Jamey in Berlin
Tips for future Berliners

Hi all,

I made it home on Sunday without difficulty. Swiss Air held the plane in Zuerich so that I and others with connecting flights could make it, and we ended up arriving in Chicago ahead of schedule despite leaving 40 minutes late. However, some of my classmates are still stuck in Berlin or other parts of Europe because of all the snow.

I thought it would be a good idea to include some tips for future Berlin students based on my experiences and things that I’d heard from others. They are in no particular order.

1. Expect that Berlin will be different from what you’re used to. Go with the flow and relish the differences. Don’t try to turn Berlin into the US, enjoy the cultural experience. You’ll get along with your host and the city in general if you don’t expect it to be something that it is not.

2. Cook at home. The main reason is that it’s cheaper. All IES Housing comes with a kitchen that you can use, so take advantage of it. And it doesn’t have to be that complicated, I often made pasta and pesto with pesto from a jar, which I could cook pretty quickly and easily and was quite good.

3. Do stuff with your host(s) if they offer it. Mathias made great food for me just about every weekend. During the meals, we had great conversations which really helped me improve my German (I didn’t realize that he speaks quite good English for at least the first month because we always spoke German). Other students also had great meals with their hosts. Some hosts even made breakfast for their student every day. Hosts also lead interesting lives. I tried to go to a concert that Mathias’ choir was putting on, but it was sold out by the time I got there. Another student got a private bike tour of Berlin from his host. Mathias said that past students have even gone on hiking trips with him.

4. Ask questions when you don’t know or even aren’t quite sure. When I was getting ready for the Eastern Europe trip, I asked Mathias what the best way to get to the airport was. I had an idea based on my map, but Mathias told me about a much faster way. He also told me about the bakery where I could get the good, cheap Broetchen that I enjoyed so much. The IES Mitarbeitern (employees) and especially the Student Assistants are also really helpful.

5. Go on the IES trips. They are pretty well organized, interesting and relatively cheap. You don’t have to worry about booking tickets or finding hostels/ hotels. I would also recommend some independent travel too, but the IES trips were a good start.

6. Get a lot out of your time. Berlin is a huge city and even if you are there for a year you won’t run out of stuff to do. You can relax anywhere, but there are lots of cool things that you can only do in Berlin. That is not to say that you shouldn’t relax when you need to, but do as much as you can in the time you have.

7. Don’t just keep doing the same things over and over. Berlin has so many opportunities to do stuff that it can be a waste to just keep doing the same things. 

8. Don’t live solely on Doener and/ or Bratwurst. It’s possible, but not a very good idea. For one thing you’re missing out on all the other culinary delights that Berlin has to offer.

9. Pack light. It’s a lot easier to get to and from the airport with smaller bags. Wheels help, but there are sometimes when you’ll have to use the stairs.

10. Pack space. This could include stuff that won’t be coming back, like the gift for your host. You don’t want to not be able to get something you really want because you don’t have the space to bring it back.

11. Make a list (at least a mental one) of things you want to do and make sure you’re doing something from it regularly. Otherwise you won’t get to do everything you want to and will be disappointed.

12. Speak German as much as you can! This is the main (academic) reason to go to Berlin, to really improve your Deutsch. It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot of words, improve your grammar, etc. If you’re tired, soak up some Deutsch through TV (all IES Housing is required to have a working TV that you can use). Another way to get some German in with other IES students is “Denglisch.” The best version is when you say everything except any words that you don’t know, but even “Let’s go to the Bahnhof” helps some. And if Barbara (the Director of the IES Berlin program) hears you speaking German in the center, she’ll give you a little Ritter Sport chocolate.

13. Budget for yourself. Give yourself a weekly amount for groceries, going out to eat, etc. but also have some money for if you see something you really want or get an unexpected opportunity to do something.

14. Be ready for all kinds of weather. September is usually fairly summery in Berlin and Berlin does not generally get a lot of snow. But if I’d packed entirely based on those generalizations, I would have been in bad shape because of the colder than normal fall and snowy December. Being prepared for all kinds of weather also gives you more options for traveling, either to cold Scandanavia or warm Egypt, both of which are reachable relatively easily and cheaply from Berlin.

15. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when speaking German! If your Deutsch is perfect, then that’s great, but if it’s not, then the best way to improve is to speak it and get better. Ask people to correct you when you make mistakes. That may well happen every sentence, sometimes multiple times, but you’ll learn very little if you don’t talk.

16. Get help, especially on papers. Use the tutors or other Germans that you know to edit your papers.

All right, that’s it for now. I’ll post more tips as I think of them.

Last post from Berlin

Hi all,

The adventure that began three and a half months ago is just about over. I’m almost completely packed and have cleaned out my room. Tomorrow morning I have to get up early, though some other students have it much worse that 6:30. The snow and cold are continuing and there are flight cancellations in other parts of Europe now, but my flights are still on, so I’m hoping it stays that way. Tomorrow is going to be a really long day- I’ll be waking up when it’s still today Central Time and should be up until into Monday Berlin time, but the 10 and a half hour flight from Zurich to Chicago should give me ample time to sleep. I’ll be home to watch at least part of my first Packer game of the season in WI, which will be nice because watching over the internet here just isn’t the same.

The last few days have been great! I finished my exams Wednesday evening, so I had three days free to enjoy Berlin as a last hurrah. I got in two more soccer games at Monbijoupark. Because of the snow everyone was slipping and sliding. Some of the professors held consultations where we could find out our final grades and talk about how we did on the various assignments. I have an A- in my Deutsch Kurse and As in European Union and Theater. On Thursday we had the IES Farewell dinner, which was a great chance to see and talk to all my the other students as well as the professors and IES Mitarbeitern (Employees). Saying goodbye to everyone was hard, it’s been a great group, something that really contributed to me having a great semester. Hopefully we’ll stay in contact and maybe even have a reunion somewhere in the US irgendwann (sometime). On Friday night a group of students planned another dinner at an Arabic restaurant, which was another chance to say goodbye. Mathias also cooked Friday night, but I was able to do both we didn’t end up eating here until almost midnight (Mathias’ friend Kastin took a train up from Hessen and the snow delayed it as well as the S-Bahn on the way back from the station). We had pasta with homemade pesto, cherry tomatoes and smoked salmon. As usual with Mathias’ cooking, it was excellent! Finally today I met some friends at Potsdamer Platz. Today it was clear and sunny all day for the first time in a while (Berlin has had an abnormally cold and snowy December). We were going to have lunch and then go to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market), but there was some confusion so we had to skip the Weihnachtsmarkt. We had crepes in S-Bahnhof (S-Bahn station) Friedrichstrasse before parting ways to finish packing and getting ready to leave. This is fitting because Friedrichstrasse is often where we meet each other when doing something in Berlin, it’s right in the center, close to IES and easily accessible from just about anywhere in the city. Crepes are not German, but there are a lot of crepe stands here, and not just in Berlin. I think I’ll miss being able to get a crepe with Nutella almost as much as being able to get a Doener because they are a great dessert that doesn’t weigh one down too much.

It’s hard to believe it’s all over! I thought 15 weeks was going to be plenty of time back at the start of the semester, but it’s gone by so quickly. Last week IES had a session for us about how we could come back to Berlin, for example with a Fullbright or a DAAD (Germany’s academic outreach program). I think just about all of us are hoping to get back here somehow. Lawrence students, the deadline for fall semester or the year is coming up at the end of January, so you should be thinking about those applications (take my advice and don’t procrastinate on it like I did). And if you’re not thinking about it, you should be! Ich empfehle es (I reccomend it)!

Berlin, die Ende (the end). Here are some photos from my last few days in Berlin.

It’s snowing again! The last few weeks Berlin has gotten a lot more snow than it usually gets, which has slowed things in the city down a little bit, but has also been fun and beautiful. Here are some pictures from my window looking out at Mueggelstrasse.

My Deutsche Aussen und Sicherheitspolitik seit 1949 Kurse (German Foreign and Security Policy since 1949 course) visited the offices of the members of the Bundestag (MdB) (German Parliament) to meet and ask questions of Hans-Ulrich Klose, an MdB who is currently the Coordinator for German-American relations. Klose had a lot of really interesting things to say, and it was a great excursion for our last day of class.

