To Art, To Beer, To Not Having Bed Bugs {Prost!}

Welp, friends, I seem to be posting this article a bit (*ahem*, extremely) late. If not due to the fact that I was putting off sorting through over 400 photos from this past week, then perhaps simply due to the fact that I still have yet to recover from the past two weeks. Why’s that you ask?

Because I spent a week in two of Germany’s biggest cities: Berlin and Munich. And it was an absolute whirlwind.

September 28th-October 2nd: Berlin

For the first of the two long excursions that AIB takes us on, we ventured to the German capitol of Berlin; a city of history, a city of art, and a city of, well, seemingly-rude people. And yet, it’s got a certain . . . charm.

Monday, September 28th: 

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Around 9am Monday, with all our bags and people, we hopped on a train. About 6 hours, one transfer, and two trams later we arrived at our hotel in Berlin. We got our rooms, dropped off our bags, then headed back out again for, as you may have guessed from the stunning picture above,  a bike tour.

Yes. 20-some-odd people, with varying degrees of familiarity with bikes, all riding through the streets of Berlin. It was quite an experience, to say the least.

I realized exactly how long it had been since I had ridden a bike, Sydney crashed, Billy was riding insane circles around people, Chris looked like he was in his element, and everyone just sort of tried to refrain from crashing into cars (thank GOD Berliners know how to deal with cyclists. If you could call us that).

But all in all it was fun, and we got to see some cool stuff.

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After that, we met up with Maxie, one of AIB’s former student workers who lives in Berlin. She took us to get AWESOME döner and turkish pizza, then she took us to a bar on the rooftop of a parking garage. It was swing dancing night, it was super hipster, and it was great.

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Tuesday, September 29th: 

We got up at a decent time (after some much needed sleep), grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel, then hopped on a train to Potsdam (just outside of Berlin), where we got a quick bus to the day’s main destination: Studio Babelsberg.

It’s the largest studio in Europe, it’s Germany’s version of Universal Studios, and it’s also been running since 1912, making it one of the oldest studios. Hundreds of things (Movies and TV alike) have been filmed there or in Berlin with the help of Studio Babelsberg’s resources, including V for Vendetta, Mr. Nobody (a personal favorite), The Three Musketeers, Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters, The Bourne Supremacy, the Pianist, Homeland, Mockingjay, Inglorious Bastards, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Some of the sound stages were being used for productions that wanted their sets to be kept private, so unfortunately we didn’t get to see anything in production. But we did get to see on of their empty soundstages, which was MASSIVE, and we got a tour of their art department, their prop houses, and the beginnings of their backlot. We also got to see two of the Mandel’s boxes from Grand Budapest (I nearly died), we saw someone carve something out of styrofoam in like 2 minutes, and we saw a 3D printer. It was an amazing tour.

Sadly, I’m not allowed to publicly share the pictures I took. But, as these were outside, I think I can get away with showing you all these:

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Afterwards, we got a much needed (and delicious) lunch at an Italian restaurant, and then we headed back to Berlin, where Maxie took us on a cool tour of some interesting/artsy/hipster places in Berlin.

We went to an abandoned train-car repair station, where some of my classmates decided to crawl under a fence to explore and abandoned building (I did not join in this activity), and where a bunch of cool people had turned old buildings into canvases for street art, and converted the space into cool things like a biergarten, a skating hall, a rock climbing wall, and a bunch of other cool things. We wandered around, saw a lot of street art, went to a bar where I tried some sort of Waldmeister beer that tasted like sour watermelon candy and smelled like . . . I don’t even know. Then we went to another bar/club that I sadly did not get pictures of, and the theme of which was an entire apartment turned upside down; as in every room of an apartment, completely furnished, was screwed to the ceiling. It was incredibly cool; the bar was in the kitchen (complete with upside down refrigerators, and a sink), another corner was the living room, another one was a bedroom, and we were out in the garden. It was great.

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Wednesday, September 30th: 

Wednesday was the “My Berlin Day.” The week before we left we were all divided up into 4 groups, with 4 topics: Urban Art, The Cold War, East Berlin and the GDR, and Multi-Cultural Berlin. Each group was assigned a topic and an assignment. When this day arrived, we were to go out into the city, meet our “guide,” explore our topic, and complete our assignment in time to come back and present it to the class.

