Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Herzlich wilkommen zurück zu Hause

[ Welcome back Home! ]

Switching practikums wasn´t the only change taking place over the past week. My host parents were on their way back from their almost 2 month adventure visiting friends in New Zealand and I was going to be moving back home. I did some grocery shopping for the house - purchased the basics for a German household, can´t forget the Vollkornbrot, whole grain bread, of course. I also purchased some ingredients to surprise Inge with a cake since I knew that her birthday was coming up right after they returned home.



Tuesday afternoon directly from work, I arrived back at the house greeted by Inge and Andreas both glowing from their fresh-from-vacation tans. Inge planted a big kiss on my cheek, and like previous times, I get a reminder of the warm greeting when I notice the pink smudge on my cheek next time I pass a mirror.

The weather was wonderful - they arrived on one of the most perfect spring days so far in Göttingen, and we were already into excited conversation about the trip. That was when Andreas tapped my shoulder and brought me into the other room.

"you do know what today is, right?".

no...

...it can´t be.


But it was, the day after they returned from their trip was Inge´s birthday. I felt terrible. I had very good intentions to give her a nice surprise, but it turns out that the surprise was on me, and I definitely messed up the dates. I still gave Inge another big hug and a big "Alles gute zum Geburtstag", but it didn´t cover the awkwardness that I felt making the mistake. I am still making the cake soon [ Since Andreas had another very nice one ready for afternoon coffee] so we will just be having a lot of cake lately.



Out back on the patio, we had a very nice lunch catching up on the trip. Marin, along with Laura and little Timmi stopped by, and the afternoon was very nice. Inge´s multi-kilo shell collection that amost tipped the scales of their luggage alotment was sprawled accross a table out back.



Over the next few days Andreas uploaded the several hundreds of incredible photos that they took in New Zeeland, and everything began to feel like normal again back home. Easter is coming up, and more family will be visiting, and in the time being I am enjoying the conversations with Inge and Andreas as well as the weather becoming more like spring here in Göttingen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

ein neues Praktikum.

[ A new internship ]

Time has been moving very fast and I am already finished with my first Praktikum by the Grünen Partei. I had many great experiences there including new perspectives of the local politics in Göttingen and how it connects to the national party in Berlin. I visited city hall meetings as well as party meetings at the Green's office. My work varied from different jobs, but overall it challenged me to use German at an everyday pace.

As fast as my 6 weeks by the Grünen has come and passed, I am now moving on to my next Praktikum. This one will be with another political party, the FDP. This job took a little bit more effort sending my resume and contacting the office to request a short term internship. After a meeting at the office [ and to my surprise, the Abgeordneter - representative in the national government - was there at my introductory meeting to introduce himself and find out a little more about me. Talk about being put on the spot to speak some German. He sat me down and wanted to know what brought me to Germany, why I wanted a Praktikum with the FDP, what I hoped to gain from the experience. It was like an impromptu interview! And it was with a government representative of all people! ]



The FDP office is smaller than the Grünen. Coincidentally both parties are not the major parties in Germany, but are two of the three medium sized parties that often make the swing voted in the coalitions. Currently the FDP is in a coalition with the CDU in the Bundestag with Guido Westerwelle serving as the Vizekanzler.


The office is the regional office for representative Dr. Knopek, and is simply two computer desks, a coffee table with some seats for guests, some book shelves and a view out at the train station. My work will also be a bit different from the Grünen party. Whereas in the Green Party I collected local news stories and assisted with local political projects, at the FDP office I have a research project.


Dr. Knopek is a representative in Berlin for the FDP in the Faktionen of Sport politics and environmental politics. I will be researching information about doping protocols in Sports around the world. I have a lot of information from the current Olympic games from last month, and Dr. Knopek is also interested in information on doping Protocols in American professional sports and high school sports. This requires me to do a lot of translation which has proven, so far, to be very beneficial to my daily work at improving my German.

I am looking forward to the next few weeks observing a very new political agenda to come out of this experience in Germany with a very diverse perceptive of the current topics in German politics and society.

