Adventures in Berlin

Guest Post By: Catherine Kirschbaum, a Senior studying Accounting and Operations and Supply Chain Management. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through IES Berlin in Berlin, Germany, during Spring Quarter 2022.

*Note to the reader, this is one week taken from a blog I wrote weekly while I was in Berlin. If you would like to read the rest, head over to the blog website and start at Welcome to my Blog.

Hallo Zussamen (Hello Everyone)!

Wow, it has been a busy week, but it has also been so fun! I feel like my time here is flying by, but I guess it makes sense because they say time flies when you’re having fun. I had two of my midterms last week, so the early part of the week was spent frantically working on them. They were both presentations (a very similar format for my two classes taught by the same professor).

On Monday my German pop culture class watched clips from a bunch of movies from the 90s that were focused on German reunification. We also watched about 30 mins of a movie called “Run Lola Run” that included a lot of shots of Berlin and music styled after the classic Berlin techno music. In one of the scenes, the main character ran through an area in Berlin that I recognized as somewhere we walked through on our walking tour (how cool is that?!) A couple of us had to find out what happened in the movie after getting that invested in it so our prof was so nice as to share the link so we could finish it. It’s a very interesting movie, kind of cultish, but worth a watch I would say. 🙂 After class, a couple of us went to a small indoor market to get dinner and explore. I had some excellent pear-orange-ginger juice (and now I know that ginger is Ingwer in German and pear is Birne. Then it was back home for working on my midterms.

On Tuesday I had no class as my prof was giving us extra time to work on our midterms (tbh I’m pretty sure she just didn’t want to teach and wanted to work on something else lol) I pretty much spent the whole day at home working on that although I did go for a walk at one point. It is so fun to see the different types of flowers come into bloom and fade as time passes. Right now, there are huge lilac bushes and wisteria everywhere as well as fruit trees in bloom.

On Wednesday my pop culture class listened to a bunch of 2000s German rap and techno. It was a very cool class, and it was super interesting to learn how often rap is political in Germany. We watched one very charged rap music video in which we learned about the divide between white Germans and Turkish Germans. Very interesting stuff. Then it was time for my first midterm presentation in Business Ethics. I thought it went quite well. After business ethics though, the real challenge began. You see, because I was rather focused on my first midterm presentation, I had neglected to do as much work on the second one which was due in class Thursday morning (whoops).

Luckily for me, I had a topic I was interested in and a lot of Red Bull. (Such is college life) I got very little sleep that night, but in the end, I was happy with the presentation I gave Thursday morning. The nice part is that after this presentation I was done with all serious school for the week. 🙂 Since it was Cinco de Mayo, Sarah, Marco, and I went out for Mexican food and margaritas for a late celebratory lunch. Then it was home for a long nap. In the evening I finally decided to brave the bottle return. I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this before, but in Germany, they have a system where they charge you a little more for plastic and glass bottles as well as soda cans, but if you return them to the grocery store to be recycled you can get that extra deposit back. I was a little nervous to figure out the whole system, but it turned out to be super easy. There is a little conveyer belt that you put your bottles/cans onto, and it takes them into the back and automatically scans them on the way (kind of like one of those automatic library book returns). Then it prints a receipt of how much you get back, and you give it to the cashier when you check out and they take that much off your groceries. I ended up getting back 5 Euros from all my bottle hoarding lol. After that, I had dinner with some of the other students in my program and then headed off to bed for a long night’s sleep haha. Here’s some lovely wisteria near our apartments!

Friday was a very busy day. 🙂 At around 12, all of us in pop culture headed out for an excursion to see the Schöneberg district in West Berlin and visit Urban Nation which is a really cool street art museum. It was so interesting to see the various pieces of street art immortalized. In some ways, street art in a museum seems to violate the very idea of street art as being something anti- establishment, but on the other hand, it is a lovely way for the art to be recognized as a valid art form and shared with more people. I was particularly drawn to one piece that was a fascinating mix of excellent art and childish sketches with that main figure all in black and white and then supporting parts in bright colors. I wonder what inspired the artist to create that dichotomy. After the museum, we walked around the district which is apparently where the biggest gay presence in Berlin is. It was a very pretty area with lots of older architecture and beautiful buildings. There were a lot of pride flags, and even one pride ATM lol. Our prof also took us into a Turkish grocery store which was super cool. He pointed out a quintessential Turkish drink made with yogurt and salt, and Marco took it upon himself to try it. He let me have a sip and I thought it was pretty good! It tasted kind of like pickle juice (some of the others informed me it’s weird to drink pickle juice. Oh well) We had lunch at a great Vietnamese place, and then headed back to get ready for the symphony! IES was so nice as to assist us in getting tickets for the Berlin Philharmonic, and 13 out of 15 of us went. (See some of us in the picture above) It was such a treat. I have been to the PNW Philharmonic a couple of times, and it’s always been lovely, but this was something on another level. I was so impressed with how smooth all the timing between the instruments was. They say the conductor plays their orchestra like an instrument, and I really felt like this was true. The building was also gorgeous. After the concert, a couple of us went to get dinner which was another, completely different, amazing experience. I hadn’t actually had doner, yet which is a Turkish fast food kebab meat that Berlin is famous for, so when a couple of people wanted to go to a doner place, I was really excited to give it a go. It was very yummy, but the coolest part was the place where we went. It was pretty late (midnight or so), and a bunch of people were there getting food. It was a tiny place with a couple of booths and tables, as well as tables out on the sidewalk, and all the walls were covered in graffiti and stickers. They had loud Turkish hip hopish music play, and every so often our "cooks" would stop making food for a dance break lol. It was so fun, and dinner was really good too.

