Intercultural Comparative Experience: Berlin
Summer just got even better for 2014’s summer participants! Students get a lot from traveling to countries outside of their study center, but sometimes a deeper look at that culture is lacking. With the Intercultural Comparative Experience CIEE is organizing for the very first time unique weekend trips abroad. In Europe, students have a chance during each session to go to Berlin, London, Barcelona, or Paris. Built in is a cultural training which aims to heighten students’awareness of cultural differences. This new aspect of our summer programs is an added benefit for our students and a way for us to promote CIEE’s mission.
Here is an account of Berlin from a CIEE staff perspective:
We boarded the bus for Berlin with 31 CIEE Prague students shortly before 8am. Since Berlin is practically our neighbor, many of us from the staff were happy to return: Jana (Center Director), Klára (Student Services Assistant), and Amanda (Summer Programs Coordinator) go to Berlin regularly; Roman (Housing Assistant) and Eva (CES Resident Director) were first timers. The ride was not so long, so we arrived to Berlin shortly after noon. We were greeted by CIEE Berlin staff at the centrally located hostel in Mitte, just steps away from the New Synagogue and Alexanderplatz.
After checking into our rooms, we met with all of the students from other CIEE study centers and CIEE staff for a short orientation. There was some woohooing as different study center groups were asked to “introduce themselves”. Later students remarked that this mixing of students from other study centers was one of the highlights of their weekend. After an enlightening speech about the dichotomies of Berlin life and history from Benjamin Lorch, Center Director of CIEE Berlin, we were broken up into small, manageable groups. My group had 9 students (light green group represent!) all from different study centers: Palma Mallorca, Istanbul, and Amsterdam. We headed out into the streets of Berlin and over to the U-Bahn.
Our first task was to acquaint ourselves with the city: not just in an orientation and sightseeing sense, but from a historical perspective as well. We did this through a city tour. Our guide was an energetic girl from Dresden named Franziska. She started us out in front of Brandenburger Tor; made us get lost in the imposing Jewish Memorial and then made us reflect on it; we took a look at a parking lot – not just any parking lot – but one where Hitler had his bunker and then committed suicide; we saw a piece of the Berlin Wall and were told a heart wrenching story about Franziska’s aunt who had to decide whether to stay in the West or go back home to the East on the day the wall went up. We learned a lot. Even if it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Afterwards we had a traditional German dinner at a non-traditional restaurant: Umspannwerk Ost, a former electrical transformer station built in 1900. Afterwards, students (and staffJ) had free time; the majority sought out a tv to watch the World Cup.
On Saturday, my group started its day in the interesting neighborhood of Kreuzberg. We were taken around for a community engagement activity, seeing various sustainable and grassroots projects that had took root in this mostly working class, largely Turkish neighborhood. The highlight for me was visiting Prinzessinnen Garden, a large community-run garden in the heart of the district.
After this activity, we headed back to Mitte for lunch, to peruse Checkpoint Charlie, and finally over to the Topography of Terror. Located on the former site of the Nazi SS headquarters, this museum also boarders a remaining section of the Berlin Wall and is a powerful reminder of horrors of the 12 years of fascist Nazi rule. Students were given free time after this; many of them needed a breather especially after the Topography of Terror.
We met up again for dinner at the hostel and then later in the evening for an amazing acrobatic performance, Flip, at the impressive Chameleon Theater.
Sunday was a free day. A lot of students ventured to the weekly flea market at Mauer Park, to the East Side Gallery, and to the Reichstag. All and all, we had a chance to see the many faces of Berlin: hip and posh, old and new, weird and cool.