of like a big pop-up book.  I can see how it is deemed as "children's theater".  However, I don't think it was sitting at the play that was the best part of last night.  Instead, it was spending some time with the kids and some of their tutors (and, of course, Gilles!).  I really like talking to them and working on my German that way.  It is way different than practicing German by conversing with an adult.  I don't feel as self-conscious to make mistakes, and I know I can ask the kids anything.  Plus, it helps them to see that I make mistakes in German, just like it is okay for them to mistakes in English!  However, not many wanted to speak very much English :-(  

Here are some pics.  I really hope to either keep in touch with some of the kids (or for sure Gilles) and then hopefully visit the next time I am back in Berlin! 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Day in Potsdam

A few days ago we took a trip to Potsdam, and I didn't realize how much walking we were going to do that day! I think it was good for me, though, because every tour since then has seemed like a breeze! We definitely don't cover that much ground every day, but that's probably also why I took so many pictures in Potsdam. I don't want to include all of them, but I wanted to put a few up, so that you get an idea of some of the things we have seen. This trip has been amazing so far. There has been so much to do that I barely have time to sit down and write something down here, but I'm trying to document my trip as much as possible through pictures and in my journal. I feel like I have learned more culture and history in about a week here in Berlin than I could have for a whole semester sitting in a classroom. Anyways, take a look at some of the sights...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Berlin is always alive

it's quite late, but I can't sleep, so here's an update to all of those back home
earlier today, we had a tour of Kreuzberg (a section of Berlin currently known for its immigrant population). I found the tour guide not only incredibly genuine, but also completely in tune with the pulse of that area of Berlin. While it was much more informal than the other walking tours that we've done, it really was the closest that we've come to a true Berliner showing us their side of the story.While every other tour guide that we've had has been extremely knowledgeable, it was very refreshing to embark with a person who has known the area all of her life. The Turkish lunch at the end of the tour was also quite delicious.

At about mid-day, I took a trip down to the turkish market (also down in Kreuzberg). I felt like I was in the opening market scene of Aladin. It truely was a cultural expiriance, and the fact that I was a forgiener alone amongst them truely added to the expiriance. There were a few other germans (meaning white/western), but I was culturally alone amoungst many that I understood very little. Times like those are the reason why I gladly explore alone, as I feel that having the ability to comment to another in english would dampen the momment.

I also had an extensive walking tour of my own in the neighborhood around the hostel by myself. It is really quite a bit of fun for me to walk around and act like I am a german while in fact I am obviously not... It is until I stop into a shop for a soda that my cover is blown (although many still speak german to me even after realizing that I'm from elsewhere.) Most can speak a smattering of english, So I'm quite proud of my pronunciation (I thank Janet for that), as it's been able to convince the locals that I'm able to speak enough german to understand them completely (or in some cases that I'm even from Germany itself).
The hostel truely is in a "hip" part of town, a little nook that I've already dubbed "the American sector". Many people I pass on the street are speaking "North American" english (I say this because I've met a number of people from canada here), something that I've grown used in the 3-4 blocks around the hostel. I'm not sure if it is the exact hostel that I'm in tha attracts these other native english speakers (the entire staff is complelely fluent in english and advertises the hostel as english friendly), or something else. Perhaps it is the distinct vibe (can't explain it) that this area gives that seems to attract North Americans. I think Berlin itself attracts North Americans, as even in the subways it is not uncommon to evesdrop on a couple of lost Americans. While I am tempted to feel superior in Language and cultural sensitivity (many make no attempts to fit in with the exsisting Berlin/German culture), I constantly remind myself that I was exactly where they (meaning americans without any german language/culture training) were about a year ago. A single year (or even a lifetime) of language or culture training should not allow one to be a snob.

