Posted by: marissakayperry | July 6, 2011

Willkommen in Jena!

I arrived in Jena, Germany on March 19th.  You can read about my first few days in Jena below.  Es war lustig :)

I really lucked out at the airport. I’m pretty much positive that both of my suitcases were overweight, but the person checking me in never mentioned the weight (& I sure wasn’t about to ask!). She also let my parents go through security with me, which was especially great seeing as how we’d gotten to the airport about four hours early. I wasn’t aware that you could do that still, and I guess it was only because I’m going to be abroad for quite awhile, but it sure was nice not to have to spend hours in the terminal alone. We had plenty of time to go to Ruby Tuesday for salads before I had to board the plane for Philly.

My layover in Philly was pretty short, and I was sort of worried that I was going to be in a time crunch because the terminal I landed at was on the opposite side of the airport from the international travel terminal. Luckily everything was marked really well & I got to my gate just in time to board. The last time I flew to Europe, I had the hardest time sleeping. Granted, that was before I joined the rowing team and became a pro at sleeping in 15 passenger vans, but I packed some benadryl in my backpack anyway, just to be on the safe side. It sure worked; I slept right through dinner! When I finally did wake up, we were a little over an hour away from Frankfurt.

My least favorite part about flying is landing. I’d say it even trumps the luggage max weight of 50lbs annoyance, especially on transatlantic flights. I think my sinuses hate me & it’s impossible for me to hear anything even after we land. Such a pain in the butt, especially when you’re trying to understand German at 5 in the morning! Luckily I made it through customs, getting my luggage, and buying my train tickets to Jena without having to say/comprehend too much. Getting to my train track was a bit of an adventure… let’s just say I don’t envy anyone who has to juggle two huge suitcases, a backpack, camera bag, and “purse” on an escalator =]

My parents had asked me to keep them updated once I got to Frankfurt, so I figured I would call them again once I found my train. I also needed to call my guest family and Tutorin to let them know when they should come pick me up from the train station. Well, when I got to the right train tracks my phone decided that it didn’t want to function as an international phone anymore, and the international data plan that they promised was there and “switched on” wasn’t working either. I was annoyed to have to go searching for a payphone after all the hours I’d spent in the Verizon store and on the phone with them… Everything worked out fine, but it was still more than a little annoying.

My experience on the train was interesting. The cars are not designed to deal with a suitcase as big as mine (and of course I had two of them), so that was a bit of a challenge! After realizing how much extra time I needed to budget to get anywhere with my mass amount of luggage, I started to get a little worried about how I was going to get from the train in Gotha to a bus that would take me to Weimar in six minutes. I had know idea how big of a train station Gotha was, but considering it probably took me about six minutes to maneuver my luggage onto the train, it wasn’t looking promising. Luckily the woman sitting in front of me on the train was extremely helpful and nice. She asked me where I was going and explained why we were taking a bus to Weimar instead of a train (rail construction today, just my luck). She also grabbed one of my suitcases and bags, so we made it off the train and to the lift rather quickly. She gave me directions to the bus and wished me good luck & headed for the stairs… apparently she’s afraid of elevators. The elevator car was pretty crowed already & I didn’t think I’d fit with all of my luggage so I was just going to wait for the car to return. To my surprise, a couple seconds later the elevator doors opened and all of the people inside filed out. I was really confused, but got in the elevator anyway. Nothing happened. Another lady got in and pushed the same button I had just tried. Still nothing. She jumped up and down a couple of times. Nothing.

“Funktioniert nicht! Komm mit!” she told me, and I followed her through the crowd of people on the platform. She stopped at the top of the stairs, and I looked down. 3 flights. At that point, I’d pretty much given up on any hope of making my bus. The woman was already carrying a couple of bags, but grabbed one of my big suitcases and started down the stairs anyway. I followed after her quickly, and she led me right to the bus that was miraculously still there! =] The rest of my trip to Jena went really smoothly… I found my guest family and fit my luggage in their car without a problem. But I am extremely grateful to those two generous strangers who helped me on and off the train.

