Monday, July 31, 2017


Parting is such sweet sorrow…

Despite having complained about the wi-fi and hard water for the past month, I awoke this morning shockingly reluctant to say goodbye to Die Fabrik. Although I’m more than ready to decompress after this intense experience, it still feels like I’m leaving a little piece of myself behind in Berlin. And I think that’s because I am. We all are. None of us are the same person who stepped off the plane in Germany, and it’s due to the fact that every single one of us stepped up to the challenge of exiting our comfort zone so we could grow not only academically, but as human beings.

I can honestly say that I have learned just as much from my colleagues about myself and how I want to interact with the world as I have from the program. Insightful discussion transcended the classroom and was carried on over “cheap pasta” (and ph, döner, Hünerhaus, etc.) as we shared our perspectives on everything from the politics of race and gender to merits of various literary works. To borrow from course material, the opportunity to view things through several different lenses has definitely refined my ability to recognize when I’m projecting my own values or ideals onto a given topic or situation, and inspired me to be a more active participant in fighting for tolerance and inclusion on a global scale. I feel so lucky to be leaving with all of these brilliant new friends, and am grateful for the personal contributions of everyone in the group for making this experience what it was. From our first walk around Kreuzberg, to our last dinner at Die Gärtnerei--it’s been real.

A special shout-out to Julie, Kathryn, and Manuela, who had the vision and facilitated this process. We got to do so many cool things, and it was invaluable having ‘insider’ knowledge on how to navigate not only the city, but the culture (I swear I will be 15 minutes early for the rest of my life, and will never stand in the bike lane).

Some of us are off to travel; some are back to work. All will be finishing up research projects and looking forward to our next meeting. Until then, I leave you with a photo of my favorite piece on the Berlin Wall at the Eastside Gallery:


Today began appropriately chaotic, as some of us scrambled to say goodbye to our community partners before heading off to Humboldt for our final presentations. By 3pm we had gathered with our special guests to reflect on the service learning experience and outline our research focus moving forward. It was pretty cool to hear how far we’ve come since a similar presentation of our Community Engagement Research Proposal’s just 6 short weeks ago; personally, since I’ve been in Berlin I’ve totally reframed my topic—as I think most of us have. To finally learn of the context behind what other groups are working on was really enlightening, and left me excited for fall when our papers will be published.

As each of the students identified their major, I was reminded what a diverse set of skills are present within this group. From Geography to Journalism; Political Science to Comparative History of Ideas; Economics to Computer Science; Pre-Law to Aerospace Engineering, and seemingly everything in between. I think the variation in our backgrounds is the reason we didn’t hear 15 of the same presentations today; we each brought something different to the table, and that was reflected in the way we each took something different away from this experience.

After hearing from the groups at Kotti e.V. (Katie, Hannah, Bryan and myself); the Youth Museum (Zosia and Clayton); Empati (Nikki and Justin); Neopanterra (Ally, Laurette, and Catherine); and Muanana (Sophie); we collectively headed to Die Gärtnerei for Sophia, Ying, and Becca’s presentation and one last meal together. Part of the assignment was to create a community asset map, and what these ladies produced was pretty impressing. I had to include a photo because they were actually able to leave behind a tangible contribution for the community to enjoy. 

As the Die Gärtnerei group wrapped up, Kathryn took control of the kitchen and put us to work chopping, mixing, and grilling. We ate a deliciously fresh, healthy dinner together in the garden before saying goodbye to our instructors. Those of us leaving on Friday hurried back to the hostel to pack so we could hang out on our last night in Kreuzberg. The evening ended with a chicken (and fry) stop and a late walk through Görlitzer Park (not as scary as it sounds). Although I was unsuccessful in getting a group photo before we went our separate ways, I did get this shot from the garden and felt that it was an appropriate enough send-off.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Berlin Daily Diary July 11-12

