Have you noticed the weird B's on all the street signs?

posted Dec 8, 2015, 12:11 PM by Meredith Greer   [ updated Dec 8, 2015, 12:12 PM ]

Contributed by Ellie Toll

As the semester ends, the due dates begin. In the past few weeks I have found myself spending more hours in Starbucks than ever before, seemingly the only place in Berlin where it is acceptable to sit on your computer for hours using what seems to be the entire capacity of their free WiFi. Although I would have loved to have found a cute coffee shop nestled away in a hidden corner of the city, I have discovered two realities: most of these types of coffee shops judgingly discourage any of their visitors from pulling a laptop out of their bag after buying a coffee, it is simply not the relaxing and cool “vibe” that they want; second, observing the people that flood in and out of the tourist hubs that are the Starbucks of Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz have come to act as sporadic breaks from my work.

Along with the closing weeks of our term, I have noticed more and more English, French, Italian, and Spanish are spoken around me. The tourists are here. The funny part about this is that I do not immediately associate myself with a tourist. I feel like my knowing of how to use the U-Bahn, how to pronounce the U-Bahn, has declared me some right as a Berlin resident. Nonetheless, hearing different languages, especially in Starbucks, has somehow put me at ease during my studies. There is something to be said about the holiday season and its visitors, even more in Berlin, one of the Christmas market capitals of the world. People are happier, they don’t mind if their mocha-chocha-double-steamed-twice-stirred-latte is not the right temperature. Instead, they giggle when their name is misspelled and proceed to sit down in the land of accessible WiFi and speak with their friends, their faces lit up with smiles.

The Seattle-based coffee shop, though it may be touristy, attracts happy people who are visiting Berlin and are excited to be here. The anecdotes of visitors talking about their favorite section of the Berlin Wall, or how funny it is that all the transportation has some version of “fahrt” labeled on its side, or that they are in the Starbucks located on Ebertstrabe street, lingers in my subconscious as I study for my German final and prepare for my presentations. It makes me happy to hear what other people think of this amazing city and that they make the same mistakes that I did in September, even if it might be indirectly.

For our course, “Mapping the City” I worked on a project that centered on the idea of analyzing the Berlin Buddy Bears. This entailed visiting three of the bears that are scattered around Potsdamer Platz – conveniently, Starbucks was centrally located for this mission. My favorite part of the project was taking panorama photos from the bears’ eye-level, in an effort to provide an entirely different prospective. Even more, my group did this at three different times of the day. Of course, I went to Starbucks to work in between and each time I was greeted by the same friendly barista with a comment in English like, “You’re back!” My German clearly didn’t fool him.

After spending whole days in the same armchair located by the one outlet in the room with the baristas guessing how you take your coffee correctly each time you order, sometimes you just hit a wall. When this happened, my friends and I would leave the Starbucks and try to do something completely unrelated to school.

“Go for a run, or a long walk!” my mom would tell me over text.

“We are going to the mall … it’s HUGE, so we will have to walk a ton.”

Beyond going to the massive German malls and getting a ton of exercise (some of the shoe departments are located on the third floor), I spent a lot of time with my friends exploring the Christmas markets and attending the Bates alumni dinner party. One of my favorite Christmas markets was the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt located right off of Friedrichstraße. Although it costs a euro to enter, it is truly the epitome of what I imagined a German Christmas market to be - potatoes, Bratwurst, and fried food galore. A magical experience. There is also a live band that sings Christmas songs in all different languages while being lit up by colorful lights and a disco ball, artisans selling a variety of crafts, and tons and tons of Christmas ornaments.

A photo of WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt

As a whole, whether I’ve been in Starbucks or wandering the narrow avenues of the Christmas markets, Berlin is a fairy-tale-like place in December. The Christmas spirit is truly alive here, and it makes everyone a little bit happier and work a little bit easier, even if you’re sitting in an American coffee shop.

