Adventures in Germany: A student looks back at Berlin

Alex Winn

From the moment my plane left Chicago late last August, I knew that I was in for an adventure. My meal choices on the plane were chicken or fish masala, and the stewardesses were wearing saris. No, I wasn’t on my way to India – that would have to wait for another time. I was flying Air India from Chicago to Frankfurt to connect to Berlin.
A semester at IES Berlin sounds exciting, right? At least it does when, like me, one of your majors is German, or if you just really like currywurst and cheap beer. Either way, the chance to transcend the Lawrence Bubble for three-and-a-half months and get credit was too appealing. so I counted myself in!
So there I was, spending $200 per hour to sit next to homeward-bound Rajiit Karagahti while feasting on my burfi dessert at 33,000 feet above Greenland. The funny thing is, I loved every minute of it.
It turns out that the crazy ethnic blending going on in my 747 was in fact very indicative of the multiculturalism which, in part, defines Berlin. Even among the 37 of us students participating in IES Berlin that fall, there were kids from England, France, Switzerland and Portugal – all with U.S. citizenship. There would be no escaping multiculturalism until I returned to Wisconsin months later – though I must say Appleton offers a surprising array of ethnic dining options.
In case it’s not already evident, I’ll tell you that I love good ethnic food, and so I was in heaven dining and drinking in Berlin. Thai restaurants competed with Indian restaurants which in turn vied with Italian pizzerias for customers walking down the same street. Example: _4.50 (about $5.40) Lunch Special, alcoholic drink included, or a fresh, made-to-order pizza with a Coke, all for less than the price of a Ben and Jerry’s Peace Pop at the Union Grill.
And so it went for three and a half gastronomically delightful months in the cultural melting pot that is Berlin. And the amazing part – you can hate me if you want to – is that I actually lost weight during my time abroad. Maybe it was climbing those multi-pitched sandstone fins that did it?
I should mention that apart from eating and climbing, I managed to fit some schoolwork in, too. Taking all my classes at the IES center at Humboldt University was very convenient, as the campus is spread over a two-mile area, right in the middle of downtown Berlin. HU students have to take the subway or ride a bike across town several times each day to get to all of their classes – assuming that they decide go to all of their classes. I discovered that among many HU students it is common practice not to attend class very regularly – again a reminder that I wasn’t in the Bubble anymore. And try this on, Lawrence: HU students pay a whopping total of around $750 per year. That works out to be about one-forty-ninth the cost of attending Lawrence this year (I just heard the bubble burst) and my friends at HU were still complaining about paying for books!
The IES center was conveniently located under one roof and offered a tantalizing fare of courses such as Literature in Berlin: Berlin in Literature, a fantastic course; Theater of Berlin – where we read and then saw plays performed by top-notch German performers; and German Film as Refracted History – a journey into early 20th century history through period films, another winner.
Academically and socially speaking, I was introduced to a new Germany, one that speaks many languages and comes in as many different flavors. Being a healthy member of the EU and bordering Eastern Europe, Germany is facing as many problems as opportunities. I was glad to see their democracy at work – elections happened while I was there – and I have gained some insights into and criticisms of ours, like: Why have a two-party system when you could offer representation to each party that receives over 5 percent in the House of Representatives like they do? I discussed these questions with other study-abroad students as we flew home on Air India in December.
And the palak paneer they served was delicious!