Looking Towards the Future

Looking Towards the Future

I’ve been putting off this post for a while now. It’s wandered into my mind every so often, of course, but I’ve been far too busy to do anything about it.

Although I would like to say my procrastination has been a result of schoolwork and schoolwork only, that simply is not true. My own passion for the subjects I’m studying allowed me to complete many of my long-term assignments about a week before due date. Thus, my tardiness is not a direct result of Finals Week; I’ve merely been in denial.

You see, I’ve travelled quite a lot for my age. Even before coming to Berlin, I’d visited Turkey, Israel, Italy, and Japan, along with a number of other countries. Yet, despite my well-cultured past, I’ve never been a huge fan of change.

Right before I leave a place, you see, I tend to become nostalgic. A feeling washes over me, as though I’m leaving a land of opportunity, and instead moving towards an uncertain future. Due to my own anxieties about leaving, I usually end up feeling less prepared, and more stressed.

During my last few weeks in Berlin, I’ve been trying to deny the ever-looming arrival of change. To me, it feels as though my time in Berlin should only just be beginning; I only began even feeling comfortable here about a month ago, so it feels far too early to be readjusting to someplace new.

Nevertheless, with my fear of the future, there is also excitement. After all, I am leaving my story in Berlin for a new adventure: Two weeks of nonstop travel.

Starting today (December 20th, 2014) I will be traversing to five European cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona, and London. Each place comes with its own set of opportunities, and I’m excited to see what I find.

So, farewell, meine Liebling Berlin, and thank you. Thank you for the hardships; the criticisms; the widening of my own perspective. Thank you for giving me a glance into the lives of a culture different than my own, and for helping me embrace a new form of myself I didn’t know existed. Thank you, for allowing me to make at least one friend that I can take back to my world in New York, and for giving me time to re-visualize my own life in the states. Thank you, for helping me revalue my own place in the world, and giving me some new ideas to think about in the future.

Thank you, Berlin, for giving me a new home. Lets meet again soon.

Berlin-Skyline-Sunset

P.S.

The consistency of this class has influenced me to start up a new blog of my own. Although the website is currently a work in progress, I hope to update it by the time I return from my two weeks of travel.

The link to the new blog is here: https://lilaffaria.wordpress.com/

On the website, I hope to transfer some of the posts I wrote for this class, and add a few new posts about my time travelling around Europe. Afterwards, I hope to write about how my life changes over time, the ideas I contemplate, and the experiences I have next.

On the off-chance you or someone you know plans on starting up a new blog as well, let me know! Comment here, or send me a message, with the link to the website. I’ve never worked on a “professional” writing blog of my own before this, so I would love to exchange ideas and stories with anyone else in my shoes.

It has been a pleasure writing for this class all semester. I wish you all the best, wherever you end up. Auf Wiedersehen, everyone! See you back in New York City.

NYU Berlin - Fall 2014

NYU Berlin – Fall 2014

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How to Berlin

How to Berlin

When I first arrived at NYU Berlin, I got swept up in the “college” atmosphere. I was suddenly surrounded by a limited number of students, who all focused on doing a limited number of things. During my first few months in Germany, I spent a lot of time tagging along with these students, in an attempt to be social. I tagged along on bar hops and clubbing trips, awkwardly dancing and trying to connect (the way teenagers do).

About half way through the semester, I realized I’d tagged along to tons of events, yet had not made many close friends over the course of my time. Even though I’d participated in everything most other people had, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I had different interests than most people here; the NYU Bubble didn’t fit me.

Now, I am not the only student to experience this. One of the most common “tips” I’ve heard regarding NYU Berlin, in fact, is to get out of the bubble, and try to bond with the natives instead. Although I agree with this piece of advice, no one ever told me how to pursue it.

So, here are some tips for how to get out of the NYU Berlin Bubble:

1. Do your own thing. NYU Berlin’s campus is fairly small: This semester’s program included about 75 students. The small setting and universal dorm life gives the program a much more typical collegiate feel than NYU’s NYC campus. Try not to get swept up in the “college” atmosphere. If all the students are off doing something that you are not interested in doing, don’t do it. Just because you are living with these people, doesn’t mean you have to connect with them on every single level.

2. Don’t make assumptions. When I first arrived at NYU Berlin, I had no notion of Germans other than the stereotypes. I’d heard they were reserved, even quiet, and hard to befriend. Upon coming here, however, I’ve met all sorts of Germans: Outgoing, introverted, and everything in between. I’ve also met other people from all over: A woman from Lithuania, a number of Swiss folk, and a whole lot of French and British men. See who you end up meeting before making assumptions about what they might be like.

