Ask Yourself

I wrote this post at 2:30 AM on my last night in Berlin, but I knew I couldn’t chronologically post it until I wrote my other ones.  Here’s my last post written in Germany.  I’m sure I’ll throw a reflection piece on this blog eventually, but here’s the story of my fabulous last night abroad:

“I want you to ask yourself something right now,” Trisha said to me tonight while we were finishing our delicious Lebanese dinner.  Her eyes reflected the candlelight as she leaned in closer to ask her question.  “I want you to ask yourself when you’re next going to be in Berlin.  Because if the answer to that question is ‘next month’ or even ‘next year,’ then fine.  Go enjoy your good night’s sleep tonight.  But if the answer to that question is ‘I don’t know’ or ‘maybe never,’ then I highly suggest you think twice before wasting this night in your hotel room.”

She had me.  I’m never one to miss an opportunity – even if I’m running on almost no sleep, none of my stuff is packed, and I have to be up at 4:30 AM to catch a plane.  I tried say, “I’ve gotta go back to my room and get a bunch done for tomorrow…I was in Wittenberg all day,  and I’m really tired…” but Trisha’s pep talk pulled me out of it.  No reason to waste my last night in Europe on silly things such as packing or sleeping.

Jan (one of our leaders) had invited us to a ballroom dancing place downtown.  I’m not really a ballroom dancer, and I had no idea what to expect out of this type of activity.  Visions of Pride and Prejudice flashed through my head.  What does one even wear to a ballroom dancing event?  I asked Jan.  She said my current, very casual outfit was fine.  That’s what they said about my karaoke outfit last night too, though, so I’ve learned not to trust our leaders when it comes to wardrobe advice.  Since I didn’t pack any ball gowns, I had to wear the most fashionable thing currently in my possession.  Remember the shoes from a couple days ago?  The ones I left behind at the store?  Well, good news – I went back and bought them this afternoon.  It was in accordance with my new life policy called “When in Europe, buy the shoes.”  They made their epic dancing debut tonight in Berlin.

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The dancing place was about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel.  When we arrived, I instantly knew that this was not a ballroom dancing sort of establishment.  Jan insists that it was back in the day, but that’s neither here nor there.  The truth is, this place was way cool (not that ballroom dancing isn’t.  I’m sure it is…you know, for Jane Austen or whatever).  This place had walls covered in silver tinsel,  a stage with a band setting up while a DJ played music, disco lights all over the place, and a dance floor full of people dancing.  This was the cool part – people were actually dancing.  Not weird, clubbish, all-up-on-you grind fest, but dancing for real.  They were all having a great time.  My new shoes and I were ready to join the party.  Some of the teachers went back to the biergarten behind the hall in order to get some drinks, but I by and large can’t afford alcohol so I’ve just learned to have a lot of fun while sober.  Call it a financial coping mechanism.  Anyway, I hit the dance floor immediately.  Slowly some of the other teachers started to join.  I don’t think I sat down for more than three minutes in the hours that we were there – I was having such a blast.  The DJ played a weird assortment of music, but I loved it all.  There was Queen, Backstreet Boys, Rhianna, randomly “I Shot the Sheriff,” and then I knew for sure that my new friends know me well when a Britney song came on and they all turned to me and said, “WEBB! THIS IS YOUR JAM!!”  Yes, every Britney song is my jam.  Hold the judgement.

At one point I was dancing in a group with my friends, and a guy came up and grabbed my hand to dance.  He was wearing a suit and a hat like Burt from Mary Poppins.  Seriously.  I think he was British or maybe just German sounding British.  Anyway, he started swing dancing with me, which – fun fact – I’m not terrible at due to my hot second in the swing dance club at MSU and the wicked swing moves my dad taught me as a kid (thanks Dad – he used all of your moves).  I initially had a thought of, “How would Rex feel about me swing dancing with some random guy in Germany?” but then I immediately and positively knew that if I asked Rex about this, his answer would be, “Fabulous.  Swing dance with that guy so that you won’t try to get me to do it.”  Ha ha.  So this Martin chap and I had a great time swing dancing, my American friends were wildly impressed, and at the end of the song Martin gave me his hat and pulled me close to try to dance the next one.  That’s the part where I put the hat back on his head and said thanks, but I had to go catch up with my friends.  I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. But seriously – swing dancing in Berlin??  Pretty awesome memory.  Pretty epic night.  I think my new shoes are magic.

