Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Berlin in the Summer

Guten tag! Hello from Berlin, where I have spent a nice couple of weeks.

I spent my first week here staying in Kreuzberg, an area of the city with a high Turkish population. I wandered around Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the neighborhood next to it, and worked on gathering information and making contacts for my research project. It was an interesting experience, because in some cases, I felt myself going back into "Turkish mode." There is a lot of great Turkish food around, which I of course took advantage of, and enjoyed speaking a bit of Turkish (often mixed with a bit of German). Sprechen Sie Turkdeutsch? 

I worked on visiting German-Turkish organizations to hopefully make contacts for my project, but unfortunately many are in "Urlaub Zeit" (vacation time) now. One day I rented a bike, which I discovered to be a wonderful way to get around the city, and a joy to ride—many streets in Berlin have well-marked bike lanes, and they are well utilized. 

After a week in Kreuzberg, I moved way out to my dorm at the edge of Berlin. I'm living in a single in a dormitory at a "student village," with German students and international students on my program. After dropping my stuff off, I headed back to the center of Berlin for lunch with a friend who just spent the year here--it was great to catch up! Then back to the dorm for unpacking and, in my case, working on getting over a cold.

My program started out with an orientation at the Freie Universitat—where I'm studying—during which we received free tote bags and were briefed on the program and our classes. On Monday we started school, which was great. So far, my class is very interesting, and it's great to be back in an academic environment—even though I only have class Mondays and Thursdays. My class is called "Islam and the West," and so far we have discussed a lot of theoretical issues with those concepts--including identity and the creation of a "self" and "other." Brings me back to my anthropological theory class!

On my off days I've continued working on my research project—meeting with people from organizations and trying to set up interviews. I've also had some time to just hang out and relax and enjoy the city. I visited the Duckstein festival, a fun event with crafts, food, and entertainment, held at a beautiful palace. We also took part in a karaoke night at the dormitory bar (yes, there's a bar at my dorm), singing a rousing rendition of "Summer Nights" (I was John Travolta) and enjoying 3-euro cider.

On Saturday we visited a pretty cool flea market, then decided to take the night by storm at the Berlin Summer Rave--a giant dance party held at the historic Tempelhof airport. We raved and danced until around 4 AM, then headed home on the public transport system, arriving around 5:30, when the sky was already quite light. 

This week has been similar to last week—class, working on my research project, chilling at the dorms, and some exploring. I rented a bike, which has been a great investment; I can bike to school, and take it into the city. I biked around Schlachtensee, a lake near the dorms, and had a nice moment of relaxation and enjoying nature. Today I accidentally stumbled upon Checkpoint Charlie, and remembered that there's so much more to explore in this city! I'll keep you posted :)

Monday, July 9, 2012



I am now in Berlin! I arrived yesterday and look forward to telling you about this cool city ("I wanna be as cool as Berlin…."). But for now, let me tell you about Bretagne, a pretty awesome region of France.

I spent a bit of time in Rennes, just enough to stay the night at the hostel and walk around the cute old city center. Unfortunately, no luggage room in the train station meant that my suitcase came with me, so I didn't want to wander much. 

My next stop was Quimper, a cute city known for its strong Breton culture. On my first night there I had a crepe for dinner, with a bolée of cider (looks like a big tea cup, that's just what one drinks cider in in Bretagne, okay?), then went to a pub for a live session! I think I'm on a quest to see live sessions all around the world. It was great--the pub was very atmospheric, with cider on tap, and even a free one for me because "we don't get folks from Boston around here much." The session featured at least 5 Irish flutes, plus a guitar, a few fiddles, a bodhran, and some pipes. I recognized a few of the tunes, but not enough to pull out my recorder. Unfortunately, my timing and accommodation possibilities didn't work out to hear a session anywhere else in Bretagne, so I'm banking on Berlin having some good ones.

I spent a couple nice days wandering around cute old Quimper and enjoying as many crepes as possible, then took a train down to the Quiberon peninsula. I got in before the hostel reception opened, so naturally my suitcase and I took a nap on the beach. It was so beautiful and very calming after being in Paris and Istanbul. I did get a little sunburnt, but with me that's pretty unavoidable. 

Unfortunately the next few days were rainy, so I spent a drizzly day in Quiberon (the town at the end of the peninsula), and another drizzly day at Carnac. I was sharing a room at my hostel with a really nice Canadian girl, so we explored cloudy Carnac together. It was a lot of fun--rows and rows of megaliths and standing stones! I love old stones, and had a lot of flashbacks to my visits to stone circles and neolithic tombs in Ireland and Wales :). 

My final stop in Bretagne was the port-side town of Saint-Malo, which was beautiful, if rainy as well. The walled city is very quaint and, to my happy surprise, has a lot of Québecois flags flying! Saint-Malo is proud to be the place where Jacques Cartier sailed from to "discover" Québec. I enjoyed many more good crepes, and cider, and walking around. I also happened to catch the "tall ships races," where dozens of old-fashioned giant sailing ships travel from Lisbon to Ireland, stopping at various places on the way and letting people visit. I hopped onto a Portuguese ship for a while and got to speak a little portuguese, which was great fun. There was also a "folklores of the world" festival with music and dance from around the world, but unfortunately I didn't get to see much of it. The hostel I was staying at was hosting some of the performing groups, though, so I witnessed a couple of their rehearsals.

I spent a lot of time inside, trying to avoid the rain, and some time outside, being unable to avoid the rain. I took a boat across the river to Dinard, a town that historically hosted a lot of rich Brits, and still feels like it does (they have a yacht club…). Right when I arrived it started pouring, so took refuge in a building that housed a sailing school, I think. Merci, nice sailors! 

I headed out of Saint-Malo on an afternoon TGV to Paris, and arrived in the evening. It's crazy to keep popping in and out of Paris… what a cool city. I wandered around a bit for some dinner and to try to figure out my transportation for the morning (RER to the airport at 6:30 AM!), and stopped by Shakespeare and Co. I thought I had been there before, but I don't think I have because I was sort of flabbergasted. The AMBIANCE. Despite being filled with tourists… I was just so happy to be there. Old books and old wood and creaky floors and people writing things and plucking at a guitar and funny signs… if I ever decide to open up my dream coffee shop, it'll look like Shakespeare and Co., but with coffee in addition to books. Anyway… I had a farewell crepe for dinner (not at all as good as the ones in Bretagne) in the Latin Quarter and had an early night.

After an uneventful flight and a slightly eventful time trying to navigate my way around Berlin with both a broken suitcase and a broken backpack (oops…) and a broken metro system, here I am! First impressions: there are kebab shops everywhere in Kreuzberg (yum), and oh man, I hate not being able to understand the language. I had gotten used to being comfortable in French (yay!), and despite my one-semester accelerated intro German course from freshman year of college, I feel totally lost here. Eek. Since I'm in a Turkish-ish neighborhood I suppose I could try my Turkish, but it's pretty weak too. Sprechen Sie Englisch? 

Stay tuned for more Berlin adventures!