3. Embrace the language gap. One of my biggest regrets is the amount of time I’ve spent silent in NYU Berlin. Since I didn’t know an ounce of German before coming here, and had heard people might be rude to me if I tried to speak English, I deemed silence as the most polite way to approach the city. Turns out, even if silence is polite, it is also lonely. If I were to redo my experience, I would try to be more open with the city. Berlin, for the most part, is friendly… Plus, due to the way it is developing, it contains more expats to Berliners. Many people here recognize the English language as important, and even find it cool (“toll”) to speak it. If you come here, act as you normally would. Try to approach people, despite the language barrier. If you keep trying, it will ultimately improve your knowledge of the language; and, you will probably meet some pretty cool people along the way.

4. Calm down. Although Berlin is a large city, it is a lot calmer than New York. People aren’t in a rush here. If someone has free time here, they might relax in a park. If someone is about to miss the U-Bahn, they’ll wait for the next train. Try not to rush too much. You may enjoy yourself more.

5. Learn to be alone. Berlin is a city that was built for more people than it has. As a result, the people per square foot ratio is lower here than in other cities, such as NYC. Walking alone, you will find yourself amongst a greatly reduced population. Suddenly, you can go to the grocery store without seeing over 10 people, rather than 100. You can even isolate yourself completely by walking into Tempelhof Field and sitting almost everywhere. It’s easy to be alone here. Embrace it.

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Thinking Space

Thinking Space

When I first arrived in Berlin, I knew this semester would be a time of contemplation. Due to some drama that had occurred back in New York, I was a bit out of my element coming in to the country; I was kind of stuck in a rut. The study abroad program was mostly a way to learn more about subjects I am interested in. However, in a small way, it was also a form of self-medication; a way to find happiness again, by running away from my problems.

Basically my life

Basically my life

Lucky for me, NYU Berlin offered plenty of distractions. Academics here are pretty rigorous: I seem to get a new project to work on every week. Nevertheless, due to my own isolation in the “NYU Bubble”, I tend to have much more free time in Berlin that I’d had in NYC; much of the time I’d previously spent communicating with others, I now spend writing.

This past weekend, my mother, her boyfriend, and I visited some family friends in Köln. Due to a number of unfortunate circumstances, my mother had not seen these friends in over ten years. The last time I had seen them, I was about 5 years old; I could barely remember their names.

When I re-met these people, the meeting was new for me. The two friends consisted of a man and his son. Their names are Imre and JJ.

JJ is close to my age. He has recently graduated Undergraduate school in London, and is now studying Social Work in Köln. Him and I hit it off immediately, but he had to leave early during the trip. He was planning on visiting his girlfriend in another town.

Imre, JJ’s father, is a man approaching 50, who lives in an apartment lost in time. When he isn’t busy writing, he enjoys practicing aikido, a form of Japanese martial art that involves feeling someone’s presence before making physical contact.

Two students practicing aikido

Two students practicing aikido

The more I learned about Imre, the more fascinating he became: He spent a lot of time writing and working on improving his art, for his own sake. He was alone often, it seemed, but he didn’t seem lonely… he was the type of person who enjoyed solitude, and flourished by pursuing his work.

When my mother, her boyfriend, and I returned to Berlin on Sunday, my mother expressed her own feelings about the visit. She told us about how she was jealous of how often Imre worked on his writing. She wished she could do the same.

Being abroad is, by nature, a huge source of inspiration for artists; you are constantly surrounded by new situations you had never experienced before. Berlin, especially, is a city filled with opportunity. It can seem overwhelming at times, especially when you are here for only a few months; there are so many things to do, it is impossible to do all of it!

As a result of all these things, I have written more in the past few months than I’d even written before. By the end of the second month, I had already filled an entire notebook with thoughts and ideas. These ideas were written on top of my assignments, this blog, and the blog I have kept up since my childhood, which unintentionally documents some of my psychological factors (e.g. the way I think, the way I speak, the way I express information) at different times of my life.

My love of writing is something I would like to take back with me to New York. I would like to continue escaping to coffee shops to write. I think I used to prioritize human contact far too much; I need to set up some time for “me.”