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All too soon the evening was over and we had to start walking back.  On our way back, we passed a bar with these weird swinging, floaty egg chairs (I’m going to save you the brain strain of trying to read a description of these.  Just look at the pictures).

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Obviously we couldn’t pass that up.  We stopped at had a drink (my first of the night, but I wasn’t going to miss a floaty egg chair opportunity).  We talked about this trip and how awesome it’s been and how it’s so weird to think that we’re going to home tomorrow.  Shaw (the other Christine, which is why the two of us go by last names) mentioned that this trip feels like a bubble that is completely outside of reality.  It’s a metaphor I’ve heard before, but it rings true.  It’s going to feel weird to go back to real life again, especially since this time I’m going home for good instead of only six days.  I’ve been globetrotting for the past month, but it’s time to go home.  To quote Jason Mraz from last night’s karaoke extravaganza: “Lucky to have been where I have been.  Lucky to be coming home again.”  Aufweiderzein, Germany.  See you tomorrow, America.

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Wittenberg

Our final day in Berlin had no schedule until dinner time.  This was a great idea.  The teachers could each pick one last cultural experience to have before leaving Germany, and we could customize that to be whatever we wanted based on our own individual interests.

The one thing I hadn’t seen yet in Germany was anything about church history.  Germany is the cradle of the Protestant Reformation, and considering my school…my church…my life in general, I thought this would be a very valuable experience.  Unfortunately, we were in Berlin and not near any of the major church history cities.  Wittenberg, Martin Luther’s home town and the place where he posted his ninety-five theses, was about an hour and a half away.  I was going to give up on this and try to find something else to do, but our group leader mentioned that there was a high-speed train that could get me from Berlin to Wittenberg in only forty-one minutes.  That was much more palatable and gave me most of the day to spend in Wittenberg.  I was a bit intimidated by the idea of going by myself – taking the subway to the train station, navigating the Berlin train station, buying a ticket somehow, and traveling to a new city all alone, but I have some friends who insist that traveling alone is the best thing ever.  I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a snapshot of the Berlin train station.  I couldn’t get all of the escalators in the picture.  You can’t blame me for feeling intimidated:

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Wood (our leader) was super kind and offered to go with me to the train station and help me buy the right ticket.  This was a huge sigh of relief (thanks Wood!  You rock!).  He gave me very detailed instructions on what to do when I got to Wittenberg and how to get back to our hotel in Berlin later on that day.  He gave me a very stern warning not to fall asleep on the train, because a bullet train doesn’t make many stops.  If I would have fallen asleep, the next stop would have been on the other side of the country.  Eeeek!  I followed his advice and set an alarm on my phone for five minutes before my arrival, but I was so excited about traveling to Wittenberg that I didn’t end up needing it.

My friends who swear by traveling alone were right – it’s amazing.  Granted, I only did it for one day, but it was one of my favorite days of the trip.  Wittenberg is a beautiful, medieval looking town, and it was different than any of the cities we had seen thus far.  Yet another face of Germany.  I walked from the train station to the town and was instantly enchanted by the small flower shops, the pastel buildings, and tall church spires.

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Even the banks looked cool.  This is a picture of the city bank:

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As I walked through the town, I came to the town square.  There were a bunch of people dressed up at one side of the square next to a church, and I thought, “That’s strange…it’s not Sunday…I wonder why they’re all dressed up?”  Then I suddenly realized: IT MUST BE A WEDDING!  I love weddings.  Seriously, I love weddings.  I practically ran to the other side of the square.  There was no bride or groom, and I couldn’t understand any of the chatter from the happy people outside, but I had a hunch I was right.  I sat on the steps of a Martin Luther statue and waited.  Yes, I know I went to Wittenberg to learn about church history, but the Reformation was five hundred years ago.  I doubted that much was going to change in the next ten minutes.  I had a wedding to crash.

Luckily, I turned out to be right.  The bride and groom came out of the church, and I cheered with everyone else.  Little kids threw flowers, and everyone (including me) snapped some pictures.  Hooray!

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After the wedding, I decided I should actually hunt down some church history.  I found the church where Martin Luther used to preach, and a few streets away I found the church where he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door.  The original wooden door had burned down, but it was replaced by a bronze door with the theses printed on it.  It was pretty cool to be standing in the same place as Martin Luther had so many centuries ago.  It was amazing to think about what massive religious change happened all because of something that started in this tiny town.