Berlin: A Winter Wonderland! It snowed about 4 inches last night and today in Berlin. I’m glad to be from Wisconsin where we know how to handle this kind of thing, but the Berliners are not used to it and so the public transportation was packed and running late today.

Macaroni and Cheese Update

Hi all,

I made the mac and cheese for lunch today and it was delicious! The cheddar was good, I didn’t taste the Butterkaese, which was just fine as the recipe is quite good normally. Mathias also enjoyed it and even asked for the recipe! I’m really relieved that it went so well. Now back to Termpaper writing.

Fulda and the Fernsehturm

Hi all,

Sorry it took me so long to write this, but there is no such thing as a week that isn’t busy here in Berlin, which is a big part of why it’s so great to be here!

Last weekend I had an excellent time in Fulda. Despite worrying about my train being on time for my connection to a second train, I had no problems getting to Fulda. Christa, my host mom from my previous stay, was waiting to pick me up on the platform. Philipp was on the next train, coming home for the weekend from Braunschweig, where he is studying. Despite the fact that my train was a slower IC (Inter city) and his was a high speed ICE (Inter city express), his train was late and mine was not. But we found him pretty quickly and headed home to Flieden, the village outside Fulda where the Saemanns live. Stefan, Philipps father, and Laura, his sister, were waiting for us there. I surprised Philipp and Laura with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a rare treat for them because they are hard to find and expensive in Germany. Philipp’s uncle, an American who works on one of the military bases in Germany, introduced them to this and other treats from the US (Laura really loves PopTarts). I found the Reese’s at the KaDeWe, the large, upscale department store that has a whole floor devoted to gourmet food, including an American section where you can buy stuff like Reese’s, Campbell’s soup and Tollhouse Chocolate chips that you can’t find otherwise. I got lucky, the Reese’s were half price last week. It was great to get back to Flieden, right away I felt like I was at home. For dinner we had Pizza Broetchen, which are Broetchen with a mixture of cheese, peppers and ham melted over the top. They are very delicious, and I was lucky enough to get to eat some of the leftovers on the way back to Berlin Sunday night. I also got to try some of their homemade apple juice, hand pressed from apples grown in their garden. It was a bit sourer than most apple juice, but tasted delicious all the same. We then spent hours catching up, because though I’d seen the Saemanns briefly while they were in Berlin in October, this was the first chance we had to really talk since I was there three years ago. The next morning, we had a traditional German Fruhstueck (breakfast) with Broetchen and all sorts of things to put on it. There were 2 kinds of jam, including one that Christa had made, honey and Nutella. There were also these very thin chocolate bars made for eating with Broetchen called Eszet (the German double s, ß) Schnitten (slices). There was Wurst (sausage) and Kaese (cheese) and also something called Fleischsalat (meat salad), which was small strips of meat (ham I think) in a creamy white sauce. Needless to say it was all very good, and I found myself having to plan out what I was going to put on each Broetchen half so I could have everything I wanted and not eat too much. There was also Kakao (cocoa) and Kaffee (coffee) with it. After breakfast we drove to Point Alpha, an American guard post along the former Innerdeutschen Grenze (Internal German Border, which used to separate East and West Germany) and is now a museum.  Fulda lies in what was called the “Fulda Gap,” the most likely Soviet invasion route into West Germany, so there were soldiers in the tower at Point Alpha day and night watching for activity. The 14th “Blackhorse” Armored Cavalry Regiment was based in Fulda and in charge of defending this sector. There were interesting displays of the kinds of equipment, the uniforms and information about the daily life of the soldiers and their West German border guard counterparts. One of the defensive measures against a potential invasion would have been to blow up the road with bombs concealed under manhole covers that looked completely normal except for the demolition insignia on them. We then walked across the border and past a reconstruction of the fence to another part of the museum that had displays about the East German