Friday, June 30, 2017

Parliament in Germany Approves Same-Sex Marriage

BERLIN — Lawmakers in Germany voted on Friday to allow
same-sex marriage after a short, suddenly scheduled debate
in a packed, emotional session of Parliament, setting the stage
for the country to join more than a dozen European countries —
including Ireland, France and Spain — in legalizing such
unions.  Read more:

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

 Program Blog June 23

Today was setting out to be an incredibly busy and slightly hectic day. In the morning we had a discussion/lecture with Sharon Otoo, a Black British German writer about the short story she wrote that won her the Inge Bachman award as well as other topics including race and racism in Germany and the power/function of writing. After we were all free to visit Tränenpalast or the Palace of Tears as well as explore more of Berlin. Tränenpalast was a main border crossing at Fredrichstrabe Station between East and West Berlin. Being in this city and walking down streets that are in both East and West Berlin, it is really hard to imagine it separated by a wall and what that would do to the two populations. Our boat tour was canceled because of the weather but we were able to go on a tour of an old WWII Bunker that was next to a train station. In school you do not consider or really learn about the effects of war on civilian populations especially the civilian population of Nazi Germany and so this tour was particularly interesting. I was feeling claustrophobic with only 20 people in those rooms. I could not imagine having double or triple that amount and being afraid for my life. It was a jam packed day where we received a crash course on certain aspects of Germany’s history and present after which we all returned to the hostel and passed out.


 Program Blog June 24

After a crazy first week in Berlin, many of us chose to sleep in and do homework before our afternoon talk with Mohammad Tanko. Trailblazer Katie visited Neues Ufer, the café that was frequented by David Bowie in the 70’s.  In the afternoon we all went to Kotti to listen to a migrant from Niger about his experiences in Niger and on his migration to Germany. He had very interesting insights about democracy in Africa and US foreign policy that I think most of us had considered and thought about but never been able to put into context.  He also led a walk to Oranienplatz which was the refugee camp in Kreuzberg in 2015. It was completely empty and had no signs that it had ever been a camp. The only way you would have known is if you had been there two years ago or your professor had told you. Afterward, most of us had our afternoons free but Becca, Ying, Sophia,Laurette, Catherine, and myself all headed to their various community partners for community festivals. At die Gartnerrei, Sophia, Ying and Becca walked around the art festival and took a dance class with other members of the community.  Ally, Laurette, and Catherine functioned as the community partner leader’s assistant and helped watch the children at the festival. Thanks to the children I can now count to twelve in German and say “that is not yours” (nicht deins). Overall it was a fun way to end an already great week.

Drawings one child did on our hands

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Memories of WWII in Seattle's Japantown

Again, thinking about the ways that the United States memorializes dark moments in our history. . .

The Panama Hotel in Seattle's Japantown (part of the International District) came up in conversation when some of us visited the Bieblplatz (the book burning memorial) here in Berlin. The Panama Hotel was owned by a Japanese businessman who leased the building to friends while he was interned during the Second World War; as Japanese folks--many of them US born--were preparing to leave their homes in the face of forced relocation, the owner of this hotel offered space to store belongings in the basement of the hotel. Many of the items were never claimed.

When the hotel changed owners and went through significant remodeling sixty years later, some families were reunited with long lost items. Others remain in the basement of the Panama Hotel. There is a lovely tea shop on the ground floor of the hotel, and between two tables toward the back of the tea shop, there is a plexiglass window that allows you to peer down into the basement and see some of the items that remain.

Exil Ensemble

After today's workshop at Maxim Gorki, I wanted to read a bit more about the Exil Ensemble and the play we'll see on Sunday. This English language publication was a great resource. . .so eager to see this show!

Friday, June 23, 2017

6/22 - Day Six

Today was a free day with no full group activities, so we worked with our community partners, went to office hours with our instructors, explored the city, or started looking ahead at our assignments due at the end of the weekend. Since we were each off doing our own things for the most part, there is little common narrative for the day.

Clouds from the U-Bahn
Some got up for breakfast and got ready early, including those going to Empati. Empati is a project giving refugees a place to get involved with building furniture as well as gaining skills and job references in the process. I heard from the two students working there that the visit went well. It is a one-man operation for the most part, and he is excited to have people to bounce ideas off of. He is also very interested in the students’ research and had gone the extra mile to do some research himself to help them get started. From what I’ve heard, most of the people we are working with at the community partners are also excited about our work and willing to adjust their plans to help our research. We appreciate their help and gracious, welcoming attitude towards our coursework, and I believe I can speak on everyone’s behalf when I say that we want to invest our time in a way to prioritize the organization’s needs as well. Back to Empati, since the man in charge is still in the prototyping phase due to unexpected delays, the students have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas of how to design and use the furniture.

With the students at Empati introduced, we have officially introduced every student to their community partner! Now, we are ready to see where these connections go in the next three weeks and hopefully beyond.

Other morning activities were more leisurely. People had time to explore neighboring districts and enjoy parks, food, and drink. The possibilities to connect to locals are expanded when traveling alone because you can often partake in more conversations and observe more.

Many, including me, slept in:
Das Bett
One of the things we have all been enjoying in Berlin is the food:

A burrito at Tex-Mex (close to Humboldt)

Deliciousness at Amar (Indian food)
On the topic of food, one of the things that has surprised me most about Kreuzberg is the amount of international food in the area. Similar to Seattle, the restaurants are often run by people who immigrated from the cuisine’s native region, so they are authentic and represent a large diversity in the community. Though there is diversity, it is clear around our hostel that the restaurants are catering to a middle class and tourist clientele. Gentrification is being felt here in the restaurant industry, as old restaurants are being pushed out in favor of the new, popular restaurants that can afford the rising costs of rent. This makes me ask a similar question to Kristina’s from her Monday lecture: as the existing restaurants now represent the neighborhood to residents and tourists, which restaurants are being forgotten? What restaurants could not handle the changes to the community and have lost their voice? Without asking the residents to find out more, it is hard to tell.