anyways, I am going to try to sleep again. They say that writing things down can clear your mind, and I hope that this is the case.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I see about 30-40 plays/performances a year in Germany. I am continually amazed at how the theater landscape here changes. So far on this trip (since last Friday) I've seen Kafka's "Trial" which was amazing, "Ehrensache" by Hübner, Schimmelpfennig's newest play "Ideomeneus", and "Radio Muezzin". Of those plays, really only "Ehrensache" was written and performed as a play in dialogue. Each one of these, however, was interesting in its own right. Last night's performance was about and by Muezzins in Egypt (the men who do the call to prayer). The singing/call to prayer was so incredibly beautiful that it is still in my ears. I am so impressed how Germans fill every theater. Other than a few empty seats here and there, each theater is filled on a nightly basis (of the above shows, I bought our tickets well in advance with the exception of the Schimmelpfennig, for which we got the last seats in the house on the morning of the show). Tonight is the last show of the "Theatertreffen" that we have some tickets for.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eine Woche

Berlin is an amazing city. Within the city, there are "Kiez"-es (my German to English pluralization). Each Kiez in Berlin is like every separate part of New York City, e.g. Manhattan, Bronx, and so on. The only difference is that each of these Kietzes were renovated (if at all) at different times in the development of the city, especially after the unification. The subway system acts as a time machine.The differences between subway stops is ridiculous. Kreuzberg (where I stayed my first night) is stuck in the 80s while Friedrichstrasse looks just as new as Times Square of New York City.

Currently, we are staying in a "hip" area off of Rosenthalerstrasse. This area is littered with cafés, clubs of all varieties, and people yet to be met. In the next week or so I plan on delving into the wilderness, not just immediately about me, but all over. Hallo, Berlin.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Food Comment Continued... and more

First, let me preface this post by saying that so far the food has been absolutely great. Really it has. Unfortunately, Robert and I stumbled upon an inexpensive Italian Restaurant tonight, and I felt it might be necessary to warn the rest of the class, and as Janet said, make it well known not to go there.

In a daze hunger, Robert and I missed some glaringly obvious red-flags, that I can now assume know no cultural borders:

1. A glaring orange store front, similar to a Pawn shop

2. 50% off signs, not too different from a liquidation sale sign one might see in the states

3. An empty dinning room, with a waiter all too eager to seat us

The three cheese pasta, that tasted strangely close to cheez-it's still isn't sitting well with me. So, if anyone happens to stroll down Torstrasse and sees Restaurant Patagonia (trust me its hard to miss) AVOID at all costs.

On more of a serious note, though, the last couple days have been pretty amazing. The tour of Potsdam and the tour of Berlin were great. I learned more about European history, than I ever did from my 12 years in American schools. Our guide for the Potsdam tour was extremely knowledgeable, and was a very interesting person. Our guide for the Berlin tour was great as well, and detailed some very important buildings and areas in Berlin, that I would have never known about. The art and architecture here is amazing, and it's great to hear how much thought and discussion it provokes. The architecture in the Jewish museum was striking, and definitely some of the most impressive I've seen. I have been taking a lot of good pictures.

I had my first tutoring session, and it was very interesting. I had expected these kids to be extremely different from American kids their age, but after meeting them and taking part in this tutoring session, I'm learning that aside from their situations they aren't too different. One still sees a similar range of personalities. The boys, at least, seem to have that bit of mischievous spirit, which is all too familiar to me after working with kids of their age.

Anyway, I'll post another update soon. Until then, thanks to family, friends and and everyone who helped support this trip. It's been amazing and it's been something I'll surely never forget.
Die Raeuber...... very very very cool.... one of the top 5 performances that I've ever seen. The 3 hours flew by. To be honest, the english subtitles helped out a bit, but the ideas of stage direction were beyond genius. It wass the kind of stuff that I would never fit with a playwright like Schiller, yet it was absolutly magical. It was the premire tonight, so there were a few kinks... one being a barefooted actress walking around a shattered beer bottle, and the other being a "hanging" scene where the noose was too high to reach without literally lifting the victim another 5 inches. still amazing though.
Doener Kebaps...... very very very yum.... not as cool as Die Raeuber by any means, but a great way to end a great night. The place down the street has a really good one
I work with my children tomorrow. Excited/nervous/extatic/scaredoutofmymind... updates may follow soon
good night/evening(back in the states)

A little mix of Italian and Greek

I think my computer is about to die, so I better make this brief...but Kristin and I went to see Antigone tonight, and it was actually a pretty satisfying show. The length was good and the style fit well with the German version of this play. Kristin and I both agreed that Antigone was probably our favorite actress in the play, but some of the older characters did a nice job as well. There was something glossy in Antigone's eyes, and we were wondering if they have some high-gloss eye drops that they sell around here...haha. But she did a good job expressing emotion in the play.

