Berlin Wrap Up

As always, here are my tips for Berlin:

  1. Berlin is a very large city so things can be quite far apart. That being said, I would still recommend walking around. There is a lot of really wonderful street art, and it’s a beautiful city in the sunshine.
  2. As in all of Germany, Google Maps is a godsend and works perfectly with the public transportation system.
  3. Buy and validate a transportation card. Berlin is the only city where I’ve had my ticket checked multiple times. The fine for riding without a pass is €40. You validate your pass on the platform in a red box.
  4. Invest in a Museum Pass. For €12 you get 3 day access to all of Berlin’s main museums.
  5. I bought a Berlin Pass (combination of a transportation card + discount card) and found that I was consistently getting better discounts with my student ID. I would say that you’re probably better off buying a transportation card and a Museum Pass (instead of a Berlin Pass) if you’re a student.
  6. Buying a SIM card is easy and affordable. I went to a Saturn Electronics store with my ID and was able to purchase a SIM with 250 MB of data for €5.
  7. If you’re going in winter you’d probably do well to pack an umbrella.
  8. Don’t jaywalk. It’s highly frowned upon in Germany and I’ve even been told that if you jaywalk next to a family it’s not uncommon to be yelled at for setting a bad example. Apparently there are even pedestrian signs that read “Think of the children.”
  9. For me the permanent must sees were: the Neues Museum (even if it’s just to see the building itself), Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten (see the nearby Holocaust Memorial and the memorials to the murdered Gypsies and homosexuals),  Reichstag dome (you can book a more extensive tour online provided you book in advance, but you can also get tickets at the Reichstag. If you decide to buy at the Reichstag I would recommend going early in the morning to avoid a line), Pergamon Museum, Piano Salon Christophori, East Side Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie (mostly because it’s just one of those things that you have to do), Topography of TerrorSchloss Charlottenburg (more for the grounds than for the palace itself), and Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)
  10. The temporary must sees were: Mario Testino exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie
  11. Places to eat: Balli Döner for döner and Monsieur Vuong for Vietnamese food (there was always a wait when I went)
  12. Keep in mind that Berlin is basically two cities in one, so there is plenty to do. Even though I was in the city for about a week I still didn’t see everything that I wanted to.

Remaining Berlin Sites

The day before was technically the last day of the conference, so today was the day that most people went home. Iman and I on the other hand managed to squeeze in an extra day or two, and I thought I’d put down the rest of my Berlin adventures in one post. So, here’s the docket:

The Neues Museum

I know that I already covered the museum, but I actually went back a second time with Iman and Jenny Bruna. We weren’t there for long since we were really only stopping by to see the bust of Nefertiti, but I thought I’d add a few more pictures to the blog. The golden hat is unimaginatively called the Berlin Gold Hat. It’s only one of four golden hats that have been found from Europe’s Bronze Age, and apparently it might has also served as a type of calendar.

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Schloss Charlottenburg

Although Schloss Charlottenburg is a bit out of the way, it was definitely a fun trip to make. Schloss Charlottenburg is a baroque palace inspired by Versailles and one of the few Prussian palaces in Berlin. It was originally built by King Friedrich I for his queen Sophie-Charlotte (whom the palace is named after). The palace was originally a small summer retreat called Lietzenburg but was expanded under King Friedrich I and other royals.

Because I arrived towards closing time, I only bought a ticket to the Altes Schloss, the oldest part of the palace. While the Altes Schloss did have some impressive rooms and a nice ceramics collection, it was shockingly plain. I was confused as to why the interior wasn’t a bit more grand, but I soon learned that the palace had been heavily damaged in World War II. Rebuilding the palace became more of a priority after the East German government destroyed the only other Hohenzollern palace in 1951. Overall, I would give the Altes Schloss a pass, but the trip was not a total waste since I really enjoyed walking around the very extensive and beautiful grounds.

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Turkish Market

The Turkish market appears every Tuesday and Friday in Kreuzberg and is filled with a variety of stalls. People sell things ranging from food to fabric, and although I wasn’t really looking for anything other than a quick snack, it was fun to walk around on a sunny day and get a small taste of local Berlin.

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Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)

The Palace of Tears is a former border crossing station at Friedrichstaße. The checkpoint was opened in 1962 and served as a gateway into West Berlin. Since this was often the place where East Berliners were parted from their family and friends, it saw more than its fair share of tears (hence the nickname).

The checkpoint was established in 1962, but by 1961 2.8 million people had escaped the GDR, with several thousand fleeing every day. The GDR had heavily fortified the border between East and West Germany, but until the Berlin Wall was erected it was fairly easy for people to slip across to West Berlin on the S-Bahn and underground. The Palace of Tears eventually became one of the main stopping points between the two Berlins.