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Learning, With Hugs

Learning, With Hugs

When I was deciding whether or not to study abroad last year, I was not intimidated by the typical drawbacks of study abroad life: I was not afraid of being away from my family, or being in a foreign country – I had done these things in the past, and had flourished. I was not afraid of leaving my old life – I was ready to be somewhere new. The only thing I was really afraid of, was the language requirement.

When I was young, I (like most people) experienced some troubling things. Some of the things I went through were so difficult (by society’s typical standards of the word), my mother feared they might interfere with my overall happiness. To prevent this from happening, she periodically brought me to therapists’ offices and similar psychoanalytical facilities. Today, test results and analyses of my inner sanity hide away in our attic somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered.

The Math Minute, my worst enemy

One of the tests I took as a child was a check-up on my learning capabilities; I had been doing poorly in timed tests, and my mother wanted to know why. The results revealed a series of processing issues I had, which infringed on my memory. As a result of the way I thought, the test said, I was good at recognizing patterns and the like; however, my memorization capabilities were worse than average.

My mother used this information periodically during my school carrier. Almost immediately, I became exempt from timed math tests. “They don’t measure your intelligence,” my mother would tell my 5th grade self. “They are nothing but a source of unnecessary stress.”

As a result of my family’s discovery, strings were pulled throughout my academic career. These changes affected more than just my math education: Other timed tests were affected, as well. I was listed as a student with slight mental issues; I received extensions for all timed tests; and I was sent to a social worker every week. I became a “special case” in the academic world.

Language requirements were my kryptonite. Unlike other subjects, the learning associated with language (in my high school) was focused on testing, and testing only. The learning style did not suite my own. I was told that, because of my mental issues, I would have trouble in these classes; and, as a result of either these issues, or the people who told me I had them, I had to struggle to succeed.

When I entered NYU Gallatin, I tried my hand at testing a second time. I took a course called, “Introduction to Psychology”: a lecture with flexible attendance policies, where the grades were based on test results and nothing else. The students around me thought the learning structure made the class easy; I, as a result of great amounts of extra credit work, managed to struggle through with a D+.

From then on, I concluded, lecture classes weren’t for me. I decided to pursue only seminar classes from then on, where grades were decided through class participation and homework assignments. It was through this learning style that I would manage to succeed.

When I entered NYU Berlin, I knew I would be faced with another testing dilemma; after all, test-based language classes were a requirement for the program. I decided to take the academic risk, hoping I would be able to defray my inevitable poor grades by taking fairly “easy” classes the semester before. I would also try to meet with a tutor at least once a week, to catch up on pieces I didn’t understand. I knew I was weak at testing, but I didn’t want that to infringe on my experience abroad.

If you draw a line connecting the two bold parts of the verb, it looks like the verb is hugging the sentence!

If you draw a line connecting the two bold parts of the verb, it looks like the verb is hugging the sentence!

During my first meeting with my tutor, Nadja, I found myself slightly fearful of what was to come. I’d had poor tutoring experiences in the past, so I didn’t know what to expect.

Nadja, however, was quite a surprise.

Born in Germany, Nadja had travelled around the world, learning all sorts of languages. She knows French, German, and English, and has been studying each for years. She is passionate about languages, and she shares that passion with others. She is also a very good teacher; by putting things into simple terms, she has made my learning experience actually enjoyable.

            An example of Nadja’s teaching style is the way she reassures me during my studies. One of the phrases I often hear her say is, “German verbs aren’t complicated, they are friendly; they like to hug the sentences!” This idea keeps the learning process light and comfortable… and it gives me a warm image that helps me remember German sentence structure!

Through methods like this, Nadja has transformed my German language experience into something I have grown to enjoy. By showing me the logic behind German phrases, and by associating this logic with comforting ideas, she has helped me do something I never thought I would do: feel comfortable in a language program. Although I still dislike tests and quizzes, I enjoy to my meetings with Nadja. I look forward to talking about benign German things, talking about her interesting hobbies, learning the language, and generally catching up.

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Education, Abroad

Education, Abroad

When I first picked up Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, I didn’t think much of it. I thought I was going to experience yet another High School English class novel; my attention drawn more towards the numbers on the pages, than the stories between the lines.

However, things have changed since High School. I enjoy learning now, and am more lenient regarding certain tasks… Including reading.

Perhaps it was the way the narrative outlined Twain’s thought process, or perhaps it was because I could relate to certain parts, but I found A Tramp Abroad to be quite enjoyable. Twain’s book included tales about theater, painting, and even a story in which Twain’s ribs were broken during a duel. However, one of my favorite excerpts was when Twain described “Student Life” in Germany.