My guest family is very nice and patient with my poor German. It definitely hasn’t been easy; the only time I’ve been able to speak English since I left Philly has been talking to friends and family back home on skype. I know it will come in time, but it’s so frustrating to have to speak in such simple terms. It’s not like German class at all, where you can sneak in a question in English if you need to be certain you’re understanding something correctly or if you don’t know a word. The accents are different here, too. I know it will all come in time, but I’ve never been all that great at being patient!

I’m really glad I decided to come a couple of weeks early & complete a home stay program before starting classes at the University. It is really interesting to see what a “typical” German’s home and lifestyle is like. There are a lot of things we have in common, but also a lot of things that are very different. Slippers, for instance, are a must. I’m beginning to wish that I had packed a pair, because I always get a crazy look when I walk around the house barefoot. They’re so into slippers then when I go to my Guest Grandmother’s house for “lunch” (more on that in a second…) she makes me put on a pair of hers. I know she’s trying to be polite and whatnot, but the concept is still a little weird to me!

As happy as I am that I decided to live with a family for the first two weeks, I’m also extremely happy that it’s only two weeks. & that is for mainly one reason: the food. Oh my gosh, I never thought I’d say this after having to cut weight for Chicago right before I left for Germany, but I would KILL for spinach right now. I made the mistake of sitting next to my host dad the first night at dinner, and he kept putting more bread and cheese and meat on my plate. I thought I was going to be sick! It all tastes very good, but I don’t think Americans are designed to handle that much rich food all the time. I know I sure wouldn’t be able to… 5 days has been a stretch! I would love to go downtown and grab some of the amazing looking produce I saw yesterday in the market and make myself a salad for lunch, but my Guest Grandmother has me over for Mittagessen (“lunch”) every day. It is very thoughtful, and she is also pretty patient with my poor German, but lunch is always meat and potatoes and bread and salad (although I’ve yet to see anything green in what she calls a “Salat”).

Running in Jena has also been a challenge. I’ve yet to find a route that doesn’t include at least a mile of cobblestones. I did find the boathouse yesterday, though! I’m meeting the coach there tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be able to get out on the water soon =]

I’ve also had problems registering with the Bürgeramt. I didn’t realize this until after I’d gotten there, but apparently you need to bring a rental agreement with you when you register, I guess to prove that you’re not just planning on living on the streets… Unfortunately I didn’t have that, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it until April 1st. Which meant that I wouldn’t be able to open a bank account here until the beginning of April either. I’m guessing that normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the scholarship I got from DAAD deposits directly into my bank account here. No bank account, no monies. & although I can withdraw money from my account at home, I’d really rather not have to do that because of the poor exchange rate and fees on international transactions. Luckily, I just got an email back from the woman who handles rental agreements, and she is free to meet tomorrow! Yay! =]

Last night was my “first night out” since I got here. My host family doesn’t seem to drink alcohol… I didn’t ask why because I figured that would be rude, so I hadn’t had any German beer or drinks yet, even though I’ve been here since Saturday! So last night I met up with Jennett and her friend Stefanie. I met Jennett while she was in the States visiting my friends Kristin and Kelsey. Kristin and Kelsey both studied in Jena last year, and Jennett was Kristen’s roommate. It was SO nice to finally see some of Jena’s nightlife. The street that all the bars are on looks like something right out of Harry Potter. We went to a bar called Rossini, which is Jennett’s favorite. I haven’t been to many of the bars in EL, but it was definitely completely different from BDubs or Crunchy’s. & I still can’t say that I’ve tasted German beer yet… I got what Jennett recommended instead. It was a bit more girly, and very good =]

I’ll leave you with this for now, and update on the rest of my time so far in Jena soon.

Bis dann!

Posted by: enigma8iris | November 13, 2010

Munich at night

One day in October we had a Night tour through Munich.

There’s something so magical about walking city streets at night. Munich is gorgeous day or night, but the darkness makes it even more charming. I feel almost like in a fairy tale.

What makes it even greater, it’s that Munich is so safe. I can walk at night and not be paranoid about something happening.

It’s like a dream.

Posted by: enigma8iris | November 12, 2010

One Month

When I came to Munich, I told myself – I need to survive one day, one week and one month. After that, I know that I will be just fine.

Is that exaggerating a little? But here’s what I think: it is easy to live in another country, but to truly enjoy the experience, a person must make that place their home, their second home. That takes a bit of time and sometimes going against uncontrollable circumstances.

