Thursday, September 04, 2008

Erasmus 2.0: Toronto

I am now reliving my days as an exchange student vicariously through my new exchange student flatmates. They are from France, and have, relatively speaking, tons of friends from their uni here in Toronto. Their European, Erasmus (the EU-wide exchange program) attitude is so much fun to see and take part in. It is easy to see that they are more relaxed about things, breathing fresh air into the uptight-ness that Toronto can often exhibit. Last night we had a little party at my house, which consists of seven girls, and the mix of people was great.

Okay, I wrote that about a week ago, and now I am finishing this post. Last night I went to a party at a house where five exchange/international students live. Once again, I had an awesome time. I love reliving my exchange year. The year-abroad attitude is a relaxed, easy-going one, where people introduce themselves and chat freely and the beer in the fridge is for anyone to grab. My Toronto experience in my first two years wasn't really like that, at all, so this is refreshing and I've barely had time to miss Berlin.

I'll write more about Toronto later. Right now I need to do readings and laundry!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Well, I am leaving Berlin in a week from tomorrow. It's hard to believe how quickly my time here has gone by. At the same time, I feel like I've been here for the whole eleven months; it seems like last summer was ages ago. I could go on and on about this city, but I'll keep it short and sweet. There's something about the atmosphere here that makes Berlin unlike any other city in the world. For most of the people I know, no European city can come close to the feeling that being in Berlin gives them. It's hard to articulate why. But it certainly has something to do with the history & the demographics.

Barack Obama is going to be here on Thursday! After a lengthy debate, he is speaking in front of the Siegesäule (victory column) instead of the Branderburger Tor. I'm prepared to wait hours to see him. The Germans for some reason absolutely love him, so the whole event is a really big, exciting deal.

Meanwhile, the gorgeousness of May and most of June has come to a complete stop. Now it's the typical northern European summer: gray, rainy, and chilly. Gross. Can't wait to have some 90 degree weather at the beach.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hurricane Festival

This past weekend I went to Hurricane, a music festival held in Scheeßel, a small town in northern Germany. We took the train and arrived at about 9 at night on Thursday, excited for the concerts that would take place till Sunday night. It was a really, really great time, and I feel like it was a rather European experience. Though we have music festivals where people camp in the US/Canada, they're not nearly as common.

The thing that stands out the most other than the great music was the dirt. We were camping in a field of dust, very literally, with some straw growing out of the ground. It looked really weird at first. By the time I woke up on Friday, I had dirt between my toes even though I had been wearing socks the whole time. Washing your hands was totally futile, as was showering. Long lines at the showers in the morning was a strong deterrent, so by the end of the festival I felt that anyone who looked remotely clean was not trustworthy.

Meanwhile, I spent probably about six hours a day at concerts. Our festival kicked off with Shantel, a German guy who started off making techno (as they all do), but decided his interests lie more in Balkan music. He played with a full band and it was really awesome and all the Germans were dancing. Of course. Then we saw Rodrigo y Gabriela, who are amazing guitar players from Mexico. The rest of the weekend's highlights were Tegan and Sara, the band I was the most excited to see; Jaguar Love, Bat for Lashes, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead.

I had a great time, and came back filthy and thinking my feet might fall off.
Here is a video I found on YouTube. Although the cinematography is dizzifying, it shows the festival & is a hilarious spoof of super-dramatic football players.

Monday, May 26, 2008

On German

I’ve already mentioned the English bookstore that I went to a few days ago, and how everybody was speaking English there, and that was a little foreign, and a little weird, and a little fun. Later that day I found myself saying to my English ex-flatmates, “I’m so tired of German. I’m so tired of not being able to communicate perfectly or having communication be such a job. I just want to be easily understood! And to be able to convey my personality through what I say!”

