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Blubbering Mess

No, the title of this post does not refer to me leaving Germany soon.  Rather, it is the name of an abandoned building in Berlin that, to me, is a representation of the spirit of the city.  Until February 2005 this structure was a swimming and leisure center.  It has since fallen into disrepair - smashed windows, colorful graffiti and abandoned beer bottles litter the property. The pools have long been empty and the lack of electricity make certain corners of the interior a bit too mysterious for me, but despite its raggedy appearance, Blubbering Mess is beautiful.

It exudes creativity.  Every inch is covered with graffiti or art. Since most of the glass has been smashed or broken over the years, walking outside is like walking over a beautiful mosaic (I would definitely suggest closed toe shoes for this particular adventure).  There are few places in this world I could walk into a building to find a girl with blue-green hair, a long gown and a blow up dolphin meant for a pool posing for pictures in a shattered courtyard visible to the street and no one takes excessive notice. It's cool to be weird and that's awesome.

Berlin is a place where beauty and inspiration can be found anywhere and in anything.  This city has become the master of reinvention - it's history demands it.  In the past century Berlin has been governed by four distinct governments or regimes.  It has been divided, it has been unified. It has been bankrupt and plagued with inflation, but it has also evolved into one of the most stable and wealthy economies in Europe.  It cannot ignore or reject its history, but Berliners also refuse to let their history hold them back and instead embrace the alternative way of life and thinking that they have become so well known for.

In Blubbering Mess I see this spirit: a resistance to letting destruction or disrepair categorize something as useless, a desire to make something many may see as ugly into something beautiful and different. It's creative. It's inventive. It's uniquely quirky and entirely Berlin.

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By kaandle

With only a few weeks left in Berlin, finding the balance between work and play has been a bit difficult.  Assignments from our excursion to Russia, term papers and final exams are tasks that require attention, but the thought of spending my last few weeks inside instead of out and about in newly-warm Berlin is a less than desirable trade off.  But when work must get done and cultural experiences must be had there is always a way to find that happy medium.

At GW, weekends are my savior.  Almost everything that could or should be done can easily be compiled into a Saturday morning and Sunday evening.  However in Berlin weekends are filled with parks, markets and adventures during the day and Berlin nightlife is famous for extending into the late hours of the morning, so it's safe to assume those three days won't be the most productive of your week.  This means that the weekday - emphasis on day - has become my most productive time and it's wonderful. I believe this is partly to do with the structure of my class schedule, which allows me large chunks of time to be productive rather than short and scattered 30 to 60 minute time slots.

Also, while Gelbucks and Tryst hold special places in my study spot heart, I have discovered the study cafe to end all study cafes.  Named St. Oberholtz, it is filled with large tables, plenty of outlets, fast wifi, good food and lots and lots of coffee. After nine pm its atmosphere changes into more of a bar vibe and if a well-priced glass of good Reisling with friends is a positive motivator for you to get off Facebook and actually get your work done you can end your productive day on a socible and relaxing note.

Thankfully, most of my finals this semester are papers so my last week won't be entirely occupied with studying for exams.  But even as satisfying as it is to cross things off my to do list, I know when all this work is done and the pressure of exams has lifted I'll be sad since that will mean my time in Berlin will be over and I'm not quite ready to go.

By kaandle

"Tschuss" is to Germans what "Ciao" is to Italians.  This word was one of the first I learned (and actually remembered) this semester and three months later it remains among my favorites.  Although my German abilities are far from advanced, being able to throw out a colloquial phrase makes me feel like I can pull of my Berliner status a little bit better.  Even if my German professor hadn't taught us this word early in the semester, it'd be impossible to not pick up this phrase as it's said everywhere from parting with friends to leaving a store.

Pronounced "choo-se" it's a causal way of saying "bye" or "see you later". When leaving a store, it also suffices as a "thank you" and "bye" simultaneously.  If you're more of a "bye-bye" person tschuss can also be pronounced "choo-see", although be warned its mostly 15 year old girls running around with this pronunciation.

As much as I like the word tschuss, I must admit I was disappointed "auf Wiedersehen" wasn't a common phrase. Coming to Germany auf Wiedersehen was my only non-food related German saying - mostly thanks to The Sound of Music - but imagine my surprise when I learned auf Wiedersehen is pretty much only said in very formal situations or Bavaria in southern Germany.  But at the end of the day tschuss is significantly easier for me to pronounce correctly and tends to roll of the tongue.  Of all the German words that have become everyday vocabulary tschuss is more than likely one that will subconsciously follow me back to the United States.

