I've long claimed Chicago as my favorite American city. Perhaps my grandfather, a born-and-bred South Sider who is able to write extensive maps of any part of the city from memory and has always shown me the most exciting plays and restaurants, engrained this love in me from a young age. It has, in any case, stuck with me through the years, and I had the lovely opportunity to visit last weekend.
St. George is a 28-mile long barrier island off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico which for the last week we called home. The island itself boasts an impressive State Park, where if you're lucky like us you can stumble across an eagle or two, plus a restored lighthouse built originally in 1852, not to mention the wonderful local bars, restaurants, and delicious ice cream.
Two bridges off the island sits a small town named Apalachicola. Along with the local Oyster City Brewing Company, we managed to find one of the rad-est coffee shops in existence, and an open mic night with some new friends in a recently formed band performing. So recently formed in fact, they don't even have a band name yet, but they do have a ridiculously catchy original that's been my Ohrwurm for nearly a week now.
They may not dye an entire river green like Chicago, but Knoxville definitely knows how to celebrate St. Paddy's. As one of many Americans to claim Irish heritage (however small a percentage it may be), I was ecstatic to join my sister for this weekend adventure.
Scruffy City is most known for its music scene and having held the 1982 World's Fair, from which the iconic Sunsphere still stands and is open to the public for an epic view of downtown Knoxville. We managed to do see most of highlights before our friend's concert St. Paddy's evening.
Of course, the hidden agenda behind our little getaway was to see our close childhood friend perform with one of his bands, Jacks River Band. Their funkadelic sound rocked St. Paddy's day for Scruffy City Hall until last call. Be sure to give them a listen and follow them on all the various channels (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, to name a few).
One of many untranslatable Russian words, Wikipedia's explanation for it is as follows: "a philosophy of behavior, or attitude, of a person who ignores possible problems or hassles and, at the same time, expects or hopes for no negative results or consequences. It is an attitude that treats life as unpredictable and holds that the best one can do is count on luck."
Never have I found my life philosophy so well summarized in a single word before, so while I may curse the Russian language for its complicated grammar and impossible pronunciation, here I must actually tip my hat and say a big Спасибо.
So, now onto the actual travel stuff!
Home to the world's first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for a power grid, the city of Obninsk grew outwards from the plant's location and is known today as one of Russia's science-cities. It also has an eternal flame memorial to those who contributed to the efforts of the second world war, and many dachas for families to gather on the weekends for home-grown and home-cooked meals.
Sometimes it's important to turn off whatever news channel you're watching (especially if it's Fox News, in that case please just turn it off altogether) and develop an opinion about a place by visiting and interacting with the people there. Here are some moments I captured while doing just that.
Russia's largest and capital city, Moscow is a strange blend of European facets with the bigness of American metropolitans. Every subway station is as architecturally impressive as historic buildings around the city, the lone photo attached to this post was merely the one closest to our hotel we would take each morning to get to the city center, but there are some you'd mistake for cathedrals. Until you actually visit the cathedrals, that is, and their beauty takes your breath away even more.
If there's one thing I took away from my three weeks in Russia, it's that Russian and American cultures and citizens aren't that different from each other. My hope is that others (political leaders especially) can soon realize the same.
From Russia, with love,
The Queen of the Sabakas
Some of you might have noticed this little guy sneak his way into my travel photos. He was given to me shortly before I embarked on this journey, and has accompanied me to all the places I've visited along the way: Hannover, Berlin, Teufelsberg, Bad Belzig, Paris, Krakow, Salzburg, Reykjavik, Bamberg, Nuremburg, Ferropolis, Vienna, and now, his latest adventure to come, Moscow, where we will be reunited with the same kind and caring man who gave him to me.
It might've looked silly - a 22-year-old woman traveling with a little red Starbucks teddy bear and posing him for pictures at famous and sometimes seemingly random locations, plus the wear-and-tear of nine airplanes, over 20 bus/car/train rides, and three music festivals might be visible if you view the photos chronologically - but it was definitely worth it to look back at all the photos of the #travelingbaristabear. He's got a few more adventures to go before we head back stateside, so this won't be the last you see of him.
So here's to proving Tom Waits wrong (words I never thought I'd write): you can meet nice girls in coffee shops. It just might take a few years for everything to work out the way they were meant to...
Before living here the last half year, I had visited Berlin four times prior, each with the same conclusion as I boarded my train/plane: god, i hate that city.
This was an ignorant conclusion to draw from such short, depthless visits to a city. But after being exposed to the true Berlin - the parts you don't find in any books or travel websites, the parts you only find from breathing the Berlin air and accepting her for who she is (or sometimes in Kyle's case, by asking the nearest Turkish woman where we can find the best Döner) I changed my mind, and ended up loving her and all her quirky corners more than I've ever loved a geographical location before.
