Monday, May 23, 2011

Wunderschoene Mai

Berlin is warm and green-- and I love it! On weekends I go running in the park, and not just any park, but the Charlottenburg Castle Park. Part of the reason is because the castle is amazingly beautiful, and part of it because I think it feels really bad-ass to go jogging at the castle any time I want. On my way I drop by the mausoleum of King Wilhelm III and his wife, and then I squat by the lake as close as I can without falling in and just stare at the ducks for a while. They are fascinating, and it's cool how ducks and swans just quack their way around parks in Berlin like they own the place.

On the first of May, the anarchists come out in Berlin. They vandalize the Kreuzberg district and start fights with the Police every year on this day. During the day time, though, it is pretty safe, and swarms of people crowd the streets in the afternoon to dance, drink, and chat. I took this picture above of a death-metal band at the streetfest.

This is me and my friend Ariadni in front of Cafe Mano. I love exploring Cafes here-- classic European ones, hip indie ones, romantic ones, ones where you can lie down and take a nap, ones with sketchy backrooms... I don't even drink coffee, but the cakes here are nothing like I've ever tasted before.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Weimar trip

It has been almost a month since I last updated my blog, and there is so much to tell! March Madness in Yuxi's world---

Trip to Weimar at the end of March:

Weimar is the scenic German town from the travel-brochures: cobbelstone streets, park with ruins, and houses of famous classic historical figures like Schiller and Goethe. We biked through the town, munched on Thueringer Bratwurst, and went to classical concerts at night.

Buchenwald KZ: The only sad chapter in our trip is to the Konzentrationslager only twenty minutes from Weimar's center. The unbelievably huge area contained 250,000 prisoners and served as a work camp. The SS soldiers who kept watch over the camp ordered prisoners to build a mini-zoo to entertain their families just outside the camp. See the pictures below: The exhibition in the Buchenwald museum was sobering but very informative. The most shocking things I saw, I couldn't make myself take a picture of. It just seemed wrong somehow to make a document of them. For instance, Soviet POW's were ordered to go into the medical examination room and stand against a wall where their height was taken with an adjustable meter. Directly behind the wall, however, was another room where an executioner stood with a rifle pointing through the narrow gap of the meter(where the headpiece shifts up an down), aiming at the neck of the soldiers.


Wartburg is my favorite castle so far. The medieval Burg stands on top of a steep mountain, offering a view over the city Eisenach. Far from the Baroque style of decorating every room room with gilded angels and silver mirrors, each room in Wartburg has a different character. Some very understated, and some overwhelmingly replendent with frescoes and glass. Felipe says it's even better than Versailles, but since I've never been to France, I don't know if I'd agree. But Wartburg has certainly got personality.

Oh, and also, be careful what you order in German restaurants. The name of a dish, like "Medieval Watchman's Vesper," might sound incredibly cool and romantic, but if you don't read the descriptions in small fonts, you might end up with bread and a generous ball of lard as your meal, which was what happened to me. Well, at least it wasn't head cheese.

The famous Wartburg where Luther translated the New Testament.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ausflug to Potsdam!

Dan, Jensen, me, and Felipe at Schloss Sans Souci (Castle Without Worries)

I love day trips--you get out of the city in an hour on the Autobahn, (which I still slightly distrust, since 100 miles/hr is still too fast for me), and then, bam, you're in a completely different town with a different lifestyle and different history. At the end of the day, you come back home and take a nice long bath, crawl into bed, and dream about the day you've just had.

Potsdam is about half an hour away from Berlin, and although it's not a metropolis like Berlin, it's got its own charm and eccentricities. Our teacher and excursion guide Joerg grew up in the region, so it was cool to hear first-hand accounts and see sights that aren't in the guide-books.

You can't come to Potsdam and not see where the Potsdam Conference was held. We came too late (the museum closes at 5), but we still got to see the outside. The heads of the Allies sat at a huge round table and determined the outcome of the war here in the last Hohenzollern castle. Apparrantly tourists can't come near where Stalin sat anymore because some have brought knives and tried to chip the wood out of his chair in the past.

Now, this Russian villa looks pretty sweet, doesn't it? It was a major SS office for the Nazis. Today you don't see any signs around the house, and without a little research, one would think that it's just another millionaire's villa in Potsdam.

This picture is taken 15 meters away from the SS building. If you look closely, you'll see the Star of David on the top. It's a Jewish cemetery that was never attacked or destroyed during the Nazi regime, even though it's right next to an SS quarter. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Okay, okay, you probably want to hear something else other than history, too. So let's talk about something else: Castles! Castles! Castles! It's Germany, after all.

This is the Neue Palais (New Palace) where the first Prussian kings lived. Welcome to the No kidding, this isn't an opera house or theatre. This is where the servants cooked and slept because the aristocrats didn't like the kitchen smells. I wish my kitchen were this big. Actually, scratch that. I'll take this as my house, thank you.

Look, another castle! This one is my favorite, probably because the ghastly weather suits the dark, haunted look of the Gothic windows and Tudor tower. Dracula would have lived in it, or some haunted German romantic poet, envisioning death while he bundled himself up in blankets, or Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey (now that I think of it, it looks exactly like Northanger Abbey).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ich bin nicht krank, bin nicht--o nein...

