I have not posted on this blog in a long time, because I have been serving as a Peace Corps Education Volunteer in Uganda since November 11th, 2013. Feel free to continue reading and journeying with me on my adventures and experiences for the next 26 months at my new Uganda Peace Corps Blog: mountainsbeyondmountainsuganda.wordpress.com
I feel stir-crazy, and I haven’t felt this way since that day I was cooped up in my Boston apartment when the entire city was looking for the Boston bombers and the order to remain indoors was in effect. I yearn for something new, something exciting to spice up my life. Here I am seeing the lives of so many other people on Facebook and their endeavors. Then here I am on Facebook literally just eating, sleeping, and dicking around online until something happens. This is the feeling of reverse-culture shock for me. I was inundated with lights, people, experiences, adventures, and sounds for 24 days nonstop until it all came to a halt. I will write about it in a later blog post, but for now I just cannot get over how awesome the adventure was. I think that I am getting bored with the same old same old over here back home, because I have gotten used to the lifestyle of always moving and always adventuring. Maybe it’s similar to how teenagers always want to feel and yearn for that feeling of some sort of exciting emotion. It’s too quiet and dull over here, but I know that these are the last free dog days of summer that I will have in a long time.
However, I still know that I am lucky. In a few months I will be leaving to volunteer in Uganda, Africa for a 27 month Peace Corps volunteer assignment to teach secondary math and science education. It also doesn’t help that I just got back from my Eurotrip with my two best friends 6 days ago. Now it’s just the waiting period between adventures. I am in the process of bidding farewell to my old college life, and in the process of moving on. But I’m stuck in this limbo of life between my mom’s apartment and my old house where my dad and his wife live. It’s definitely not a bad life at all, but I know that there is something greater out there and something better that I could do with my time. And I don’t know if this is a good feeling or not: to have the consistent thirst for newer horizons or to be content at home doing nothing too extreme and staying content just being.
I keep forgetting how therapeutic blogging is, and I there are a few posts that I need to write down in the next few days.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
~On the Road, Jack Kerouac
So it’s the last night before I bid a temporary farewell to this old and empty house back in Owings Mills, MD. I have been attempting to finish my reading of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road so that it can be returned back to the library in Maryland before I head back to Boston early in the morning. Once again I start to feel that pang of wanting to move and be dynamic. I just can’t stand wasting away in the same old houses and apartments without actively doing something with my life. I sometimes feel as if I am not using my skills to the fullest: during the school year I never take full advantage of my talents and end up wasting time with procrastination, and then during the breaks all I do is sleep, eat, and think about when things will start up again.
Everything around me is changing and moving beyond any control. When I leave for Boston tomorrow in a 10am Megabus, it will be the last time that I will head there before my graduation. It will be the last time that I say another goodbye to my old Maryland home and welcome the familiarity of my Boston home for the last time before everything changes and starts again anew.
I just feel stuck right now: stuck between the verges of new homes and new lives. I went back to my high school today to give a presentation about engineering in college to two classes of seniors who are taking an introductory engineering course. I couldn’t believe that I was only 4 years gone from their position and that they too would come to understand the glory of life after high school. I guess that I just also have to work on not holding on to things too much. I tend to remember a lot of things in the past, and as a result I tend to get stuck on how things were and how good they seemed to be back then. If I only I could have gone back to those moments with the wisdom and experience that I had now and did things differently. But then again I would never have gained that insight had I not first gone through those experiences with my naivete and innocence.
I started reading On the Road with feelings of joy and ecstasy as I read about the adventures and the Sal’s calling to once again fulfill that wanderlust to move into the unknown. I think that it is a very fitting book for me, because I think that I have always felt this urge to keep challenging myself to tread upon those lesser known paths and experiences. With that comes reckless abandonment, which may have seemed romantic and lofty at first, but then reveals itself to have no real purpose. My only worry is that I will soon find nothing in this world that can fill this aching desire. For Sal, it is to be upon that vast and foreign road filled with glory and mystery. For me, it is to discover that new secret or next part of my life that starts to make sense of this mess. Then again, we all have our ups and downs just like any old road, but this one doesn’t have an end in sight.
The nest stage for me is definitely the Peace Corps, and spending those 2+ years away in a developing country. What’s eating me away is that I made good headway on my application, only to have screwed up and pass the 30 day refreshing deadline. When I last checked on my application it was all deleted and I then had to start over again by scratch. It is a long and arduous process, but I know that in my heart of hearts that it is what I was called to do regardless of what anyone else has said to me. So for the time being, I need to finish my book, pack my bags, and head on to this last stage of my college career and see where that “huge vaulting world” takes me.
So here I am back in Boston. No I don’t think that I found anytime to update the rest of my blog. This is very unfortunate, as it became a memoir of sorts that I want to remember. But as I have often learned, it is extremely difficult to try and remember and document everything even with a camera, journal, and pen handy. So in the chance that I get to document the rest of my Berlin experience, here are a few tidbits:
So we visited Dresden for the DAAD RISE conference, an epic bike adventure day through bookstores, Iraqis who were freedom fighters
and hated the US, attending the opening of a skateshop, and the stumbling into the underground Berlin party scene in an abandoned warehouse, bidding farewell to friends one-by-one as they returned back to the US, exploring the Guinness World Record’s Longest Biergarten near Frankfurter Tor U Bahn stop, bonding with my Norwegian and Mexican roommate, saying goodbye to another dear friend, exploring new bars, joining in chillstep dancing by the Brandenburg Gate for the Hempparade, dressing up fancily, eating a delicious mushroom lunch and exploring the most beautiful park (Volkspark Friedrichshain) in Berlin, having one more epic bike adventure through cafes, art stores, the abandoned art building of Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse, and sunbathing in Volkspark Humboldthain, getting a tattoo at the Loxodrom tattoo shop that says “endlich daheim” on the Thursday before I left and then eating my last Döner at Mustafa’s, and having the last farewell by reaching the seat of kings at Königstuhl on the northernmost point of Rügen, Germany after sleeping outside in Middelhagen and then staying in a beautiful seaside apartment and biking for 40km as we biked through the unbelievable beautiful and golden seaside forest pathways, and then bidding farewell to my blue bike that had accompanied me on many adventures throughout my time in Berlin. I bid farewell to Germany at 4am when I left my apartment not knowing the next time when I could see that beloved country again.
I started the first day of classes today, and already I just feel so off and odd. I mean, I was living my life and enjoying every moment back in Germany. What am I doing back here in the US? I have one more year of classes and then I can move on right? So much has changed and in a way I feel kind of jaded. Sure, so I haven’t weathered the horrible wretchedness that comes from living a harsh life, but I tasted so much out there. I just feel like going to classes back here is kind of backwards and that I have learned far more outside of classes rather than in them. I returned a little bit more than a week ago only to return to a messy apartment with friends who could not possibly understand what I had gone through, in the same sense that I could not possibly fathom what they had gone through during their own summer.
Now I realize that I actually now need money. Along with the scholarship I may have spent about $1000 during the entirety of the summer including travel, food, and flight to and back from Germany. Now I don’t think that this is bad at all, but now I don’t have much money left. I can barely pay rent right now until I get the loan processed and it just sucks. I had the opportunity to intern over the summer and possibly make over $8000 this summer; however, I knew that if I did not take the opportunity to go back to the place where I fell in love then I would regret it forever. As such, I am so glad to have had that experience that I will be able to bring with me throughout life. I wish that money would not be a problem, because life has been going along amazingly well until I was brought back down to earth by my landlord who reminded me of a rent that is needed for September. So now I return back to the life of theoretical classes, payments of electricity and rent, and the reminder that all it takes is a sick day or week to be unable to pay my electricity bill or groceries. But all will be well in the end, because it always has been. I will take life moment by moment and enjoy it for what it is worth until I can’t enjoy it anymore. So I end this post knowing that somehow I will make this work.
“Do it! You’re almost there!”
“Go Kara! Woooooh!”
“I believe in you!”
“To the Commons! You can do it!””Just 1 more mile!”
These are just a few of the cheers that were yelled and chanted during the morning and afternoon of the Boston Holiday known as Marathon Monday (April 16, 2012). Many Bostonians deem Marathon Monday as one of the biggest holidays of the year, on the same level as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Indeed, several of my Facebook friends even posted statuses such as “Marathon Mon
My friend from the a cappella group brought his Canon camera that could also record video footage. The quality was exquisite, and looked beautiful. One of our early plans was to have him make a youtube video of the journey there along with the actual bike ride and sync it up with a video and some music. We followed Commonwealth Avenue down towards the Commons, and then wound our way past Downtown Boston to South Station. We got there and two of my other friends from Engineering greeted me. I had skipped out on a Chinatown dinner date with the both of them beforehand.
I quickly dig into my Irish Cheddar, Rosemary, and Cinnamon grilled cheese sandwiches and get my ticket to Zone 6 Southboro which is a few miles away from the Boston Marathon starting line at the intersection of W Main Street and Grove Street in Hopkinton. We wait in the station for about 20 minutes, and then we exit the back of South Station towards the train platforms. My friend from my a cappella group met someone who knew him from dancing and through another mutual friend from a cappella. She too brought her Canon camera, but she did not have it mounted nor have video recording capabilities. I gave her my Facebook information so that she could later find me and look at the pictures that I took. We slowly make our way to an empty train car, and we use the left benches in each train car as the place to leave our bicycles, while sitting in the right sided benches.
It is during this point when I become separated from my Engineering friends, and instead sit two benches in front of my a cappella friend in a different train car. I started to doze off, but then a cyclist wearing an orange-reddish cycling shirt and a interesting-looking hat walked through the different cars and debriefed us on what would happen along with a history of the Midnight Bike Ride. He moved on to the next car, and I quickly passed out from a long day of a cappella recording.
We end up getting off the train at the Zone 6 Soutboro/Falmouth stop and congregate in an empty parking lot. We waited there for about 30 minutes while the rest of the cyclists left the train. In that parking lot, one could really witness the breadth and variety of bicyclists who would be participating in the bike ride. As the excitement continued to build, I looked around and witnessed the wide variety of experiences from Hubway users, bike renters, professional cyclists, casual riders, people dressed in tutus, a unicyclist, a guy on rollerblades, single-gear users, and fixed-gear users. I heard the beating of drums, saw the flashing of bike lights, and felt the warm drops of rain fall on my skin. The rain soon evolved into something between a drizzle and regular rain. We made our way down the street and underneath a bridge into Hopkinton. The street took us uphill, and we were surrounded by hundreds of cyclists of all ages and backgrounds. We got to the top of the hill and zoomed down through the rainy darkness of a wooded street. Even before reaching the starting line, there were already a few casualties. Dotted throughout the route were groups of people crowded around bicycle riders who had popped their tubes, gotten a gear stuck, or needed some extra air in their tires.