First month is always the hardest. There are so many questions: Will I miss home too bad? Will I make really good friends here? How do I say [insert really simple word here] in German?

The last question comes up numerous number of times each single day.

But the month has passed, and I finally figured things out. It was an eventful month: from the stuck key on the first day, first time discovering StuStadt (where the students from our program live), first bar, first trip to the store, first U-Bahn ride, first train ride, first class, first time trying to speak German, first time failing at that, first time going to Oktoberfest, first time opening a bank account, first real German sausage, beer, bread, cheese; to the first morning waking up, looking out the window and thinking : “Wow, I am in Germany.”

Here, to my best ability, I will try to summaries all the events, thoughts and emotions into words, the way they are forever carved into my memory.

To get to Munich I had to take a car, two planes, a bus, eight excavators and then some walking distance. The whole journey started with me waking up at 5 a.m. and ended more than 24 hours later at 8 a.m. German time with the whole day ahead of me. The flight even though 8 hours long wasn’t horrible, what harder is spending time in the airport waiting. What made it easier was meeting other JYM students from my program there.

At the Munich’s airport we got our luggage. I accidentally bummed into few strangers and realized that I told them “Sorry.” It would be not easy switching the language.

We met out program coordinators and got transported to the StudentenStadt. From that moment, all of us would be leaving in four tall buildings on different floors, so that we can integrate into student life more.
The first challenge did not keep me waiting. As soon as I entered my room, the key got stuck in the door. With no cell phone, or any other way of communications, the only thing I could do was knock on my neighbor’s door. He helped, but I don’t think he appreciated being woken up at 10 a.m. Oops.

I also realized I couldn’t say anything in German.

The same day we had our first JYM meeting. I honestly do not remember what was discussed, by that time it was already 28 hours of no sleep for me.

The JYM orientation lasted for 2 weeks. We received a lot of useful information and had a few tours of the city and one hiking trip.

The other parts of ordinary life were more challenging, because we had to do them on their own.
As silly as it sounds, even the first time going to a store was intimidating. What if they ask me and I do not understand? It turned out to be not that scary, however, the cashiers here work fast. I cannot put the groceries in the bag as fast as they scan them.

The other little challenges were figuring out how electricity works, how to turn on the fridge, if the tap water is drinkable.

Needless to say the first month just flew by, and time keeps flying. There is a lot to do, a lot to see, to experience.

Time: 8.5 months

Posted by: daaddiablog | November 12, 2010

Food.

This post is dedicated to those who know me best. I love eating, and Germany has upheld all of my expectations regarding food. Again, these opinions are coming from an Armenian-American who loves to eat (and drink)!

I guess it would make sense to start with breakfast. I honestly wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m going to eat. Usually I eat a bowl of Muesli with either yogurt or milk. Muesli is a popular breakfast food consisting of rolled oats, fruits, nuts, chocolate, or just about anything. I tried Muesli mix with chocolate, and it was amazing, though rather unhealthy. I reverted back to the “fettarme” (lowfat) Muesli which included dried fruit and nuts. Somedays when I’m feeling more ahem…hungry….than usual, I like to eat some toast with nutella. I actually can’t describe my love for Nutella in words. I could (and have) eat it by the spoonful.

What kind of day would be productive without a midmorning snack? Bakeries are a staple here in Germany, and you can basically find one on every single street corner. They smell so delicious and it is really hard to resist the temptation. One of my favorite snacks there is “kaesebrot” or ” kaese bretzel”. The bread itself is of super high quality, and is quite delicious. The only thing better than bread, is bread baked with cheese! I’m practically salivating just writing about it. Of course just about everything in the bakeries is excellent, including schokobrotchen, and any of the health food type breads.

Lunch comes next. I generally eat in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the week, and the food there is relatively good, and affordable. Of course, the food isn’t nearly as good as the food at my home university, JMU. JMU is ranked #4th best college food in the nation, so there is no comparison. However, the food in the Mensa is pretty decent. There are many choices to fit all diets, which I like. I was a vegetarian before I left for Germany, and that has changed since I’ve gotten here. I rarely eat meat, but I do like to try new things. I usually get the vegetarian menu, which consists of an Entree and 3 sides. Sides can consist of a house salad, kraut salad, some sort of pudding, yogurt, fruit, or some kind of potato dish (fries, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes etc.). Germans like potatoes. And meat.

