The Arts in Berlin: An Attempt to Scratch the Surface

One blog post simply cannot even come close to describing the art scene here in Berlin. Berlin has tons of museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, classical events, performances, street art, concerts, special exhibitions … the list is literally endless. To cover and to see it all would be impossible no matter how long someone stays in Berlin, mostly due to the fact that this scene is always changing, always evolving. With this blog I will briefly discuss three events and how they relate to my personal experience with what I have seen in here so far in relation to the arts.

The Berlinale logo and I

The Berlinale logo and I

Action on the Red Carpet

Action on the Red Carpet

Firstly, this past week was the start of the famous Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. Like TIFF, Toronto’s International Film Festival, the Berlinale is one of the world’s leading film festivals in the world. Yesterday I went to see the action live on the Red Carpet with a really good friend of mine who is from Poland. I never saw such a spectacle in real life; usually just on TV back home. To actually see the actors and directors roll up in fancy cars all dressed up was quite the experience. It took place at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, one of the most important and major intersection hubs within the city of Berlin. This week we plan to get tickets and see the screening of one of the films. I am really looking forward to seeing further what a film festival is all about! I have never done such a thing before.

Stars rolling up

Stars rolling up

Next. Musical street performers … they are all over the city. From performing live at open-air markets on the weekend, to simply on the side of the street, to playing in parks, to dancing within the subway stations, to even strolling through the public trains, changing cars as they go along- they are everywhere. What is amazing about such performances in Berlin, is the diversity of what they do. I have seen solo singers perform wonderful works. There have been bands ranging from three to about eight members. Those who are really talented, make a LOT of money. I saw once a guitar case filled with what must have easily been at least 300 Euros.

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

There are guitarists, musicians who play every type of brass instrument you can think of, harmonica players, drummers, pianists, and even some foreign instruments which I have never seen before in my life. In particular, I enjoy how they mix genres and try to create new, funky sounds. It is hard to describe with mere words, but these street performers create new alternative music which is edgy and always exciting. One must simply hear it with their own ears. Most of these performers look well off, as if they do it often for money or just for fun because it’s what they love to do. Yet some, I can tell, are less fortunate, and it’s all they’ve got. Quite a few homeless people trying to make ends meet, performing what they can.

Unique music in Berlin's Mitte district

Unique music in Berlin’s Mitte district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

Interesting instrument

Interesting instrument

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

Finally, I would like to share my experience I had one night at the very famous Berliner Philharmonie. It is a concert hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The building itself is known for its amazing acoustics and its distinct architecture. I was blown away by the interior of the concert hall!  It holds a few thousand people and it looks breathtaking. The orchestra played very well and there was a famous female violinist who had a few solo performances too. One portion of the entire show included a massive organ that was super loud- I felt pretty rattled afterwards. I am normally not exposed to classical music, so this entire evening for me was a new experience and I enjoyed it. I definitely plan to see more such events in the future while I am still in Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

Studentenwerk Berlin

studentenwerk_berlin

I will dedicate this blog to educating my readers about the Studentenwerk Berlin (in German, Studentenwerk can be translated into something like “student services”). This is a large organization that operates with all the major universities in Berlin, such as the Humboldt University, the Free University and the Technical University.

The Studentenwerk Berlin provides different services to all its students. They cover student health insurance. They offer psychological counseling for students who need help. Those students seeking accommodation can apply specifically for a student dorm. Assistance is provided for students with children or those who have learning or working barriers. The Studentenwerk can help students find jobs, serving as a link between possible employers and students. There is also help for those international students who are dealing with language barriers.

It was actually through the Studentenwerk that I was able to secure my accommodations during the duration of my studies. When I applied for this exchange, I received messages from them asking if I would like to stay in a student hall of residence. I did not want the extra trouble and stress of trying to find my own apartment before arriving here so I let them do it for me. The accommodations within the Studentenwerk are mostly old buildings which were renovated into student dorms and most of the students who occupy them are international students from all over the world. There are about a dozen and they can be found spread throughout the city. There are different styles of flats, such as a WG (WG or Wohngemeinschaft in German means “flat share” in English) and single room apartments.