Honestly, it felt so epic riding through the night surrounded by a diverse range of people united through the one love of biking. Even now, I get shivers remembering speeding through dark and torturous paths not knowing what would greet me around the bend. Shortly thereafter, we reached the starting line. We paused there for a bit, because one of my Engineering friends needed to pump some extra air into his tires. We took a group picture, set off at the starting line at 1:18am, and began our descent into the dark path before us. There were a few memorable moments that occurred throughout the duration of the bike ride. Aside from the turn onto Highway 16 and a few turns once we reached the city, the ride was pretty much straightforward. The rain eventually let up, and the weather became perfect for nighttime bike riding. The breeze felt cool with a warm and wild wind blowing through our spokes. There were a few spills scattered around the train track crossings and groups of people congregating for breaks around gas stations.
What struck me the most were the people out around 2am on lawn chairs with beers in their hand, starting Marathon Monday off right even before the sunrise. I remember passing by small towns and thinking that I would eventually like to return to them one day and enter into local shops and explore hidden areas. One of the highlights of the entire journey was the smell. Oh my God the smell of the good, damp earth permeating every road. It was during that adventure that I truly felt alive. It was one of those moments when I truly felt like I fully lived out those hours.
I got the good kind of chills rushing through small towns and empty intersections with the wind at my back. It was an interesting feeling where the rush of the moment took you by surprise and you started to understand something a little bit deeper about yourself and the world. Eventually, my friends got split up and we waited about 10 minutes to see if she got stranded somewhere behind. As it turns out, my friend was not used to much strenuous physical activity, and would get tired biking up hills. So we took a small break and I switched bikes with him, and gave him one of my grilled cheese sandwiches. He found it easier to continue on my bike, and I found it easier to continue on his bike. We continued biking along the marathon trail, and would sporadically pass by some cyclists every now and then. Before long, we passed by Boston College and knew that we were almost home. I pedaled faster, and eventually made it to the finish line near the Boston Commons and I cheered because I knew that I had done something worth doing. I participated in a mass bike ride marathon through the night and felt so epic about it. I felt as if I could conquer anything.
We took some pictures, basked in the glory of joining in such an epic experience and made it back home. I walked with my two other friends, because one of their bikes broke two blocks from the finish line. Honestly, that would have sucked had it broken further back along the route. So we walked back to my friend’s apartment by the fens, and I bid farewell to my friends when they got to the on-campus dorms. I speedily biked back, showered, changed into comfortable nighttime clothes, prepared the sangria for festivities once I woke up, and then passed out like a rock.
I awoke to the sound of bouncing ping pong balls and laughter emanating from my stoop. I knew right then and there that Marathon Monday had officially begun. I sprung out of bed, realized that I didn’t have any alcohol in my sangria, so I biked to Blanchards Liquor Store in Allston and bought a full 750mL bottle of red wine, and emptied it into my sangria, which was held inside of a gigantic cooking cauldron pot. I pregamed in the sunny area of Gardner street at one of my other a cappella group member’s apartments. I opened one of my Magic Hat beers, and quickly started to partake in the day drinking that would be the theme of the entire day. Before I continue, I first have to mention my outfit that fit the theme of the day. I wore tie dyed rugby shorts with white spandex underneath, and my Dresden Rugby shirt that had “My drinking team has a rugby problem” written across the front. I felt that Marathon Monday was a suitable enough occasion as any to wear that outfit. So I made my way out with the sangria in one hand and an open beer in my other hand. A cop car drove past me and said, “You may wanna think twice before you do that.” In my tipsiness I forgot that I lived in a country with an open container policy and could therefore not drink outside whenever I pleased.
With the help of one of my other group members, I used one of the IKEA grocery carts with white polka-dots to transport the sangria all the way across campus to South Campus where the marathon runners would pass through. It was funny to think that I only a few hours ago I was riding alone through the marathon track, and now there were hundreds of people celebrating the marathon day. The most fun was seeing everyone drunk and finding an excuse to cheer. Oh my God it was beautiful seeing familiar faces and yelling at the top of our lungs to give encouragement to the runners.
This day was about them, and finding any excuse to day drink. I saw people dressed in their own country flags, I saw runners with names written across their arms, I saw people in costumes (like red solo cups and the sort), and I saw people running with friends and family members. However what struck me the most were those who looked defeated as they half-walked/half-ran along the marathon route. I remember people pointing at them and yelling, “You can do it! I believe in you! Go go go go!” And it touched my heart so much when I saw that runner lift his head, give us a short nod and smile, and rally together for the final push. There was just so much support, and everything just seemed so good. Funnily enough, Marathon Monday rekindled my faith in college students and humanity. Yes, we were drunk, and of course work was one of the last things on our minds, but we joined together runner and crowd in a beautiful union. For those precious few moments, we formed an intimate human bond where the body may have reached its limit, but the hearts and mind were filled to the brim. So yes, I’d say that it was a beautiful day.
So it’s 5:55am and the house has just been cleaned. I had never done a 12+ hour-long party, but this time was the deal breaker. Okay, so I am writing in Stream-of-Consciousness right now, but that can’t get any closer to the truth right? I also think that I am breaking quite a few story telling or blogging rules and laws, but whatever. So it started with a simple text from Charles asking if he could sleep on my couch this weekend. I was in Ingalls and I instantly called him back in order to tell him that he was definitely without a doubt coming over to visit during the weekend. Then everyone began to hype up and talk a lot about the party. So many people approached me during the week in order to tell me how excited they were to come over. So the week sucked and went by, and all that I could look forward to was the coming weekend, especially the party. Charles then arrived Friday evening at 8pm, and I got some preparations done beforehand. I set the projector screen, I set the LCD DIY projector system, and then I made a list with Charles in order to know what to get for the party. I slept easily due to my tiredness and my slight tipsiness.
The next day’s wakeup call came from Charles at 12:00pm. Yes, we had both slept until noon and technically the party was supposed to start around noon. We quickly scrambled, did our morning rituals, and then split ways. I went to Blanchard’s to get the 120 beers, 750mL of Jägermeister (with stag pourer), and 4 handles of vodka. I get back to the house, and I unpack as Charles unpacks and preps the food in the kitchen for delicious Kartoffel poofers, schnitzel, pasta, und bratwurst. Okay, so this writing is hard to do right now. Continuing forward, more and more people began to trickle in. It was great as we all smiled, hugged each other, and knew that we had only come together pretty much for the explicit purpose of partying and reminiscing together. It also helped to have this new concoction called Das Force present during the party. I will not say much
more other than it deceptively did not taste like any alcohol despite containing a large quantity of it. And these reminisings came through the form of old songs and images. For a second there I thought that someone had stolen my camera, but it was Charles’ friend, Ted, who found it and was actually taking pictures throughout the night.
There are just too many highlights and memorable moments of the party. One of them was definitely the moment when it was realized that Charles was actually here… (*I pass out writing this sentence and then continue later on a day later*)
There were reactions ranging from pure surprise, to blissful happiness, to plain acceptance. It was funny how many of the attendees would first wave high to Charles, and then realize that it was Charles from Cornell and then run over to hug him. Smiles, hugs, and many tears were shed. It was beautiful, simply beautiful to see everyone come together again to commemorate the 1 year anniversary that changed all of our lives for good.
We had the barbecue grill going out back thanks to Andrew Weiß, and got the burger patties, hot dogs, and veggie burgers cookin’ just like old times on the balcony outside of my room in the Max Kade Haus. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the homemade projector system working, but that was alright because Charles had brought a VGA cable that allowed my laptop screen to also appear on the tv in the entertainment center.
And as I noted, it was great to have people gathered and scattered all throughout the house. My room was, as usual, the smoking room thanks to Manton’s sharing of a certain steam device that brings people together physically and emotionally. Oh and the foods and cakes. There were dozens of cakes, breads, cookies, Desiré snacks (German wafers filled with chocolate and icing), and many mixers.
The usual party songs played throughout the day, but things started to get even more interesting as the night wore on. It was so interesting to see the disparity between the different types of people who came to the party. There were those true, good friends who came because they wanted to join together to commemorate, remember, and party to old days gone by. These people really respected the apartment, and looked out after each other. Then there are those who come looking for parties in order to fulfill their desire to drink for its own sake. They are the ones who change the music without asking anyone else, they’re the ones who don’t even acknowledge or greet the host, they’re the ones who hog and pull out the handles of vodka without asking anyone first. Those are the people who do not make good partiers or friends. You guys, however, do make 1st class partiers, and are always welcome here at 7 Ashford at anytime of the day or night as long as we still call this place home.
This was proven the moment I took a break from being the host and chilled in my room with all of you Dresdners. Emotions ran high when Mitch raised the Feldschlösschen mug and began his rousing speech:
“One year since we… almost one year on Monday… one year since we sat in JFK airport about to leave for Dresden. Everyone remember that? *Cheers!* One year since we had the best six months of our lives… *More cheers* One year since Dresden. Everyone, Prost! Prost! Prost! Yes! Dresden! *Musto says something* Yes, this is not the end. We will keep going, year after year after year… Everyone, prost prost prost prost… *applause*”
It was a speech fit for the old Deutsch Kings of Frederick the Great and his crazy porcelain obsessions in Meißen. But it was and still is this camaraderie that brings us together and makes us feel great. That’s the beauty of study abroad; we were able to experience a radically different culture that enamored us while also bringing a diverse group of Americans together under one roof. We became each other’s support and family. When someone got sick, we all got sick. When someone broke his key in the lock, no one could get into the Max Kade Haus. And when it was someone’s birthday (or the 50th commemoration of a certain Astronaut’s ascent into space) you expected that someone was going to get shitfaced that night. That was what we were all about: drunken frisbee games, group smoking sessions, fucking amazing vacations, late-night WG talks, getting lost, and somehow finding our way back home again. It was the precise mixture of us and our willingness to challenge ourselves that made the experience so great.