Dinner/Snack foods. I would have to say that the snack food (Imbiss) is far superior to American snack food. Of course, I will mention Doener. The Turkish-German speciality is so popular around Germany, and my taste buds certainly agree. It is made of a flatbread, with a few sauces, sliced meat, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce. Doener kebab is cheap, at about 2.30 euro for a normal size, and fills you up. It satisfies that salty-yet-filling craving. In fact, I ate a doener kebab today. Turkish food in Germany is excellent, and reminds me of some of the things I like to eat at home in the USA. The only thing that kind of irks me is that the guys working at many Doener stands don’t speak German too well and assume that I’m Turkish because of the way I look. I am not Turkish, and don’t speak it, which tends to confuse the people working sometimes. Anyways, I’ve learned that a simple smile can accomplish a lot in Germany. I’ll admit though, I miss my mother and grandmother’s food more than anything.

Imbiss food wouldn’t be nearly complete without mentioning Currywurst. A simple sausage drenched in currysauce and powdered curry may sound simple, and it really is. Though, this simplicity is why it is just that awesome. I will mention a rather amusing point – when Germans say “scharf” or spicy, it basically means “flavor”. The Armenian and Lebanese food I am used to is full of spices and flavor, so when the Germans say “spice” I laugh because I know it’s not actually spicy. Sometimes they even gasp when I add extra hot sauce to just about everything I eat.

Dessert – ok family, you know how I like dessert. German chocolate is super cheap, and is of far more superior quality than American chocolate. Milka and Ritter Sport are my favorite brands, and I really do eat a lot of chocolate here. It’s really hard to walk past the chocolate aisle in Netto (local grocery store) without buying a bar of its sweet deliciousness. Another phenomenon in Germany is the “Eiscafe”, or ice cream parlor. They serve more traditional Italian gelato style ice cream, and it is also rather inexpensive. An ice cream cone with one large scoop of ice cream costs one euro, contrary to about 3 bucks in the USA at Baskin Robbins. Of course Eiscafes are also about the decor and style of their ice cream confections. One of my favorites is Spaghettieis. Spaghettieis is a German ice cream specialty that looks like a plate of spaghetti. Vanilla ice cream is put through a noodle press to make it look like spaghetti. This is placed over whipped cream, and topped with strawberry sauce (looks like tomato sauce). The white chocolate shavings on top are supposed to look like parmesean cheese. This combination looks and is incredibly delicious.

Drinks – Ok so I probably could talk about beer for a while, but I’ll save that. I’ll come out and admit it – I am addicted to Apfelschorle. What is Apfelschorle, you may ask? Apfelschorle is a combination of carbonated water and apple juice. Simple, yet extremely satisfying. I actually just bought a six pack of the large sized bottles form Netto. I wish you could get this at Costco. Rather, I wish there was Costco in Germany. When my Dad reads this, I know he will laugh!

Apfelschorle

All and all, my diet has changed a little bit. I eat more bread (because it tastes sooo good), cheese (yum dairy), and chocolate. So I hope you’re not all drooling too much. That means you’ll just have to come visit me in Dortmund. I wonder what’s on the menu tonight… ;-)

Posted by: mstannard | November 11, 2010

Some Impressions

It’s been practically a month since courses began. Since I’m starting a bit late, I think I’ll sum up with a list of impressions I’ve had so far.

Theaters

One of the things I love most about Munich, is student ticket pricing. To see a show in Edmonton, it can cost a student $60 or more. In Munich, I pay 7 Euro. Every time I receive my ticket from the cashier, I have this goofy smile on my face, like I’m shyly (but greedily) receiving a Christmas gift from someone I don’t know that well.

Snow

We haven’t had any yet.  :o)

Efficiency vs. Bureaucracy

These are two German cliches that I always believed worked hand in hand. But after matriculating and registering and signing up for classes, I have determined (for now, at least) that these two things are actually battling a gruesome war with one another. I’ve never stood in so many lines for so many stamps, signatures and paper in all my life.