Although the Palace of Tears had some overlap with the DDR Museum in terms of content, I would say that the Palace of Tears was a much better museum. The content addressed conditions in both East and West Germany and was much more well organized. Here are a few of the things that I found interesting:

  • There was an ongoing propaganda war between the SED and West Germans. The SED would try and justify its politics and send “propaganda bombs” to West Germany. At the same time, West Germans would try and educate SED soldiers, the National People’s Army (NVA), in a similar manner.
  • Visitors to East Germany would have to exchange D-Marks into GDR Marks at a 1:1 rate on entry. This was problematic since it was not an accurate exchange rate. GDR Marks were worth much less than the D-Marks; however, a minimum amount had to be converted upon entry. This minimum increased over time since it generated a lot of Western currency, which the GDR need to pay for its Western imports.
  • After 1964, the SED allowed senior citizens to visit relatives in West Germany regularly. This made these pensioners an important connection to the West as well as a good source of rare consumer goods that were smuggled back from West Germany.
  • School trips into the GDR were welcomed starting in the 1970s, and teachers often took advantage of this to better educate their students on the GDR.

Overall I really enjoyed my time at the museum and would recommend it.

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Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery)

I went to the Gemäldegalerie since I had heard that it was one of the best museums in the Kulturforum. The Kulturforum was West Berlin’s version of Museum Island, and likewise has a great collection of museums and cultural buildings, such as the Berliner Philharmonie. The Gemäldegalerie specializes in European art from the 13th – 18th centuries. Unfortunately this isn’t my favorite period of art, although I did enjoy a number of Rembrandts that they had on display. What really caught my eye was a Mario Testino exhibit that they had, called in In Your Face. Funnily enough, I had seen the exhibit two years before at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I had thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit in Boston, so I had no qualms over paying to see it again, especially since Testino is one of my photographers. I would highly recommend going to go see it if you’re in Berlin and like fashion photography.

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Conference Wrap Up

We took things a bit easier the next day. The morning session of the conference consisted of making an informative video for future ETAs. If you’re an incoming ETA, keep your eyes peeled for a video!

Other than that, Abby and I continued to check out more of Berlin’s well known sites. The first on our list was the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall. We mostly spent our time walking around the Wall and admiring the graffiti and nearby street art. To my great surprise, none of the graffiti on the Wall is original. After the fall of the Wall, artists were commissioned to paint over the graffiti, although many of them decided to stick with various Cold War themes. One of the most well known pieces that we saw was My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, or the Fraternal Kiss. To give a bit more context to the kiss, I’ll go ahead and quote from the DDR Museum, “The Socialist ‘brother’s kiss’ was designed to show onlookers: our relationship is closer than that between capitalist countries. And it is not about who profits, it’s based on humanity, love and peace! This was just as dishonest as the rest of the talk about brotherhood. The Eastern bloc was held together by force–and everybody knew it.”

IMG_0646  IMG_0617  IMG_0644IMG_0621  IMG_0620  IMG_0623IMG_0624  IMG_0626  IMG_0625IMG_0627  IMG_0628  IMG_0629IMG_0631  IMG_0632  IMG_0636IMG_0666  IMG_0657  IMG_0654Once we were done with the East Side Gallery, we walked through Kreuzberg in order to get to Checkpoint Charlie. I have to say that Checkpoint Charlie was perhaps the most touristy place that I saw in Berlin. There wasn’t much to do there per se other than take the obligatory picture of the checkpoint and warning signs. Abby and I had been warned that the Mauermuseum, a nearby Cold War museum, was poorly organized so we decided to give it a pass.

IMG_0669  IMG_0675  IMG_0676IMG_0677  IMG_0681  IMG_0682Once we were done taking our pictures, we walked to the nearby Topographie Des Terrors, or Topography of Terror. The museum initially seems quite small. It is located on the site of the former offices of the Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS) central command. The original building is no longer standing, but you can still poke around some of the foundations. The museum itself only takes up about a tenth of the space that the original building did (it is nestled in the middle of the old building’s foundations).

IMG_0684                                        IMG_0688Although the building was small, it was full of information. Abby and I spent a solid two hours there and didn’t even finish everything. What we did learn was fascinating. The museum documents things starting before Hitler’s rise to power and continues until after World War II. There were a number of things in the museum that surprised me. For example, I had no idea how much social shaming there was for people who didn’t support National Socialist policies or didn’t display enough patriotism. The stats on Hitler’s government were also fascinating. It’s easy to forget how poorly Germany was doing after World War I and how much Hitler really managed to turn around the economy. In other words, Hitler gave people a lot of reasons to turn a blind eye to his more questionable policies and the concentration camps:

  • The number of salaried workers went from 11.5 million in 1932 to over 19 million in 1938.
  • The income of workers, salaried employees, and civil servants increased dramatically. In 1932, it was 26 billion Reichsmarks, and in 1937 it was 39.5 billion Reichsmarks.
  • New homes were constructed. The number of new homes went from 159,000 in 1932 to 340,000 in 1937.
  • The number of marriages increased, as did the number of marriage loans. The government paid out over half a billion Reichsmarks for 878,000 loans from 1933-1937. The number of marriages went from 500,000 in 1932 to 620,000 in 1937.
  • Child allowances were introduced and covered 2 million children in 1938. The birth rate increased and went from 970,000 births in 1932 to 1,270,000 in 1937.
  • Hitler even encouraged vacations through his “Strength through Joy” program, encouraging 22.5 million people to take a holiday.