This was demonstrated during the later stages of the party. One of the major surprises was enacted after Mitch’s speech: the trivia game created and hosted by the wonderful Maria Zenzola, Sean Manton, and Matt Musto. The categories encompassed everything from different cities to who said what or did what during the trip. The rules were simple, once a question was asked, the first team to have a member stand up and drink from his or her drink had the ability to answer and get points. It was an amazing surprise and so much fun… especially since we were all pretty gone by that point.
But not everything during the party was innocently fun. You guys heard a bit about what happened later, and I want you all to know what happened, because you deserve the truth. After the trivia died down, I left the room and noticed the presence of about 8 more guys and some girls whom I did not know. I realized that another person had entered into the living room, and with Emily and Joann’s help I turned him out. He looked towards his friends, who all looked like thugs, and said, “Well I guess I’m getting kicked out. What about you guys?” They started to laugh and I asked them whom they were with. One of the guys said that he was here with about 12 girls, and I told him that that was not true since he did not know any of us. He especially did not know me. I told Emily to stay by my side, and Joann put her arm around her to support us. I told him that there were a lot of people already here, and that we did not know them. I said that it was a reunion, and he mocked me by adopting a baby voice and restating, “Oh it’s a fucking reunion.” We both stared at each other for a bit, and he told his guy friends that they were leaving “these fucking Asian *racial slur* nerds.” Joann flipped out like I had never seen before. She yelled back towards them with an unparalleled fury, and I couldn’t help but feel pride for having her by my side at a time like that. The guy backed up a bit, and started to put his hand in his pocket. I held my hands out between him and Joann and said that there will be no fighting. Several of our friends then pulled Joann back, and it was just me in front of them. They guy brushed my hand away and said, “Get your fucking hands off me nigga.” I put my hands up and said, “There will be no fighting here.” The guy stared back at me, then turned away and left with the other guys. I then shut the door right after they left, and locked it. I turned towards Emily and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” Immediately I felt and heard them kicking the door, but I knew that they couldn’t get in. I was so shaken from the experience, and I honestly felt as if I could have been more defiant and forceful against them. I was wavering and shaking the entire time, because I was worried about what could have happened to me or any of you guys if a fight had broken out.
Musto and Cruz then came to my side and asked me what had just happened. I told them the story, and I opened the door to the hallway to notice that the sidewalk salt bags had been cut up and strewn throughout the entire hallway and porch. The thugs also knocked down the trashcans outside. As I stared at the chaotic scene before me, I wondered to myself, “Where do these people come from?” How could you be brought up feeling entitled to crash a party and then threaten the host and then desecrate the house he lived in for no reason at all? But it was in this moment that Mitch, David, Musto, Elaine, Charles, and others joined me in the hallway to help clean up as well as guard against future intrusions. We shoveled and swept the hallways, and then the group returned again. This time, I was still too shaken to deal with them, so thankfully Musto stood before them in the entryway of the hall. They told us that they had no beef with us, but that Mikey, my upstairs neighbor, had done something to their boy and so they wanted to kick in his door. Matt told them that they would not do that. After some talking, they left and we continued cleaning. I later learned that Mikey had called the cops on them the night before when they pulled a knife at the party, broke the front window, and then busted the secondary door panes down.
I have been thankful ever since Saturday that no blood was spilled that night. Had other people been next to me during my exchange with that group, someone would have gotten hurt. I got even more chills when Mikey later told me that they had knives on them and that they were from a bad area in Worcester. I apologize to you my friends, because I would never have been able to live it down if any of you got hurt. And I’m glad that you guys weren’t!
It warmed my heart to know that you guys regarded this place as a home too. You were here by my side guarding it and respecting it. For that, and for all that we’ve been through over the past year, I thank you.
The party then resumed with only the Dresden crowd remaining. Crowd favorites such as Haus am See, Hello, Duck Sauce (Barbara Streisand song), and Mr. Brightside were played. We all danced together. It was beautiful, and we felt no self-consciousness in being ridiculous among each other. That’s how you know that you are among trusted friends. Finally, it was time to leave, and we bid our farewells. Except that unlike most farewells, we knew that we would all see each other again.
The thing is that we probably will never be able to capture or perfectly recreate our first sight of the Elbe at night, the taste of our first Feldschlösschen, the thrill of going to a 5-story club, the wanderings through random towns, or the smell of fresh bread from Netto. But this leaves us with the thirst to seek more. We will never be content staying in any one place for too long. Our experiences individually and together have shaped us to be whom we are today. Our hearts are torn among different locations, people, and memories. And while it is good to sometimes dwell on dreams, it is also good to live presently in the moment and beauty that is each new breath. You guys have earned my respect long ago, and I must say that I am absolutely proud to call each and every one of you my friend. We have all shared different memories together, and while we may grow apart, rest assured that we will always be linked by the bonds we forged together in Dresden, Germany.
So it’s that time of year to finally put things in retrospect. It’s been a wild, crazy year that at times felt as if it would never end. Geez so much has happened and I am having a harder time putting it in perspective. So last year began around the same time as this blog began. I started it in an old, cluttered house where I spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years. I lived there through my grade school years, middle school years, high school years, and then through my vacations and breaks during my first two years at college. I’ve said goodbye to it more times than I can count, and now it will simply become a memory. Pretty much everything that has meaning has left the house or has been donated away. And I believe that it’s good, because I’ve become less materialistic in a sense because I’ve had to say goodbye to so many things. About two weeks ago my mom said that my high school class ring was lost in the midst of my mom moving to a different apartment. A few years ago, I would have felt sad, but instead I did not really feel that strong of an emotional attachment. It’s just a ring, just a piece of jewelry that I would only wear to reunions and fancy ceremonies. And it was great while I still had it, but I can definitely live without it and move on.
There are so many stories from this year that are way too many to count.
So I started off with the journey to Dresden, Germany. And that has definitely been covered in full by my pictures on Facebook and by my dozens of posts and reflections that I have shared on this very blog. I returned to a summer where I mainly looked forward to returning back to Boston and seeing old friends and starting a new life in my new apartment. So I drove through Hurricane Irene and made it to Boston after making a small driving error and ending up somewhere near Rochester, New York. I made to Boston in the late evening as the clouds were breaking and I took the first breath of fresh air that I had not smelled for over 9 months. It had been way too long. After the first few weeks of settling in, painting the entire apartment (along with my roommate’s mom), and getting a solid older boy’s bike (with 20″ wheels), we finally started the semester. And what have I learned:?:
Handles of vodka are cheaper when the plastic ones are bought. Six $12 handles of vodka and five 30’s will almost be enough to entertain 60 friends and their “guests.” I learned that these barely allows everyone to get to the required level of drunkenness that allows for hilarious dancing, amazingly deep conversations, and interesting hookups. I have also ensured that a bucket is kept in almost every room in order to allow for people to throw up with dignity and decorum while the general public continues to “get thur drank on.”
Birthday parties at the beginning of the semester when everyone is seeing each other again for the first time after a long hiatus are epic. Seriously, one of the most epic moments of the year was during the first weekend after classes when my roomie and I christened our apartment with our first college party. Friends old and new from the study abroad group of Dresden to the dorm floors of freshmen year arrived to gather together for the first time to celebrate the birthday of an a friend. The plaster was still on the walls, the paint had barely dried, and everyone was ecstatic to see each other again. And the best part, we survived the first trial of having a successful party without any problems with authorities.
You get used to biking 4 miles on a small bike up and downhill to your classes on a daily basis. Seriously, forget the ellipticals and just get a small bike and your quads will be amazing. But just those, and nothing else.
You can have dinner parties with roast. Honestly, I’ve learned how to make meals for over 10 people given about 2 hours, and it’s just such a rush to get everything ready when all you have for utensils and tableware are 6 spoons, a dozen forks, 3 knives, and a various assortment of different-sized bowls and plates (some of which were permanently borrowed from the Mensa [dining hall] of Dresden). You can also survive off of $10 worth of food on a weekly basis as long as you buy things on sale, in bulk, and from the few days old stale section of the grocery store.
Hangovers after Halloween parties while freezing rain falls down are amazing (it has to be that specific). Seriously, just brew some green tea, sit down on the couch by the windows, read The Great Gatsby and don’t care about the rest of the night except for the fact that you still have to dress up for the rest of the Halloween weekend.
You learn a lot about responsibility especially when whether or not you can eat or not depends on whether you logged enough hours on your work-study and regular job to pay for the utility bill, parking spot rent, parking tickets, alcohol, and then food.
Classes get harder in junior year, and you begin to accept the 50% as a fairly good grade regardless of the curve. And the all-nighters and countless hours spent on problem sets and lab assignments never make you feel worth it. The workload just piled up, and it never seemed to end at times.
But for every hard and difficult moment, there existed an opposite and equal moment that allowed for the semester to become bearable. Moments of bike riding with two friends through the summer tinted pathways of the esplanade to a castle on an island, days spent wild and young upon the steppes of the Boston Commons, adventures wandering the streets of Boston through the night without a goal in mind, and singing in beautiful harmony with a group of friends that you have grown close to.
This year, especially the semester has been a blur, a good blur. The weeks just went by too quickly, and yeah I learned a bit in my classes. But most importantly, I learned how to read and understand people. Actually, maybe not. I’m not too sure, I may be wrong, but maybe I learned to observe people better. Yes, I think that that’s more accurate; I learned how to host people. I shared stories with couchsurfers from countries and provinces all over the world: from the villages of Bulgaria, to a pot farmer from California, to the Spanish and French couples, to the novelist writing about Boston University and Harvard. There was beauty in all the moments this year, even through the discord and the trials. And in the process I have made lifelong friends. I know that this post does not come close to rivaling those of my past years, but it is an important post nonetheless.
Most importantly this year revolved around adventuring and reminiscing. It was about a time of going forward while looking backward at the same time. And it was a reminder that I will once again have that wander thirst to travel to hidden paths that go all throughout the world through unknown dangers that would prevent even the most hardy and experienced of travelers from going had they previously known what had lain ahead. But through all these things, I can honestly say that wherever I go with my friends, family, and experiences I can honestly say that I am finally home.
By: Gerald Gould
“Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!
I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!
Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.”