Afterwards, we sort of got lost trying to find Friedrichstrasse (probably because we were talking--it's like the main street in that area), and we stumbled upon a cute Italian restaurant. Being that I have a thing for Italian culture ;) we decided to go in and share some dessert. We ended up getting a tiramisu w/bailey's and a martini each...I've never tried a martini rosso, but it was very good. And the atmosphere was also very cute. Highly recommended...the only problem is you might have to get lost to find it. We could try to draw you a map...Viel Spass morgen!

I have arrived

Yes! I am here.   I arrived late into Berlin- flight was delayed and I walked out of the gate area without my luggage- so I had to wait for them to bring it to me.  American moment #1!!! I had no idea that Berlin doesn't have a general "Baggage Claim" area- rather, you get your baggage right when you exit the plane (at the gate you arrive at).  My travels were long, but good, and I am happy to be here.  
Although I am running very low on sleep, I am still so excited to be here.  This hostel is awesome! It's really really nice (I had no idea really what to expect- the Hostels I have stayed in before with my boyfriend were not even close to this nice!).

Here are some pics:
This is in the lobby- the elevator :-)                             The girls' room 

Our Hall:
Pretty nice, huh?

Kristen, Mackenzie, and myself walked over to "Good Morning Vietnam" for dinner.  The food was absolutely SPECTACULAR!  Soooo yummy!  I had a wonton type soup and then chicken skewers with mango sauce, veggies, and rice.  We all agreed that we would definitely go there again!  And it wasn't too expensive :-)
I am pretty tired- didn't get much sleep so I think I am going to go to sleep early so I am well rested for our walking tour tomorrow morning.  I am also excited/nervous about meeting the girl I am going to be tutoring.  I have confidence that it will go well and be a lot of fun.  

:-) Bis später.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

a food comment!

I can't believe that nobody has commented on the food. I LOVE eating in Berlin. Always have, always will. I have not had a bad experience here in years. I warn students about the only bad places to eat and point directly at them--let there be NO mistakes. We've had an excellent and very cheap Indian lunch, some Italian food, some white asparagus (in season here and in many dishes), Turkish food, and more. I have discovered a new restaurant (new to me) in an entirely new part of town (to me). It has fantastic Italian food, a great ambience and charming and excellent service. Il Gusto on Oranienplatz is a def. hit with me. Also the best Middle Eastern restaurant in the world is in Kreuzberg. I could eat there every day. A couple of the kids never want to eat Turkish because they say that they've already had so much Turkish, but I don't think that they've been to the best yet, so I'm going to push for it pretty soon anyhow. Nobody in our group is starving here, that's for sure!...

Ein bisschen alt jetzt..

Donnerstag, 7. Mai 2009

oh ye....
Well, I am about to take off on another Ryan Air flight--this time to Berlin. So far, I am 0 for 2 on good experiences with Ryan Air, so we'll see how this one goes. Fortunately, I unloaded some of my baggage on Mackenzie, so I'm bringing a little less with me, and I'm trying to look as unsuspicious as possible so that I get right through security! I also need to be there early, because certain security persons take quite a long time to search through every little detail in one's bag. I guess I will be happy and sad to leave Frankfurt because I feel quite comfortable here, but sometimes my uncle forgets that I'm not 5 years old anymore. Trying to find a happy medium can sometimes be interesting. I made it into the city and back today to visit a few old friends and I also made a visit to the cemetary to visit my opa and oma's grave. I am looking forward to seeing all of you when I get there! I hope Mackenzie arrived safely, as well, since this is the first time we have traveled separately :( Bis bald!

Leaving TONIGHT!

