BORN TO DIE IN BERLIN

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. 
 

P.S.

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. 
 

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URBAN EXPLORATION: CHAPTER ONE

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... :) 

KETCHUP

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.  

Bad Belzig

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. 

Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung

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. 

Teufelsberg

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. 

NEW PLACES, NEW FACES

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 ;) 

BERLIN BEGINNINGS

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!