Wow, I sometimes surprise myself with how corny I can be with my witty titles. This refers to an athletic competition of sorts and smoking. The day after was Nachtwanderung was the Campus Lauf on May 11. For a 5 Euro fee, a runner could register for the 2.5k, 5k, or 10k run. The money would then be donated back to the Technische Univerität Dresden, which would in turn be helping our education I suppose. Six of us decided to run in the Campus Lauf. Two ran the 5k, and the rest ran the 10k. I was one of those people running the 10k. We picked up our materials, which consisted of a Velcro strap that recorded when you passed through the starting gate and when you passed the finish line on the last lap. And we also got a name tag paper that we pinned on our shirts. The 2.5k and 5k races started first, and the four of us got ourselves mentally prepared for the 6+ mile route that we would be running. Our main goal was to finish the 10k by the end of the hour. Our two friends finish the 5k, and we cheer for them as they cross the finish line. The four of us then get in line, and await the signal that will begin our ordeal. We started off at a moderate pace, but I was the slowest one in the group. There was one 2.5k loop that wound its way throughout the campus. Since us four were running the 10k, we would have to complete the loop four times. The sun was setting, but it was still pretty warm. Even though I had passed many people at the beginning of the race, my pace started to slow down after the first lap and more and more people would start to overtake me. I pass through the first loop, and I have my future roommate and my other friend, who had previously run the 5k, cheer for me. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and remind myself that I don’t want to get out of shape. I told myself that I would complete this 10k without stopping or slowing down to a walk. I started getting even more weary after the end of the second lap, but I told myself that I could finish it. By the third lap, I knew that I was reaching a physical limit. I am not a runner, and the festivities from the Nachtwanderung the night before had tired me out.
About halfway through the final lap, I knew that my pace was slowing down. My legs were tired, and my ankles were starting to hurt. However, I promised that I wouldn’t fail. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other foot, and told myself that my mind could push my body to do what it felt that it could not do. The worst part of the course was this uphill slope that led back to the finish line loop. I sped up a little bit more, and I ended up passing a few people along the way. Before I knew it, I had reached the bridge that connected both parts of the campus together over the highway. I saw the finish line, and I pushed myself to run towards the final line. I decelerated, and finally stopped in front of my friends. Yes, I was sweating and yes I had finished last in the Campus Lauf. But I ran my first 10k in 1 hour and 36 seconds. I was impressed with myself seeing as I had used to be a fat, nonathletic child. And now I can continuously jog at a somewhat fast pace for over an hour without stopping.
My other group member friends finished about 8 minutes faster than I did, but that was alright. They were in better shape than I was. We all go to Netto, pick up a few groceries, and then have a celebration dinner on the stony balcony outside of my room. I cannot stress how amazing it feels to have done a rigorous exercise, shower, and then jump into some clean clothes while eating a delicious meal. If only one could bottle that feeling and employ it during those lazy days when no one wants to move or exercise. It turns out that my body starts to crave exercise. I cannot go more than three days without engaging in some kind of physical activity whether it be rugby practice, an ultimate frisbee game, or a night run. I feel as if it’s just my body informing me that I am becoming more fit, and that this is just another change in my lifestyle that will help me live better. I guess that another motivation for me is the overall fast food culture of the United States. Regardless of the beer, one rarely sees obese and fat people over here in Germany. I think it’s because there is more stress on biking or walking everywhere, or engaging in regular physical exercise. I suppose that it could also be in the genetic structure of Germans and Europeans in general.
I had my usual set of thursday classes, and then I went to another rousing rugby practice. I get back to the Haus, make dinner, and then shower. Afterwards, I was invited to smoke with some friends. We returned back to the Haus, and my friend started to show “The Princess and the Cobbler” on youtube. Let me tell you that that was one trippy movie. The weirdest part was just watching the different scenes and remembering them from my youth. This was one of those movies that just triggered a memory that you thought that you had forgotten. It had lain dormant in my mind, but it was suddenly reawakened. I don’t know the exact reason why, but ever single scene that was shown reminded me of a previously forgotten childhood memory. I remembered receiving badges and candy canes from a kindergarten or preschool assembly back in California. I remember my mom picking me up. I remember going to the mall with my parents. I remembered my mom renting “The Princess and the Cobbler” from Blockbuster, and telling me that it was similar to Aladdin. I remember my parents being together and still loving each other. Those were the days. It’s funny how a specific situation can help you remember lost memories and experiences that are deep within your subconscious.
I wake up, and I am still a little bit hungover from the previous night’s events. I go to Electric Circuit Theory Lab, and I have such a fun time. I attempt to work with my group to form the circuits; however, our TA basically ends up doing the lab for us. It should be noted that our TA, Leonardo Nicolosi, was such a fun guy who helped every single group in a very amiable and jovial manner. We finished what turned out to be a very interesting lab, and most of Lab Group A met up at the all-you-can-eat Asian Buffet near the Hauptbahnhof. The food ended up tasting too salty and sub-par. But for 4 Euros, it was still a decent deal since we were all starving.
I cannot remember what else occurred that Friday night, but on Saturday May 14 a group of us took the train from the Hauptbahnhof to the Pirna stop. Our goal was to get to this lake-pond that was surrounded by small, green hills and volleyball courts. Our guide, one of the liberal arts girls who had gone the weekend prior, led us out of the Pirna station, across the bridge spanning the Elbe, past the left side of Lidl grocery store, turning left down one street, and then right soon afterwards which led us to a street that would eventually lead us to the lake-pond after about 20 minutes of walking. But all of that effort was totally worth it. Even though there would be an ECT Midterm on monday, the time spent at Pirna was absolutely amazing. We sunbathed, played some volleyball, and learned that a lot of Germans were good at volleyball. After tanning for a bit in the sun, several of us decided to swim across the pond. The water was cool but refreshing.
I started to follow my friends into the water, and doggie paddled about 20 feet away from shore. I decided right then and there that I might as well try swimming across to the other side. The thing is that I’m not a good swimmer, and I usually can’t tread water for more than 5 minutes. But this was a more fit Marvin who was attempting this new challenge. I get about 100 feet across, and then get tired. It was at this point when I decided that I would just float on my back, rest, and then try to get across by floating on my back. About 15 minutes later, I make it across to the other side. And thus I was able to strike another check through my bucket list. I don’t think that I was ever able to stay afloat like that on my own for that amount of time. I was so proud of myself, and now I just want to learn how to swim with correct technique.
We decide to walk back around the pond/lake, and we see a few naked Germans along the way. They seem to have a tendency to change in public, and to go swimming without any clothes on. I guess that it’s just a difference in cultures. We get back to our initial side of the pond/lake, and we begin the circus act. One of us started to do cartwheels, and soon afterwards we all started teaching each other how to do flips and rolls of all sorts. I tried teaching several others how to do a back walkover, and they started to learn how to do it. We certainly entertained a lot of the German spectators who probably wondered what the hell we were doing.
The beauty of Pirna was twofold. First of all, the location was spectacular. It’s hidden away from the train stop, and the landscape surrounding the lake/pond is simply sublime. Armed with the fortifications of my allergy medicine, I was able to appreciate the large, white pollen that flowed through the summer air as a divine breeze caressed our bodies. Secondly, we all just had a fun day filled with relaxing and gymnastic fun. We also learned that we are not very good at volleyball. As the sun started to set in the late afternoon, we packed up our bags and left to return home. Saturday night ends without any incident, and I study all day Sunday for the Electric Circuit Theory Midterm on Monday. And just like that a new week begins.
May 9th, the Monday after the Rugby game, proved to be a difficult day for us; we had a Differential Equations Midterm, an Electric Circuit Theory quiz, a Physics Lab due, and homework due on top of that. Every class physically and mentally tired us out. After three classes in a row and German class, we finally finished for our required academics for the day. Matt, Ryan, and I got ready for rugby practice at 6:3opm. The only difference today was that Matt and I were playing on the Youth and New Team, which was led by a Rugby 7’s coach. He had a very thick British/Scottish accent, but he could also speak German. The instructions, for the most part, were given in German. The practice went well, although Matt and I were confused as to why we were playing on the team with the younger guys and the newbies when we had just played a game with the older members a few days prior. It turns out that there were several reasons: we were still learning the game, everyone needs to reinforce the basics, and Phillip also needed two other guys to play on the youth team that day. We practiced moving the defensive line in tandem with one another, and then we painstakingly worked on the basics of how to tackle someone. The thing is that it’s a lot harder than it seems on tv when it comes to tackling a large, quick guy barreling down the field towards you.
Practice ended and we all go home, shower, and eat some delectable dinner. Several guys and I then went out for a smoke in the light drizzle. It’s a nice feeling to just kick back and relax in my really comfy sweatpants and shirt. I then go to my room where one of the other guys who came with us asked to hang out with me. I agreed, and by agreeing to hang out I actually just turned the lights off and went to bed. It was a great first day and night back from the weekend. Tuesday only consisted of the 9:20am Electric Circuit Theory class, and then that was it for pretty much the rest of the week, since Wednesday was Dies Academicus, which meant that students had off and teachers had to come in for meetings similar to a professional development day. I got my errands done for the day, and then prepared for an epic night. By preparing, I literally got a bottle of pre-made Pina Colada Cocktail, and then I just sunbathed outside in the 80 Degrees Fahrenheit weather. It was absolutely gorgeous, and I felt so happy with the melatonin that would make my circadian rhythm go back to normal. After about 2 hours of sunbathing in the glaring sun, I decided to buy bottle of Passionfruit/Cherry Cocktail and a tub of Vanilla Ice Cream from Netto. I also had a sudden urge to make homemade apple pie, so then I made a crust out of butter and flour, and then sliced some apples to fill the pie. After the pie was baked, I called everyone whom I could and then shared the Apple Pie à la Mode.
I walk back into my room only to discover several people lounging around on the floor with their beach cocktails as Katy Perry’s California Gurls played in the background. I just laughed and joined what was hereby dubbed “Baruba Beach.” In other words, my room was taken over and being used as a beach instead. The reason why people wanted to relax and pregame was because the night of Tuesday April 10th was the Nachtwanderung. This amazing event consisted of having all 16 student clubs open up their doors for a night of drunkenness and forgetfulness. Every student club would have a barbecue food stand outside, and there would be special games and music at the different clubs. And a bus shuttle would ferry the drunkards to the other student clubs along the way. As an added bonus, every person who bought an 8 Euro bracelet would be given a shuttle map and a special card that had the names of every single student club. If you bought a drink at a student club, then the bartender would stamp your card, and after three different stamps you could get a free drink.