I live in a student WG with two other students. We have become good friends and I like it this way, as it enables me to have daily contact with fellow students. Nasr, one of my roommates, comes from Yemen and we communicate in German. Georgy is the other and he is an Australian native. We hang out quite often together and sometimes cook together. We live in a former East German-style apartment building. It is bare bones, but it serves its purpose and I could not be happier with my situation. There is a bathroom, a common kitchen, and we each have our own bedrooms. We have a student pub in the basement which is opened on the weekends and there is even a small gym which I frequently visit. It is not in the middle of the city, but for what I am paying (190 Euros per month) in comparison to other students I know, what I have is great.

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Another service that the Studentenwerk Berlin operates is the Mensa (German word for university cafeteria). There are Mensas located all over the city close to the universities. A Mensa is provided to serve extremely cheap meals and snacks to all students and staff members. The food is pretty good and I can fill myself to the max with only 3 Euros. Little kiosks and mini-cafes are also located around campus and in some libraries for example where small foods and drinks can be purchased. Everything is paid electronically through a Mensa Card. It is kind of like the T-Card that we use back home. Students must load money onto their card at certain machines and then they can pay for their goods. Library services such as photocopying and printing are used with the Mensa Card as well, so it is very convenient.

My Mensa Card

My Mensa Card

Well, I have been checking the weather back home in Toronto and it looks quite cold lately. We finally had snow fall here and the temperature has dropped a bit, but I can’t complain. Wish me luck for the next two weeks- I got essays, presentations and tests that I need to write before the end of the first semester!

Prost!

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

Simple, but does the job

Simple, but it does the job

 

Of mornings, classes, and sports

Paris

Notre Dame

The semester officially started for me on a dark and chilly Monday when I struggled to get out of bed at 6am. For the first time in my entire schooling career, I have not one, but two classes at 8am in the morning. At this time of the year, the sun rises in Paris at around 8:30am. I walked to Sciences Po along curiously silent streets, accompanied by rows of darkened storefronts. Above ground, Paris is quiet. There are far less cars on the streets than in Toronto at the same time. And there seemed to be a silent solidarity of misery amongst the few darkly dressed pedestrians that I encountered.

I am pleased to announce that my 8am classes are interesting, although one of them requires getting up early on Saturday for supplemental field trips. However, when a professor offers to take the whole class on a walking tour of Paris to get to know the city better, one simply does not refuse.

The first week of second semester, in many ways, is similar to the one I experienced back in September. And I have neglected to blog about one of the features of this opening week. Sciences Po offers a variety of sports classes, ranging from the conventional tennis, volleyball, and dance classes to martial arts, fencing, and a few slightly less common fields such as polo and pétanque. During the first week of each semester, all sports classes are open for trial. Students can attend as many classes as they desire with absolutely no restrictions or fees. But, if you want to take a sports class for the rest of the semester, you would have to pay additional fees. And though students do not receive any actual grades, missing more than two classes will still result in a “fail” on your transcript.

All of these classes happen outside of Sciences Po, in various facilities throughout the city that host regular classes of their respective sports. This allows you to explore a new part of the city, but it does create inefficiencies. How many people would actually take the metro for 50 minutes just to get to an one hour skating class?

I tried out a class on canne de combat, which is a type of martial arts originated in France around the 19th Century when the bourgeoisie sought to defend themselves from the less savoury elements of the city with their walking canes. As a class for the totally lost, fumbling beginners, it was surprisingly fun. Sadly, as I have only attended one class, I cannot offer any observations of how canne de combat reflect the national psyche and cultural identity of France, or even of Paris. Perhaps at the end of this semester, I will be able to provide a more insightful reflection.

Until next time!

A New Year, A New Experience to be had

Welcome back everyone to 2014 and Happy New Year!

For the Christmas break, I made the journey back to my hometown of Toronto. It was weird to land at Pearson Airport, as it felt like I had just left for Brelin back in August- time flies way too fast when you are studying abroad! But I have to say, it felt welcoming and good to be back on Canadian soil.

