Hey everyone! I know it’s been a little while, but I was away from my laptop/ Wifi in general for almost an entire week, so it’s taken me a while catch up on a lot of things. I can’t say I’ve hated being removed from social media as much as I have this semester – apart from when I need data to GPS or google translate, haha. I also admit that the blog posts and Facebook pictures I post give me a little bit of “me time” to relax and enjoy a distraction from the sometimes overstimulating environment (*insert stress here*) of this study abroad program. Not to mention I spend a good amount of time on them and they’ve really allowed me to reflect on a few things.
Thus, the theme of this blog post is going to be exactly what’s been on my mind so much lately: people. More specifically the self-expression, experiences and the relationships that come with being a person. Essentially, all of my experiences seem to leave me thinking about people and their stories. What, ME? Overthinking???
The weekend before Berlin (September 25th-27th) I spent in Bonn. After Amsterdam and Belgium, I really wanted to spend a little time with my host family and unwind. As I mentioned in my last post, we had had a pretty intense school week. Although- I will say- going to the soccer game was totally worth it. Mostly because I got to see Antonio jump and shout with endearing child-like glee. I think the general consensus was that the last goal was probably the happiest we’ve ever seen him. I’ve decided that sports and/or food are the quickest ways to a man’s heart. I’ve also decided that I like to go to sporting events almost exclusively because I love the way they make people react.
After taking our last test on Friday and having gotten almost no sleep all week – I hit it pretty early Friday night. That being said, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a productive weekend (I literally don’t know how to relax) so Saturday I spent the entire day at a refugee demonstration helping Antonio shoot his documentary. The experience was really eye-opening, and I’m really glad I went.
Begin short rant:I honestly feel like many Americans know too little about the refugee crisis. I remember how easy it was for me to get wrapped up in my own world this summer (nannying, family time etc.) and go about my days being blissfully unaware of global issues. While the refugee crisis was something that would pop up in an article or two, it is totally unavoidable in Europe. There have been countless demonstrations in every city I have visited. Germany, as one of the countries that has been accepting the most refugees, harbors a lot of different opinions about the crisis. Post WWII guilt/shaming, disagreement within the EU, economical concerns, tensions between refugees from different racial/religious backgrounds, and concerns from local Germans about the rapid influx of refugees/German identity are all very relevant here. Everyone seems to have a different take on it. Anyways, you can check out his promo trailer and some of the footage I shot:
The demonstration itself was fairly peaceful, although people kept approaching me and asking me to stop filming. This got me to thinking. Why would you be so willing to represent your beliefs so publicly but be so irritated when a camera is involved? People have this strange way of reacting to filming, and a lot of the time it’s actually pretty negative. Then again, for some of the more radical activists or anarchists it’s a matter of safety, and everyone is very weary of the manipulative power of film. Regardless, I got good footage for Antonio, met a few new people and heard some really emotional stories. I also learned a lot more about various groups such as the ANTIFA and the neo-nazis, as both were present at the demonstration. The police blocked off the neo-nazis of course, but they managed to disrupt and alter the path of the demonstration.
The only time we really felt threatened was on the train back. Apparently, when a black man tried to get on our train, a group of far-right (potentially neo-nazi) hooligans tried to beat him up. It’s appalling how much racism is still a real threat, and how quickly things can escalate in the midst of social crisis. Thankfully, the ANTIFA (anti-fascists) guided us to the last cart of the train and filled the cart before us, essentially protecting us in-case of an emergency. The police came, cleared the train of any potential neo-nazis and we took off.
Sunday was entirely different. After spending a day intensely reflecting on social politics, my host family decided to take me on a leisurely and family-fun filled excursion. We visited the Regierungsbunker in Arhweiler, a once top-secret government military bunker (now a public museum of course! *insert irony*), and then got to see the world’s largest rotating radio telescope in Effelsberg .
The bunker itself held over 2000 people, all spots reserved for government elite in-case of a nuclear attack. Considering the bunker was never used, an impressive amount of money, resources and engineering went into making the bunker livable for up to 30 days. The tunnel itself stretches for 17 km under the mountains to a corresponding bunker on the other side. The rooms were fairly cramped but contained more than enough amenities – there was even a barber shop in the bunker. (just in case a new hairdo was on the top of their priority list?) They even designated the president his own private room and bathroom. Meanwhile, the common folk would have zero access or even awareness of the bunker’s existence. Social elitism at it’s finest. I have to say, however, that the museum tour was a very fun and fascinating experience. Mad respect to all the planning that went into it.
We then moved on to the radio telescope in Effelsburg. The telescope itself was huge, we learned a little about just how precisely the plates were made, the dimensions, how the telescope has led to knew scientific discoveries etc. My favorite part, however, was witnessing Annika throw a temper tantrum due to hanger. (hunger+ anger for those of you lucky souls that don’t experience it) Nils literally had to drag her off the ground and back to the car because she wouldn’t get up. She even tried to run into the woods! But alas – like every toddler out there – she bounced back with a few playful games and was almost immediately laughing again. It’s funny being a part of a family with little children. The mood swings are so real. Sometimes I think that if society hadn’t conditioned me to control my emotions (can’t say I’ve mastered that yet, haha) I would still be taking the I’m-going-to-lay-down-and-ignore-you approach today.