I should mention this: my German is good. I’ve been taking German since sixth grade, with my previous 2 years of college off. My German is good and I’ve never really had to work at it because my learning has been spread out over such a long period of time. But no matter how many times I correctly put the verb at the end of the sentence (probably the hardest thing to do when you are speaking spontaneously), I cannot convey my personality through what I say. And I think everybody feels like this.

When I’m speaking in German, I use facial expressions, tone of voice, and hand gestures much more than I do in English. This is to try to make up for my linguistic shortcomings, because, while my German is quite good, I make plenty of mistakes. I wonder how long it takes to actually become fluent, truly fluent. I’ve already been here for about seven months, and while I could speak more German, I speak a decent amount. And any time I’m tired, mentally or physically, my German starts to go down the tubes.

Mastering a language is an interesting thing. Unfortunately, to become fluent, you must live in a country where it is spoken. I could take every single German class in Toronto and still not have as good spoken German as I do now. Fluency really depends on what the definition being used is. A teacher asked us in the first week, “is everyone fluent in German?” When no one said anything, she followed up with, “is everyone comfortable with German?”

I must have made a face, because she singled me out and asked me the two questions. While she seemed to use the two terms almost interchangeably, I think there is a world of difference between the two. My understanding of German is near-perfect. You reach a point where you can glean so much from context that knowing actual words doesn’t matter-- just as we all do with English. Because of that, I can understand and read almost anything. But I am still far from being fluent when speaking. So I am definitely, auf jeden Fall, comfortable with the language, but not fluent.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Immer mehr Fotos.

There are even more pictures up on my Flickr now, mostly from Meaghan's visit.

Also, a little political comment: Hurrah for John Edwards endorsing Obama! And hurrah for California striking down the ban on gay marriage! Those are things I like to hear on the news.

It is a little rainy here, and I have been a little bored because I don't have very many classes. Oh, well. I went to an English used bookshop yesterday. It was fun to hear everyone speaking North American English-- that doesn't happen that often. Perhaps the best part, other than the guy working there being attractive, was that I was able to trade in a bunch of books that I had here. Since I have to come back stateside, it is good that I know what I can do with English books. I bought Love in the Time of Cholera, a book by Ali Smith (contemporary Brit writer), and a book called Sustainable Planet. I then biked down to the Friedrichstraße area and bought tickets to see Santogold, a urban-world-music singer of sorts from Brooklyn, and Sunset Rubdown, an indie band from Montreal. I am very excited about both! A blessing in disguise about Berlin is that a lot of musical acts that are popular in the US & Canada are not nearly as popular here, so it is easier to get tickets, and they are cheaper.

My family will be here in a little under four weeks, and I absolutely cannot wait!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

RIP Sven

I have sad news. Sven died yesterday evening. I will miss him, but he was in desperate need of retirement (apparently). I had taken him to the mechanic to get a new lamp- finally- and the mechanic informed me when I went to pick him up that the gear system was shot and so was the rear wheel! And that it is dangerous to continue riding him.
But, today I went to a flea market out in Friedrichshain, where I bought a new bike! I am so happy to have already replaced Sven, because life without a bike was absolutely killing me. This is a nice city bike that has been spray-painted bright PINK! I bartered the price down to 60 euro, and was trying to get even more off when the guy angrily wheeled the bike away from me, which prompted me to practically scream at him that I wanted it, and would pay for it. I think I will definitely be able to re-sell it for a good price. Jenn, who also purchased a pink bike, and I biked home from the flea market, and I would have to say the best thing about my bike is that it is silent! It is almost completely silent. My other bike sounded like a rattling deathtrap.