With the realization that our time in Berlin was approaching its end slowly dawning, we began to take on a new urgency and focus in our work. We approached our community partners with ever increasing diligence. The desire to continue our meaningful work with the programs and communities which we had come to love was strong.
The three working at Die Gartnerei rushed about with art supplies in hand, working to finish an interactive visual map of the garden for its many visitors; those partnered with the youth museum gave their final tours to elementary students. The three at Neopanterra painted images from their time at the organization while the Kotti students rushed to sit in on meetings and lead final art projects with students at the local elementary school. Those at Empatti toured the seemingly endless shipping containers at the Tempelhof airfield edge, and I wrote the English flyer to be placed on the facebook page of my organization, Muanana. With all energy focused on completing community partner work, group activities were largely abandoned for these final few days, save for frenzied periods of final presentation preparation in the hostel lobby.
One priority for many of the students was to visit an obscure self-labeled anti-fascist shop off Gorlitzer Bahnhof entitled, “Disorder Rebel Store.” The main item of attraction in this store was a simple black tee shirt boasting the phrase, “Kein Mensch ist illegal,” which translates in English to “no human is illegal.” Relating to the nature of our work and learnings, this shirt and its simple message felt an incredibly prudent memento of our time in Berlin.
As I pulled the oversized shirt over my head before setting out for dinner at the “Ballhaus,” I mused over the meaning of the phrase: no human is illegal. It seems such an obvious concept, that legal status ought never to supersede an individual’s humanity, yet so often in this past month we have been reminded of how this seemingly logical notion is forgotten. I thought of the men involved with Muanana Refugee Sewing Project, my community partner, how they, on account of not possessing the near-unobtainable German work permit, are forbidden from most jobs in Berlin. The social repercussions of one’s legal status-- especially in the case of refugees in Germany-- are vast. Some individuals, unable to secure work, plunge into poverty, while others turn to illegal means of making income. It is often difficult for those who have not experienced the struggles associated with the title of “illegal” to recognize the desperation felt by so many, even in a country considered wealthy by global standards. This challenge of recognition across lines of legality can be attributed to the poor treatment so many refugees face in Europe and beyond.
Refugees are humans. Their legal status and the immense pressure said legal statuses imposes upon them, cannot change this. The only way these legal confines which today so strip refugees of their humanity can be changed is by first recognizing the humanity of the refugee. It is a cycle difficult to break.

No human is illegal. It is amazing how easy it is to forget. As we gear up to leave Berlin, however, “Kein Mensch ist illegal” shirts in hand and memories of community partners in head, I can only hope we will be different. We will be the ones not to forget, the one’s to help break the cycle.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 10

Today was our last official day of class before our presentations on Thursday; over the weekend, we prepared outlines and today we shared them with the group, Manuela, and Kathryn. So far everyone’s presentations are sounding great, and I’m excited to find out more about what the other groups have been up to for the past three weeks. A common concern seems to be that since we're just wrapping up with our community partners, most of us haven't really organized our research. Regardless, I think the the presentations will be interesting for everyone since we’ve all been investigating such diverse questions. I also can’t wait to get more of an overview as to what each organization has specifically been doing, since even though we’re all connected to immigration and refugees in some way, the ways we’ve been engaging are actually quite different.

After class, a group of people got lunch at the local Lebanese place in Kreuzberg (which is super tasty!) and then the rest of the afternoon was free. I stayed for office hours and then got lunch at a local cafe; I highly recommend the “Vanilla Quark” dish that is available most places.

"Vanilla Quark" at Estate Coffee near Schlesiches Tor
Some people visited their community partners today, but the majority continued working on presentations and maps since the class session this morning provided us with more direction and ideas. A lot of groups seem to be playing with the idea of making a digital map, or printing out maps from google and annotating them, although Clayton and I are trying to do ours by hand. In class today Manuela recommended a big art store by Moritzplatz, and while it's not the cheapest, it's definitely still fun to go into. I went there in the evening with Justin to pick up some supplies, and then ran into Sophie and Nikki on the way back in front of the “Rebel” store not that far from Görlitzer Bahnhof. It's a great store, and a popular item is the T-shirt that says “Kein Mensch ist illegal” (No person is illegal). After getting the cheapest colored pencils I could find, I spent the remainder of my evening working on my map with Clayton. A few people went out in the evening; Justin and Sophie went to a show with a variety of musical styles in Neukölln. All in all it was a relaxed but productive day!
Shirts like this one are from the "Rebel" store near Görlitzer Bahnhof