Monday, March 22, 2010

sich beklagen

[ Complaining ]

Let's face it, not every day living abroad is perfect. Yes, almost every post seems to have a photo of a nice city in Germany, some delicious food, or great moments with family and friends. But we cannot kid ourself and lie that there aren't moments that make us a little crazy.

Maybe it is the fact that all shopping is closed on Sundays - so don't plan to use your free time and run out for some last minute ingredients. Maybe it is the seasons changing, the snow all melted, and months worth of dog crap, beige and gray lies defrosting on every street corner. Maybe it is just the fact that traditional German food - even if it is incredibly tasty - is all brown on your plate. I don't want to even start about the language. I normally let Inge win in translation duels - German will always and forever be more direct, verbose and specific than English will ever be. Look at me ramble on - sometimes complaining is just fun.

The other day I made a very entertaining discovery on YouTube. It triggered the thought for this entire post. It is a little phenomenon called the complaints choir, and it has taken place in many major cities around the world. The concept is simple: get a group of people together that like to sing, make a beautiful song, and have all the lyrics be everything that just seems to tick you off about where you live. First I found Chicago, which was interesting because it is Midwestern, different than Michigan, but close enough to have some funny things in common. Then I found Helsinki, which had me laughing out loud. Even for the short period I lived there, so many things made sense. Little cultural things that I may have heard myself one time or another from a host family member or friend. Conveniently on the right hand side of the website was Tokyo. It was all too perfect. I was having a great time watching all the clips and seeing the cultural innuendos that were so funny and nostalgic.

Of course there was one for Germany, Hamburg, a city north of me that I have already visited, and it was also very funny. I figured it deserved a post on my blog. Listening to complaints can actually reveal a lot about the people of a country. I can count off the ones that I have heard this year from this clip!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Besetzt

[ Occupied ]

It has become painfully obvious from busy times here in Germany the simple fact that, with Germany feeling "normal" to me on most accounts, blog writing has slowed to a trickle of a few posts a month. Now that it has been addressed, I have a new motivation to bring back some of my observation and reflection from previous months and continue to document my inspiration, inquisition [ and at times, even confusion ] of daily life here in Deutschland.

Monday at work started normal. Beginning of the week, a weekend full of newspapers to sift through as well as the monday addition to read, search, copy, paste, format, email and print - I had my work cut out for me. A few hours into the morning, the office buzzer rings, and my boss goes to open the door. I hear murmers and chatting going on, and then marching by my room where I was working on the computer come almost a dozen civilians clad in neon colored wigs, festive glasses and maskes fit for Karneval just weeks prior.

I was confused. Did I not get the memo? Were they from the Grünen? What's up with the wigs?

Everything wasn´t all laughs though, and I quickly came to the realization when my boss' tone was becoming more stern and almost agrivated. The civilians were activists, and we were being "besetzt" - there was a "sit in" taking place in the office. The entire ordeal was very confusing to me - the windows were being opened, a huge orange flag was tied from our 4th story buildingfront "Wegen besezt abshiedspolitik" [ we're sitting in for deportation politics ] signifying the "take over" ... and I was offered ... cookies?

[ an example of what the banner was like ]

These occurences are all true, and it took me a few minutes to dicern these events as a prank or joke, some type of festivity like Halloween... or a potentially serious obstruction by political activists that were possibly very prepared to make a scene if my boss had not dealt with the situation as smoothely as he did. It is almost comical to write that as two young men began searching through the office to fax some document, and my boss becoming visibly angered by the breach of controll in the office, the compromise was allowing the activists to utilize the fax as long as he could read the documents being sent - then proceded to offer the activists tea and coffee in the meeting room to go along with the cookies they brought along.

Fortunately, the entire ordeal did not last that long - only an hour, but I wasn't able to fully comprehend everything that took place until after everything had passed over. From my boss I learned that the Grünen office had been Bezezt before, and on other occurances by different activities, minor damages were done, or on one account the protestors sat on desks to prevent work from being done, or remaining in the office overnight simply sitting in the vestibule making another statement.

