Alumni Georgia

U.S. Government Program Alumni of Georgia
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I love big cities because you can find little gems everywhere. Even graffiti can brighten your day.

(Translation: “We don’t want just one piece of cake. We want the entire bakery!”)

As a hungry college student, I approve.

This is the very first picture I took in Berlin. Somewhat appropriately, it’s of the Fernsehturm, a gigantic TV tower built by the socialists that is now part reminder, part sky-high restaurant, part identifying landmark. There are very few places in the city (if any) from which it cannot be seen. Walk towards it, and you know you’re headed east (in more ways than one, since it was a symbol of East Berlin for many, many years).

I was watching a TV show a few days ago in which one of the main characters went to Berlin. The Fernsehturm flashed across the screen, and I went, “Yes! Yes! That’s my city!”

I’m going to a German conference this weekend to present work I did in Berlin on German minorities in Romania. Revisiting my research in order to prepare it for the conference has been nostalgic; it reminds me of the long hours spent in the university library, combing through the stacks for books on the Transylvanian Saxons and searching (sometimes hopelessly) for an unoccupied computer. For such a large university, you’d think that there would be enough computers for everyone. You’d be wrong.

My college in the United States has around 1,400 students; Humboldt University in Berlin has around 40,000. Here, I’m used to saying hello to all of the tour guides who bring prospective students through the library, because I know all of them personally. There, I once ran into one student whom I knew in the library and freaked out a little bit because that had never, ever happened before. Here, it happens all the time.

There is a great degree of independence expected in the German university system (and, from what I understand, in most European universities), but I think that may come with a price that’s not necessarily a function of the size of the university: a lack of personal connections between students. And that’s a part of my undergraduate experience that I’d be loath to give up for long.

Humboldt University

I saw this musical (the title translates as “Beyond the Horizon”) in Berlin with one of my German friends, Angeline. I’ve been missing her a lot lately. Tips for keeping in touch with friends abroad? 

During our fall break, a few friends and I visited Bruges (or Brugge, if you want to spell it the Dutch way), which is in northern Belgium. It’s a quaint community where time seems to slow down; we spent two days wandering the city streets, getting lost and finding beautiful views like this one. 

I feel like there’s something different you can learn from a town like Bruges about a country than from what you learn in larger cities (Brussels, for example, which I also visited and which was quite different). What smaller American towns did you visit, if any? What did you think?

Loving the feedback—keep it up!

This is one of the earliest pictures I took in Berlin. It’s from the East Side Gallery, which is a section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved and turned into a cross between a memorial and a work of art. Artists from all over the world were invited to paint sections of the Wall with what its fall meant to them. It is now a stark reminder of the oppressive government that once existed in Berlin and the power of ordinary people who brought it down. 

There are many profound quotations at the East Side Gallery; this one is my favorite. Translated, it means, “You have learned what freedom is. Never forget it.” 

Thanks for all of your feedback on last week’s photo—I’m glad you liked it! 

This week, I’d like to share an image from Prague, which I visited over a weekend in November. Prague is often called one of the most beautiful cities in Europe; unfortunately, I arrived at night and didn’t get to see its full splendor until the next morning, crossing the river on a tram to reach the Prague Castle, the oldest medieval castle complex in the world. Inside the complex, centuries collide: the majestic Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral (right, above) contrasts with the more modern parts of the castle that were added later. Much of Prague is like this; standing on the St. Charles Bridge, which is older than I can fathom, you can see a piece of modern art featuring yellow plastic penguins sitting on the riverbank. Prague has quirk and charm, and I wished I could’ve explored the city’s history further.

One thing I loved about being in Europe was the fact that I was surrounded by a multitude of other countries. If you drive straight east from Berlin about 60 miles, you’re in Poland. The Czech Republic is four hours to the south by train. And Istanbul is just a 150-minute flight away. 

In my travels around Europe, it was sometimes difficult to tell that I had changed countries. Each city I visited was different, of course, but there were common themes: common architectural styles, common modes of dress and a relatively small basket of languages. But Istanbul is truly a different continent (even the side of the city that’s in Europe). Speeding into the city in a taxi at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, you can literally feel the city roll beneath you. It is raw, rich, alive.

While in Istanbul, I visited the Hagia Sophia (pictured above), which was first the royal church during the Byzantine Empire, then a mosque during the Ottoman era, and is now a museum. By covering up Christian symbols rather than destroying them, the Ottomans inadvertently preserved enormous frescoes which now stand alongside traditional Islamic symbols. The juxtaposition is beautiful; it says, “Look how we can coexist.” 

This is me buried in a pile of leaves (not in the ground, though it’s a neat illusion) at Treptower Park in southeastern Berlin. A friend and I had gone to the park to visit the massive Soviet war memorial there, which stretches out like a football field lined with quotations from Josef Stalin. It is a stark reminder of the strength of the Soviet Union at the time and what sort of presence it had in East Germany, particularly East Berlin.

Afterwards, we needed something happy to offset the memorial, so we decided to indulge our inner 5-year-olds and play in the leaves. History and childlike fun all in one place—only in Berlin. 

I didn’t realize how much I missed public transportation until I returned to a city that had it. Galesburg, IL, where my college is located, is a small community of 35,000 people, so the subways and trams of Berlin feel very far away. I don’t have a car, so if I want to go anywhere, I have to borrow a friend’s (since nothing much is within walking distance).

This weekend, though, I’m in Boston, which has a pretty extensive subway system. Riding on a subway again was surreal. I know Galesburg’s tiny as towns go, but it could really use some good old public transportation.  

The Berlin S-Bahn.