I spent a lot of quality time with family, relatives, friends….. and the cold weather. It was one crazy ice storm we all experienced this year. I arrived just in time for no power and life-by-candle light for a few days. Yet after my two and a half weeks back home, I had to say that I already started to think about returning and looking forward to getting back into the learning routine.

To compare climates, the weather in Germany is currently very mild for this time of year. The German people I have spoken to all say it is abnormal. Usually around this time, the weather is around -10/15⁰C with some snow on the ground. Yet this year (to my luck), there has been no such weather. The daily average is about 5⁰C and the grounds are dry. Everyone over here just wishes for it to snow. For me, I like it just the way it is! I’ve always had my fill of cold winters back in Canada.

I only arrived last week in Berlin and not much has happened since. One of the sights I always wanted to visit was the Berlin Wall and to experience its history first hand. So my Berlin Perspectives class (the program is described in a previous blog) met last weekend and checked out the wall.

As most of you probably already know, the Berlin Wall was constructed by the East German socialist government to prevent its citizens from escaping into West Berlin. It was built in 1961 and lasted a few decades until its fall in 1989. There were many escape attempts and many people died trying to make it to the other side. The majority of the wall has been removed since its collapse, but there are still some pieces still standing today.

One part is called the East Side Gallery. This is the longest still-standing stretch of the former Berlin Wall. In 1990, artists from around the world painted murals to depict themes of the Cold War. It stretches 1.3 km and it really is a wonder to visit. There are murals of Berlin related themes, political messages, messages of freedom, violence and oppression for example. Anyone who plans to visit Berlin MUST pay a visit to the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

There is another part of the wall which is located at the other end of the city. Here the grey, dull wall is not displayed as a beautiful piece of artwork. Instead, it replicates how the wall used to be when it was in operation. Guard towers are left erected, the “death strip” is still replicated, there are barbed wire and signal fences, there are anti-vehicle traps, patrol roads, and so on. Visitors are able to walk this part of the wall and learn along the way at information points all about its history and the brutal ways in which it kept citizens imprisoned within East Germany.

I hope that the studies are going well for those of you who are just starting the second semester. As I mentioned before, I am still in the winter semester for another month. I am starting to feel the pressure of final papers and assignments that are due soon. I will be of course exploring more of Berlin the next weeks and I will keep you all updated with my experiences. Until next time!

View from an observation platform overlooking the "death strip" section

View from an observation platform overlooking the “death strip” section

A new year, a new adventure

Happy 2014, and a wonderful new semester to all U of T students! I offer my condolences for the deep freeze that seems to have gripped Eastern Canada. We’ve noticed here in France! In a true display of schadenfreude, everyone has been asking recently me how cold it is in Toronto.

Since there were no blog posts over the winter holiday, I’ll give an update on how I spent my Christmas and New Years. December was pretty much a month of travel once exams were done. Besides London, and Milan (which I blogged about in my last post), I visited the famous Christmas markets at Strasbourg.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spent Christmas eve in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt – Christmas Eve at Romer Square to hear the bell toll with hundreds of Germans

Frankfurt

Frankfurt – I also had my first taste of the hearty German portion. I don’t think I have ever seen this much food served for one meal before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas day in Heidelberg.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg – It was raining for the whole day I was there, but it was still an amazing trip.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg – the view of the town from Heidelberg Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last four days of 2013 in Berlin.

Berlin

Berlin – I have so many photos of Berlin I wasn’t sure how to even choose. So, have a photo of my favourite group of museums on Museum Island. The Neues Museum with the beautiful Nefertiti, and the Pergamon Museum. The Old National Gallery was unfortunately closed on the day of my visit.

Berlin

Berlin – the Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt was still going strong past Christmas. This is probably the best Christmas market I have been to (even compared with those in Strasbourg and Frankfurt), with the most interesting and diverse stalls and lively but orderly atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And back in Paris just in time for New Year’s eve.

One disappointment in the amazing last 11 days of 2013 was the lack of official fireworks in Paris to herald the arrival of 2014. The light show at the Eiffel Tower was amazing (and I have heard good things about the one at Champs Elysées as well), but there is something to be missed about the noise and fanfare of city-wide fireworks.