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Near the church with the famous door, I saw a horse-drawn carriage and a man with a sign advertising rides for ten euros.  Ten euros seemed extremely worth it for a carriage ride, so I handed him the euro note and he welcomed me aboard (in German…but I figured it out).  This guy took me for a half-hour ride all around the town of Wittenberg, then into a bit more of the countryside.  I saw a lake…beautiful trees…it was such a contrast to Berlin.  When we got back to the city, people were waving at me and taking pictures like I was a one-woman parade.  I waved back awkwardly, feeling strange but also loving the randomness of riding down a medieval street in my own private horse-drawn carriage.  My life is cool sometimes.

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The man dropped me off back at the town square, and I saw dozens of heart-shaped balloons rising from the church I had visited first.  I decided to go check on my wedding couple from earlier, as the party was clearly still going on.  To my surprise, I saw a SECOND wedding!  Two in one day at the same church!  Apparently if you want to fall in love, Wittenberg is the place to be.

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I wandered the streets for a while before finding myself at the University of Wittenberg.  They advertised that people could eat in their cafeteria for only five euros, so I decided to give it a try.  I wanted to see what international cafeteria food is like.  I didn’t know what to expect, but it was delicious.  I’m not even entirely sure what I was eating…the people there didn’t speak English.  It didn’t matter, though – whatever it was, I ate every bite.

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Before catching my train back to Berlin, I had time to go to the Luther house and tour the area where Martin Luther worked and studied.  I took a bunch of pictures there to bring back to my school, and I know my students are going to be extremely excited to see them.  Parts of the building have been kept original to how they were in the 1500s, and that was pretty amazing.  Most buildings that old have undergone extensive renovations.

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I got back to the train station in plenty of time, and on the way back I chose to sit in the dining car and enjoy my new favorite drink – apfelshorle (a fizzy apple juice) – while watching the German countryside zoom by.  It was a great time to reflect on all that had taken place on this trip and start mentally preparing myself for the fact that it was almost over.  It was a bittersweet feeling, but I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my last day.

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Karaoke Round Two: Germany Edition

Why can’t America get karaoke right?

You may recall from this post that I had one of the most fantastic nights ever singing karaoke in Japan.  When the teachers in Germany decided to go out for karaoke in Berlin, I honestly thought, “Yeah, okay…I guess I’ll go, but it’s going to be absolutely lame compared to Japanese karaoke.”  Look at me being all culturally closed-minded when I’ve literally spent the past four weeks working on opening my mind and learning about new cultures.  Oh well.  Some habits die hard.

The plan was that after visiting Sachsenhausen we would go back to the hotel, then go out for dinner at some Spanish restaurant, then to karaoke later that night.  We never ended up having time to go back to the hotel, so we went to dinner and then straight to karaoke.  Before I talk about that, let’s please take a moment to appreciate this picture of Rob eating an entire fish.  This guy ate the weirdest foods.  If we ever got served anything weird, the plan was “give it to Rob.”  Where was this guy when I had to eat raw squid in Tokyo?

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Because we had to go straight from dinner to karaoke, none of us had time to change beforehand.  This was a bit of a problem, as we had all been dressed for a day filled with walking outside in the fifty degree Berlin weather.  I was wearing my new rose-pink cashmere sweater, jeans, and tennis shoes.  When we arrived at the karaoke place, people were dressed in cute going-out clothes.  We looked quite under-dressed and weird in comparison, but oh well.  At least we all looked weird together.

Germany’s karaoke is like a mash-up of Japanese and American karaoke.  There was a main part of the building that had a bar, a dance floor, and a karaoke stage area where people could have sing-offs and such.  There were all kinds of people from different countries hanging out in this section.  There were also private rooms, like in Japan, where you could rock out with just your friends.  It was nice to have the option, and people in our group kept going back and forth between our room and the larger bar area.  The thing about our own room is that it got hot really fast – especially with fifteen of us in there all dancing around.  Germany doesn’t do air conditioning, so even though it was cold outside it was ridiculously hot in our room.  I asked a couple of my girlfriends, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how skanky would it be if I took off my sweater and just wore my tank top?”  They voted low, so I went ahead and did it even though I would usually never wear that as a shirt on its own.  Some of the other people in our group did the same thing – it was SO HOT in that room.  That means that my karaoke outfit ended up being a white spaghetti-strap tank top, jeans, and tennis-shoes.  Sophisticated, aren’t I?  *eyeroll*  We all were sweating like mad and looked pretty trashy, but we were having fun. My phone died at dinner so I didn’t get any pictures at karaoke, but Lauren took this “trashy Americans” picture.  Don’t we look classy?

