Sveiki svieki! Yesterday, for our first group trip, we traveled to the palace Sanssouci in Potsdam (about an hour southwest of Berlin).
Before realizing what Sanssouci was, I was not particularly eager to get to Potsdam. However, upon discovering it was a beautiful (and very well-maintained) palace with luscious green gardens, my interest was instantly piqued.
The palace of Sanssouci was built as a summer home for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) in the mid 18th century. Frederick the Great was an artist, a composer and musician, and also fancied himself a philosopher. He was close with many artists and composers of his time, although his relationship with Voltaire in particularly stands out. Together they lived in Sanssouci for many months discussing the arts and creating a beautiful palace.
While I have yet to get to Versailles (a trip I hope to take while abroad this semester), I would think Sanssouci a close second to the fine palace of the 17th century French nobility. Sanssouci (“Without Worry”) is in a more Rococo style than its French counterpart, but still shows French Baroque traits throughout the palace grounds. It has a terraced vineyard, not to mention a beautiful sprawling park with many interesting sculptures, bubbling fountains, and brightly colored flowers.
Part of Sanssouci (the main castle) was actually closed when we went yesterday, so many of us are talking about going back in a few weeks. We hope to go before it gets too cold, and spend a whole day out there, further exploring the gardens and the parts of the palace we didn’t see. Hopefully we can make that happen.
Some pictures from the excursion to Gendarmenmarkt that my three-person German class took today. We went there to see an exhibit in the Neue Kirche Berlin (New Church of Berlin) on the recent history of Germany, for individual presentations we will be giving tomorrow. In the middle of Gendarmenmarkt is the Konzerthaus Berlin (Concert House of Berlin), built in the early 19th century and recently renovated. On the south side of the square is the Neue Kirche Berlin, and on the north side is the Franzosische Reformierte Friedrichstadtkirche.
The top photo is a selfie of our three-man German class (left: Mattias, center: Jake) in front of the beautiful Konzerhaus Berlin. The next is a photo of me looking mightily uncomfortable, again in front of the Konzerhaus Berlin. The last image is a panorama of Gendarmenmarkt, with the Neue Kirche Berlin on the left, the Konzerthaus Berlin in the center, and the Franzosische Reformierte Friedrichstadtkirche on the right.
Hej med jer! The last couple of days have been really lovely here in Berlin. The weather, for the most part, has been 60s and sunny, some wind, and maybe a bit of rain in the evening. Perfect sweater weather.
Monday was our first day of a German-intensive week. The program provides two German classes: one beginner, and one advanced. Seeing as most of the people in the program have no previous exposure to German or Germany, I am one of three in the advanced language class. Being in such a small class (smaller than any I’ve had at F&M) is really nice because not only do we get to really engage with our instructor, but the three of us have already become better friends. Today we didn’t have class, but instead the three of us had to go to a museum to prepare for individual presentations we are giving tomorrow.
Outside of class, I’m trying to explore my neighborhood (Prenzlauerberg) a little more. I decided that walking around would be the best way to really see the neighborhood, so on Monday I decided I would walk to class (it’s about an hour and fifteen minute walk, if I don’t get distracted or lost). Of course, I managed to not only get lost on the way to the center, but also take the most industrial route possible. Naturally I was a little upset with this. I tried again yesterday; I still managed to get lost, but only half of the commute was in an industrial area. Today, however, I decided to walk home from school and found my way through one of the most glorious little parts of Prenzlauerberg - and I found it without even getting lost! It has lots of lovely little cafés, boutiques, schools, parks and playgrounds lining the sidewalks and is a truly wonderful area. If I were to live anywhere in Berlin, it would be here. And how convenient that it is so close to where I am living now!
I think that I will continue to walk a lot throughout the city. It’s a great way to become familiar with a place, and it is also such a great way to get outside and refresh. My feet and legs are definitely feeling the change from my usual routine of very little walking to now walking a lot, but it’s a good change and it keeps me energized. Also very ready for bed at the end of the day (now).
Last image of the day, I promise. I really think cobblestones are so cool. I’ve tripped a lot thanks to them, of course, but they’re still so great. A great new part of my daily commute!
Here’s a little panorama of the Wannsee we went to yesterday. Seriously amazing. And just an hour or so outside of the city! It was packed, too, as you can see. Apparently you can paddle-boat to the other side of the lake and arrive at (another) biergarten. We sat in the two little cabanas to the far left of this image. Really, really fantastic afternoon.
I visited the Brandenburger Tor towards the end of the day, so the sun was setting behind it. Beautiful, of course, but made for some seriously back-lit pictures. Hope these suffice!
Hola hola! This week has been crazy, but boy am I loving it. Berlin is a hard city, without a doubt, but wonderful. It’s only been six days and I really feel like I’ve done so much, but also have so many things I want to be sure to do. A good problem to have, I think.
I think that it might be nice for me to tell you where I’ve been, while also giving you a little geographic/cultural context. Maybe this way you will be able to visualize not only the activities I have been doing, but the type of crowd where I have been doing them. So to start, Berlin has five general neighborhoods (akin to the New York boroughs); Mitte, Wilmersdorf/Charlottenburg, Neukölln, Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg, and Prenzlauerberg/Pankow. Each, naturally, has their own reputation and attracts different types of people.