—–

The new semester at Sciences Po starts on January 20th, but our course enrolment was today. I have written about course enrolment before, but it just goes to show that one can never be completely prepared with student exchanges. At 2pm Paris time, one hour before the official registration starts, the Sciences Po website crashes (the consensus seems to point to overcapacity from too many people trying to log in at once). Panicked posts start appearing on the Sciences Po exchange group on Facebook. The general level of hysteria among exchange students rises as Sciences Po administration admits that they have no idea when the website will be back up.

3pm, the time of course registration, comes and passes with the website down to all. Now there are posts from students who are waiting in airports, with flights in an hour, frantically looking for alternate options. While I track the general going-ons on social media, I have been refreshing the course enrolment page constantly, because the website can be fixed at any time, and all the courses would be fair-game. I was rewarded for my perseverance when at 3:11pm, the website loads for me, and I immediately went in and enrolled in courses. Woe be the students who decided to take a break and came back to discover most of the courses were full.

To be honest, besides the anxiety caused by the malfunctioning website, course enrolment seems to be a lot smoother for most students in the second semester. There was no posts from students who weren’t able to enrol in even one course. And Sciences Po administration seems to have learned from the pitfalls of last semester and blocked off some seats for each class, and released some after every few hours so students who were late still have some courses from which to choose. Now, if UofT professors would kindly reply to my emails about pre-approving courses, that would be great.

All said, I am incredibly excited about the start of the second half of my exchange in Paris. I’ll try to do the blog, and the city justice. Until next time!

Hamburg

Last weekend I went on a trip to the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg. It was a trip hosted by the international club at the Humboldt University. It was a great group trip for a mere 80 Euros. I received transportation to and from Hamburg, two nights residency in a hostel, a walking tour, a boat cruise, entrance to two museums and a weekend pass to use the public transit system. Hamburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in Germany, definitely worth a visit.

One of numerous water passages

One of numerous water passages

View from our hostel overlooking the port

View from our hostel overlooking the port

The first part of the itinerary once we arrived was a walking tour through the Innenstadt (the German word for “downtown” or “city centre”). We learned all about its history. Hamburg is a major port city located on the Elbe River and it is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. What is interesting about Hamburg is that it is a city-state, like Berlin. That means that it is both a city itself as well as a Bundesland (“state” or “province” in English). So imagine the City of Toronto held the same standing as Ontario – that is what it is like.

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

Two museums were included within the trip. The first one was the International Maritimes Museum. It was approximately 10 stories of pure fascination about all types of naval interests. There were artifacts, models, scene recreations, an art gallery, naval warfare displays, uniforms … I simply cannot begin to describe all the attractions this museum contained. It was simply amazing. The other museum we visited was the Hamburger Kunsthalle, which is the city’s art gallery. We had a guided tour and I learned a lot about the different genres and types of art. But the downside for both museum visits was the amount of time we had. Only one hour was given respectively to each museum, as our daily programme was packed with events. I could have spent a few hours in each of the museums alone, especially the Maritime one.

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hamburger Kunsthalle

The nightlife in Hamburg is one of the defining features of the city. The most famous area is called the Reeperbahn. This street is lined with restaurants, nightclubs and bars. The action is not only on the main street, but the neighboring streets in the vicinity as well. The Reeperbahn is also the largest red light district in Germany. At all hours of the night the street was crowded with people, partying the entire time. It seemed like the energy just never left the area.

One morning we did a boat cruise along the Elbe River and through the harbour itself. This allowed us to get a great water-level perspective of the daily operations of the port and the sheer scale of its size. We saw everything from the endless rows of massive cranes used to unload the freight ships to the docks where repairs are made to all types of vessels. The amount of logistics behind such naval operations is mind blowing.

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

IMG_3480

Not only was the sight-seeing experience great. The best part is that I met a lot of really cool students along the way. We got to know each other pretty well and we will stay in contact for sure during the rest of our studies in Berlin.

One thing is for sure: the next trip that the international club offers next semester, whatever destination may be, I will take part in again for sure!