After hearing the potential problems and destruction that can take place from these uninvited activists, I began to inquire why we even let them in in the first place, or why we served them ... tea and coffee? The entire scenario is as rediculous as it sounds - civilian activists, lime green hair and sunflower rimmed glasses, cookies and tea, hanging banners out windows, and sending protesting faxes without much inhibition. The activists resultingly were protesting refugee laws in Germany, specificly situations with Croatian refugees, living in Germany to escape their war stricken land, now being forcefully sentenced to pack up and leave because they have overstayed their welcome. The politics surrounding the situation revolves around the credibility of deeming Croatia now as safe to live in, racial discrepancies with Roma peoples [non-PC term, Gypsies], and disputes of German government and police departments rights to officially deport these refugees.



The next question, why the Green party? I came to later find out from the police that visited the office to record the happenings, that the activists also visited the SPD offices on the other side of town. The green party and the SPD are both liberal parties, and for the most part with social beliefs, so the bottom line is that they are the political answer of supporters of these Croatian refugees. Why did these activists not go to the FDP or CDU offices in the city? The conclusions seems to be - my boss did sit down with these people for coffee, don't forget - that this was their way of making a broad statement - that likely will spread within the party heirarchy, as well as the local news - of what is expected of these parties in terms of their positions on the issues.

Fortunately, this minor take-over of the office was very harmless, some time taken away from normal work procedure, and now a banner hanging out the window, but nothing greatly disturbed or damaged - maybe just some clarifications with the police and some press in and out of the office in the afternoon.



Why did we let them in in the first place? I think this was my biggest question. In the states, I have no idea if this would ever happen. If you want to protest, do it outside in front of the office - I would expect any activity of disruption such as today would be considered beyond any interpretation of freedom of speech in America. [ however, with recent "tea party storm-ins" taking place at the capital this week, maybe I am mistaken ]. From another perspective, inhibiting these activists could have only made the situation escalate into something more, or also bring out bad publicity for the office once the message of the protest is released to the public, and it - as it was in this case - potentially something that could cast a bad light on the position of the Green party on certain issues.

Protesting is nothing new in the news here in Germany, it seems to happen all the time. I have seen protests even in Göttingen with very radically minded students bringing the town to become full of police cars waiting for any disorderly conduct - I am pretty sure the protests can take place, often times they are even arranged in advance, but where the line is crossed, and what penalties follow are still things that I have yet to completely understand here in Germany.

The public is very politically charged and are generally very well versed on their opinions, and as can be seen, Germany is no stranger to some radical ideas. This could happen anywhere, but the main differences lie in how the situation was handled - how it is accepted. Sure this might be in the newspaper tomorrow, and people with shake their heads and wonder why neon wigged activists are invading an essentially harmless local political office, but I think this is just a small reminder of how protest, opinion and how to manipulate and demand ultimatum in the political sphere can be greatly varried around the world. Asside from giving my contact information to the Polizei later in the day, it turned out to be very normal - now I am just curious to see how the situation unfolds in local news in the days to come.

----------

Press release the following day, translated:

Pressemitteilung von Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen Göttingen vom 02. März 2010


GRÜNE solidarisieren sich mit Abschiebungsgegner_innen

zur Besetzung des Grünen Zentrums durch eine Gruppe von
Abschiebungsgegner_innen am Vormittag des 01. März erklärt der
Kreisvorstand von Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen Göttingen:

Mit ihrem politischen Anliegen laufen die Kritiker_innen einer
inhumanen Abschiebungspolitik bei uns offene Türen ein. Bündnis 90 /
Die Grünen treten an der Seite der Migrationsverbände und freien
politischen Initiativen für das Menschenrecht auf politisches Asyl
und für ein Bleiberecht in Deutschland unabhängig von der Herkunft
ein. Damit teilen wir als Grüne klar die Anliegen der
„Besetzer_innen“.