Friday, May 09, 2008


I went to Stockholm with Meaghan, a friend from Toronto, last weekend.
It was awesome. I forced our agenda to mostly consist of shopping.
No wonder the Swedes are so stylish; they can afford to be! The stores there are much, much more affordable than normally-affordable Berlin.
And we ate at a place called The Muffin Bakery every morning.
And I spent a lot of money on clothes, but they are awesome, so it's all good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Cake

Forgot to post this yesterday:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Today I biked to class, spent an inordinate amount of time with a classmate trying to find a place to copy our reading, went to Dolores (fast Mexican) with Jenn, then sat outside at an imbiss with her.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Spoke Too Soon

Spring? What was I thinking? As my flatmate Kathrin put it, "The Berlin weather in April is very unstable." A girl can't help getting excited about potential flip flop weather, but I jumped the gun. We are back at 40 degrees-- lovely.

Meanwhile, Humboldt is driving me nuts. This is what happened this week, our first week of second term:
3 classes were cancelled.
3 classes just decided to start next week.
The new Spanish class designated for people on the waitlist filled up while I was in another class.
I actually only had 2 classes. TWO!
I like the response my English friends have to this: "It's a joke, mate." No kidding. I try really, really hard to not impose my standards or North American standards in foreign situations, but it actually boggles my mind that my degree from Toronto will hold the same weight internationally as a degree from Humboldt. Yes, I know how elitist that sounds. But the workloads are just completely incomparable.
HU is showing a tiny bit of promise, though. They have a Central Asia Studies department, and I am taking two classes there this term, From Folk-Islam (it works better in German) to Radical Movement: Islam in Central Asia, and Critical Reading on Central Asia (in English). I hope they will keep me engaged.

Not much else is happening here, since we are all trying to figure out our schedules. I have been missing friends lately, so it'll be great to see my friend Meaghan, who is studying in Paris right now, in a little over a week. And I am so excited to go to Stockholm! If anyone wants to do a little online preview of the shopping I will be doing, go to .

Meanwhile, I hope everybody appreciates how great we have it these days. I hear about the food shortages all the time on NPR and BBCWorld, and it makes me very grateful to be where I am. It sounds cliche, but it's so true. Also, as many criticize the use of biofuel, which certainly deserves the criticism, I want people to think about the repercussions of eating meat. As much grain goes towards biofuel, similar amounts go toward feeding livestock. Cutting down meat consumption can help free up grain for those who need it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's Spring!

I. LOVE. Spring. We have had some gorgeous days lately, and I've tried to spend as much time on my bike (which Steph named Sven) as possible. I even wore my new Birks today. Life is good and full of sweet Spanish strawberries. And tomatoes.

Last week, my Gran and Aunt Steph were here to visit, and they, unfortunately, got to experience some of the nastiest weather I've seen here. Although that put a damper on their visit, we still saw a lot, including Potsdam, and ate a lot of great food. I have only had one bad eating experience here, and that was at a Mexican restaurant, which you can't expect to be good in Berlin. So I have a theory that basically any place here will turn out a good meal. I just have yet to be disappointed. I also think that no one in Berlin has a clothes dryer, dishwasher, or microwave.

I've still been having a great time cooking. I baked a vegan coconut cake last night that, though it didn't rise, somehow ended up tasting a lot like my mom's coconut icebox cake. I still don't understand how that happened. I managed to make my faux-buttercream icing without a mixer, too, and it still turned out almost perfect.
Then today I made a huge curry. Note the professional-looking tofu:

Also, there are new pictures on my Flickr that Steph took.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Best of the Wurst"

Here is a link to "Best of the Wurst," a short film made by a woman from LA who fell in love with currywurst, the typical Berlin street food. It's fun to watch and shows Berlin off well. When they go to Konnopke's, pay attention! That's my kiez. I walk past Konnopke's almost every day.

For some reason the link is not showing up, so you will have to cut and paste.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

After two gorgeously wonderful spring days, we are back to chilly and humid. Well, actually, it's not that bad, but I miss our preview of spring! It was sunny, the air smelled like spring, and I was able to bike around in a t-shirt. It was so nice that I didn't mind that I got out of bed to bike to Humboldt just to find out that my trip was for naught, because the lady I needed to speak with decided to not work that day.