It did feel good afterwards though. A great rite of passage. Whenever I flash my student ID or bus pass, it’s like I’m saying, “That’s right. I survived.”

Public Transit

It’s lovely being able to get around so easily. I get this funny impression that no matter where in Munich I am traveling from, everything is exactly 25 minutes away.

First Two Weeks of Class

At my home university, everyone has a pretty solid idea of their class schedule before the semester starts. People have registered months in advance, they walk in on the first day, receive detailed syllabi with a myriad of deadlines and class expectations, and get to work.

I started panicking in my first week at the LMU. There were no syllabi, no deadlines, and I’m still not completely sure if I’ll ever be officially registered in a class. After two weeks, I realized I had to ASK for assignments in order to get credit. A very different study culture.

I heard of this one woman who said that it takes two months of adjustment before you can even start asking the right questions. No kidding.


Posted by: enigma8iris | November 7, 2010

The Very Beginning

October 12, 2010

When traveling to a foreign country, the journey does not begin when you arrive there, but a long time before that. It begins with hugs and tears when you say goodbye to you family at the airport. It begins with a mix of agitation, stress and excitement as you prepare for the trip and pack your things. But most of all, it begins with a decision – a decision stating “I am going.”

That decision might come slowly after a lot of thinking, or, like for me, it may hit you suddenly, and you will know that it is the right path for you.

You may want to learn the language, explore the foreign way of life, study and research a subject, make some friends, date some foreigners, visit museums and historic places and try different food. Or maybe it is all of the above.

A lot of people asked me not only why am I going, but “What [am I] going to do there?”

The answer is simple — I am here to live. To live, and explore every part of life in this country and in this part of this world. And most importantly, I am here to discover more about myself. To find myself.

Beginning of 3rd week in Munich, Germany.
Place (and photo): StudentenStadt
Time left: 9.5 months

DSC00391

Posted by: daaddiablog | November 4, 2010

Schon November?

TU Dortmund

I cannot believe it is already November. The last two months have flown by, and I am feeling more and more “German” everyday. What does this mean, you may ask? The little things in life are what make Germans “German” and the rest of us what we are. For example, I bought a little pencil case. I haven’t used one in the US since I was in middle school, however, after noticing that 99.9% of the Germans/Europeans use them I gave in and bought one when I was in the Netherlands. I bought a used bike. That was also a challenge because I had a hard time finding one that would accomodate to my relatively small stature. I’m 161 cm, and German people are generally taller than Americans. I also bought a basket to bring to the grocery store to buy my groceries. I look like the Armenian version of Little Red Riding Hood. I eat so much bread, and it’s amazing. I could probably write the entire year’s blog about food, but I’ll just get too hungry and have to stop.

Uni has been going well. My favorite part is actually being a teacher. I am co-teaching an English course called “Culture and Technology” for students of Logistik and Engineering. I lead two discussion groups every thursday, and each group has about 16 students. The idea of the course is for the students to get a grasp on academic English, through different activities. During class, I only speak in English. I was talking to one of them after class only in German, and he was really impressed with my German ability. It was such a compliment! Otherwise, classes are classes. Dortmund is a really fun city, and I love going to watch the BVB games in local bars. Hopefully I’ll get to go to a game in the stadium soon.

Traveling has also been a pleasure. During my break, I spent about 5 days in the Netherlands. I was able to visit Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the Hague. I would highly recommend eating Dutch French Fries, they are awesome! Yes, there are people smoking marijuana everywhere. I wasn’t sure what the situation would be like there, but I was really surprised that I saw someone openly smoking a joint. It was especially strange to me, because I worked as a Resident Adviser at my home university, where smoking weed can get you into a lot of trouble. I have had my semester ticket since the beginning of October, and it’s really really incredible. I have been to many cities in NRW, including Duesseldorf, Koeln, Essen, Bochum, and of course Dortmund. It’s a real treat to be able to travel so freely and easily.

Well, this week there is some sort of fall festival in the city center. It’s kind of like a medieval fair, but not as geeky. Hopefully this weekend will be nice. LG aus DORTMUND!