The Rathaus (city hall)

The Rathaus (city hall)

Inside the Rathaus

Inside the Rathaus

 

Berlin Perspectives

With this blog, I would like to share more about my school life here in Berlin.

The Humboldt University is a massive institution located in the heart of Berlin. There are different campuses across the city, but the main one is in the city centre. There are 11 faculties into which the university is divided. There are about 30,000 students enrolled, with about 4,500 being international students. They have departments for every sort of administration and university-related issue you could think of, such as an international office, kind of like our Centre for International Experience.

One program the international students are offered here is called Berlin Perspectives. It is very unique and involves different aspects. The courses are taught in English in the area of history/politics/social sciences and literature/urban/culture studies. They are aimed at those students who feel their German is not yet good enough to be taking the normal courses offered, which are of course all in German. I myself do fine in full-German lectures, but the courses offered here and the entire program in general just seemed so interesting to me.

Beautiful view from one of my classes

Beautiful view from one of my classes.

Along with these special courses, there are two other aspects which Berlin Perspectives involves. Every student first must take a language course at the Language Centre. This course, which usually entails a fee, is given to us for free. These obligatory language courses are 4 hours per week and it really encourages us to improve on our German skills. A very good incentive.

The other aspect is a mentoring program. We are all paired up in groups with a senior mentor. With our mentor, there are different objectives meant to be completed. For example, we met early on in the semester in the main library with the sole purpose of learning how the system works. From getting internet on our laptops, to logging onto the school computers, to finding books, to taking out books, to using the printers, to checking university email. Such a lesson proved so useful for me and it helped me get a good start to the year. Another topic we covered was how to give presentations in a German-university setting. We went over what the professors look for and some tips that would prove handy. We still need to do two cultural events with our mentor. I think we will go to a classical concert and then to a museum. I am looking forward to it.

The courses offered are Berlin-specific, which is great, since we all live here. Many of the courses incorporate excursions to different parts of the city, which allows us to gain a first-hand experience of what we learned in class. For example, so far I have been to a former East German prison, four museums, a monument, and a district in Berlin. I am seeing parts of this amazing city that I normally never would have been to on my own.

Classic street car I found roaming the streets in East Berlin

Classic street car I found while roaming the streets in East Berlin.

All I can say, is that if any international student is considering studying in Berlin and at the Humboldt University, this Berlin Perspectives program is golden! Even if you just take one of the offered courses, the mentoring program and free language course is included. Plus it is an amazing way to meet English-speaking students who come from all over the world.

This weekend I will be heading off to Hamburg, Germany’s second biggest city. I am sure there will much to share with my next blog!

Sojourns to Spain

Reading break travelling is a widespread phenomenon at Sciences Po. Though I usually spend that week catching up on readings back in Toronto, it is almost a pathological need in Paris to visit the half dozen countries on my travel list. Spain seems as good a destination as any. A word of advice, the few days you leave before or after the trip for ‘studying’? They won’t be very productive days.

An hour and a half flight gets you from Paris to Barcelona.

La Rambla - Barcelona

La Rambla – Barcelona

Stepping off the plane, I was hit with the most pleasant humid warmth. Even at midnight, Barcelona was about 22 degrees Celsius. It was a much welcomed change from Paris’ perpetual rain and chill. Contrary to what I had first believed, Paris is not a very sunny city. Rain is a very familiar companion now that the weather has cooled.

Stumbled upon a Saint’s festival celebration at Placa de Sant Jaume – Barcelona

 

The three cities I visited: Barcelona, Seville and Madrid were exceedingly lovely. The food was amazing. I have never had that much delicious food for such a relatively (relative to Paris at least) inexpensive price. I went to a sangria and paella-making class that gave us unlimited sangria and fresh made-on-the-spot paella taught by a chef all for 20 euros. I would recommend this to anyone who visits Barcelona. The street performances, in Madrid especially, can be somewhat bewildering. I have seen men with faux baby bodies making cat noises, but I have also heard truly talented operatic singers performing along Calle Mayor. The architecture, without a doubt, is beautiful. From La Sagrada Familia to Plaza de Espana, Spain is a feast for the eyes and the camera lens.