July 9

Today is Sunday, July 9th, and it is the last day in the free three day weekend. Some people have been or are still currently traveling; Clayton, Justin and I just got back from Prague yesterday, Becca is currently in Dresden, and Amanda went to Barcelona. Those who didn’t travel are out and about, working on their research and presentations or enjoying the weekly flea market at Mauerpark, like Catherine and Justin. I spent the morning in a cafe with good wifi (Estate Coffee, I recommend it!) getting caught up on assignments, and then had lunch at Hünherhaus 36 on Skalitzer Straße, which is one of the best places to eat on a budget. Like me, Sophie and Ying spent the majority of day also working on assignments. This morning Nikki got coffee at 5 Elephant, which is apparently pretty good although not the best Berlin has to offer.

The 1/2 Chicken with Rice at Hünherhaus 36
 The afternoon at Mauerpark

Unfortunately, by now most of the group has come down with the cold that has been going around; I had it a few days ago, and Sophie and Justin are just coming down with it. The weather today is actually beautiful, and it sounds like later some people have been tempted to finally visit the Badschiff, although I still think it's a little cool for swimming. Most groups have started thinking about presenting on Thursday; our outlines are due tomorrow and it’s crazy to have to start synthesizing all the information we’ve gotten out of Berlin into something concise enough to explain in a few slides! It’s finally starting to sink in that things are wrapping up. I think the community partner experience has been pretty interesting for most of us and it definitely stands out as making this program unique. Now that we’ve all had some time to get used to it, staying in Kreuzberg has actually been amazing. I don’t know a single person in the group who doesn’t like it here; it’s so dynamic and different. Even just adjusting to the store hours has been an adjustment for most of us; I know I'm not the only one who's made the trek to REWE just to find out it's closed. From what I’ve seen today, it seems like everyone has a lot of cool research to share in their presentations and I'm excited to hear some more ideas tomorrow in class. Overall it was a nice, calm Sunday and I'm looking forward to Monday.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 8

Saturday was an early start for me as I had to get back in time for my community partner’s workshop.  I got on a bus around 9, after being in Prague for under 24 hours, and headed back to Berlin.  Halfway there, I was asked by our community partner if I could pick up some lunch for everyone.  By now my bus was running over a half hour late because of a random stop and passport check by the police, and I had no idea where to find what he was asking for, but I said I would pick some up.

After getting back to Fredrick Strasse, I set out looking for a Turkish bakery to pick up the gozleme they had asked for. I had no idea what gozleme is so he explained over the phone that it's essential spinach or meat and feta cheese inside very thin dough.  After a half hour and three failed attempts, I found a place that had enough cheap gozleme for everyone.  While I was there, I bought a few extra things to eat on the train.  Everything was amazing and amazingly cheap.

The workshop itself was great.  Attached are a few pictures of the space and the diagrams used to explain the process to those who were building.  Towards the end, an intense discussion began between those who believed the furniture should be made with nails, and those who believed it should be made with dowels.  The conversation was entire in German, but I was amazed that I could pick out quite a bit of it, though I couldn’t give my own input that the dowels were superior, even though they are more time consuming.  In the end it was settled in favor of dowels, as had been the plan from the start, and we ended for the day.  It was a really neat experience seeing the teaching and learning that was going on, and how well everyone worked together despite language barriers and age differences.

After the workshop my main community partner person asked if we wanted to go out to Templehof Park and relax. We all met up there around an hour later, and took cover from the rain that had started under a covered stage-like structure on one end of the runways. A bunch of other people were also there and were taking turns playing different kinds of music. There was an old man with a harp, a group of older people with drums doing chants, and one of the architects from our project playing some samba guitar. I borrowed a bicycle from our community partner and biked the length of the runways. For anyone who hasn't done this, I absolutely recommend it. It's completely changes the feeling of the space being able to race down the runway on a bike, especially at sun set. I will remember that ride for a very long time.
 Materials for making the furnature
Instructional diagrams from out workshop

July 7

Today was the first day of the three day weekend, and many of us set off for various places around Europe, including Dresden, Budapest, and Barcelona. A few people also stayed around Berlin and used the time to explore and relax.  Clayton, Zoisa and I set out by bus for Prague in the morning.