Moritz Keppler vom Kreisvorstand dazu: „Wir freuen uns
immer über Besuch von politisch Gleichgesinnten. Mit einer Besetzung
als politischem Signal haben die Besetzer_innen aber leider das
falsche Büro erwischt. Die Grünen schieben nicht ab! Auch die Kritik
an der Göttinger Ausländerbehörde trifft die falschen, da in der
Ausländerbehörde Göttingen weisungsgebundene Akteure arbeiten.
Wir bedauern zutiefst, dass die Besetzer_innen augenscheinlich nur die
Büros der Grünen und der SPD besetzt haben. Das ist ein falsches
Signal. Die Geschäftsstellen für CDU und FDP als
Landesregierungsparteien und Bundesregierungsparteien wären für ihre inhumanen Richtlinien und
Weisungen an die kommunalen Behörden der richtige Anlaufpunkt
gewesen. Dennoch sind uns die Besetzer_innen jederzeit gerne wieder
auf einen Tee und ein Gespräch über gemeinsame Ziele herzlich willkommen."



Press release of Alliance 90/The Greens Göttingen from 02 March 2010


Greens show solidarity with deportation-opposition activists

The accounts of the occupation of the regional office by a group of
deportation-opposition activists on the morning of 01 March
District Executive of Alliance 90/The Greens Göttingen:

Activists of inhumane deportation policy came to us with their political concerns through our open doors. In the debate on refugee deportation, Alliance 90 /
The Greens support the side of the migration and free associations
policy initiatives for the human right to political asylum
and for a stay in Germany, regardless of the origin
book. We, the Greens, clearly share the same concerns of the forementioned activists.

Moritz Keppler from the District Board, "We are always pleased and welcoming to visits from politically-minded people. With a goal of broadcasting a political statement
the deportation-opposition activists have unfortunately picketed the
wrong office. The Greens do not support nor endorse deportation laws! The criticism
of Gottingen immigration authorities is also incorrectly understood, because the true
imigration authorities are not working under instruction by Göttingen actors.
We deeply regret that the visiting activists apparently only occupied the
Offices of the Greens and the SPD. This was the incorrect political statement to make. The more effective opportunity would have been addressing the offices for the CDU and FDP as
Government parties known for their inhumane policies and
instructions to local authorities. Nevertheless, we are always happy to welcome the deportation-opposition activists again
to a cup of tea and a conversation about common goals. "

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Perspektiven aus Berlin

[ Perspectives from Berlin ]




My short visit to Berlin was definitely not short of many new ideas and curiosities about Germany. I left with many photos - often times photos taken just quick enough in my quick travels through the city to just remind me what I need to return to and see again. During the free time I had I truly enjoyed wandering down random streets and happening upon landmarks unexpectedly or finding a good corner with some interesting Graffiti.



Berlin is, as I have mentioned before, a living modern art museum. It captures history, cutting edge visuals, nostalgia and many different perspectives in between. Like the quote I found before, Berlin doesn't seem like a finished canvas. It is like walking through a project that is in the works and that makes it so unique and fascinating.


I was very fortunate to have visited Berlin through the generous invitation from the SPD party office and my Patenabgeordneter Herr Oppermann. I learned much about the party's policies during my trip, and met many people and heard their opinions. As of yet, I have no other connections to the party, but maybe later this year I can also land a small Praktikum there and learn yet another angle of the German political system.




Coming back from Berlin, I found some very interesting things searching the web looking for more answers to things that I was looking up. Two video clips stood out to me, and I thought they would accompany the blog well. One was a very interesting view of Berlin depicted as a Utopia under Nazi rule for the 1936 Olympic games. It offers an unprecedented look at how Germany portrayed itself, and yet another era of Berlin's every-changing face.


The other clip was a fun observation from one of my favorite TV personalities, travel writer and chef, Anthony Bourdain when he traveled to Berlin to document Germany cuisine.
I love his quote towards the end how German cuisine turns peasant foods of cabbage, potatoes, krauts, and fried pork into luxurious cuisine. Very true, and nonetheless, still very tasty.


Berlin is a city that I am very excited to visit again this year. There are still many landmarks left insufficiently observed, parts of the city left unseen, and many other perspectives that I know will only inspire me further.

Friday, March 19, 2010

die Berliner Mauer

[ the Berlin Wall ]

I have known about the wall and its direct connection to WW2 and the cold war my entire life. I have watched the anniversary earlier this year and observed the effects of the fall as well as the cultural changes still taking place twenty years later. I studied and repeatedly watched clips of famous speeches at the wall, including Regan, up until minutes before heading out to my CBYX interview. Even so, arriving in Berlin and actually seeing the wall surprised me.