Mitte is where most of the “famous” places in Berlin are located; Brandenburger Tor, the beautiful Tiergarten, the Reichstag building, Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, Museum Island, and most other tourist destinations are here. Mitte is where our abroad center is, which is great because it gives us a very accessible central meeting point. We are technically Humboldt University students while in Berlin (although we will not be taking any classes at the university), and it is also in Mitte, just a quick walk from where our center is. We had lunch at the university dining hall on Friday - a much better dining hall than any American university I’ve ever been to. We also walked a quick tour route on Thursday throughout Mitte, and were able to see Museum Island and Alexanderplatz. On Thursday evening I went to the Brandenburg Gate and walked through the Tiergarten, before meeting up with people from my program at a lovely biergarten on a lake in the park.
Wilmersdorf/Charlottenburg (two neighborhoods that have merged into one) is in old West Berlin, and has a very up-scale, almost snobby vibe. It is where KaDeWe is located (the Harrods of Berlin), as well as a lot of five star restaurants and hotels. It’s a very nice area, but much wealthier than the rest of the city. I walked around it briefly on Friday, but did not spend much time there. It is less interesting, I think, than the rest of Berlin.
I honestly don’t know much about Neukölln at this point, as I haven’t been there at all yet. It seems interesting (although honestly, is there anything here that isn’t interesting?). I am excited to explore the area, as I hear it is very young and very “hip”. I do feel like all of Berlin is quite “hip” though, so I will be interested to see the differences. (I think the term “hip” is funny, as it always seems like a word someone who is not “hip” would use.)
Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg is in old East Berlin, and is very young and punky and full of life. Everyone says it is like Brooklyn, but it feels even a little grungier than Brooklyn to me. What do I really know, though. There always seems to be live music playing, a lot of people running around, delicious food available and a handful of crazies at every tram stop in this area, though. Very young, and very poor. Artsy, but more punks than actual artists. I like this area a lot, but would not want to live in it. Other people in my program do live in this area though, so it has become a good place to meet up and go out. The last few nights we have met up in this area, seeing as drinking German beer and munching on pretzels is a good way to get to know people.
Prenzlauerberg/Pankow is, at this point at least, my favorite part of Berlin. And luckily, I live quite close to it! Prenzlberg, as the Berliners call it, is very young, has a lot of artists and musicians, small bakeries and cafés, but is not quite as alternative as Friedrichshain-Kreuzburg. It is a little more family-oriented, I would say, and so it’s not quite so grungy and punky. It has beautiful little boutiques and galleries around every corner - there is something literally everywhere you turn! I am excited to do a lot of exploring around this area. I take the tram through it every day to and from class, so I will definitely have time to do some adventuring. This morning I went to a famous flea market in Prenzlauerberg called Mauerparkmarkt, and it was incredible. Such a variety of interesting stalls: jams, stolen bicycles, Hindu necklaces, vintage leather purses, retro clothes, old (and probably broken) film cameras. Really cool stuff. I plan on going back regularly, as it is open every Sunday and also just a short tram from where I’m located.
My home-stay is just outside of Prenzlauerberg, and while it is further from Mitte and central Prenzlberg than I would like, it is still a great space. A lot of family-run restaurants or bakeries, and a very quick walk from three different grocery stores (I’m talking a matter of steps). It’s a great neighborhood, but it’s very much a place where older couples live once their children move out. Not ideal, but still very nice.
Yesterday a group of us went down to Wannsee, a lake to the far southwest of Berlin (about an hour and a half on the train for me), and it was absolutely incredible! There was SAND. I’m not kidding! I didn’t even think to bring a bathing suit to Berlin, but I was so eager to go I went in the best that I had: jeans and a t-shirt. And it was well worth it - beautiful weather, little cabanas, and a local biergarten just up the hill. It was so beautiful, I think we will go back at least once a week until the weather gets too bad.
I am so exhausted after the first week, and there is still so much to do. I am really enjoying my time here so far - obviously there are ups and downs to living in a foreign city with no friends or family nearby, and I am already feeling the homesickness kicking in a little, but I’m doing everything I can to keep myself busy and enjoy my time here. I want so badly to leave having done as much as possible. I hope to never pass up opportunities because I am tired or grumpy, and even more than that I hope to create opportunities for myself. So far at least, I think I’m on a good track.
Miss you all.
Bonjour bonjour! Berlin! What a beautiful city. What a beautiful busy city! A beautiful busy bewildering city. Unpronounceable street names. Apartment buildings lining every block, all of which look exactly the same. Every other person seems to be speaking a different language, and none of them are English (and few of them seem to be German).
All that being said - wow. What a place to be living as a young adult. I already have plans to wander the city streets, from natural grocery market to thrift shop to artist-filled park, and I’ve only been here for 8 hours.
My program is rather small, but I am quite excited to get to know everyone in it. Nerds, “cool” kids, eager beavers, daydreamers, prom queens, nervous nellies. We’ll see. A crew. An assortment of strange creatures, without a doubt. Potentially a thirteen-person rendition of The Breakfast Club.
Returning to site in the morning to begin orientation. For now, though, I am going to brush and floss my teeth quite thoroughly, wash my face, and lie down to read a book until I can’t hold it up any longer. My shoulders are achey, my hair is dirty (I still don’t have shampoo or conditioner), and my everything is weary. What a long many hours it has been.