Back to our day: In the city center, Julie and Kathryn were holding their first office hours here in Berlin, one sign that the group is getting settled into a rhythm. I met with them to discuss a few things from last quarter and this first week. While I was near Bahnhof Friedrichstraße (Friedrich Street Station) and eating Mexican food after office hours, the thunderstorm was beginning to pick up. The wind was making people walk fast down the busy streets near the train station.

I hopefully had my final instance of forgetting about the different tipping system in Germany (not leaving money on the table, but having to ask for your change back to specify your tip). For me, the language is a fundamental part of experiencing a culture, but the uniquely insightful part of visiting another culture in person is learning about their customs. The nuances of such traditions are hard to learn from a book or a website. I like to conjecture how the customs fit into the culture in the bigger picture. For instance, the fact that you ask for a specific amount of money back connects with the German respect for directness. Unlike the U.S. where the waiter would just give you the change without mentioning it verbally, Germany is a place where you must ask for what you want. From what I’ve experienced, most people are willing to help if you ask politely, a testament to the possibility of making friendships and connections across national boundaries.

By the time I was done tipping, the storm had temporarily subsided and I headed straight back to the hostel. Many were working and staying in for the evening, but some went out on the town and came back relatively early. This is a fairly common split for us. I think this embodies (though it may not be a direct result) a balance we need to strike between experiencing Berlin and sitting down to do our class assignments. This goes back to one of the first conversations I had about the program with Julie: the idea that the whole time we have in Berlin is part of our education. We have to find the right time to come back after a full day and reflect, so to speak.

To cap it off, we had an exciting thunderstorm. Goodbye for now, hot weather!

I hope you keep up to date on our blog as we continue this experience.

Your narrator,

6/21 - Day Five Vlog

Here is one student's perspective on our day in Berlin. I hope that the video and audio experience gives you a path to relive our experiences beyond the capabilities of text and pictures. Being the first time I have edited a video, I reached outside of my comfort zone and braved the time-consuming, multilayered work that is involved.

Through our personal lens and with the focus on refugees and immigrants, we are seeing and reflecting on everything we see in Berlin. This expands our experience to a boundless domain, so we will look at the happenings of the day and reflections on those happenings together.

As a recent guest speaker writes (more later), "Please ensure that you are sitting in your seat comfortably." Enjoy!

Your narrator,

Does the US Memorialize our Dark History?

Last year I participated in a Civil Rights Memorial Journey through the American South and visited an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). One of their current projects is an interesting parallel to our conversations in Berlin about memorial culture and how countries acknowledge (or don't) their collective shame.

The two articles below talk about EJI's work on a National Lynching Memorial, to be built in Montgomery, Alabama.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

6/20 - day four

Today was the first day of community placements for students working at two organizations: Kotti and Neopanterra! Everyone else had a free morning and afternoon to explore Berlin. The Neopanterra students met with Manuela at 9 AM to make the hour-and-a-half journey to Potsdam (apparently they got lost).

I was in the Kotti group, and Kathryn took us to Kotti’s administrative office in Kreuzberg. We met with Julie and Monique, one of the organization’s administrative officials who was a very nice woman. Monique gave us an overview of the Kreuzberg neighborhood and the parts of Kreuzberg that Kotti served. Then she walked us around the neighborhood, and informed us of the gentrification that has occurred. We ended up at a bustling community center, where Katie was placed. Over sparkling water we learned about the history of the center from a woman who had been working there for twenty-seven years! Then we toured the elementary school, which was so different than traditional American schools. There were pictures of students all over the classroom, and school seemed fun!

We left Katie and walked to another elementary school, where I was placed. From the outside, the school  buildings were covered in lots of graffiti and seemed somewhat rundown. Yet when we toured several classrooms, we were surprised to find fun, well-built Montessori-style classrooms. One room had hammocks, and another had two levels! A third-grade class was doing a theatrical rendition of the Gruffalo, an example of the fun activities that German schoolchildren get to do. I was placed to work at an after-school program for fourth to sixth graders, but I could only stay for lunch that day. I was not expecting for their school lunches to be so vegetable-rich and delicious-looking.

Later in the afternoon, all of the UW students congregated in Die Fabrike to head back to the Humboldt University area to visit Maxim Gorki for an acting workshop. We are seeing a play called Crazy Blood tomorrow, and to prepare we met with one of the directors to explore stereotypes and societal hierarchies. We did acting exercises miming “macho, loser, leader, and emancipated female” characters. We also had to make short scenes depicting some character (of our choice) bringing a gun into a classroom. As Americans, all of us were taken aback by what this exercise was asking of us, given the history of school shootings in our country. Two of the groups chose to go a funny route in tackling the prompt, while my group went dark (a boy who had gotten rejected thrice when asking girls to prom). After the exercise, we had a very interesting discussion with the director about why this exercise was so uncomfortable for us to perform. The entire workshop functioned as an interesting cultural comparison between Germany and the United States, because the workshops were usually done with German schoolchildren. I am very excited to see Crazy Blood tomorrow!

Very hungry, everyone headed to a delicious Italian restaurant together for some delicious pasta and good conversation. We ate our fill (plus some). After a few hours of chatting, we bid adieu to Julie and Kathryn, heading back to Die Fabrik on the S-bahn.