Berlin: First Impressions

I have greatly enjoyed my first few weeks in Berlin. My preconceptions of this wonderful city have so far been correct, with a few pleasant surprises, and the occasional not so pleasant surprise, here and there.

Before coming to Berlin, I was expecting it to be fairly similar to the United States, especially in relation to the other places I have lived, such as Honduras, Kazakhstan, and Yemen, which are all developing countries, while Germany, despite the effects of the World Wars and the Cold War, is for the most part a developed country. Of course, Germany is not like the United States, but in relation to infrastructure, wealth, and human development, Germany is similar.

I expected Berlin to be much different culturally/socially than I have so far witnessed. This is due to the fact that we are spending most of our time in the heart of Berlin with, as far as we know, a large portion of people we see everyday being tourists. This leads to one of the unpleasant surprises, being that most shop owners or waiters will address you in English almost immediately, making it hard to practice German, when English is so quick to roll off your tongue. Hopefully when we leave Berlin to tour other parts of Germany, we can leave what I find to be a very touristy atmosphere behind. However, I do enjoy the overwhelming amount of history that one can simply see going to school everyday, not to mention the amount available off the beaten path and within the many museums around the city.

A pleasant surprise I have found, is the large number and variety of exotic supercars. If I were to list every car I have snapped my rubber neck looking at on the bus to school everyday, I am afraid the blog will consist of only my post. Let’s just say this: Astons, Ferraris, Lambos, McLarens, R8s, Bentleys, Maseratis, and a Bugatti Veyron.

A few other side notes: drinks are extremely expensive anywhere other than an Aldi, and universally more so if you want them cold. Take advantage of bulk drinks and any refrigerator you can find. On the same note, if the fridge you find is big enough to fit yourself inside, get inside, because air conditioning doesn’t exist here. Hardly.

Matt “Canada” Wever

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Some Comments on German Culture

Germany has been a very interesting place. There are so many little things that are different here from the way things are in the United States, but I’m only going to mention a couple.

One of the main cultural differences that I’ve noticed is that Germans almost never use air conditioning. In fact, I don’t think I’ve experienced air conditioning since I’ve arrived here. This is usually okay, but there were a couple days last week when it was outrageously hot! One day, Professor Loo (our German professor) even let us out early because it was too hot in the classroom. Instead of air conditioning, it is much more common to have open windows for ventilation. There were even windows open on the subway one time! Speaking of windows, the windows at our hostel are great; they can tilt back to open a little crack at the top, or they can swing open like a door. Also, there are no screens, so we can use our windows as shortcuts to the patio where we often do our homework, as shown in previously posted pictures.

Another thing that is different between Germany and the United States is the effects of history.  The United States has been fairly removed from a lot of the things that have happened in the last century. Both World Wars were fought mainly in Europe. Virtually no fighting took place on American soil, but Germany was devastated. Also, they have had some rather unfavorable governments. There are still people alive today who remember living under Nazi rule. Then, after the end of World War II, the eastern half was controlled by the Soviets.  The East German government cut off the two peoples from each other, in some cases even close family members. It has only been about 20 years since Germany was reunified, and there are still some tensions. It’s interesting to think about what life might have been like in Germany even as recently as my parents’ generation. It seems strange that a majority of the German population remembers when the nation was divided, and many of them lived under the more oppressive East German government. Yesterday we went to the Wall Museum at the site of Checkpoint Charlie and read about East Germany’s suppression of rights and people’s spectacular escape attempts. One of the things that struck me most, however, was found in a section of the museum that talked about human rights in general. There were a few displays about Martin Luther King, Jr., and his dream for racial equality. Upon reading that, I realized that Germany was not the only country that has recently dealt with a lack of human rights. We may not have had a Nazi holocaust or a country cloven in two by a totalitarian state, but we have also had our struggles with freedom.

Logan Knoppers

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First Impressions

This trip is my first trip away from the continental United States so I didn’t really know what to expect besides what my German professor told me about Germany.  My professor said that the public transportation would be exceptional and that most of the people knew English.  Both of these things I have found to be true, maybe even to a greater extent than I expected.  I have found that sometimes when I try to order food in German they automatically switch to English.  Of course that might just be a knock on my German speaking skills.

Public transportation is also amazing.  There are multiple subway and bus lines and the trains and buses come every 5 to 10 minutes so there is not much of a wait.  The taxi drivers even get to drive Mercedes.  That’s a pretty sweet gig.

Another thing that left an impression on me is the diversity of people in the city.  You can find any type of restaurant and ethnic food imaginable.  I have already had German, Italian, Thai, Chinese, Turkish, and Spanish food so far.

One last thing that I have noticed is the industriousness of the German people.  There are multiple construction sites around the city and at all of them there is nobody standing around.  See, it can be done.

