Family, Spring Break, and lots of Sun

Hi all! An update on the past few weeks. First of all, my family came to Germany! It was so great to see them and share my life in Berlin with them. For their first three days in Berlin, we received a miracle of SUN. I kept telling them “this is really not what the weather is usually like.” So, we of course had to take advantage of the weather, and started off with a walk through the huge Tiergarten park in central Berlin. There, I got my first glimpse of spring, as the tiniest of leaves were just beginning to bloom! The park is also strewn with monuments from Berlin’s long history, including the Victory Column.

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The Victory Column
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Soviet Memorial

We also took a trip to the city treasure of Mauer Park, which on Sundays is engulfed by a huge craft/flea market. Also on Sunday afternoons at Mauer Park (in good weather), is the very popular karaoke session. It was a lot of fun to see so many Berliners come out of hibernation to enjoy the beginning of spring.

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Mauer Park; the large group of people in the back are sitting in an amphitheater watching the karaoke.

Some of the other sightseeing we did included a 3-hr boat tour of the city:

And of course a visit to Berlin would not be complete without a trip to East Side Gallery:

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After spending some time in Berlin, my family and I went down to Bavaria, to a town called Bamberg, for a few days. This was a great opportunity for them to see some type of living that normally comes to mind when one thinks of “Germany” (because Berlin is not Germany, it’s something else entirely). Bamberg showed us the cute Bavarian houses, the old castles, traditional German food (my mom was not impressed by the meat and potatoes cuisine, which is quite understandable), and of course lots of beer. I was again stunned to experience a few more sunny days. My family managed to pick the best week to visit!

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As my parents left for the U.S., I proceeded directly to spring break. For the first half of the break, a group of friends and I went to Palermo in Sicily, Italy. We actually stayed in a small beach town called Mondello, just a small distance from the Palermo. For the second half of the break, we went to the Greek island of Mykonos, with a one night stopover in Athens. I have no shame in admitting that the vacation was mostly about relaxing on the beach, but we did do a little sightseeing in Palermo, and a little in Athens during the afternoon and evening we were there. In a stroke of bad luck we were informed a day before hand that our flight to Mykonos from Athens was cancelled, which we found out was due to a one-day strike by the Athens airport controllers. But I can’t actually complain because we instead took a ferry ride, which although was a lot longer, was absolutely beautiful. On Mykonos we rented ATVs to get us around the island since it’s still early in the tourist season and thus the buses aren’t running. That allowed us to see a lot of the island and its many beautiful beaches. I have always wanted to go to the Greek islands ever since my mom told me about a trip she took there with her best friend after college. Finally being there was surreal – it’s one thing to see the beautiful white buildings in pictures, but actually walking amongst them and getting lost in their maze was a experience like no other. We also took a short ferry ride one day from Mykonos to the Island of Delos, “The oldest archaeological in Europe.” Delos is the mythical birthplace of the Greek Gods Apollo and Artemis. It was a very strategical point in ancient times and was conquered my many different civilizations including the Romans and Egyptians, leaving it with a rich and intriguing history.  I of course took a lot of pictures of the whole trip, so please enjoy:

Italy:

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Greece:

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What time is it? About time I wrote a blog post…

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I honestly have no idea where all the time has gone, it’s been flying by like crazy! Last week was an intensive “workshop week” for one of my classes so I didn’t have a ton of free time. But it was a lot of fun, we started planning a sustainability project that the whole class will actually build on the grounds around our school. I did make sure to squeeze in some time to celebrate my birthday which was also last week! Of course 21st birthdays aren’t quite as significant outside of the U.S…

I know that May, and my time to fly back to the states, will be here in the blink of an eye. So I’ve been trying to pack a lot into my time here lately. I’m currently on a plane heading “home” to Berlin after a trip Amsterdam (it really has started to feel like home, and I always find myself feeling a little relieved to be going back to a familiar place after a few days of traveling).

I had heard a lot of great things about Amsterdam and had a few days off from class, so a friend and I decided to jump on a train and check it out. As soon as we stepped out of the train station we were greeted by beautiful buildings and canals. We spent a lot of our time in Amsterdam just wandering around the beautiful neighborhoods… Plus a stroll down the red light district, which was quirky to say the least. The city was more cosmopolitan than I expected; the shopping scene was out of control but a short walk away from the city center quickly landed you in more quaint areas. We also spent a half day outside of the city at the old Dutch village of Zaanse Schans, which has a small collection of well-preserved old windmills, some of the only remaining ones of the one thousand that made the area one of the first industrialized places in the world. While there we went inside a windmill which still manufactures pigments for paint, and we tasted some yummy Dutch Gouda cheese. That about sums up my time in Amsterdam. It was a quick trip but definitely worth it to experience this city.