Nader, Kayla, Marlis, Kelcey, and I were all in the Multi-Cultural Berlin group. After a nice, late morning (thank god for sleeping in), we met with Olivia to get our marching orders, then headed to Kreuzberg, a historically multi-cultural neighborhood of Berlin, where we were to meet Intisar Nassar, our lovely tour guide. She gave us a quick introduction to the neighborhood at the Kreuzberg museum, we got to know about it’s history and it’s culture (it’s comprised of over 180 different cultures and ethnicities), and we got to know a bit about how it became what it is today.

Afterward, we set out on walking tour of the area, then got some AMAZING waffles, then visited a mosque, where we learned about Islam and how Kreuzberg accommodates many different religions. Afterward, I interviewed Intisar for my documentary, and the others went to find something to take back to our class.

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We presented a quick video, while Nader ran over what happened that day and described Kreuzberg’s history to the class, and then we all joined in for a discussion of the struggles immigrants and refugees, who live in or are coming to Berlin, face. Afterward, we shared some sort of sweet honey pastry and Turkish Delight (rosewater flavored, interesting) with our class, and watched their presentations.

The East Germany/GDR group had a funny presentation (led, of course, by Antonio), during which they essentially presented an informational promo from the perspective of the GDR.

The Cold War group did a funny skit depicting how suspected “criminals” were tried and tortured if they were suspected of opposing the GDR and East Germany. They then described their visit to a Stazi prison, discussing how their tour guide at the Check Point Charlie museum had successfully snuck over 200 people out of East Germany, and then spent 9 years in such a prison(where his teeth were pulled as torture) for doing so. The conditions described in that prison were terrifying.

The Urban art group did a slideshow with some really cool pictures from the East Side Gallery (a portion of the Berlin Wall where artists were commissioned to paint each block of concrete), and some cool pieces from their tour guide’s gallery. They discussed how the art scene in Berlin has evolved and changed, and is slowly moving on.

After the lovely presentations, we all freshened up and headed to a much anticipated group dinner, at a moroccan food restaurant in some part of Berlin that I am entirely unfamiliar with (Olivia led the way, so I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing about where we went, except that it was a restaurant that washes your hands with rose water). It was fantastic. We had some *coughcough* ‘lemonade’, we had AMAZING food (chiken and lamb and couscous and some sort of chicken pastry and eggplant and carrots and tomatoes and everything was a wonderful mixture of sweet and savory and then we had these funny honey pastries for dessert with tee that tasted a bit like grass). We had great conversations, and I think we chased everyone out of the restaurant with how loud we were talking. But it was worth it, because we heard every accent that Antonio could do, we heard Amanda’s southern belle accent, we heard Olivia’s American accent (both Texan and Californian), we tried Boston accents, we listed off favorite movies, bugged Olivia about the fact that she’s never seen Star Wars and then gave her our “film student’s” version of “movies you NEED to see,” we talked about all the different TV shows that are good and terrible, we joked, we laughed, and we had a damn good night. And then we went back, and I went to sleep, anticipating the early day we had planned in the morning.

Thursday, October 1st:

At about 7:45am, we all hauled our suitcases down into Olivia’s room, grabbed a quick breakfast and took a sack lunch for the road, then hopped on a tram that took us to a train, which took us to Oranienburg, where we were to see the Sachsenhause Concentration camp.

I don’t really know what I was expecting; in fact I may have gone into it with no expectations at all. Before I came to Germany I wondered if I would get to see a concentration camp, and I just figured that I wouldn’t. I remember when Olivia told me we’d be seeing one during our Berlin excursion, I was excited. But I remember thinking how strange that was, and I still think it’s a strange thing. On the one hand, it’s a terrible place. People were imprisoned, starved, treated like vermin, killed here; for no reason at all other than the fact that they were Jewish, or Roma, or gay, or soviets, or anything else deemed impure. It’s a horrible thing; Now I’m not a big believer in these sorts of things, and I’m not very superstitious, but the energy lingering in a place like that would be undoubtedly uncomfortable, if not terrifying. Why would anyone want to go see that, let alone be excited about it? And yet, on the other hand, there’s something far more striking about seeing something in person. What remains of most of the camps is a mere scrap of the horrid places they used to be, and yet it’s enough to make it more real for people. There’s something safe about seeing horrific things in the pages of a book, or hearing about them in lectures from people who never experienced it first hand, or seeing it on a TV screen when some educational channel plays a special. You know it happened, you know it’s awful, but you’ve never come into contact with it; it happened before your time. And then you go and see it; you stand where they stood; you see the words on the gate “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free), that were the last words some of them ever read. It becomes impossible to disregard; it’s a painful but strong and effective reminder of what human beings can do to each other, and of what should never happen again. As many of the holocaust survivors are growing old and passing away, all that is left for us to remember it beyond the harmless pages of a book, are the places and things left behind. I think it falls under what I like to call humanity’s dreadful curiosity; the things that no one wants to talk about, or that aren’t pleasant to consider, are the things that we all secretly wonder about. No one likes to think about what happened during the holocaust, and yet I looked forward to seeing a concentration camp. We’re helplessly drawn to dark things, but we’re all afraid to acknowledge it.

