Sonderzug nach Pankow

I think I’ll go to Berlin. They understand me there.

Donald Sutherland

This is a man who can speak with his eyebrows. They pay tribute to him in his home town, Saint John, New Brunswick.

Campobello Island

It’s where FDR spent his summers, picnicking, hiking, swimming and sailing. Eleanor had a bullhorn as big as a small child to call everyone in for dinner. Last week, Stephen and I went down to check it out.

The gardens are incredible. Every morning, the gardeners are there with their nail scissors, trimming the borders around the flower beds, pulling weeds, and making sure everything is just perfect.

We spent hours walking on the beaches, bathed by the fog, listening to the tide rolling in.

The Discovery – Gwendolyn MacEwan

do not imagine that the exploration
ends, that she has yielded all her mystery
or that the map you hold
cancels further discovery

I tell you her uncovering takes years,
takes centuries, and when you find her naked
look again, 
admit there is something else you cannot name,
a veil, a coating just above the flesh
which you cannot remove by your mere wish

when you see the land naked, look again
(burn your maps, that is not what I mean),
I mean the moment when it seems most plain
is the moment when you must begin again

Travel, travel, travel

It isn’t a blog if I don’t write in it, but often, by the time I’m sitting on my kitchen counter, plugged into the internet, I’m too tired to create a narrative of what I’ve been up to. I spend most of my time in and out of schools – the school where I work, the Volkshochschule, and Humboldt University – but yesterday I traveled by S-Bahn to Bernau with Carola to test my rusty rattler of a bike on the trails. It held up marvelously, and in celebration, I had cassis and lemon gelato at a coffee shop before we headed home.

Three years ago, I promised a friend that I would visit her one day. So long has passed that I suspect she was beginning to doubt my sincerity. But as of about ten minutes ago, I have a confirmed plane ticket to London – the real one this time – and I will be appearing on her doorstep in about a month and a half. I’m traveling Air Berlin. Couldn’t get a breakdown of RyanAir’s hidden fees that met my standards and decided to err on the side of caution. With the credit card service fees they would have charged me, the cost would have ended up being comparable anyway, so I’m satisfied. When I was researching RyanAir, I came across this budget travel blog which seems to be quite interesting and well put together. Consider this a recommendation.

I haven’t been completely dead on the internet, though. I managed to remember a few of my dreams and get them up on Fearless Nights. I was beginning to worry that my early mornings would make me a never-contributor.

Barbarian Males Threaten Innocent Maidens Abroad

Living in Germany, like living in any country where one is just learning the language, is difficult for me sometimes. It isn’t always a language problem; sometimes simple-seeming tasks turn out to be quite different, from culture to culture. I was trying to find out how one goes about getting a doctor’s appointment in Germany when I stumbled on this article from 1894 in The New York Times, about study abroad in Germany:American Girls in Germany: Their Independance is Often Misunderstood.

The point of the article is that the ‘Continental Education’, the notion that young people of a certain class must go abroad in order to acquire a certain social polish, is foolish. It is possible to receive a perfectly acceptable education at home in North America. This is definitely true today, when as many Europeans want to go to North America to study, it seems, as North Americans want to spend a year or two here. The article, on the other hand, takes such an anti-European tone that that message is lost. It was written before the cultural upheaval of the twentieth century, but the issues it focuses on support rather than question the intolerances of certain eras, so I feel no qualms about mocking them.

The experience of the foreign, the article tells us, is very threatening to young women. They should never be exposed to other cultures, lest they develop an unhealthy tolerance or, God forbid, appreciation for lifestyles different from their own. Young girls are impressionable and foolish, and the appealing wisdom of a Herr Doktor might weaken their certainty that the American way (stone-solid) is the only correct way to live. Where sexual harassment is a clear threat to blonde American beauties abroad, the loss of faith good American girls are sure to experience, when they go to worship in frigid Lutheran churches where no one will meet their gaze, and the services are conducted entirely in a language they don’t understand, is the true threat.

Study abroad causes atheists who prefer coffee and rolls for breakfast.

What startles me a little is that, extreme as this article is, the values it espouses have not completely disappeared. Considered the final season of Sex & the City lately? The barbarian Russian, brilliant, educated, artistic, more worldly than our humble American narrator, symbolic of everything that is not New York, worms his way through Carrie’s tough exterior, eventually persuading her to follow him to glamorous Paree. There, people are cold and inconsiderate, and Carrie, without her group of supportive Dolce-wearing gossips, is very, very lonely. She and the Russian, her only friend in the cold beyond, fight and (here’s the one point I expect you’ll remember from the episode) the Russian SLAPS her, revealing the fiery monstrosity of the continental temperament. Mr. Big shows up, a knight in a shining designer suit and whisks her back to America, to safety. Europe, my friends, is a dangerous place. Women are not treated with the gentle kindness they ought to be. Whether it’s 1894, or 2004, any right-thinking mother will not allow her innocent flower to set foot upon its barbarian soil.