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Last weekend my whole school went to Warsaw which was also a pretty easy train ride from Berlin. I don’t think anyone was expecting that much from the trip, but we all ended up really loving the city! I went on a tour to the old Jewish ghetto, where I learned a lot about the state of Warsaw during World War 2. My favorite part of the trip was probably my visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum. It gave a moving account of the Polish resistance movement in during the war. It’s a very well done museum that gives each visitor a very emotional experience. Almost 90% of the city was destroyed during the war and all citizens were forced to leave the city. Despite that, in a show of resilience, when the war is over the people were adamant that the capital of Poland be reconstructed in Warsaw instead of moved somewhere else. It was pretty awe-inspiring to go into the museum and see what a completely destroyed Warsaw looked like, and then to walk back outside and see a bustling and successful city of 2 million people.

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Since the last time I wrote I also traveled to Rome for a weekend. Being in a city where an ancient civilization also lived was very cool to think about, and I really enjoyed seeing all of the ruins. Also a big highlight: Italian food (and gelato of course). Plus, the weather was very warm and sunny, unlike how it’s been up here lately. Well, spring break is coming and a group of us are headed to Sicily and then to Greece, so I’m hoping to get some blue skies again soon! I won’t write too much more today, but I can definitely say that Rome was everything I imagined Rome to be. And anyways, I think the best way to experience it is to take a look at my photos. So enjoy!

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Berlin Spaces & a Homestay

I’ve posted a lot about my travels lately, because I’ve had the opportunity to go to so many amazing countries. But Berlin is not to be overlooked! Each place I go in Berlin is so unique.

For example, a few weeks ago I was able to tour the Olympic Stadium of Berlin. Like most things in Berlin, it has a deep history as it was build by the Nazis for the infamous 1936 Summer Olympics games where Jesse Owens dominated with four gold medals. It now hosts Hertha BSC, Berlin’s soccer team, and in 2006 it underwent massive renovation in order to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup, making it a state-of-the-art facility. The tour was a lot of fun as they took us through the whole place including the VIP rooms and locker rooms.

Another very cool place I went, this time with my sustainability class, was a rooftop “cultural garden” called Klunkerkranich. It was started by a small group of citizens who rented out parking spaces on the roof of a garage because they weren’t being used (due to the massive popularity of public transportation in Berlin) and they saw an opportunity to create something cool and fun. Klunkerkranich is an urban garden, but it’s also much more than that. Members of the community can request a space to plant, and they can pretty much grow whatever they want which has resulted in a huge and random variety of plant life. It’s also a place to enjoy good weather and hang out with friends. They’ve built a bar and a makeshift stage for musical performances. They also host a lot of events for the community. It’s all about having a public space for people to do whatever they want. I’ll definitely be going back when the weather gets a little warmer. It was awesome to go here because I’ve never seen anything like it before in the U.S. Here’s some photos I took while there (click to enlarge):

Here’s a photo of what it might look like in the warm weather where up to 300 people can enjoy the rooftop 🙂

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As you can see, Klunkerkranich provided some great views of the city. Another day, I got some more great views from the top of the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral):

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In more recent news, this past weekend I participated in a homestay for two nights in order to experience a little bit of integration into a German community. CIEE found a lot of untraditional homestay options for us (not just families). For example, I was paired with a 35 year old woman (and her boyfriend) which turned out to be such an incredible experience. She was extremely friendly and we had a lot of fun together. I’d describe it as a homestay with an older sister. I was really able to see what daily life is like for a true Berliner. On Saturday, a good friend of hers was moving apartments which is a big process in Berlin. It was also a time where all of their friends got together to help and then celebrated with food and drinks after. It was actually perfect because I got to help which I felt very appreciated for, and I got to meet a ton of her friends all at once.

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I thought I had escaped some of the current crazy politics of America, but a fun fact is that Germans absolutely love to discuss American politics. But in the end, this gave me a lot of valuable knowledge about the difference between the systems of Germany and America. Over the course of the weekend I also gained a much deeper insight into the culture of Berlin. For example, I learned that Berlin is truly the city of signals. My host, Ayalet, told me how her parent’s generation is confused with the state of their children’s generation because many of them do not get married until a late age and many don’t have children. And I definitely saw this because out of Ayalet’s ten friends that helped with the move, only one was married and had a children, which is a stark contrast to the U.S. where there’s definitely pressure to get married not too long after college and have children at as young of an age as possible. In the end though, I’m not at all surprised by the way it is in Berlin, because the city constantly gives me the impression that people do whatever they want with their lives and don’t care about societal norms or pressure (it’s a great feeling to be a part of).

