I’ve officially been in Berlin for 2.5 days, and it feels wild to think that Utrecht is behind me, and that this sprawling city will be my home for the next four weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to compare the two cities to familiar cities in the states, and while there isn’t an accurate comparison, I think I am coming close. Utrecht was like Ann Arbor- a college town. It was very walkable, felt like a bigger city than it is, and the population is largely students, with a lot of young people staying in the city after school. It is a very livable city, and it feels perfectly sized when you are in it, but then you leave and all of a sudden it seems tiny. Berlin would thus be like New York, and there are a lot of similarities outside of size. It is extremely diverse, there is food from all over the world, and it is a center of culture. And while my commute to school has changed from a 12 minute bike ride to a 40 minute bus and train ride, I continue to find pleasure in my simple mornings. Already it feels as if I have been here a week, not just 60 hours.
Instead of the private apartments we had in Utrecht, here we are doing homestays, but like most things on this trip, our homestays aren’t very conventional. Rather than staying with families, we are all paired up and living with members of the queer community here in Berlin. Our host is a musician and teacher who loves yoga and meditation, and has the most perfect balcony on which I am sitting right now. She also has this incredible egg machine, which with no effort on my part makes the most perfect soft boiled eggs in merely 2 minutes. It has already changed my breakfast routine and made me a breakfast person!
Our home is in Kreuzberg, a neighbourhood in former west Berlin that is becoming increasingly gentrified and touristy, but it retains the quaint feel I crave in a city. And the food nearby is so good and so cheap! So far we (my roommate and I) have had incredible Vietnamese food, and only paid 8 euros a person for a very complete meal!
Already, we have explored some of the more historical parts of the city as a group, and I am finally beginning to understand the division between east and west Berlin. There are reminders of WWII everywhere, from the watch tower right near our apartment to the many memorials and museums educating residents and tourists alike about the cities history. I only briefly visited a few memorials, and look forward to going back on my own and being able to truly process what this city stands for.
Along with our lectures, much of our time in Berlin will be spent speaking with Berliners about how the history of the city and the Holocaust intersects with gender studies, and our focus on the Holocaust will continue into Poland, which will give me even more opportunity to expand my understanding of WWII. Our experience in Berlin feels like the perfect reason to study abroad. What we are doing in our courses is so intrinsically linked to the history and current climate in this city, and by looking at both, we are able to take even more from what we are learning, and to work this new understanding and way of learning into forms of action and knowledge production. And the graffiti is pretty cool too 🙂