By kaandle

As much as abroad is about traveling to new places and experiencing new, wonderful things, it's important to realize that every place you visit will not be your new favorite destination.  For my programs second week long excursion we traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia. I undoubtedly saw impressive architecture, learned of a deep history and experienced a unique environment, but I also reentered winter (it was snowing significantly when we arrived and on several mornings) and ate the same mayonnaise covered foods for a week.  But hey - that's Russia for you.  A word to the wise - borsch and Russian salad are a reality of every meal.  Despite the dietary and meteorological challenges, here are some of the highlights of this educational excursion.

Hermitage Museum

This former palace will be recognizable to any person that watched Anastasia as a child. The exterior is covers it a distinct green plaster and the interior is covered with even more impressive paintings and sculptures. Among the treasures of this collection are two completed Michelangelo's, a Rafael sculpture and a recently destroyed painting that was thought to be lost forever from a vicious stack with acid.  Absolutely worth your time. Even if you don't enjoy art, the walls of the rooms are still ornately decorated from its time as the Winter Palace.

Erarta Museum

For those who enjoy contemporary art, interactive exhibits, or things off the beaten track this is the place to go. It's a bit out of the way but the large exhibit - including five floors of permanent and five floors of temporary exhibitions - is a unique approach to curating a museum as well as introduces you to more Russian artists than Kandinsky.

The Ballet

The Mariinsky Ballet is Russia's second most prestigious company, after the Moscow Ballet. It was a wonderful surprise for me that we were going to a performance while in Russia, especially as a dance major. This is definitely an event worth seeing, not only to experience the Russian style ballet in its native land, but for the beauty and experience of a classic performance art.

By kaandle

This weekend has been refreshingly warm so don't mind my emphasis on lazy outdoor activities where lounging on the grass and soaking in the sun is finally do-able without the addition of a heavy down jacket.

1. Mauerpark

The translation is literally wall-park.  The large grassy area is overlooked by a graffiti-filled wall that stands at the top of a hill.  Every Sunday, rain or shine, regardless of holidays, a large flee market opens and holds everything you could possibly desire.  From bags to jewelry to furniture or bratwurst, you can easily spend your entire day here.  Now that the weather is finally getting warmer, the grass lawn and hill just outside the market come to life on Sunday's as well.  There are large ampiltheaters built into the side of the hill where karaoke takes place with an enthusiastic crowd.  Musicians, artists and singers set up all around, performing mini concerts and competing for audiences.  There is definitely a 90s music festival feel to this place and you'll never leave feeling like you've wasted your Sunday.

2. A Drink by the Spree

The Spree is the river that runs through Berlin and creates a small island filled with impressive buildings - both due to their external architecture and their inner contents. This area is revered to as "Museum Isel".  On the other side of the Spree, overlooking one of the most notable museums, the Bode, a casual and relaxing area for pedestrians has been created. There are a few restaraunts and bars along the back that all put out folding chairs and provide blankets incase the weather turns.  If you don't want to perchase anything there is plenty of green and wall space to sit, lounge and make a day or afternoon of hanging with friends.  With all of Berlins alternative and more edgy space, this is an unusual spot where you can momentarily remember Berlin's old anddefinitely European history.

3. Tempelhof

This is another space that has a bit of a retro feel to it.  Built as an airport in 1923, the original layout of Tempelhof, including tar mats, transport roads and terminal structures still remain.  When the site was shut down in 2008, Berliners protested for the area to be open to the public rather than sold to private investers and they succeeded.  Today Tempelhof is a public park, but there have been no structural changes to the property.  With so much free space - both green and black - the activities that go on here are endless.  Walking from one end to the other (a poor decision on my part as I was trying to meet up with people and did it factor in the massive size of an airport landing strip) I passed people riding bikes, skateboards, wind boards and segways, rolling on skates, jogging, lounging, barbecuing and picnicking.  Kites were flying and everywhere you looked there were large amounts of people, yet you never felt like you were running out of room.  Absolutely a wonderful place to spend a beautiful day.

4. People Watch

Personally, I think coffee shops are the best place to people watch.  There's a continuous flow of people and on top of being entertained there is a constant supply of food and coffee.  There are such eclectic people to be found in Berlin.  Sometimes it's just absolutely necessary to sit back and observe the awesomely individual spirit of Berlin.  You see people's personalities through heir demeanor, clothes and hairstyle.  Middle aged women with colorful (and by that I mean colors of the rainbow) hair and innovative fashion grabbing their coffee with a briefcase in their hand that you later realize is for their job as a lawyer or teacher is a very cool dichotomy we don't have the pleasure of seeing very often in the U.S.

