November 2, 2011

One hundred tales of days and nights in Berlin

This week, I want to tell you a story. It’s about walking through the streets of Berlin on a Friday afternoon with yellow leaves twirling through the air. It’s about stopping to run a scarf from a street vendor through your fingers. It’s about eating döner on a bench and being told by a boy skateboarding home from school that “döner macht schöner” (döner makes everything better). It’s about becoming a part of the city, like a puzzle piece finally sliding into place.
I know my favorite spots now: the early morning tram ride along the M10 line, the Kulturbrauerei at sunset and the flea market at Mauerpark on Sundays. I’ve seen Berlin’s highest points, from the balcony of the Berliner Dom cathedral to the ramparts of a World War II-era flak tower, and I’ve seen its lowest when I was pickpocketed at Hauptbahnhof (Berlin’s central station). I’ve explored upscale shopping districts in the West and graffiti-lined side streets in the East (and vice versa, because Berlin’s identities constantly bleed together). I can say confidently that this is my city, not just a city in which I happen to be living.
I want to tell you about meeting my best German friend, Angeline, and her friend Nadine for a strong cup of coffee on Warschauer Straße to discuss feelings about German society 21 years after the Wiedervereinigung (reunification of Germany) and our mutual woes regarding presentations given in languages that are not our own. Another anecdote: a late night in a smoky club, listening to an American band try to pronounce the German translation of “losing you.” And another: finding Vietnamese food near my subway stop and deciding to sip soup late into the night despite my 8 a.m. class the next morning. I want to tell you about walking past Schloss Bellevue, once a Prussian palace and now the home of the German president. I want to discuss spontaneity, timelessness and the intersection of the impossible.
I have hundreds more. This morning, my sociology class took a trip to the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. I climbed on my tram while the sun was still trying to peek through the clouds, found that the line was interrupted due to construction and caught the substitute bus without more than a moment’s hesitation. Upon arriving at our meeting place, I discussed Halloween costumes and Berlin’s apparent yellow-jacket infestation (seriously, they’re everywhere) with a friend and then followed my professor across the leaf-carpeted paths of the cemetery. Jews often leave stones instead of flowers at gravesites because the former will not wither and die. Even when faced with the fleeting nature of life, there is permanence here, and I feel completely at peace.
I want to tell you about confidence and how you find it in the unlikeliest of places, like a coffee shop on Warschauer Straße. I want to tell you about climbing an endless flight of stairs to arrive on the edge of a tower from which shots were fired not even a century ago and seeing Berlin sprawling out before you, an S-Bahn train meandering along far below. I want to tell you about forgetting which language you’re speaking — about reaching the point where you understand ideas regardless of the words used to describe them. I want to tell you about feeling so connected to a place that even though you’re leaving in two months and that’s far too soon, it’s mostly okay because you know you’ll be back.
I was warned in my pre-departure orientation session at Knox that I would have far more stories than I could possibly tell. It’s not a problem so much as it is an opportunity to notice that the most meaningful moments are the seemingly ordinary. People say a lot of things about studying abroad: that it makes you more worldly, more in tune with what’s happening around you, more adaptable, more appreciative … the list goes on. Maybe these will feel right in two months’ time. For now, I need something a little less concrete. The seasons are still changing and so am I.

Anna Meier is Co-News Editor for The Knox Student. She tweets @anna_strophe and blogs at

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