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I was self-conscious about my wardrobe for about a half second, but then I decided that I didn’t care what the foreigners thought about me and that my American friends would like me anyway.  We had a great time singing karaoke – one of my favorite moments of the night was my “Summer Nights” from Grease duet with Alan, the musical theater buff on our trip.  Another highlight was that I got to see a new side of some of the teachers that really surprised me, but in a good way.  Like, “Wow, you’re one way in professional meetings, but give you a microphone and a dance floor and you are COMPLETELY different.”  Some of us stared open-mouthed at each other once or twice as if to say, “What is happening right now?  Who are these people we thought we knew?”  It was fun to let loose and have a good time, especially after the traumatic events of the afternoon.  Apparently singing really loud is quite therapeutic.

We missed the last train back to our hotel, so we had to look for other options.  We ended up walking around the city for a while (Berlin at night is pretty cool) before finally settling on getting a cab.  The cab driver got us home safely, and we were (mostly) rested by morning in order to start our last day in Germany.

Sachsenhausen

I know I haven’t written in two days, and I have two excuses for this:

1. The group has been insanely busy, but we’ve been having a blast.  I’ve been too busy living my life to take any time to write about it.

2. It’s difficult to find motivation to mentally go back to a concentration camp, and I knew that chronologically my next post had to be about Sachsenhausen.  Just being real with you – I don’t feel much like writing about it.

Nothing can fully prepare someone to visit a concentration camp, and nothing I’m going to write in this post will adequately convey the experience.  Sachsenhausen housed over 200,000 prisoners over the course of it’s existence from 1936-45 (Nazis) and then 1945-50 (Soviets).  Many of the buildings have been taken down, but we were able to visit many that were still standing.  I got to see the barracks with bunk beds stacked three high in rows so close together that hundreds of people could sleep in a room that could comfortably fit a dozen or two.  I saw the medical ward where Jewish children were tested in various sick experiments.  I saw the gas chamber, the crematorium, and the execution station where countless prisoners were shot.  I stood next to the drain that was used to wash away the blood.  I read about the newlywed pregnant woman, twenty-six years old – my age – who didn’t live long enough to have her baby.  I read about the teenaged girls who tried to give some food to their starving Jewish friend, and they paid for this kindness with their lives.  I read about the man who survived the camp, but lost his wife and children and went home to nothing.  I could go on, but I don’t want to write it and you don’t want to read it.

People respond differently to these types of experiences.  A few teacher friends warned me ahead of time that they would be crying their eyes out.  I knew that this wouldn’t be me – I’m not prone to emotional breakdowns, especially in front of people I’ve only known for two weeks.  I figured I would be sad, but I was surprised to find that my predominate emotion was anger.  I was TICKED.  I can’t remember the last time I was so mad.  The whole thing – every single story – was so grotesquely wrong.  I wanted to take our weird audio guides and start smashing the glass display cases.  NOTHING ABOUT THIS CAMP IS OKAY.

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In the basement of one of the buildings, there was a black display board with white papers for people to write their thoughts and post them.  This is a pretty good idea so people don’t get mad and smash things with their audio guides.  I could only read the pages written in English or Spanish, and for some reason I hated all of them (granted, I was in a really bad mood).  The things written were notes such as, “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it” or “I hope these people are resting in peace” or “let’s make sure this never happens again.”  They seemed trite.  I thought about writing something to add to the board, but I couldn’t think of anything appropriate (by appropriate, I both mean appropriate to the situation and also appropriate as in “not laced with profanities”).  I walked away from the board, but I thought to myself, “If I claim to be a writer, why can’t I think of a single word to write?”  Then I realized I did have a word.  I walked back to the board, picked up a pencil, and posted a paper that contained my one single word:

Why?

My word could go in a million directions, as it was doing in my mind at that moment:

Why can’t I think of anything profound to write for this stupid board?

Why did so many lives have to be cut senselessly short?

Why did anyone – ever – think this was okay?

Why didn’t anyone stop them?

Why did so few even try?

