Saturday, May 22, 2010

Our Last Day...Middle Eastern Food and Hamlet!

Ok, I know it is a few days after the end of our trip, but I just wanted to add in a bit about our final day on this trip and some final impressions.

Wednesday was a pretty relaxed day since our only program was dinner and theater that evening. Boy was it an awesome restaurant. I feel like the Egyptian/Moroccan specialities were exactly the kind of nourishment I had been craving for a while...beans, lentils, falafel, more beans, hummus, and this DEELISH bread. Ahhh I can still taste the garlic. So glad Janet treated us there, I ate till I was super stuffed. Hey, I did my part in trying to clear up those four family sized platters!

Now for the play...whooo do I have a lot to say about this one. Let me just say that I was super sceptical at first when I saw the pictures of actors with clown make up and what not. And even more so when we got to the little chamber theater of the Deutsches Theater and saw wooden crates covering the stage! Now I was really in the mood for some traditional, straight up German rendition of this beloved tragedy (which luckily I had spent enough time studying in my 12th grade English class so I knew what the dialogue roughly was). Plus, I had heard how the Romeo and Juliet play had been awful so I was a little worried.

But it turns out that I was to be pleasantly surprised. More than that.

So yes the play was bizarre and completely took apart the original to create this wacky interpretation where all the characters except for the late King Hamlet's spirit had clown faces. And some of the characters such as Hamlet, Horatio, and Ophelia still looked quite attractive. So I'm sure many of you are familiar with Hamlet's loser friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, right? How they are pretty much useless. Well, this director decided to give the fools a new purpose...yes a making them the English narrators of the plot, crazy and sadistic (since death makes them excited) and wanting to eat a member of the audience (yeaaahhhh...). Boy were they ugly. But cute! And get this...Hamlet had a bunch of black balloons floating over his head constantly and Polonious wore no pants. he only boxers with the flag of England on. So one thing is for sure, you have to applaud the director for his clever ways of turning the characters into caricatures of themselves. And those actors managed to prance over the edges of the wooden boxes. An interesting stage.

Hamlet was hilarious and satirical and even used humor to a point that it enhanced the grief of the play rather than overshadow it. I enjoyed it. Then again, crazy bizarre random things are totally my taste. Just not violence and jarring moments like in "Die Stunde...". And this is also probably the first play I have seen that didn't have smoking in it.

Other than that, I felt a bit sad to see my classmates leave = (. I am staying here in Germany a little longer to visit some old friends. I hope everyone had an awesome time learning as much as I did!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Firstly, I would like to thank all of our sponsors, lovely tour guides, ISAC, the Ginsberg Center, the Brown Fund, the Residential College, and all others who helped to make this trip a success! I hope you have enjoyed following our trip through this blog.

I'd also like to thank our courageous leader, Janet Shier, for organizing an unforgettable trip--Thank you!

And finally, I would like to thank each and one of my classmates, for either sharing in such an experience with me, or creating a friendship with me through this experience.

Andrew Nicholson--Thank you for partaking in our class, and for assisting Janet in organizing us ruffians. There was never a dull or uninspiring moment when you were around, and I find your creativity to be a good way.

Jeff Zuschlag--Hey, Jeff! Hink-Pink! Yuckyuckyuck--just kidding :) I'm so glad you got to come on this trip. It was cool watching you experience your list of 'firsts' while you were here. For serious though, thank you for introducing Hink-pink to us. How many hours of entertainment did we get out of it? Hours. As you are aware.

John Burnett--Thank you for sharing daring adventures with me, and for making each moment delightful. All I can say is China/Korea/wherever better watch out!

Maggie Reil--Oh Maggie, you may not have realized it, but I felt particularly close to you on this trip since you too are staying. Thank you for always being so positive, and I look forward to seeing you in a few months :)

Michelle Lakey--I am so glad you got to experience this trip. I mean, listening to you talk about how you would like to study abroad now, and whatnot. I hope you realize you can do anything :)

Rashmi Satapathy--I can't tell you how excellent it was to watch you open up to us! I saw a side of Rashmi I didn't know existed. I feel honored that you feel comfortable enough with us to partake in our shenanigans.

Roxy Shooshani--My chocolate-partner-in-crime :) Enough said? No, there's tons more. Thank you for being my bed neighbor, and for helping to carry groceries for what seemed like miles.

Sarah Zawacki--First of all, check the Rashmi post. Secondly, thank you for being sweet, and sharing train conversation with me!

Sophia Blumenthal--Hello friend. Cuz that's what you are, my friend :) Fostering a friendship with you has been one of the most rewarding parts of this trip for me. I hope your flight, unlike the one to Moscow, was now delayed.

Veronica Long--Thank you for sharing your theater experience, & always being willing to discuss a theater piece we had viewed. Also, I will forever remember our '4 uncles' conversation!

And to all: Thank you so much for the going away card & gift! Truly special. I will treasure it always, for it was kindness I was not expecting, therefore making it all the more special.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AH HA!! We found a Michigan fan!

It happened. What I've been looking for this entire trip. A Michigan fan in Germany! And he passed right by my table at breakfast this morning. I shouted, "GO BLUE!" in the middle of the Hostel Cafe. And what was he wearing? A Manny Harris jersey of course!!
Chatted it up. Yeah, Michigan is Great.

Photo update 2!

Photo update

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Can't get no satisfaction...

Imagine a city, a capital city even, with over 2,500 restaurants in a 7 square mile area. Now imagine ALL of these establishments devoid of food and nourishment. Such was the case for three lonely Michigan students as they stumbled through the cold damp streets of a windswept Berlin Germany.
Our tribulations began on a cool spring afternoon in the Three Little Pigs Hostel. A cosy little place with but one issue... an Absolut (ha ha) deficit of dinner. Emma Kriss, Jeff Zuschlag, and myself decide to brave the mean city streets and satiate our craving. We were hungry, famished even, yet the 5 euros in our respective pockets left very few options to our starving party.
We wandered the inhospitable plains of Potsdamer Platz, but to no avail. The opulent restaurants seemed only to sell cocktails fit for kings and steaks of ambrosia. Though the morsels beckoned to us, the 5 euro notes warned us to ignore their siren call. We fled the wasted plains of Potsdamer for Alexander Platz, hoping to kill a boar...or something. No dice. Apparantly the Berliners arent big fans of wandering hunters in the streets (good to know). Eventually Emma shared a mighty legend, one that might change our fates of inevitable starvation. She had heard as a child of 3 euro pizzas served in the shadow of a church near Shoeneberg. However, to reach such holy ground one must brave wastelands, underground serpents, and other hellish deities.
The road to Alexander platz indeed proved a long and desperate quest. The roads twisted in upon themselves and trolls... I mean germans (cough cough) roamed the streets in packs, waiting to gnaw upon our weary bones. Yet we persevered, humming tunes mocking the communist leaders in an effort to convince ourselves that we were still brave. After several hours, we desperate pilgrims happened upon a mighty tower signaling the gates of Alexander Platz. We cheered in joy, Emma had not led us astray (no doubts at all... right Jeff?). However, one challenge lay between us and sweet relief. The dread worms of Berlin.
As is tradition, every Berliner youth must one day ride these ancient worms as right of passage. We hoped to emulate their example by luring the beasts close with small cards scrawled with an illegible script. With a triumphant roar we hoisted our starved bodies onto the bulk of the grotesque worms (the locals kept staring at us though... I'm not quite sure why). After repeating the procedure 3 times, we finally reached the gates to our promised land. We had finally reached Shoeneberg (I did find it ironic that our destination was named Beautiful Town).
We forded the gold paved streets of our dreams as we pressed onward towards our goal. We slowly began to lose hope as our eyes swept the empty walled houses in vain. Until... yes... DON ANTONIO'S!! 2.50 Euros for EVERY pizza. Our 5 euro bills concurred: sweet nourishment was ours! We would be satiated!
We ate and drank till we could eat and drink no more. Grand toasts were made as the proprietor welcomed us as heroes and champions. We had found our niche in the world and Berlin in the form of a tiny Pizzeria near that one cafe that Carroll recommended.

This place rocked! 5/5! Get some now!
-John Burnett

our group

This is one of our last days! The group has been great. Here are some photos of us from Dresden and from our our dinner at Morus 14.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My More Stereotypical Idea of Europe

It's Veronica! :-D

So, yesterday we went to Dresden. Absolutely gorgeous. We had to make the decision earlier last week of whether or not we wanted to go to go or not, because, if we did, we would have to get up at 5:45 to meet at the train station at 7. That was a no-brainer to me. We're in Europe, for God's sake. We need to take advantage of the opportunities that we have while we're here. Anyway, we did decide as a group to go to Dresden. Getting up so earlier was also completely worth it. It was actually better than I thought it would be (not that I thought it wasn't going to be good).