Ausstieg Rechts

posted Dec 6, 2015, 8:48 PM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Nick Sergay

It's now the last week before our trip ends and I return home to America. Having spent a semester in Berlin, I know I will look at America differently. I will experience my home as a foreign country, at least for a little while. In this way the adventure of studying abroad will continue even after the program is officially over.
Just as Berlin will give me a different perspective on America, returning to America will give me a new perspective on Berlin. I don't know now exactly what will stand out to me when I think back on my time here.
I can say now, though, that one thing I'll miss is the Berliner U-bahn.
I had never lived in a city before this trip. I grew up in the suburbs, where I could ride my bike to school and other places. During high school I lived out in the country, so doing anything outside of the house meant getting into the car and driving there. At Bates, most of everything is right on the small campus, so I just walked.
In Berlin, people walk and bike and drive, but most of all they ride the U-bahn. The U-bahn is Berlin's subway system. With its 173 stations and 94 miles of track, the U-bahn ensures that you can go pretty much anywhere you want to go within an hour, often within half. This turns the whole sprawling, diverse Berlin into more or less your backyard. Grab your coat, walk out the door and down the street, and soon you're halfway across the city. I had never had this sort of freedom of movement, and I loved it.
For the first month here, I went everywhere with the U-bahn. I would walk to my local station, Nollendorfplatz, descend into the ground, and wait no more than five minutes for a train on the U12 line. The long yellow train would come to a stop and a recorded male voice would announce, "Zug nach Warschauer Strasse. Einsteigen, bitte." Sometimes the trains were very full, but somehow the people inside would always find space for those getting on.
On the train, I would look around at my fellow passengers. Every kind of person you could imagine rode the train, since the train was cheap enough for anyone and a great way for anyone to get around the city. Businessmen standing by the door and looking at their phones, students reading books in their laps, workers in overalls, tourists, and poor people selling newspapers or, occasionally, playing music for tips.

Not long later I would reach my destination. As the train pulled up a recorded female voice would announce the name of the station and tell the passengers to leave the train on the right: "Ausstieg rechts." I would press the button to open the door, climb some stairs, and step into the sunlight (this was back before daylight savings hit) in a completely different part of the city.
About halfway through the trip, I finally bought a bike. I've always loved biking but never really had a chance to use it to get around once I left the suburbs. Biking in Berlin is another adventure. The absence of bike lanes in about half of the city means that you are relying entirely on drivers to notice you and avoid you, but they seem to be pretty good at it.
Biking in Berlin, I saw the drawbacks of the U-bahn. I had never minded before but now I realized how cooped up and blind I was as I travelled through the city underground. Also, only travelling via U-bahn had made me think of the city as a collection of isolated bubbles, the areas surrounding the stations. Biking, I was able to connect them into an idea of the city as a continuous whole.
Still, I love the U-bahn and ride it with pleasure these last several days. The freedom of a person, equipped with only a U-bahn pass, to easily reach any of a million destinations was an amazing new experience for me, and one thing that I will miss about Berlin.


Ridin Solo

posted Dec 1, 2015, 1:26 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Sarah Keith

One of my first thoughts when I was boarding the airplane that would take me to first to Dublin and then Berlin was, “Here I go, traveling alone for the first time.” Little did I realize how far from accurate that thought was. Not only was I not alone, I was traveling with seventeen other Bates students. I would be taking classes with actual Bates professors, and living in an apartment with a host mother. Realizing this, I decided to go to Prague alone. I had lived in a large city for three months now; surviving dark scary walks at night, U-Bahns so packed I cant even breathe, and homeless strangers following me around begging for money. I could totally travel to Prague solo, easily. Off I went one Thursday night and nothing could rain on my confidence. Not the bus being an hour delayed, my creepy but friendly hostel-mate, nor the actual pouring rain I had the whole weekend. One would think the security would be increased crossing borders as the refugee crisis continues to grow, but I had no problem at all, and was at my hostel before midnight safe and sound. 
Prague was beautiful and I absolutely loved the alone-time. Despite the pouring rain, I saw some touristy attractions and then sat in a café and read for a few hours, an activity I had forgotten how much I missed. On the bus ride back to Berlin, the driver called for passports. Before I had time to open mine to show my picture and information, the driver looked at it and remarked, “Ah. American. Go on in”, and that was the extent of the security checks I went through. 
 Astronomical Clock in Prague    Streets of Prague
After such an amazingly successful weekend alone in Prague, I decided to travel again the next weekend. It ended up also being a solo travel experience, this time to the tiny town of Wernigerode. Wernigerode is one of the villages in the Harz region in Germany, where many fairy tales were written, and I was dying to go to the mountains. Since it is part of Germany, I knew I could use my phone and I was comfortable with the amount of German I know. Slightly overconfident after my Prague weekend, I bought the train tickets and set off. 
While I did have an awesome trip, my journey there was horrible. It was supposed to take a total of three hours and involve two trains. Simple, right? I found the first train easily and napped the entire time. When I went to get onto my second train, I discovered it didn't exist. I was told to hop onto the one that was there and I could eventually make it to Wernigerode. Then, 25 minutes later, the train suddenly stopped at a “station” that was just a single concrete slab and one lamppost. Everyone on the train had to exit, and we were told a bus would come get us later. A long half hour later a bus finally arrived, but it could only hold half of the 100 or so people waiting. Sadly, I didn’t make it onto the bus. I did, however, witness the bus hit a man trying to block its path… to which a nearby Polizei just laughed. After another hour of waiting a second bus finally came. It brought us to another deserted station, and almost left us there until one woman persuaded him to bring us just a little further. By now the sun had set, and my confidence in my solo traveling skills had pretty much disappeared. Eventually, the bus made it to a train station that had a train going to Wernigerode in 45 minutes. Six-plus hours after I left Berlin, I finally made it to my destination.
Wernigerode was an amazingly adorable village to visit. Even though my trip had a less than desirable beginning, it ended up being a very relaxing and fun weekend! The entire village turns into one, giant, Weinachtsmarkt for the season and it was beautiful. There are little Christmas trees tied to posts all over town and every narrow street was decorated with strings of lights. I also took a fun bus-designed-to-look-like-a-train called the Bimmelbahn up to the top of the mountain where the castle is and saw some breath taking views of Wernigerode in the valley below. 

