How have your experiences/visits – tours of Kreuzberg, Humboldt area, bunker tour, concentration camp, youth museum visit, school visit, the Stasi museum visit, Reichstag tour, Markus Heider's lecture, Rhissa's and Andre's talks, Janka's workshop, our class lectures and discussions & your own personal experiences and observations - so far made you re-think Berlin and/or German identities?
You can either focus on a few of the experiences listed above or talk about them more generally
a) compared to the Spring (before you came)
b) in relation to the historical and architectural landscape of Berlin (as represented by Ladd in his book)
c) in relation to the topics of globalization, borders, migration and the arts (from the Spring seminar)
Small Interview with the German audience from watching the common ground at June 27th:
Before the play began, I introduced myself to them and also talking briefly about my research project. I asked few questions to them due to the limitation of time. From our conversation, they both are college students in Germany studying about the Arts and Media. They are thinking about their projects so that they need to come to different theaters and watch different plays in order to get some inspirations. I asked about why they chose to come to this play. They mentioned that this play is very famous because it received awards from the Theatertreffen and a lot of media wrote about this play.
I couldn’t say that my understanding about German and Berlin identity have been completely reversed since I came here. However, no doubt, there are shifts in my understanding. Like what I talked about before in the application to this study abroad: there is no way to really understand a country without being there in person. Even personal observations might be also very inaccurate or very subjective. It is really hard to give a definition for German and Berlin identities. Before I came to Berlin, stereotype still exist in my mind. German is very strict and conservative. I always worried that they are very sensitive to the Germany history, especially the part about the third empire. From Ladd’s people, we learned about the heaviness of German history and those are illustrated by their culture and architecture. In his book, the existences of a lot of memorials or buildings were quite controversial due to specific historical reasons. Not all the person kept positive attitudes towards those architectures. I was mentally prepared to see a society that is highly ordered and pressured and some certain place might be depressing. However, from my experience here, especially visiting the integrating secondary school, bunker tour and from Rhissa’s and Andere’s experience, my understanding altered.
We visited the integrating secondary school Heinrich-von-Stephan Schule on June 19th. I attended one of their German history classes, learning about the French revolution. The class is much more relaxing and active than I thought. German is well known for their highly order and formality. I imagined that all students will be seated in the classroom quietly and everyone is very concentrated on teacher’s lecture. Instead, the class is very interactive that the teacher only led the discussion of students but give the rights of free talking for students. I can feel that the students are the main roles in this class. Even though the class is very informal and students talked with each other freely, the class still seemed to be very organized implicitly. There is no person are talking about the things that is unrelated to the class and all the students paid a lot of attention to the material they learned. I think at least all the students have a bottom-line about what they should obey.
My experience at bunker tour and concentration camp offer me a different perspective for how German people think about their history. German people are much more open-minded about their history than what I think. They are not avoiding of their history and they are presenting the truth without making up it, even though the truth is full of pain and blood. This is very different from United States and China. Most of the memorials are about the “good” things such as victory for the war. The memorials are for the heroes instead of for the purpose of reminding people of the mistakes they made before. During our trips, I notice there were a lot of schools having required tours to the concentration camps. Some of them are kids and some of them are teenagers. They are learning those memories from a very young age. Also during the visit to bunker, the tour guide mentioned about German’s attitudes toward nationalism. They never mentioned they are German but they always said that they are from Germany. Even though they don’t avoid the history third empire, they still are very sensitive towards it.