We woke up and got to the train station to meet Helmut (our guide for the day). He gave us a paper with the history of Dresden on it. I was really glad that we got it because I love history with a flaming passion. I thought that that was a good way to start off the day. Helmut was just a cool guy in general. He was born in Dresden in 1943, two years before it was bombed in February of 1945. He lived through many different forms of government too. I don't know how he's as upbeat as he is. He never once got tired yesterday. It was pretty awesome too because Helmut seemed to love what he was talking about. I think that is very important when giving a tutor, lecturing a class, or just teaching in general. Not only was I impressed with his attitude, but I was also impressed with myself. I got a little worn out yesterday, but not much. Most importantly, I could understand Helmut! He spoke in German almost the whole time. Wow, has this trip been great for my German understanding.

The train ride to Dresden took longer than it should have because they were repairing the train tracks, so we had to make a few transfers, but it wasn't bad. We were all so tired that we fell asleep anyway. As soon as we got to Dresden we were ready for action.

The first part was so beautiful. We got to visit the new part of Dresden. It was pretty cool to see what they have done to make it more modern and appealing to people. It was artsy, and like something out of my high school art history class. They had cool drainage things that were similar to gigantic funnels on the wall for some buildings. Basically, I wouldn't mind living there. We were even walking around and saw a U of M flag! Isn't that nuts? Our fans are all over the world. Go blue!

After a little while of walking around the really nice new part of Dresden Helmut showed us this beautiful palace. It is a reconstruction because it (like most parts of Dresden) was bombed. The sole purpose of this place used to be to keep porcelain. Ridiculous. We walked by the set of movie when we left the palace. I don't blame them for filming something their. It was pretty snazzy.

We crossed the bridge after the palace to the old part of Dresden. I really thought the new part was all that there was, and I would have been satisfied with that. Boy, was I in for a treat...


Yeah. I kind of enjoyed being there... I mean, as soon as we stepped onto the bridge it was like we entered a different place, in a different time. This is the kind of Europe that I am used to. Before this trip to Berlin I had only been to Europe once. I took a trip last year to Paris, Florence, and Rome. Obviously big tourist towns, and a lot more what Dresden is like. I don't know what I prefer more. I think that I really like the tourist towns when I am on a tour and can appreciate all the history and why people are so attracted to these places. In any case, it was great to shake it up during our trip.

I forgot what energy big cities like Paris, Florence, Rome, (and now) Dresden have. It's like you're thrown into a big amusement park and told that you're allowed to skip all the lines you want to. Everywhere you look there is something amazing that you want to experience for yourself. All over the place are stands with delicious foods that have the aromas float toward you ini a way that makes you want to go broke on that alone. There are also little booths with the cutest (and cheapest) souvenirs. On every corner are some type of street performers prepared to blow you off your feet. These aren't the ones like in Berlin that sadly get onto a train and recite the only poem that they know for you, these are full blown bands and choirs. They know how to get your money, and are happy when you do your job and gladly give in. I talked to one performer from Canada last year in Rome who said that this was his summer job. I swear, the weather even got better for us just to make sure that we were having fun if we weren't already jumping up and down with the simple excitement of being there.

Dresden has many reconstructions of old buildings. There are palaces and churches galore. The first place we went to when we crossed the bridge was a HUMUNGOUS palace that reminded me a lot of Versailles. There was this courtyard in the middle, and it had many fountains and statues all around. Although I saw a lot of these types of things last year in Europe, I was completely blown away. It is astounding to me that something like this can be built. My favorite part was the inscription on the inside of an entrance telling how the Soviet's liberated the area and were great heros. It was obviously propaganda, but I loved it. There was also a DDR mosaic/mural that was on a building that was in such an obviously DDR style that I didn't have to look at it for more than a second to know what it was. After closer inspection I was pleased with myself that I was able to recognize it that quickly. My suspicions were even confirmed when Helmut mentioned it to Janet.

After the palace we went to a Catholic church. I can't even begin to explain to you how excited I was. This may be a surprise to any of you who know me (because I am NOT religious at all), but it really shouldn't. As soon as I stepped inside the church I was greeted with a very missed sight; a beautifully decorated hall that makes you want to become spiritually if you aren't already. This church in particular was actually the last Baroque church made in Europe. It amazes me every time that people are able to make something so wonderful. I turned to Michelle and her socks were basically on the other side of the city (because they were knocked off). Seriously. For someone who has never been to anything like this it is a completely humbling experience.

The only other church we went to was a Lutheran one. Usually these churches are more simple, but beautiful in their own way. Not this one. This church (Die Frauen Kirche) was made to show off. It was even more fantastic than the last one. I had seen a church similar to this in Rome by Bernini, but I think I may like this one better. It had gold in the front and the color of the church was a sky blue. This was a complete reconstruction from before, and was very debated before being rebuilt a few years ago. I'm very glad that they did it.

The next thing that we did was look at a museum called Das Grünes Gewölbe (The Green Vault). This place was a collection of many beautiful pieces of art. We only had an hour to look and spent in in the area that had gold, ivory, pearls, and other precious jewels. The biggest thing that I got out of it is that I am not surprised in the least that peasants revolted in Europe. How was it fair that people would have thousands of these things that are worth fortunes when normal citizens wouldn't have enough money to buy bread? It didn't stop me from coming to the conclusion that Michelle and I are going to live in die Frauen Kirche and use many of the things within the Green Vault to decorate our place. :-)

We didn't get to do anything else in Dresden, but that was okay with me. I needed time to digest what we had just seen. My conclusion that I drew from this trip was that war sucks. I mean, I knew that before, but seeing what a beautiful place Dresden is just made me feel even more strongly on this subject. There were so many amazing things lost when it was destroyed, and it breaks my heart to know that even more places suffered the same fate. One town is bad enough. I also think that the people that came into power after the destruction of all of these places weren't the smartest. They often tore down what remained of the old times. People need to start appreciating history more. I realize that they want to be modern, but money isn't everything. These places are never going to be able to be made again, even with reconstructions. It is amazing how much survived, but it will be truly a phenomenal thing when we stop allowing things like that to happen.

Peace out until my next post. I've hogged the computer for long enough. To whoever read this post, thank you for your patience. And I really applaud whoever read my last post. Tootles!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Look what our friend, Alex, found back home!!

My First Post!!!

Liebe Gruesse aus Berlin! Let me first comment on how awesome our new location is, where we've been staying since Thursday. Can anything beat having an Italian eatery that offers medium pizzas for just a whopping 3 euros??? And a cafe downstairs with my favorite coffee drinks (latte macchiato anyone) for a good half a euro cheaper than most other places? Oh and let me gush about what I love about this city: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION that's well planned of course, the cultural scene with theater by the river, theater nestled near trees, theater in the city center, just theater galore. Cafe culture is amazing and there are museums to draw people from any background of interest. Berlin is a place to be, let me say that.

Anyway, I have had a really rewarding and also eye-opening experience with the tutoring. First of all, I absolutely love the cute kids that I tutor! It's so nice to finally get to hang out with someone from a different age group after being surrounded by your peers constantly at college. And I've always loved hanging out with younger people. But this time, I was their "English teacher". The thing is, we were all assigned to groups that already had a volunteer tutor working with the kids. In my case though, I had to tutor two of my groups on my own because their "Schuelerhelfer" (tutor) was absent for certain personal circumstances. At first I was a little worried how I was going to handle this on my own as I was a little nervous to begin with. But in the end, I kind of managed! What I did was have them play a game to practice forming sentences and then designed a really rough version of a mini lecture that went over topics such as talking about our countries of origin, special celebrations in our families, hobbies, and vacation. Oh and some grammar. Honestly, it was super cool being able to conduct a bilingual tutoring session. It was fun!

After meeting these kids, though, and realizing the fact they their schools aren't exactly the most committed to their education really made me feel sad for them. And hopeful that circumstances won't hold them back. Of course, anyone would feel that way thinking about it theoretically. But to really see such a situation in reality for yourself...that definitely gives a more accurate perspective. I'm just impressed that there are people coming in from different areas from Berlin volunteering their time to help these young people in whatever way they can to give them the means to a better future. That, to me, is really meaningful, and I'm very fortunate to have had the chance to experience this first hand.