 Wernigerode        Bimmelbahn Wernigerode

All in all, I am really glad I got to experience these two different trips alone. I learned that I can definitely get by alone in a foreign country, but my most memorable trips will always be those with friends and family. 


posted Nov 28, 2015, 2:29 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Guyu Zhu

In this past week, I just had my first Thanksgiving in Berlin, and it is actually the first Thanksgiving in my life! On Thanksgiving day, I still needed to go to my German class at 9:30 in the morning. On my way to IES, as always, I bought a cup of black coffee at a coffee stand in the Schöneberg S-Bahn station. The lady at that coffee stand knows me so well that I don’t even have to speak up to order my coffee every morning I pass there.  
After class, Greg and I went to Alexanderplatz to buy food for Thanksgiving. The Christmas market there was already opened, and I tried the Glühwein, which was really good. Since this was my first Thanksgiving, I was indecisive on what I should bring. Then I saw Toby’s post on Facebook asking any one of us to bring some tortilla chips, so I decided to bring some tortilla chips. We didn’t find any tortilla chips, so we decided to go check out supermarkets near Greg’s place. Greg invited me to his place and I introduced a math game on iPhone to him in return.  We listened to a German band in his place. The lyrics from this band are really weird. Like one of them is about the fascination with doors. After a while, we went out, hunting for tortilla chips again. At one of the local supermarkets, we finally found them.

After shopping, we went to Meredith’s place for Thanksgiving. Aly and Becky were there when we arrived. Later, everyone arrived one after the other. We wrote on the Wall of Thanks, and chatted a lot before dinner started. I also ate a lot of tortilla chips with the guacamole Toby brought, and I found I just couldn’t stop eating them.  Finally, the dinner started and it was delicious! I had a lot of mashed potatoes and turkey as well. After dinner, we played charades with Ellie. She was definitely good at performing. Around nine we left Meredith’s place and some of us went bowling. I enjoyed bowling, even though I was extremely bad at it. We only played one game, and the bowling center was about to close, so we had to head back. 

That is all about my Thanksgiving day in Berlin. At this very moment, I am really happy to be here in this city with this group. Right now, we only have two weeks left. For the rest of this semester, I wish I could live every day to the fullest, and cherish my experiences of this amazing adventure.

Trials and Tribulations of Dublin: Part Two

posted Nov 24, 2015, 11:39 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Becky Ladd

As part one made very clear, our Dublin trip started off with a lot of confusion and many mishaps. But with all of our mistakes behind us we were determined to make the best of our remaining time there.

Our second day got off to an interesting start. We, once again, had every intention of heading out early but were delayed for various reasons including not knowing how to turn on the showers and getting distracted by the makeshift iron we created from the kettle in our room. After making sure everyone was wrinkle free and grabbing a longer than expected breakfast at the hotel we finally headed off to the bus. Learning from our mistakes on the previous day we were able to navigate the buses with more ease and even managed to successfully get off on the correct stop to purchase our tickets for the Dublin hop on hop off bus tour.

