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.

IMG_0221  IMG_0227  IMG_0234

*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.”

Rørosmartnan

This past week proved to be incredibly relaxing because school was out. My upper secondary school was off for winter break so I had the entire week to myself. Since I had just gone to Sami Week up in Tromsø, I thought that my next adventure should be a bit closer to home. Luckily Røros is only a 2.5 hour train ride away from me, and it just so happens that their annual winter market, Rørosmartnan, was going on during my winter break.

Rørosmartnan has been taking place since 1644, and it began as a way for hunters to trade their products with the local miners in exchange for supplies. Due to a royal decree issued in 1853, Rørosmartnan is now held for five days starting every penultimate Tuesday of February. It attracts around 75,000 people every year (keep in mind that the population of Norway is just over 5 million so this is quite substantial), and consists of street markets, live entertainment, and cultural programs.*

The first time I went to Røros was in October on a day trip with Alix. Unfortunately, Alix wasn’t able to make this trip down to Røros, but I was accompanied by two other friends, Nicole and Juliana.

Now I generally have a soft spot for the Norwegian train system. Coming from California and its near nonexistent train system, pretty much any functional train system is an upgrade. The trains in Norway are generally pretty good in that they are clean, large, and have wifi. My one quibble with the more regional trains is that they don’t announce stops. This means that I’ve generally been dependent on asking my neighboring Norwegians if I have arrived at my destination (which has been an entirely effective strategy). Luckily, since I had already gone to Røros, I pretty much remembered where the stop was. To make things even better, pretty much everyone on the train was getting off at Røros. While the three of us had decided to make a day trip out of Røros, there were a good number of people on the train who had suitcases and looked as if they intended to stay for several days.

The market itself was excellent. Røros is a fairly small town, but its two main streets, and even a few side streets, were overflowing with people and stalls. Considering that Tromsø’s winter market consisted of only three stalls, I was excited to see how much was on offer in Røros.

IMG_9234  IMG_9235  IMG_9236IMG_9238  IMG_9245  IMG_9344IMG_9248  IMG_9253  IMG_9266IMG_9262  IMG_9264  IMG_9247As you can see from the pictures, there was lots variety when it came to the different products for sale. I was also very pleased to see that Elmo and Winnie the Pooh seem to be fairly universal.

There was also quite a bit of diversity in dress, as shown with the huge fur winter coats. Additionally, a number of Sami attend Rørosmartnan, and there were a number of traditional Sami crafts on sale, such as the leather bracelets shown above. I walked away with a number of products, but the thing I was most proud of purchasing was a Norwegian sweater! Being short means that I am occasionally able to buy a children’s size, and I managed to leave with a lovely children’s sweater for just 200 NOK (26 USD). Considering that most nice non-itchy Norwegian sweaters sell for upwards of 1,500 NOK (197 USD), I was really satisfied with my purchase.

After wandering around some of the stalls, Nicole, Juliana, and I walked around the rest of town. Now you may remember from my previous October post that Røros in one of Norway’s coldest towns, and in 2010 temperatures were recorded as going below -44°C (-47.2°F), so I was hardly surprised to see huge mounds of snow, even though most of the snow and ice has disappeared from Trondheim. One thing that we did appreciate about the market was that there were plenty of outdoor and indoor areas where you could sit and have warm food and a hot beverage.

IMG_9276  IMG_9278  IMG_9283IMG_9270  IMG_9285  IMG_9293IMG_9296  IMG_9297  IMG_9298IMG_9301  IMG_9306  IMG_9326Unfortunately, the slag heaps were really icy so we didn’t get to climb up the bigger ones, but we still managed to get quite a nice view of the city. From there, we went to the local church to catch the beginning of the sunset, and we eventually situated ourselves at one of the local eating joints to have some hot tea and listen to live music before catching the train home.

All in all this was probably one of my favorite trips in Norway.

IMG_9356  IMG_9353  IMG_9363*Since moving to Norway I’ve noticed that I’ve become incredibly averse to crowds. The number of people at Røros probably wouldn’t have bothered me when I just moved to Norway, but having lived here for over six months, I found the number of people at the fair suffocating. To make matters worse, Norwegians are unaccustomed to crowds, which means that they are bad when it comes to things like moving out of the way and (accidentally) hitting people with their elbows, backpacks, purses, shopping purchases, skis, etc.