Having mostly learned about the terrible consequences of the Nazi regime, it was interesting to see what economic benefits came with it. It made a bit more sense to see in hard numbers why so many people would have a stake in the government, and why so many would have supported it.

While the exhibit mostly focused on Germany and Berlin, the end of the exhibit did expand to talk a bit more about how Hitler’s policies affected other countries. Overall it was wonderful museum, although the content was quite heavy. It was nice to step into the sunshine after our two hours there.

Afterwards, we snagged a quick lunch before returning to the conference for the concluding project presentations. The Norwegian group was happy to cheer on one of our own in the first panel. Alyssa did a great presentation on her work at the Munch Museum and did us all proud. Overall, the presentations were really interesting and covered a topics ranging from ancient maps to Legionnaires disease.*

After the panels concluded, we were treated to some snacks and coffee. Today was the last full day of the conference and Abby’s last day in Berlin. Because we had some time before dinner, Abby and I decided to take a late afternoon stroll. We didn’t do too much, but we did wander by Bebelplatz and check out Michael Ullmann’s Empty Library. The installation is to commemorate the public book burning that happened there in 1933, and library’s empty shelves serve as a reminder of how many books were burned. From there we continued to walk past Brandenburg Gate before finally ending in Potsdamer Platz.

IMG_0690  IMG_0691  IMG_0695IMG_0696  IMG_0697  IMG_0699IMG_0700  IMG_0701  IMG_0702But just as we were planning on heading back for dinner, we were invited to meet up with a few other Fulbrighters at Pratergarten, Berlin’s oldest beer garden. Because it was the last day of the conference, it was nice to just relax and have a good conversation with some very smart people. Since most of us were from Nordic countries, we were also able to bemoan the fact that we were missing out on what was apparently the Northern Lights show of the decade. But we weren’t sad for long. Good company, cheap food, and cheap drink go a long way.

IMG_2969  IMG_2967  IMG_2972*The Legionnaires disease presentation managed to scare everyone since water heaters are apparently a good environment for the disease to grow. The moral of the story is to regularly up the heat of your water heater (to kill off the bacteria) or to be suspicious of steamy showers.

Berlin in a Whirlwind

One of the best and worst things about being a teacher is your ability to wake up early. I’ve regularly gotten up at 6 am in order to get to school early; however, I was largely hoping to sleep in for most of the conference. It was not to be. On the third day of the conference, Abby and I agreed to a 7am breakfast in order to try and get 8 am tickets to the dome of the Reichstag. Unfortunately, the 8 am time slot was already filled, but we were able to get tickets for later on in the day.

IMG_0391  IMG_0393  IMG_0395Undeterred, we set our feet in another direction. When we walked to Brandenburg Gate two nights before, one of the Fulbrighters had taken us to the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered Under the National Socialist Regime (Germans are not fans of short memorial names). The memorial happens to be almost next door to the Reichstag, so Abby and I thought we’d stop by and see the memorial during the day.

The memorial is located in the Tiergarten and is actually quite calming. It was designed by Dani Karavan and is supposed to be deprived of everything except tears, which are represented by the fountain in the middle of the memorial. The stone in the center of the fountains has new flowers placed on it each day and the stone rises and sinks over the course of the day, deliberately concealing and revealing the flowers. According to the information pamphlet, this is supposed to serve as a way to remember the tragedy anew each day. There is also recorded Sinti music playing in the background, which only adds to the ambience of the memorial.

IMG_0396  IMG_0398  IMG_0400IMG_0402  IMG_0405  IMG_0409Once we were done, we headed past Brandenburg Gate, to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial was officially dedicated in 2005, and is perhaps better known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was built by Peter Eisenman and is made of 2,711 concrete slabs. From a distance, the memorial doesn’t seem very tall, but the street actually dips down and begins to undulate, making you feel slightly off kilter when you walk through it. While it might seem a bit impersonal, it is certainly powerful. It grows more and more disorienting the longer you stay in it.

IMG_0411  IMG_0414  IMG_0416IMG_0422  IMG_0424  IMG_0427From there, we took a short walk through the gorgeous Tiergarten and appreciated the early morning sights and sounds. After a bit of a wander we stopped by our last World War II memorial, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the Nazi Regime. The memorial is very nondescript. It was designed by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset and when you look into one end of the cube you’re able to see a looped video of a gay couple kissing.

IMG_0429  IMG_0438  IMG_0431IMG_0439  IMG_0444  IMG_0449Although our memorial tour made for a sobering morning, it was interesting to see how the Germans have grappled with and taken ownership of their history. While the memorials to the gay community and the Gypsies were not nearly as grand as the Holocaust memorial, it was still nice to see these other persecuted groups recognized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city.

But, because Abby and I were on a bit of a tight schedule, we didn’t dally too long in the park. We rushed past Brandenburg Gate in the hopes that if we were quick enough we would have some time to go do the Berlin Cathedral before the start of the day’s conference events.