Hey Everyone, flight leaves Detroit Metro tonight at 6pm.  I am still finishing up packing and have been nervous/excited ever since graduation.  I have been doing so much to prepare, and I think it will pay off.  I am happy that everyone is there and having a good time already.  I can't wait to join in!  
I am particularly excited about meeting the kids and connecting with them.  I expect that to be my favorite part of the trip, with the bike tour coming in a close second (Janet, were you able to get me a helmet? Let me know- thanks!!!).  
I just checked the 10-day forecast, and it looks like they are predicting rain only for this Friday now (a couple days ago, it was like predicted rain every other day!). 
There are a couple things I need to get straightened out when I get to Germany.  Unfortunately, I don't think that I'll be able to make the meeting with the Green Party Rep.  So, I will most likely head to the hostel so I can rest.  I have been notorious for going to Germany and not being able to adjust to the time for a whole week- so, it's imperative that I sleep so that I can function tomorrow evening.
I can write more about my expectations later.  Mostly, I expect to balance fun and exploration with unique opportunities and important cultural experiences.  I expect to have one of the best and most unique experiences that I have ever have.  I expect to improve my practical & "everyday" German skills, as well as boost my confidence in the language.  I also expect to be able to get around no problem (if not at first, then by the end of the trip).  I look forward to reporting and reflecting about it all on this blog and in my journal.  
I hope family members/friends can keep up with this awesome blog!  Such a great idea....
See you all soon!


Saturday, May 9, 2009


This is the first chance I've had to use the internet. It's hard to remember all that's happened, but here are a few first comments. The public reading on the Bebelplatz went so well. Unfortunately, I was pushing the wrong button on my new video camera, so I wasn't taping most of it, but I noticed that the local TV station was. People were REALLY impressed by our little reading. The reception was great. It started raining just as we read and there were red umbrellas all around that had "Lesen gegen das Vergessen" (literally: "Reading Against Forgetting"). Then in the afternoon there was a good turnout for our meeting with the kids we will tutor. THey were really really cute kids and some connections were already made. I heard the kids telling jokes to my students, and heard plans for home visits, trips to the zoo, etc. Supposedly we are tutoring them in English, but so far everyone has spoken German.

The first show I saw was Kafka's "Der Prozess" which was one of the best shows I've ever seen in Germany--it was directed by my favorite director, so I'm not surprized. Tonight's play (one we've worked on ourselves) was okay, but somewhat "flat" and lifeless. Considering that it is supposed to be a little shocking (with a murder at the end), I was a little caught off guard that there were a couple of people laughing their heads off during the murder scene. Then again, 5 minutes after the play was over, we weren't talking about it, so it wasn't as good as most theater that I see here, which usually lingers for awhile in my thoughts.

Chris, Robert and I ate at my favorite Middle Easter restaurant and then we walked up Adalbertstrasse and I showed them where I lived my first time in Berlin (two doors down from the wall. There's a big park there now where it used to be Niemandsland (No man's land--the space between the wall in the East and in the West. It's impossible to imagine a wall there now.

Everyone is really tired and the students' feet hurt. They had a long tour in Potsdam today (which I've done before, so I know it is beautiful but strenuous.) In my experience, Day TWO is usually the worst day for Jet Lag and they've been working hard, so I suspect those two factors had a lot to do with it, too.

On Monday our last student arrives. Things seem to be going smoothly and I hope the students are getting a lot out of it. Tomorrow they are getting a tour of "Mitte" (the center of Berlin), led by RC Alumna Carol Scherer, a historian who runs a study abroad program in Berlin. In the evening we are having a tour at the Jewish Museum, which is an amazing museum.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Two days in Berlin and unsere kinder

The ballet was phenomenal! I'm so glad that I went, even though it was by myself and I was tired. I nodded off a couple times in the dark, since I hadn't slept off the travel yet, but I worked very hard to stay awake, since the ballet was just so beautiful. It was Schneewittchen, or Snow White. It was my first ballet ever, and I'm sure that it will be hard to beat.