Berlin is a city shaped by her history. She has layers upon layers of character because she's had a rough go at it. From her founding during the 13th century to being divided in 1961 by a physical wall and on a deeper level the fundamental disagreement between citizens of the same country, to her return as Germany's capital city in 1991, she has remained steadfast.
She's a city of uniting unlike ideas, of new beginnings, and a place where anyone, no matter their heritage, their language, or what types of clothes they wear, is accepted and celebrated. The citizens of Berlin are einzigartig, each a unicorn with different colors and characteristics, but all sharing some of the same basic humanitarian qualities which unfortunately lack in other metropolitans (I’m looking at you Manhattan and D.C).
So here is my Berlin. Here are the places I will forever hold in my heart, the places where something happened or maybe nothing happened, but for whatever reason they add up to be what I now consider the most exciting and unique city on the planet.
I’ll always be the eingedeutschtes Mädel, but now, ich bin auch ein Berliner.
I wouldn't have been able to experience the fullness of this city without the incredible friends (happy now Mehdi?) from IPS and their endless imagination for new adventures. Some days all I wanted to do was lay in bed, but with them I was able to accomplish so much more and rekindle my love for photography. I don't know how they put up with my annoying paparazzi self for five whole months, but I hope we can keep our friendships regardless of time or distance. Fühl euch ganz doll von mir gedrückt und weiß, dass ihr immer in meinem Herzen sein werden.
For our group's visit to one of the five German political foundations, we ended up at the Hans-Seidel Stiftung in Bavaria. The Hans-Seidel Stiftung is associated with the Christian Social Union, a political party which exists only in Bavaria and is considered the sister party to the largest political party in Germany, the Christian Democratic Union. Their conference center also happens to be a former Benedictine monastery, with a bowling alley and pool and sauna, so that's where we stayed for our four-day trip.
We also had the opportunity to take a day-trip to Nuremburg and learn the history of the city and the Bavarian state as a whole. And, of course, eat some awesome traditional Bavarian food.
Often called the Venice of Germany, Bamberg was another stop on our tour of Bavarian history. But the most interesting thing we visited here is actually only a few years old... (more to come in the next set of images).
The Aufnahmeeinrichtung Oberfranken is a former U.S. military base now being used to house over 1,000 asylum seekers as they await their final placements. On site they have access to a school, healthcare, housing, and a cafeteria, with the average stay for an asylum seeking being around three months. Schooling can be a challenge due to the multiple languages spoken by the children, and while they make an effort to teach in German, they sometimes need to switch to English, or even just acting things out to break the language barrier. It is incredible to see this kind of work up close and honestly these pictures cannot do it justice.
Urban exploration has always been something I wanted to do, so when one of the other program participants suggested we check out the abandoned Iraqi embassy for a day, I jumped right on board.
The embassy served the former East German government and closed down in January 1991. Since then, it's stood empty. Up until a few years ago, documents and furniture remained scattered about, but unfortunately when we visited this had all been tidied and the doors and windows boarded up. We still managed to enter the building, however, and tried to imagine for ourselves how it must have once been (even though with the windows being boarded up, the only light we had came from holding our iPhones a few feet in front of our faces and hoping we didn't trip over anything).
I've titled this chapter one because I am hoping we will explore more before leaving Berlin, and that I can continue when I return to Atlanta in September... :)
The chance to visit Reykjavik, or Iceland in general really, was never one that had ever crossed my mind. But now after experiencing it for a mere four days, I cannot wait to return and explore its beauty in more depth. Even the 7°C temperature became enjoyable with the friendly Icelandic folk and never-setting sun (which as a self-proclaimed moon child is hard for me to admit).
Secret Solstice Festival
The festival coincides with the Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon which occurs in certain parts of the world during the summer months when the sun remains visible at the local midnight, and closer to the summer solstice on June 21, for nearly all 24 hours of the day. Paired with the breathtaking Icelandic landscapes, and a diverse line-up of international hip-hop, electronic and indie bands, Secret Solstice has been called “one of the most unique events in the world”.
These photos were also published as part of a photo-review on KALTBLUT Magazine.
The biggest night of IPS: the annual Empfang. Each country has the opportunity to present themselves to over 800 guests including Members of the Bundestag, IPS alumni, and other government officials, through traditional food, beverages, and even some clothing at their own Ländertisch. Basically, IPS takeover in Paul-Lobe-Haus.
Danke, Спасибо, faleminderit, merci, ευχαριστώ, Paldies, Благодаря, Dziękuję, köszönöm, شكرا, Hvala vam, Хвала вам... truly, just thank you everyone from IPS for sharing your culture and for an all around extraordinary evening.
A strange amalgamation of all the things we've undertaken in Berlin thus far, because despite what my blog implies, I do actually spend a lot of time in this wondrous city. And I must admit, Berlin has stolen my heart, with it's vibrant flea markets, international music scene, and, of course, the party tunnel.