On Saturday we had a very cool excursion to the Grunewald (a large forest that is somehow still part of Berlin proper) to see the old US Teufelsberg Spy Tower. We took the Sbahn about 45 minutes out and then walked the rest of the way through the woods. It felt like a small state park or something. Everything was lovely and green, and it was very soothing to my country girl soul. The spy tower was active during the cold war, and the US operatives there used it as a way to listen in on Soviet radio transmissions and watch troop movements through the information they gathered. We had a very cool tour where our tour guide was a former spy who had worked at the tower. He had lots of interesting stories to tell, and a lot of insight into what it has been like to work there in the past. In addition to the history, the space is also a favorite of graffiti and street artists because it has a lot of walls and bare space for painting. Our guide was telling us that he never knows what will be on some of the walls when he comes into work because it is often changing. There are a couple of pieces however that the management asks people not to paint over because they are too amazing. I have included one of those just below which is the first picture and then also my favorite piece that I saw.

I was in awe of the space. It felt like a bit of a sanctuary for street artists, and I loved the abandoned feel of the buildings contrasting with the vibrant colors and life of the paintings. The view from the top floor of the spy tower was also incredible as it is on one of the only hills in the area. See Instagram for a selfie of me with it. 🙂 In addition, the big white bowls that collected the radio waves are open on the bottom now, and it’s really cool to go inside. A couple of us were walking around inside the ball, and our guide told us that it was amazing when people sang in it because it had great acoustics. Then he told us we had to sing something lol. At first, we were skeptical, but we decided to jump in and sing the chorus of Sweet Caroline. We sounded… OK? The acoustics were great though and a couple of people applauded us so that’s something haha.

We walked back down from the spy tower to a different Sbahn stop and had some yummy 2 Euro ice cream before heading back towards Berlin city center. This excursion was mixed with IES students from several programs, and so we went out to dinner with a couple of the semester kids when we got back. Sushi yum. 🙂 Afterwards, I headed back for a power nap. Sydney was out with some friends doing bowling, and then they were heading to a karaoke bar afterward. She invited me along, so I decided to show up for the karaoke part which started at about midnight. (I’m becoming such a wild child) Inevitably I ended up arriving at the bar way earlier than she and Ashley did but that was ok because there was a long line, so I waited in it to cut our time down. About halfway through the time I was waiting, a guy in line who was also by himself came to say hello to me. The only thing is that he spoke even less English than I spoke German haha. But I was proud of my skills because I was able to talk with him a little while we waited. I was a tad nervous by myself talking to a random guy, but he turned out to be perfectly fine. After Sydney and Ashley showed up, we headed in. The bar was a lot of fun! I’ve never been to karaoke before, but in Berlin, it is a very interactive experience where people sing and dance along with whoever’s on stage. It was so fun! Slowly a few more people from our program trickled in as the night went on. Finally, at about 3 am all 9 of us got up on stage and sang Party in the USA. (We were bad, but yours truly actually got up on stage so we’ll call that a win lol). We finally arrived home at 4 am, making that night the official longest I’ve ever stayed up.

Finally, on Sunday we hit up a big flea market (there are a ton of them in Berlin) at the Maeurpark. It was so cool! It was probably about half artists with their items and half people who were just selling their stuff. It was so fun to explore and see all the different types of things for sale. I already know I need to go back at least once before I leave. There was also a bunch of food, and I had an excellent grilled cheese sandwich that was very fancy. It was also cool to overhear things in German and realized I knew what they were talking about! I listened to one lady bargain with a seller over a necklace and I followed most of the conversation. I ended up buying a ring and a few presents for people. I was there with Sydney and Sarah and all of us also ended up getting some henna done which was very cool. I love how mine turned out. In the late afternoon, we headed out of the park to get some ice cream. It’s ice cream week in Berlin which means that a bunch of places have a signature flavor that you can come buy one scoop of for 1 Euro. Super cool. We went to two different places. There was a strawberry swirl one with vanilla cookie dough that was to die for. Finally, in the evening I went back to my place to chill and recuperate from the long weekend before classes started.