On Thursday we moved into the Pegasus Hostel. It was rough lugging our luggage on the S- and U-Bahns, then walking, then all the way up to our 5th floor room (no elevator), but it's a really cool place. It's very colorful and interesting. Our group is taking up one whole room, and it has a loft, which I love. There's a little cave on the side of the loft with a mattress in it that I've been sleeping in, and I love it. Very cozy, like I have my own little space, and no one else wanted to sleep in the loft so I have it all to myself. We share one shower, but it's doable if we organize the night before. The stairs are exhausting, but it's good exercise. We're getting a lot of it! We did some wandering, had lunch at a cheap and yummy Indian place, then did some hanging out at the hostel, since we were all tired. Janet took us out on a short night tour to Brandenburger Tor and the Holocuast memorial. It was breathtaking and eerie at night. A fantastic end to the day.

Today we read at the Lesen Gegen das Vergessen (reading against forgetting), which honors those authors who went into exile or whose books were burned. We had all started working on texts to read, but Janet got an even better text in the mail, so we switched to that on the fly. It was a comedic alternative Little Red Riding Hood, and it was a very fun read. It brought some necessary lightness to a very serious event, and the audience really seemed to appreciate it. After another delicious lunch (the food here is simply fantastic!), we went out to Neuköln to meet some of the kids that we will be tutoring next week. They're so enthusiastic and adorable! It was a very fun meeting, and I have high hopes for spending time with the kids, even though I'm nervous about teaching and communicating with them. Finally, we all went to the theater tonight. I went to see Ehrensache with Alyssa, which is one of the plays that we performed. the rest of the group will see it later in the week, though, and I don't want to spoil anyone else's impression, so I'll wait to talk about it.

We've got an early morning tomorrow, moving into the Circus Hostel, then getting right back out for a tour of Potsdam. I'm looking forward to taking lots of pictures of the architecture. It should be another full and exciting day!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Berlin

It's been an excellent two days since I last checked in. We moved into the Meininger hostel yesterday and then the Pegasus today. At the Meininger we shared a room with another man, and it was fun talking to him. At first he thought I was Norwegian or Swedish because I knew German and English, and said he had respect that I learned German after I told him I was American. It really was great talking to someone in German after taking classes and putting in so much work, not because I got to finally practice the language with a native speaker, but becuase it offered me an opportunity I wouldn't have otherwise had.

We checked out the Brandenburger Tor and the Holocaust Memorial tonight. It was very interesting seeing the memorial at night. The darkness and quietness definitely magnified the isolation that the memorial seemed to be trying to create. I still would like to visit the memorial again, as I'm not sure I understand the full meaning behind it yet. I certainly like that it makes one think though.

It's getting late so I'm going to go to bed. Hopefully I've finally kicked the jet-lag so I can sleep through the night tonight.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ich reise nach Berlin

My bags are packed, my father loads my luggage into the trunk while I type this post. We are leaving for the airport in less than five minutes, and I am tingling with excitement and anticipation. Expectations? I tried to think of some. But I like to keep an open mind, so at the moment I have none at all. I just want to explore. People, places, art, culture, languages, food...especially food. I look forward to new beginnings and an unforgettable experience, which is always included in every Janet Shier experience. I'm on my way, I'll see you guys there! Iam ready for the journey to begin.

Here I am!

Janet and I made it! The flight over went well. It didn't even seem that long, I got some sleep, and they fed us, which I haven't had happen on an airplane in ages. It wasn't half bad, either. The flight from Amsterdam to Berlin was great because it was super short and they gave us really good rolls, one with cheese on it and one with some kind of sweet spread. I don't know what it was, but it was delicious. The only downside is that apparently they left my bag in Amsterdam, so my first interaction in Berlin was with the lost baggage guy. But oh well, that just means that I didn't have to lug it around on the subway since they'll be delivering it to the hostel that I'm staying at with Chris and Robert tonight. It should be there later today.

I was pretty worried about being jetlagged, but I'm actually doing pretty well. I'm getting a little sleepy now that I'm not moving, but in general I'm feeling just fine. It's rainy in Berlin and we've been walking around in it, so I've been getting a little chilly and damp, but it's so exciting to see everything. There's green everywhere, and I already saw an awesome playground that I'd like to check out and take some pictures. And the sun just peeked out! It didn't stay, but it's trying.