Lest wealthy families continue to send their daughters abroad where they might contract free thinking, our New York Times concludes as follows:

“If the girls are going abroad, let them “finish” their education here and wait till they are well out of their teens before they go. Then send them well and properly chaperoned.

That’s it. I’m taking the red feathers out of my cap. Then, hopefully, someone will treat me with a little respect and I’ll get a doctor’s appointment before June.

A Guidebook Project

Am I proving my age-old unreliability as a blogger? Could be; I haven’t checked in in quite some time. Between ski camp in the Czech Republic, and two weeks touring with my parents, I haven’t been around the computer much. I have so many stories to tell, and so little desire to stare into the screen and tell them.

I don’t have that much longer here in Berlin. That’s what people keep telling me – Tandem partners, teachers at my school, classmates. After being on holiday for so long, this leaves me feeling quite disconnected, and as if I won’t be connected to anything for some time. Wurzellos. Though I’ve been here since September, I’m starting to feel like a tourist again.

A lot of words for not feeling like writing online.

After weeks of working together, my quiet photography class is opening up. There’s a German man who, twenty years ago, would have liked to have become a photojournalist, couldn’t risk supporting his family on a student’s lack-of-salary, and is finally pursuing his dream, a near-silent Frenchman who takes exquisite photos, and a couple of cheerful highschoolers. I’m enjoying the company, though the shared darkroom space is difficult; I have to wait in line for the developing basins and don’t have nearly as much time as I’d like to work on a shot, getting the tone just right. When my photos are fished out of the fixer, rinsed, and put in the dryer, they always end up scratched, so I try to snag them wet and bring them home, clipped to the handlebars of my bike to dry. It’s a system that seems to work. Still, part of me wishes I were home with my own equipment, losing hours at a time in my brother’s laundry room.

The other day, because the weather was nice, I wore my traditional Chinese brocade jacket to school. It’s covered with dragons and phoenixes, which Freddy, a friend of mine from Western, says bring good luck. Freddy’s blessing made me feel much more comfortable wearing it; though it’s beautiful, I wouldn’t want to appropriate someone else’s traditional costumes if they found my wearing them offensive. I wear it when I’m in a good mood or want to have an especially good day. At home, people usually ask me why I’m so dressed up, though often, I wear it over a pair of jeans. I had a completely different reaction here in Berlin, in my school: I was told I looked like a Japanese girl, asked if I was trying to make a political statement, and had “Konnichiwa” shouted at me in the hallways and in class by students. It made me really uncomfortable. I don’t know very many people who would be comfortable behaving so ignorantly in such a loud, public fashion.

Final thought: I bought my Lonely Planet guide to Berlin before I came here, to get myself excited about living in the city, and I’ve explored many of the sites listed in its pages and dozens beyond that, but I’ve been considering the idea of going on guidebook, and attempting, somewhat systematically, to visit every site listed in the text- not in a rushed, walk in walk out check it off sort of way, but giving each site the time and consideration it merits – and then writing about it here. I thought I might make a list of all of the sites that I haven’t been to, or haven’t explored in the sort of depth I feel they should be, and invite anyone who would like to come along for the adventure to join me. Any takers? The popular opinion among travelers seems to be that guidebooks are limiting and guide you away from what’s really interesting in a city, but I suspect there’s a lot of interesting Berlin to see between and surrounding The Sights, that I wouldn’t make it to otherwise.

Hah! Und Em.

It’s an important part of German culture, yet  I’ve always avoided it. I’ve walked through it, even tried a few things on, but the few things in my wardrobe that come from H&M, paradise of poorly-made, tacky, inexpensive fashion, were either hand-me-downs or dumpster-dives – other people’s cast-offs. I was sure there were reasonable items there; often, when a student of mine would wear something fabulous, and I would ask her where she got it, she’d tell me “H&M,” like it’s obvious. Yet anything I tried on made me look horribly out of proportion, all lumps and dumpy bumps under smooth fabric.  Shopping at H&M is a bit like visiting a thrift store: you sift through rack upon rack and, if you’re lucky, something worthwhile will turn up. If you’re having a really good day, it might even look good on. I haven’t had a whole lot of good H&M days.

I came to Germany with a single suitcase, and have been wearing a cycle of the same clothes all year. I wanted to add a few new t-shirts to the collection, so I stopped in to see what I could find. In the changing room, the mirrors were rigged in such a way that I could see what I looked like from behind and from the front at the same time.

My goodness. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a full-on view of that. It isn’t often one gets the opportunity to evaluate one’s own backside as others do. Not bad at all, really. And my haircut, which I never got the chance to see from the back, is really quite nice.

In conclusion, I need tighter jeans.