Posted by: daaddiablog | November 4, 2010

In the beginning…

Bochum

Well, needless to say, I have been living in Dortmund for almost 3 weeks now (I arrived Sept 2). As of right now, I am loving life and enjoying every moment here in Germany. However, the first few days were really quite difficult. I arrived in the evening, and jetlag was really messing with my body. The stress of being separated from my family and adjusting to a new life was intense! I seriously doubted my ability to overcome the challenge of being thrown into a new country, mastering the language, and being a successful student. This challenge is much harder than starting off at a new university back in the United States. I discovered though, that every single international student that I have met here in Dortmund has had the same feelings and same anxieties. So the non-sugar coated version is as follows: The first few days will be rough. You will adjust in a few days, that is for sure.

I am participating in a German language course for the month of September. The course is divided into three levels, depending on one’s German ability. I was placed in the highest level, and I feel comfortable with the other students in my class. It is really interesting to interact and get to know students from all around the world, such as Belgium, Brazil, England, Finland, South Korea, and so on. We have been taking tours of other cities in the Ruhgebiet, as well as other cities in Nordrhein-Westphalen. I also noticed how obsessed Dortmund is with its local fussball team, Borussia Dortmund.  Dortmund itself is a heavily populated city, though I do not feel intimidated by its size. I guess coming from Washington DC has jaded me a bit when it comes to city size and life. So far, I have successfully gotten my student visa, opened a German bank account, and matriculated at TU Dortmund. Not bad!

I have two more weeks of German class left, then a week of holidays. Hopefully I will get a chance to write another blog! Bis bald :)

Posted by: Kennedy | July 28, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!

Just a couple weeks shy of living here for 12 months, I will return to the US this Friday. I am excited to see my family, to start law school, to begin the next phase of life. At the same time, it is utterly unvorstellbar that, next week, I will not ride the SBahn, not return to the Freie Universität, not be able to text Anne, my best friend here, and go swimming at Wannsee together the day after. Oh, the bittersweetness of moving on!

Future DAAD-ers, be warned! If you come to Germany, you might just fall in love. I took it to a literal extreme and met my boyfriend of nearly nine months here, but I’ve also fallen in love with Berlin, with Germany in the summer time, and I have made friends for life. I will stay in touch with my host family and enjoy hearing about my younger host brother’s adentures when he does a high school year in the US. I am already looking forward to seeing my second, adopted host family again. They welcomed both Anthony and I into their lives completely, and we have many special memories together. I know that I will truly always “have a suitcase in Berlin”.

Anthony and I at the Schlachtensee

It is always a delight to look back at the end of a good experience and process what I have acquired. Besides treasured relationships, my German is indubitably better. I have attended and fully comprehended German university lectures, church services, court cases, and plays. I wrote two 16-page German papers within three weeks, and it was really only as stressful as the same projects would have been in English. I even survived the heart-thumpingly terrifying experience of giving a Referat in front of a seminar full of 30 native speakers. I have laughed as acquaintances struggled to figure out if I’m from Austria, Switzerland, Spain, or Canada, because they know I have a little accent and they can’t quite place it. (For all my love of the US, when it comes to languages, I don’t take it as a compliment to be pegged as an American.) I can now distinguish between Berlinerisch, Sächsisch, Hochdeutsch, and Austrian German.

Anne and I at das neues Palais in Potsdam

I have slowly acquired a few marks of Germanness— a faithful practice of having Kaffee and Kuchen with the family every Sunday afternoon, the love of being surrounded by greenery, keeping every window open to ensure adequate access to frische Luft, the ability to think in Centigrade instead of Fahrenheit, preferring water mit Kohlensauer to ohne, the enjoyment of beer and knowing ahead of time how it will taste when I order it off the list, the dedication to watching every single Germany game in the World Cup, and always carrying a book to read on the SBahn. The first time I visited Dresden, it was as one of 20 Americans visiting every tourist attraction on the list. The next time, it was as a guest of a delightful, hospitable family and my only interaction with tourist sites was to watch the sun go down behind the old city as Anne and I laughed and picnicked with Dresdener friends. That is a beautiful change: to experience a city from the outside, and then to come back and fully experience its heart-blood, the inhabitants.