Why was I allowed to freely walk out of that camp that day when so many had died trying to do that very thing?

Why are so many of these stories forgotten or lost forever?

Why do I ever complain about anything in life?

Why are humans so terrible to each other?

I know I was being a bit dramatic, but if standing in the ghostly presence of thousands of innocent murder victims isn’t an appropriate time feel dramatic, then I’m not sure what is.

End post.  I’m done writing this one.

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Asian Food and Jewish History

Situation: Christine has to go to an Asian restaurant.  She walks in and sees chopsticks on the table.

Christine’s mental reaction to this situation prior to this summer: “Ahhhh! What am I going to do?  Is there any way out of this?  What am I going to eat?  Do they have silverware?  I hope they have silverware…  I can probably order plain white rice, right?  Do you think anyone will notice if I sneak out for pizza after this!?”

Christine’s mental reaction to this situation tonight: “Awesome, chopsticks.  I miss those.  Ahhh, Japan…Korea…  Good times.  I wonder what we’re eating?  Doesn’t matter – I know I can handle it.”

This is example #459 how traveling has changed me this summer.  I am now food fearless, and I somewhat enjoy Asian food.  Also, I’m a pro at chopsticks (I’m not even being cocky here – one of the other teachers noticed and asked how I got so good with them.  So there.)   We ate at a fancy Asian restaurant tonight with a government official who talked to us about Germany and also about his time in America – he studied at Harvard and also took his family on a four week road trip across our country this summer.  My non-aversion to the Asian restaurant was a small reminder to me about how much each day and even each experience on these trips has served to change me – change my perspectives on history, on culture, on life in general.  Hopefully these are good changes causing me to become a more well-rounded, globally savvy individual.  That’s what traveling is supposed to do, right?

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Today was a huge cultural eye-opener.  We took a tour through the Jewish quarters of Berlin, and we learned a lot about the Jewish history here.  It spans back far before World War II, though obviously there is a lot of relevant history in that period as well.  One of my favorite stops was a monument to a time in 1943 when a few thousand Jewish men were arrested during their work day and taken to a detainment center.  When the men didn’t come home from work, the wives and mothers of these men freaked out and went down to the detainment center to protest.  The guards obviously told the women to go home, but they didn’t.  The protest went on for days.  Some of the men were shipped to Auschwitz.  The women kept protesting and demanding their husbands back.  More women joined the movement.  Finally the protests started to get out of hand, so the government officials decided that the hassle wasn’t worth it.  They released all of the men back to their families, and they even brought back the men who had already been shipped away.  So many Holocaust stories have sad endings – I loved to hear one with a happy ending.  The inscription on the memorial says, “Love and civil disobedience can overthrow a dictatorship.”

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We saw another memorial that was not as happy – this one an art piece depicting liberation from Ravensbruck.  You can’t see it well in the picture, but all of the women are gaunt, haggard, and unsmiling.  I had never considered the fact that liberation from a concentration camp would be anything less than jubilant.  This memorial served as a reminder that these women were released…but to what?  Many had lost their families, their homes, their health…everything.  While it was a positive event, it was still a very sad time for many of them.  Another piece depicted a simple dining room with an overturned chair – a statement about how quickly Jewish families had to leave or were taken during the World War II period.  A poem around the piece was beautiful; I will post the words when I get the translation from our tour guide who read it to us.

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There is a beautiful synagogue in this part of town, and we were lucky enough to be able to tour the inside of it.  Our guide was a Holocaust survivor who was sent to a concentration camp as a one-year-old.  By all statistics, he shouldn’t have made it out alive.  He said that he has a lot of guilt about living when 1.5 million Jewish children just like him did not, and his way to deal with this is to dedicate his life to serving his synagogue and helping tourists such as us learn more about Jewish culture.  It was beautifully intricate.

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We had dinner after the synagogue, and now I’m in my room typing this quickly before I have to meet my group for the midnight tour of the Berlin monuments.  Rumor has it that this will be cool – I’ll let you know when I figure it out.  In the mean time, here are some other random pictures that I took today that don’t really fit in the other paragraphs of this post.  The one with the street sign reads “Christine Street.”   I’m a little ashamed of how my treasured satchel is carelessly thrown on the ground in this picture, but I was pretty excited about that street sign.

