Sunday, October 31, 2010

essen Essen in Essen

Once again, back in Berlin, and it feels like home. If I could talk to myself about two months ago, when I arrived in this then foreign place, I never would have believed it, but I actually feel at ease when I find myself stepping off the train into the hustle and bustle of Germany's capital. Maybe I'm not a city girl, but I can say that I have found one city that will never feel lonely again.

I spent the weekend in Duisburg with Aila and Marieke, two of my family's former exchange students. They both live in the region of Germany known as Nordrhein-Westfallen, a pretty industrial and tightly packed area of Germany, but beautiful nonetheless. Aila took me to the Landschaft Park the first night I arrived, which is basically an old factory that they used to produce weapons in WWII and later used to rebuild Germany after the war. It sounds bland in the initial description, but I actually think it is one of the best things I have visited in Germany so far. The factory is lit up with green, blue, and red lights and has a slightly eery feeling--think Gotham City in Batman. You can climb all the way to the top and get a beautiful view of the city, which we did but not without a slight fear that someone might pop out from behind some of the old machinery at any given moment. We ran into a woman who was policing the area, making sure no one was out graffitiing the place, and she said she works every night 6 days a week, just policing the area. I can't imagine such a job, especially in such a spooky, lonely place.

On Friday, I went to Gymnasium with Aila, which was quite an interesting experience. Her first class was English, and her teacher kept asking me to explain different words when no one else in the class would. She spoke with an attempted proper British accent and had a very interesting way of explaining and using certain words. But hey, who am I to judge, my German is still a long way from being fluent. In fact, I still feel like I can't open my mouth without sounding like some sort of idiot.

After that, she had Religion class, which was an interesting and surprising concept for me. I guess the idea of separation of church and state is not so distinct here. Still, I learned a few interesting things about Martin Luther and was happy to discover that I could pretty much follow every that was said.

Following a long day of school (which in the middle of, I copped out and walked to the local mall to buy the next book in the Millennium Series--SO GOOD!-- and sit in Starbucks), we went out to club with Aila's friends. To my surprise, it was decorated with all of the tacky Halloween decorations imaginable and they played a multitude of American songs that I had never heard before, but every German around me seemed to know by heart. The one disappointing part was that no one dressed up. I guess I have to make an exception for Germany and let one, and only one, Halloween pass without dressing up and eating lots of candy.

On Saturday, I met some of Aila's extended family and ate these funny potato things called Knödeln, which are kind of like dumplings but in some way totally different. To be frank, I'm not really down with the traditional German cuisine. It's not like it isn't good, but a diet of potatoes and meat just really isn't my thing. Thankfully, they have more ethnic restaurants in Berlin than traditional German restaurants, so I'll never go hungry. We picked up Marieke in the afternoon and then explored Düsseldorf for a bit, walking along the river and having a round of Altbiers, which are particularly famous in the region.

And, on Sunday, the most exciting part of the whole weekend...We ate Essen in Essen! It was quite lecker too. I had this yummmmmmy poppyseed, chocolate, cream, deliciousness cake, that was tasty of course, as all German cake normally is. We also visited the Vila Hügel, which is a bit out of the city up on a hill. It belonged to the big industrial family of the area and is quite beautiful in its own right. I actually liked it a lot better than a lot of the palaces and castles I have seen here because the decor wasn't over the top gaudy, just enough to be beautiful and give an indication of the family wealth.

Now, sadly enough but in a way nice, I am back in Berlin where I belong, gearing up for another week of school. Hopefully, I can get myself a little more organized this week, instead of feeling like I'm going in five different directions at once like normal. That's the trouble with such a big, vibrant city. It never sleeps, and neither do you.

Peace for now! I love and miss you all!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Delightful Days in Dresden

It's a beautiful day today in Berlin. The air is crisp and the sun is shining, and I'm feeling like I have my bearings once again. I visited Dresden this weekend with my program, and I can't say I know exactly how I feel about the city. It's beautiful, no doubt, but there is something almost eerie about the place. The entire city, more or less, was destroyed in one of the last bombings of World War II, and even though most buildings have been rebuilt in their original style, it is somewhat lacking in authenticity. It feels a bit like Williamsburg, like a recreation of something that used to be, but only a memory or a ghost, not the real deal. In a way, it made me quite sad because I know that the damage could have been avoided, especially since Germany was already losing the war at the time.