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Luckily the two of us are quite accomplished power walkers. We made it to the Cathedral with 30 minutes to spare before the day’s first event. Now before Abby and I rushed in, we had to stop and laugh at the door. The two of us are both around 5’3” (160 cm) and the door handle to the church came up to about our eye level. Now I like to think that we would’ve been considered tall back when the church was completed in 1905, so I find the height of the door handle a bit surprising, but oh well. The door didn’t stop us for long.

After we purchased our tickets, we took a quick walk around the center of the church before rushing up stairs to the dome. Although we were in a hurry, we did manage to slow down and appreciate the view from the top of the cathedral. It was a pretty neat sight, especially since this was our first sunny day in the city.

IMG_0476  IMG_0482  IMG_0480IMG_0486  IMG_0490  IMG_0492IMG_0493  IMG_0496  IMG_0497But time was ticking and we had to tear ourselves away so that we could make it to that morning’s first panel. Still, we were still pretty happy to get so much in in just two hours.

Our first event of the day was at Rotes Rathaus, or Berlin City Hall. It is currently the home of Berlin’s Senate and mayor, though historically it used to be the town hall of East Berlin. The first thing on that morning’s agenda was a “European Dimensions Panel,” where people residing in more out of the way countries got a chance to present. The countries represented were Andorra, Bulgaria, Finland, Turkey, and Spain. The presentations really ranged in their content, but it was generally interesting to hear from each representative. If anything, it convinced me that I should explore Andorra at some point.

I will also say that the arbitrator stumbled a bit since he habitually called Sweden, Denmark, and Finland Scandinavian countries. This left the Norwegian crowd a bit confused as to when we had been dropped from Scandinavia and the Finns a bit confused as to when they had been added. For the record, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway comprise Scandinavia, while Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland make up the Nordic countries. But overall, things went quite well for this set of presentations.

After that, there was a short coffee break before we heard a welcome speech by Mark Rackles, the State Secretary for Education. Rackles oversees the Berlin education system in particular, and allowed time for questions at the end. Unfortunately for Rackles, he was largely overrun with questions that were a bit beyond the scope of the Berlin education system. For example, he was asked to provide information on Berlin’s Olympic bid and when the new airport might finally be finished.

But all’s well that ends well. Before too long the questions ended, and Abby and I were off to make our appointment for the Reichstag dome. This ended up being my favorite stop of the day. We had to get there slightly ahead of our 1:30 appointment for security purposes, but once we cleared security we were taken into the building and whisked up to the top floor in an elevator. Once we stepped out we were given an audioguide and told that we could walk around the dome.

Now I’m generally not a huge fan of audioguides. I’m often just too impatient to wait and listen to all that is recorded. To my surprise, the audioguide was excellent. There was no need to press any buttons, and the audioguide started once you began your walk up the dome. The guide also managed to monitor your walk, and if you happened to travel past whatever the audioguide was talking about, it smoothly transitioned into the next track, allowing it to consistently give you relevant information.

IMG_0512  IMG_0513  IMG_0514IMG_0523  IMG_0517  IMG_0519IMG_0535  IMG_0529  IMG_0538As for the building, here are some of the more important events that were mentioned in the audioguide:

  • In 1894, the Reichstag was completed under Paul Wallot.
  • In 1918, Philipp Scheidemann declared Germany a republic from the Reichstag.
  • In 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire shortly after Hitler came to power. The search for the arsonists was used as a way to end parliamentary democracy and begin the persecution of political opponents.
  • In 1945, the Soviet flag was flown over the building to demonstrate victory over National Socialist Germany.
  • In 1961, the building was restored, although it was later reconstructed by Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1995, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the building in fabric. The building’s unveiling marked the start of the building’s reconstruction under Sir Norman Foster.
  • In 1999, Sir Norman Foster presented the President of the Bundestag with a symbolic key to the building and the Bundestag moved in.

After walking up and down the dome, Abby and I took some time to enjoy the view before heading out for some chocolate.

IMG_0527  IMG_0532  IMG_0544IMG_0548  IMG_0560  IMG_0545IMG_0565  IMG_0563  IMG_0570IMG_0571  IMG_0572  IMG_0573That’s right, our next stop was a chocolate store, but not just any chocolate store. We went to the Ritter Sport store. Not only did it provide us with excellent chocolate, but had we chosen to stick around, we could have purchased our own customized chocolate. Unfortunately it takes 3o minutes to create and process your own chocolate, so Abby and I decided to give it a pass. We did not leave empty handed though, and we were able to snack away on our walk to the Pergamon Museum.

IMG_0580  IMG_0581  IMG_0583Now you if take a look at the picture above, you can see a few cranes. That’s because the Pergamon is currently undergoing renovations. But the museum was still open! Lucky for us, there are still about two floors of the museum that are accessible to the public.

I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect of the Pergamon, but boy was I blown away. The Pergamon has a number of famous antiquities, notably the Pergamon Altar, Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Mshatta Facade, and these things combine to help make the Pergamon the most visited museum in all of Germany.

I knew none of this going in, so I was pretty stunned when the first thing that I saw was the Ishtar Gate. Unfortunately it was too large for me to capture on my camera, but you get the idea.

