Familiar Faces

In the last weeks of my SLA, I soaked up as much of Berlin as I possibly could. I saw “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”, a play by Bertolt Brecht. Again, this play was entirely in German so the experience of being able to use my newly developed ear to understand much of the conflict and interests of the characters was very exciting. The play was one of Brecht’s most famous, and it included many biblical themes within it. Brecht’s mother was catholic, while his father was Protestant. The story displayed a fight between two mothers, in which both believe they are the true mother of a child. On one hand a woman believes she is the mother because she raised it when she found it abandoned. On the other, a woman believes that because they are blood related, it is only right that she deserves the child. The play was incredible and the csat was extremely talented. This play was at the Berliner Ensemble, a historic theater that was established in 1949 by Brecht himself. What made this theater stand out was its rotating sign that shows its face to the rest of the city. This is still the same sign that they put up when it was first established. After a summer of seeing various plays and operas, I have to say that this was my favorite one!

I spent my summer here in Berlin within the same time frame as some of the other Notre Dame Berlin programs. I was given the opportunity to attend the final dinner for the ND programs, and there I was able to see many of the professors who inspired me to explore Berlin and the German language in the first place. Professor Kaupp and Professor Donahue are two German professors I have been able to develop great relationships with and meet in Berlin. I was also able to have a conversation with Professor Pabsch, my art and architecture history professor from last semester. It was incredible to meet these people here in the country we all share an appreciation for.

The Beach and Dresden

The other day I went to “Strandbad Wannsee,” a lake 40 minutes outside of the center of Berlin. This trek was not bad, because the S7 will take you there in about 8 stops. This lake is gorgeous and is never too busy. After the beach I visited the Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz, one of the busiest town regions in Berlin. This area includes many shopping centers, restaurants, and an IMAX movie theater. The architecture of the buildings at Potsdamer Platz is beautiful, for example, the vortex shape at the top of the Sony Center lights up at night and gives the entire surrounding an incredible atmosphere. This is definitely one of my favorite areas to spend time at when I get out of my class.

During one of my weekends I was able to take a bus south of Berlin to a historic German city called Dresden. This city is well known because much of its buildings were bombed during World War II. When I first arrived, one of the first things I noticed was that the main part of the city felt small enough to walk through all of in a short amount of time. I saw many old damaged churches and government buildings while heading to the Zwinger Palais, where there is a math, porcelain, and art museum. This palace had been one of the many places of celebration for the marriage between Saxon and Austrian royalty. I explored the porcelain museum first, and discovered a beautiful porcelain sculpture of flowers that was a perfect replica of a bouquet. Even upon inspecting it closer, it was difficult to distinguish it from a real bouquet due to the incredibledetail that the artist used. This was by far my favorite piece of the museum.

After visiting the museum, I sat along the Danube River and read one of the books I had brought along for the my summer abroad. That evening, I went to the Semperoper, an opera house named after its architect, to see Oedipus Rex. This futuristic rendition of Oedipus Rex was a fruitful experience because I was able to understand much of the dialogue without having to look at the supertitles. The many listening exercises from my course were being put to work. Performances from the stage are very important in German culture, because the tradition dates back to the town theaters from when Germany was still split up into villages. Because of this, contemporary theater is subsidized by the state and remains a popular way to spend a German evening. Dresden exposed me to a more traditional German experience.

Soccer, Turkey, and Symphony

This past week I was able to engage in the culture more than I have in the past weeks. After my first class on Monday, I started out the week working out at the gym I have been able to use through Notre Dame. I have been following my intense workout regime that our football strength and conditioning coach planned for me throughout the summer. After having been in South Bend last summer, I remember the intensity of the workouts, so it has been a challenge recreating that atmosphere, but the gyms in Berlin are well equipped and there are plenty of parks to get footwork in on the field. After my workouts, I will either go home and cook a meal filled with carbs, proteins, and other nutrients, or I will eat at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Dong Do. I learned that the Vietnamese presence in Berlin grew rapidly in the 1970’s, and since then there has been a good amount of Vietnamese restaurants, stores, and marketplaces showing up around the city. The food at Dong Do is to die for, and I make my way there at least once a week.