The awe-inspiring Plaza de Espana - Seville

The awe-inspiring Plaza de Espana – Seville

Alcazar

Seville is beautiful, but a large portion of the population simply did not speak English or French…- Alcazar, Seville

If I could redo this trip, I would try to learn more Spanish (a language with which I had no previous knowledge). French won’t get you very far in Spain, even if Catalan seems to be a mix of French and Spanish to me. Success with English also varies depending on your location. I had thought to learn the few greetings and gratitudes in Spanish, but it is never ideal not to be able to communicate with the locals properly. I was unprepared when I found myself lost at the Seville train station at night, not seeing the promised shuttle to the hostel and unable to ask for directions from the train station help desk. After half an hour of hand gestures and a few completely made-up words that sounded vaguely Spanish, I decided to bite the cost of roaming charges and called for help with my phone.

Gran Via

Walking down Gran Via – Madrid

Madrid also saw my biggest tactical error: not checking the weather of the city beforehand. I had assumed that Madrid, due to its southern location, would be considerably warmer than Paris (think Barcelona). And consequently, packed only short-sleeves with a very light jacket. Big mistake! I spent my stay in Madrid doing some desperate shopping for warm clothes.

Despite the few downs, I loved my time in Spain. It was definitely well worth the sleepless nights spent studying for midterms the week after. I am of the belief that people should shape their exchange experience in any way they desire, but please keep in mind the opportunity to travel. An hour flight from Paris will take you to at least 6 different countries. The same cannot be said for Toronto. Wherever you go for your exchange, maximize your experience. Don’t hesitate to fly out and travel.

Everyone Wants to Study in Berlin

A different way home from class one day. Left: German Cathedral. Middle: Concert House. Right: French Cathedral

A different way home from class one day. Left: German Cathedral. Middle: Concert House. Right: French Cathedral

So yesterday I went to get my study visa. What a long day is all I can say. For students studying in Germany, within 3 months of their arrival, they must go the Ausländer-Behörde (foreigner’s office) and apply for a study visa. To book an appointment online would be useless, as the waiting times are backed up until January at this point. I urgently needed to get one because I booked a flight home for the Christmas break and hence a visa is required. The last thing I need is to have problems at customs in the airport!

I had to bring along a biometric photo, show many documents such as proof of enrolment in university, my health insurance, proof of financial stability and other such hassles that governments need from you. Since I didn’t have a booked appointment, I needed to go early to get a waiting number… and I mean EARLY. My alarm was set for 3:45am and I arrived there at 5:30am (it opens at 7:00am). I heard from people that you need to get there early, and this is NOT an understatement. I personally think that everyone wants to study or do research in Berlin, as it is THE place to be as a student in Germany. Even with the pitch darkness of the night and the cold weather lingering, there were already about 80 people in front of me when I arrived- the lines are like this every single morning. I was afraid I wouldn’t get in, but I was lucky. Only after waiting another 6 hours did I finally see someone and with a 50 Euro payment later, I received my student visa which lasts until September 2014 (it states that I can even be employed and work up to 120 days if I wanted to). So that was a bit of information for any of you thinking of studying in Germany in the future :) The task seems daunting, but it really isn’t so bad. Bring study materials or videos and music and you’ll be good.

A tasty, oven-fresh snack I grabbed from a local bakery

A tasty, oven-fresh snack I grabbed from a local bakery

There are a few peculiar things I find about German universities and I would like to share some of them. After almost every lecture or seminar, all the students knock the desks with their knuckles. Back home, sometimes the professor would get a little round of applause at the end. But here, I guess it is a part of the culture and customs to tap the tables lightly in appreciation for the work that was given. Another aspect that is unusual is how the libraries work. Everyone must lock everything in lockers before entering the stacks or study areas. No bags or coats or anything is allowed. They provide you with clear plastic bags where you must put all your notes, books, pencils, paper, pens, laptop, chargers, and so on. There is security at the front who scrutinizes everyone as they enter the library, turning back those who don’t comply with the regulations. Talk about strict guidelines.