With Gitti, my lovely adopted "Berliner Mama"

For all these wonderful, intangible gifts, a few thanks are in order to the DAAD, which funded my study costs, living expenses, and provided generously for travel as well. To the innumerable others who have made this year a wonderful one, from my program director to German and American friends to host families: thank you. It is you that I will frequently and joyfully remember as I move on, and it is you for whom I will come back. Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!

Posted by: Kennedy | July 17, 2010

Yet another travel guide

For the sake of the next generation of DAADers, I thought I’d contribute a list of my favorite Berlin haunts. I’ve been here nearly a year—unbelievable! And it has been a wonderful year. I’ve sorted out my discoveries per the season in which I discovered them, though their usefulness to you will likely depend on your location in Berlin and personal interests.

Autumn

Fat Tire Bike Tours- leaving from Bahnhof Zoo and Alexanderplatz. These are a wonderful way to get to know the city when you first arrive! Our tour guide was hilarious, and the trip included a stop at a biergarten in the Tiergarten for lunch.

Aufsturz- a cozy bar/café/restaurant recommended to me by a fellow DAADer last October. Aufsturz is on Orangienburgerstrasse, directly opposite one of the S1 SBahn stations. The food is cheap and delicious, there are innumerable delicious beers served (I highly recommend Belgian Kwak), and you can get a code to use free Wi-Fi!

Friedrichstrasse Train Station- Berlin shuts down on Sundays, except for a booming restaurant, café, and entertainment business. In desperation, however, one can always count on a train station—such as Friedrichstrasse or Hauptbahnhof to have an open grocery store where you can buy that much-needed ingredient for Sunday Kaffee and Kuchen time, or a Rossman where you can buy more credit for your Handy.

Potsdam- definitely visit the Sans Souci gardens in the fall! The trees are golden and beautiful, it’s free, and there are always families with small children visiting the ducks and swans in the many ponds. Stop by the Potsdam Altstadt to know where you ought to return once the Weihnachtsmärkte come to Berlin!

If you are Protestant and looking to get plugged into a local church, I loved going to the International Baptist Church Berlin (IBCB). Expect more Africans and Brazilians than Americans, but revel in the international community and sincere worship. Nearly everyone speaks German, but services are in English. It’s a ten minutes’ walk from Rathaus Steglitz on the S1 line.

Winter

Your main pre-occupation, of course, should be visiting all the Christmas markets and the Weihnachtsmann at KaDeWe. (Last year, he wore pink!) Look for a possible sledding hill at Potsdamer Platz, ice skating at Alexanderplatz, make the best of the tourist rush, and sort through the souvenir gifts for a few Berlin classics to bring home. Incidentally, the best Christmas market I went to was in Leipzig— take a bus for a day or weekend trip. It’s not that far away, and very worth it! Wherever you participate in the Christmas frolic, be sure to eat lots of Marzipan and sip hot Glühwein while you meander past the many stalls.

Once Christmas is over, buy as many large blankets and as many varieties of tea as possible and hole up in your apartment. Baking and cooking are some of the warmer ways to pass the time. If you get antsy, as I did, in the negative temperatures, join a gym. McFit (yes, it does exist!) is the cheapest gym membership you can buy and entirely adequate for most workout routines (plenty of treadmills, stair-steppers, elliptical trainers, rowing machines, weight machines, yoga mats, and locker rooms).

This is also a good time to catch up on your German literature: Goethe’s poetry and Herta Müller’s Herztier were two of my favorite reads, although re-reading a book you’ve read in your native tongue over in German is an enjoyable way to improve your German skills. For example, I re-read some books by C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (which he wrote in German anyway!), and a Harry Potter book just for kicks.

This brings me to some commentary on Berlin life that I have been mulling over for quite some time: It is my heartfelt conviction that the Berlin SBahn was not a project conducted to simplify traffic patterns or even to make transportation more environmentally friendly. On the contrary, it is secretly funded by the FFGGL (the Federal Fund for General German Literacy). I have drawn this conclusion after nearly 12 months faithful observation of community reading time on the SBahn, as well as the implicit rule of library-like silence that your fellow travelers prefer you to observe. (What the deeper meaning of the secrecy surrounding these practices is unknown to me, but it must be very important… I can guarantee that you will not find the FFGGL listed in any list of German public agencies.)