Other than that, I've also hung out with my tutees over the past week. The first time was with two girls, Ceyda, who's Turkish, and Naomi, who's Polish, and went to a local fair. "Rummeln gehen" as the term goes. It was so cute! They were literally dragging me to the rides and Ceyda made me ride bumper cars with her. Poor Naomi, got bumped around so many times but could barely land a hit on anyone else! Then they squished me in this ride that goes around and around in a ring. Then on Thursday I hung out with Mohamed, who's Lebanese, and Ejazali (or Ali), who's Pakistani, at the same place. Their tutor, Martha, who is just a bit older than me and also a student and Mohamed's younger brother also came along. They, too, were very enthusiastic about getting Martha and me to ride with them. The boys are also very outgoing and entertaining! I'm really amazed at how open the kids have been to someone who is a complete stranger to them.

Last thing I'd like to comment is the theater piece I saw last night, "Die Stunde die wir nichts von einander wussten" (the hour we knew nothing about each other). It was actually a play with no dialogue and was very much a string of random occurences happening one after another. to describe and interpret this? Well, imagine it somewhat as being a parody of film-making since there was a camera man following the actors in different sets that were set up on stage. It was very bizarre and at times appeared to be trying to capture glimpses of people's lives in a particular city, the stressed office worker, the druggie in the dumps, the local criminal, etc. I've never seen anything like it before, so it was a new experience. Although, I felt it was too jarring for my tastes at sometimes like the brief spurts of violence here and there and loud noises. Yes, I tend to be faint-hearted at times. But it was a neat concept, especially the whole no talking idea and the filming on a set theme.

Anyway, that's all for me. Tomorrow is bright and early and off to Dresden, a UNESCO recognized city for its culture. Can't wait! Toodles!
I've been meaning to write this post since Thursday night, but my internet access has been sporadic at best. Anyway, here it is: Thursday night's thoughts on Saturday.

Thursday night was one of my favorite nights in Berlin so far, and this is surprising, since I started the day with absolutely no plans and knew that there was a very real chance that I would spend the day hanging around the hostel. Somehow, though, plans kind of formed around me and I ended up agreeing to go to a play at the Volksbühne. I had no idea what it was called and even less of an idea of what to expect, but I went along anyway because having something to do is generally better than having nothing to do.

I first realized that I liked the Volksbühne when I found its vending machine. This machine consisted of maybe ten glass doors, behind which were various books and postcards and CDs and stickers and pins. For one Euro you can open one of these doors and keep whatever is behind it. I got three books, a Volksbühne pin, two stickers, and a temporary tattoo.

After the excitement of the vending machine, I entered the auditorium. All of the walls were covered in black plastic and a yellow curtain hung across the stage. When the actor came onstage (it was a one-man show) he almost immediately took off all of his clothes and ran around the stage in his underwear. Throughout the play, he periodically changed his clothes so that he was sometimes wearing bodysuits and leotards and other times wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Yet it was not only the costume changes that made the show visually interesting, but also the actors energy and his use of props. At one point, to demonstrate the negative aspects of interactive theater, he went into the audience with a toothbrush and tried to brush and audience members teeth.

What really impressed me about this performance, though, was the way in which the actor discussed concepts like the relationship between the soul and the body while still acting in a funny and engaging way. He played instruments and danced and spray painted himself, yet somehow still conveyed intelligence and depth of thought. As I watched the performance, I felt inspired by this one person's potential to convey such a range of emotions in such a short period of time and even more by his ability to display this emotional range for an audience.

Jewish-German History -- Where to start? (Jüdisches Museum Berlin)

Harmonious narratives have always held an appeal for me. When I played with Legos as a kid, I followed each step of the directions from beginning to end. I found it amazing how you could start with a single brown block and end up with a huge, intricate wild west fort, and I loved watching it take shape. A couple times I built something of my own design, but it was always simple and shabby -- like a car with too many wheels, or a dolphin arbitrarily stuck on top. I much preferred the instructions they provided with the box -- watching and observing the progression of thing being built.

Similarly, I'm a fairly methodical museum goer. To this day, I start at the beginning of the museum, read through just about every text box and examine every picture I can, following the already created narrative from logical beginning to logical end. In light of this tendency towards harmony, The Jewish Museum of Berlin (covering "2000 years of Jewish-German History") poses a difficult problem for me, because there is no beginning. The building is shaped like a crooked lightning bolt, or a snake having an epileptic fit, and looking from the outside, there isn't even an entrance. In order to get to the exhibitions, you have to enter the building which used to be the old museum, go down some stairs and into a tunnel, and suddenly you're in the basement of the new building.

If you're trying to figure out where to start in exploring German-Jewish history, you might think that the Holocaust would be a good place to start. But the museums architect, Daniel Libeskind, challenges through his design the notion that history creates a harmonious narrative: empty spaces, called "voids", are build into the museum; there are seemingly arbitrary jagged holes running through some of the walls. And the Holocaust exhibit (i.e. 1939-45) is only small part of the museum, comprising just one "axis" (like a musuem "wing", but it intersects with two others) in the basement. According to our tour guide, this is because it is the lowest point in Jewish-German History -- but not necessarily the starting point.

So the question of where to begin with this history is left up to the visitor. Start with the holocaust? Or go to the exhibition of Jews in comics? Or look at german-jewish relations during the 1400s? We had to take responsibility for our own experience with this history.

Well, not quite. We had a tour guide. I've heard that it's useful to remember how contradictory history and people are. (Reminds me of Andrei Codrescu's talk a few months ago at the U of M about the "picture perfect" Romanian revolution of 1989) As a writer, I've experienced how my tendency towards harmony has resulted in "flattened" poems -- where things that didn't fit were taken out, and the poem became less interesting and less truthful. It might be worthwhile for me to go back over the next few days and explore that museum on my own. If I do, I'll report back.

If you want to see some wicked pictures of a wicked piece of architecture, check out the musuem website here: (In English & German)

Some Observations from a Theater Person

This is Veronica again. :-)

After going to so many shows here, I feel like I should tell my thoughts about the experience over all and each show.

1. Frankensteins Rottkäppchen (Frankenstein's Red Riding Hood) - This was my first show here, and it was a fantastic way to enter the German theater scene. The show was at the Volksbühne, which is a communist theater. Sophia and I fell in love with it immediately. We even went back and got t-shirts, pins, posters, and temporary tattoos. The place is ridiculous. How the theater is set up is part of the entire experience. They give you tickets with famous socialists on them, and the area you wait in until they open the house is surrounded with red walls. The actual theater is also fantastic. There were wooden chairs set up in a cozy fashion. They obviously could have chairs that aren't temporary, but did have them for a reason. The show was great. Obviously I didn't understand everything, but I felt like I got most of it. The actors sang, rapped, and acted in English sometimes, which gave us a break from trying really hard to understand the whole show. The actors kept asking us what we thought, and it was fun to shout out answers. I really felt like I was back in DDR times or something. The people in the audience also looked very different from other people around Berlin. There was just something about them... Overall, a great introduction to the performance world in Germany.

2. Schneewittchen (Snow White) - This was different from every other show (they're all very different). It was at the Deutsche Oper because it was a ballet. I'm actually not the biggest ballet fan, but I went to the show just to see a different variety of things here. It was good. Not great. But good. It was very slow paced, and had a lot of repetition. I understood every word though...ha ha... (it didn't have any) I had a lot of issues with the amount of phasing between the dancers (meaning that they weren't moving at exactly the same time and that you could see the different paces). Silly marching band. Each dancer was great individually, I just felt like they didn't work very well together as an ensemble. Schneewittchen herself didn't astound me. It is the job of the star to stick out, and she didn't. There was only one scene where I was blown away, and I will admit that she did a great job. She was a corpse at that point, and was limp while the prince danced with her. Other than that, the show was okay. I was honestly falling asleep for most of it though. The music was actually great. I have to give them credit for that. The pit orchestra was spot on. They showed off the oboe, clarinet, and French horn a lot. It was seriously beautiful to listen to. I think I would have honestly enjoyed listening to the music by itself more than seeing the entire show, which is mean to say, but true.