On Tuesday, I gave a presentation in German on a “vacation region” in my homeland. I chose Phoenix, and discussed the beautiful hikes, sports teams, and bodies of water that come with this city. Everyone else in the class presented on their respective homelands, including Uzbekistan, Russia, Syria, Mexico, Italy, Venezuela, and others. Being able to speak about one’s culture in another language is very important for people, so it is definitely a skill I would like to use when speaking to other German natives. That same day I also played in a soccer tournament against a refugee team and two other German high school teams. Sadly, we got demolished, but it was awesome to see how these kids were working to perfect their soccer and communication skills with each other. It is so interesting to see soccer dominate the sports world in these European countries, as the U.S. does not highlight soccer nearly as much as football, basketball, and baseball.

In the middle of the week, I took a taxi and noticed something that stuck out to me. The taxi driver pulled up to a red light, looked over at the car next to us, and said something friendly to the driver in Turkish, and drove away. I asked the driver if he knew that man, and he explained to me that nearly all of the taxi drivers knew each other and were friends. He also explained how he had immigrated to Germany for better opportunities. We had a great conversation, and I was able to explain the stories of my Turkish friends from my language school, including the background of my friend Göktürk’s name and how it literally translates to jumping Turkish man. It was a quick moment from my week, but I definitely enjoyed talking to him. Another amazing treasure that Turkish culture has brought to Germany is the döner, a kebab of meat that is sliced with vegetables and sauce and thrown together in bread to make a delicious meal. This is a very cheap meal and has been my guilty pleasure on the this excursion.

On Wednesday, I went to the Berlin Philharmonic and saw Sir Simon Rattle’s last indoor performance as a conductor, after having performed at the Philharmonic for the last 31 years. He performed the same 90 minute piece that he opened with at the Philharmonic 31 years ago. It was an incredibly emotional composition, stringing together, violins, harps, percussion, piano, trumpets, and other instruments. The acoustics in the Philharmonic are beautiful, and the sound surrounded me as I closed my eyes. This was the first symphony that I had ever been to and I loved it.

The following day, I toured Neuköln, a neighborhood in Berlin that houses more than 160 different nationalities. The tour guide was a Syrian refugee who explained to us his difficult journey from Syria to Berlin, including years of failed and dangerous attempts to travel between countries without proper identification. It was an incredibly sad story that ended with a successful reunion of his wife and child in Berlin after years of uncertainty. The tour was centered around the Arabic influence in Neuköln and involved attempting to decipher Arabic words and phrases on local businesses. We ended the tour at a restaurant called “Aldimashqi”, where I ordered fried chicken with seasoning I had never tasted with chicken. It was so delicious that I went back the next day. On Saturday, I went to a restaurant to watch the Germany v. Sweden World Cup game. This was a very intense game because Germany had lost to Mexico, so the pressure was on to win this game to keep their hopes alive. Sweden scored, then Germany tied it up. With 30 seconds left to go in the 95 minute match, Germany had one last chance to score. They set up a shot with a deceptive play, and bended the ball at the perfect angle to score and keep Germany’s flame alive. The entire crowd at the restaurant exploded with joy and cheers for the next five minutes. It was definitely an experience that does not come around too often, and now I look forward to watching Germany take on South Korea this week.


Parental Leave and Leaving to Austria

My course is becoming increasingly more interesting with every week, as we gain people from all over the world. This past week a 16 year old boy from Italy joined our class, and we started off the week by discussing parental leave from the workplace. I had never realized the awesome laws that Germany has for parental leave, which include 3 full paid years split between both parents. For example, each parent can switch off each month taking care of the child, and still be compensated at work. This is federal a law here. It is absolutely insane and amazing, because there is no federal law for any paternal leave in the U.S., not even for the mother. Only three states in the U.S., California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, provide some type of leave for mothers. For the most part, in the U.S.  it is completely dependant on the company to determine whether or not they offer parental leave. It was interesting discussing these with the other students, because I learned how Italy, South Korea, and Russia compare, and their laws are still more giving to parents than U.S. laws.