In the text, Twain meets “corps” students, which, on top of their normal studies, compete and duel each other for recognition. When the students weren’t fighting, their lives were on par with the lives of students here. On page 15 of the text, Twain writes:

“German university life is a very free life; it seems to have no restraints. The student does not live in the college buildings, but hires his own lodgings, in any locality he prefers, and he takes his meals when and where he pleases. He goes to bed when it suits him, and does not get up at all unless he wants to. He is not entered at the university for any particular length of time; so he is likely to change about. He passes no examination upon entering college. He merely pays a trifling fee of five or ten dollars, receives a card entitling him to the privileges of the university, and that is the end of it.”

Based on my own observations, some things about university life have not changed since Twain’s time. German students still do not live in college buildings. They go to bed when they like, and wake up when they like. Their universities do not value homework the way US schools do, and they also receive free higher education.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the German system is perfect.Hoop Jumping Education Comic

I am taking a class this semester called “Global Education of the 21st Century,” in which students attending Berlin’s Humboldt University and New York’s NYU participate in active discourse regarding educational systems. My German classmates and I have compared the US and German educational systems to quite an extent, and have realized the following:

The US educational system is, in many ways, corrupt. The general public system is largely test-based, and openly favors students from high-income families. Plus, the extent to which it teaches students is debatably low.

The German system, thought not corrupt in many of the economic ways the US system is, still has its fair share of flaws. The German system puts more pressure on test-based assessments than the US system, in that students are often compared based on test results and nothing else. Non-academic work holds little to no value in the German system, and is not even regarded during the college application process; and non-academic courses are few and far between in German schools… even fewer than those in the US. Plus, bi- (or tri-) linguism is not only favored, but also often necessary, for enrollment in certain universities or participation in many jobs.

Accurate for both the US and German systems

Accurate for both the US and German systems

All of these factors have positive and negative aspects. The test-based evaluation process favors students will good memories over students without. The lack of pressure placed on non-academic work allows students to do extracurriculars for their own benefit, rather than for the sake of an external source (e.g. colleges). Plus, the bi/tri-linguistic factor encourages student interaction across borders, allowing students to easily interact with different cultures.

However, there are negative factors, as well. The test-based assessments have a whole list of problematic factors (which I will not get into, for sake of maintaining your attention). The lack of pressure placed on non-academic work places all pressure on academic work, eliminating such factors as students’ lives outside of class, and how extra activities can affect how efficiently students perform. It turns students into numbers on application sheets, dehumanizing them. The multi-linguistic priority can also be difficult for students who are not interested in learning multiple languages, or who do not do so easily.

I find it interesting how German and US/American educational systems differ… both between each other, and over time. It was nice to learn about Twain’s interpretation of the system during the late 1800’s; it allowed me to compare the educational institutions he saw, to the systems of today!

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The Spirit of Berlin

The Spirit of Berlin

There is no one place that truly captures Berlin’s essence. Berlin is a space that has grown out of its own ashes and broken past, into a city that tries to be as diverse as New York.

Unlike other European cities I’ve been to, which have distinct architectural styles or atmospheres that give it its charm, Berlin doesn’t really have a go-to aura, spirit, or genius loci. It has many different important qualities: A large Turkish population, a substantial techno scene, an urban space designed to preserve the earth… but it is too complicated to have its essence pinned down.

When I think “Berlin,” I see makeup-less women wearing baggy clothes; men with glasses smoking sticks of who-knows-what; carrot-topped trees lining bicycle lanes; and scarce numbers of people filling empty spaces. I’ve seen many aspects of this image in different sections of Berlin: Museum Island, Tempelhof Field… Even the park located less than a block away from my dorm is constantly filled with ever-changing trees and groggy-looking 20-somethings looking for a smoke.

Photo of Me, Walking Through Tempelhof Field

Photo of Me, Walking Through Tempelhof Field

My roommate once called the city “Grungy,” which I think is fairly accurate. It’s very spaced-out, intelligently made for a population that never filled its quota. It’s satiated by ever-changing spaces, quiet people, and nature. To quote an interviewee from an NYU Local article, it’s basically “like Brooklyn, but everywhere.”