Berlin has been a great experience so far.  It is a large city with an abundance of opportunities so there is never a dull moment. I am looking forward to the rest of my time in Germany.

-Ian Compton

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Charlie and an Egyptian Queen

Yesterday we had our second test on the “Statics” portion of the class.  Prof Nielsen arrives this weekend to start the “Dynamics” portion of the class, and I am headed home on Monday morning.

Today we went with Prof Loo (the students’ German Professor) to Check Point Charlie.   They have an excellent museum where you can read about the many ways that people have struggled to escape from East Germany into the West.  Not only were many of the methods and machines used very ingenious, it was also a good reminder to us about how easy it is to take our freedom for granted.  Sorry, but we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum.

We then walked around some of the neighborhoods of Berlin and stopped for a group picture. (Prof. Loo is standing between Logan and Richard).

We then went to the Egyptian Museum to see various things including the bust of Queen Nefertiti.  While we could not take pictures of Nefertiti (there are many on the internet 🙂 ) we could take pictures in the rest of the museum:

Below is a picture of the “Berlin Green Head”:  Notice the shape of the skull, and the creases at the edges of the eye and the nose.

Here is one of the many mummy faces:

Many of the students outside the museum checking out the fountain (?):

Along the streets of Berlin they also have display cases in the middle of the sidewalk showing various items from the stores.   While I was waiting for the bus this week, I noticed this pair of black shoes.  I first noticed them because of the odd shaped heel, but then I noticed that they were also 559 Euro which is about $730USD while all the other shoes in the display case were around 100-150 Euro.  I am not sure how many of these shoes they sell in a given day, but I would think that for that price they might look a little more comfortable 🙂

Leonard De Rooy

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ich bin ein Berliner!!

Almost two weeks into our adventure, Berlin has not failed to impress. The downtown area is dense with restaurants and stores as well as many historical sites and museums.  There is always a great deal of hustle and bussle fueled by efficient train and bus systems.  The citizens seem to be very honest and well to do.  Although I do my best to speak what little German I can, English is spoken by most people working in the retail and restaurant business-very helpful in getting past the language barrier.

The German 101 class we all took prior to coming gave us a good preview of what to expect out of the German people.  I suppose my only expectations coming here is that there would be a lot of old buildings and beer.  Berlin has delivered!  I can’t wait to learn more about this great city in the coming weeks. 🙂

-Mike Capozzoli

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Berlinen Sie gern?

I really did not have too many expectations coming to Germany, except that they would have a lot of beer, bread, and brats. So far all my expectations have been met and i have learned a lot more about Germany. We been less than two weeks, but it seems like we have been here at least a month. I say this not because it feels like time is moving slowly, but because the group has done so much in the past two weeks.

My favorite part of Berlin so far is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche, or what we all call the bombed out church. This church, located in a crowded section of Berlin, was constructed in the 1880’s and was severely damaged during a bombing raid in World War II. The church shows the history in Germany, how the city was destroyed by the war, and how it has recovered and become very successful again. The second favorite part of Berlin would have to be the food, especially the bratwurst and the doner.

The people of Berlin have made this trip great so far too. They are very helpful when I attempt to speak German and many of them also speak English very well (and they are also quite fashionable, I have seen outfits and hairstyles here that i did not even think were possible).

Looking forward to experiencing more of Belin and Deutschland,

Ryan Hoff

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When I imagined visiting Germany, I imagined a utopian existence. Their currency is worth more than our dollar, so maybe their standard of living is higher also. Surely the air must be fresher and the grass must be greener. So far, their air is making me consider the dangers of second-hand smoke, and their grass is infuriating my allergies. Even though my utopian dreams are in tatters, I have found something different about this country that has perhaps accounts for their success.

The looming presence of the country’s history mixed with the present cannot escape anyone. For example, the Kaiser Wilhelm church, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin Cathedral are all easily accessible once you figure out the bus routes. Everywhere you go, you are reminded that as not-utopian as life may be now, it was at one time much worse. Perhaps these constant reminders have driven the citizens to be as successful as they are now. By maintaining tangible evidence of the depths of their ruin, they stay motivated better than people of most other countries. It is as if instead of dangling a carrot in front of their horse, they are dangling hot coals behind them and they refuse to stop moving forward because if they do, the coals will burn them again. Germans seem motivated less by a goal to be number one, as is typical of American culture, and more by a need to distance themselves from the ruins, totalitarian dictators, and socialist regimes of their past. Ironically, the best way to do it seems to be to hold the past just as close as the present.

So what does this look like? This is the strict adherence to rules and laws that many other students have mentioned; this is two strangers overcoming a language barrier to help each other figure out the washing machine; this is the widespread use of English to accommodate tourists; this is a restaurant worker taking the time to teach you a few words so you can order your ice cream “to go” in German next time.

It’s no utopia, but I am enjoying it just fine and cannot wait to continue exploring the city and country.

Mike Fuller

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