Leipzig & my last days in Berlin

On my weekend off from class, the school arranged a day tour of Leipzig, Germany, which was home to Johann Sebastian Bach. Leipzig is a beautiful city with a classic European charm (think lots of churches, cobblestone, and fountains). The tour guides only spoke German to us, which posed a problem for those of us in the A1 level language course. However, I managed not to get lost the whole day, and I met people from the higher level classes who taught me to play poker on the train. We also toured the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig, which was an interesting museum about Soviet-occupied Germany.

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Guess who?

Back in Berlin, I had a mishap that almost ended my life. On my way to school, I tried to cross the railroad tracks just as a tram rounded the corner and almost hit me. I noticed many people don’t pay attention to the pedestrian signs (including me), but this is quite dangerous in a city with multiple transportation lines. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I’m glad I’m still here to tell the tale and warn others!

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Demonstration for an International Peace Law, featuring culturally diverse dance groups in front of the Brandenburg Gate

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Charlottenburg Palace 

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The small lake close to my apartment is a hot spot for German beachgoers

It was bittersweet to end German class and say goodbye to all the people I met. I especially was a bit sad to leave my host family, since they’ve been so amazing to me. Just an interesting aside I learned:  my host mom told me that Spike actually won a newspaper entry contest for Berlin’s cutest dog when he was about 3 years old.

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Berlin’s No.1 cutest dog

BTW, I am no A1.1 German level certified! That means I can say my numbers and order some food in German. Hopefully that will be enough to survive for the next 3 months.

Assimilation

Berlin is truly a magical city. I feel like I’ve already explored so much of the city, but then I turn around the corner and without fail, there’s always new discoveries to be made. The nice thing about the city is that everything is connected by the bus, tram, U and S-bahns, and apparently ferries? If you buy one transportation ticket, you can ride all the transportation lines for an unlimited number of times. Is navigation complicated? Yes, but definitely doable. I am directionally-challenged to the worst degree, but I’ve managed to find my way to school and back in a 40-60 minute commute every morning.

I love my host mom. She likes to knock on my door just to have a conversation about my day. According to the other interns from my class, I really lucked out. My host mom speaks good English, she likes to talk to me, and she lets me mooch off her wifi.

My language teacher, Konstantin, is super funny and awesome. He’s led us in German raps and the other day, he brought a ukulele to class and sang to us in German. There’s also a man in an apartment across the language institute. He’s become a familiar sight to all of us, since he’s always standing on his balcony in the same purple and tie-dye pajamas, smoking. We’ve nicknamed him Jerry and made jokes about him in German.

Some observations I’ve made:

  • German eat a lot of meat, cheese, bread, and cabbage. A typical breakfast is some variety of meat and cheese sandwich.
  • Mohawks are definitely in style.
  • Food is very inexpensive but German Starbucks is terribly expensive.
  • There is no free water at restaurants. Water is priced very high in Germany.
  • TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx.
  • Primark is like the European version of Forever 21.
  • Everybody smokes and drinks. Sometimes people even drink on the tram.
  • German doors are the worst. I can never tell whether to push or pull, they have pretend fake doorknobs, and the doors are difficult to close/lock/open. I embarrassingly got stuck in the bathroom once and the host son had to come save me.
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The Brandenburg Gate

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The Reichstag building

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The Holocaust Memorial. Walking through the pillars was really an experience I think that tastefully conveyed the magnitude of loss. There was also a free Holocaust museum underground.

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Spree River in Berlin

Travel nerves & exploring Berlin

The most stressful part of traveling was saying goodbye to my parents. Once I stepped through the airport security checkpoint, then I knew I was on my own. That thought was both liberating and scary, for obvious reasons. At the moment, however, I was only thinking about the millions of possibilities that could go wrong like getting lost in a foreign city or being targeted by terrorists. Despite weeks of preparation, I did not feel ready.

The actual travel was pretty uneventful. I couldn’t sleep on my 10.5 hour flight from LAX to Düsseldorf, so I ended up watching four movies in a row while sipping on some free airport wine. I passed out from exhaustion on my next flight to Berlin. When I woke up, the sun was just setting, casting for me the perfect welcome image to start my journey.

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My first look at Berlin

My taxi driver spoke only broken English, but he pointed out some cool landmarks on the way to my host family’s apartment. I feel really blessed to be assigned to my host family. My host mom is the sweetest and most helpful lady. She also has a 13 year old son and a dog named Spike, who recently had an operation so he’s stuck currently with a cone around his head. I was very excited to learn that they were huge Walking Dead fans too! It was definitely a bonding moment for all of us.

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If he looks sad, it’s just because he wants food.

The next day, I met with some of the interns from my language course. Together, we explored downtown Berlin. We went to the Menschen Museum, a real human body exhibit, and also the Carnival of the Cultures. A lot of the preserved bodies at the museum had mohawks, so I’m guessing mohawks are pretty big in Berlin. Tomorrow, I will be starting my first day of language school.

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Menschen Museum and Fernsehturm TV-Tower

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Karneval der Kulturen or “Carnival of the Cultures”

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Lángos, a Hungarian food specialty

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There was a meditative trance going on inside this church

Wilkommen

Welcome to my blog! Tomorrow is the start of my adventure to Germany, which (hopefully) includes trips to other parts of Europe. I will be staying in Germany for about 3 months, conducting tunneling and construction research with the DAAD Rise program at Ruhr-Universität Bochum. For the first 10 days, I will be in Berlin taking a German language course.

To my family and friends:  this the perfect format for you to keep up with my journeys while I am away in Europe. Please don’t worry too much for me. I will try to update this blog and other social media as much as possible, so you know I’m still alive.

To everybody else:  I hope you will be entertained by my adventures and forgive me for any poor use of the German language.

I am both nervously and excitedly anticipating what is ahead. Stay tuned!