One thing that is nice about Berlin is the way it feels in the fall. The city’s greenery all changes at once, and it is met with refreshing breezes and sights that make the American in me long for fresh tea and apple pie. The lack of pollution here allows the city to smell crisp and natural, like it might in a forest or park, and the general atmosphere is far cleaner than that of New York. However, the city also lacks New York’s fall-time spirit, which – though highly commercialized in the states – feels so forgettable here in comparison, it’s almost depressing. I miss absorbing the NYC hype; it always gave me a “glass half full” perspective of the season.

The only times I’ve felt connected to this place at all, have been when I have surrounded myself with academia. Spaces like St. Oberholz Café and the tiny Café located in Humboldt University’s main building are constantly filled with fellow students. Joining them helps me feel like a part of a larger community, but the feeling doesn’t usually last for long: The language barrier makes casual conversation difficult, and the students’ separate backgrounds makes contact only that much harder.

Earlier this week, I participated in a debate between NYU and Humboldt Students, about some of the differences between New York City and Berlin. We ended up concluding with separate perspectives, but a similar theme: Berlin, we all decided, is a city that doesn’t like to boast. Unlike in New York City, where civilians participate in activities and events in order to tell people about them or add them to resumes, members of Berlin do things merely because they enjoy them.

You see, students in Berlin are rated and graded for their academic excellence, and nothing else. When colleges accept students for the year, they look at their academic transcripts, and completely scrap extracurriculars or jobs they might do on the side. As a result, anything non-academic that Berliner students might do here is done for their own personal benefit, rather than to impress a third party.

This upbringing leads to the creation of civilians who live in ways that are very different than Americans. The students here don’t ask or talk or compare their extracurricular activities, because they don’t compete in that aspect of their lives. Discussing the things they do outside of academics is unnecessary, and the bragging about their extracurriculars is not as engrossed in their culture as it is in the U.S.

This separation may lead people towards (or ward people away from) the city. As someone who was brought up valuing extracurriculars over academia (to a certain extent), this manner of living tends to make me feel alienated from the culture. Nevertheless, I can easily see how this kind of quality could be appealing: Since extracurriculars are less judged here, it can be easy to like things that may otherwise be considered “bizarre.” You can be as different (or “unique”) as you want here; no one’s going to judge you, because no one else really cares.

I believe “caring” comes in levels, and I believe Berliners think this, too. In America, people can care for each other upon becoming acquaintances. However, in Berlin, you often don’t become close with someone until you know him or her for a long time. The process is less “forced,” occurring naturally through association and ample time spent contemplating the value of the friendships; yet, after a friendship is made, chances are it’ll last for years.

Personally, I find comfort in shorter friendships. I value them all, to an extent, and I like being able to gain and lose them as frequently as I like. Yet the appeal of the Berliner lifestyle is apparent and understandable; even though it is a culture I, myself, may not find ideal, I can see the logic behind why people might enjoy it.

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Never Just One

Never Just One

During my first month at NYU Berlin, I found myself endlessly cranky, overwhelmed, and unwilling to interact with my surrounding cultures. “Berlin isn’t New York,” I told myself, “There’s nothing good here.”

As time progressed, however, I became more and more adjusted to my new environment. I made friends here, fixed my work schedule, and found places where I felt I could belong.

By my third month (e.g. November), I had not only one favorite place, but a number of them. As a result, I feel I can’t limit my “Great Good Place” to merely one location, but a whole list.

So! Here is a list of my favorite “Great Good Places” in Berlin:

1. Clärchen’s Ballhouse

The thing about my life is that it is heavily run by swing. Ever since I discovered the NYU Swing Dance Society back in Freshman year, I have been an active jazz, blues, and swing dancer, visiting venues weekly or bi-weekly as often as I can.

Clärchen's Ballhouse

Clärchen’s Ballhouse

Another girl in my program is also a swing dancer, so we sometimes attend swing dancing events together. One of the venues we frequently visit is called “Clärchen’s Ballhouse.”

Swing events at Clärchen’s Ballhouse aren’t held in the common, traditional, 20’s-style settings. At night, multicolored lights line chords outside, and a disco ball hangs from a string above the door.

The inside of the venue is also unusual. Although the style involves a traditional DJ booth separated from the dance floor by a stage, the music played is not technically jazz. Most of the songs are typical “American” tracks, often from the 70’s or 80’s. It is not unusual to find dancers lindy hopping to Elvis Presley, or doing back flips to Queen. Sometimes, the DJ even plays 80’s music that is unique to Germany, which all the German leads know by heart.