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***Three Hours Later***

The midnight monument tour was a lot of fun, but it is now 1:26 AM.  I need to finish this post quickly in order to have energy for tomorrow.  We saw a lot of great things on this tour, and I’ll tell you more about them in person when I get home (those of you who are reading this in Michigan, that is).  The one that probably struck me the most was when we stood at a place where thousands of books were burned in 1933.  By the site was a plaque on the ground that said, “Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (Those who burn books will eventually burn people).  This was said by Heinrich Heine in 1823, and it’s ominous foreshadowing of what was to come in World War II.  A few feet away from the plaque, there is a clear square cut out in the ground.  Below it is a room of empty bookshelves symbolizing all of the books that are now gone.  It was extremely eerie, and also sad to think how much knowledge was essentially erased from human history during this period.  Enjoy the pictures…I have to go to sleep.  Good night!

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Little Istanbul and a Big Shopping Spree

The morning started out with a friendly breakfast – literally.  Check out the hotel’s hard boiled eggs.  There are happy faces and friendly messages drawn on every one:

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I’ve had croissants and a nutella/raspberry jam combo every morning since arriving in Germany.  I think by the end of the trip I might have gained three pounds in just nutella, and I am totally okay with that.

We spent a lot of today in Little Istanbul, where we learned about Turkish immigrants.  I had no idea there was such a huge Turkish population in Germany – they are one of the largest ethnic minorities.  We ate lunch at a place that reminded me of Las Vegas’s Chicken Shack, but with a more urban vibe.

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A tour guide took us through the city and explained about a bunch of the places, and I was once again struck by a huge difference between Europe and Asia – Europeans are so open about everything.  This guy told us about the fact that he was born out of wedlock to teen parents, the troubles he’s having in his marriage, the way he shaves his…well, never mind about that one.  Let’s just say he was more open than ANYONE in Asia (or most of America) would be.  I don’t like or dislike this fact – it’s just another culture difference.  We visited a mosque, and our tour guide told us about his Islamic beliefs.  Dinner was at a traditional Turkish restaurant, and I was initially nervous about this.  I needn’t have worried; it turned out to be delicious.  We ate a ton of food, and the birds enjoyed some bread left by the people behind our table.  As we were leaving it started to rain, so Johanna and I put our scarves up to cover our heads.  I hope no one thought we were being culturally insensitive or anything…we really just wanted to stay dry.

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We had some time off in the evening, so some girls and I went shopping (have you caught on to the fact that I am digging the European fashion here?).  My grandma sent me some euros months ago as “mad money” to spend on myself while in Germany, and um…that money is gone now.  Ha ha.  I found a fantastic store, and I got a trench coat (which is good because it’s freezing this week and I had no coat), a hoodie, a cardigan, a fancy top, a new pajama set, a scarf, two pairs of sunglasses, and even a SATCHEL!  I am in love with my new satchel.  Or perhaps I am in love with the word “satchel.”  Maybe both.  I took pictures of my new outfits to send in a thank-you e-mail to my grandma.  I won’t post them all here and look like an egotistical freak, but you can see my trench coat (SO EXCITED TO BE WARM TOMORROW), satchel, and a few of my other favorites.  The weirdest item I bought was definitely the hoodie – randomly amidst an assortment of American-themed hoodies (New York!  Los Angeles! Miami!) there was one for…Michigan State.  What?!  This was surprising to say the least.  I mean, I know that Michigan State is the best college in the US, but I didn’t know Berlin knew that.  These Germans know what’s up.

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When I went back to the hotel, some teachers were hanging out in the lobby.  I showed them my shopping successes, and we talked for a while.  Trisha brought over two friends she met at the hotel bar named Nick and Hailey.  This is where things get weird.  Hailey and I started talking, and we discovered the following:

1. We grew up about forty minutes from each other.

2. We both graduated high school in the same year.

3. We both ran cross country and actually RACED EACH OTHER in a few races.

4. We both went to Michigan State.

5. We hung out in the same part of campus (she was a music major; I lived right next to the music school).

6. I’ve attended at least two operas in which she was singing.

7. We became friends on facebook, and we already had four mutual friends.

What a small world, right?!  Here we are, halfway across the world after crossing paths that many times, and NOW we finally meet.  Strange.  I got a solid “go green, go white” in a way only a fellow Spartan understands to go with my new Berlin/MSU hoodie, so this made me happy.

I’ve learned that traveling is completely unpredictable.  Bring on tomorrow.

