Ich bin ein Berliner!

“Germany.” What do you think of first? Tons of beer. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen. Sausages. Wiener schnitzel. The Autobahn. Oktoberfest. Jägermeister.

But then there is “Berlin.” They say that Berlin is not Germany. A once thriving, central city in the world. A city laying in ruins and decay after the Second World War. The fierce iron curtain splitting the city into east and west. A leading, alternative city in our modern times…

The Reichstag Parliament buildings. Notice the famous Berlin radio tower in the corner

The Reichstag Parliament buildings. Notice the famous Berlin radio tower in the corner

Hello, or should I say, Guten Tag to my fellow readers! I arrived here in Berlin two weeks ago in preparation for my two semesters of study this upcoming year at the Humboldt University. I am continuously blown away every day by this city. I have seen many different German cities in the past, but just like last time, there is just something about Berlin.

The city of Berlin itself is an open, free city. I feel literally like a tiny ant facing vast amounts of untapped experiences. It is a huge cultural city with diverse peoples, immigrants, students, it has a rich and interesting history, new movements, young artists, a large music scene, museums, art … the list goes on.

Humboldt University, main campus. My soon-to-be university for the next 10 months

Humboldt University, main campus. My soon-to-be university for the next 10 months

They say cities can come alive. I can say coming from Toronto (and any fellow Torontonians reading here), that my city has a rich feeling to it. Am I right? The same can be said about New York for example. Here in Berlin, I sense it every second. I can feel this electric vibe sprawling through every street and every crevice. Berlin is alive. It is breathing. Its gigantic train, subway, streetcar and bus networks are like the veins and blood flowing nonstop through this live entity, always circulating. I have been here for only 2 weeks, yet there is this magnet drawing me into the heart of the city to experience it all. From the local daily markets, to the legendary night life, to strange artistic street performances, to the sheer size of the city, to the green parks, to the faces of people from all over the globe, to the hip bars in distinct neighborhoods, to the historical buildings and monuments, to live music on every corner, to the eerie line of where the former Berlin Wall once stood….

With this blog, one of the things I hope to do is capture this vigour that Berlin has. I talked too much about the city on the whole and how insignificant I feel within it. I am so innocent to what it has to offer and too ignorant to make any claims just yet. The posts to come will try to grasp exactly what the city represents through my experiences studying in university, meeting new people, traveling and simply just living.

The infamous Brandenburg Gate- literally just down the street from my university

The infamous Brandenburg Gate- literally just down the street from my university

 

P.S. Of course there is beer, and German cars, and German cuisine in Berlin. I was just referring above for example to the unique, funky, fresh and alternative sides of the city, something that is matchless in Germany and the rest of the world.

So You Want to Go to England…

So you want to go to England?

And why wouldn’t you? The land of adorable vlogger boys, Butter Beers, Benedict Cumberbatches, Tom Hiddelstons, Whovians, tea, Corgi’s, Royals and Shakespeare. A perfect destination for any traveler looking for a little class and romance.

But first you have to get there. And this process, dear reader, is distinctly un-fun. I’d like to talk about the process I went through in attempting to gain a visa, only to discover that I did not, in fact, need a visa to begin with. Let the ballad of bureaucracy begin.

To confirm for any Canadian citizens’ future reference:
– If you are in England for LESS THAN 6 MONTHS you DO NOT need a visa.
– If you are NOT planning on WORKING or VOLUNTEERING while in England you DO NOT need a visa.

I was unaware of all these things and dead set convinced I needed a visa. However, I was unwilling to pay the outrageous fee for a visa until I knew for sure. My paper work was done and ready to be handed in, but my resolve was lacking.
I was filled with anxiety. After all, I didn’t want to be unable to enter the country, I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I certainly didn’t want to make waves. My mother was quite certain I did not require a visa, but I was not willing to make any decision regarding the purchase of a visa until I was dead sure on the matter. Suspended in a sort of visa-less limbo and growing ever more anxious on what to do about my predicament, I opted to call the lovely and wonderfully helpful Julienne Lottering, Safety Abroad Officer, at 416.946.3929.
For anyone interested in visas, travel safety or just a wonderful collection of travel stories (once she is not on the clock of course) Julienne is your go to woman.

Sadly, in this instance the bureaucracy was working against she and I both. Julienne gave me the number to the British consulate, which is: +1-416-5931290.

Stop reading.

Call that number right now.

Now that you have heard the recording you know that the number takes you to a recording that is as hilarious as it is useless. I actually cried I was laughing so hard. I can’t think of anything any more delightfully, stereotypically British that that woman’s voice. The only thing missing? She neglected to offer me tea.

One of the first things the message states is that they do not deal with visas, however, they are kind enough to give you the address of a consulate which will help you with your visa troubles.

The address is 777 Bay Street, Toronto. And approaching this office is an exercise in futility. The office is lovely; large British Flags, soft and inviting looking lounge couches, a small crystal bowl of candies.

All of which are behind glass doors and not accessible to you.

I kid you not. So far as I could tell, the office cannot be entered. Instead, and this is the best part, there is a phone. Outside of the office that you have just come to IN PERSON there is a phone, which you must pick up and wait for someone to answer. The less than polite, less than tangible secretary on the other end of the line will inform you that you may not enter the impenetrable glass barrier which prevents you access to the office and at this location, 777 Bay Street, they do not deal with visas.

This whole endeavor had thus far cost me many months of anxiety and now a full day of goose chasing.

I was feeling slightly defeated.

But, never fear! For in my resolve as a UTM student, I was determined to persevere. At the 777 Bay Street Office-that-you-may-not-enter which has the phone-that-you-must-call I was given a new address; 1 Dundas Square.

With new abandon I made my way to Dundas Square, where I witnessed a man replicate the CN tower out of paper clips in record speed, cheered and rallied a dance battle between two spry and athletic men in saggy pants and was informed that the error of my ways could be cured so long as I found God.

Now rallied by this entertainment I resumed my now epic quest to the British Consulate on my journey to find a visa.

Once in the office I found that the woman at the desk was new to her position and as such, had no idea what she was doing. Seeing my immediate look of nausea and deflation she rushed to get her superior. The man’s name was Richard and he was, for all the world, a spitting image of Hugh Grant.

With the utmost contriteness and politeness he listened to my awesome struggle with the dragon called bureaucracy and expressed great sorrow to hear of my many defeats. Then, with a flourish, his slightly balding head flashing in the light of the now setting sun, he provided me with all the relevant information I could possibly need. He then proceeded to explain the same points I made above about visa policies and the instances in which they are required.

Richard and I shook hands then. His hand shake was firm and he smelled like lemon grass as he wished me luck and good fun on my travels.

By the time I left the office darkness had fallen. But I was unconcerned, guided by a new light I made my way back to Hart House and stood in line to board the shuttle bus. With hardened tenacity I was ready to tear up my completed visa paper work and focus on the next steps required by my journey.

Look Out Queen Victoria, here I come.