It exemplifies the saying "you have to see it to believe it". However, it is still hard to believe - it is hard to conceive that any of this history was even possible, and that it is still standing in places for the most part only just now becoming a symbol and landmark of history - but just years ago this wall had a very different purpose, and that is what is hard to fathom.

Trying to sum up Berlin to my parents in a brief phone call back home to check in was difficult. I have already addressed how overwhelming the city was, but trying to verbally map out the wall was also hard. How naive of me to envision a wall that would be a convenient straight line dividing the city in half. Touring through the city it was easy to get mixed up - one moment in the former east, a moment later in the west - American sector, now French...

The remnants of the wall seemed to zig zag through the city sporadically. Even more than just a divide, seeing the wall in person emphasized that this structure did more than just separate two different political ideologies. Areas where communities were physically segregated from their church because the building lied on the eastern half, and the wall unsympathetically ran right in front of the entrance - the church later being unceremoniously torn down.




The other very difficult concept to conceive was the fact that the generation living with the wall ultimately had little if anything to do with the history that led to its creation. This was almost 20 years after the war - Germany was facing a new dilemma. A new generation was beginning to unearth the horrors that took place during their parents era, and at the same time, complete communities and even families were torn apart from a wall that was caused by other countries endorsing their governments ideals into the rebuilding nation.




I witnessed a lot around the city. The East side gallery displayed a wide array of varying images of peace, utopias, dystopias, and destruction all alongside each other on the wall. In other parts of the city, the walls were bare, signifying a different side of the wall - a different control of personal expression and freedoms. This is where the concept of the wall is really unimaginable, especially with the rest of Berlin sprawling in the distance, and for decades, this was almost a complete mystery on the other side of a stone barrier.



I obviously didn't have enough time to truly examine as much as my curiosity wanted, but I received a very diverse first impression of the wall. I witnessed communist bloc communities where the buildings were simply polygons with numbers with small rooms of metal framed beds, and communal kitchens. I also saw check point Charlie - the area to officially cross into the American sector, which coincidentally now has pedestrians whizzing by on bicycles with no second thought past the stands of tourist stands which used to be a secure militarized zone.




There is still so much that I have to learn, but this experience of seeing the wall, especially after witnessing history this year with the anniversary, discussing the history with friends and family here in Germany, and also discussing the relevance of the wall in EU and world politics in my university courses, I am leaving Berlin with even more inspiration to discover the history of this country, and I am left with even more curiosity and questions for when I inevitably return, hopefully more than once this spring.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dem deutschen Volke

[ To the German People ]


Famously etched above the arches of the German Reichstag, “Dem deutschen Volke” – to the German people – proclaims the importance of openness and involvement from the entire public to maintain a successful democracy. The Reichstag, as a body of architecture and home of the German Bundestag, has its own visual story to convey about the German people. The façade of the building is old and preserved, the remaining 4 towers of the building all surround the central Bundestag [parliament].

Pace backwards trying to capture the best angle of the expanse of the building, and the glass paned entrance way reflects the rare blue German sky – behind these stone pillars, representing a elaborate display of power and prominence, the glass entrance serves as the barrier into the completely new interior – one that boasts functionality and translucent simplicity. Perhaps most noteworthy are the flags on the building. It still is important to realize that flying German flags are not prevalent in the country - a stark difference from our very robust patriotism back home in the states. Germany still retains a subdued patriotism, if any, so many years after the second world war.

Open to the public, the Bundestag, also serving as a living museum of modern government, is the most visited Parliament in the world, with over 15 million visitors touring the building since its move from Bonn. [It makes me wonder how many visit our bicameral Congress building in the states – not a parliament, but having a similar tradition for American people to be a standing sanctuary for what we collectively believe and debate on what our nation stands for].

The original two story Reichstag now has three. The central enclave holds rows of blue chairs, a collection of debating politicians at the podium, and a second tier for the public to come view their home-representing politicians, much like the SPD mitglieder I was paired with. The format of the political discussions at the particular time in the day [ around 3 o’clock ] dealt with rapid question and answering, and government pages effortlessly scrawling shorthand notes in the center of the room.