But, I digress, ANYWAYS.

Thursday was a strange day. We met with our tour guide, who had a marvelous Scottish accent, and we entered the camp. The first thing that struck me was that it was completely empty and open. The second thing that struck me was that you could see the houses of the town over the top of the camp wall.

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Something interesting about this camp, that our tour guide mentioned often, was that it wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere; it practically blended in with the town. There were days when people living in town couldn’t dry their laundry, or if they did it was ruined, because ash from the camp blew into their yards and onto their clothes line.

Another thing that struck me was that Sachsenhause wasn’t actually a death camp, and I hadn’t really made the distinction in my mind between various types of concentration camps. They all seemed the same. But this was apparently more of a work camp; it was mainly for men, it held mostly soviets, as it was made earlier on in the war, before the mass round-up of Jews took place, and it was the place they held you until you were to be sent to a death camp, or until you died from exhaustion.

But I think, of everything we learned, the thing that struck me most was how calculated everything was. It wasn’t a camp that was constructed and then used as they needed it; it was constructed with its exact use in mind. They designed it like a sort of triangle, so that there was no part of the camp out of sight from one of the watch towers. They placed the barracks in a sort of U, around the front gate, and in front of that gate they put a sort of track, containing various types of terrain. Here, as a punishment, they would make the people in the camp ‘test new military boots,’ by strapping on those boots, picking up an army sack full of bricks, and running through each of the types of terrain in a continuous cycle, until they reached their mileage quota. The track was placed where all could see, each time they left for and returned from their work details. The gallows were similarly placed, as all hangings were public.

They built something called Station Z as a make-shift “doctor’s office”, or so the people in the camp thought. The front was set up exactly like the clinic in the medical barracks, people were brought in under the impression that they were getting an exam, for some sort of new work detail. They listened to loud classical music as they sat in the waiting room. Then during the exam they stood against a post in the wall to measure their height. And then, from the secret space built behind that wall, through the gap between the pieces of wood that comprised the post (much like how doctor measures your height now), once the piece of wood denoting their height stopped at their head, the soldiers hiding in that secret place pulled the trigger on a gun, whose bullet fit perfectly through that gap. Then a sort of trap door opened up, and two other prisoners picked up the body, dragging it to the room behind where ovens had been built for cremation.

They built that building with this plan in mind. That’s what got me the most. And I though about it for the rest of the day. I stood in station Z, and I saw the remaining foundations of the building, and it was horrible. And outside, not too far away, they had marked off the patches of grass, beneath which lies the ashes of the people who were cremated there.

It wasn’t even a death camp, it was a work camp. and yet they still planned this building.

The entire time I was at the camp, I kept trying to imagine it as it was. Imagine all the barracks up where they used to be, imagine the grass as dirt, the towers manned with guns. It was difficult, as we were surrounded by other tour groups, and there are beautiful trees in the middle of the camp. But it still got me wrapped up in my head for most of the day. So I didn’t talk much to anyone, and I attempted to avoid people.

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After we left, I realized that I was thinking too much about it, but it still got me wrapped up in my head, and I needed to get out of that.

Which wasn’t much of an issue, because upon returning to Berlin we quickly grabbed our bags, then hopped on a tram to the hauptbahnhof, where Katy, Kelcey, Amanda, Alex, Sydney and I caught the first of two trains that would take us to our next destination: Munich.

October 1st-October 2nd: Oktoberfest {München}

I slept through most of one of our 3 hour train rides, which took us to Fulda, where we missed our first connecting train, so we stopped at a McDonald’s for dinner. Then we got on the next train, which took us on another 3 hour trip, but we finally ended up in Munich (or München, as the Germans call it), about an hour or 2 behind schedule. We caught a bus to our hostel, fought our way through the hoards of people walking away from the Oktoberfest festival grounds, and finally got in and checked in.

The hostel seemed nice (or so we thought, more on that later), and we all fell asleep in preparation of the early morning we had planned to have the next day.

Friday, October 2nd:

We all got up at about six or seven, dawned our dirndls, and grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel (overpriced, and yet insanely satisfying) before walking over to begin our first day at one of Germany’s most widely-known traditions: Oktoberfest.