I have been doing a lot of cooking lately. I bought a cookbook, Vegan With a Vengeance, while I was in Pittsburgh, and it has done great things for my kitchen skills. Mostly, I always ate curry or pasta (not too shabby if you compare it with Kraft Dinner), but now I am branching out! I dunno, I have time to kill because we are still on break, so I have plenty of time to marinate seitan and bake casserole.

Rosenthaler Platz, a large intersection just south of where I live, is currently covered in these huge Converse ads:

I read that they are controversial because they are referencing dead people, but I think the bottom line is that Rosenthaler Platz looks really cool. And M.I.A. is in them. And also, Converse lost lots of cool credibility once it was bought by Nike, so the detractors can just see it as part of a downhill slide.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Bike Saga

For those of you who were following it, my darling little Rad is back!!!!!
I had left it in the courtyard of my old apartment building and some twisted, bitter, horrible, mean-spirited person had put a lock on it. I was crushed when I found this out, as it was sunny and I wanted to ride my bike into town. But when I went to tape a note (Could you please remove your lock? Thank you. Friendly greetings.) to it tonight, the lock was gone! Yay!

I now have a bike to ride when my subway pass expires soon since I haven't received my new one yet... sometimes Germany can be very frustrating.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Obama! Obama!

I just watched this, remembering that I had heard about it a while ago. And, rather unexpectedly, it made me cry. In today's global political system, all we have for our presidential election is hope. There's not much more we can go on anymore. George Bush has made an absolute mess of things, and our international reputation has been tarnished as the domestic situation continues to slide downhill. Change is what we must strive for. At school, all we are taught is doom and gloom-- with plenty of theory to back it up, that is. With all this in mind, all I can do is hold on to hope.
Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, BERLIN! I am so happy to be back, but everything is closed for the longest religious weekend ever. All right, of course that is not the case, but here in Germany, religious days are a lot more noticeable than they are in North America. Not thinking, I even looked for a “Easter Weekend Hours” sign at the grocery store, quickly realizing how silly of me that was. I think we’re at a hit-or-miss point until Tuesday (most unfortunately). Thankfully, I can count on falafel joints in Turkish-berg to be open!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The US & England

I have spent the past four weeks away from Berlin! At times, I thought I wasn't going to make it. Surely a foreboding sign for my life, post-July '08 (when I must leave Berlin to finish my degree). On February 20, I went home to Pittsburgh, and three weeks later, I went to England to visit London, Birmingham, and Brighton. While I had a good time, I'd like to be honest: I don't have a ton to say. Of course, I could detail every meal I ate and sidewalk I walked, but that would get old. In terms of highlights, the trip left me a little underwhelmed. That mostly applies to England, though.

Home was familiar and odd at the same time. I would say I definitely experienced more reverse-culture shock than I experienced initial culture shock here in Berlin. I'm not trying to be dramatic. I have been in a car about 3 times since I came to Berlin (not including harrowing rides in Istanbul and Bratislava). Berlin contains very few huge chain stores, and I live too central to come in contact with the ones that do exist. I'm used to quiet, as the Germans are under-expressive in public. There is tons to do here. I live completely with friends; they are my family when I need moral support. So, there you have my first impressions of being back in the States. That said, it was wonderful to see my family, my gran, and my twin, Kat. I was able to go snowboarding twice!, and I didn't have to cook for myself at all. (quick shoutout: Mu, someone was complaining recently about how hard it is to cook a meal when you have both vegetarians and omnivores present. I said, that's funny, my mom does it really well all the time. You are SO good at it! Thanks again for keeping my belly happy.)