I found this particular topic interesting, because I study Neuroscience and Behavior at Notre Dame, a science that has a great focus on the early development of people. In german, I was able to use the knowledge I have gained from my psychology and anthropology classes at ND to explain how significant it is for the parents to be around during the early years of a childhood. I hope to pursue medicine after studying at Notre Dame, potentially in Germany, so this was a great way to discuss my blooming interests in a language that I may need in the coming years to earn a graduate degree.

Later on in the week, I had a weekend trip planned to Vienna, Austria (Wien, Österreich in German). I looked forward to visiting this country because the primary language spoken there is also German! It was another place I could practice my speaking and reading skills. While in Vienna, I visited Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, a former imperial summer residence that is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in the Austria. It had amazing views of the entire city of Vienna and one of the most vibrant and fruitful gardens I have ever seen. I also wandered the inner city of Vienna and spotted some amazing buildings and churches, including the Burgtheater, one of the most historically significant theaters in Europe. Later that evening, I happened upon a woman who sold me a ticket to Macbeth in that theater for 5 euros because her friend had gotten sick. The rendition of Macbeth was completely in German without supertitles, and only featured three actors. It was definitely one of the most interesting productions I have witnessed, and their interpretation excluded the final two acts of Macbeth and relied heavily on sound, lighting, and visual stimulation to capture the themes of the play.


The following day I traveled west of Vienna to a town named Melk, Austria. This is one of the oldest cities in Austria, and it possesses some amazing sites, including the Melk Abbey which I toured. This is a benedictine abbey, which houses the remains of many of Austria’s first ruling dynasty. It contains many precious relics of the Catholic Church, and is staged high above ground so that views of the village and Danube river are breathtaking. After touring the Melk Abbey, I took a boat ride down the Danube river, seeing more beautiful green villages set in the mountains of Austria. This trip gave me so much insight as to how other German speaking countries can have such different cultures, even though they are connected to other countries by language.

Back to Berlin

I have spent some time now finally settling in to my German language courses here in Berlin after being here for 3 weeks. This is my second time visiting this amazing city, the first being back in March 2018 for my art and architecture class. My apartment is located in Mitte, a very nice neighborhood in the city that is quiet for the most part. After I got here for the first week of my SLA, I already had my routine of buying groceries for the week and working out at the local gym. My favorite meal that I’ve cooked so far (meaning one that I haven’t messed up) has to be my stir fry.

I have found some beautiful parks and cafes in Kreuzberg, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Berlin, to do my homework in and relax. I have already done many of the “touristy” things here in Berlin, such as seeing the East Side Gallery, Brandenburg Gate, Tiergarten, Alexanderplatz, and many of the museums on Museum Island.  Everyone that I have spoken with in German has been very helpful and understanding thus far.

After my first weeks in my language course at the Carl-Duisberg Center, I feel that I have already gained so much knowledge of the language.The classwork is centered around discussion and presentation so that speaking becomes a natural habit. My favorite part about this language school is that it is composed of people from so many different backgrounds. One day I am sitting between a man from Bangladesh and woman from St. Petersburg, the next between a woman from Japan and a woman from Venezuela. There are endless combinations, but what makes it exciting is that more often than not, German is our common language. My favorite exercise that we have practiced in class involved speaking German to discuss taboos from our native countries. Although one thing in the United States may be perfectly normal to do on a daily basis, it may be completely strange in another. These things were fun to discuss, because it is hard enough to explain in English why it is normal for us, so using German is a bit harder to defend common social constructs.A common theme that I have heard from other students here is that they are learning German so that they can study at a university here. The reason so many people from other countries come to Germany to study is because of how cheap it is to go to a university. I remember learning in my courses at Notre Dame that school can cost almost nothing here, as opposed to the crippling tuitions that leave students in the U.S. with student debt. One of the requirements to study here is to learn German up to a certain proficiency level, and after speaking with so many of classmates who want to study law, economics, and other fields, I think it would be great if I could use my experiences here this summer in order to help me on my path to study science after Notre Dame. I plan on returning to Berlin next summer by applying for a research position in a lab, so these two summers will hopefully not be the last times I see Berlin. I believe that this city has a heartbeat to it unlike any other major city that I have been to in the U.S. including Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles. It is more calm, yet still has an exciting pace to it. I look forward to making more friends from all over the world in my class and exploring the city even more.