We were told you needed to arrive at least 2-4 hours before the tents open, otherwise you’ll never get it (something we found to be true on Saturday), so we got in line for one of the most popular tents an hour or so before opening, and waited in the cold, Bavarian morning air.

As soon as the tent open people poured in, and everyone raced to find the perfect table. We found one where we could all sit, so we parked it there for the next three hours or so.

The waitresses started bring out steins of beer as soon as people started sitting down; we were amazed at how much they could carry. Each stein is made of thick glass, and they each hold a full liter of beer. These girls were carrying 6 steins at a time, some of them on one arm. I applaud them.

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The picture you see here was the first group of people to come in. An hour or so later, the tent was filled to the brim with people, there was cheering and shouting, throwing of pretzels, and (of course) standing on tables to chug the entire stein. Several larger men stood to try it, and several of them failed. One very thin, very small asian girl stood to try it, and dominated. No one threw pretzels at her.

We met some students from Spain and Brazil, and we had great conversations with them. I also ate a giant pretzel. And split another beer with three people. And helped finish someone else’s when they left (I can’t remember if it was Sydney’s or Kelcey’s, because they both left early). It was a great morning (bear in mind, it was maybe noon by the time we left this tent).

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After that, we left figuring it was about time to take a nap. Instead, I bought a hat. And then we ran into some boys from California (along with their German and Lithuanian friends) who recognized us speaking English. They convinced us to go into a nearby tent, and then entertained us while we all split another stein. They were rowdy, and they were a little drunk, but they were hilarious.

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We finally left, and decided it was time to actually go back and nap. Which we did, for like 4 or 5 hours. Alex, Sydney, and Kelcey headed back early because a) they were awake, and b) they were hungry. Amanda, Katy and I slept for probably almost 2 hours more before heading back for some food and to meet up with the others.

We found their tent, and waited in line, but but that time it was around 8 or 9 in the evening, and the tents were full. We could see the others sitting at their table in the biergarten, but there was one thing standing in our way: an ABSOLUTELY INSANE security guard. I honestly thought he was going to punch someone. He was rude, loud, disrespectful, and outright mean. He seemed to enjoy getting in people’s faces who hadn’t done anything wrong, and was convinced that the tent was closed and he couldn’t allow anyone else to come inside. Even though I saw empty space at a table right by the entrance.

Katy was tired of waiting, and we had almost lost hope, so we walked away. But then Sydney called us, we tried a different entrance, and a wonderful waitress got us in.

We found our friends and sat down, and I gladly accepted the free beer that Kelcey didn’t want. We talked with a Canadian and her friends from Greece,  had a funny conversation with an Englishman who explained British (vulgar) slang to us, and called Sydney a tw*t (with the most harmless of intentions). He was an interesting fellow. He was 40 something, and was married with kids, but for whatever reason he got a kick out of sitting with us American young’ns and telling us about life.

After he and the girls from Greece left, some nice Brazilians sat down, and we somehow (like we always do) ended up talking about film. And Anna and Marlis somehow found us and joined.

I’m not entirely sure how long we stayed there, but I remember that by the time we left I was 100% ready for sleep. (p.s., in total we had probably each consumed like, 4 liters of beer that day. maybe 5. Never in my life have i had that much liquid, let alone beer).

Saturday, October 3rd:

The next day we slept in, because no one really had the energy to get up early again, and several of us were starting to get sick (the beginning of a long stream of “I think I’m getting sick” soon followed by an epidemic of sniffly noses, soar throats, and congestions that is working its way through our class right now). So we got up around 9 or so, once again ate breakfast at our hostel, and headed for Oktoberfest.

Big difference between Friday and Saturday: When we arrived Saturday the entire place was PACKED. There were families, teenagers, couples, old people; every age of person, and people were everywhere. It was so packed that almost all of the tents were already closed.

We managed to get into the biergarten at the Hacker tent, which made for a rather mellow morning. After a bit Sydney, Amanda, Katie, and Kelcey all went back for another nap, and Alex and I stayed back for a bit.

We had a nice conversation with a couple from Munich that sat down next to us, and got called children by a waiter who laughed about the fact that we didn’t want to order another stein.

Eventually we left, figuring it would be good to rest for a bit. We weaved through the crowd and headed back to the hostel, where my “rest” turned into a rather long nap that I hadn’t planned on taking. But it was necessary.

After that we all got up to go back, eat dinner, and figure out how to get into a tent. We fought our way through the crowds, and waited in a sort of mosh pit of a line to get into one of the Paulaner tents, or at least, the biergarten. We finally did, and we wandered around until we found a table. We got some seats next to these insanely obnoxious Italian men, and these rather nice Brazilian fellows.