IMG_0584  IMG_0587  IMG_0588The gate itself is only a small part of what the original would have looked like. The gate was originally part of Babylon’s northern city wall and was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. The animals that decorate the gate are bulls and “dragons.”

Right through the gate is the Market Gate of Miletus. It’s a spectacular recreation of a Roman trading town in what is now Turkey.

IMG_0589  IMG_0591  IMG_0590Now I thought that we had actually reached the end of the museum at this point. Due to the reconstruction work, we had entered the museum back to front. Normally you would enter through the Market Gate of Miletus, and then pass through the Ishtar Gate. Abby and I quickly figured things out and did a U-turn. It was only then that we noticed the Processional Way. It was hard not to be blown away at this huge Babylonian walkway. I admit, if I had been an ancient invader, I would have been thoroughly intimidated by the wealth on display.

IMG_0597  IMG_0601  IMG_0598The remaining sections on the ground floor were also impressive. Thanks to Jenny Bionda, Abby and I were told that if we kept our eyes peeled we’d be able to see replicas of some of the artwork that ISIS has been destroying in Iraq (see below). Unfortunately, while much of what was on the ground floor was impressive, there were definitely a number of pieces that were replicas, including the Iraqi pieces below.

IMG_2912  IMG_2910  IMG_2913Once we finished with the ground floor, we moved up to the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the Museum of Islamic Art. There was a wonderful array of Islamic art with plenty of paintings, carpets, and ceramics, on display. The most impressive thing however was probably the facade of the caliph’s palace of Mshatta. The facade was made in the 8th century and was originally located in Jordan. Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II gave the facade to Kaiser Wilhelm II as a gift after the king expressed interest in the palace. Family and friends take note, your gift giving could be improved.

Another impressive room in the museum was the Aleppo Room, a reception room of a 17th century Christian merchant. The wood paneling and the design work was absolutely fabulous.

If you haven’t noticed yet, the Pergamon has a large number of magnificent reconstructions.

IMG_2925IMG_2917  IMG_2921  IMG_2924IMG_2916Now you might think that Abby and I would have called it a day at this point, you would be wrong. We actually powered through to another museum. Yes, our feet were dying at this point. But that didn’t deter us! Our next stop was the nearby DDR Museum, a museum that focuses on the GDR and life for East Germans.

The first thing I noticed about the DDR Museum was that it was crowded. Remember, even though I live in Norway’s third largest city, its population is only around 172,000 people. I have now become completely inadequate at handling large numbers of people.

The museum is also clearly designed for families, and is thus highly interactive. Maybe too interactive. The museum had a lot of really interesting information, but unfortunately it was unclear how you were supposed to walk around the museum and you often had to open up special compartments and drawers in order to read any of the information plaques. In short, it felt a bit disorganized. I did learn quite a bit however, and here are a few of the facts that I found most interesting:

  • A nudist movement developed in East Germany despite the displeasure of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Even though the Germans were repeatedly asked to “spare the eyes of the nation,” the trend continued until about 80% of Germans swam naked. Lucky for them, only about 10% of the population was uncomfortable with such blatant nudity. According the the museum, this trend came out of a desire to do something forbidden, not a desire for sexual liberation.
  • The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was in dire economic straits due to the way that they organized their economy.  The GDR was forced to import raw materials and often didn’t have the necessary cash to pay for them. In order to generate the money to pay for these materials, it was forced to sell basically whatever it could lay its hands on–including the cobblestones! To make matters worse, Western countries wouldn’t buy East German products, and everything that could be sold was sold at the cheapest possible price. Because of this trade imbalance, it was often difficult to buy things in East Germany, creating a huge black market.
  • Because the SED marginalized the church, it became a political rallying point, eventually attracting thousands of people in the 1980s and helping launch peaceful revolution.
  • Interestingly enough, the GDR has a claim to fame since it was technically the greenest state in the world. Provisions for the environment were written into the constitution in 1968, although in reality the government was far from green.
  • Although I didn’t learn this fact at the museum, I thought this would be an appropriate place to put it. The traffic man, or pedestrian crossing signal in Berlin, more fondly known as ampelmännchen, was actually from East Germany. It attained a sort of cult status and is one of the few things that survived from East Germany.

IMG_0749                                                                                                   IMG_0751After that, Abby and I finally made our back to the hotel for dinner. However, we weren’t there for long. Thanks to a recommendation from Alix, our Norwegian Fulbright group had signed up for a classical concert at Piano Salon Christophori. Thankfully Alix warned us that it was in an old S-bahn station and a bit difficult to find. With her warning ringing in our ears, we didn’t get too discouraged when we had a few problems finding the appropriate door to the salon.

We weren’t allowed to take any pictures of the salon, but I would say that it would best be described as in artful disarray. There were old instruments haphazardly stacked around the salon, with a space cleared for seats and for the performers. Because we made a reservation beforehand, we had a row of seats reserved towards the front of the room, and were able to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the concert. It wasn’t the best concert that I’ve ever been to, but it was nice to just sit down and appreciate the music. To make things even better, drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, were provided and we all felt very Berliner. Once the concert was over, we made our donations (the concerts are all donation based) before heading back for an early night at the hotel. 