3. Frühlings Erwachsen (Spring Awakening) - This show was put on at the Deutsches Theater by kids my age and younger. That was actually very nice to see because that is the age of people that the show is about. The originally story takes place in the 1800's or so, but they decided to have it set in the 1980's. I did really like that decision because it made it so that they audience could connect easier. And especially the fact that the kids who were acting in it were the right age made it much more believable. They weren't the best actors in the world. It was actually pretty disappointing that the main two did not really step up to the plate, but for the most part it was very good. The second largest male role was the one who stole the show...and it was played by a girl. I am personally very used to that because my theater company has girls play boys, so it was nice to see it done somewhere else. I myself have played a boy many times, so I understood how difficult it can be, and I think she overcame that obstacle very well. The show had some random parts that I don't know if they were needed or not. Overall all the actors seem full of energy, and appeared like they were enjoying it. It was easy for me to understand, but that may just be because I had seen the musical (in English) a day before. Even though it isn't the same script at all, it is the same story.

4. Trust - Wow. That is all I had to see after seeing that. Michelle actually literally only walked around saying, "Wow" for minutes after we had seen it. This show was at the Schaubühne (only theater that we've gone to in the west). The actual show blew me away. It was a mixture of actors and dancers. I have never seen anything so beautifully performed. Within the first twenty minutes nothing was said. It was just them slowly moving and building. Throughout the show there wasn't much speaking, and everything they said was important and wonderful. I was so engulfed in everything that they were doing. There was no intermission (there couldn't have been with everything that they were working towards), but I was desperately hoping when the end came that it would be intermission. I really don't know how to explain this show other than saying that after seeing it I couldn't concentrate on anything for a while. Andrew, Jeff, Michelle, and I just sat around unable to do much for a while. We loved it and made everyone else who could go. Often times when people try to mix acting and dance together like this it doesn't work. But these people were so into what they were doing... Wow. Many of the things they were doing looked ridiculous, but since they were so serious about it it was extremely impressive. I actually thought the dancing was much better than in "Schneewittchen." It was different, but I was much more impressed with this. I know the amount of time that goes into ballet, and I respect them for it, but their performance was subpar. The people in "Trust" were so synchronized. I'm very glad that there were supertitles for the show too because there were some long rants about things going on in Germany that I didn't understand with them. It just made me more interested to look things up. We were also lucky that we saw it the night we did, because John, Emma, and Maggie saw it the next night and the supertitles were in French. Ugh. Let me just say it was spectacular.

5. Diebe (Thieves) - The awesome thing about seeing this show was that it was written by Dea Loher (the woman who wrote "Unschuld" which is the show we did a few weeks ago for this class) and directed by Kriegenburg (Janet's favorite director). Both of whom were there for the curtain call, which was awesome. The performance was inside the main theater of the Deutsches Theater. First of all, that theater is absolutely gorgeous. Second of all, it is set up very poorly. Janet and I had seats in the last row of the first balcony. I literally could not see over the row in front of me. Granted, I am short, but it was still ridiculously silly. At least I was not Jeff or Michelle. They were in the second balcony, and they didn't even know that there were supertitles until an usher asked them at intermission if they could see them. They were able to move down to our balcony, but still didn't get great seats. Janet actually talked to the usher about my height problem before the show though, and the usher let to the two of us move to GREAT seats. We were literally the first row of the balcony, and the center two seats. Anyway, this show was great. The stage was phenomenal. It rotated...but horizontally. It's super hard to explain, but there was a wall that made up the back of the stage, a wall that made the ceiling for the bottom floor and a floor for the top one, and a wall for the top floor that looked like it continued off from the bottom floor's wall. It didn't just make those flat surfaces though. Sometimes it was slanted. Sometimes actors had swings on it. It was pretty awesome. Coolest set I've ever seen. The acting in this show was also the best that I have ever seen. It was super convincing. I was very impressed. The play was also good, but it was VERY similar to "Unschuld." Sometimes it was even pretty painful, and Janet and I would look at each other in amazement that Loher would do that. I do really like her writing style though. It's darker, which I enjoy a lot. The plots all twisted together again, which was pretty sweet. I also think that they picked out good music, and they had this one riff in particular that played throughout which I really enjoyed. It was really impressive overall.

6. Die Heilige Johanna... (Saint Joan...) - For this show I was also sitting in the first row of the second balcony in the main theater of the Deutsches Theater, but it was more to the left. The only thing I knew about the show was that it was by Bertolt Brecht and that Andrew had wanted to see it. That was enough to convince me to go. Every time I say that I am doing German theater people say, "Brecht?" and that's it. Now I've seen something by him, and have a better idea what his style is like. Yeah, I had read poems, but it's different seeing things performed by him. His style is very interesting. I liked it for this show, but I think I'd get sick of it if I saw it all the time. It's difficult for me to explain, but it's just pretty weird. The stage was also whack. It rotated. That was cool to watch. They had a live band in the opera boxes too, so that was nice. The show itself was about how big factories abuse the workers. It had a lot of meaning behind it, but I enjoyed the show more when it was at the beginning. In the beginning the actors were actually trying to figure out who would play which character in the show. It was very funny. Also, someone took a flash photo in the audience, and one of the actors actually made an announcement saying that it wasn't allowed. I really appreciated that. How would people think that that is okay?

7. Dritte Generation (Third Generation) - Best show I've seen here. By far. Well, maybe not by far...but it was amazing. This was also at the Schaubühne, so I am really impressed with that theater over all. It was at a different stage than "Trust" too. The show was done by a group of Germans, Israelis, and Palestinians. It was in English, German, Hebrew, and Arabic with German and English supertitles (depending on who was speaking). They all talked about their sides of the story with the conflict going on today and the Holocaust. They were spot on. It was fantastic and provocative. You could not do this type of show in the US. I wish you could. That would be amazing. There was a lot of comedy, but it was very seriously at the end. They even showed a video afterwards about the project and how they staged what they did. It was heartbreaking because it was so truthful. It made me rethink a lot of things. Last night a few people went and there was a discussion afterwards. Tonight, we were really looking forward to having one, but they didn't do it. Phia is actually going back so that she can take part in it. It actually is good enough that I would again, but I want to hit something else up if I'm going to theater here.

Here are a few quick things about theater in general in Berlin:

*The theaters all have many stages. It's crazy, and awesome. They have multiple shows going on at the same night. It's perfect too, because then they aren't limited in what kinds of productions they put up. Some shows work out better staged on certain types of stages, and this way they have options. I really like that.

*They don't let you go into the house until about five or ten minutes before the show. That's crazy in my mind. I'm used to getting to the theater about half an hour early and then sitting down. I guess this is a way to get people to buy drinks or food (which they sell at everything theater that I've been to). Personally I like being able to sit inside the theater and it was surprising the first time when we didn't early.

*Curtain calls last about fourteen years. I hate it. It's so annoying. It's not that it takes a long time and I want to leave (well, that is a little of it), it's just that it's not special for the actors to get multiple curtain calls. Every show has about five, and it really gets on my nerves. It's like the audience is obligated to clap until their hands fall off. Another big issue I have with them is that they are never done in an organized manner! LEARN HOW TO BOW AT THE SAME TIME! Sheesh. Every single curtain call I've seen has been so hectic. It looks really unprofessional. It isn't hard to bow at the same time, and also to bow well. I do at my little side theater company, why can't they?
*Edit* I also think that a curtain call is supposed to be a humble show of gratitude toward your audience. The way that Germans do it makes them seem full of themselves, instead of accepting what is worth to you. Yet again, it seems like more of an obligation of the audience.

*How Germans do their running schedule of shows is very interesting (as I mentioned in my earlier blog post). It's weird to me that some shows will last a long time (like years). It is pretty cool though, because you do get more of an opportunity to see it. Unlike in the US, where if you're busy for an entire weekend (normally) you miss the show. I would be frustrated if I was an actor in Germany though. That would be a long time to do the same thing. It is pretty cool to have so many options so often though. The same theater will show things different nights, so you really never get the chance to be bored or not have anything interesting to see. It also helps that there are so many theaters around.

*Along the lines of the fact that there are so many comes the inevitable fact that there are also many actors. In my opinion, it dilutes the quality of acting quite a bit. You really aren't getting the best of the best. You're getting very good, but not people who will knock your socks off. Also, the kids doing "Spring Awakening" were worse than even my little theater company which is by far not the best in Ann Arbor. Not saying we're bad or they're bad, just making a little observation. It made me realize that I could probably be an actor here. That's really cool. Too bad though.

*My one last observation is that since there are so many "experimental" type shows it really makes it a lot less special. Yeah, they're awesome for us to see, but I feel like if I lived here I'd get bored/used to it. We talked to a theater critic who told us that these people grew up with experimental, so that's all they know. That means that everything has some element of that. I think it would be nice to see a nice straight show every once in a while. Maybe that would be seen as radical?