We were quite squished, so after the table next to us cleared we moved over. The Brazilians followed us shortly after, just in time to miss the group of Italians shattering two steins. I’m pretty sure they got kicked out at some point.

We talked with the Brazilians for a bit, they were rather nice.

A nice couple from Cologne sat down next to us, followed by a very friendly/drunk dutch fellow, who proceeded to try to tell me and Sydney that Croatia was directly beneath Poland, and California and Washington were between Florida and New York. It was hilarious.

And he was followed shortly thereafter by his brother-in-law. who was, well, interestingly/hilariously forward.

Shortly after that I got up to go to the bathroom, which took nearly an hour, as the line was a slowly-moving mob of drunk women waiting for three tiny stalls.

When I came back (now this is my favorite and least favorite story), I saw from afar that our table was empty. I walked over, stood next to it, and then looked to the table across where the Dutch men had moved to. I asked the brother-in-law, pointing at the table “Do you know where they went?” He came over to me and said “Uh, no, I don’t know, but they left in a hurry because the fat one [one of the Brazilian men were on the heavier side] threw up right where you’re standing.”

I looked down, and surely enough, I was standing in someone’s vomit. I remembered his face as he chugged a stein of beer; I remembered how long it took him to finish it, and how he looked afterwards. Clearly that was a poor decision.

I quickly walked away and proceeded to wander for a bit, but thankfully Sydney found me rather quickly. They were sitting with some more creepy Italian men, which didn’t last long because we ended up meeting up with the boys from the day before, which was . . . well, let’s say it was entertaining and leave it at that.

They definitely came in handy when we were trying to weave our way through the crowds after closing, considering they were all basketball players who were at least 6 feet tall.

After we reached the street we said our goodbyes and headed to our room. I immediately crashed (once again, I had probably had at least 4 liters of beer).

Sunday, October 4th:

We had until 2pm or so to get to the train station, so we figured we’d find something to do in Munich. We ended up deciding to go to the movies, which was good because it started raining anyways.

We saw a movie called Victoria which, based off of what I saw of it, I highly recommend. It was all shot in one continuous take (already cool enough to warrant seeing), and the story itself was great as well. Unfortunately for me, the fact that it was one continuous shot meant that it was all shot hand held, so it shook and moved around quickly, and my motion sickness was not a fan of that. So I sat through a fair amount of the movie with my eyes closed. But again, what I did see of it was great.

After the movie we headed to the train station, grabbed some food, and hopped on our train. A few weeks earlier the train company had actually lost all of our tickets, and they felt bad enough about it that they booked us in first class on the train ride back, which was GREAT.

I felt like I was on the Hogwarts express.

We had a 6 hour train ride home, so we slept, had great conversations, laughed, and ate. Alex got chili. of course.

And that was my crazy adventure through Berlin and Munich. By the time we got home we were all so exhausted, and I was incredibly ready to be in my bed again.

The whirlwind was over, thankfully.

Or NOT.

Later that night Alex told us she found a bug crawling out of her backpack while she was unpacking. And it looked frighteningly similar to a bed bug. I didn’t see the message until the next morning, when I was already running late for class.

But I checked my bags and I found nothing so I went to class anyways.

When we got there, Alex sent the picture to Olivia, to see what to do, thinking it would be no big deal. We figured it was nothing since the rest of us didn’t find any.

Wrong. We were all wrong.

It was definitely a bed bug. And everyone in the class (including those who didn’t go to Munich) was sent home to wash the clothes they were wearing, and everyone who had gone to Munich was sent home with bug spray and trash bags, because we had to de-bug EVERYTHING. We had to wash all of our clothes in the hottest water we could, we had to spray down all of our bags and seal them in a garbage bag outside, we had to wash out sheets, spray our beds and the rest of our room, vacuum the mattresses, etc.

I got back home and my host mom and  I emptied all of my bags onto the patio outside, scanned everything for bed bugs, and sprayed it all down. And then the endless cycle of laundry began (a 60 degree celsius wash cycle takes three hours on my host family’s machine).

It was absolutely insane. And now every time I have an itch I’m worried it’s a bed bug bite, even though I didn’t find any bed bugs, and it’s been over a week now.

*Sigh*

Here’s a lesson for you: never ever bring bags inside the house without checking it for bed bugs first. Or even leaving it outside for a few days. Because we weren’t in a gross hostel. We just happened to be in one with bed bugs.

So there’s that.

Stay tuned for a post on London later this week!

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