This was the first time I had used a long distance bus like this, and the experience was much better than expected.  We all had decent leg room, the ride was smooth, and the view of the countryside was great.  If anyone is considering taking a bus, I would absolutely recommend it.

As we approached passed the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, I noticed a large wall along both sides of the road.  It stood maybe 8ft tall and ran for maybe a few kilometers.  There wasn’t really much of anything on the other side of the wall, that I could see, just hills and fairly dense trees.  After thinking about it for a few moments, I realized that this must be a kind of border control wall, and this would be confirmed on the return journey when I saw the checkpoints run by the Czech police.  By erecting this wall, it would make it much harder for someone to park a car off the road and walk around the checkpoints with any large amount of people or contraband.

Once we arrived, we quickly dropped off our bags and went out to see the city.  We were lucky enough to find a place to stay right in the middle of the city and managed to see many really amazing features in the short time we were there.  In total we walked about 12 miles that day.  Attached are some photos of Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and some of the narrow, winding streets that really made Prague feel unique.  This is definitely a place I will be coming back to if at all possible.

One major difference from Berlin was the language barrier.  I always say that I don’t really speak any German because it feels like I know so little compared to most of the people here, but being in Prague made me realize how much of my German knowledge I take for granted.  I tried to spend an hour on the bus learning some simple Czech and found it extremely difficult, even if I ignored the individual words and grammar and focused just on repeating phrases.  After an hour of work I had memorized ‘please’ and ‘hello’ well enough to immediately freeze up and forget them as soon as I tried to use them at a restaurant.  Next time I’ll be a little more prepared.
 Street in Prague
Clocktower in Prague

Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 6

On Thursday morning, some students went to their community partners, while others continued working on the community asset map. In the afternoon, the whole group went to Die Gartnerei, a community garden in Neukölln. There, we attended a movement workshop led by Sven, who has worked with dance companies and theaters throughout Germany and abroad. We walked through the property down a beautiful path lined with trees to the main garden. We began by bouncing up and down and rolling our shoulders back to loosen up. Then, we incorporated other movements to different counts, sometimes starting in a large circle and meeting in the middle or building off the movements of a partner.

The workshop ended with an activity that asked each group to think of three or four “key words” that described our community placement. Some of the words included “fun,” “conflict,” “multilingual,” “community,” “welcome,” “green,” “on time,” and “lively.” We began the activity in a small space with in the garden, and only expressed these words through movement. Then, Sven asked us to incorporate speech into our expressions of the words, which led to more interaction between the students. Some words were more challenging than others – while “multilingual” often led students to speak in different languages, other words like “green” or “conflict” were a bit more abstract. We moved from the lawn into the garden, where Sven asked us to interact with the plants and move around the space. After several days of being in Berlin’s downtown areas or at our community partners, I found it refreshing to take a break in a green space and do a type of activity I had never done before. I also liked that Sven really pushed us to be as expressive as possible, even if it made us uncomfortable.

After the workshop, some students explored Tempelhofer Feld, a former airport that is now a public park. The airport has become one of my favorite spots in the city. It also has an interesting connection to the themes of our program – many refugees have been housed in the indoor portion of the airport, and now more container housing is being built outside on the runway. The sign outside the construction site reads, “Tempohome – eine Unterkunft für die vorübergehende Unterbringung von Geflüchteten,” or, “Tempohome – lodging for the temporary accommodation of refugees.”
The people of Berlin fought for many years to save the property from developers, and I have had few more fun experiences in Berlin than riding a bike on a former runway. The coexistence of refugee housing, two or three small restaurants, a community garden, and public park capture how collaborative many of the neighborhoods in Berlin have been when it comes to accommodating refugees. My individual research has focused on the history of immigrant housing and social housing in Berlin, and it is nice to see that many Berliners have kept the same welcoming, open-minded spirit that they had during the ‘60s to ‘90s.