Right now Janet and I are at her friend's office for the Lexia study abroad program and it's gorgeous. There's art from the students all over the walls. In particular I'm enchanted by some pictures of toppled dinosaur statues that Carol (Janet's friend) says are from an old abandoned East Berlin amusement park. When I have some time to myself I really want to go out there exploring and get some pictures of my own. We'll probably going to lunch soon, and I'm hopefully going to a ballet tonight. I'm very excited! And I'm sure to sleep well tonight.

Kristen and Janet are here...

We arrived (but not Kristen's bag...) Great flight, my cell phone doesn't work, but I'll try to get it fixed everybody--since that is how you will reach me theoretically. I'll see ev. at Pegasus at 4:30 tomorrow. We probably will NOT go to a show unless people are really fast picking something to read on Fri. at Bebelplatz (and comfortable coming up with our 20 minutes of fame).

Kristin and Emily, I'll pick you up at the airport tomorrow. If I'm not there right at 8:05 please wait for me! : )

Chris and Robert, Kristen is here with me doing email on Belziger Strasse at LEXIA program. Looking forward to seeing you.

Germany is rainy, but the pastries look good. : )

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Arrival in Berlin

Bob and I just got back from dinner. Dönner kebap is definitely as good as everyone says. Anyway, the flight went well. On a note totally unrelated to the purpose this blog, I watched Gran Torino on the flight and thought it was one of the best films I've seen lately. Watch it if you get a chance. I ended up seeing Bob at the airport in Amsterdam and we sorted out the confusion with the hostel. (I discovered shortly before my flight that we were actually booked at a different hostel than we thought). I'm finding it relatively easy to converse and do simple things like buy food, but I still feel like a foreigner. Hopefully once I get some rest, I'll be a little better with my German.

Tomorrow, we're going to meet up with Kristen at the other hostel, do some exploring and hopefully see the Andrew Bird concert. As I said, I'm hoping to get a little more confident with my German and use it for more than just ordering food for asking for directions.

I was hoping to post something right before my departure, but like always (unfortunately) I was rushing to pack and it got too crazy. Anyway, all the nerves I had before leaving soon turned into excitement, and after seeing that my German wasn't as bad as I thought, and walking around the city, I'm feeling even more excited. This really is going to be a great trip. If the hostel at tomorrow's destination has internet I'll try to check back in.

German sirens are twice as annoying...

I've been in Deutschland for almost a week now. This is my third time over, so that refreshing nostalgia from the fun times of before mixes with the new experiences in an awesome way that only happens for me here in Germany.

That being said, this is also the first time for me being here with a bit of the language under my belt, and this is the most interesting thing for me right now. Before, being in a country surrounded by people that I couldn't understand at all was a huge thrill. Now, while it is awesome to be able to understand a strong percentage of what they are saying, a bit of the magic that Germany had for me is gone now that I am less of an 'outsider' by language.

German is no longer an alien language for me, and that excitement and awe of being around it has been almost entirely replaced by a sort of frustration of wanting to understand more. The closer I get to completely understanding a sentence of spoken german without getting everything, the swifter my own mental kick in the pants comes after realizing that I knew that word but didnt remember it. My psychological rear-end is pretty sore by now.

hmmm, It's a little grey out today. Either way, I'm off to find a Doener

Monday, May 4, 2009


I'm not packed yet. Shouldn't I be packed by now? I put some shoes in my bag, so at least I've started, but it seems like all I've been doing lately is packing. There are a lot of reasons I can't stand the thought of packing right now, and that's the biggest. It also hasn't quite hit me that I'm leaving tomorrow. This will be my first trip to Europe, and I'm feeling completely unprepared. Nothing is settled or stable in my life right now, so I don't have much of a firm platform to leap from. This was my last two weeks:

Papers. Performance. Exams. Pack up my dorm room as much as I can. Leave for Hawaii to visit a very close friend who's deploying to Afghanistan with the Marines while I'm in Germany. Deal with a 5 hour time change. Deal with leaving my friend without knowing when or if I will see him again. Three flights home, including the redeye, living on junk food instead of pineapple. Get a ride home at 6pm from my senile great uncle who I thought knew where he was going. Try to study for exam the next morning and fall asleep instead. Wake up to 4:30 am fire alarm and stay up to help roommate move out. Fall back asleep in an echoing dorm at 6 am. Exam at 10am that I couldn't study for (but passed anyway). More sleep. Finish packing dorm room. More sleep. Work at 10am. Finish moving out of East Quad and dumping my stuff at my summer sublet. Barely have enough time shopping with my mom to get the essentials for Summer and Germany. Scramble to find alternatives for brother's party the next day, since GFS closed earlier than we thought. Get very sick and listless from not eating for too long. Slightly recover at Steak and Shake, then succumb to a terrible headache and stomachache. Finally fall into pull-out bed at 11pm at great aunt and uncle's house. Get up at 7:45, exhausted and still a little sick. Wear a dress and heels. Brother's graduation at the Big House. Lunch. Fall asleep in Crisler Arena before engineering graduation. Finally realize that brother is moving 2,000 miles away into the real world and won't be around to take care of me anymore. Dinner and celebration with family. Emotional phone call until 3 am. Breakfast with family and purchase of air mattress so that I don't have to sleep on the floor for two days. After goodbyes with parents and brother who I won't see again for a long time, spend rest of day trying to unpack in a summer sublet with no furniture. Try to plan where furniture will go when it is moved into my room while I'm in Germany. Frustrating hour and a half long trip to Meijer. Microwaved leftovers at 9:30pm. High point of the day watching my two favorite TV shows, Breaking Bad and Dollhouse. Problems with the poorly designed rechargeable air mattress pump that won't run while plugged into the wall. Finally fill air mattress on third try and fall asleep. Fail to sleep past 8:30am. Shower in the tiniest shower I've ever seen (I swear, this thing's like 2.5x2.5'). Pump up bike tires. Ride bike in a dress because I know that I won't pack it. Run errands. Say goodbyes. Call bank so they won't shut my debit card down when I use it in Germany. Put off packing by napping and blogging.

I've been alternately running errands and napping, trying not to be overwhelmed. I'm going to Berlin tomorrow! I'm excited, uprooted, exausted, confused, and anxious. But I'm young. I'm resiliant. I can take all this. I'm going to Berlin! And I still need to pack, take my fish to my friends' apartment (find out where it is first), get my hair cut, re-bleach it, get in touch with my house manager...but I'm going to Berlin!


Excitement and nervousness are the two major emotions running throughout my body. I have 54 minutes left until I leave for the airport to embark on a 28-day-long-adventure in Europe. Good bye, America.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I am looking forward to Berlin and to sharing the city with my students. I've been to Berlin many times, and I learn so much each time I go. I am pleased that most of my students have never been to the city (only one has) because I can watch them discover the city for the first (or second) time. We have great opportunities as a group. We will have tours led by the finest experts and we will have direct contact with the community of Neukölln through our tutoring project, working with elementary school children. We'll also see some great theater and put our own learning in a meaningful context.

Berlin is a city of many contrasts and I love observing these and reflecting on them. I love the feeling of Berlin. It is a big city, and yet each Kiez has its own charm and flair. In Berlin, I feel a heightened awareness of history, and at the same time it is a place where one can really live in the moment. There is an excitement and liveliness about the city, the theater and museums are fantastic, and the city is cosmopolitan and diverse. At the same time that the city is hopping and awake, it feels a little lazy and beckons one to lay back. I can't possibly choose what I most look forward to: theater, interactions with communities, learning from hosts, seeing my students' excitement, my favorite eating spots, seeing some close friends, making new friends, and reflecting on it all.

a favorite place

Cafe Bilderbuch is a favorite place to go. A great location in Schöneberg on a favorite street (Akazienstrasse), comfy sofas and chairs, good food, and no rush.