border guards. The whole thing was very interesting to this political and military history buff. After Point Alpha, we visited Christa’s father and brought him his groceries. Next, we went to a Messe (Mass) that was special because it was the Nameday of Christa’s mother, who had passed away a few years ago, and would also have been her 58th wedding anniversary. After the Messe we went to pizzeria La Gondola in Fulda and had dinner. It was also delicious. We walked around Fulda  a bit before heading back to Flieden and relaxing a little bit. Philipp and I picked up some of his friends and drove back into Fulda. We went to a couple bars in the Altstadt (Old City), which was quite lebendig (lively) on a cold Saturday night. We ended up heading home around 2ish because Philipp and one of his friends had to play Handball the next day and I had to write a book review as my last midterm. The next morning I woke up and started working on it, pausing to eat another delicious Fruhstueck with all the same stuff plus Fruhstueckseier (hard boiled eggs where the yolk is still liquid that are another mainstay of a traditional Fruhstueck) because of how long it would be before we would eat lunch/ dinner. I finished my paper and we headed to watch Philipp’s Handball game. He plays for the Flieden team. Handball is played with a ball that looks like a soccer ball, except only about 2/3 the size. The players can dribble to move or throw to each other and are trying to throw the ball into a soccer like goal. The shot needs to be from outside an arc that is about a yard closer than the three point line on a basketball court (the 3 pt. line is used as the distance for penalty shots in Handball). There are 6 players plus a goalie on the floor at a time. The other team was bigger, taller and had more subs then Flieden, so they won easily. Handball is a more physical game than basketball and there were some plays that came close to big injuries. It was fun to see my first game of Handball, but it would have been nice if Flieden had won. Maybe next time. After the game we had our main meal of the day. It’s called Raclette (pronounced Rah- clett) and is a specialty from Switzerland. You start with a Pfaennchen (small pan) and fill it with different things, such as wurst, schinken (ham), Zwiebeln (onion), Lauch (leek), mushrooms, tomato slices and different spices. Christa is a vegetarian, so she had peanuts and walnuts instead of meat. You always top it off with a slice of Raclette cheese. You then place the Pfaennchen in the Raclette Geraet (heater that sits in the middle of the table) and wait until the piece of cheese has turned slightly brown and bubbling, at which point your Pfaennchen is ready. In the mean time, you can be getting a baked potato ready or heating a piece of bread on the of the Geraet, which is like a small grill. When your Pfaennchen is ready, you eat the contents with the potato or bread (it was rye and was particularly good with Kraeuterbutter- butter with herbs in it). You then repeat the process. It’s great because each new Pfaennchen can have a different combination, I tried a different one pretty much each time. Raclette is a great winter family meal; the Geraet warms up the whole area around the table and the way you eat takes a long time, leaving plenty of time to have a good conversation with the people you are eating with. It was nice to be involved in this tradition (the Saemanns always have Raclette on Heiligabend [Christmas Eve] and Sylvester [New Year’s Eve]). Raclette Geraete (plural) are often on sale in Germany around the holidays and are available in the US (I checked). Raclette was really really good! After the Raclette Philipp and Christa edited my paper, which was very good because I had some big grammatical mistakes. One was a sentence with 6 dependent clauses (Nebensaetzen), which they helped me to pare down to a more reasonable length. Super complex sentences are even more difficult to understand in German because you end up with a lot of verbs at the end and have to think back to which clause each one goes with. So for the two termpapers I have due this week, I’ve been trying for shorter sentences as they are easier to understand and easier grammatically. I got it sent off and then pretty soon had to say goodbye to the Saemanns. Stefan took us to Fulda so we could catch our train. Philipp and I were on the same ICE till he got off at Braunschweig so we had a little more time to talk. The Zug (train) was delayed 25 minutes because of a problem with one of the doors, but otherwise I got home without incident.

