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Published: June 11th 2008
The Berliner Dom
Well the time is flying by and I have now attended the Abschluss-Seminar (End of Year Seminar) for my program in Berlin. I am in shock that this has already come and gone, I remember putting in my calendar back in August and thinking, wow that is so far away! Even including a few rough patches in the winter and spring, this year has just flown by....
The 73 "Young Professionals" from our program convened for our last official gathering in Germany on Tuesday May 27. The ride felt a little bit like a slowly growing caravan. Michael hopped on the ICE in Freiburg and rode an hour to Karlsruhe, where I joined him, from there we picked up Robert in Mannheim, and then Pete and Travis in Frankfurt. And off we were, 5 LOUD Americans, to Berlin for 4 more hours. I was very lucky I managed to acquire an entire Abteil (little room) on the train where I could shut the door so the boys could be as loud as they wanted without disturbing the German peace. It was like a mini reunion for a few hours, until we arrived in Berlin, a little late, at our hostel
The wall still intact.
for the BIG reunion. I roomed for the week with Brooke, my friend from South Carolina, that has been living the last portion of the year in Munich. Somehow the two of us ended up on the top floor of the building with ALL boys.
There was a short introduction from our program leaders, where we went over the events for the week and where we needed to be, when, etc. We were invited to a prearranged dinner near the big University in the city. It was the first of many rides on the train in a huge group - very much disturbing the normal commuters of Berlin with a bunch of loud English speakers. The Italian restaurant was really nice and we enjoyed our dinner and drink before splitting up into smaller (no less than 10 people) groups to hit the town. It was a bit overwhelming being back with everyone for the first time since Washington DC in July, and trying to figure out how to hang out with all my friends was impossible, so i tried to vary groups throughout the week. We wandered around a different area of town for a while and walked and
Here is Angela Merkel speaking to us
walked and walked...until finally about 8 of us decided to just SIT at a bar. We enjoyed a few drinks together and then headed back to the hostel.
On Wednesday morning, we had an early session at a hotel over by the Kufurstendam..the premier area in former West Berlin. The hotel was right next to the KaDeWe (the famous department store in Berlin) where my parents bought my watch, just about 9 years ago to the day, for my 16th birthday present...memories! The seminar lasted most of the day, talking about experiences from the year as well as other topics regarding cultural immersion. I will not bore you with the details. Afterwards some of us headed out to see some sites. I had not been to Berlin in about four years, so it was nice to get down to Unter den Linden and see the Brandenburg Tor, etc. The new American Embassy was just finished in its original spot near the Brandenburg Tor and it is HUGE. It took a long time to negotiate the parameters of the building on that site, because of the new building standards set forward by the US Govt., they hadn't even started the
The bridge reflected in the building window is one of the oldest in Berlin
last time I was in Berlin. We also checked out the new Jewish memorial right by the Brandenburg Gate, it reminded me a lot of the garden at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It consisted of many different blocks at different heights and the ground below it also had small humps in it, this was to create a confusion effect I believe. It was really great though, and huge. After walking around much of the area, we headed out to check out a few other areas of town. We ended up in a really neat outdoor bar/cafe that is part of a famous squatter building for Artists. There was some really unique art around the outside area, with random car seats, inner tubes, and couches scattered about on sand. The people watching was fantastic! After a beer, we headed on over to the large movie theater in the new Sony Center. Indiana Jones was playing in English and we were really excited! Id say not my favorite Indiana Jones movie ever, but definitely nice to see a movie and understand the jokes...
On Thursday, we were able to sleep in a little bit and the program had arranged a
3 hr Boat Tour (singing "A THREE HOUR TOUR...", sorry too tempting) The sun was shining and it was warm, perfect weather for a boat tour along the River Spree through the center of Berlin and then to the outskirts. I managed not to wear any sunscreen and got a little too much sun, but I almost didn't care, I was just so happy to have some sun in general. My friend from Dallas, Megan, and I decided we had seen most of the sites and museums, so after the boat tour we went to have a nice lunch. I enjoyed a Spargel Flammkuchen (White Asparagus is in season right now and I love it) - Flammkuchen is kind of a very thin pizza with light toppings. After lunch we headed back over near the KaDeWe in Kufurstendam for a coffee. I ordered myself a Kinder Ice Cream which came with Mickey Mouse in Cocoa on the plate, awesome. I cant imagine how a kid could have eaten all of that ice cream, I couldn't finish it thats for sure. I was asked by our program if I would do a short interview with some students that are making a
Brooke and I
On the Boat Ride
film project about our program, and I happily accepted. I met the 3 students (one of which was a German participant in the American side of the program) and we drove over to the Tiergarten - a beautiful park in the western part of Berlin. I was so proud of myself for doing the whole interview in German, with a few mistakes of course. 😉 The interview took a little longer than expected, so they were nice enough to drive me and my burnt shoulders over to the Cultural Event, a theater evening. The theatre was interesting, it did not involve any speaking, the actors wore these 'large head' masks and did a spoof on a restaurant using only sounds and acting. It was really quite funny. I was really exhausted after the play, and most of us went back to the Hostel to get some sleep because we had an early wake up call on Friday.
