Welcome to my first journal! I hope you will get to experience a little bit of Germany along with me and will have fun meeting the students I will work with later on this semester!
Have you ever thought about what it is like in Germany? Can you think of any clichés when you think of German people or cities? Have you ever eaten schnitzel or bratwurst? Many Americans have German heritage or know someone who has German family or friends. As I’ve been living here, I’ve noticed that Germans and Americans have a lot in common.
Germany is in Western Europe, and has a similar economy to that of the USA. Sometimes I think my day-to-day life hasn’t changed all that much. I live in a modern apartment and use forms of transportation that are not very different from (and sometimes better than) what I use in the U.S. Then I think about the fact that almost everyone here speaks a first language that is not English, and I know I’m not in Minnesota anymore!
I live in an apartment in northern Berlin, in a district called Wedding (don’t forget that in German w’s are pronounced like v’s). Berlin is one of the most diverse cities I have visited. When I use public transportation, I hear someone speaking a different language every day. The city has four million people and lots of places to check out. It’s sometimes hard to keep up because there is always something new going on!
It would take about an hour to drive your car around the city-state of Berlin if you wanted to get an idea of how big it is. Imagine driving your car around North Carolina or Minnesota in one hour! I can bike nearly everywhere I want to go in Berlin within an hour, too. There are many bike paths and people use them all year long. The other day I saw a father biking through the snow with his kid on the handlebar seat. I thought that was pretty hardcore biking dedication.
It’s hard to feel lonely in Berlin since there are always people to meet and places to explore. For me the downside of living in a different country is the language barrier. Learning another language is tough. Sounding like a native German is even tougher and nearly impossible for me! I always give myself away as a foreigner when I open my mouth. There have also been times when I’ve embarrassed myself with the language! For example, I thought for months that I could say the word echtlich in order to say “really.” Echt means “real” and lich means “ly” so I just thought I would put them together! Unfortunately, echtlich is not a German word. However, when you say echtlichout loud it sounds like eklig, which is a real German word and means “disgusting.” For five months I was saying “disgusting” when I wanted to say “really”! I am glad someone finally told me!
Now I look back on it and smile, knowing that making mistakes is just part of the experience. Luckily people here have been very polite and patient with me, and I appreciate it a lot. It is easy to feel left out of conversations at times when all your German friends are chatting with each other, but then I have a triumphant moment when I understand a conversation and participate in it without much difficulty. It is moments like those that make all the embarrassing mistakes worth it.
What is also nice about learning German and living in Berlin is all the history the city has to offer. People come from all around the world to visit what remains of the Berlin Wall. During the decades after the end of World War II, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany. East Germany was supported by the former Soviet Union and West Germany was supported by the U.S., France and Britain. Since Berlin was located in the East, and the powers that controlled West Germany wanted some of Berlin too, Berlin was split into East and West Berlin. East Berlin belonged to East Germany. West Berlin belonged to West Germany.
West Berlin was somewhat of an island in the middle of East Germany. Many people tried to immigrate to West Berlin. After too many people started leaving East Germany for West Germany in Berlin, a wall was built in 1961 to prevent further emigration. The Wall used to run through the middle of the entire city from north to south. It was possible to cross the border through the Wall, but one had to go through certain checkpoints and get special permission to cross. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1990 East and West Germany were reunited into one country. There are memorials about the Wall all throughout Berlin. I visited the memorial at Bernauer Straße U-Bahn (subway) station. Today large metal poles mark where the Wall once stood. It’s hard to believe that a route that I can travel so easily today was impossible to pass just 24 years ago!
This week I’m looking forward to my mom’s visit. It will be her first visit to Berlin and I want to show her as much as we have time for! While she’s here we will also take a trip to Prague, and I am so excited! I hear Prague is a beautiful city, so watch for an upcoming post about that adventure! It is here I will sign off, so auf widersehen!