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... :) 

COMING TOGETHER

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. 

BISSL BAYERISCH

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... 

Traunstein

Chiemsee

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.  

Salzburg

Hanging out in the birthplace of Mozart. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. 

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.