Our two main goals of the day were to visit the Guinness Storehouse and the Kilmainham Gaol (a former prison). Since we were running a bit behind schedule we decided to take the tour past the other stops and straight to the Guinness Factory. After waiting in line in “the coldest spot in Dublin” (another direct quote but this time from our bus driver) for about an hour we were able to enter the seven floor factory where we learned all about the Guinness process. On the 4th floor we were able to practice the art of pouring our own Guinness, which was a surprisingly stressful experience. Some of us were reprimanded for not following the “simple instructions” given by our incredibly Irish leader.

Aly pours her own Guinness

Following with the theme of our trip, we didn’t end up leaving until around 4:45, and the jail closed at 6. We had high hopes of making it but much to our dismay it was closed by the time we arrived. We were able to end the night strong though, with cheap hotel dinners, an hour long monologue by Aly Wolff and a pub crawl.

On our final day in Dublin we finally managed to get out early for once. Due to our miscalculating on the previous day, we planned on visiting the jail first thing in the morning. By this time in the trip we were really struggling with coins for the bus, and were desperate to break our 50 euro notes. Almost first in line at the jail, we were excited to get on the first tour, until we were told we would have to pay the 2 euro fee in exact change. In a collective effort we dumped out the remaining coins in our wallets and managed to pull off this near impossible feat. Unfortunately that meant we didn’t have enough coins for the bus ride back into the city centre, on top of the fact that we didn’t know were the closest bus stop was. We wandered for a bit until a gas station came to our rescue with free WiFi and a chance to get change for the bus. This came all too easily when three out of the four of us paid for 2 euro muffins with 50s. The cashier was very apologetic as he gave us 30 Euros of change in 2 Euro coins.

Inside the Kilmainham Gaol

Due to our time constraints with our flight at 4:30 and still wanting to visit the Leprechaun Museum, we never got to return to Eddie Rockets, our new favorite Irish diner, and instead the gas station’s incredibly stale muffins were our only meal of the day. Although that decision is still up for debate, I think it was worth it. The museum was a success and we had a very enthusiastic tour guide who taught us all about Irish folklore and myths.

We had completed so much in our limited time frame and were feeling so successful that it was only natural that we would mess up on what we thought would be our very last bus ride. We went one stop too far, which took us across the highway and about half a mile from where we wanted to be. We stayed calm and hopped on the first bus back, with all the confidence that we would be back only a few minutes later. Naturally, the bus went in a completely new direction, and by the time we realized we should get off we were deep in a residential neighborhood of Dublin where there were no taxis to be found. After a brief moment of panic, in which someone suggested we sprint the 15 min walk back to our hotel, and a 20 min wait, we were finally rescued by a taxi and were able to get to our flight with plenty of time to spare.

Trials and Tribulations of Dublin: Part One

posted Nov 20, 2015, 10:54 PM by Meredith Greer   [ updated Nov 20, 2015, 10:54 PM ]

Contributed by Caroline Best

My mother told me before I left that it’s in the last couple of weeks that you start really experiencing a place. She saw it happen with my old babysitter, and with an exchange student that lived with us for a summer. Those last couple weeks they packed in so many adventures. It’s now getting close to the end of our time in Berlin, and I’m starting to feel that. With only a couple of days left, it’s starting to feel like there is so much still to do with not a lot of time left. With this feeling starting to weigh down, naturally I went to Ireland.

It’s now 9:30 on our second night here, and Dublin has been nothing short of an adventure. To set the scene, there are four of us in the smallest hotel room ever, and we are “miles from the city center”. Which is, in fact, a direct quote from the taxi driver who brought us here last night, after much deliberation with a friend over whether or not the hotel actually existed. Worn down from travel, we all crashed that night for an early start the next morning.

That early start came around 10:30, when we finally made it out of the hotel room. In a brief moment of panic, I thought I had lost the key to our hotel room. It wasn’t until I checked the door did I realize I had left it the lock for the entire of the night. Whoops. After that unfortunate moment, we stumbled out into blinding sun and aggressive winds only to head the wrong way and straight onto the highway. Quickly realizing our mistake, we found our way to the actual bus stop only to have three buses drive straight by us. It wasn’t until an elderly lady joined us and, later, flagged down the bus did we realize our mistake. We did make it onto the bus and into Dublin. Eventually.