Still, I did enjoy my time there, especially outside of the city. Berlin and the surrounding area is pretty flat and more or less geographically uninteresting, but if you travel the 2 hours by train to Dresden, it is geographically a whole new world. On Sunday morning, I paid a visit to this extremely touristy but extremely beautiful little overlook called Bastei. It overlooks the Elbe and these huge rock formations that are apparently great for rock climbing. Then in the afternoon we took a trip to a couple castles nearby and went for a walk in colorfully decorated woods. I don't think I could have asked for a better day (it was beautiful and sunny) and I've had enough of cities for a while, so it was nice to finally be out in the country air. Here's a picture of Bastei:,r:4,s:0

On Saturday night, we met up with some friends of a friend, and they took us to a club pretty far away from our hostel in a more dangerous looking neighborhood (although I'm sure it was fine). It was alright but not very many people were dancing, and I still think Berlin is one of the best cities for night life around. Still, they played "Single Ladies" by Beyonce so I was pretty happy for a while. I also met this guy who has lived in Dresden all of his life and speaks absolutely no English (great practice for my German!) and had a really interesting conversation with him about growing up in the GDR and what it was like when the wall fell. I feel like I've learned about the topic so much in the classroom, but I haven't actually talked to anyone about it, and I'm surrounded by people who have first-hand experience.

Beyond my weekend excursion, things are going pretty well here in Berlin. I feel like I am developing a much stronger relationship with my host family, and they are always so open and friendly and ready to give me tips whenever I need them. My host mom even gave me a bunch of pamphlets on this extremely famous choreographer Sasha Waltz, and I am now pretty anxious to check out a few of her shows. I also still need to find myself a dance class here in Berlin...It's a lot harder than it seems.

I got an e-mail the other day telling me I had been nominated for the Ford Fellowship at Knox, which is basically a research program where they give you money to get a jump start on your Senior Research. I am working on the application now, but I am having a hard time choosing exactly which direction I would like to go. I know I want to do the research this summer, that I want to deal with cultural linguistics, and that I want to do my research here in Europe while I am working on an organic farm. Not sure where to even begin, but a little more thought and a lot more research will probably lead me to some sort of vague decision.

While I've got to do some Film reading before class. Hope all is well all of your respective locations!

Love, Erin

Sunday, October 10, 2010

If only I could cook

Germany is getting a little too cold, too fast for my liking. Last night, I had on my winter coat and scarf, and my teeth were still chattering. I am really okay with winter, when the time comes, but right now, all I can dream of is rolling hills of brilliantly colored trees, crisp air warmed with sunlight, and jack-o-lanterns on every porch. I want a real autumn, with real autumn weather, but it seems that Germany decided to skip one of my favorite times of the year.

I did get out of the city this weekend, which was quite a relief. I went to Potsdamm, where the famous Schloss Sanssouci is, the German version of Versailles. I traveled there by motorbike (as the passenger of course), and although the ride was a bit chilly, it was absolutely exhilarating. I need to do things like that more often. The palace itself is quite beautiful, as well as the extensive gardens, but strolling through the yellowing trees, I found myself missing home more than ever, probably the reason for the previous paragraph actually. I want nature, but not just a park. I want to be in the middle of nowhere, with no chance of anyone strolling by. I want to gaze at the open sky at midnight and see the milky way. I want hills and open air and no people around to sour my day. I guess I'm just not as much the city type as I once thought. Fun to visit, but I think I am actually meant to live in the middle of nowhere.

Don't get me wrong, I am still absolutely in love with Berlin. I just think that after six weeks, the initial shock value has worn thin, and I'm now finding myself resenting the fact that I can go clubbing every night if I want. I'm tired, really tired. I've been having the time of my life and meeting loads of people, but I'm craving a steady, somewhat quiet lifestyle, similar to how I would work and live at Knox. I want a schedule and serious homework and tests. I want going out to be something special. So, I'll make some changes. Top two priorities, find a dance class to take (I'm going crazy without it!) and speak more German. Apparently I speak German with a French accent. Who knew? Let's just hope it goes away...

One absolutely random thing that happened to me this week: I met someone who graduated from Knox. Her name is Holly Oberle (if any of you might know her), and she graduated in 2004. I was at this conference for women in Security and Defense positions in the U.S. and Germany (which was extremely interesting. ), and we noticed she was American, so we started asking her questions, and that's when I figured it out. After my initial freak out, we gossiped about Roger Taylor a bit, and the German department. It was just pretty surreal because I never expected to meet someone in this gigantic city that had anything to do with my tiny school of only 1300.