It was really great to visit my German family. That’s how they treated me, like family! We were all so glad to see each other and sad it was so short. Philipp is hoping to be able to study for a year at the University of Rhode Island, and the Saemanns said they will visit the US if he does that. Laura is also hoping to be able to participate in the exchange program that is how I met the Saemanns (GAPP Wauwatosa-Fulda exchange), but because of having started school young (her birthday is right around the cutoff) and being in one of the classes that will graduate in 12 years instead of the 13 it used to take, she needs to get permission to do it when she’s only 15. I offered to write a letter to the principal (auf Deutsch) if it would help, so hopefully things will work out and she will be visiting Wauwatosa in the fall of 2012. And I guess I’ll have to keep looking for opportunities to get back to Deutschland too! However it works out, I hope to see the Saemanns again in the next few years. Frau Tuinstra and the Freiherr vom Stein teachers who matched me and Philipp made an excellent choice!

Back in Berlin, my IES courses kept rolling on. I got 4 of my 5 midterms back, getting A’s on Sicherheitspolitik (Security Politics), Deutschland und EU (Germany and the EU) and Theater in Berlin and an A- on my interview project for Deutsch. I also gave 2 presentations in Sicherheit in the last two weeks and turned a Theater critic for the second play we saw, went to the third. On the horizon I have my Deutsch termpaper and EU termpaper due Tuesday, will be vice president and representative of Germany at our mock Europaischer Rat (European Council) for EU and have another Theater critic due soon. And finals are only three weeks away. But classes have not just been work. On Wednesday this week we went to the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Office, kind of like the FBI). We heard a presentation from the head of the Department of International Cooperation and two of his deputies about what the BKA does and how police cooperation in Europe works. They were very good about answering all of our questions and gave a very interesting presentation. We also have 2 excursions for the same class coming up to meet members of the Bundestag. One is the former SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands [German Social Democrats, the center-left party]) foreign and security policy speaker and is now Coordinator for German-American relations. The other is the EU policy speaker for the SPD. In my Berlin behind the Scenes IR class, we have done a number of cool excursions and coming up this week will have a private session with the former Czech foreign minister. We will see the last play for Theater on Wednesday. It’s a busy schedule, but I feel like I’m getting a lot out of it.

Besides class, I found time to go up the Fernsehturm on Thursday. I was taking pictures, including of it, for my German termpaper (it’s a photo essay) and I realized that I had time, it was clear (a rare thing of late) and there wasn’t likely to be a big line on a cold day (the high was in the low 30s F and we had our first snow Wednesday and again yesterday). I was right, I was able to get my ticket and go straight up. From the observation deck of the tallest building in Germany, I was able to see most of Berlin, which gave me more perspective on how huge the city really is. I got some pretty good pictures of some of the landmarks in Berlin. They, along with pictures of Point Alpha, Handball and much more are posted here, so check them out! So now I can cross the item at the top of my to do before I leave list off. I’ve still got a few “musts” left, but am chipping away at them.

Tomorrow for lunch I am going to cook my Mom’s casserole Macaroni and Cheese for Mathias as a thank you for all the great food he’s cooked for me on the weekends (and hopefully will continue to, I still have two more chances) and all the other great stuff he’s done for me. Just like when I lived with the Saemanns, I’ve done very well with the Gastfamilie (host/ host family) that I’ve gotten. I’ve searched for cheddar cheese to use and finally found it yesterday, but I’m going to use half Cheddar and half Butterkaese, the German cheese that I’ve been enjoying so much here. The taste is comparable to Farmers cheese. Hopefully this combination and the recipe in general work, I’ll update you on it tomorrow afternoon after we’ve eaten!

Thanks for reading all that, like I said, there aren’t any boring days in Berlin, there’s always something to do!

I finally made it up the Fernsehturm, yesterday was clear and I had the afternoon free, so I went for it. Here are pictures from the panoramic view of Berlin from the highest building in Germany and one of the biggest in the world. The last three photos are not from the Fernsehturm. The Reichstag is pictured with the fence, because it is currently closed to the public because of a terror threat. The next is the Bundeskanzleramt, the offfice of Germany’s Federal Chancellor, which is called the Waschmaschine (Washing machine) by Berliners because of the shape of its windows. But hey, the Fernsehturm is called the Telespargel (TV Asparagus) because of its shape too. Lastly is the Siegessaeule in Tiergarten, the monument to victories in the wars that led to German unification in 1871.

I finally made it up the Fernsehturm, yesterday was clear and I had the afternoon free, so I went for it. Here are pictures from the panoramic view of Berlin from the highest building in Germany and one of the biggest in the world. In the photo Looking northeast, the open space in the background is Flughafen (airport) Tegel, where I arrived and from where I will be leaving in a few weeks. In the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahnhof picture, you can see the Humboldt Germanistik building (white with big windows on left side of tracks) where my Deutsch Intensivskurs was and across the tracks is Humboldt’s new Grimm Center Library.