Spring

This is a fairly short season in Berlin, or else it resembles winter very strongly. The temperatures should merit emerging from your blankets and teapots for a bike ride through Penzlauerberg. Look for the English secondhand bookstore, the playground near Käthe Kollwitz Platz, and eat lunch in one of the many outdoor cafes near the Spree.

The Uni will now be in full swing, so visit the following locations if you’re looking for a café with free Wi-Fi and cheap, delicious food in which to study:

-       Café Bilderbuch (aka, Café BiBu)- Julius-Leber-Brücke SBahn, on Akazienstrasse. Take the opportunity to sit outside or in the back room with plush couches and live piano music daily. You can get a full breakfast spread of bread, cheese, fruit, veggies, and/or meats, ranging from 3-8 Euros all day long.

-       Oberholz- Rosenthalerstr. UBahn, directly across the street. Two stories, lots of windows, chairs and tables in abundance, the Wi-Fi ALWAYS works, and there are delicious quiches, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, cakes, and a variety of drinks, which are all delectable. The Chai tea is particularly delicious! (No EC or credit cards accepted.)

If you are studying at the FU, I would recommend the Philologische Bibliothek (PhiloBib) for studying and the Universitätsbibiliothek (the “UB”) for checking out books. There is also a lovely little café on Thielallee called Cross, great for a break from the Mensa, a cappuccino and an hour or two of reading, but there is no internet.

Regardless of your gym membership, start running outside again. Run around the Schlachtensee if you live in Zehlendorf or Dahlem, or in Tiergarten if you are directly in the city.

By this time, I was definitely ready for a German speaking church. For those interested, try the Berlin Projekt, which meets twice a day on Sundays in Bablyon, an old movie theater in Rosa Luxembourg Platz. It’s a passionate evangelical congregation of such size and youth that it shocks most Germans I know, accustomed as they are to empty cathedrals. It’s also a very artsy community, which engages up-and-coming musicians and also has an art gallery.

Visit Berlin’s many flea markets with friends. Check out the Mauerpark (near Nordbahnhof SBahn) for kitschy garage sale items, fresh flowers, and unique, start-up designer clothing. My personal favorite, however, is the flea market between Friedrichstrasse Station and Museum Insel. Look for cheap German classics, paintings, jewelry, and random DDR mementos.

Summer

Keep all windows open and don’t complain that there’s no air conditioning… do you remember how cold you were two months ago?!? (When you’re desperate for air-conditionning, your best bets are museums, Dussmann’s bookstore on Friedrichstrasse, or Starbucks.) Write your Hausarbeiten outside, if you have that kind of self-discipline (I don’t), or else get up early to work so that you can play outside in the sunshine in the afternoon.

If your allergies bug you, discover Cetirizin at your nearest Apotheke. It’s the generic version of Zyrtec, and you can buy it over the counter. Even better, you can buy a pack of twenty (take one per day) for less than 4 Euros. And it works!

Make the most of Berlin’s many lakes! I lived within a five-minute walk of the Schlachtensee and swim every day after class. It’s one of the most popular Gymnasium-student hang out spots in warm weather, but don’t let that deter you. The lake is small, so it warms up quickly, and the water is clear no many how many swimmers flock to the shore. Be sure to eat at the Biergarten or the restaurant at the Fischerhütte on the side of the Schlachtensee closest to U-Krumme-Lanke.

If you go to the Humboldt University, or even if you just happen to be in that part of town, stop by a new frozen yogurt shop on Zinnowitzerstrasse (very close to the UBahn). Think PinkBerry. Otherwise, a Kugel of ice cream is available for about 80 cents on every street corner, at least as often as you could find crepes and gingerbread hearts at Christmas time.

Strandbad Wannsee is also worth a trip. Yes, it’s crowded, but the entry fee is low (2.50 for students), there’s real beach, and the lake is huge. Check the website first, to make sure that it’s not closed for an exclusive event. Contrary to intuition, don’t take the SBahn to Wannsee to get there. Take the S1 or S7 to Nikolassee, then find the bus that runs directly to the Strandbad every ten minutes all summer.

That’s all (for now), folks! I hope someone down the road finds it helpful.

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