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P.S. Speaking of tomorrow, I might have to go back to the Primark store for these shoes.  I passed on them because they cost eighteen euros, but now I’m maybe regretting that decision.  They’re pretty fabulous…someone convince me to buy them.  I think I need these shoes in my life.

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Beginning Berlin

While I walked through the tiny countryside town of Geisa, World War II didn’t cross my mind at all.  The entire town seemed relatively unaffected by it.  While I walked down the streets of Berlin and saw decades-old bullet holes in some of the buildings?  That is a different story.

Berlin’s history is extremely rich but also extremely sad.  There’s still evidence of the devastation of World War II, and the Cold War still scars much of the cityscape as well.  I feel like we scratched the surface of this during this afternoon, and we will have much more to learn in the upcoming days.

We rode the train from Leipzig to Berlin this morning, and I ended up sitting by a college swimmer from North Dakota.  She was pretty cool, and we compared notes about the fabulousness of our respective Eurotrips before she had to get off the train at Wittenberg.  The teachers and I rode all the way to Berlin.  Once we arrived and got checked in, we had a few hours before our first tour.  Some of my friends and I decided to check out the Alexanderplatz, a market square near our hotel.

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All of us wanted to eat something, so we went to the various food vendors around the square trying to decide what we wanted.  Alan and I watched some Mediterranean looking guy make delicious meat/veggie/garlic sauce pita things, and we decided we wanted some.  Alan walked up to the man and asked, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?”  The man said yes.  Then Alan proceeded to say, “We’d like to order…um….okay actually I don’t even know the English word for that.  We want that thing,” and then he pointed to it.  Apparently a common language didn’t even matter – we were still too culturally dumb to order.  Oops!  We ended up with the food, though, and it was delicious.  While we were eating, a bird pooped on Lauren’s finger.  This was a bummer, but at least it didn’t cause lasting injury like the ridiculous bee sting that has been destroying Rob’s arm for the past three days.

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After lunch, we went on a bus tour of the city of Berlin (on our own private bus, of course…remember – I’m a spoiled brat now).  We stopped and saw the longest standing piece of the Berlin wall, and we also saw some of the watch towers and other fences/devices used to divide this city during the Cold War.  It was a bit haunting.

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The tour ended at the Reichstag building (the German parliament).  We got a tour of this building, which was a lot of fun because we’ve spent time on this trip learning how the German federal government works.  It was fun to see where it all takes place.  One interesting piece in the building was a work of modern art – the artist put a bunch of hollow metal boxes together as bricks to form a long hallway, and on each of the boxes was a name of someone who served in the German parliament.  No matter how long they served, they each got the same size box.  This was to signify that everyone who served in parliament left their mark on Germany.  Each member from 1919-1999 has a box in that hall.  There is a black box to signify 1933-1951 when there was no democracy.  Adolph Hitler does have a box in the group, as he did serve in parliament, but his is the only box that isn’t hollow.  The artist filled it with cement because he got sick of replacing that box when so many people kept kicking it and denting it and destroying it.  Even now, it was clear that people have tried to scratch off his name.

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The top of the parliamentary building looks like a beehive to me, and it looks like a beehive inside too because people are scurrying about to the top and bottom to try to get the best views.  I went up to the top – it was pretty fun, but it was also a bit rainy.  After the Reichstag building, we stopped at a memorial for the Roma people (gypsies) who were killed in concentration camps during World War II.  It was sobering, and it made me think that I’m probably going to be very, very sad when we visit a concentration camp on Thursday.

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On a lighter note, we went for dinner at a pizza place called “The Twelve Apostles.”  They sold twelve specialty pizzas each named after one of the twelve apostles, which seemed kind of sacrilegious to me.  Apparently no one else thought so.  The best part was when Jan, Rob, and Jake ordered the biggest pizza on the menu – it took up an entire table.  We couldn’t believe that they actually finished the whole thing, and they all sort of waddled back to the hotel.

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All in all, a good first day in Berlin.  I’m excited to finally be in the same hotel for a few nights in a row.  I unpacked my clothes into the shelves and hung some dresses up – I’m feeling permanently moved in.  I also texted my room number to Rex, as I was nervous I would forget it (this happened at the last hotel). This is the ninth hotel room I’ve stayed in during the past month.  I’m starting to lose track…too many room numbers.  What a first world problem (spoiled, remember?).