After days of self denial, I'm finally admitting that I'm sick. Being sick while abroad is depressing because all the fun and excitement are passing by while you're sniffing and blowing away your nose under the covers, and no matter how much carrot juice you drink, the ringing in your ears won't go away.

Which is why I'm writing this new post to remember happy things! My commandment to myself: thou shalt not wallow in misery during your time abroad!

Two weeks ago I met up with Krista, Linda, and Eugene in a mini-Davidson-reunion in Kreuzberg. It felt good to see familiar faces again here in Berlin. Small world, right? It's so nice to be able to just sit down in a bar and talk. It was hard to find a table on Friday night, but we managed. The Mexican themed bar looks pretty inconspicuous from the street, but the inside is warm and homey, and the walls are decorated with cool murals and old pages from books in Spanish. No loud music, nobody puking in the bathroom. Perfect. I could definitely get used to this.

Now this is what a stereotypical German meal is like: potato salad, wurst, and 4 different kinds of beer. If I actually ate this kind of meal everyday, I'd be gaining a lot of weight (actually I might be anyway, I just haven't weighed myself in a while...). This photo was taken during my class trip to a brewery, and the point of which was to see the process of beer manufacturing. We sampled various types of beer, which look and taste different because of different temperature, grains, and yeasts used during the manufacturing process. The tour was fun, and the lunch there was of course delicious, though I confess that I didn't finish all that beer in sight that we had class in the afternoon, and reading Goethe in a drunken state is highly unrecommended.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Berlin Wall

The East Side Gallery is number one on the "Things to See in Berlin" from my guidebook. As a tourist I dutifully marched out into the -5 Celcius degree cold. The famous tourist spot is not so much a gallery (a building with heat would have been nice) but a stretch of the old Berlin Wall about 400 meters long, preserved as a memorial for the barricade that stretched across the city by East Berlin to prevent its citizens from escaping to the West.

Now, the roughly 5 meter wall serves as a mural collection espousing freedom and human courage. The art works are amazing, but the historical accuracy of the gallery is deplorable--it gives the false impression that East Berliners should have just crawled over the wall into West Berlin. No barb wires or the "death strip" between a double wall remain.

If only I were Yao-Ming...
"Brotherly love" between DDR and Russia--caption translation: My God, help me survive this deadly love. When Berliners refer to the "brotherly" relationship between Russia and DDR, they are usually being sarcastic, since Russia always took more than its share.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Second Impressions and First Adventures

Konzerthaus am Gendarmenmarkt - this is one of my favorite places in Berlin. A square from two hundred years ago, now renovated to house the Konzerthaus Berlin and two domes that serve as both churches and museums.

Berlinale- The Berlin Int'l Film festival is the highlight of February in Berlin. What's amazing is that everyone has a chance to go, as long as he/she is willing to stand 4 hours in line to buy tickets beforehand. I was lucky enough to go with my host mom, and we got to stand by the red carpet, but it was too cold to wait hours for Gerard Butler to walk by.
We watched a Chinese film called Under the Hawthorne Tree. The MC introducing the film in the theatre didn't know how to pronounce the name in Chinese. I was sitting in the third row (looking very Chinese), so she asked me to help her practice the pronounciation beforehand. The film was sad, heartwrenching, and well-made, though the plot was slightly cliche. I enjoyed it immensely, and my make up was running by the end.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

First week in BERLIN!

Berlin in winter is wet and windy, but it's beautiful in a dark, melancholy way. I live about 15 minutes away walking distance from a castle called Schloss Charlottenburg, which you can see if you google its name. Across from it are two museums, one of which houses a lot of Cubist and abstract art works. I spent my morning today wandering through the paintings of Picasso and Matisse. But before I lose myself gushing about the art in Berlin, let me recap what I've done in the past week.

We have a pretty small group on the spring program here, and I'm the only girl. This makes me miss female companionship, since as much as I like hanging out with the rest of the group, I just don't see how Jensen would be interested in helping me pick out German nail polish. Of course, I didn't let that fact dampen my enthusiasm for this semester!

On Friday night my host-mom and I went to the Berliner Philharmoniker together (see picture). Simon Rattle conducted Mahler's 3rd Symphony, which is the longest symphony ever written andn lasts for about 100 minutes. I was blown away. The sheer power of the piece, which borders on violence at times, made me want to jump out of my seat. Then there are the softer movements like the last, named "What Love Tells Me," that gave me goosebumps. I think Mahler is smiling in his grave--hundreds of people listened to him, spellbound, for two hours. People alive sometimes never get the chance to be listened to, truly listened to, for that long. Unless they're in a therapist's office, perhaps.

The next day I went to a football, err, I mean, soccer game. It featured two teams in Berlin, Hertha and Union, and the fans were WILD! They were chanting throughout the game, which was pretty impressive given how organized they were at hating the other team. Union fans let loose fireworks (totally illegal) when Union scored, and the smoke ended up shrouding the entire stadium.

German soccer fans are pretty aggressive, and nobody is allowed to bring alcohol inside. People usually pregame and leave the bottles outside, as you can see below. As soon as you step off the S-Bahn you start tripping over them. The Court at Davidson doesn't seem so messy now, huh. After Union won, the hardcore Hertha fans could be heard chanting "Scheisse Union, scheisse Union, scheisste der Nation!" which translates to "shitty union, shitty union, shittiest of the nation." It was hilarious to me, though they were quite serious.