Illuminating the large room, the skyview of the Bundestag chamber glows with natural light – right above the governing delegations, the magnificent modern cupola spirals visiting spectators up to the peaks of the building on a circling aerial tour of everything Berlin has to offer in its horizons.

The glass dome, reflecting the bright afternoon glare, looked more like a anthill experiment with humans winding up and down the spiraling hemisphere above the parliament. As viewers spiral up, the view of Berlin changes around with each step – east, west – old, new – modern and geometric, calcified and florid emanating a much different past.

By these sights and surprises, Berlin had already captured me. It may not have allured on first impression, but potential the city had in provoking thought had me hooked.

Monday, March 15, 2010

das Brandenburger Tor

[ The Brandenburg Gate ]

The agenda set up to guide parteimitglieder – party members – of the SPD party through their national capital turned out to be dense with a constant schedule of meetings and events. Upon arrival, we walked across the flat, open square that sprawls from the trainstation, and we were immediately collecting in a bus on our way to our first scheduled event. We weren't even stopping at the hotel until the evening – we arrived and the three day compilation of politics in Berlin as well as a connection back to German history was well underway.

Following a quick lunch – our reserved seats waiting for us, indicating that the group of strangers now had to sit and meet and greet. [Something that I tend to feel falls on my lap most of the time with the expectation of being the small-talk savvy American, but maybe it is just me that feels this anxiety]. The spontaneity of the afternoon continued since we had a minimal amount of time to explore the streets we were around, and as I walked, Berlin continued to transform around me.

Starting with open space and construction in the distance, dense streets lined with commercial high rise buildings guided the way until a turn to a wide lane with the prestige of a Russian flag waving above a huge embassy, neighboring France and the United States. And then, just as unexpected as the Cologne Cathedral or the Eiffel tower in Paris, one of the most famous monuments in all of Europe is crowning the street’s end – das Brandenburger Tor.

It is not a coincidence to have these allied nations clustered together – symbolically by the Brandenburg gate, the historical gateway into Prussian Berlin. Similarly, in another corner of Berlin a stolid stone embassy with the Japanese chrysanthemum crest faces the Italian embassy with a pink, esteemed façade. The history is startlingly standing right before you, and the architecture serves as only the beginning of telling the city’s story.

Das Brandenburger tor has become an image that represents Germany all over the world, but the “gate” confuses visitors more, since in Modern Berlin the city branches out around the gate, there is no entrance since the gate has been swallowed into the city. From plaques that recap decades of complex history into mere paragraphs, it is challenging and almost surreal to stand at the gate and imagine that just yards from this monument a wall once stood, and just to its right upon looking over Platz des 18. März, the German Reichstag – the most central government building - would there stand on the other side of this barrier in plain view. To the left from this same image now stands dozens of stone pillars representing the experience of European Jews becoming lost, alone and helpless throughout Nazi rule.

[ You just have to believe me trying to create some photo journalism here. It is hard to put into perspective the unique setup of Berlin. Turn exactly 90 degrees to the right from the above photo of Platz des 18. März, and the view dramatically changes with the Reichstag building in the background. It is incredible to imagine just 20 years ago a wall once stood here. What is also hard to fathom is how I took this two photos right after each other and one is gray overcast skies, and the other is vibrant blue... That might also sum up German weather pretty precisely.]

The symbolism, imagery, and living history around me was overwhelming. On the other side of the gate, near the U.S. embassy – fresh and polished from its young 2 years of being opened at its new home, stands a table with a tourist ploy. A man dressed in an American army uniform asks me in a very Turkish accented English if I wanted authentic stamps in my passport from the American/French/British and Soviet quarters of divided Berlin – a unique concept, only 2 Euros, but I don't carry my passport in my back pocket.