It's really late. I've been writing this for hours and still have to journal. I have at least two more shows to see on this trip. I can't believe it's wrapping up. It's been wonderful so far. As mean as I have sounded about these shows, I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to see every single one and realize how lucky I am. Thanks for reading! Good night! :-D

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reichstag with Emre and David

Today, I went to experience the Reichstag with Emre and his tutor, David. We waited outside for a long time. I'm not even sure how long. But the wait wasn't too bad. We spent our time talking in German and English...and in body language. I was trying to teach Emre a hand-slapping game, and when I couldn't think of what to say, we just kind of...made it work. And then he taught me a cool European variation of it. It was so much fun!! :) It's moments like that that remind me of how awesome communication is in general. What can't be said verbally can be said with body language, motions, eye contact. We can demonstrate things, make noises. It's all so fascinating.
When we finally got inside, we had to go through security similar to an airport. I hadn't expected that for some reason, but it made perfect sense. After security, we rode up in a huge elevator up to the roof. We were able to walk around on the roof outside, all the while David pointed out famous buildings and structures. Dude, David is so smart. He was telling me and Emre SO MUCH INFORMATION. It was so impressive. I also loved how much he was really working with Emre. All the
tutors and tutees that I have been with...they were all so interested, so invested in their student. It's so touching--such a beautiful thing. All the tutors I have met have been such good people.
Anyhoo, we entered the cupola and had these awesome headsets for an audio German for them, and David grabbed an English one for me, haha. So we walked around and experienced the dome. It was beautiful and we could see
everything. Unfortunately, my camera battery was about two seconds away from dying. So I could only snap a
couple shots randomly. But I still really loved every moment!


I actually don't know what time it is. All I know is that it is late enough for all of the trains in Berlin to be closed, but early enough for some of the girls in the room to still be up.

It has been an interesting past several days, and thoughts don't stop swirling through my head, therefore, I am writing a blog instead of sleeping. Yay!

For one, I am finding more and more that I wish it were possible for me to closely study all of my interests. I love history and art history and german, hell I am even wanting to come here and study theater; but there is not much room for these anymore. I am a double-major in creative writing and psychology going on junior year. I think I will just have to earn a p.h.D in all of these to be content.

Second, all of the discussions, articles, and topics we covered throughout Cultures in Dialogue have been coming to life; and it was often heartbreaking to read about, but actually hearing it from a person living here first-hand is even more troubling, yet also extremely thought-evoking and interesting.

Yesterday the group toured Kreuzberg, a "ghetto" of Berlin with an unemployment rate of nearly 50%. Our tour guide is a Kreuzberger herself, whose family is Turkish, but who still identifies herself as a German. She showed us where the wall used to be in the could only tell through some inconspicuous brick tiles under the dirt. There is now a quaint bridge separating a lovely path with trees, benches, and sun-kissed dog-walkers.

She used to play by that wall as a child. Her apartment was close-by, as were many immigrant families' apartments because they, unlike native Germans, were not troubled by a wall. The land was a no-man's land, desolate...but for young foreigners in impoverished Kreuzberg, it was their only playground.

She showed us her Mosque. It is a German Mosque; rather different from the tall, looming and elegant towers I have seen elsewhere, whose prayer calls can boom through a whole city. This one is basically part of an apartment complex. It is not large, it is not in the open. It is humble, but has beautiful, soft carpets on the interior.

Maybe the mosque is so hidden for a reason. The more questions we had, the more the guide had to explain. I have to say, at this point I am less upset at America and more upset at Berlin.

Here's the thing: As I explained in the last post, Germany does a very good job of accounting for their past, with their many memorials, museums, and public tours. But isn't it a little hypocritical to apologize so profusely about a genocide centered towards minorities and then create laws now targeting minorities? Laws like not allowing women wearing headscarves to teach classes or work many jobs, laws like prohibiting the mosque from announcing its prayer time, laws like not allowing Muslim students to have a small time excused for prayer.

According to the law, this is mixing religion with the public too much. Should Christians not be allowed to wear crosses around their neck, then? Should we vanish any thought of hiring a man wearing a Kippah? Maybe the schools in Bavaria should consider taking down the crosses hanging up in the classrooms of every public school before disallowing a Muslim with a headscarf to "intrude" upon people's religious "freedoms".

There is a difference between separation of Church and State and what is going on here. A huge difference. This is just...clear discrimination. And I worry. Germany is not the only place rampant with this kind of is all over. We have to remember how the Holocaust was with discrimination, and with seemingly unimportant laws like the ones the Muslims here must abide to. It is all a slippery-slope.

I am not saying that is a likely consequence at all; but wouldn't the Germans feel guilty enough to think so?

Speaking of German guilt, I visited the Holocaust Memorial for the first time this evening with Phia and Sarah. Phia was afraid. I felt weird because I did not feel afraid at all. Sure it was dark, my head felt heavy, and my breathing slowed. But that was it. It felt like a dream, so it was more cool and interesting to me than frightening and depressing. I liked it. I do not feel it is my place, OUR place, to criticize these memorials. All of them are the products of intense thought and memorialization of the victims. They are complete artworks, created with purpose and effort - I am sure the victims appreciate this in it of itself.

I ask Carol a perhaps slightly controversial question recently - "Do you think that Germany maybe creates TOO many Memorials...such that they are not always genuine, and moreso for politics and foreign relations' sake?"

She said she understood why I asked that, but they are all sincere.
I know they are too...but sometimes, when I notice the way the government can still discriminate, I second-guess.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

European Keyboards are Tricky

So anybody forced to blog on one of the computers in our hostel will agree that switching the stinking 'z' and 'y' is just one of the most frustrating things ever. and I reallz mean ever. (You see what I did there? haha)

So anyway, we moved to the new Hostel today, which is totally boss. hip. awesome. modern. whatever. The decoration is amazing, the people are SO FRIENDLY! Example: I was just standing at this computer station, typing, when one of the employees grabbed me a stool and said smiling, ''Here, sit :)'' Totally grade A service.

So I don't want to talk up to much time on this computer, but I did not to jot down some ideas before I forgot them. I guess these are more observations about Berlin, actually.

1) I did NOT expect so much graffiti everywhere. It's everywhere. After moving into The Circus, Phia, Vern, and I took the train to Potsdam and I realized, that with every passing mile--or kilometers, rather (I guess that's more appropriate right now)--I saw graffiti E V E R Y W H E R E. And there are a lot of times, most times, in fact, where I think it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Seriously, I hope my parents aren't pissed when I bring my camera home and it's full of pictures of neon letters and designs. I love seeing it, but sitting on the train, staring out the window into the nothingness of the forest, THERE WAS STILL GRAFFITI. Like, COME ON, take a break!! Why was every inch slash centimeter covered in names and....names of body parts...!?!? It was bothersome. Looking at the peaceful green and then seeing....names of body parts. So yes, I was a little annoyed.

Well, the train ride got me thinking about it, and now I can't stop thinking about it.

Item number 2: Berlin is not handicap acessible. Not in the slightest. It's actually a little disappointing. I can only remember seeing one elevator in an U Bahn Station, and the escalators are far and few in between. It's not even just the mobility. It's do I put it? It's the overall condition of life for people with any sort of handicap here in Berlin. Every person I've seen, from a broken leg, to a missing arm, permanent to temporary handicaps... I hope I can say this without lumping everyone into one group, but they all just seem so rough around the edges. Dirty, tired, exhausted, not well cared after. They seem alone. I see that people keep their distance. There is always some sort of invisible boundary. No one makes eye contact. :/
It's really disheartening. I had expected something better, I guess. Maybe I hadn't expected anything at all. But just the state of almost everyone I've's just really something that needs attention.

Anyhoo, I see some old man eyeing me for my computer. Time to go! Bis Bald!

Sophia... finally

My reasons for not blogging until now are simple... why spend time and euros sitting in front of a computer talking about an experience, when you can spend time and euros wandering around a foreign city? Not that I think that the blog is a bad idea... quite the contrary. My wanderings have mostly lasted until far to late to use a computer thus far. but now I find myself with lots of time, and so... time to blog.

So enough with my excuses... on to my experiences.

Before coming here I had to convince my friends that Germany was not one of those countries where the weather was always dreary and cold and rainy. Unfortunately, the weather has thus far proven to be exactly the way they thought it to be. But this did not dampen my spirits or my excitement of being here.