Stressed and unsure of where we were actually headed, we ran from the bus about three stops too early and ended up following the bus for another couple of blocks in our pursuit of food. As the rain started, and our stomachs started to rumble even louder, feelings of despair crept into our hearts. Had our Dublin adventure ended so early? All hope seemed lost until there, in the distance, was the promised land. Eddie Rockets. It was here, among milkshakes and bacon, that our day truly turned around. With food in our bellies, we had the drive to take on Dublin. So we set out once more to have many more mishaps and many more adventures.

All things considered though, we had a successful first day. We made it to the Chester Beatty Library, the Coach House, Trinity College, including the Book of Kells, and the Irish Whiskey Museum. We had some really great food, and some pretty hilarious situations. We dropped some whiskey glasses, fell up the stairs, attempted to use the men’s bathroom, and tried to become one with an Irish press conference. And this is only the start of this Irish adventure.

Biking in Spain

posted Nov 16, 2015, 4:42 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Toby Myers

Over October break I biked several hundred miles of the Don Quixote trail in Spain with my friend Benja from Munich.  From day two on, our trip had a rhythm: wake up, hobble onto bike, groan in pain, start pedaling, pedal, eat, pedal, pedal, don't stop pedaling, find hostel, go out for tapas and beer, stretch, groan in pain, lie down and fall asleep instantly, repeat.

Throughout the pedal, pedal, don't stop pedaling part, we followed dirt roads past crumbling 11th century castles, and through olive groves and plowed fields so barren I could only imagine they were used to cultivate the rocks themselves.

Rock Farming

I was woefully out of shape, so I was both always in pain and always ravenous.  I think that's why lunch stands out as such a highlight. For a few Euros, we ate cured Spanish ham, local manchego cheese, tomatoes, and pesto, on a fresh baguette.

One night, in a small town called Consuegra,  we couldn't find cheap lodging.  There were no Airbnbs, no hostels, and no couchsurfing listings.  Night was falling, and with no place to go, we decided to explore the 17th century windmills for which the town is famous.  Under the right circumstances--exhaustion, a tight budget, and a plummeting temperature--windmills begin to look a lot like hostels.  They share characteristics such as doors, walls, roofs, and most importantly in our case, windows.  Walking past the mill titled Alcancia, which roughly translates to “reaching,” I noticed that a small window was ajar high up on the wall.  Fifteen minutes later we had a home for the night. 

The Alcancia

The magic of the trip was its spontaneity.  We had no plans, a good map, and five days to wander.  If we saw something we wanted to do, we did it.  If we were tired, we rested.  I love travelling in this free-form way.  It forces you to be in the moment.  If you don´t know where you'll be in an hour, you have to pay attention to where you are now, and seize opportunities as they arise.  You're almost always at least a little lost, so you're forced to ask people questions, so you get a sense of the locals.  Most importantly, your source of information about a place is no longer the product of a Google search or a guided walking tour, but your observations and impressions of the place itself.   

Here are the most important things I learned in Spain:  At Spanish bars, always order the smallest possible drink.  Each drink comes with a small tapa, which increases in deliciousness and value with each drink ordered.  You might get a few fries with your first drink, but if you have the tenacity and strength of character to simply keep ordering more, you're likely to get grilled salmon or something. 

Biking is an amazing way to travel.  You're both fast enough that you can make real headway in a short period of time, and slow enough that you can pay close attention to where you are.  Biking makes car travel seem even more insulating than the Bates bubble.  

View from our hostel in Toledo

Break Week in Berlin and Prague

posted Nov 16, 2015, 4:18 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Carolyn Benner

This past weekend I traveled to Amsterdam with Holly Bushman and Ellie Toll. Since there is already a blog post about Amsterdam, I will instead talk about my break week in Berlin and Prague to prevent any repetition. 

I met my parents at 7am Saturday morning at their Airbnb in Berlin after our night bus back to Poland. I was exhausted and ready to take a long nap, but my dad was ready for a 3-hour walking tour of Berlin. I was NOT happy, but the tour was surprisingly interesting and I did learn some facts about Berlin that I did not already know (of course, I will not admit this to my dad). The rest of our three days in Berlin were thankfully more relaxing as we spent most of our time eating and wandering around parks and flea markets. On Tuesday, we packed up our little rental car and made the drive down to Prague. My dad drives super slow and the German drivers hated us, but we safely made it to Prague in the early evening. My mom and I love food so we went to the closest restaurant that had “traditional Czech food”. It was definitely the Czech version of Ruby Tuesday’s. It was pretty good. 