The kitsch of this expected tourist trap just meters away from the grand gate did provide a perspective on the influence of international politics [ some even calling the cold war the beginning of modern international politics ]. Berlin was a crossroads – it would be wrong to compare it to New York – a city combining layers of many different eras, arts, peoples and politics into one cohesive piece. Berlin, on the other hand, didn’t seem to “melt” like our endeared American melting pot. Influence is not the right word – Berlin is a cross roads of different ideas and powers placed there all claiming their self-declared rightful spot within its borders, the image isn’t cohesive, but like my running theme lost amongst these images, it all told a living story of a deep history.

If the Brandenburg gate bridges Berlin together, garnering the old defacing city divide, then the new Reichstag, home of the German Bundestag, is the bridge of the German people – the next surprising step in my walk around the political center of Berlin.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Berlin: ewig zu werden

[ Berlin : Forever becoming ]

Arriving in Berlin didn’t immediately sink in. Receiving my invitation to visit Berlin in a party-sponsored Seminar trip with the SPD was a surprise and an exciting and unexpected opportunity.

Walking out of the huge glass train station, a reflecting focal point epitomizing modern architecture and design being opened only just before the world cup in 2006, Berlin immediately begins to confuse its visitors.

Is Berlin ugly? From a first glance, Yes – but turn your head, capture another angle, and the city is beautiful. In other words, the puzzle pieces that make up the entire image of Berlin don’t seem to fit together. Outside the train station, there is an unexpected sprawling amount of open space – here, there is no expansive skyline expected of a world class capital – yet, there are landmarks dotted in the distance – the complete image of Berlin proves to just have a very broad canvas.

There seemed to be construction everywhere – but once again, the direction the city is going in is undetermined. Its journey of building, re-building, tearing down, and preserving leaves a clutter of ideas and once again confusion. Is Berlin trying to emphasize that it received a fresh start after 1990 and has used these 20 years to press boundaries and maximize the creative minds of modern architects to form an exemplary world capital city of the 21st century?

Walk past these modern castles of glass and geometric shapes, however, and the distance is bordered with rectangular quadrangles demonstrating the unique living blocks echoing a communist past, but also in present times a simple hub of diverse people living in close, small accommodations in a big eclectic city. The streets are famously lined with graffiti – some sloppy and hastily scrawled as a “tag” or a moan rebelling against governance or society – yet others are works of art, turning lego-pieced streets into bright, message bearing images. Berlin, at first glance doesn’t seem to make sense – but like a visit to a modern art gallery, sometimes something modern and abstract doesn’t have to make sense, but it still causes us to glare, keep staring, and wonder, and this becomes a subliminal beginning to taking in all that Berlin has to represent.

Visiting Berlin in 2010 marks twenty years after the city famously came back together; its wall had a domino effect on the rest of suppressed Europe. This nucleus as a central point for so much of modern European history provided me with these interesting first impressions in present day; however it seems that Berlin has always been evolving:

"Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein"
("Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.")
(Karl Scheffler, author of Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal, 1910 )

Thus represents what makes Berlin so different – like its train station – enormous and glass – the fragile, translucent monument seems almost vulnerable in the flat plain that makes up the heart of the political district of the city. Perhaps this can be observed as the heart of the German nation as well – as I have blogged over the past months, even in the short time I have been able to witness some historic moments in German history. The city celebrated its reuniting, but with the memorial of this great turning point in modern European history, it reawakened the series of events and scars in history that led to the wall. This vulnerability can be interpreted through many of the corners of Berlin, from the practical, forward-thinking modernism, to the protection and display of history, majestic and bold, as well as cold and sore.

[ Images of the DDR - the original red "Torman" stoplight as well as a section of the Berlin wall still standing in a part of the city still rapidly modernizing with construction. ]

Berlin would continue to surprise me throughout my mini visit to the city over the next three days. Even in the uninviting cold and sprawling areas of public squares and gardens – crispy, beige and dead from the winter blanketing the empty space of the peripheral perspective – there was still an energy that came from the streets of the city promoting only further curiosity – bustling and loud from its images, graffiti and unafraid colors, to its serenity and simplicity with a reserved atmosphere that could seemingly sum up its pedestrians. I am in Berlin, the capital of my foreign home, and rapidly putting pieces together of the history and culture that I have observed and learned through my daily life around the country.