5. Museum Hunt

On top of Museum Isel, mentioned above, almost every street has some kind of museum - whether that's one room or an extensive exhibit it to be determined, but my point is museums are everywhere.  For the classics Museum Isel has the ancient and impressive collections.  Nephertiti's famous bust, for example, is on perminant display at the Neues Museum.  Additinally, there are museums for all aspects of Berlin's history - some bring you through the entirety of Berlin's history since the 13th century while others are specifically highlighting the histories of East and West Berlin before German reunification in 1990.  Moreover, apart from historical and archeological museums there are more contemporary hideaways and art galleries sprinkled all around the city.  The Smithsonian museums in D.C. Have definitely spoiled me with free admission, but it's worth the small bill to experience the museums Berlin has to offer.  But if you don't feel like spending a few bucks, just walking around Berlin is an art galery in itself. 


The view from the top of Galata Tower.
The view from the top of Galata Tower.

One of the amazing things about my abroad program is that twice during the semester all 19 of us pick up and travel to another country for a week. This past week I spent my time in Istanbul, Turkey and it was incredible.  Our time consisted of lectures from impressive university faculty, tours of the historic areas and free time to explore on our own.

Inside the Hagia Sophia - a building that has served as both a mosque and church over the centuries. It has been a museum since the 1920s.
Inside the Hagia Sophia - a building that has served as both a mosque and church over the centuries. It has been a museum since the 1920s.

Istanbul is one of the most different places I have ever been.  In the moments when the entire city was engulfed by the call to prayer being played from each of the more than three thousand mosques I felt the need to stop, listen and absorb the environment around me.  The uniqueness of Istanbul's complex history was especially apparent when I was standing in a Greek church and the call to prayer began, echoing off the walls and highlighting one of the things that makes Istanbul so intriguing and beautiful.

It's a cosmopolitan center where religion, culture and history have overlapped for centuries.  The depth of Istanbul's past is almost unfathomable. Walking through the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia and old, but operating, bazaars puts you directly in contact with Istanbul's history, but it's still hard to comprehend that this is a place that has functioned as a city since the 600s BC and served as the capital for three empires - Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.  Clearly with so much history and so many sites to see I was happy to have an entire week to explore, but my time here could have easily been extended.

Intricate tile domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque.
Intricate tile domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque.

Now it's time to return to normal class schedules after a week of midterms and a week of adventuring.  While this would normally be the moment to interject an objection to returning to school, homework and extensive reading requirements, I'm surprisingly excited to continue my schedule.  All the classes offered aim to relate, compare and discuss common ideas and principles between metropolitan centers.  After this week I definitely have a lot I'd like to discuss.


By kaandle

German food is a difficult thing to define. Some will argue that since Germany officially became a state in 1851 and its history prior to that consisted of tribal territories and was included in various empires' borders, food unique to Germany does not actually exist.  Add to that the buzzing metropolis that is Berlin and suddenly finding traditional german food is a difficult task.

That being said, here are five of my favorite eats as of yet:


This is essentially a round, grilled piece of beef that falls somewhere between a hamburger and a meatball. It's deliciousness has yet to fail me - ranging from specialty flee market food trucks to prepared sandwich sections in grocery stores (yes, it comes in sandwich form too), frikadeller is always top notch.


Imagine mac&cheese made with gnocchi pasta.  Clearly a match made in heaven. If you find yourself in Berlin and craving some spätzel, go to Clärchens Ballhaus.  Not only does your cheesy dish come with apple sauce and fried onions (sounds weird - just go with it) but you can also get a style-specific dance lesson with your meal.

Bavarian Mac&Cheese 

You're probably thinking this will be redundant since I just described spätzel as mac&cheese-like, but that would be incorrect. Markethalle Neun, essentially a warehouse packed with awesome food stands, sells a Bavarian Mac&cheese that will make you never want to eat anything else ever again.  I have not been to Bavaria, but this dish in itself is close to convincing me to take the five hour bus ride just to eat it in its natural habitat.


Here we have a non-German food item making the list.  Berlin has a large Turkish population and as a result large amounts of döner.  I'm pretty confident in guesstimating that every other street has at least one döner stand.  And it's a good, cheap, filling eat.  Personally, I opt for the falafel döner over more traditional veal or chicken.  Fair warning: your breath will smell strongly of garlic and onions once you're done.


Basically a higher quality hotdog.  What are Germans known for? 1. Meet 2. Beer 3. Cars (a bit irrelevant, but still very true)  Put your faith in their meet expertise and buy the inexplicably cheap bratwurst off the street and enjoy.


By kaandle

While I'm sure there are many stereotypes of Americans in Germany - loud, in a rush, rude - two stand out above the rest.  First and foremost, our desire for small talk and discomfort with silence are duly noted by the German population.  They prefer stoic silence over meaningless conversation.  "Nice weather we're having, isn't it?" is unsuitable for elevator rides with strangers. However, with this being said it is important to note the U.S. sided stereotype - Germans are a hard and unsocial people - is very untrue.  The value is on meaningful conversation. Quality over quantity kind of thing.  Talking for talking's sake is uncommon, and quite honestly, refreshing.  There is no need to fill silences and pauses to gather your thoughts before speaking aren't immediately filled with another comment to keep the conversation flowing.