Prague Castle Grounds

The next day we went to the Prague Castle!!! I love castles!!! The main palace was closed, which was disappointing, but the rest of the castle grounds were amazing. My dad was nice to me and let me shoot a crossbow for 2 euro. I got a bull’s eye, which impressed the slender young men behind us that could barely lift the crossbow when it was their turn. Wimps. That night we ate in the Old Town Square and, to my mom’s and my surprise, my dad treated us to a horse ride! On Thursday, we took a little day trip to Pilsen, the home of Pilsner Urquell: The world’s first golden pilsner! The town itself was not too impressive, but the brewery was pretty incredible (as was the brewery restaurant). I highly suggest the day trip for all beer lovers out there. 

Inside the Pilsner Urquell Brewery

On Saturday, we headed back to Berlin for one last night before my parent’s flight on Sunday. To their surprise, when they got to the airport they found out that their flight did not exist, and their trip to Europe extended to the next possible flight out on Wednesday! They made the most of their time and decided to ditch me to go to Iceland where they checked out natural geysers and the Northern Lights. 

As I wrote this blog post, I had a hard time not writing about the massive amounts of food I consumed. So, I will now make a list of suggested food in case anyone else is going to Prague.

  1. Trdlnik! (Photo to the right) A traditional Slovak pastry and the most amazing thing you will ever eat! It is rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick and grilled with cinnamon and sugar so that the outside is crispy and the inside is squishy and delicious. I ate five Trdlniks during my three days in Prague.
  2. Pork Knuckle. I just looked this up on Google and Wikipedia tells me that this is German cuisine. I have not seen Pork Knuckle anywhere in Germany, and in Prague every restaurant claimed to have the best Pork Knuckle.  I don’t know which Pork Knuckle is actually the best…but I don’t think you can go wrong. It is just a giant piece of pork. Amazing. 
  3. Potato dumplings. I love potatoes, and I love dumplings. 
  4. Bread dumplings. Fluffy little pieces of heaven!
  5. Hot Chocolate. There is an amazing chocolate shop called Prazska Cokolada Factory Store on the walk up to the Prague Castle with the best hot chocolate. It was so thick and delicious you needed a spoon to drink it (it was basically just melted chocolate with heavy cream). There is also a Trdlnik stand across the street. I suggest dipping the Trdlnik in the hot chocolate. 
  6. Strapačky. Potato dumplings mixed with sauerkraut and ham. If you love sauerkraut, this dish is for you. I promise.
  7. Goulash in a bread bowl. I thought bread bowls were just a thing at Panera. I was wrong, and the bread bowls in Prague are better. 
  8. Pivo! (Beer!) I don’t actually like beer, but my parents do, and they loved it here. 


Pork Knuckle

How I Finally Figured Out Where I Actually Was

posted Nov 9, 2015, 4:10 AM by Meredith Greer   [ updated Nov 9, 2015, 6:04 AM ]

Contributed by Parker Nelson

At any of the major operas, concert houses, or ballets in Berlin, anyone under the age of thirty can purchase, for the nominal sum of fifteen Euros, the ClassicCard. This little piece of paper fits snuggly in any wallet, and allows for the owner to purchase tickets to any of these same major performance companies for the low, low price of ten Euros, when this same card bearer arrives at the box office an hour before curtain. What this means, of course, is that I, or anyone else with this card, can show up to the opera for one of the major performances of the season, and get any seat that isn’t already sold (some of them priced at over ninety euros) for a fraction of the cost. 

