This Is Only The First Week…

As often happens with the first week in a new place, it has felt like this last week was somehow actually three in one…It seems like an eternity ago that I first landed in Berlin and moved in with Ayse, perhaps because it already feels like I know her so well.

Check out this link for some random photos from the week:

When I arrived (again) on Sunday (6/4) we two talked for a bit about routines and whatnot (during which we discovered we both love olives, cheese and good bread, and that were born not so far away from each other in Turkey) Then I unpacked into this beautifully simple room, talked to my USA parents a bit, and then Ayse and I set out for Karnival der Kulturen, which I was lucky enough to have on the day of my real arrival in Berlin.

We left the apartment in the afternoon to a celebratory mass of people in very interesting attire (adults in full-body velour dinosaur suits, all the way to very normal jeans and a blazer, and EVERYTHING in between) eating and drinking a wide array of interesting things (my favorite might have been a huge piece of bread with what appeared to be pickles, onions and mozzarella balls on top…) After walking around the many food, drink and trinket stalls (sipping the freshly squeezed pomegranate juice that Ayse had treated me to) for a while, I thought I saw a familiar face, "don't be silly Kate", I thought, "you can't possibly already know someone in this huge city, it's your first day!" But on the second look, it turned out I did know her—the German TA from Earlham was even more surprised to see me than I was to see her, if that is possible. I had forgotten that she lived in Berlin, and it was a happy "small-world" moment to already know someone here. After catching up very briefly, we parted ways, to enjoy the fest.

The "parade" that Ayse had told me about was not at all what I knew as a parade, where people line the curbsides and various floats go by, then the parade has paraded, and everyone goes home. No. This was a collection of floats, it's true, but they were purposefully very spaced out, so that you could find your favorite (almost, if not all of them) blasting a different kind of music belonging either to a nationality/ethnic group of which there was a sizable population in Berlin (I saw Albania, Ghana and Peru, at least) or a certain music genre from a club. The idea between them being extremely slow moving and spaced out is that you can move between them and alternate which one you dance along behind. So essentially, this mass of colorful people were as much a part of the parade as they were spectators. We danced behind a techno and then a Goa float for a while (Ayse loves techno, more on that later) before it started raining, I had finished my Käsebretzel, and really had to pee—so we went home.

Monday there was still no work or school, because of the Pentecost holiday, so I slept in, and woke up just in time to eat breakfast with Ayse, who had been up for many hours, but doesn't like to eat right when she wakes up. We bonded once again over food (so many different wonderful cheeses and her favorite olives as well as helva (a tahini sugar spread) in various arrangements on some delicious Brötchen. We then made our lazy way to Templehof, a nearby neighborhood to Kreuzberg, where we live, and spent several lovely hours in the sunshine in what was once an airport, but is now a park (and still pretty much looks like an airport, just without quite so many airplane hangers…)

Tuesday was my first day of class at Parlando, and work at RAA Berlin. I managed to navigate the public transportation rather well—it is a 10 minute walk then a straight shot with the U-Bahn (subway) then only a three minute walk to school from there. I then have class from 9-13:30 (with a couple breaks!) and then I get on the same train 2 stops farther and I'm pretty much at work.

So far, school has been pretty chill, since last week there was only one other student. I am apparently at the B2-C1 level which means we do a lot of informal chatting, as the teachers correct out grammar. The chatting I can do, but when it comes to learning the rules that supposedly govern the things I say, I am way behind the other students. Since I learned most of my German from just speaking it, and not in a classroom setting, I have a confusing grasp of the language: my comprehension and fluidity are very good, so it throws the teachers off when I then have no clue what is going on with even some basic grammar concepts (wait, why is this dative and not accusative? etc)…I'm working on it.

Work has also been interesting. My first day was mostly intros: to the team in the main office where I am based, as well as to the main project I will be working on. As I mentioned earlier, RAA Berlin (which confusingly no longer corresponds to their current name, which is "Regional Centre for Education, Integration and Democracy") is a super complex organization, that works on many different (mostly educationally focused) social justice projects throughout the city.

I am working mainly on some behind-the-scenes prep work for a conference that is coming up on July 11, at which a document will be released to the public for the first time. RAA Berlin has been developing this document with a title that translates to "Diversity-Oriented Organizational Development" (but of course it is German, so naturally they economize, and make what is four words for us, into two giant words…) for 2 years now, so it is a pretty big project. In a nutshell, the document is a set of 6 principles and steps for organizations to follow to insure that they are welcoming, supportive and encouraging to all people (focusing mostly on race and ethnic background) at all levels of the organization.

So what does all this mean for Kate on a day-to-day basis, you may be wondering (as was I on the first day…) So far it has meant entering all the registration forms into an excel spreadsheet, in which I take note of which workshop Herr Lutzmann would like to participate in etc., as well as making a PowerPoint with all the names of the speakers, which will be projected behind them as they speak,and so on. Perhaps not super glamours, but someone has to do these tasks, and I am happy to be that someone for such a valuable, impactful organization. And hey-now I know all the computer vocab: like "copy" and "paste" and "bold" and "slide" in German!