In short, Clärchen’s Ballhouse is different from other swing dancing venues. It is filled with interesting music and friendly people. And, on Swing Dance Wednesdays, it can be quite the scene.

2. St. Oberholz

St. Oberholz

St. Oberholz

My roommate introduced St. Oberholz to me on a Sunday night, when I was trying to find a place to study. It is located on Torstraße, right next to the Rosenthaler Platz U8 U-Bahn stop. During the first half of the semester, I biked past this café almost every day on my way to class. Nowadays, I try to stop once and a while to visit the people inside.

St. Oberholz is a 2-story café, which is almost always filled with working student expats. People come from all over to study here, and it shows – most of the customers and staff speak English. They sit with their coffee and laptops for hours, in whatever seat they can find, just to get their work done.

As an expat myself, I sometimes like to stop by this spot on my way home from class. It has a relaxing atmosphere, and is a comfortable place to work.

3. Asphalt and Tresor

Asphalt and Tresor are included here less out of personal preference, and more out of public interest. They are clubs, of sorts, that are popular within the NYU Berlin community. Asphalt is known for its hip-hop Thursdays, and Tresor is popular for its multiple dance rooms and loud, incessant techno music.

Out of the two, I have only been to Tresor once. My friend and I salsa danced to the beat as everyone else bobbed their heads and tried to seduce each other. It was quite entertaining.

T Berlin

T Berlin

4. T Berlin

This is a relatively new find, but it is certainly high on my list of favorites. T Berlin is basically a teahouse, which serves tea-based cocktails at night. It is a small venue, with only three or four wooden tables laid across the floor. Most non-tea drinks here are either named after a book or an implied magic spell. The venue also serves multiple flavors of unique gins, including one that is mint flavored and another that tastes “like dreams.”

The entire setting is so small and laidback, it is easy to feel at home. It is run by a sociable, close-knit group that speaks English so well, I can only assume they’re British. This is the only place in Berlin where only English books line the walls, and I have seen multiple groups of British expats socializing over tea. Although it is good and proper to expose myself to the German language (blah blah blah), it can be nice to hang out in a setting where magic is loved and the English language is default.

Santa Maria

Santa Maria

5. Santa Maria

Every Tuesday, Santa Maria changes its menu to include special prices: €4 Margharitas, €1 Tequila Shots, and €1 Tacos. This weekly event has earned it its name – Taco Tuesday – and has prompted students to show up every single week this semester.

To almost every member of NYU Berlin, the phrase “Taco Tuesday” has become a buzzword of sorts. People look forward to “Taco Tuesday” as a mood-lifter, and a promised source for socialization. NYU Berlin kids love Taco Tuesday, and (by extension) we love Santa Maria, as well.

 

These locations are my current favorites in Berlin. However, because of the mere size of the city, I am sure there are plenty more to find. The semester is half over, but a second half still remains – I can’t wait to see where I’ll end up next!

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Contemplating Art

Contemplating Art

As a Gallatin student, my academic concentration can include essentially anything I consider relevant. As a result, one of the classes I am taking this semester is called “Shaping an Educational Landscape: Museum Island.” The class involves visiting a new museum every week, observing its art, and learning about how it was developed.

As a result of this class, I have visited multiple museums including the Pergamon Museum, Altes Museum, and Museum of Islamic Art. One of the class’ goals is to visit every museum on Museum Island before the end of the semester.

Museum Island is a portion of Berlin that was separated from the rest of the main city decades ago. Over time, the land became a designated space where Germany decided to house some of its best, most prestigious museums. Currently, five museums reside here: The Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, and the Altes Museum. The famous Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) is also here.

"The Art Story," one of many poems I've written while contemplating art

“The Art Story,” one of many poems I’ve written while contemplating art

My experiences at Museum Island have exposed me to a range of different art pieces. However, the main themes of the works we’ve seen have been the same: All the pieces are shared with viewers through affirmative discourse (rather than being interactive or deconstructing), and most of the pieces have been housed in Greek-style architectural settings. The only non-Greek academic institution on the island is the Bodemuseum (which my class has yet to see).

My concentration (“Playgrounds”) often leads me back to the field of art. I have often found myself observing it or working with it during my academic career. I’ve worked closely with people who display it, think about it, and even construct it. I have even had the opportunity to work on the construction of some exhibitions myself.

However, despite all this exposure, I have never been quite sure of what art is, or the reason behind its popular appeal. Like de Botton’s analysis of the Alpilles landscape (on the second page of On Eye Opening Art), I sometimes find it hard to detect the “charm” attributed to a famous landscape, sculpture, or painting. Art, itself, seems so lacking in its concrete definition (to me) that I often don’t understand it.