I was really excited when I arrived in London, so after checking in to my hostel and consulting a map, I headed off to Oxford Street, the high street to beat all others. I was happy to be walking around and soaking up London, and soon enough I came upon Topshop! Topshop is truly a mecca. It is huge, and fully of quality, fashionable things. It is also full of expensive things. After walking around the whole store and passing by the bags multiple times, I left with only a few eyeshadows. (Barry M Dazzle Dust is the best stuff ever. Ever. I love Barry.) Then I hopped on the Tube, which is ridiculously expensive like the rest of the city, and went to a stop near the Tate Modern. When I got out of the Tube, it was cold and raining, so I went back to my hostel and napped. Unfortunately, that sort of was the tone for the rest of my trip. It was the coldest weather they’d had all winter (I promise, that’s what everyone told me), and it was expensive, and I had twisted my ankle in Pittsburgh and then snowboarded on it so it hurt.

I’m sorry to be such a grump. And I feel like I should be able to be more creative, more innovative, to the point where I would never utter these words, but: I think London (and the rest of England) is more fun the more money you have. After a day and a half in London, I went to Birmingham, where I spent time with my friend Jenn. Then I was back in London for another 1.5 days, then I went to Brighton for three nights. Brighton is really, really cute. I had fish and... onion rings. I never turn down onion rings.

A Little Change

I've decided to open the range of what I put on my blog. The reason for this is I was a little tired of simply regurgitating emails I wrote to family and friends about my travels. Don't worry, I will continue to write about my trips. But I have been wanting to write a little more and to put my ideas, whether they're about global warming or my new shoes, out there. Writing is a great form of expression, and I've always thought that it's probably the best one for me.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

5 Months In

All right, people, I'm sorry I haven't updated this in a while. Now, after a few complaints, I bring you my rundown of my Berlin experience so far: what's hot, what's not, and how to cope with gray skies day after day, especially when you have only four hours of daylight.

1. The general mood of Berlin is unbeatable. This city is so relaxed, devoid of pretention, and couldn't really care less about you. That sort of ties into disadvantages about Berlin (i.e., anyone you interact with couldn't care less). But I didn't go through an adjustment period. There was no culture shock. When I first got here, I kept waiting for it to hit me. And it never did, and most of my friends voiced the same experience. Far from welcoming you with open arms, Berlin just gives you a little stare, and then goes about its business. However, that makes it very easy to fit in.
2. The price of falafel. Yes, I know this is my favorite topic. But, hey, it's my favorite topic! I'm still a big fan of lil' ol' Lale and their 1,50€ falafel with spices sauce and spicy sauce (that's how it translates, I promise).
3. The public transportation (the BVG). It's phenomenal. Where else do you find a transport system that tells you when the next train is arriving (and it's accurate)? You can get anywhere using the BVG, and it's cheap, and easy. Berlin is a big city, and the BVG lets you see all of it.
4. The rent. When I move in a little over a month, I will be paying 280€, and living in a highly desirable location, right in the heart of Prenzlauerberg. In contrast, I will have to pay $600 (440€ish) to live in Toronto next year, and the flats here are much, much nicer.
5. The diversity of the nightlife (and general social life). When the fateful day comes and I leave Berlin, I will dearly miss the range of activities to choose from. I have been to a Johnny Cash night that was attended by everyone from middle-aged Americans to Danish hipsters, a house party with a neon-dress code, two parts in a once-a-month rap history series, and a reading of pieces that Berlin writers had written about Mitte, the midtown-Manhattan-like neighborhood.
6. Bakeries, everywhere.

1. People aren't polite (but that's Germany as a whole).
2. People will, and do, stare (also all of Germany).
3. There's not much good shopping to be done.
4. We see the sun so seldomly that, in my humble opinion, sunny days should be declared impromptu national holidays.

That's about it, really, which segues nicely into my bonus section,
Accept it, don't try to fight it, and don't expect other Europeans to commiserate. They are used to it. Embrace the day when you first realize that it's 4:30 and it's not pitch black yet. Try not to sleep in until 3pm, because then you will have missed all of the day's light. Enjoy everything else that Berlin has to offer, and try to forget about the fact that you haven't seen the sun for two weeks.