Part of the IPS program includes taking a trip to our representative's Wahlkreis (electoral district). For me, that meant flying to Salzburg. While not actually part of my representative's Wahlkreis (obviously, since it's in Austria), it was closer than flying into Munich – that's how deep into the south of Germany this town is.
At first I dreaded hearing the local dialect Bayerisch for an entire week, purely out of fear of not understanding it. Grüß Gott, ein bissl, Semmel... it truly is almost an entirely different language, and it's such an odd feeling not being able to automatically understand someone in German, because it's been that way for me nearly five years now. But luckily my coworkers were understanding and helpful and made an effort to teach me or speak in Hochdeutsch as much as possible, and the landscape definitely helped calm my fears...
Part of the Wahlkreis also includes the Chiemsee, with the Herrninsel and Fraueninsel. On the Herrninsel King Ludwig II began building a palace in 1878, but construction never finished as the lovely king went bankrupt. The parts that were completed, though, are breathtaking, but sadly not permitted to photography during the tour.
Hanging out in the birthplace of Mozart. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
Over 1,100km driven.
309 songs on a (rather dope) Spotify playlist.
10 international kids.
4 vacation days.
2 rented cars.
1 awesome adventure to Krakow, Poland.
Vincent Van Gogh said, "The French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good," so it seemed like the appropriate weekend getaway after my first official week as a Bundestag intern. Plus, it was an excuse to cause chaos in a new city with my awesome roommate from last summer who's completing her master's in Paris!
Since it was my first time ever in la Ville Lumière, she had quite the challenge fitting in all the Sehenwürdigkeiten, but after walking 12.6 miles on Saturday and another 6.3 on Sunday, we managed to see (almost) everything on her list.
The atmosphere of Paris and Berlin are polar opposites, although I must admit, I quite enjoyed the Parisian lifestyle, their gorgeous architecture, and, of course, the crepes (not pictured here ;D).
I've taken so many photos thus far into the program, the other participants have started calling me "paparazzi" .... which actually fits, so es gefällt mir eig.
But, really: so. many. photos. I don't even know where to begin. Trying to do this in the most efficient way possible (because, Deutschland), this is just going to be a total ketchup post, with a few of the best moments from each of our adventures the past two weeks, and ein bisschen background knowledge as well.
Since a major function of this program is pushing us out of our comfort zones and teaching us to interact with people of various cultural and political backgrounds, we took part in a four-day intercultural communication and conflict resolution workshop... which happened to be held in a 1,000-year old castle-turned hotel in a town called Bad Belzig.
Germany has six political Stiftungen (foundations), which each align to one of the parties in the German Parliament. Our group attended a three-day seminar at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, the foundation affiliated with the Left party, and discussed the importance of Erinnerungskultur (culture of remembrance).
To bolster our discussions, we visited the Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz, where members of the Nazi party met and came to the decision to begin using gas chambers at concentration camps, the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park, which honors the Soviet soldiers of the Battle of Berlin, and the East Side Gallery, one of the largest open air galleries and freedom memorials in the world.
A man-made hill and former NSA listening tower, Teufelsberg is possibly my favorite place we've visited thus far. Graffiti covers nearly every inch of the abandoned buildings, and you'll find random chairs and bathtubs perfect for chilling just about everywhere, plus if you can brave the five flights of light-less stairs, the view and acoustics from the top radome are astounding. Also, the name literally translates to "devil's mountain." Fitting, I'd say.
In the last week I've celebrated International Women's Day, visited the second in our Berlin flea market list, toured the Bundesrat and Bundestag Library, and eaten five falafel im Brots. But I can honestly say my favorite adventure has been learning the names and home countries of my 112 new colleagues.
Everyone thus far has been kind and eager to share stories about their culture and even teach me their language, and though trying to remember a few phrases of six+ languages while also trying to study Russian has proved challenging, I have some pretty wonderful Albanien insults up my sleeve.
Taking photos of them is has pretty much become my way of studying names, and all these new places and new faces are reigniting my love for portrait photography. Soon enough, though, there will be some concert photography mixed back in here ;)
Today marks two weeks since I've returned the land of beer and bratwurst, and almost one week ago I arrived in die Hauptstadt! So far my days have been anything but ordinary, ranging from hanging out with my host sister at her job as a physical therapist, wandering around Kreuzberg with new international friends, and of course yesterday's adventure at the Bundestag where all 112 International Parliament Scholarship recipients came together for the first time.
My Nikon D3S (Dee Dee, as I call her) has been helping me capture some of these adventures as well. Here are just a few of the moments so far...
I can't wait to discover more of this amazing city, which has such an impactful history and prominent music scene. Plus, getting to know some truly incredible people and cultures from 36 different countries is going to be rad!
Two of my favorite ladies to photograph. Check them out on Instagram, @bluechick1212 and @chelbaby34.