Ironically, I often release my frustrations regarding the interpretation of art through my own creation of it (see Art Story, to the right). I find it to be the easiest way for me to clear my head. However, there are many art pieces whose purposes/popularities I don’t quite understand.

A month or so ago, I discussed the topic with a friend of mine. He’d seen a specific exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) – a shoe hanging from the ceiling – and didn’t understand why the piece was popular. All I could tell him was that art doesn’t always make sense.

Characters from Klasse Klasse, a performance about high school students

Characters from Klasse Klasse, a performance about high school students

The art I’ve seen in Berlin has either been super logical, or completely out there (with few pieces in between). The playgrounds here, for example, seem to have been constructed in intelligent, creative ways that subtly promote growth, and the architecture I’ve seen has been logical with regards to its appeal, etc. Some of the theater shows I’ve seen, however, have been outrageously bizarre – ranging from the story of a seemingly psychotic couple that stays together, to a collection of high schoolers (portrayed through masks) who experience a casual school shooting. I don’t understand many of the performances here; even the English-speaking ones! Yet, I’m not sure if I want to.

Travel is all about exposure to things you’ve never seen before. Yes, some of these things are predictable… but many are not. It is appealing to adventurers because of this.

Art, I believe, is appealing in a similar way. It can be predictable, sure, but you don’t always want it to be. The most appealing art is the type that is unpredictable; the type that is unusual to the extent of making you think about normality itself.

The art pieces found at Museum Island are mostly supplied for their age-defying values; they are kept to remind the world of history, and what used to exist. However, my favorite kinds of art are not these, but more interactive styles, like masked performances or shoes hanging from string. The abstractions of these pieces make you think about what art is. To me, that is what makes art, art.

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An Inauthentic Experience

An Inauthentic Experience

In Dean MacCannell’s Staged Authenticity, MacCannell writes:

“The touristic experience that comes out of the tourist setting is based on inauthenticity, and as such it is superficial when compared with careful study; it is morally inferior to mere experience” (MacCannell, 599)

When I visited Vienna a few weeks ago, I experienced MacCannell’s “touristic experience” first-hand. I’d gone with a friend, Emily, who was eager to see an “authentic Viennese show.” Despite my own desire to see what living in Vienna was like for natives, I followed Emily down to the city center, in order to see the sights.

The famous Viennese Horse Riding Institute

The famous Viennese Horse Riding Institute

As we walked past the Horse Riding Institute, a man approached us. He was wearing a brightly colored outfit: Tights, loafers, and a long-tailed peacoat. In his hand, he clutched a set of tickets.

“Classic Viennese show,” he told us, “Tonight at 8pm.”

“How much?” My friend asked.

“For you? A mere € 32.”

Emily was intrigued.

Having lived in New York City for a year before this, my first instinct was to run; these kinds of events always looked like tourist traps to me. Emily came from a different college, however; a college where tourism was less present. She contemplated the offer, than turned to me.

“What do you think?”

Wanting to compromise, I told her we should wait an hour or so, then go directly to the box office if we want to buy tickets.

“That way,” I told her, “We’ll know the tickets are real.”

An hour or so later, we were walking past the Viennese Library, when we were stopped by another man. He was offering similar tickets! We took this as a sign and moved towards the ticket booth.

“It’s only € 32,” the ticket booth entrepreneur repeated, holding tickets out to us. “Authentic Viennese show. Ballet, opera, and classical music. It’s everything you could want!”

After 15 minutes of this, Emily and I broke down. We did want an authentic Viennesian experience, and we didn’t know what that was; for all we knew, this show could be exactly what we were looking for!

We purchased the tickets.

A few hours later, Emily and I approached the theater hall timidly. We’d recognized that we’d been duped by then, and were regretting our decision. Since we’d already purchased the tickets, however, we decided to go in.

The Concert Hall

The Concert Hall

The building was beautiful. Statuesque fountains hid in crevices in the walls, and red carpet lined the floor. Entrepreneurs, waiters, and coat checkers strolled past in tuxedos, looking only slightly over-extravagant for their purpose. Nevertheless, the setting was better than we’d expected.

Seeing that we were students (who had paid a special “student discount” price), the escorts seated us in the back of the room. We watched as seats filled up around us, obstructing our view of the stage. We didn’t care too much, though; we knew this was a tourist trap from the start.