Berlin is magical. I'm convinced. The buildings look like they were built for the set of a fairy tale. The history is so rich you can feel it in the air around you. I didn't think that I'd feel as much of a connection to the city as I have. Berlin was always a place that was reserved for my textbooks. Being here is quite surreal.

As much as I've loved wandering aimlessly through the city, I'm very grateful for our fantastic tours. I have yet to be bored on one of them. My favorite one so far has been our very first one. Our guide, Carol, was super informative and had a really satisfying voice to listen to. Not to mention she brought us to fascinating places and told us interesting things. I also loved Ron, our tour guide for Jewish Berlin. He is absolutely hilarious. He did a really good job of lightening up a rather dark topic.

My experiences with my kids at Morus 14 are satisfying, but I wouldn't consider myself to ba a tutor. I feel more like... an influencer. I guess. The program seems more like a way to expose these kids to something from outside of Neuköln where they live. They don't seem to get out much, so this seems like a great way to introduce them to something unfamiliar. I really enjoy my time spent with these kids, they're very sweet. Even the ones who pretend they're really cool.

The theater in Berlin is really impressive. It's not at all like U.S. cities where even if there were shows every night, it'd cost an arm and a leg to get in... and then it might not even be good. So far I've only seen one bad show, and it was inexpensive, so I wasn't to terribly upset about it. I feel like German theater is less afraid to experiment with theater than American theater.

Ok, well as much as I love the internet, I'm going to explore some more. Peace.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Yup. It's not Michelle. It's her favorite person ever. Just like Maggie, my account did not let me do anything. That's why I hadn't posted anything before. I have so much to say (which I have written in about 35 or so pages (front and back) of a notebook), but will just basically summarize things for now.

Michelle, Jeff, and I came to Berlin by traveling from Detroit, to New York, and finally to Berlin. I was super nervous about things until we got here and ordered food from Starbucks. I was able to do it! That was a great moment in my life. It is so different actually ordering food or holding on a conversation instead of just memorizing a dialogue. Since then, things have been much better. I still get a little unsure sometimes before I have to say something, but it is nowhere near as bad as that first time.

We have done so much since coming here that I don't know what to talk about. Should I talk about how tonight is the first night (other than the night I arrived) that I didn't see theater, and that every show has been fantastic? Starting with the eccentric "Frankensteins Rotkäppchen" at the communist theater, going to the beautiful ballet of "Schneewittchen," seeing "Frühlings Erwachsen" which I had seen one week and one day earlier in English, being blown away by the cast of "Trust," or watching the best acting I have ever seen in "Diebe." Everything has been so wonderful and different. It is overwhelming. I very much enjoy the fact that you can see so many things here. The only thing that is really frustrating is you cannot see everything because so much is going on every night. Me being so into theater also helps with my appreciation of what I see. I am really proud that I can understand the amount that I do too. Even though I am not speaking as much as I probably should, my German has gotten so much better from being here.

The kids at Morus 14 are also very sweet. I have only tutored one girl as of right now, but she is great. Everyone seems to really like tutoring their kids. It is difficult to see people in the position that they are in, but I also think that it is extremely important to do so. People need to step out of their comfort zone, and this program is great for pushing so many boundaries. It is so rewarding to help out in any way. This is something none of us will ever forget.

We will also never forget the monuments and tours that we have seen during our time in Germany. The details may get fuzzier as time passes, but it will not ever be completely erased from our thoughts. There are some beautiful things to see, like the Brandenburger Tor (which Michelle, Jeff, and I went back to tonight to take more pictures) and the Reichstag. But, at the same time, there are things like the Holocaust memorial which is beautiful in its own way, but it makes you think. Today we had our second tour with Carol, and she showed us two more memorials for the Holocaust. They all are very different and make you think about various things. Going to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen also made all of us take a step back and pause trying to imagine all that happened where we were standing. It really hit home to me because I am Jewish and know that my family was in a similar place once. It is incomprehensible. I just cannot even get close to coming to terms with all that passed. Going to the camp forced me to think about things that I don't usually have to. I really like that. It was a moving tour, and I was sad to see it end.

We had another big tour that was difficult to watch; the Stasi prison. The thing that was hardest for me was that this was going on only two years before I was born. Two years. For many things I can make the excuse that it was a long time ago. This wasn't. How do people not know that it is not okay to torture people in any way; physical or emotional? And, if they do know that it is not okay, how can they continue doing so and live with themselves? Seeing fragments of the wall around and markers showing where it used to be is also surreal. People don't even think anything about it while they pass by. It is crazy to think that just a few years ago, life was extremely different for all of the people in this city. Berlin seems to be a city that is forever changing, or, at least, that is what I have gathered.

This trip has made me even more interested in German history. It would take several lifetimes to be satisfied with studying with this city on its own. I hope that I have the opportunity to study here or come back on my own. I am glad that I have had this little taste of what Berlin is like, but I feel as though I am barely scratching the surface. It is so beautiful here. I like many things, but also dislike others. No place is perfect, but I think it is safe to say that this is my favorite city that I have been to in Europe (granted, I have only seen Paris, Florence, and Rome).

Can't wait for the rest of the trip! I promise I will give a less vague update sometime in the near future. There was just so much that I wanted to touch on, but neither you nor I have the patience for all of my details right now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


We aren't even one week into the trip and the students know their way around, have adjusted, have seen a ton, and. . . we need to get some pictures up to show it. This group has been absolutely GREAT! They have made it to early-morning tours on time, they are engaged and ask good questions on tours, they are taking in Berlin with all their senses. We are all very tired, but the upcoming days will allow the students plenty of time to explore on their own. So far, we have had tours of Berlin Mitte, Sachsenhausen, the Stasi Prison, a Jewish Berlin walking tour, and a walking tour of counter-memorials. We've been guests at a reception at the non-profit where we tutor, we read on the public square where the (Nazi) book-burnings were on May 10, 1933, and we had a meeting at the Tagespiegel newspaper with the chief editor of Culture, who talked with us about theater in Germany, today. . . And I'm sure I must be forgetting something! Our only remaining tours after this are a walking tour of Kreuzberg, a tour of the Jewish Museum, and a day-long trip to Dresden with a guide. I'm posting a few older photos. The ugly green structure is just off the grounds (beyond a fence) of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial. It was the Casino that the SS frequented (so that their work didn't get to them, too much). The big group in the last photo is all the kids, their parents, and their German tutors who showed up to meet us at the Community Center where we tutor.


Okay, so I can't get my blog to work, so I am posting as Roxy, however I am not Roxy, I am Maggie. So, with that said, I shall continue.
Today was another dreary (weather wise) but fun-filled day in BERLIN! To start off our day we read a little Brecht, Tucholsky und so weiter... Breakfast, wie immer, was DELICIOUS. Fresh brötchen, käse, salami und schinken, mmmmmm, lecker. We sat around our knights round table (coolio round table in the b-fast room at 3 Little Pigs) and read aloud in our best German accents. We didn't get too many looks, but it was quite a grand way to start the morning off.
Then we were off to the races. Okay so not the races, but Friedrichstrasse, or at least around that area. Today an exhibit and readings was going on to commemorate the writers and their works that were burned in the 30s. There were readings being done by various people; some kids from the Jewish High School, a famous german fußball spielerin, and US, the beautiful Studenten aus MICHIGAN (pronounced by the Germans as MITCH-EE-GAN, super cute) We were complemented on our schön Deutsch, which in my case is such a lie, but it was a nice complement nonetheless. I read an excerpt from Brecht's "An Die Nachgeborenen", which I would advise reading, auf Englisch, oder auf Deutsch, also auf Deutsch natürlich, weil es Brecht ist, aber English when you can't do German. Real good stuff the man has got there, real good.
We went to Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof for lunch, ate some crepes, and Roxy ate MCDONALDS (shame on you ROXY) we meandered about the platform for a bit, took in our surroundings and then it was back to the Pigs (HOSTEL). For my own personal note, which I guess a lot of this is anyways, I went down to the little lobby we have at the Pig, and as I was on my computer I was approached by this interesting Brazilian guy. We talked for 45 minutes, good chat about life, and I was proud to have met a stranger finally, okay not stranger, but yeah stranger, but interesting encounter while here in Berlin. It was a good time, but then I had to go to tutoring.
HERR MANN is such a hoot, and he's from FLORIDA... We had a good chat, but I'm pretty sure our English conversations caused my Tutee to bore herself in a daze, which I apologize for. However tomorrow I'm with her and Inge, who can nur auf Deutsch sprechen, so it will be far easier for her to understand. I love my Tutee, she's such a sweetheart and I hope she enjoyed my ramblings about America.
So now comes the REALLY good part. "TRUST":
I was about in tears approx like 5 times throughout, and it was just beautiful, amazing, grand, awesome, KEWL, GREAT. I loved it, loved it, loved it. I would so advice going to it, but for those of you who AREN'T in Germany, too bad, you're missing out. This show has got to be my favorite thing I've seen in a long time, in fact, one of the best ever. The experimentation wasn't too over the top, and I don't know, it's too hard to explain its grandness, but it was grand. I just felt like it was life changing : D
But now it is night night time, and this lady must sleep. Thank you for taking time out of your life to read my mumble jumble, GUTE NACHT, TSCHUSS

My friend Emre!