Workshops and More

The next day was largely devoted towards the conference. We started the day with a welcome message and then were quickly divided up into different workshops. Because people are involved in such different things, there was a broad range of workshops that we could sign up for. Here were the options that we had:

  • Immigration and Integration
  • Environmentalism/Environmental Consciousness
  • (Performing) Arts in Europe
  • Gender Issues
  • EU Education Systems
  • Relationship between U.S. and Europe
  • Media and the Challenges of Digital Media
  • Return of the Cold War- Era?
  • (Universal) Health Care
  • “Wild Card”/Joker- Group

I signed up for the “Gender Issues” workshop, and it was predictably dominated by women, though there were a few brave men who signed up. While the conversation was lively, I will say that we quickly ran into some structural problems. The first was that our group was simply a bit too large to have a really good discussion. The second was that it was dominated by German Fulbrighters and thus the conversation was largely German-centric (it’s hard to comment on the way gender is presented in the German language when you don’t know German). But, that being said, it was interesting to hear more about the ways in which gender is codified in certain countries. For example, those in Spain suffered from different problems than those in Scandinavia. The conversation ended up wandering from topic to topic, and before too long our time was up and we needed to relocate back to the main conference room. There we were able to hear more from each of the groups, and while many of them also talked about interesting things, talking to people one on one revealed that many of them ran into the same structural issues that our group had.

After that, there was a workshop for senior scholars, which meant that I essentially had the afternoon off. So it was with Abby, the Bergen ETA, and a few other people that I set off for lunch. But not just any lunch, we were in search for what was rumored to be some of the best döner in town. One of the German ETAs who was with us told us that we had to check out a place called Balli Döner near Tempelhof Airport. So off we went, and after a mishap or two on the S-bahn we eventually made it to Balli. It was delicious. Definitely the best döner that I’ve ever had (granted, my experience with döner isn’t that comprehensive).

Once we were pleasantly full, we continued to walk to Tempelhof Airport. Tempelhof is a bit of a legendary place. Not only was it featured in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, it was the site of the first Zeppelin landing in 1909, and where Lufthansa ran its first scheduled flights in 1926. The Nazis made it into a massive compound, and it was one of the world’s biggest and busiest airports during its heyday. It was even used for military parades.

After World War II, the airport became well known for the role that it played in the Berlin Airlift; however, the airport saw its last planes in 2008. Since then, the airport has largely been leased out and the surrounding airfield has been made into a park. Because the airfield is so huge, there is plenty to see and do and the field is peppered with things like a golf course, beer garden, abandoned airplanes, and urban gardens.

IMG_0368  IMG_0369  IMG_0371IMG_0375  IMG_0382  IMG_0385After Tempelhof, we took a short walk around Kreuzberg before heading back to the hotel for the official opening ceremony. The ceremony itself was held at the University of the Arts (UdK) and we were addressed by a number of US and German representatives, with the star speaker being Cem Öydemir, a member of the Green Party and representative in the German Parliament, or Bundestag. Many of the speakers talked about the power of the Fulbright program and the need to encourage and develop relationships between the US and Europe. Once the speeches were finished, a few of the current Fulbrighters performed a few musical pieces and a dance number. After that was complete, we got the chance to mix and mingle before making our way home.

Conference Beginnings

The first day of the conference was mostly devoted towards getting people registered and settled into their hotel rooms. Because of this, the schedule for the day was pretty open, although there were a number of city tours on offer. Iman and I signed up for a “Neighborhoods Tour,” but it didn’t start until 1:30 pm. Since the two of us had quite a bit of time to kill until the tour, we decided to spend the first half of the day walking around the nearby area.

We had originally decided to go to Museum Island to look at either the DDR Museum or the Berlin Cathedral, but because we weren’t in any particular hurry, we made sure to stop and appreciate the nearby sights. One of the biggest ones was the Fernsehturm, or TV Tower. Neither of us had any interest in going up, but we took our fair share of pictures. The TV Tower was an iconic landmark of East Berlin and was completed in 1969. To this day, the tower still dominates the Berlin skyline. The tower was originally supposed to demonstrate the strength of the GDR, and although it did demonstrate their engineering prowess, it also became a bit of a joke. The Fernsehturm was purposefully built near the Berlin Cathedral. The idea behind this was that it would demonstrate the triumph of the people and atheism over the church. When you first see these two buildings you might think that the GDR accomplished their goal; however, when the sun strikes the tower the antenna produces the reflection of a giant cross. This was later dubbed ‘the Pope’s revenge,’ and made the GDR a bit of a laughingstock.

We also paid a quick visit to Marienkirche, one of Berlin’s oldest churches. It was finished in the 13th century and you’re able to see some medieval frescos when you enter the church. The church wasn’t anything particularly special, but it was still nice to enter such an old building.

IMG_0240  IMG_0241  IMG_0251From there, we continued walking towards the Berlin Cathedral. Just outside the cathedral, we ran into two other Italian Fulbrighters, two Jenny’s from Naples. I soon learned that in Italy they distinguish themselves by calling themselves Blonde Jenny, or Jenny Bionda, and Brunette Jenny, or Jenny Bruna. It just so happens that Jenny Bionda is an archaeologist and was intent on going to the next door Altes Museum. Iman and I decided scrap our plans to go to the Cathedral and to tag along with the Jennys to the Altes.

