University of Washington

Summer A Term 2013

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Daily Diary: July 2nd & 3rd

Two more eventful days have passed by and our time in Berlin is drawing to a close — it's hard to believe our program is close to halfway done. I have mixed feelings, because I'm just getting to know Berlin and would love to explore more...but at the same time, my excitement for visiting and learning in Spain is increasing by the second!

Dienstag (Tuesday), 2 Juli

We had a leisurely start to the morning and met together at Die Fabrik at 1:00pm. Many of us headed to our next-door cafe for a "milch kaffee," croissant, pastry, or fruit cup for breakfast. I spent the morning catching up on some reading, updating my blog, and trying in vain to get our Internet connection to work long enough to download some articles for my research, before venturing out for lunch near our hostel.

At 13:00 (getting used to European timekeeping!), our group met with our guest speaker Alex Valentino, who spent some time informing us about the situation of the Roma population in Berlin. Then, we headed southeast for the neighboring district of Neukölln to visit a Roma dwelling. Alex told us about the generally undesirable living conditions that these people have to adjust to, and that in general, these immigrants don't feel comfortable going to the police even in the face of injustice. It was interesting for our group to hear about the experience of a group of people we haven't yet had much exposure to. The complex we visited housed around 500 Roma immigrants (!!) and there were lots of people out and about, particularly children, when we walked through. The adults viewed us skeptically at first — unfamiliar visitors are generally dealt with cautiously, we were later informed. In the end, we ended up learning a lot about this underserved group of people. Plus, it was very interesting to explore a new area of Berlin. We were told Neukölln was a poorer district, and it definitely opened our eyes to how different the various areas of this massive city are. (Quick comparison: Seattle's population is about 621,000 while Berlin's is 3.5 million.)

The sun bursting out of the clouds created a very cool effect on the
incredible mural in the middle of the Roma dwelling!

Students looking around the dwelling.
500 Roma people live here.

Interacting with the adorable and friendly children!
Jessica made a new friend in Neukölln!

Afterward, we branched out for group research meetings and interviews, and some of us came together later for a viewing of the movie The Lives of Others in our classroom at Humboldt. It was a very well-done film and despite being in German with subtitles, it captivated my attention the entire time. I really enjoyed gaining another perspective into life in Germany in the Cold War era through a different medium.

Watch this movie!

Mittwoch (Wednesday), 3 Juli

Craving something a little more substantial for breakfast, a couple fellow students and I ventured out for omelettes on Wednesday morning. They were delicious! Plus, our friend/Berlin guide/recent UW grad, Stephanie Hare, taught us a few more words and we were fairly successful in ordering in German. With a successful start to the day under our belts, we headed for the U-Bahn.

Our omelettes only cost 2,50 euros! Great start to the morning.

Metro travel is old hat for us by now, although some of us still get a little flustered when the plainclothes officers spring to life to check our tickets :-)

As a group, we went north today to Prenzlauer Berg. We walked to the Waffel Haus to meet one of our guest speakers for the day, Thabo Thindi. Thabo is from South Africa but has lived in Berlin for about five years, and his presentation was an engaging mix of music, film, photography, and personal anecdotes. My favorite quotes from him:
"Everybody has a story and everybody IS a story."
"The street ... is my university."
He spoke about the often impersonal interactions of daily life, particularly with the homeless population. For example, many people either pass by those living on the street or simply toss them a few euros without even looking them in the face. Thabo focused on getting to know these people by photographing them for his project, "Faces of Berlin," and doing something simple like asking how their day was going. I found his talk very interesting and relevant, and I'm hoping to use some of his examples and findings in my final research project, which focuses on perceptions of homelessness. 

Settling in for our guest speaker,
Thabo Thindi

Fun wallpaper in the Waffel Haus!

Some people stayed at the Waffel Haus for lunch, and others ventured out to see more of Prenzlauer Berg. Tarra and I ended up making our way to a Thai place and compared our impressions to Seattle's version. It made us feel kind of at home, where every other restaurant on the Ave is a Thai restaurant! Conclusion: fairly similar, although here they aren't as heavy on the peanut sauce in the phad thai. All in all, very delicious! Observation from this and many other meals: people here simply do not drink as much. I had to carefully ration out my 0,2 L Cola to last my entire meal!

Beautiful Tarra with beautiful Thai food —
complete with a carrot sculpted into a flower!

Kira and I later stopped by a cafe on our way to Humboldt for some gelato —
the friendly guy behind the counter gave us samples of about half of these!

We ended our day together at Humboldt with one more guest speaker, Claire Waffel (pun intended?), a visual artist. It was interesting to have these two guest speakers in the same day, because while they are both artists, each person interprets the word very differently. Claire specializes in photography and art education, and she showed us some projects her students have worked on as well as some of her own. She spoke about the challenge of incorporating art into the classroom, but that it is also very rewarding for both student and teacher in the end. To read and learn more about Claire and her work, visit her website at

What has struck me about a great number of our guest lecturers is that nearly every one of them apologizes in advance for their "broken" English — but on the contrary, they have all impressed me with their English abilities! What's more, this is often their third or fourth or fifth language. I like to think I'm semi-fluent in Spanish, and I don't think our lecturers have been giving themselves enough credit.

This concludes my daily diaries! Tomorrow is 4th of July, so we might have to seek out some American food or get together as a group for a mini celebration :-)


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