Fall in Berlin

by Amy Chang, FCLC ’21

Hallo! (I know, my German skills have soared since I got here..)

As an International Studies major and a German Studies major, I’ve always thought that Berlin was the natural choice of city for my year-long study abroad plan, and after more than two months here, I can say definitively that I’m glad I came here. 

First, the basics: I’m studying with a program at Freie Universität, which is one of the largest public research institutions in Berlin. The program this semester is about 160 people large and consists primarily of American students who want to study political science and the humanities from a European perspective. I am enrolled in Intensive German, which means 3 hours of German language instruction every morning from Monday to Thursday. I am also taking 3 subject courses: Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations, Migration Dynamics and Controversies in Berlin and Europe, and Contemporary Germany from a European Perspective. 

I’m currently living in a studio in a student apartment located an hour away from the FU satellite campus where our program’s classes are held, which means I get to use three forms of public transport to get to class every morning. (Thankfully, the public transport here is practically utopia compared to the MTA – no ticket barriers, clean seats and timely trains a slightly less grumpy commuter make!) Per the tradition of German universities, all students here are commuter students, as there are no residential halls on campus as in U.S. colleges and universities. 

As far as European capital cities go, Berlin is by far one of the most affordable and historically engaging places to be. When I’m not stuffing my face with doner kebab and currywurst, I’m exploring one of the many museums and memorials the city has to offer. I was especially excited to learn that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th. In between writing my term papers that comment on this very event, I’ll have the opportunity to witness a momentous landmark in European history, and it will be a blast to hop around the various festivals in the city this weekend. 

My program, FU-BEST, has played no small part in providing us with a myriad of unique experiences in Berlin. I (or half of my face) had a brief moment of fame when our German class went as audience members to the central studio of ZDF, one of the largest public news stations on German TV, for their morning news segment. Another remarkable experience through FU-BEST was our recent visit to the Foreign Ministry, which involved a lecture and Q&A session on current transatlantic relations from the former German ambassador to Washington D.C., Klaus Scharioth (2006 to 2011). The lecture was exclusively for students in our program, because the professor for my Themes and Issues in Transatlantic Relations course worked as a diplomat in the foreign service with Dr. Scharioth, who has been his friend for more than 30 years. Later that day, we took a private tour of the Bundeskanzleramt (Chancellor’s Office) for a “behind the scenes” look into Angela Merkel’s office and daily duties, where the original handwritten notes for JFK’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech are on exhibit. 

My German listening skills have certainly improved since my arrival in August, but speaking has proven more of a challenge, as the majority of Berliners can speak English better than I can speak German and often switch to English after hearing me stumble through basic sentences. In my studies, I am continually impressed by the ability of German nouns to span nearly the width of a sheet of printer paper; one of my new favorites is “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” which is a uniquely German term that means “coming to terms with the past:” namely, Nazi war crimes in the 20th century. It has been fascinating to contrast the American attitude towards patriotism with the ambivalent feelings of Germans on the subject; you can find American flags on the lawns and porches of every block in the suburban U.S., while most Germans pale at the thought of waving their flag, which usually only appears atop federal buildings.

I could go on for ages, but as the semester draws to a close in four weeks, I’m sure I’ll have a wealth of new experiences and insights to share for the next blog post. Until then, tschüss!