My first tutoring experience was simply amazing. I couldn't have asked for anything better :D
I was so nervous. SO NERVOUS. I have a notoriously bad sense of direction, and language barrier aside, I needed to get to the durn place. Emma said thatshe would maybe be back to the Hostel in time to go with me to the center (and by 'go' I mean babysit and lead me), but if she wasn't there by 3, I was to leave without her. Emma, if you are reading this, let me tell you that I was basically PRAYING that you would get back...
But alas, some higher power had determined that TODAY was going to be the day that I learned to stand on my own two, directionally-challenged feet. After asking Veronica to repeat the directions twice, and then bothering the crap out of Maggie for directions to the station, I left, sweating. profusely. with an upset stomach.
But the journey was totally fine. haha. It was actually completely fine. When I arrived at Möckenbrücke U Bahn Station, it seemed as though a bomb of pre-teens had gone off. For real. It was that packed with kids. High-pitched chattering, a sea of trendy backpacks and awkward flirting. I took it as an omen.
I squeezed myself onto the train, wondering if maybe I would run into Emre. Did he go to the school that had just gotten out? Would he see me?? Would we say hi?? Would I understand him??? My mind was racing, ok? Trying to find my way around gives me this sick, crazed state of mind. It was dramatic.
But anyhoo, I did not run into him, and I made it to the center ALL BY MYSELF. without getting lost once. which doesn't normally happen. So needless to say, I was feeling pretty empowered. Until I realized that I was about to start my tutoring session. Holy crap.
Thank goodness I ran into Rashmi. She totally calmed me down again. Or calmed me down so that I could think a little bit more clearly. I swear, my heart was beating so fast. Between that and Lesen gegen das Vergesen this morning, my cardio vascular system has really gotten a work out today (L g d V was really awesome by the way, it rained and I was nervous, but what else is new? haha). So Emre arrived, and then shortly thereafter I was walking between him and his Schülerhelferin Kristin Schröder to our working space.
Is it gross to say that I was sweating so much?? Too honest?? Girls sweat too, you know. My heart was pumping and I felt like I was going to die. Maybe thats why I was all smiles afterwards. This single first day of tutoring has been one of the best experiences I've ever had. It was awkward a little bit. But not too much. I had brought cookies, and I just bit the bullet and told them about it. They laughed and we ate cookies while we helped Emre work on his math.
It was really nice. I was able to understand almost everything, and I didn't do too bad of a job speaking in German :) We were all able to laugh at things during the almost two hours we spent together. I learned a little bit about Emre and Kristin and told them about myself and America. Emre kept asking me about England haha and I had to keep reminding him that I wasn't from there :)) It was too cute. And I just had a great time in general.
Emre is one of the most polite 13 year olds I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He held the door open for me, helped me when I wasn't sure where to sit, asked for permission to eat some of the cookies I had brought, and had the most friendly smile!! He was just such a nice boy. So good natured. And I may have fallen in love with his Schülerhelferin, too. She was so nice. Apparently, she had wanted to live in Berlin for at least a summer. But she couldn't find a job. She decided to live here anyway, and joined up to help with the tutoring. She's not getting paid for it all all. And that was all she was doing for a while. Living in Berlin and tutoring Emre. My heart went out to her.
After the session was done (I hadn't even realized it, but we ran over by nearly 40 mins!) Emre left for home and I walked back to the office with Kristin. I was asking her about her plans for later and we were just talking and it was so amazing that I was genuinely COMMUNICATING with another person from another country, from another culture, from an entirely different background!! I suddenly gasped. I had addressed her as 'du' in a question that I had uttered just moments before. Crap! So I started apologizing, and before I could even finish my sentence, she assured me that it was fine-that she had used dir for me and that it didn't matter. This woman just warms my heart. :)
I will be seeing Emre again on friday, we are taking a break from school work and visiting the Reichstag because he and I have never been. He has a different tutor on fridays, so I'm sad I won't really be seeing Kristin again. She honestly was one of the nicest people I had ever met.
I can't wait to see Emre again either!! I want to bring him something, maybe some of the cool American ''heep-hop'' that he likes so much. He's a fan of T pain. and Beyoncé. and Rihanna. (''Do you understand most of the english lyrics?'' ''No, but it sounds good.'' haha)
So I really lucked out today. And I hope tomorrow's tutoring goes just as well.

By the way, I'm using a German keyboard. Which is awesome because of the sweet umlaut buttons that are oh, so convenient. ä ö ü ä ö ü :) yay!

Good night!!

Monday, May 10, 2010

So This is Berlin...

I'm somewhat late in contributing to the "blogosphere" (it's a thing, I promise), and so much has already happened, that I'm not entirely sure where to begin. I could start with our arrival in Berlin and bring everyone up to speed on our escapades, but that would take entirely too long. I could talk about one of the tours, but I feel that so much of what made them interesting would be lost, as a text explanation hardly amounts to actually being there. I could talk about Doener, and how delicious it is but...but....

Actually, I think I will do that:

Doener is delicious. And cheap. America, you don't know what you're missing. Unless you've already tried Doener, in which case, you do. But that still probably doesn't ease the sting of being currently, and POSSIBLY ETERNALLY, Doener-less.

Too bad for you.

In all seriousness, however, I think the topic for me to blog (it's a verb now too!) about would be yesterday, which, in my opinion, embodied best what this trip is all about, as well as why I lurv (also a verb) it so much.

As the Germans say: Also...

Yesterday started bright and early around 7:00AM. Of course, I wasn't too thrilled about having to wake up that early (Dad, before you say anything, it's early for me), yet I had a strange sort of energy as I showered and ate breakfast. I'm not certain why. Maybe I was just subconsciously excited for our first scheduled event:

The Stasi Prison Tour!

I'm pretty sure Roxi covered this tour pretty well, so I don't really have much to add on. It was interesting and made you think, which is exactly what a tour should be.

Afterwards we stopped by a large shopping plaza (the name escapes me) to eat lunch and explore. Now, when I was preparing for the trip, I vowed to try new things any opportunity I had; this extended to food as well. Yet at that point in the expedition, I had only eaten Pizza and Sandwiches (and Doenna). Delicious, sure, but I wanted some German food. So that day for lunch, I sought sausage. Fortunately, I didn't have to look far. A new Restaurant had opened near the train station and was serving Currywurst. I had never had that before, so it was a perfect candidate to fulfill my "try something new" mantra. So I got some. And it was delicious.

However I didn't have too long to enjoy the food and rare rays of Berlin sun (which had begun to peek shyly from the endless grey clouds); we had another tour scheduled that day, and it was time to get on the move again. This next tour was being hosted by a British friend of Janet's, who met us at the S-Bahn station to take us on a tour of Jewish Berlin. The experience was as equally engrossing as it was fascinating; he seemed to know everything there was to know about Jewish History in Berlin. I had never considered myself interested in the topic, but that tour sure changed my mind.

Theater was the final order of the day. The scheduled performance: "Trust". I went into the performance with almost no idea of what to expect. Turns out, that was the right way to go, because I was completely blown away. The show was an aggressively energetic, hilariously comedic, and deeply profound blend of dancing, acting, and music. Normally a production like that would lead me to question the necessity of throwing all those elements together into one big Theater Stew, but in this case it all seemed to mesh together perfectly: each part seemed essential to providing another perspective on the topic of trust in modern society. In short: it was pretty cool.

Yesterday was everything I wanted from the trip: Fascinating tours, delicious foreign food, and amazing theater performances.

And to think, we're not even half-way through!