Reflection: I left Seattle at June 15th and after eleven hours flight; I finally arrived at Frankfurt at June 16th. In order to connect to the flight to Berlin, I didn’t have time to take a look at the Frankfurt city. The very first impression I have for Germany is Frankfurt airport and so many unknown German words. My flight arrived at Berlin Tegel airport, where has about 40 minutes ride from the hostel we live in. We took public transportation to go to the hostel. When we travel through the city of Berlin, I felt like I already got back to China. The atmosphere is very similar to China. Instead of having a lot of small family houses like U.S, there are a lot of pretty apartments on the roadside. Berlin is more crowded than Seattle. Even the public transportation, the U-Bahn and buses are very alike as the Chinese public transportation. The hostel we lived in is called “Die Fabrik”, which locates in the districted called Kreuzberg. Kreuzberg has a highly multi-cultural background that I can see a large racial diversity in this district. It is also a district full of arts. Street arts is everywhere in Kreuzberg. People used them for every purpose, even as a type of advertisements for the small stores.
On 17th, we headed to the Humboldt Universität and attend the welcome orientation held by the American Studies Department at Humboldt Universität. The professor Martin Klepper in American Studes Department delivered a welcome speech to us, in which he basically explained the development of American Studies and what it is about. During the orientation, we also talked about the research themes and individual research topics. It is really tired at that time because I still didn’t get used to the time difference. After the orientation, we had lunch together and then we were lead by our co-instructor Manuela to explore the neighborhood of Humboldt Universität. We walked along the main road in Berlin, unter den Linden. There are a lot of famous landmarks located along this road, such as Brandenburg Tor, the Dom. During our tour, we also discussed about the city palace. It is hilarious to listen about its history, the history of being destroyed and rebuilt. There are so many controversies inside Berlin city. I will come back to the “Unter den Linden” and make photos about the architectures here.
Next day, under the leading of our German instructor Manuela, we walked through the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. The first stop we had is the watchtower preserved from the cold war era. It is one of the few watchtowers saved from that era and this one is special because it is relatively near the center of the Berlin city. Then we walked along the river Spree and headed towards Treptower park. On the way there, we saw a pool in the river and also some large statues in the river. It is very interesting that we saw how people tried to clean the large statue in the river. Our instructor Manuela also took this change to explain to us some knowledge about fien arts, especially about the choosing right materials for the art work. Treptower park was the very first park that open to public in Berlin. Near the Treptower park, we visited our final destination there, the memorial park for soviet soldiers. I felt very heavy when I stepped in that memorial park. Near the entrance the statue “Mother in Grave” impressed me most. It is hard to really feel about the cruelty of war until you stepped in those memorials, where people forever slept. The cost for war was intolerable and painful.
On Friday, June 19th, we visited Heinrich-von-Stephan Schule in Berlin. This is a good start for us to understand the difference in education system compared with United States and Germany. We had an reading about German educational system, which explained the differences between Gymnasium, Hauptschule and Realschule. After finished the primary school, the students in Germany are ranked by their academic performace so that they enter three different types of secondary school: Gymnasium, Realschule and Hauptschule. Gymnasium is the first ranked secondary school and the worst one ist he Hauptschule. Almost every student who went to a German univerisity came from Gymnasium. Students from Realschule are mostly aiming for vocational college for high-skill training. Unfortunately, students from Hauptschule are left to fill the unskilled labor force, depending on demand. “Students in Hauptschule have no future.” This is one quote from the reading. However, the school we visited is a reformed type of secondary school, which combines both Realschule and Hauptschule. We met with the teachers, social workers and first generation student representatives. In this secondary school, they use large amount of project-learning classes to explore the interests of students. It is very impressive after realizing how much efforts the teachers are putting into this school and those students. They are trying to find the most suitable way for each individual student. In order to experience a class of German secondary school, our classmates and I joined one of their classes. I joined on German history class, which belongs to 12th and 13th year students who are going to graduate or prepare for A-level exam. The class is very informal, relaxing and highly interactive. The teacher was teaching about the history of French revolution. She organized a role-play game to let students represent different parties for French revolution and had a very intensive debate between each other. It is very noticeable that students are very confident about themselves and willing to talk in front of groups. Teacher was not the controller but a coordinator. She assisted the development of the debate rather than control the debate. Students invited each other to talk and the atmosphere is very relaxing. I really appreciated this opportunity to examine the student life in Germany and compared it with U.S system or Chinese system.