Blogging from Berlin

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Berlin’s Neighborhoods

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Berlin is characterized by its neighborhoods, each with its specific atmosphere, architecture, and history. On Saturday and Sunday I led students through two fascinating neighborhoods, Die Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, which are located in the former East Berlin, and were among the most densely populated neighborhoods in Europe from the 1870s until the end of World War II. Despite the 6 inches of snow on the ground, we examined architectural differences and continuity of the streets, influences of Soviet-era architecture, and renovation since German unification in 1990. The streets are filled with outdoor markets and people shopping and just taking walks. Cafes and restaurants, as well as small stores populate the streets.

Prof. Wolf, Trevor, Hillary, Rip, and Alex take a break from the cold in Sophien Eck cafe. In the second image, Prof. Wolf and Alex discuss a typical Berlin “Hof” which were known as “Mietskaserne” in the late 19th century due to the many people who lived there.

Winter Wonderland

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

On Wednesday, December 01 we arrived in Berlin with the news that the day marks one of the coldest and harshest in recent history, with temperatures hovering around 12 degrees, and about 6 inches of snow, but also warmer temperatures, expected in the next 24 hours. And the weather forecast was accurate. Students were greeted on out first full day, December 02, with a romantic, snow covered Berlin, as the picture of us in front of the neo Classical Berlin Cathedral shows. Given the weather, I decided to alter plans for the day. We went to the national German History Museum (comparable to the Smithsonian Institute in D.C.) to view a critically acclaimed exhibition, Hitler and the Germans, which explores the cult of Hitler within the context of Germany in the 1920’s through the end of World War II in 1945. With 1000s of documents, images, and artifacts, the exhibition explores the social and historical conditions which gave rise to the Nazism in an attempt to answer the question how Hitler’s rise was possible in a nation internationally renowned for its intellectuals, educated pubic, scientific advancement, and commitment to the arts. As students of history and cultural studies, participants of the program were presented with an overarching perspective of European history after World War I at a time when national governments were increasingly radicalized on the left , for example the Russian Revolution, and the right with the first fascist government of Mussolini in Italy. The exhibition clearly demonstrates the dangers and consequences of a nationalistic, political populism appealing to individuals’ fears and base instincts, and the dangers of propaganda with its conscious efforts to distort truth and manipulate public opinion.

Prof. Wolf and students in front of the Berlin Cathedral

So Close!

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Hey everybody, my name is Louis, I’m a second year German Major and I am two days away from being in Berlin.

The thanksgiving “break” has become blurred and I might have just as many things to prepare for Germany as I did for finals a week ago, but the reward should be worth it. Packing for such an endeavor is proving to be more difficult and time consuming than I want it to be. Can’t I just go already?

Anyway, as I think about the prospect of 17 days in Germany and all of the places I will see, and all of the people I will meet, and all of the experiences I will have I cannot help but think about all I have learned in four terms of German at North Central College. Not only the language and comprehension aspect of German, but also the complexities of the culture in Germany. In order to fully understand its history I NEED to be there. I want to put my knowledge of events like WWI, and WWII, my understanding of the GDR, and even my knowledge of German architecture to the test.

I have been to Germany once before (the summer before my senior year with other members of my German class in high school) and ever since have wanted to go back. I am particularly interested this time around in applying what I have learned in my college classes to the trip. I feel very prepared to discuss and not just observe Berlin and therefore engage in a more intense learning experience.

Above all, the trip should be a lot of fun. The nerves are setting in a little bit, but what would be the fun in going if I knew exactly how it would play out? The ultimate road trip is about to begin… and I haven’t started packing.

Auf Wiedersehen!


Almost in Berlin!