So I haven’t even gotten to the week yet! Stay with me- there’s a surprise towards the end of this post! Weee~
Monday morning we took a train to Berlin with the AIB for our first 4-day excursion. We put our stuff in the hotel and went on a 3-hour bike tour to immediately familiarize with the city. We saw a few important sights, such as the Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag building. We also had a couple close calls with some cars and pedestrians (you think I’m kidding). Oh, and I almost fell off my bike once! It was great, haha.
The rest of the trip very fast paced as every day was pretty packed with activities. We went to a WW2 museum, admired popular and local street art, took a tour of studio Babelsburg (we all geeked out- movie props ERRYWHERE) and went to some local eateries. I also split from the group to interview my potential documentary subject (a drag queen from Berlin), which went very successfully. His views on gender, identity and intimacy were very unique and we easily spent about 3 hours chatting. I’ll elaborate more on that over the next few weeks, I’m sure. Documentary planning will slowly engulf my every thought and all of my free time, lol. (as if I’ve had much free time)
Anyways, here are some fun pictures of our adventures. My favorites are from the abandoned train station that Maxie, one of the old AIB workers, took us too. We may or may not have gone under a barbed-wire fence to explore the inside of it. Totally, worth it though… Despite the instability of the building. Oh, we also went to an extremely trendy bar on the roof of a parking garage. It was swing-dancing night. Cool, right?
Despite all the fun moments, however, my experience in Berlin really got me thinking about culture in the context of one’s environment. The atmosphere in Berlin is so different than any of the other German cities I had been too. Even just the sheer amount of graffiti all over it’s various buildings says a lot about what people have experienced and are experiencing politically, socially etc. In all seriousness, I felt a lot of dark vibes from walking around the city. The city is rich in self-expression but a lot of it seems to arise from a traumatic historical period. World War II, the Berlin Wall and soviet occupation really bleed into the city’s public art.
The last day of our excursion was by far the most intense, as we spent it at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I didn’t take any pictures because I didn’t really think they’d do the experience justice, and I really wanted to be in the moment while I was there. It took everything within me to comprehend that what I was seeing as a reality. I tried to imagine it visually, and often found myself struggling. Everyone introverted and ceased conversing. I could tell I wasn’t the only one trying to grasp what I was witnessing. It felt very strange ending our excursion with that day-trip, but I’m very glad I went. I felt a little guilty about heading into my weekend, but I think it’s what a lot of us needed after a somewhat heavy week.
Which leads me into the most uplifting part of this post: Oktoberfest!
After weeks of pre-planning (dirndls and all)- my friends and I set off for Oktoberfest. I went with Kayla, Kelcey, Sydney, Amanda and Katy – a beautiful mixture of fantastic women. No arguing, no judgement, no hassle- just a lot of laughing, drinking, eating and conversing. We really did it right and everything panned out pretty smoothly. It was tough, but we managed to get up at 7 am Friday to get into one of the most popular tents (right when it opened at 10am) so that we could stay at a table for a few hours. We met people from all over the world and exchanged stories over enormous steins of beers. By about noon people were standing on tables, singing and throwing pretzels at each other when they couldn’t successfully chug.
The rest of Oktoberfest was as follows: get up, go to tents, go back, take a nap, return ,sit at some tables outside of the tents (because after 2pm it was impossible to get in – IMPOSSIBLE). Throughout the weekend I survived solely off of traditional Bavarian foods a few large steins of various traditional beers. (I may have had 5 steins in total but only my liver is counting- haha) Got a few pictures with some new friends and had a lot of funny interactions.
It was really funny to see everyone communicate in broken English/German. At the end of the day, people are all the same. We want happiness, love, success, recognition. (and on a smaller scale, shorter bathroom lines) The amount of people I talked to that encouraged me to keep making film was actually really uplifting. Especially from some of the adults in their 40s and 50s. Even if they were intoxicated, it’s still nice to hear that some people think you’ll go far.
We ended our weekend by taking the day off on Sunday to explore Munich. However, we decided to see a 3 hour German film because we didn’t have to be at the central station until 3 pm- and we heard it was shot entirely in one long take. The movie is titled “Victoria” and it is fantastic. Everyone needs to see it as soon as it is available online. Almost all of it is in English anyways, and the parts that aren’t really put you into the POV of the protagonist. Arguably one of the best shot and best directed films I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll stop by simply stating that it was a fantastic way to end our trip.
Overall, it was a great week. I met people from all over the world with so many different opinions and life-advice. I spent time with political activists, my family, Berliners, a drag queen, international tourists and, of course, the group of students that has begun to feel like my film family. Everything was almost perfect- except one small surprise that came out of the blue (specifically my suitcase)
-drum roll please-
A bed bug.
And all the pain that it has caused me this week is the true reason I value people over most things. Not ready to talk about it.