I am taking this class called Portable Roots about immigration in Germany, and it is extremely interesting. There is a huge Turkish population in Berlin, and I finally learned why. I am also taking a film class that is coming from a pretty technical angle, so we'll see how that goes, especially auf Deutsch.

Okay what did I learn about Germany this week...

1. When you buy a recording of the National Hymn, there are no words, only music. If there are any lyrics, it is only the third stanza because it is now considered the only appropriate part of the German National Anthem, and even then, most Germans don't know the words.

2. There is actually a club in Berlin that is 21 and up. It's called Watergate. It the first time I wasn't allowed to enter a club here, but it made me feel like I was right back in the good old USA.

3. No butter on popcorn at the movie theaters, only salt. It was the saddest moment of my life when I discovered it. Also, there is a curtain for the screen and it closes between the previews and the movie.

4. Apparently the U.S. is actually far ahead of Germany in numbers of women in the military and Security and Defense positions as well as the Bundestag.

Okay, Hausaufgaben time.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fried cheese it is

Well, dear blog, it's been quite some time since we last met. So long actually, that I have no idea where to begin. I've been riding a wave of adventures, and I just came into shore for a short break. So, I left Berlin for the first time since I arrived in Europe and had one hell of a time. Incredibly hilarious, informative, and a little cold, but still great. First stop was Vienna, which rivals Paris as the most beautiful city in Europe. Everything is preserved, unlike in Berlin, and there is no ugly Soviet architecture to ruin its elegance. We visited Schönbrucker Palast, which was the summer home of the royalty of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and why it was only their summer home, I have no idea. The most beautiful part is the lawn behind the palace, which extends up a huge hill that provides a gorgeous view of Vienna, when you have enough stamina to climb it. It also contains the oldest zoo, but for 14 euro I passed on that opportunity.

We also rode bumper cars that night, which seems like minor detail, but was probably the most fun thing I had done in a long time. When you actually know how to drive, you can strategize and run into people full speed. I could not stop smiling for an hour after.

Next stop, Bratislava, Slovakia, which to me was a pretty random place to go. We took a boat on the Danube from Vienna to Bratislava and it only took about 90 minutes. I made the whole trip with 25 other Americans from my program and two Germans, who organized it for us. Bratislava was definitely the most entertaining of the three cities, but beyond that, it didn't have much going for it. It's pretty small, the hotel we stayed in came straight out of the Soviet era (15 floors, hideous orange carpet, and architecturally unsound). Our tour guide also talked in the best Slovak accent, made the best jokes, but mostly at the expense of "gypsies." She said, no lie, "Keep your bag close because the gypsies will take your money" as well as "The gypsies are all poor, have no jobs, and take all of the Slovak money." I have a feeling she was a pretty good representation of the standard Slovakian as well. Oh my. It is a different world I guess.

Finally, we made it to Budapest, which was quite nice. The last night, we climbed to a beautiful look-out spot, and although it was cold, it was definitely worth it. The best part was this ultra-touristy Hungarian restaurant, where they fed me fried cheese (apparently that is all they know how to make for vegetarians in Eastern Europe. I ate it three nights in a row....), and force fed us wine from this funny little contraption. All of the waiters were decked out it traditional Hungarian attire, and I even got to dance onstage with them. I then proceeded to buy a bottle of wine with my face on it, without even realizing it. I guess they took pictures of every one of us and pasted them on bottles of wine. What a great souvenir :-) We also went to a sort of ranch out in the country (again, ultra-touristy) that reminded me of home a bit. It reminded me of hayrides and thanksgiving at my aunt and uncles. I also won a free bottle of wine because I knocked over a bottle with a whip. Random, but great. Also, we got free apricot schnopps.

Our last night we went to a club somewhere in Budapest, and it was actually quite good. I was surprised because every other night we hadn't been able to find much night life, but this place was large and packed and they also played all of the American pop and rap music I had been craving, namely the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.

Well, I start class on Monday, so I guess back to reality. Tonight I'm going to a fake Oktoberfest in Alexanderplatz. I wanted to go to the real one, but poor planning yields poor results. Oh well, better for me to rest up I think.

Bis später!