A large group of us started pre-gaming in one room. As usual, everyone brought their own different type of pre-gaming drink. Girls and guys alike took shots, others drank their wine, but as for me, I drank my delectable cocktail. This pre-gaming also led to one of the funniest bets that I had ever challenged anyone with. One of my liberal arts friends here was dancing around in the room. And I also saw a pineapple in the corner of the room owner’s bookshelf. It was newly bought, because it still had the tag connected to it. It was then that I challenged her to hold the pineapple in her hands during the entire night. She was not allowed to place it down, give to someone else to hold, drop it, allow someone to bite or cut it, or have the tags rip off. If she were to succeed, then she would receive 10 Euros from me. And so the night began with the challenge of the Ananas.
The clubs were cool, and we met such a wide range of people. The clubs were all themed in different ways. The Gutzkowclub, which is the club connected to our Haus, was simply more crowded with more streamers and a live band. It kinda looks like a cottage/old-styled German Haus made of brick and wood with a Tudor motif running through some of the walls. Club Mensa consisted of a series of bars that had a large dance floor in the middle of the main room with several lounges filled with chairs and sofas. Kellerklub Gag was one of the coolest student clubs, because it was themed like a basement dungeon. And there were 70 Cent shots called Dracula that looked like blood and tasted a bit like something sweet and spicy. There were other clubs that we went to, but the more memorable ones were clubs like Klub Neue Mensa which was actually our school cafeteria, or Klub Hänge Matha which was like a really chill student lounge with board games and dice games where the sum of your dice roll determined the shot that you would take.
The group inevitably split after the fourth club. This resulted from differing interests, too much alcohol, wanting to smoke, feeling sick, getting sleepy, or wanting to follow newly made friends. After 7 clubs, I decided to return home with the remainder of the group whom I was with. I was a bit upset with myself that I wasn’t even feeling tipsy, but I told myself that I should be careful with that mentality. I don’t need anything that alters my mind in order to be happy or have a good time. There are tools and methods to aid in that, but they are not necessary. Overall, it wasn’t a crazy night for me, but it was definitely a new experience. In some ways it reminded me of my Senior Week at Ocean City. I loved the drunk bus and the hundreds of inebriated people whom I saw wandering through the streets in search of something that they lost or thought that they lost.
Oh the wonders of living off of 0,30 Euros (30 cents) for a whole week. (insert be future roomie: NICE!! i’m impressed) Sorry about that, sometimes I leave my wordpress blog entry on while friends are in the room. So after being sleep deprived for working on the Physics Lab project from 4pm Tuesday to around 6:30am Wednesday, I finally got to get some sleep and rest. After the thursday classes, two of my classmates here who play rugby with me decided to help organize the food for American Night (April 28) at the Gutzkowstrasse Club in our dorm. We took the tram to Karstadt, and realized that although it had a wider selection, Netto still had cheaper prices in bulk. So we took the return tram from Prager Strasse to Netto, and racked up a total of 44 Euros worth of foodstuffs for the cooked food that night. When we got to the register, we realized that none of us had anymore money on our Sparkasse Debit Card here, so I had to run to the Hauptbahnhof and use my Bank of America card to withdraw money to pay for the food. About an hour later, we left several deputies to organize, cook, and sell the food to the crowd at the Gutzkowstrasse Club while we went to rugby practice. That rugby practice was good. I think that I like these practices more than those at BU, simply because they are more realistic. The drills emphasize the tackling part, as well as the skill set and technique. However, I do believe that BU was a more disciplined and more efficient team in the sense that it focused on a lot of ball handling and keeping the offensive line deep. But still, I actually enjoy the practices so much. I look forward to them as a way to vent frustrations, stress, and other thoughts that accompany the life of a study abroad engineer. And yes the tackles are definitely my favorite part.
What more can I say about rugby? It’s free. I”m not here to downgrade or bash any sport, because all sports in one sense or another are equal. But rugby has more visceral contact than football, is more fluid than soccer, and gives each team an equal opportunity to gain the advantage. I don’t know of any other sport that has been able to capture my total interest and heart. It is the wind getting knocked out of me when I’m tackled, the gritty feeling of ramming into another’s body with your shoulder in order to bring him to the ground, and the satisfaction of making a perfect pass that keeps me coming back for more. It’s simply beautiful, and you truly bond with your team. You have to rely on your team in order to win. It is less of a one-man sport than the other great sports of the world. Sure you can get a lot of yards while you have the ball, but that means nothing if the other team gets possession after that. I’m definitely not the athlete, but this is one sport that I am totally passionate about.
After several bruises, yards, ripped clothes, and tackles later, we end the practice. My two friends and I talk to one of the head players in order to exchange some information about formally joining the team. The coolest part was that we were actually asked if we wanted to play in some upcoming games. This is obviously intimidating because we three are most likely the youngest people on the team. After meeting him in the locker room and receiving our Spielerpass, we quickly hurried back to shower and help out with the beleaguered cooking crew.
They had already made the batters for the cinnamon and strawberry breads, the patties for the burgers, the potato fries, the bread sliders, the cheesesteaks, and the menu next to the table filled with food. The Gutz was packed with people, and the kitchen was so busy, so I dove right into work. We were definitely making a lot of Euros, as people stopped by and asked for a lot of food. They seemed to be intrigued by our wide array of food choices that normally did not exist in student clubs. As the night dragged on, I decided to finally start making the apple pie from scratch. I was advised by one of the liberal arts students not to overknead the dough, otherwise it would not be as flaky. The apple pie with vanilla ice cream turned out to be a huge success. And the whole night turned out amazingly well with pretty much everyone complimenting the superb food that was served that night. The only downside was that one guy had bought chicken wings at Netto, and then sometimes put them in the oven during the night while asking us to sell them for him. We would have gladly split the profit with him, except that he kept pocketing the money that he made as well as sometimes digging into the cash register to get some extra cash for himself. I eventually fell asleep on one of the liberal arts’ girls beds, and then decided to run to my own bed to sleep. Apparently I drooled, wiped it from my mouth to my right hand to my left hand, and then to the wall. It was a great thursday.
I awoke on friday, and got excited because I did not have any class. I didn’t do that much, except for clean most of my room and do laundry since I was running on my last pair of underwear and socks. Later, a group of us went to the Frühlingsmarkt on the west side of the Grosser Garten near the Hygiene Museum. It reminded me so much of the open-air markets of Nice during the first vacation. There were small handcrafted toy animals, fresh live fish stands, homemade jams and confitures, meat Fleischerei, mobile bakeries, and spring crafts. I felt as if I could just wander around that area during an absolutely gorgeous day. I bought an Osterkek, and kept walking with the group towards the Grosser Garten where we ended up in the middle where the palace was situated. It was there that we started throwing flowers at each other, telling Sydney (a little Asian girl in our group) to stop farting, and just lazing about on a friday. We then walked past the soccer stadium where the Dresden Soccer Team, called Dynamo, plays. We entered into the official shop, and I once again felt the tug of buying nice things.
If there’s one thing about me that I love, it’s that I like to have things. I love to collect small pamphlets, brochures, pictures, and souvenirs that remind me of what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I’ve started to love going to flea markets wherever I go and just explore the local items that people have to offer. It’s a lot better than buying tacky souvenirs at a tourist trap store. I’ve been able to find cool beer glasses, tins of Hungarian paprika, old black and white photos, and small novels among other things that catch my eye. And I love to just bring back objects from the memorable moments that I’ve experienced here in Europe, such as the Soproni beer glass from a drunken bar-hopping first night in Budapest or a heart-shaped stone from when I was mugged on a beach at 3am on the beaches of Nice. Those are moments that will stay with me forever, because of the experiences that occurred.
If you’re wondering why this post has no pictures, it’s due to the fact that I lent one of my RA’s here, Jen, my Nikon D40 camera. Out of all the physical presents that I have received, that gift has been my favorite above all others. I have had it since the Christmas of my senior year in high school and it has snapped well over 10000 pictures. It has survived high school dodgeball, senior prom, climbing up a waterfall, freshman year in Warren Towers, carry-on luggage to and from Baltimore, being handled by Haitian children, being swung around like a flail, snow, rain, and pollen, drunk friends, a warranty on the lens, and my adventures here in Europe. But not having it for a week has been a relief, because I can no longer be tempted to take pictures. Instead I can simply enjoy the moment for what it’s worth with the beautiful people who surround me. I must not live my life behind a lens, and instead live it out in front of it. I should be my own subject.
Ahem, so back to the story. We take a Strassenbahn to the Neustadt where we get off near the Watzke restaurant. We walk up another open air stand market that sold fried bread, slurpies, wines, bowle (which is similar to sangria), baked goods, and mobile stages for local bands. It was lovely. But we got tired, and took the tram back to Karstadt where we bought cans of root beer for 1.50 Euros a piece in order to make root beer floats with the leftover ice cream from American Night. A word about Karstadt: it is the equivalent of several large mall stores and an international grocery store put into one building. I haven’t spent much time in the clothing and jewelry sections, but I have been to the grocery section. And just like a well-stocked American grocery store, Karstadt has pretty much anything that you would ever want to find. It even has imported American goods that come at a high price, which is pretty funny for us.
That night consisted of a very tiring night for me. We all ate the remainder of the apple pie and the root beer floats. Then several of us got drunk, and then we danced at one of the nearby student clubs for free. This resulted from two of the liberal arts students celebrating April birthdays, which in turn allowed 10 people to come in for free. In fact, it was also the celebration of Alyssa’s birthday. She used to be in my BU gymnastics class last semester. We danced, we drank, and then we left to go to the Hookah bar. At this point, I couldn’t smell anything due to the allergies clogging up my nose. Unfortunately, I reached the point of drunkenness where you are totally conscious about how queasy you feel about the amount that you’ve had to drink. Eventually, I left to go to the bathroom, put down the toilet seat and the top of the seat, and just fell asleep in a stall. I don’t know how long I napped, but my friend David came to get me. We left the bar, and got back to the Haus around 5am.