The German Cathedral (foreground). The French Cathedral (background)

The German Cathedral (foreground). The French Cathedral (background)

Germans also take their recycling seriously! To them the environment is a very important issue. All the households/apartments and most public areas have a sorting system for every type of waste. Some of it is like ours back home. There are the bins for just paper products. There is composting. Then there are of course the recycling bins for glass. However they are sorted even further between different colours: clear, brown and green. There are also bins just for cans. On top of it all, there is a separate bin for Verpackung, which means packaging. So anything that was used as packaging is put into here. And then whatever is left would be considered “normal” garbage. I guess this reaffirms the efficiency of the Germans :) Just another fun fact about living in Germany.

Thanks for reading and see you again in two weeks. I will talk about my courses next time.

Typical public garbage bins. Household bins are even more specifically organized

Typical public garbage bins. Household bins are even more specifically organized

Bureaucracy, Lights and Cell Phones

Not in Munich this time, but once again home in Berlin. I will get you all updated from the last two weeks here with some of my experiences at the Humboldt University.

First of all, all the international students who study must go through the Immatrikulation process. This basically means enrolment into the university. It is quite extensive and it took a lot of preparation to get it all done. Of course I needed to provide a photocopy of my passport- the king of all identification. I then had to show my Anmeldebescheinigung (the proof of residence documentation, which I discussed in a previous blog). They also wanted proof of sufficient health insurance during my studies.

I needed to pay a semester fee, which amounted to about 240 Euros. This covers costs like running the student international office and my semester-long public transit ticket. This ticket is the most valuable thing I walked away with from this whole process- I get to travel on ALL modes of transportation (S-Bahn trains, the regional long-distance trains, street cars, subways and buses) for the whole semester. And the semester lasts 5 months. The 240 Euros pretty much pays for itself. This is something I would like to see the TTC provide university students.

And the best part of the Immatrikulation? I received 50 Euros for nothing. Yes that’s right: free money! The city of Berlin gives all students who live in Berlin something called Begrüßungsgeld, which means “welcome money.”

My student ID: includes my student number, study information and most importantly, the transit ticket

My student ID: includes my student number to use the libraries for example, study/faculty information and most importantly, the transit ticket

So that’s enough with the university for now. An event that I attended last week was the Festival of Lights. Once per year, famous parts of the entire city are lit up in beautiful colourful displays. The light shows last all night and some of them even have music to play along with the changing colours. Some areas of illumination are the Berlin Cathedral, the East Side Gallery, the shopping mall at Alexanderplatz, the tall radio tower and some of the larger train stations. In total there are over 100 buildings which put on a show.

I would like to let you know as well about the phone plans in Germany. Back in Canada, we are all being ripped off (I guess you readers know that anyways already). I got the simplest and cheapest of all plans, and it is way more than I need. I am doing pay-as-you-go, so first off, that means I do not have any contract that I will have to worry about for when I leave to come home again. I pay only 10 Euros per month and I get all the internet I need. Well, it’s only supposed to be up to 500 MB, but even when I go over, the speed is still incredible. Last month for instance I used about 4 GB of data, and I had no slow loading times or problems surfing the net. I even use it back at my residence in conjunction with my laptop (what I will use in fact to upload this blog shortly :) ).

Out-going phone calls are only 9 cents per minute, which is very reasonable. And out-going texts are also 9 cents. But hardly anyone texts in Europe! Because the internet costs are so low, everyone uses an application called “WhatsApp” (this was completely new to me when I arrived). It is simply an app where you can text all of your contacts. Pictures, videos, recordings, group chats and so much more can be shared via “WhatsApp.” This is the main method through which I keep in contact with all my friends in Berlin. So, a piece of advice if you will ever be in Europe long enough to need a cell phone: download the “WhatsApp” application as everyone here uses it.

I know midterm season is still going on back home right now. For me, I am starting my third week of the semester. Kind of weird to think how different the schedules and university systems are. I am starting to feel the stress of classes as things are starting to pick up pace now. Good luck to those of you who still have midterms and I wish you all a good week!

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Festival of Lights

Brandenburg Gate- Festival of Lights

Brandenburg Gate- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights

Berlin Cathedral- Festival of Lights