(An aside: I'm looking at this blog now and realize that, though I sing its praises, I never actually explain what Doener is.
I'm going to do so now.
Doener is a combination of specially seasoned and cooked meat (usually chicken or lamb) wrapped together with veggies and delicious sauce. Om nom nom nom.)

(Also, I'm looking at the spell-checked version of this blog, and apparently "Om" is totally valid word, but "nom" isn't. What's the deal with that? Does anybody know what "Om" actually means? I'm hoping it's a verb. That way I could tell somebody they just got "Om'd". Hahaha.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 8th and 9th: Sachsenhausen and Hohenschoenhausen

Hallo all!

I have been in Berlin now since Thursday, and have already learned and experienced an incredible amount. This post will focus mainly upon the past two days, which have had the greatest impact upon me, and likely the whole group, thus far.

Waking up yesterday at 7 AM wrenched the nerves for sure. I am a Jew who has never set foot on a concentration camp's grounds, but I knew the time had to come. I was afraid of the emotions I might experience, I was afraid of how the whole process would go. I have heard stories of members of the chosen people breaking down and crying, I have heard stories of the trauma that can follow after.

Despite these lingering fears, I knew my peers along with Janet would be strong and respectful. I could not imagine a better group to tour my first camp with. We are all extremely close to one another, I would say even on a deep emotional I was very comfortable entering such a touchy situation with them. I believe they made the experience more full and yet easier on me in the end.

We took a train (a legit, high-speed train, which was comfortable and nice) to the area - Oranienburg. The very edge of Berlin, hardly considered as a part of Berlin by many. I felt chills the minute we entered the town, especially the closer we came to camp. The weather did not exactly help - it dipped into the thirty's and was eerily gray and windy. A morbid weather matched the morbid setting all too well.

Even outside the camp, seeing the tall gray walls and uninviting barbed wire, I felt it all. It is almost surreal - being at Sachsenhausen - one of many labor camps that I grew up learning about in my orthodox jewish elementary school. The site of so much suffering, so much injustice, and many cruel and unusual deaths. The site of crematoriums - something I always read about since a child but never really wanted to form a realistic picture of in my head. The human ovens, the efficient "gassings", the roll calls and careless shootings. I knew all about it, but I read them...I read them in Night, I read them in Number the Stars, I read them in Anne Frank. I practically read them in story books. I heard first-hand accounts from survivors I had met, whose tattoos of their number still serve as consistent reminders of the horrors they endured.

But I never experienced it first-hand myself. The closest I could come was being a Jew, and feeling that Jewish suffering and intuition of those before us. I am even a Persian Jew though, and did not have any relatives in the holocaust. Well, I suppose what I am getting at is that I do not believe ANYONE can truly comprehend the terrors until braving it up and visiting a camp. And when you get there, it is surreal yet grounding.

I learned many things from our excellent tour guide, who is currently a history student. I learned about the way the camp expanded from one small triangle, meant for about 10,000 prisoners, especially political dissidents, and expanded to hundreds of thousands, and to a greater area, as more Jews, homosexuals, political dissenters, and other unwanted people in Nazi Germany, like Jehovah's Witnesses and criminals, were sent in. The place was packed. It was primarily people who could contribute to labor that were sent to Sachsenhausen, instead of straight to a death camp like Auschwitz. The prisoners themselves actually built the camp earlier on...some prisoners had to build the very devices that would kill many of their people, like the crematorium. Many created the bricks that built up the place, others built the casino - the "green monster" - which the nazi officers could enjoy themselves in and forget about the atrocities they committed in the day.

Some prisoners were able to survive through working at this casino and sneaking food. Others attempted this and were killed on the spot after being caught. Everyone who attempted to escape here were shot. In fact, Sachsenhausen is one of the only camps (or the only?) where not a single prisoner successfully escaped. Sachsenhausen, it should be mentioned, was also very much destroyed later on, whether through bad weather after the war or bombs during it. We could see the remnants of the crematorium, which was still very chilling.

This is how it worked. Prisoners were taken to the crematorium/gas chamber building, knowing perfectly well what this building serves as because of the giant chimneys emitting smoke and a stench to the whole town. But they would be surprised and likely relieved as they entered the building and came into what seemed to be a doctor's appointment. A doctor would be sitting in the first room, a cold place with white walls and loud german music playing. The doctor would take a look at them, have them remove their clothing, and mark an x on the their chest and shoulder. The prisoner is led to have no clue what is about to happen. They were then told to go through either the right or left door.

Through the right door, they enter a small room with shower heads which immediately gas them. The gassings at this camp, being that it was not meant to be a death camp initially but a labor camp, were used as experiments to create more efficient and potent gassings for the death camps. Sometimes they did not work quickly or did not kill the suffering prisoner, in which case they were simply shot. Other times people went though the left door, which brought them a very small room. They were told to stand at a very particular spot against the wall, with a crack in it. Then the doctor left and an office in a room on the other side of the crack aimed at their heads and shot them.

The Nazis had a technical, mechanic and certainly more fancy sounding term for this - Headshot Machine (or system.) Of course it was really no machine, but rather proof of Nazis preference to not have to outright shoot people. Less because of shame, and more because of complaints about blood getting on their clothes.

The biggest monument at Sachsenhausen is very notable. It showcases three burly looking, handsome men, two supposedely prisoners and one a Soviet officer at their rescue. Behind them stands a tall, tall, monument with red triangles at the top. This monument was, of course, built during Soviet rule of East Germany, and showcased a rather unrealistic view of the prisoners. The red triangles are significant too - red trianges are what the political prisoners during the Third Reich were forced to wear. Therefore, many take issue with the memorial as it does not memorialize all prisoners, and does so in an idealistic light.

So, what did I feel? I did not cry. I felt sad, but not as overwhelmed as I had pictured. The sadness you feel in a place like Sachsenhausen, which is so COLD, DESOLATE, AND OPEN, is just that. You feel like a prisoner must have more than remorse. You feel helpless, nervous, oppressed, and as though there is no escape. I identified with the prisoners instead of crying for them, if that makes sense. It was extremely, extremely dark. The tour last a little over two hours, and by the time it was over I felt so overwhelmed that my body, and everyone else's, were reacting in one way: leave.

I will try to be more brief on my account of the former Stasi prison, Hohenschonhausen, which rests on the other end of the Berlin.

What can I say. Sachsenhausen was dark and isolated and cold - but this prison was even more intense; perhaps because it was far less destroyed and far more recent. But it was hardcore one of those place a "haunted" ghost-hunting television show would be all over. I felt ENTRENCHED with negative energy the entire time I was there. Hopefully someone else will blog with more details about the absolutely disgusting, inhumane, terrifying acts that went down there, because I went to focus on some other things. First, and briefly, those creepy feelings. I was so overwhelmed I asked our tour guide about the possibility of ghost stories from the place. She said she had heard of none, but would definitely not be surprised if spirits were roaming about. And the spirits there - trust me, they would only be there because they had not died in peace and are still traumatized.
Towards the end of the tour, I could not stop shaking out my hands and body, as if to shake off the negative and seriously WRONG feeling energies that had attached themselves to me. The place wasn't only cold, it was evil, it still lived somehow....whereas the camp was very much a memorial. this place still has its ghosts, as it only officially closed in 1990. the year i was born. plus all of it was kept SO in tact...phones and chairs in the exact same place they once were. i am sure this is part of its creepy factor.

anyway most of what ran through my mind here was anger.

ANGER, at whom?


Skpeticism and anger. During the time, inhabitants of the area had no clue about this prison and especially the reality of what went on there. The horors. The same horrors I am certain America CONTINUES to treat its political prisoners with, which most of the country is oblivious to. The horrors that occurred in Guantanamo Bay. We must wonder, will Guantanamo ever be opened for public viewing like Germany's concentration camps and stasi prisons? Germany is able to admit to most of their faults. And fully. I give them credit.

I wonder about America's former Japanese Interim Camps...can the public tour this? I think about the way we treated the native americans and CONTINUE TO. Most Americans are apathetic and oblivious just like many Germans were. It is time America admits that we are not always the just, all fair, ope-minded land we claim to be. I thought it was especially interesting when the tourguide noted East Germany with still having a death penalty as horrific and a big deal.

America still has it. America, I am sure, still employs many of the same awful torture techniques the Stasi did. Up until very recently, we had our own version of the prison that was also kept isolated so no one could really no what was going on - Guantanamo.

It was an angering and hurtful realization to have.

I would write more but my fingers are numb from typing! I know my peers have more to add upon this !!!

Gute nacht!!