Berlin Story



We were done with the first day at Humboldt University. We had the chance to meet some of the faculty in the American Studies department. One talked briefly and had to go. The other stayed to talk. Kristina discussed German memorials, stepping outside of her country’s culture to speak about its racism and troubles that live on. It goes on. Interesting, after interesting, after interesting. But the theory? So much thought going into these words, but what do we do? What do I do?
The thoughts run through my mind as she winds through the talk. But she is talking about the issues that other Germans aren’t. So someone’s talking about it? Problem solved? Not everyone is. Maybe not everyone needs to be, but a critical mass is needed for changing culture. The cultural essence is a beast with momentum. It takes effort to change it, across multiple generations, walks of life… This was the first lecture and formal class of the program, so it lived at the peak of expectations and connections of the experience. Everything started from that single point, and how we looked at everything that followed was different than before. That’s appropriate. Looking through the lens of remembering (the past) to see what is going on in our community and with our partner organizations (the present). A line of thought that needs to be more publicly explored in the U.S. in addition to Germany. Both countries take them separately. Past. Present. Especially the hard topics.
Oh… back then slavery. Back then Civil War. Back then Indian Removal Act. Well, now we have reservation and new treaties, but have still significantly changed lives of the original North American peoples in the context of all these events. We are living that history today, and though we should not get stuck on the past we need a dose of inspiration from the past, whether things were good or bad. Inspiration to do better today, learn from mistakes, and try not to make our own new ones.
The thoughts spin around in my head during the talk. It is no surprising visitor: the ongoing choice between theory and action. What do we focus on?
            The lecture has clearly inspired a lot of thoughts, not to mention the ones more specifically connected with its material. And with these thoughts, I take to my feet. How about we explore Berlin now? We go as a class, but first stop at a museum. I wander it briefly. I walk out with the instructors and go on my way to find something interesting. Hmm. A park. A large street. Tourists. People from Seattle talking about the Fremont bike races? A red building. A government building. Looks nice. I find evidence of exotifying non-Europeans and honoring Germans. I take a picture and go back to the university. People, street, park. Lobby stairs. We discuss…
            And then freedom! We can go see the museums nearby, the restaurants, the streets, the houses, the parks, – everyone is going back to the hostel? What do you mean? Should I go back? No, we just started. Well, if you’re not going to go… I’ll see what I can find!
            So, off I go into this new neighborhood. Let’s go in the opposite direction of the train station at Friedrichstraße. Huh, let’s go into a museum. Use the wifi to check the phone and its maps. Check out the statues that I’m asking “What? Who’s?”. Forgive my rhymes but I’m running out of times and time to go. Jacket folded up into my bag because it’s too hot. The back of my mind says that it hopes it doesn’t wrinkle.
            I walked down a residential street of apartments. It had the narrow road, concrete steps up to small doors, and people talking and riding bikes. Wow, what a change from the big streets over on the next block. Talk about the urban layout telling a story of the community, a history that is wrapped up in the architecture and its symbolism as in “Ghosts of Berlin.” I wish I had known the language and cultural context, so I could change those ghosts into people and uncover what was hidden. I walk to a park where some students are playing ping-pong. Should I join them? No, I decided to keep walking. They looked like a close group of friends, but maybe if it was me now I would have gone up to them and seen what they had to say. Speak across barriers and see what I could say (and play, in that ping-pong way). For now, I continue on to explore the area and find another opportunity to connect with others.
            Eventually, it’s into the library to sit down and work on… some homework. Again to the indoors, but in one of Humboldt’s many libraries instead of the customary bedroom. I sit down and look at my assignments. And research. And look at what’s around for dinner? And research. Rustle of paper and feet. And look at who’s sitting next to me? And research. And… everyone is gone. 19:01. Bad sign.
            Out the door of the library, I stop by a bench. Another student comes up and I ask him for a food recommendation. He says any place is good as we leave the library, and he points to the first place we see. “That one’s pretty good.” “Ok, thank you. Tschüss!” I walk up to that place, but I am deciding if I eat in this neighborhood or with people near the hostel. Should I eat on my own when I could be eating with my classmates? Is the independence and chance to explore this neighborhood worth missing out on the time with them? Everyone at the restaurant sat and talked so confidently. Well, I don’t know, maybe I’d be out of place here. I walk down the street. I find another place that looks good. I keep walking. Look at reviews. Turn around. After repeating several times, I head into the restaurant and order the plainest thing: Spaghetti Bolognese. How could they go wrong? I was right. They couldn’t, or at least didn’t. Afterwards, I was full and went back home. The weather was cool now, but perfectly so. It was a lovely day, and I enjoyed the walks among the train ride back to the hostel. Now, I was ready to return. Maybe next time I’ll get the unfamiliar food and talk to the unfamiliar people, but for now that was the day. This was a start to self-reflection abroad, meeting people, and being part of a new place.

 Note: this writing is for our class assignment in addition to my previously posted "Journal 3".

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