Rhythms

I’ve mostly taken a break from the adventuring this week (…which means only going to a few new restaurants, and seeing one or two exciting sights, and barely traveling to four Berlin neighborhoods, which is a pretty good sign in terms of “am I making good use of my study abroad time”.) I’ve gotten a respite from the homesickness of last week, which is nice, but being in a new country is always tiring; it’s good for me to wander around Berlin, practice my new German-speaking skills, and try to catch a little more of the rhythm of the city.

That last goal is getting easier all the time – last morning, going out for bagels with some friends in Friedrichshain and watching the Spree sparkle under me through the U-Bahn windows, I felt like I felt some of that rhythm for the first time so far. Cities always have an underlying tempo, New York especially; it’s famous for just how fast it is, how electric, always buzzing and moving and never sleeping.

Berlin definitely doesn’t feel like that. It’s more measured, more mechanical – the shops are closed every Sunday, the buses come every ten minutes, the trains are always on time. New York’s soul feels very tied to the organic life in it: the rats, the pigeons, the street-sweepers, the construction workers, the sirens, the car horns. Berlin is more tied up in its buildings, its train tracks, its graffiti, its traffic lights. One has the sense that if all the people suddenly disappeared from Berlin, every train and bus and tram would keep running all on their own.

With the add/drop period finally over, I’ve settled on my classes for the semester – after a number of changes. A brief recap of them below the cut, and I’ll hopefully have some real stories to tell next week (going to Dresden on Friday!):

Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I’m taking Elementary German I, which is about as basic as it sounds like. I’m enjoying it a lot – it’s fun to know that the word for “tip” is trinktgelt, or “drinking money”.

On Wednesdays I first have Environmental Social Movements, a class in the Environmental Science department. I was worried about this at first – I only took it because my 20th Century German Lit professor was really awful and I needed to get out of that class before the add/drop period ended – but it turns out there’s no actual environmental science involved, just a look at the political side of things. We’ll be talking about how social movements start, what they’ve looked like, and how effective they’ve been. Given that this is the most depressing part of the environmental science field, I’ll be gritting my teeth – but from what my friends in the class tell me, it’s mostly the professor provoking us into arguments, which I can get behind. (I got called “overemotional” by a man for the first time in years! That’s how you know you’re doing good.)

Then I have Ancient Art, which is on Museum Island. This means I have a year-long pass to all of Berlin’s official museums – 22 of them!!! We’ll be visiting the Neues, the Altes, the Pergamon, and the Bode, but believe me, I’m going to be using this pass to explore a lot more. It’s also giving me a chance to nerd out about Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology – and apparently I get to learn about the Babylonians and Etruscans, which I never got to do as a kid.

Finally, I’m taking 20th Century German Politics, which is a history class and very academically rigorous. (The professor’s promised us that things get easier once there’s only one or two Germanies to worry about.) I’m definitely going to have more to say about this class, given all the complicated feelings it stirs up, but for now things are quiet.

Germany is stirring up a lot of complicated feelings, and not just in history class. Part of the reason I took such a dislike to my German Lit professor was because of a general, uncertain discomfort with some of the things he said about the Nazis and the Holocaust – nothing that I’d be able to point at and say were anti-Semitic, and I honestly don’t think he is anti-Semitic, but I’m feeling a lot of uncertainty and discomfort about being a Jew in Germany.

But that’s definitely something I want to give myself more than three weeks to mull over – and I want to give Berlin more than three weeks to reveal more of its feelings about it than what it’s shown me so far. So consider this a preview for upcoming attractions, and happy Saturday!

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