In final news, I was able cast a vote for the democratic primary, all the way from Germany! There is a network called Democrats Abroad which has a certain amount of delegates assigned to then (21), so it was basically like voting in the primary of a small state.

Thanks for reading, I’m definitely missing everyone back in the U.S. 🙂

 

 

A Trip to Istanbul

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I returned to Berlin from a weekend trip to Istanbul, sorry that I had to leave so soon. It is a bustling, beautiful, and cultural city which I’m sure one could spend weeks exploring. At heart it is an ancient city, spanning the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. This fact is prominent at the Hagia Sophia Museum, which at different times in history served as both a church and a mosque:

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Istanbul actually spans two continents, divided by the Bosphorus strait. Thanks to a quick ferry ride, I can now say I’ve been to Asia! 🙂

It was a truly great opportunity to learn about and immerse myself in such a different culture, if only for a few days. I think that everyone should highly consider traveling to Istanbul! I definitely would love to go back back some day. For now, please enjoy it vicariously through my many pictures:

A Turkish breakfast & Turkish delight:

A cruise along the Bosphorus:

Istanbul Modern Art Museum:

The spice market & the Grand Bazaar:

And finally, I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of the many stray cats of Istanbul:

 

 

Sustainability in Hamburg

Over the weekend, my sustainability program along with our professors ventured to Hamburg in order to observe and learn from their practices in sustainability. Hamburg is a beautiful port city that has lots of industry and has faced major flooding in the past. So, a lot of their new development revolves around how to deal with these issues. For example, our first stop took us to the floating workspace of IBA_Hamburg, whose goal is to revitalize the Wilhelmsburg neighborhood of Hamburg in a socially and environmentally sustainable way. Wilhelmsburg is an island between Hamburg’s two largest rivers. A major flood in the 1960s completely wiped out the area, and after that people moved away in hordes. In the 1980’s, it was discovered that petrochemicals from the local industry had polluted the groundwater. Now that flood protection measures have been greatly improved and the groundwater is clean, IBA_Hamburg is trying to bring people back.

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The IBA dock is a study of how people could living in floating communities

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Our next stop in Wilhelmsburg was Energieberg, an old toxic waste dump that’s now been converted into a energy-harnessing hill. The trash dump had been severely polluted by industry and chemical companies, eventually polluting the groundwater. It had to be completely sealed by a giant “umbrella” so that rainwater will no longer pick up chemicals. The methane from the decomposing trash is harnessed for power, in addition to two wind turbines on top of the hill.

Next, we visited an experimental subsidized housing campus. All of the buildings here receive partial funding by the government and are exceptionally unique, environmentally friendly, and “smart”. Among them is the BIQ Algae House, which one of our professors worked helped design. The facade of the house consists of “bio-reactor” panels which contain algae that harness the energy of the sun to heat the building.

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The BIQ house
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The bio-reactor panels up close

For dinner on Friday, we went to a small local restaurant that historically fed the dock workers. The interesting thing about the restaurant is that the building is tilted at an angle because since the water level is so high, it’s sinking. Just sitting in it was a little dizzying. I was adventurous and tried the local specialty, raw herring.

The next day, we went to HafenCity, an urban development project that is turing an old dock area into a revitalized neighborhood with housing and commercial spaces. Since 2000, the area has seen constant construction, making it Europe’s largest inner-city development project. All of the buildings have to adhere to an extremely high standards for energy efficiency and environmental impact. The beautiful new apartments and waterfronts of HafenCity have made it an extremely desirable place to live.

I thought Hamburg was a beautiful city and can see why the questions of “which is better: Berlin or Hamburg?” is the great debate of northern Germany. (But it’s obviously Berlin)

Weekend Reflections

Over the weekend, some friends and I ventured to Copenhagen (on an easy 40 min flight). I absolutely loved the city. We had a great weekend walking along the waterfront and taking in the sea air, exploring a few museums, and of course trying out the local food (lots of seafood!). Copenhagen is the biggest biking city in the entire world (they bike EVERYWHERE, and any time of year), so we of course had to rent bikes one day to get around like a local.