When the chandeliers dimmed, a group of musicians came out of the woodworks. They were all older – most were in their 40’s or 50’s, with a few exceptions – and they wore the most ridiculous yellow dresses we’d ever seen. Every piece they played was typical: Mozart, Bach, Mozart… (the Mozarthaus is a popular Viennese attraction, so his pieces were especially overplayed). Every so often, bow-legged ballet dancers would accompany the music, broken away only from a performance by my favorite characters: A set of opera singers who were willing to laugh at themselves.

In the end, the show 15 minutes early. It was a terrible show – stereotypical and overpriced, to say the least – but it got us out of the hotel. Without the show, we wouldn’t have explored parts of Venice we’d seen – the theater, the library, the box office, etc.

Despite its poor quality, the show was exactly what had been advertised: A “classic” Vennesian performance, including ballet, opera, and classical music. It was inauthentic and overpriced, but, as MacCannell admits in his text, most tourist experiences are.

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  • The famous Viennese Horse Riding Institute: Lila Faria
  • Viennese Concert Hall: Camera
  • The Vienna Residence Orchastra: Ticmate.com
Architectural Change: The German Way

Architectural Change: The German Way

The first time I opened my copy of The German Way by Hyde Flippo, I found myself instantly criticizing the text. According to my limited knowledge of the German culture, Flippo’s interpretation held multiple inaccuracies.

First off, I’ve never seen the “gray writing paper” mentioned on page 40. The paper here comes in multiple unusual sizes – “A4” is the standard, followed by “A3,” “A2,” and “A1” (listed from smallest size to largest) – but every sheet I’ve seen has been white.

The Austrian “Schilling” mentioned on page 11 is also uncommon; a recent trip to Austria taught me that the local currency was now the Euro. A woman I met in a diner in Vienna told me this was a result of the recent European Union, which occurred in 1999.

Confused by Flippo’s false information, I quickly checked the book’s date. Apparently, it had been published around 1997. It was fairly recent, but it was still outdated; many things in Germany had changed.

During my time in Berlin, change has been a recurring theme. The city itself seems to attract it.

Rainbow Buildings

Rainbow Buildings

One example of this includes how the end of World War II encouraged architectural revival within the city; a change that the city is now famous for. Merely by biking from my dorm to my academic center each day, I expose myself to a range of different architectural styles: European buildings kept from the past, slightly newer modernized institutions, and intelligently designed urban areas that were probably added within the last few years. The buildings show the remnants of old and new styles, allowing me to see how the city has changed its architectural designs over the course of the last few decades.

Berlin’s architecture today is especially fascinating, because it allows room for fun. All the destruction resulting from World War II has allowed for architects to come up with interesting new designs for demolished areas. Although some of these designs are traditional, many were built in cute, clever ways.

The GSW Immobilien building found on the corner of Charlottenstraße and Rudi-Dutschke-Straße, for example, is well known for its unique (and modern) insulation design. Many of the governmental buildings – including the famous “Washing Machine” (German Chancellery) building – are also known for their fun, unique designs. Even the collection of buildings located on Charlottenstraße between Rudi-Dutsche-Straße and Zimmerstraße [pictured above, on the right] are interesting: Although they hold ordinary things, they have been painted in an array of colors – ranging from pink to blue to green – that look downright pretty.

The German Chancellery Building (AKA "The Washing Machine")

The German Chancellery Building (AKA “The Washing Machine”)

Another famous example of Berlin’s changes over time is the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. This historic act allowed both East and West Berlin to live together in a capitalist society, after years of communist vs. capitalist separation. It created space between the two districts that have yet to be filled by architects and urban planners. It allowed citizens from either district to live wherever they want, whenever they want. It was an act that represented a German Reunification, changing the lives of Berlin’s citizens forever, and it happened a mere 24 years ago.

Today, the Berlin Wall’s affect on the city is still apparent. People living in the city reference the event as if it’d happened just yesterday. After all, to them, it did – 24 years isn’t a long time at all. The city is still recovering.

Flippo’s The German Way taught me numerous things about Germany I hadn’t realized before. It taught me about some of the nation’s history, especially in the realms of politics and culture. It also reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a city so influenced by change: I am constantly exposed to new, modern events, ideas, and institutions, merely by living here. It can be overwhelming to be constantly exposed by such a steady flow of innovation, but it can also be exciting; it’s all about perspective!

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