The Altes Museum specializes in Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art, so it’s filled with ancient statues and ceramics. For me, this kind of art is a bit out of the ordinary, but hardly something new for the Italian Fulbrighters. In the words of Jenny Bruna, “we see Roman art in Italy, and when actually we leave Italy…we still go and see Roman art.” I’m not a huge Greco-Roman fan, but it was great to walk around the museum with Jenny Bionda and ask her questions about the various pieces that she was looking at.

IMG_0257  IMG_0260  IMG_0265IMG_0271  IMG_0273  IMG_0276Again, Greco-Roman art isn’t something that I’m particularly fond of, so I wasn’t too heartbroken when we had to leave the museum early to catch our tour. Iman and I had signed up to go on the “Neighborhoods Tour” since we were told that it would focus on showing us some of Berlin’s more diverse neighborhoods. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we boarded the bus we were told that our tour guide wasn’t going to be able to make it. Because we lacked a proper tour guide, the tour didn’t prove to be too informative, but it did pick up a bit when were arrived at the Şehitlik Mosque in Neukölln.

The mosque provided us with a proper tour guide who gave us an overview of the mosque’s history, the architecture of the mosque, and an overview of Islam. I’ve had the good fortune to have been to several mosques before to this, so I found most of the information old hat. That being said, the mosque was still beautiful, and I enjoyed learning a bit more about its history. The land that the mosque rests on is actually the property of the Turkish government, and was originally set aside to be used as a Muslim cemetery. We were told that traditionally Muslims should be buried in a Muslim cemetery, which presented the Germans with a bit of a conundrum in 1798 when no such cemetery existed and their Ottoman ambassador died. Because travel was much more time intensive in the eighteenth century, the King ended up allocating this particular plot of land to be a Muslim cemetery so that the ambassador could be buried properly instead of being shipped back to the Ottoman Empire. The land was eventually given to the Turkish government, and a number of prominent officials have been buried here. The mosque and cultural center were added to the property in later years.

IMG_0281  IMG_0284  IMG_0285After the mosque, we returned to the bus and made our way back to the hotel. Now because alcohol is prohibitively expensive in Norway, the seven Norwegian Fulbrighters who were able to make it to the conference decided that we should all get beers before dinner. Lucky for us, there was a beer garden, a Hofbräuhaus, right next door to our hotel. It was definitely the toned down version of the Hofbräuhaus that I went to in Munich, but it was perhaps more enjoyable because of it. While we all managed to relish the fact that beers were affordable, we were not quite prepared for how much our tolerance levels had gone down since we moved to Norway. One beer in and we were all pretty pleasantly buzzed.

After that, it was just a short walk back to the hotel for the welcome dinner. Again, because everything is so expensive in Norway our entire group took full advantage of the buffet and the open bar. The other Fulbrighters soon learned that the Norwegians would have a minimum of second helpings for every meal. But it turns out we weren’t alone! We quickly found some kindred spirits when we met a few of the other Nordic Fulbrighters, specifically people from Finland and Sweden. We all enjoyed bonding over how wonderfully cheap everything seems outside of the Nordic countries.

But all good things must come to an end, and in this case dinner ended at 8 pm. Luckily the hotel didn’t mind us lounging around in the lobby, allowing us plenty of time to mix and mingle. The result of this was a large group of us deciding to walk to Brandenburg gate (something we would later realize was about 1.75 miles away). But walk we did. The weather was wonderful and we ended up having a great time bonding and appreciating the landscape. Not a bad way to end the evening.

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Rainy Berlin

I had been warned by Alix that Berlin is a gloomy and rainy winter city, so I was hardly surprised to be greeted with clouds and stormy weather when I landed in Berlin. Thankfully, I had remembered to pack an umbrella so I didn’t get too wet on my way into Berlin. Getting to the city itself was also pretty easy. My previous trips to Germany meant that I knew Google Maps would work with the public transportation system, and sure enough it only took a few clicks on my smartphone to look up a fast and easy way into the city. Once I had that planned out, it was easy enough to buy a ticket and board the next train. My prior experience in Munich meant that I paid special attention to actually buying a ticket and validating it (there are red boxes for this along every platform), something that worked to my advantage since my ticket was checked on my way into the city.*

I had decided to arrive in Berlin a day before the conference (which started on a Sunday), and I spent most of my first day walking around and trying to familiarize myself a bit with the city. That being said, I did manage to accomplish two major things my first day. The first was getting a SIM card. Thanks to my college roommate, Julie, the one I stayed with in Munich, I was told that I could easily buy a SIM card at a Saturn electronics store. I dutifully made my way over to the nearest store and quickly realized that I couldn’t even begin to understand the phone advertising in front of me. Bowing to the inevitable, I asked a store representative for help (the first thing he did was kindly informed me that I had actually been looking at iPad SIM cards instead of phone SIM cards), and after getting a bit of help, I walked out of the store with a brand new German SIM card with 250 MB of data–not bad for €5.