I bought myself this card just in time to see Don Giovanni, an opera by Mozart, play at the Deutsche Oper. The story of Don Giovanni is quite famous, and is an adaptation of the legend of Don Juan, a man famous for his outrageous behavior and even more outrageous womanizing. The opera was originally performed in an eighteenth century setting, yet as with most operas, directors have adapted the show to be performed in any number of time periods. This most recent performance at the Deutsche Oper was set in what seemed to be current times; all the men wore modern, slim fitting suits, and the women wore dresses and outfits with hemlines that were likely not accepted before the turn of the century. The orchestra, performers, and music was like any other Don Giovanni recording that I’d ever heard, and were quite nice to listen to. While this sounds simple enough, the rest of the adaptation made the entire performance quite difficult for me to follow, and was, for lack of a better word, weird. There was no consistent set, apart from a series of platforms that raised and lowered, and instead of the usual singular figure of Don Giovanni, there were perhaps twenty other men who dressed exactly like him, and accompanied him all over the stage. Apart from their similar appearances, they also mouthed along with whatever Don Giovanni was singing, seeming to indicate that they were some sort of component to the main character himself, and not just extraneous characters with their own plotlines. These men also often carried golf clubs, symbolizing… well, something. My breaking point came at the ending of the first act. Typically, the first half of the show ends with a large party in Don Giovanni’s home, during which he tries to assault a woman, is foiled in his attempt, and manages to escape while leaving his servant behind to take the blame. In this performance, however, it is hard to tell what is really going on. Two large metal carousels spin in the middle of the stage, pulled around by men in nothing but tuxedo trousers. Around them, the rest of the “ball” continues, yet it was like no other ball that I had ever seen. On the left hand side of the stage, a man who looked like Jesus, in nothing but a loincloth, rode an exercise bike with a special vigor. On the other side of the stage, six men in futuristic scuba suits played violins, all the while sitting on a rotating circular bench. In the middle of the scene, Don Giovanni’s servant, now shirtless, swung in his hands two large whips as he, and the rest of the cast, sang the finale to the first act. ‘Weird’ seems to be the only word that truly sums up how I felt about the whole situation. 

To be honest, I don’t know why I was surprised about something like this that I was seeing in a place like Berlin. Of all of the cities in Europe, or perhaps the world, there are few that have the same reputation of pushing the envelope on both art and culture, especially in the post-modernist, interpretive direction. Returning from my week in Austria, the special other-ness that Berlin possesses has really set in for me. It is its own bubble, its own enclave in which all sorts of experimental and fascinating things develop independently from the rest of the country, and a place where these same developments are written on the walls of the city, through architecture, in graffiti, and even on the faces of its inhabitants. It may not be for me all the time, and Don Giovanni has certainly helped me realize that. But Berlin stops for no one, and the rest of us are along for the ride. It may be a modern, artsy, and perhaps weird ride at times, but a thrilling experience nonetheless, and one that has certainly exposed me to a multitude of amazing things.

Doing Nothing in France

posted Nov 6, 2015, 12:06 AM by Meredith Greer

Contributed by Kiyona Mizuno

There is nothing like relaxing in the French countryside to decompress after a packed week of head colds and walking tours. The day after we returned from Poland, I was back on a plane heading to Charles de Gaulle airport. It was a surreal feeling when I landed in Paris and made my way into the heart of the city; I was finally back to the place I’d called home for three years of my childhood and early adolescence, but it had been five years since I’d last stepped foot there. After Poland—and even after Berlin—everything felt denser: the buildings taller, the streets busier, and the traffic louder. Yet at the same time, everything felt smaller than how I remembered it (of course, since I’ve grown so much since 7th grade). I barely had time to take it all in before I arrived at Gare Montparnasse and caught a train heading west out of the city.

Every day from Monday through Thursday of our break, I had an absurdly large mug of tea in my hand, a book in the other (usually Harry Potter), and my lungs filled with fresh autumn air. I was in Le-Pin-la-Garenne, a tiny village near the stunning Belleme forest painted with autumn hues in the Basse-Normandie region. Sleeping until noon was compulsory, the dress code was pajama bottoms and a baggy sweatshirt, and pain au chocolat and croissants were prime choices for a midnight snack. My mom’s friend’s rescue dog, Tango, constantly begged for snacks and cuddles; I, of course, obliged.

Le-Pin-la-Garenne, Basse-Normandie, France

I headed back to Paris for the last couple of days of freedom from classes and obligations. Navigating the busy Paris metro came like second-nature to me. I took the same line I used to take all the time to get from my apartment to Trocadero or the Arc de Triomphe. As the train passed over the Bir-Hakeim Bridge (you might recognize it from its appearance in the movie “Inception”), I had to suppress a grin from spreading across my face and weirding out other commuters. I picked up a baguette from my favorite bakery on Rue De Passy and ate half of it during the car ride to my friend’s parents’ house on the outskirts of western Paris. The cobblestoned pavements and maze of backstreets were just as I remembered it. I don’t know why I expected my old neighborhood to have changed, but the fact that it was exactly as it used to be came as a bit of a shock. I quickly fell in step with the people rushing up and down the sidewalk, and a strange feeling came over me; although I am a San Franciscan through and through, Paris’ welcoming familiarity somehow felt like coming home.

Bir-Hakeim Bridge, taken by Kento Mizuno

1-10 of 21