On our way back to Berlin, we realized that while Copenhagen was an absolutely amazing place to visit (I’d highly recommend it), we’re so glad to have chosen Berlin to spend a semester in. Besides the fact that Berlin is probably two to three times cheaper than Copenhagen, we’ve become accustom to the international, diverse feel of the city. We’ve embraced the alternative style, the endless graffiti. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll turn to a phrase I’ve heard more than a few times so far, coined by the previous mayor of Berlin. He called the city “poor, but sexy.” He’s definitely not wrong.

Here’s a few pictures that I took while in Copenhagen:

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These are a few of my favorite things

Every time I step foot out of my dorm onto the streets of Berlin, I can’t help but think about how I’ve fallen completely in love with the city, especially Kreuzberg (the neighborhood I live in). Today was warm (for Feb. 2 in Berlin) and sunny, so a friend and I took the opportunity to walk to a nearby park and around the neighborhood. Viktoriapark is home to a hill, the top of which is actually the highest point in Berlin (it’s an extremely city flat). At the top of the hill is an old memorial from 1821. I just learned yesterday that Kreuzberg, which translates to “cross hill” gets it’s name from a cross at the top of the monument.

So why do I love the city so much? It’s difficult to pin down all the reasons or the intricacies of the culture. But, I have a few things I love that I can definitely share with you all!

  1. The public transportation. Seriously, it’s not glamorous but the train system here is crazy efficient. There’s an U-Bahn (subway) stop less than half a block from my dorm, and a train comes every few minutes. The extensive train network means that I can easily get anywhere in this huge city in no time, which makes sightseeing just so easy!
  2. The markets. There is an permanent market hall just blocks from here with a ton of amazing stands: fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, dried fruit, ice cream. The list goes on. It also has a ton of great options for lunch! And there’s a Turkish market twice a week just two U-Bahn stops away which offers an amazing variety of food (and crafts) for really cheap. My friend Gabi and I just discovered it this week during lunch time and I think we will be going back regularly in order to try all of amazing Turkish foods they have! There’s a bunch of other markets throughout Berlin so I’m sure I’ll continue to discover them.
  3. Sticking with the topic of food, my stomach is having a field day (every day). There is a bakery on every single block around here, and their pastries just can’t compare to anything I’ve ever had back at home. Street food is also really popular here, and it’s all so yummy and cheap. I regularly get meals sizable for 2.50 Euros or less. A turkish kebab or döner is a must try in Kreuzberg (I’ll have to include a picture in my next post).
  4. Dogs! They don’t have strict leash laws here and the dogs are all so well behaved that they’re always just walking alongside their owner on the streets and in the parks. They take their dogs everywhere including restaurants and the U-Bahn. I’m hitting my quota of insanely cute dogs and I just love it. On that same note, we’ve decided that there’s nothing cuter than a German baby decked out from head to toes in winter clothes.
  5. The local shops. Target’s are not the norm here. Most stores are small and specialized, which at first I was skeptical about because being a busy college student I really the time that’s saved by shopping in one central location. But, I’ve come to understand the charm of a small local store. It’s so much more personalized and once you get used to it and figure out where you need to go to get what, it really doesn’t take much time.
  6. The grafitti. It’s everywhere in Kreuzberg, it’s beautiful, and most of it’s allowed to stay. Most of it is beautiful and really brings color to the cloudy days. It’s art.
  7. The history of Berlin, and Germany. I’m probably the opposite of a history buff but Berlin’s history is so rich and deep that it entrances me. You could study Berlin’s history for an entire lifetime. I’m thankful to be learning so much about topics I didn’t know enough about, like the factors contributing to World War II and the Cold War. Last weekend, my entire program went to a small city called Weimar for a night. It was at the center of the German Enlightenment and the founding location of the Weimar Republic. We also visited a concentration camp, Buchenwald, during our time there. It was a tough experience but an important one. Germany has accepted the bad parts of their history and are truly making sure that all future generations learn from it. I think that in the U.S., we tend to glorify the good parts of our history and ignore the bad parts. And that’s completely understandable, but I’m not sure it’s for the best.

It’s been a while since I last posted (sorry), so I have a good amount of pictures to share with you. Here’s some that I’ve taken just walking around Kreuzberg. On the bottom right is the permanent market near me:

Here’s a bunch from a visit to the Berlin Wall (click to enlarge):

Here’s pictures from our trip to Weimar. It was a beautiful traditional German town. Besides the facts I already mentioned, it is also home to the Bauhaus architecture school and museum which had a profound impact on modern architecture. It was also home to Geothe, a famous German writer:

This weekend I’ll be traveling to Copenhagen, which I’m really looking forward too. Until next time!