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

My name is Bridget and this will be my first time in Germany. I am so excited to be going to Berlin in only two more days! The D-term course in Berlin will cover various periods and themes in German history from the Prussian Empire to the Nazi years, the division of East and West Germany, and finally to Reunification. I hope to learn more about each of these periods and how each one has impacted German society. In particular, I can’t wait to communicate with Berliners and explore the landscape, architecture, and civic life of Berlin. I am looking forward to learning how to see the history and culture of a place by examining its streets, buildings, walls, monuments, memorials, and that which is left out of such structures.
This trip will not only give us greater insight into Germany, but also America. Being in a new environment can force one to look at everything with fresh eyes and curiosity. I hope to come back from this trip eager to look at American life and society with a more open perspective. It is easy to look just at the surface of one’s surroundings and assume that to be all there is to see and understand. This trip will force us to look deeper into life in Germany and will allow us to develop not only a greater understanding of Germans and the ways they come to terms with the history of Germany, but also, it will give us greater insight into Americans and how we, as American citizens, approach American history. During one of the days we will be visiting a colloquium at a German school. The topic for this year’s colloquium is globalization. In many ways our trip itself is a confrontation with globalization, in the sense that we are going to be confronted with the reality of a world of many different cultures, histories, and traditions that must coexist together on our planet. Through the colloquium and exploration of Berlin I hope to become more aware of the diversity of cultures and ways of viewing and experiencing the world that exist. The trip to Berlin will, I think, open our eyes not only to how we interact with Germans and Germany, but how we interact in general with cultures and viewpoints that may differ from those with which we are accustomed.
Learning how to see, think about, and approach ideas and events in a new light can be a very powerful, challenging, and ultimately rewarding experience. It leaves one with a broader appreciation and awareness of the world that surrounds us. That is what I most looking forward to on this trip–to expand my awareness of the world around me through encounters with people in Germany and the sights of Berlin, Dresden, and Potsdam. I think we are going to have an amazing time as a group together and I can’t wait till take off!

Back to Berlin

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Hello, all!  My name is Rebecca.  I am a third year German major and cannot wait to go to Berlin in less than two days.  This will be my second time there, though I was only there for three days four years ago.  I cannot wait to go on the train again.  Yes, out of all the things to see and do in Berlin, I just stated that the thing I’m most excited about is the train.  Why?  You can see EVERYTHING in the city; it’s almost like the Monorail in Disney World/Land.  Sometimes it even goes above the city.

Apart from that, I can’t wait to go to the Neue Synagoge [“New Synagogue”], which is absolutely stunning and has long been a center for Conservative Jews, though it was originally built for Berlin’s growing population of Eastern European Jews like myself.  I think my favorite part of the trip by far will be interacting with the class of German students for a whole day.  I can’t wait to see what their lives are like and what they think the United States’ effect on globalization is.  If we have time or are allowed to, I would love to speak some German with them.  If not, I’m sure I’ll find some way, besides taking crazy amounts of notes in my portable journal, to speak some German with Germans.

I think that’s a big part of my favorite thing to observe in German history and culture: interaction with foreigners, who Germans consider to be foreign, and the future of minorities within modern Germany.  How can we define a minority?  Is someone a minority by choice?  When someone is a political minority, like communists and socialists, does that override their previous status as a majority, as a white Christian in either the United States or Germany?  Is one labeled by society or can one label oneself?  Does ones identity change only if they move down the social ladder or can people move up in status by religiously converting or intermarrying with a ‘higher’ ethnic group?  I think we could use the answers to these questions to figure out why society is the way it is, whether we are happy to be on this path, and how we can move in a different direction if we dislike where we are going.  Young or old, all people can benefit from investigating such questions because there is always time to change the world we live in; effort has no expiration date.

Rebecca M. Samson

Prof. Wolf with Consulate General Mr. Löhr

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Prof. Gregory H. Wolf with the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany to Boston, Mr. Friedrich Löhr. As a member of the national board of directors of the AATG, Prof. Wolf was in Boston for 6 days in November where he met Mr. Löhr.

Getting ready for Berlin 2010

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

After several organization meetings, I think all of us are ready to be in Berlin.