After that, I spent most of my time wandering around. Alix had warned me that in Berlin graffiti does not necessarily denote crime, and I enjoyed having the time to myself to look around and appreciate both Berlin’s street art and its architecture.

IMG_0128  IMG_0134  IMG_0135Through my wanderings I really noticed that Berlin is a city with a remarkable relationship to the past. It is a place that is caught in inbetweens, for although it is clearly a modern bustling metropolis, it is also surrounded by monuments to the past. Some of the scars the past has left behind are more obvious, remnants of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, etc., while others are more subtle, the concrete buildings that pervade what used to be East Berlin. And while this was something that I picked up on more and more as I spent time in the city, the first time I really noticed this grappling with the past was on Museum Island, where most of Berlin’s most prominent museums are located.

Walking around Museum Island is stunning. The island itself is quite small, but the buildings on it are impressive. Many of them have undergone some sort of renovation since World War II, but you can still see the marks that World War II has left behind. There are plenty of chips in buildings’ facades and old bullet holes in the colonnade.

I particularly noticed this in the Neues Museum (pronounced Noy-es), or New Museum. The Neues was my second big triumph of the day. Now the Neues is a bit of a contradiction. Although it is called the “New” Museum, it was originally built between 1843 and 1855 and designed by August Stüler. The museum was severely damaged in World War II, and this resulted in it closing for 70 years. It was finally reopened in 2009 after undergoing a redesign by David Chipperfield. Like much of Berlin, the museum embraces parts of the old, while trying to integrate it with the new. The result is amazing.

IMG_0182  IMG_0179  IMG_0185IMG_0187  IMG_0190  IMG_0188IMG_0192  IMG_0204  IMG_0199While the Neues is well known for its Egyptian artifacts, I was much more blown away by the building itself. Chipperfield did a wonderful job redesigning the building and many of the rooms were purposefully designed so that they echoed ancient structures, for example some rooms would mimic the floor plan of an Egyptian temple. In my mind, the museum itself was its own work of art.

IMG_0147  IMG_0153  IMG_0155IMG_0157  IMG_0159  IMG_0160IMG_0165  IMG_0170  IMG_0175That being said, there were still a number of impressive things housed inside the museum. I admit that my favorite was the bust of Neferiti. It was amazing to see in person, and the attention to detail was stunning. One thing that surprised me was that the museum even had a replica of the bust that the blind could feel. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed, but feel free to check it out on Google Images.

Although the Neues is perhaps most well known for its collection of Egyptian artifacts, this is only a fraction of the museum’s entire collection. I enjoyed walking around their Greco-Roman collection, and actually found it a bit funny once I started to read the descriptions around the room. Many of the information plaques talked about Heinrich Schliemann, a German adventurer who discovered the original site of Troy. However, Schliemann got into trouble for illegally smuggling some of his findings out of Turkey. He was later fined by the Ottoman Empire and eventually paid triple the fine in order to legally own his smuggled goods. Unfortunately, many of these artifacts were later taken by the Soviet Union, something that the Germans have clearly not let go of due to the number of sentences in the museum like this “In 1945 the bulk of the Trojan treasures were taken as booty to the former Soviet Union, where most of them are held to this day in breach of international law.” A bit ironic considering how the treasures first found their way into Germany. But then again questions of proper ownership are always interesting in museums.

After that I went back to my hostel to meet up with Iman, my hostel roommate and an Italian Fulbrighter who I met when I was in Rome. Because Iman got in late, we didn’t really do much other than get dinner together. We ended up being seated with a group of five men at a seven person table. About 45 minutes into our dinner conversation the man next to me interrupted me and the following conversation happened:

Man: Excuse me I couldn’t help but overhearing, but do you live in Norway?
Me: Yes I do! I’m based up in Trondheim for the year.
Man: Oh wow, we’re all from Norway! From Ålesund.
Me: No way! I’m hoping to visit Ålesund later in the year.

Iman later told me that she was amazed that 1) it took them almost an hour to ask me if I lived in Norway 2) that I didn’t realize that they had been speaking Norwegian. To be honest, I was actually surprised that the men sitting with us had said anything at all. Norwegians are renowned for being a bit anti-social. It’s actually not uncommon for Norwegians to go out of their way to avoid people, so I was surprised that they even mentioned being from Norway.

As for not recognizing the language, Norwegian actually has a large number of cognates with German, so I simply assumed that they were speaking German.** Clearly I haven’t picked up a lot of Norwegian since moving to Norway.

But the day ended on a high note and Iman and I enjoyed a late nightcap at the hostel bar before calling it a night.

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*I was asked for my transportation ticket three times when I was in Berlin, so I would recommend getting and validating all transportation tickets when traveling around the city. That being said, the fine for being caught without one isn’t horrendous (€40), or at least not when compared to the ones you are subject to in Norway (~$150).

**My favorite language misstep happened with the word “ostbahn.” In Norwegian “ost” means cheese and I knew that “bahn” meant train. My gut translation was that “ostbahn” was the “cheese train” instead of the “east train.”