The second is a bit more difficult to define.  Throughout the past month, especially when traveling to other German cities like Dresden or Hamburg, the common response from a local after saying we're from the States is "why are you here?" This is not an inquiry about what we are studying or if it was the culture that enticed us.  Instead it is a surprised statement with a hint of disdain.  At the moment I am still uncertain if the surprise comes from an opinion that Americans are generally uninterested in Germany and therefore seeing people spend long periods of time within its borders is thought of as unusual or if they are utterly unaware of how interesting Germany can be.

Regardless of German expectations we are actively working past our cultural differences and misunderstandings.  The group's native German friend group is finally expanding past host parents and student assistants! It may take a little stepping out of our comfort zones, but bridging the gap between German and U.S. customs is an exciting adventure.

By kaandle

One of my favorite things to do in Berlin is dance.  The best part about this statement is that it has so much diverse potential.  For instance, this past Thursday I ended up in one of the last standing dance halls from the 20s, Clärchens Ballhaus, which keeps its original decoration, serves delicious food, and has an hour before the floor opens to everyone where participants can learn the dance style of the night.  It was truly a unique spot and I've already made a mental note to go back and give tango or salsa a try.

Simultaneously, you can walk down any street, duck into a cellar bar or club and see people bobbing around to whatever DJ/live band/solo act is performing that night.  And while the style and location of your dancing may change, the really wonderful thing about the people dancing in Berlin, the thing I would love to see in the US when my time here is done, is people dancing entirely for themselves.  No one is hindered by what the people around them might think or if what they do is "sexy".  Dancing is mostly a solitary act.  Think of how you dance when you're alone in your room blasting music or when you catch yourself mindlessly moving along to a beat - it's what wants to come out - how your body naturally wants to move.  This is how Berliners dance and it's awesome.  Going to a dance venue is just as fun for dancing as it is for people watching.

Now let's quickly talk about clothing.  I am a person that loves to be comfortable.  Seriously - ask anyone.  I have a Stitch (as in Lilo and...) onesie that can best be described as a blanket that never falls off and I would wear that thing out every night if my housemates would let me.  (Don't worry, it's made its way into public regardless).  But since that's not usually an option, I really love a night where I can wear jeans with a big ol' sweater for a night in the town.  In DC that may not fly everywhere you go, but here in Berlin I've yet to enter an establishment and feel underdressed.  Like dance for yourself, it's dress for yourself.  Maybe this can find its way to the States, but if not I fully intend on doing it anyway.

By kaandle

Germany has been in a debate about the ethics of male circumcision. This discussion began when a procedure in Cologne, Germany in 2012 experienced complications and the parents of the effected child sued the doctor and ignited a state-wide controversy. At first, the Cologne courts ruled all male circumcision illegal - regardless of religious importance. This was eventually overturned by the German Bundestag (legislative branch of the German government) which made male circumcision legal for religious purposes before the child ages six months.

Now I'm sure you're wondering why I just made you read an entire paragraph about the German politics of circumcision. I spent my Friday perusing an exhibit at the Jewish Museum Berlin, titled "Snip/it!: Stances on/Ritual/Circumcision", because few things align so perfectly with a course called Politics of Gender. It guides visitors through the Jewish, Christian and Islamic history and significance of the procedure, as well as demonstrates global trends and representation in media. Although this particular topic wouldn't normally draw me in, it was fascinating to start my experience with this class in the middle of an ongoing political controversy.

On the one hand, this topic is affecting the community around me as the restrictions most directly affect people of minority religious affiliation - Judaism and Islam. The outcry from these communities is what caused the initial restructuring of the law, but it still hinders their traditions. For example, in the Islamic tradition circumcision can occur as late as a male's early teen years. It is a sign of a boy becoming a man and in all religious affiliated traditions it is a sign of a connection to God. Especially with protests surrounding immigration (mostly aimed towards people from the Middle East) the idea of restricting religious practices is definitely a sensitive topic.

On a personal level, my experience abroad is being enhanced by the vocal discussion of this issue. I am learning about ongoing German politics, current affairs are being used as a discussion base and learning tool in class and I feel as though I am enhancing my connection to this country by knowing what is going on within it.

Tidbit for future tourists: Since the circumcision exhibit closes March 1, 2015 there's no need to go avoiding this amazing museum. The permanent exhibit masterfully utilizes the architecture of the building to create a unique and impactful commentary on German Jewish history. Definitely a must see.