Saturday was a day of rest and homework. I re-cleaned my room, and did Modern Physics homework for about 3 hours until the night came. Several of my classmates and I who had Kerstin as our German professor remembered the story she told us about Walpurgissnacht from April 30 – May 1 when the witches came out for that one hour from midnight to 1am. So then around 11:30pm, a group of about ten of us decided to build a boat and float it on the Elbe. At first we thought that we could make a floating paper lantern, but that proved to be too complicated. So a cardboard boat had to suffice. And man was I amazed at what a group of engineers could create in less than an hour. The boat had a pointed tip, and a rectangular body with pontoons on either end to support it. It had a mast that was supported with a pencil, tape, and hemp twine whose vector forces cancelled out. And then a small bottle was filled with post-it-notes upon which were written our hopes and dreams regardless of how serious or silly they were. We waterproofed the bottom with tape, and then took it to the Neustadt Northern side of the Elbe river. Literally when the church bells started ringing at 1am, we lit tea candles, placed them on the boat and then set it free on the Elbe. We were proud of what we wrought. The boat held firm despite the stones thrown at it by our drunken friends, and the eddy currents that swirled around the base of the stone bridges. But the accurate sails caught the wind, and the boat caught the currents, and it floated even faster towards the other bridge to the west of where we started. Before we knew it, we saw a small flicker of a tea candle light as the boat passed under the far bridge to the west and into the darkness of a new day.
Instead of going home, we followed the Strassenbahn tracks towards Prager Strasse. Along the way, we discovered a 3-story playground with slides, a trampoline, monkey ropes, and perfect places to practice climbing. I climbed along the outside of the structure, and then up to the 3rd story where we saw a group of german teenagers smoking and making out with each other. It was just like any other playground in the US. We then slowly trickled back to the Haus, and I carried my future roommate from the Bahn stop to the Haus without putting her down once. Then I made homemade Döner with tofu as the meat since my future roommate is a vegetarian.
I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a braggart, but sometimes I feel as if I’m too nice. And maybe sometimes I do things just for the sake of being nice. But is that my inherent nature to just be nice and help others? Or am I just seeking attention in my own way? It’s probably a mixture of both, but I do love to share my food and my things with others despite my materialism.
Finally, the first Sunday and the 1st of May brought about another quaint day. I woke up earlier than usual to try a Catholic Mass in English at the St. Paulus Church (Bernhardstrasse 42, Dresden). I got there 30 minutes late, but it was a relief to finally hear mass in English, and I the mass parts were the Mass of Creation. I loved the surrounding neighborhoods, which looked a lot like suburbs in Maryland. I just wanted to explore and wander around small streets filled with small houses and convenience stores. It was the thrill of adventure and seeing new lands and vistas that no one else has seen before. Sure, maybe others haven seen it before, but no one will ever see these things in the same way that I saw them at that one point in time.
Then those who were still at the Max-Kade Haus took the Strassenbahn to Theaterplatz where we were greeted with many open-air stands and market vendors strewn throughout the cobblestone road in front of the Katholische Hofkirche and the bridge. It turns out that May 1st is May Day, which is also known as International Workers’ Day/Labor Day. The phrase, “Tanz in den Mai,” which means Dance into May applies here. After a crazy night of mischievousness and witchcraft, that Sunday is used to spend time with friends a family out in the open air and sunlight. Fortunately, our excursion that day was a boat cruise tour to the Pillnitz Water Castle where we had gone to a few weeks prior. But at least this time we were on a nice steam boat. We get to the castle, and instantly order .7o Euro ice cream scoops and 2 Euro Radeberger Beers. We instinctively know that the Imbiss stand a little bit away from the main cafes and restaurants have the best prices and the tastiest snacks. Mmmmm ice cream and beer, what a great combination. We walked around the nice garden area and into a few antique book stores. But the highlight of the trip was the sexy, delicious photoshoot in front of the steps of the castle where we all posed in a very smoldering way to the dismay of old german couples who wanted some peace and quiet. Eventually, the sun started setting, my allergies kicked in, and I had to finish some Modern Physics homework.
Should I have traveled out of the country or somewhere else in Germany this weekend? I don’t know. I didn’t have any money, and no other people would have come. But I am getting to know more about Dresden the longer that I stay within this city. Slowly but surely this land is changing me and my outlook. I am now used to small, locally own restaurants, shops, and buildings. I getting used to the cobblestoned streets and the stone edifices that dot the sides of streets in the Altmarkt. Everyday can be a new adventure regardless of whether you go to Munich for the weekend or stay here in Dresden and just enjoy the rest and relaxation of a gorgeous town with amazing people who will share experiences that will change your life.
Most of us finished our essays Thursday night, and then proceeded to get drunk as usual. Several group members left for both Hamburg and Budapest, while using both hostels and Couchsurfing.org. But I didn’t go anywhere, because I was waiting to greet my old friend Jeanessa who was participating in the BU Study Abroad program in Tel Aviv on Friday. I had already sent her messages about what to do inBerlinwhile she was there: such as see the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, eat some currywurst, see museums, and other things. There are a few things that I have to say about this friend. First of all, she has been my friend throughout my entire college experience. And I love her so much for that. She has always been there whenever I needed someone to talk to or asked for advice. I could honestly say that she has been one of my closest confidants and that we both share a special relationship.
I cleaned up my room, kitchen, and bathroom in preparation for her and her three friends’ arrival. They got to the Dresden Hauptbahnhof at 4:15pm on Friday, and I could not have been happier. I hugged Jeanessa for what seemed like hours, and then finally let go. Oh, and I also hugged her friends too. I honestly did not let go of my friend until we got back to the Netto Grocery Store. I always missed just holding her arms. Haha, I know that that sounds weird but we are a touchy-feely bunch and I just missed hugging her and talking bluntly about anything in our lives. We get into Netto and show them the alcohol and food selection. They instantly express their shock at how cheap the food and liquor are in comparison to the Israeli food and drinks that they are used to eating and buying. Apparently everything is so much more expensive in Tel Aviv. And they can’t even get a lot of meat such as pork or beef due to the religious constraints in that area. But more on that later.
I, along with Mitch and Danielle who are also friends of the other two Tel Aviv visitors, show them their lodgings. They settle down in my room, and I help them roll out the cot and the blankets. They’re obviously very tired from their long day in Berlin and the bus ride to the Dresden Hauptbahnhof. After introducing them to people around the Haus, we bring them to the Neustadt restaurant called Watzke where Julie had celebrated her birthday a week earlier. They were craving some good beer along with good meat. So it wasn’t a surprise when they ordered the pizza with bacon bits or the breaded pork and chicken with gravy poured over top. We ended up with a good turnout of about 20 people coming to hang out on a very long table outside. It was nice to just joke around on the table, eat good food, and share stories with old friends. We got our group picture taken by some drunk German guys who all wanted to take and partake in our picture as well. Despite the cold, we still got some delicious ice cream, and then walked home. It turns out that the night was going to end soon, because everyone was exhausted from their endeavors throughout the week and from the night before. You see, the Hausmeister was not very pleased when he saw one of the WG corridors on the third floor where a lot of the guys live. Someone had thrown up on the carpet hallway floor and not cleaned it up, and one of the doors was off its hinges. So they were gonna take it a little bit easier this friday night.
I left my Tel Aviv friends in my room, and I walked up to the one of the other 3rd floor WG. I walked in the kitchen, and found a good amount of the liberal arts girls chilling in there. Now there is this one girl, Emily, who interests me a lot. It’s been suggested that she has a lot of fashion sense in that she is the girl whom you will see dressed up like an old English gentleman. She always has a nice scarf or kerchief around her neck, a nice flowing dress with rider’s boots, or an outfit suitable for a stroll through a garden or a park. However, like everyone else in the world, she is so much more than just her outfit. The first time that I ever had a good talk with her was on the bus ride back from the Berlin Weekend. We talked about the importance of moments. I shared with her my stories about my beloved high school Loyola Blakefield, and of the Kairos retreat. After about an hour and a half of talking, she reached into her bag and lent me T.S. Elliot’s chef d’oeuvre Four Quartets. I’ve only just read the first few pages, but every single word and line are filled to the brim with symbolism and meaning that I am still trying to comprehend.
Anyway, here she was in the kitchen in a drunken state. At one point, she started pouring everyone some Sheffer Fort Whisky, while making homemade crepes for everyone. It was a pretty hilarious time to be in the kitchen. And at one point, she said, “I feel so young. Normally when I’m sober I feel very old, but now that I’m drunk I feel so young again.” She later awoke in her hallway on a mattress with a pasta bowl in front of her.
Saturday started slowly. Mitch, Danielle, Jeanessa, her two friends, and I all took the tram to the banks of the Elbe to go to the flea market and show them reasonably priced German antiques and souvenirs that they could take home with them. I bought a Feldschlösschen mug, while I helped Jeanessa get a huge foot-long stein for her dad, as well as a hand-carved Christmas ornament for her family. We then hurried to the Hauptbahnhof, where we got Döner and then took a train towards Bad Schandau. We were supposed to get off at the Radebeul Ost stop, but we lost track of where we were and accidentally went four stops further. But that was alright, because Jeanessa and I had a good heart-to-heart talk. It was almost as if no time had passed, because I used to always talk with her at BU about my problems and my thoughts and doubts about life and my actions. I talked with her about this girl from BU whom I wanted to go out with. I had been talking about her for some time now, and those who have known her keep telling me that they think that she will be very surprised and not know that I wanted to go out with her. Then there are my friends who don’t know her, but say that I should definitely go for it and that she’s a lucky girl to have me. Well, after talking with Jeanessa, I decided that I wasn’t gonna ask her out. I would just find someone else, and not be shy about it anymore. It’s sad but I haven’t gone out on a date for about a year and half now.
I guess that it gets lonely sometimes just sleeping in a cold bed all by yourself without the warmth of a close body whom you can be intimate with. Sometimes I think that maybe I should be more out there and more lose. But then I think that that won’t make me happy in the long run. I think that maybe my task right now in life is to be a good person who is generous and will go out of his way to help others. Right now, my destiny is to look on the brightside and be the nice guy. I will be the nice guy upon whose shoulder a girl can lean on. I won’t take advantage of people, and I will make sure to try and not take advantage of other people. Yeah, this was pretty much what we talked about on the train, but then we decided to nap and talk about lighter matters.