Friday was our Bundestag Day. Our program is formally called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. Therefore, the German Bundestag (congress) provided the funding for our year in Germany. There is also another part of the program for High Schoolers, including
I like this spray painted art
about 300 high school students that attend a German High School for a year and live with families. All 360 of us had been invited to attend a day of events at the Bundestag and Kanzleramt (Chancellor's Office). The Kanzleramt was just recently completed and is quite large and beautiful. The day started with a roll call on the bus at 6:30 am. We arrived at the Reichstag (Congressional building) around 7:15, and encountered the massive High School group for the first time. After distribution of some German-American Flag Pins to wear, we were directed through security and into the building. The first group of sessions were in one of the party rooms upstairs. There are many more political parties in Germany than in the US, and each one has their own room to discuss, have events, or sessions together. We did our session in the CDU Room (Christian Demokratische Union). We were all in amazement that there was actually a cross up on the wall for decoration. For the first while, we had some talks from people who handle our program in each Party. Then we were able to go to the Bundestag session that was in progress and
Flags on top of the Reichstag building
listen to 30 min. We lucked out because they were discussing and voting on the full or partial privatization of the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail). Each party was allowed to send a speaker to the stand to argure their position on the bill. The Left party was the first to speak, they were for the non-privatization, and keeping all of the DB within the government. From there, the next position was for partial privatization, which would allow the government to maintain control of the infrastructure, but also private investment would help DB lower ticket prices and complete with some of the low cost airlines, etc. The thing that was so interesting to me was that during each speaker it was totally normal for everyone else in the Bundestag, to yell, clap, make comments, grumble about the argument loudly. I was appalled at first, but after a while decided this approach was much more fun. We found out the next day that the Bundestag voted to partially privatize about 30% of the DB.
After that session, we went back to the CDU room to have more talks from important people within the Bundestag and also have some students make small
Lust in German means you have the desire to do something...but i like both meanings
presentations. Our representative went first, and I was completely impressed with his speech. I thought it was very nice and representative of all of our feelings. Some of the other high schoolers presented (they are split up into 5 groups based on where they come from in the US) and I was quite impressed at their German speaking skills. Some others didn't have quite as much tackt, but then again, who had too much tact at 17 years of age. We headed over to the Kanzleramt after a quick snack and spent another 45 min going through security there. They had set up a whole area for our group with beverages and a large outdoor lawn to sit and enjoy the sunshine. We tried for a while, but it was honestly too hot. The high school boys solved this problem and running around Angela Merkel's lawn shirtless. I can not explain the embarrassment. :-/ We were all shuffled to a large staircase and we lined up in anticipation of Angela Merkel herself to arrive. There were TV Cameras as well as reporters there. We felt very special. Some of us were lucky and got to the stairs early enough to
5 floors of trains, insane!
be on the 2nd row! We saw the TV Cameras swing left as Angela Merkel made her entrance. She stood a few feet from me while there were pictures taken of the whole group. She then made a short speech to us and then ran off again as she had another meeting. It was a quick, but special 5 min. Other guests for the presentation included important German leaders and the Ambassador from the United States, our only speech in English the whole day. After the picture we dispersed for a wonderful buffet lunch and more time to hang out.
We were all completely exhausted that afternoon and I joined most others in a 3-4 hr nap. When I was finally awake again, I ran into some other kids who were going to check out a great Thai restaurant in Berlin. I happily joined the group and enjoyed a fabulous meal and great company. After dinner some of us met up with a few other groups at an Irish Pub in Berlin. It was great to hang out with everyone again and enjoy some beers on our last night. I am really going to miss a lot of the
This is where Angela Merkel works
kids in our program, fantastic people. On Saturday, it was a short 'Goodbye and Thank You' session and then we were released. After saying goodbye to a lot of friends (who I will get to see one more time for the flight home and seminar in NYC), I headed to the train station and caught the train to Hamburg. I had decided that since I was so close it would be nice to head that way and visit some friends. Megan met me at the train station and we headed back to her place (only a few blocks from where I used to live). We enjoyed an afternoon snack in the sun and then took the time to get ready for dinner at Hennsler and Hennsler, my favorite Sushi restaurant in Germany. Jake joined us for dinner, which was absolutely fabulous, I like the restaurant even more with the porch open and the sun shining. After dinner we took a long walk down the famous Reeperbahn again and finally decided on a really nice bar, the Elbwerk, with a beautiful view of the Harbor. We were all very tired though, so after 2 drinks we headed home.
day, Megan and I took some time to sleep in and then headed over to the Cafe Paris to get some brunch. It really is my favorite Brunch place in Hamburg. Then it was unfortunately time for me to catch my 5 hr train ride back to Karlsruhe so that I wouldn't get in too late. The Hauptbahnhof was completely packed, I have never seen so many people on one platform at a time, I had forgotten quickly that it was once again summer and tourist season. I was unable to make a reservation for a seat, so I strategically placed myself where I thought the door would stop for a car (its kind of like Roulette). I lucked out on the door placement, but unfortunately it took me a little while to find a non-reserved seat to sit in. I found one in one of the small cabins and enjoyed some very interesting talk with the other 5 passengers in there. It is so nice that I can converse normally with people in German and I think they were in amazement to talk with an American that could too. 😉
So overall, it was a fabulous week. It
was great to see everyone again but also sad to think that my year has almost come to an end. It has really been a fabulous one! Only a few more blogs and then Im off on my big trip around Europe and my trip back to the states. Thanks for my dedicated readers, I always enjoy your comments and thoughts!
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