Other tidbits from that first week included:

  • Getting SOAKED in a cloud burst on the walk home on Tuesday
  • Discovering that just deciding to walk to work takes a lot longer than the map makes it look like it should, especially when you don't really know quite where you are going yet…
  • Visiting the Markthalle in the neighborhood
  • Teaching my wonderful host mom Ayse how to knit (not surprisingly she is a very good student, and is well on her way to her dream of the perfect hat collection)

After work on Friday, I had an adventure in which I eventually found my way to a climbing gym (the first on my list to try out) only to discover that they had no bouldering (un-roped climbing) and thus that I would need a partner…Luckily this French guy and his Venezuelan friend were kind enough to belay me for a couple climbs, and they even trusted me enough to coach me through lead-belaying one of them, which I had maybe done once before…They are very nice however, and are up to be future climbing buddies, so it was worth all the feeling silly for not knowing what I was getting myself into!

Saturday was another big adventure, in which the other two Earlham summer interns in Berlin, Oliver and Irving (and Irving's two friends who were visiting him) all met up and explored the city. We eventually found each other in the Friedrichstraße Bahnhof (somewhat of a miracle actually…) and ate some delicious Vietnamese food in my Kreuzberg neighborhood, before setting off to see what this Torstraße Music festival was all about. We eventually found our way there (stopping at a record shop along the way) and were able to crowd into a coffee shop to hear the second half of Leila Akinyi's fabulous performance. She has a great voice, and wonderful lyrics which talk about her experience as a Kenyan living in Germany, and she has already made it onto my "favorite songs" playlist on Spotify—I highly recommend checking her out, if you are interested.

Once her gig was over, we moved on to the next venue, but at that one we apparently had to pay, so instead we ended up chilling in a nearby park for a while, then getting some dinner. Our Abendessen, like out Mittagessen that day was truly delicious. It was fresh baked pizza (made by actual Italians…) with lots of cheese and veggies. All talking ceased when the food came, and we devoured it swiftly, down to the lack drop of olive oil. Somehow we still had room for gelato after the meal however…The night finished up with dusk falling around us at this riverside "beach" bar (they had lawn chairs and a pool in the river…) We then parted ways and headed home (I only had one "conversation"—In which I nodded and pretended I understood this very drunk man's slurred German—as I waited at the bus station)

Sunday was yet another adventure, this time at the Mauerpark. Because of a lack of SIM cards on the part of Irving and I, and a lack of wifi in the S-Bahn, I had just about given up hope of ever finding him and his friends among the hundreds of people in the giant park (sunbathing, playing music, dancing, eating, drinking, buying and selling all kinds of things…) when I happened upon his friend Raudya at a record stand. After getting some drinks, and hiding briefly in the shade, we four (minus Oliver that day) set off for Museum Island. Naturally, by the time we got there, it was already almost 6, and all the museums were closed. Thus, we strolled around for a bit, before heading for dinner. We looked up the nearest affordable Ethiopian restaurant, then public transit-ed our way there, where we happily devoured a huge platter full of deliciousness, once again licking our fingers, and contemplating licking the platter itself… We then parted ways so that we could go home and prepare ourselves for the week ahead.

Perhaps now you can see why it felt like 3 weeks in 1…Sorry for the SUPER long post, now that I am settled in, they should be far shorter.

(Also there will be pictures at some point…this full day of work/school thing is taking me a while to adjust to, but I'll find the time eventually…)

Photos #

Street parade (1)
This is what I mean…the whole fest is actually part of the parade…
Street parade (2)
And it was a big fest!
Bretzel stand
Yes Bretzel Man, I am taking a picture….I got so excited to see so many good Bretzels in one place!
Someone wearing a dinosaur suit
What did I say about dinosaur suits?
The view from Ayse's room onto the street
The view from Ayse's room onto the street
Street graffiti that reads: Clean walls = expensive rent
Translation: "Clean walls = expensive rent" well, I guess they aren't wrong!
Street light with sticker that says: Traveling makes you sexy
Well thank you!
The entrance to the appartment
The entrance to the appartment
The dishwasher looks like a kitchen cubbard (closed)
You think they are just cupboards, but then…
The dishwasher looks like a kitchen cubbard (opened)
Surprise! You also get a dishwasher and a fridge! Those Germans…
Sign marking the Berlin wall on the cobblestone reads: Berliner Mauer 1961-1989
I live in the west and school is the east, so I cross this way every day.
My lunch picnic spot
My lunch picnic spot
View of climbing wall
I went climbing! (Not nearly anything as fancy as this dude though…)
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie (will have to go back and actually look at it, cuz we pretty much just walked by…)
Ayse and her delicious cheese bread
Ayse and her delicious cheese bread!
Music and Dancing in the Mauerpark
Music and Dancing in the Mauerpark
The Wall itself
The Wall itself
A cathedral on Museum Island
A cathedral on Museum Island…don't ask me what it is called…
My Garfield-worthy sandwich
My Garfield-worthy sandwich