We got off at Radebeul Ost, and discovered that the next train to Moritzburg Schloss would leave in 20 minutes. We all dispersed and gathered around the bakery/ice cream store. Jeanessa and I yet again bought more ice cream, and then we headed back to the station. What happened next was a pleasant surprise. An old-fashioned steam engine train greeted us with open air box seats. We all had to pay about 10 Euros, but it was totally worth it for the 30+ minute train ride to the castle. We sat down as the wind whipped around our faces and the sun shone upon our shoulders. The train wove its way through small neighborhoods, villages, farms, fields, over rivers, through wooded pathways, and past city streets. But the coolest part was that everyone on the streets waved at us. And even if they didn’t, we made sure to wave at them. Everyone from the small children to the elderly farmers stopped for a few moments to just raise a hand and acknowledge us. Even this tiny gesture made me smile. It was the universal sign of greeting with one’s hand regardless of the different language barriers and customs. I felt connected. Also, the train ride just felt like a children’s adventure to a distant land on a Chu-Chu Bahn. The train eventually stopped in the town of Moritzburg, and we got off.
The town seemed small yet linear. By linear I mean that the main street led directly towards the Moritzburg Castle. We passed by the typical Rathaus, Bäckerei and local Restaurants that dotted the German landscape. We get to the castle, and all of the sudden the clouds part and the baby blue sky allows sunlight to the bathe the castle and the surrounding landscapes in a Romantic light. We walked along a causeway that led towards the castle. The grounds of the castle were surrounded by a large lake with forests on the opposite banks. The castle itself was okay and cool-looking, but it was the adventure and time spent getting there that made the outing worth it. The stone pedestals on the corners of the castle grounds bounding the water proved to be popular action-shot picture moments. This Baroque castle with its domed towers looked absolutely gorgeous when seen from across the water. It’s reflection coupled with those of the forests in the background allowed for the Tel Aviv visitors to see something that they would have never seen in the Middle East.
After taking more action shots, we settled down in a nice little restaurant, Landhof zu Moritzburg, by the side of the main road. It also had a children’s playground. Some of our group ate some food, and the rest of us just had some Iced Coffee. We then took the Chu-Chu Bahn back to Radebeul Ost, and then took that train back to the Hauptbahnhof. We got to the Haus, and decided that we wanted to barbecue and just hang out. So about 20 of us pooled our resources and got a barbecue going outside complete with beers, liquor, barrels, and hookah. I made a delicious pork roast stuffed with herbs and onions, as well as vodka pasta and fried onions. Others also provided Wursts and a seemingly endless supply of mashed potatoes. And there was also someone playing the guitar as the sun faded in the distance. It was turning out to be a great night. As the shots kept coming and the barbecue started dying, we all started to run around. In the span of an hour I was able to smoke hookah, have another deep talk with Emily, join a massage train, hug a ton of people, and finish carving the rest of the roast for everyone.
Later on, we cleaned up all of the equipment from the field, and brought the party inside for a bit. But so many people were drunk and hard to find. Eventually, we all made it to a bar in the Neustadt where we got even more drinks. By this time, I was pretty drunk and far gone. I got to the queasy stage, and instantly regretted taking those last two shots before we left. I heard some commotion outside, and realized that one of my friends had kinda made a bit of a mess. You see, he was having a staring contest with someone in the bar, when all-of-a-sudden the table collapsed and he continued drinking his drink from the ground with a straw. And then he just ripped a huge, and loud fart that was hilariously captured on tape. I have no recollection of the matter. I then make it back to the Haus, and walk to the kitchen where I sit in front of a window. I feel as if I might throw up, so I open the window, place a bucket on a counter to the left of me, have three plastic bags open on my right, while holding a piece of toast and a glass of water in my other hand. Yes I was prepared, but fortunately did not need it that night. I don’t remember much after that, but the next thing I know I’m waking up fully clothed in my bed on Sunday morning.
I make french toast for everyone, and just use that day as a day to catch up on both rest and homework. Also, one of Jeanessa’ friends was Indian in ethnicity, and I asked if we could make an Indian dish for dinner. She agreed and so we bought the necessary ingredients of black cumin (Shahi Jeera), coriander, cumin, lentils, cauliflower, garlic, turmeric, and other things. I leave the Haus to go to the Palm Sunday mass, and I return to the delicious smell of Bengali food that consisted of potato stew, lentil soup, and sautéed cauliflower. The night was a short one with a lot of homework, packing up, and planning out the next day’s schedule. Their plane was leaving around 4am Monday morning, so we woke up with them around 3am. So in the dead of the morning, we walked towards the Hauptbahnhof and met the German-speaking taxi driver. As they were about to leave, they realized that they had left their folder filled with all of their important travel documents back in my room. We asked the taxi driver if he could wait, but he told me that he couldn’t wait for long. So I got into the cab with them, and directed him in German to the Max Kade Haus. It was even harder because it was in a different language, and I had left my contacts back in my room so I couldn’t see anything. But it was a good experience overall.
I returned back to an empty room, and I felt the loneliness that comes with a bittersweet parting. But this visit helped me realize just how close all of us really were and that all I had to do was just wait a few more months in order to see my loved ones again. But until then, I’m still enjoying Europe.
April 7 – Thursday
Thursday April 7th marked the first weekend after our break had ended. I still need to finish my France week reflection, but things have just been so busy. So that night, a large group of us attempted to barbecue to no avail. The wind thwarted our efforts at even lighting a piece of paper, and the grill and the charcoal actually flew across the field as the gale-force winds howled around us. We then moved the grilling to me room and balcony; however, the coals refused to light despite the countless attempts to ignite them. I remember tearing up pieces of newspaper and cardboard, only to see them burn out quickly and without even making the coals become hot. And I had about 10 people in my room waiting with their plates of ground beef patties, wursts, and chickens ready to be grilled. But it would not happen that day. Eventually, people left to cook their food on the stove or leave to celebrate a friend’s birthday. And I just got really sad. I really wanted to help everyone by getting the grill ready for a wonderful end of the week barbecue. In order to remedy this, I fried my salmon with the lemon juice, garlic, and herbs mixture and I shared it with everyone who was expecting a barbecue that day. I then hurried to go to Watzke, a local restaurant and brewery in the Neustadt, where I celebrated with one of my close liberal arts friends here for her 20th birthday. Yeah, she too has left behind her teenage years.
Her name is Julie and she’s a character just like the other liberal arts students on this trip. Most of the girls play ultimate frisbee with us, and if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have any girls playing sports with us outside. They are always ready to get their drinks on and go clubbing or explore some other bar in the Neustadt. Yes, they add a lot of color, flavor and depth to the study abroad experience. Since that first flight to Germany, I have since made friends with many of them. The one who had just celebrated her 20th birthday invited me to join her with WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I am so excited for this new adventure that awaits us after this study abroad journey comes to a close.
I should mention that my mood sunk really low when we couldn’t start the barbecue. I just got so sad that I had failed at getting the fire started. I don’t know, but I just love sharing food and my stuff with other people. But the night turned out well, because after going to Watzke, we all went to the ice cream place across the plaza. Mmmm, I love ice cream so much, and it was only 1 Euro! The only problem with the outing was that one of my friends (with whom I would sing with during the masses at BU) here wanted me to go to sing at Gospel Choir with her on thursday evenings. But I messaged her and told her that I would be busy. This was yet another thing that made me feel sadder. But my worries soon left me as I shared good times and photos with my friend Julie, the liberal arts students, and the others who decided to pregame in my room for the Kultur-Schock Feier (Culture Shock Party) in the Tusculum at August-Bebel-Straße 12. It was great to release the stress from the week, drink among friends, and just stumble to the dance party in linked arms with great company.
We get there, and there are some people who are too drunk. One of my friends starts to just kiss everyone on the dance floor, and at one point he starts stumbling to the bathroom. Another one of our mutual friends and I go to the bathroom to help him balance, but his legs just give way. We bring him outside in case he throws up. At this point, all three of us are drunk, but the cold atmosphere and the seriousness of the situation kills the buzz for us a little bit. He starts mumbling, and some of our other friends gather around to watch. As he’s sitting on the ground, he starts to heave forward, and I throw my other friend out of the way and then hold his head away from his body as he regurgitates. I know that this isn’t a pretty story, but I wanted to share the good and bad parts of the the whole study abroad experience. Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough and he ends up hitting his head on the pavement and getting a small gash on his head. We gather the RA’s, and a large group walks him back to the Max Kade Haus. The best part of the night was helping a friend who had previously helped us out in the past. What started out as a sad day, turned out to become the start of a great weekend as friends teamed up together to help each other out. You know, that’s one of the most beautiful things about drinking and partying too much. Sure, we kinda destroy our bodies and livers as we make some bad decisions, but these are the times when our true friends care for us and help us back home. These are the college friends that make sure you make it back safely, who hold your head so that you don’t throw up on yourself, who stay with you until the morning to take care of you, and who never take advantage of you when you yourself can’t tell who’s in front of your face.
April 8 – Friday
Friday turned out to be an awkward day, because a lot of us did not have much to do other than cure our hangover. I woke up, surprised that I was still in my outside clothes. I became even more surprised that there were so many stains and bottles on my table and on the floor. I then spent the first two hours of the day airing out my room, sweeping the floor, disinfecting the table, and making a large brunch for myself. Afterwards, I focused on doing as much homework as I could so that I could enjoy the later parts of the weekend and kick my procrastination habit. The day progressed naturally, and the night soon came. I really wanted to smoke that night, so I went on a 5-mile run with my two other guy friends. About halfway through the circuit, we stopped by the cigar shop where I picked up 5 vanilla-flavored cigarillos because they were very tasty. Friday night turned out to be a chill night filled with good music from grooveshark, Earl Grey shisha for the Hookah, and two mattresses for a snuggle, napfest. About ten of us spooned, cuddled, and slept for a few hours on two mattresses. It was so beautifully warm and glorious as we all got to be so close to one another. And little by little, everyone started to leave.
