Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hahaha First Berlin-Themed Post!

So...Berlin is great!  Our first week was fairly packed with classes, lectures, and tours, leaving the weekends free to explore the city for ourselves.  As the program has progressed we've gainedd more freedom with our time; this corresponds with our need to do outside research for our own projects.

We are staying in an apartment complex in Mitte, just outside of Kreuzburg.  Mitte (or where we are in Mitte) is part of formerly East Berlin, right next to where the border used to be.  Crossing into former West Berlin the building style changes dramatically - from uniform, rectangular gray-ish complexes to a more colorful urban cityscape, you don't even have to interact with people to see how (re)unification is a process, not a product, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Manuela, one of our professors here, asserts that there are subtle differences in language that still differentiate between people who grew up in the East and people who grew up in the West.  Our topic of mobility and migration applies to much more than just Turkish Immigration - I am realizing this on macro and microcosmic levels.

One section of Kreuzberg, SO-36, is known high population of Turkish immigrants.  This is made apparent in part by the many Turkish restaurants in the area (ie delicious doner kebap joints), as well as by the many  Muslim women and children begging on the sidewalks.  One theme we have been hearing a lot about is the "problem of integration."  This is the idea that migrants never become "German" enough.  What this means has never been clarified to me.  I think it means being white.

There is apparently this really racist and popular book written by a politician called "Germany Abolishes Itself."  It talks about the problem of migrants and how they are inherently worse in every way than "Germans."  We've been talking about how people in Germany shy away from talking about race because of their Nazi past - it is very different from in the US, where discrimination is very specifically legalized and terms are regulated closely by the state.  Here in Germany, they only recently implemented a soft anti-discrimination law.

We've been meeting with a lot of people organizing around anti-racism and migrant rights.  We've also been seeing a lot of Kreuzburg, looking at it from the perspective of gentrification, migration, etc.  This is all very interesting.

Weather here is generally either very hot and sunny or gray and rainy.  On the gray and rainy days it is very like Seattle, only much flatter.

I wish I spoke German, because all the time people approach me speaking German, and I feel so ashamed that I have to say, "Sorry, but do you speak English?"  I knew coming into this program that this would be an issue I had to deal with, coming here for such a short time with no background in the German language.  Lucky for me, many people here do speak English.

Ooooh, one of the coolest things I've done here is visit an abandoned Amusement Park and an abandoned Hospital, both in former East Germany.  My friend Julia is a practiced urban explorer, and she finds these sites on the internet and goes there to photograph them.  I and a few other friends tagged along, and we spend two separate days exploring these places.  I will try to post some pictures soon.

But they were both SOOOOO COOL.  Being in empty broken buildings where normal fun/healthy things happened a long time ago is oddly exhilarating.  One of the rooms in one of the buildings looked like a ballroom, and it had a giant untouched mirror leaning against the wall.  Another room used to be a children's room - the walls were painted with trees, a pond, deer, other landscape, and guitars, and there was a small stage and a playhouse in the corner.  We had a scare where we were trying to find our way up from the pitch-dark basement, and all of a sudden we heard other footsteps and muffled voices above and around us.  We turned of our two tiny flashlights and held onto each other in petrified silence for a good three minutes before deciding to proceed with caution.  As we guessed it ended up being other explorers like us - they were friendly and quiet, and we smiled at each other and minded our own business.  But man, those three minutes were like from a Nancy Drew book: exhilarating and mysterious and generally harmless.

One other thing before I go: a few nights ago there was a riot/protest that came through our neighborhood.  We figured out that it was in remembrance of the death of this guy named Carlo Giuliani who was shot by the police in Italy ten years ago.  The police followed it around Kreuzburg, and were met with thrown beer bottles and a few fire crackers.  We had actually heard the booms earlier on in the evening while we were watching Pirates of the Caribbean in our apartment, but we didn't bother to investigate until they were right outside our window.  It all turned out okay, but it was kind of scary at first.  Interesting, though.  Definitely worth reporting.

That's all for now; sorry it's been so long since I've updated!  Hopefully next time will be sooner.

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