Vet Med Students 2011 Study Abroad in Germany

Vet Med Students 2011 Study Abroad in Germany

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  • Day 6: Berlin, Saturday, May 21, 2011

    The day began with a proper breakfast as any day should. German breakfast spreads are known worldwide. The hotels in which we were staying were more than generous in the quality and amount of food in their buffets. However, by Saturday morning there was a small group of us that felt the need to get breakfast at one of the many markets in the city. The sights, sounds, and smells of aisles of baked goods, fruit, cheese, meat, artisan crafts, and boisterous exchange was over-stimulating!  Eventually we each settled on lattes (with whole milk!), fresh-red-juicy strawberries, and shared samplings of different types of streusel (apfel aka apple, rhubarb, and “plain”).

    From the market we further developed our skills at navigating Berlin’s expansive subway/railcar system to arrive at the meeting place for Brewer’s Berlin six hour walking tour.  I had discovered this tour in a guide book specific for students and was hoping for a genuine trip through Berlin. The experience proved to scratch deeper then the surface of landmarks and really allow me to get a feeling for, or at least be less confused and intimidated by the depth of Berlin’s intense historical conflicts and present ability to exist as a never sleeping city rising from the rubbles of wars and walls.

     As our travel vans entered the city the previous night I instantly noticed the stark contrast of the old-damaged buildings next to the cookie cutter facades of newer construction. In my ignorance I believed this to represent  good vs bad or dirty vs clean places within the city. However-within only a few minutes of the tour my outlook changed. Our tour guide indicated that the street scrape molded by graffiti was intimately tied to the culture of the city serving as a means of outward expression through art which at various times within the cities’ history was forcefully subdued.

    Tacheles, an early stop on the tour, was one of my favorites as it harbors the essence of what I have described above. It is a large building on Ornienberger Strasse in the Mitte district. Originally it was built as a department store in the Jewish quarter at one point became a Nazi prison and as it deteriorated post-war served as a temporary location for theatres and small businesses. After the Berlin Wall came down artists and individualists “squatted” in the building. In April 2011 the owner scheduled an eviction, but it was not carried out and eighty artists vowed to stay and for the moment remain. I was able to walk through the complex admiring the creative ways an old building and another person’s garbage can be transformed into an artsy living space and feeling the freedom and defiance reverberating from inside the walls.

    No tour of Berlin would be complete without a trip to Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviet Union constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961 preventing escape across the city sector border from Soviet East Berlin to Capitalist West Berlin becoming a symbol of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie was a place in which an exchange between East and West could be made and was controlled by the American forces.  At one point the Soviet and American tanks even briefly faced each other there during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

    Checkpoint Charlie wasn’t what I expected it to be at all. Unarguably, it was the most “touristy” of all of our tour stops. The old checkpoint was reconstructed with a large not historically appropriate headshot of an awkward American soldier displayed above it. The checkpoint is manned by actors portraying American soldiers. Our tour guide suggested they also were employed in the red-light district of which I wouldn’t be surprised. The surrounding streets were lined with fake gas masks to be sold to tourists and a McDonalds. As an American I was slightly embarrassed to be what seemed to be the “Butt of the Joke”. Regardless the experience was important and worthwhile. I assume that other cultures feel similarly when they visit museums or tourist attractions that misrepresent them and appreciate that new insight as to how that can physically and mentally feel.

    Another noteworthy stop on our tour was The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is an interesting monument consists of 2,711 concrete slabs varying in height and arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. Some sources indicate the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. Having been there myself I feel this description is pretty specific as to how each individual person should feel walking through the memorial and disagree. Most notable to me in the few minutes I spent there was the contrast between the dark, graffiti-less (anti-graffiti paint) slabs and the surrounding vibrancy of the city.
    While sitting on top of a slab looking at my shadow a beer bike filled with 12 fun-loving boisterous tourists pedaled by. A similar theme was evident when our guide mentioned “In Berlin if it looks like a bullet hole it is a bullet hole” at which point I looked across the street as a couple held hands leaning on a war torn building. People walking, talking, eating, even laughing amongst bullet holes and shrapnel damage!? In this I believe I was taught the most during my day in Berlin. Witnessing these stark contrasts initially was unnerving as I felt a massive disrespect or nonchalance was occurring. In the United States the site of the World Trade Center Towers sits to this day sits as a vacant scar. Berlin continues to refuse to become a scar. Life is hard but life
    also goes on and if that can happen there of all places it can happen anywhere.

    After the tour the day was completed with an amazing Thai dinner amongst classmates and friends as a sea of blue jerseys passed by on the street due to the national soccer match. Next, a trip to a pub for beer, live music, and meeting English men dressed as women for their “stag nights” (bachelor parties). After the pub I took about five minutes total (all I could handle) to walk in and say I experienced a music pounding, lights strobing discotech of which Berlin’s night life is famous. As the sun began to rise our walk back to the hotel was supplemented by a doner kebab- one of Berlin's most popular fast food dishes derived from cuisine of the immigrant Turkish population. In sum, my Berlin experience was as eclectic as the city itself.


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