April 9 – Saturday
Saturday was a pretty epic day. I woke up and attempted to redo the morning routine of cleaning my room and making brunch. A group of us wanted to go to Sächsische Schweiz and explore even more trails than the ones we saw near Bastei and Rathen a few weeks back. Unfortunately, even the RA’s didn’t know too much about those trails, and so we decided to follow them to the Pillnitz Water Castle along the banks of the Elbe. Once again, a large group of us took the 61 Bus towards Schillerplatz. We walked across the Blue Wonder Bridge, and then down a staircase as we walked on the leftside of the northern banks of the Elbe. It was a beautiful day to walk. We all just acted like kids as we frolicked through the fields and the grassy banks. We would randomly stop to take group pictures on top of hay bales, or pretend be ninja and yell, “Tally Ho!” as we swung are huge sticks at each other. It was also during this time that we just got closer to one another through our jokes, stories, and laughter. At one point, several of us found a hat and we started calling it Obi’s hat even though she never wore any hats. And that has since started a trend where people just see an object lying on the ground and assume out loud that that belongs to Obi. Up until the present moment, Obi has left a hat, boulder, water bottle, castle, and bus on the ground.
About an hour and a few miles later, we got to the Pillnitz Schloss (Pillnitz Castle). It was pretty beautiful and cool. The part of it facing the Elbe was shaped like a mini amphitheater whose steps led directly towards the water. That was where we got our group picture. We then wandered through the gift shop and the verdant gardens. However, we were really tired and warm after walking for so long. But we soon found 70 cent ice cream at the Imbiss stand where we all got kugeln (ice cream balls) and beer to commemorate walking to Obi’s Water Castle. Then we took the 63 Bus back to Schillerplatz, and then the 61 Bus back to the University. Even though the castle was so beautiful, a lot of us didn’t even blink an eye at its beauty because we had seen other amazing castles and landmarks. I guess that I didn’t get to appreciate the castle for its own sake, but I did get to appreciate the journey getting there. It was one of the most carefree moments that I had experienced on this trip. And the walk there was definitely so much more of an adventure than the actual time spent at the castle itself.
We stopped by the Netto Grocery Store on the way back to the Max Kade Haus in an attempt to barbecue again. I was hesitant about trying, but decided that I might as well see where this risk would take me. We bought new charcoal, then doused it with lighter fluid, and then laid it on a bed of twigs. Amazingly, the coals started to light, and about 15 people gathered in my room to grill their steaks, burgers, wursts, kebabs, and salmon fillets. It was a beautiful moment to witness as people glided through my room and onto the stony balcony where the grill was set up. And man did those burgers and salmon fillets taste awesome. I was just so content with my marinated Lachs and burgers that I could have almost cried. The successful barbecue turned out to be such a reversal from the feelings and outcome from the friday barbecuing attempt. The fact that other people were happy made me happy. And I guess that that is one of those things about me. I thrive off of others’ happiness and contentment. Sometimes I feel as if I could just dance.
Towards the end, my future roommate and I shared another vanilla cigarillo, and just gazed out in the gloom of the night as the burning coals provided us with heat. We were content. I was content. So then we all started drinking again. And for the third night in a row, my room became the gathering spot for the pregame. At one point, about three unfamiliar people were also in my room. They were friends or at least WG neighbors with the liberal arts guys. Two of them were french, and I later befriended them. Half of us then left the room in search of a bar called Rosis. On the way there, I conversed with one of the french guys, and asked him about Paris. He told me that the people in Paris were weird, too stressed, and busy. When I shared the story of how our waitress in a local Paris restaurant was rude to us, he just told me about how she probably didn’t like my french. He then complimented me on my french. We eventually got off at Albertplatz, and walked to Rosis. After getting lost and possibly peeing outside in a bush, we get there only to be greeted by a crowded room. It was too crowded, so we left to go to the BBC Bar that we always go to in the Neustadt because it is pretty cheap and always has room.
The night eventually ends, and we all end up home safely.
April 10 – Sunday
Ahh the rest day of the week. I awoke, accomplished my morning ritual and set myself down to focus on homework. I actually accomplished a lot. Nothing special happened other than registering for classes and going to church at the Katholische Hofkirche. I continued to do work, and then I went to bed and prepared myself for a second week of classes.
You know, even though many people may not even know that this blog exists, and even though the quality of the writing is pretty bad, I still like it. It helps to remember what I have done as well as reflect and keep my thoughts in order. I get to see a progression of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
The last two weeks after the Berlin excursion have been filled to the brim with many different excursions. Maybe we’re all getting used to the culture and land, because the excursions do not seem to hold as much excitement, newness, and wonder like they used to hold. However, once I step back, I start to realize different things about myself and my surroundings.
March 16 – Max Planck Institute
On Wednesday we left to the second-to-last sociology excursion to the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics founded in 1998. It wasn’t that far from the Max Kade Hause; only a 10 minute Strassenbahn ride. The coolest part was about the Molecular Cell Biology and Cellular Genetics that occurred there. The entire structure represented a new way of thinking. Whereas many of us felt that regular laboratory research would get tedious and boring over time, this institute demonstrated a different approach to that outlook. The main way to go up and down the different floors was through the use of a spiral staircase meant to resemble DNA Helicase. This common staircase allowed scientists, researchers, and assistants to centrally move throughout the institute and share ideas. The cafe was open, and allowed for everyone to talk with one another and share ideas. Our tour guide, Solveig Otto, was a very enthusiastic woman who shared an excitement for the research at the institute.
The institute’s mission statement revolves around, “How do cells form tissue?” After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the science from the west was shared with the east. And thus this institute was built in the center of Saxony in Dresden. The glass walls, which will become a recurring theme during our time here in Dresden, symbolizes the openness of the scientific community. Whereas the Berlin Wall represented a solid, opaque wall of separation and secrets, the glass walls of the institute represents the transparency of the scientific research with forums open to the public to allow for discussion and debate. Several of the exhibits intrigued us, especially the axolotl which could regenerate its limbs after they were cut off. There was also a few thousand small fish tanks in a room, with each tank holding a specific type of genetically altered fish. Then there was the mice lab with genetically altered mice that could fetch a price of over a thousand euros just so that they could be safely transported to another research facility across the world. The coolest part was that the institute reawakened people’s desires to become a BME researcher and understand that research didn’t have to be tedious and boring.
March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day
So the day started off with a sociology class presentation about the Volkswagen Transparent Factory that we would be taking the next week. After the presentation, several of us stopped by Netto or Karstadt (the grocery and mall stores) to buy alcohol and ingredients for Irish dishes for the night. Then the class had to go back to the Max Kade Haus for a group update from the RA’s. The presentation finished soon enough, and then the fun started. About 15 of us joined together for an Ultimate Drisbee Game on the field by the Haus where we always played. Drisbee = Drunk Frisbee. The game consisted of playing with a drink in one’s hand, or drinking everytime someone scored. The game consisted of trying to throw a disk in the pouring rain or slipping on the muddy ground as if Mario Kart banana peels were left everywhere. The game eventually ended and everyone gathered together for a tipsy hug. It was beautiful.
The mud eventually washed off in the showers, and the heavy drinking and Irish cooking and baking commenced. I made delicious ice cream with Irish Cream Liquor desserts, a friend of mine made a complex Irish brownie dish, and others even went so far as to make boiled cabbage. The meals went around, and so did the dark beers and Gluhwein. A bit later, I was already tipsy and drunk. The floor above me was already crazy, with most of the guys running around and falling. The kitchen floor was covered by about a centimeter of fluid, which I assumed was mopping liquid. It wasn’t. I returned downstairs, and people left to smoke hookah. I eventually joined them, and before we knew it it was about 8 people in a room smoking guava flavored hookah with a surprise inside (similar to a Kinderegg). It was such a relaxing time. We all unwound with each other and just joked around and shared stories for a chill end to St. Patrick’s Day. Then one of my friends brought in the cardboard cylinder of a toiler paper roll and a small dish of a soapy water mixture. We then blew our smoke through the roll to make smoke bubbles. It looked so sweet seeing the smoke swirl inside a sphere of iridescent soap until it popped and allowed the smoke to dissipate into the air.
After about an hour of smoking, I started to just laugh at everything and make a bunch of jokes with friends. I even felt so moved that I opened up a word document and started typing in stream-of-consciousness. I wrote down an entry that revolved around seeing Weepinbell and Bellsprout Pokemon running alongside each other in nice, straight lines, and then about what I was feeling and thinking as everyone around me talked. Two other people joined the hookah circle, and one of them had blinking greenlight shamrock that transfixed everyone. I suddenly felt sleepy, and told eveyone that I was going to make cinnamon bread for them. Instead, I fell asleep on the toilet, attempted to skype my friend, and then ended up just going to sleep.
That night was the first time, and I wrote down the following phrase on a post-it-note: “It’s too hard to think and focus. It’s a weird, slightly nauseating feeling.” Yet I would not have traded that great day for anything.
March 18 – Meißen
While everyone woke up with a hangover, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go. We took the train from the Hauptbahnhof to the nearby city of Meißen, while the other engineering group to the train to visit Bautzen. Our first stop was by the Meißen Porcelain Factory. Within this factory, we saw a step-by-step explanation of how European porcelain was made. We learned about how the Chinese had created white, hard-paste porcelain centuries earlier through a specific process that utilized feldspar and other elements. This attracted the attention of Augustus II of Poland (Elector of Saxony) who ordered Johann Friedrich Böttger to create “white gold” around the beginning of the 1700s. With the help of Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, Böttger discovered how to make the porcelain and started production at Meißen’s Albrechstburg Castle in 1710.
Okay, so that’s enough of a history lesson, and most of that information was taken from wikipedia since I forgot most of it by the end of the factory tour. Anyway, this factory was more of a warehouse that showcased ancient porcelain pieces from all over the world, along with how the tables in those days were set with dozens of porcelain dinnerwares. We witnessed the ridiculousness of buying 50000 Euro porcelain peacocks or 1000 Euro teapot sets. I eventually settled on a nice 11 Euro teacup that I originally was going to keep for myself, but then decided that my mom deserves it more. The coolest part about the Meißen porcelain is that underneath each creation are two blue, crossed swords that represent one of the oldest trademarks in the world. This ensured that every piece could be dated to a certain time within the company’s history or discourage counterfeiters.
After leaving the factory, we had lunch at the Scweizerhaus restaurant. Lunch was pretty good, and then we all walked through the streets to the Albrechtsburg castle. The castle was cool, because you were allowed to just wander through the many staircases and passageways. At one point, we all entered a great hall where it was mandatory to wear these huge slippers so as not to scratch the floor. We instantly disregarded the ancient history of the castle, and started pushing each other and spinning around. Yes, we did experience the old and ancient majesty of our first German castle. After an hour of exploring, we left to go to the bus, and our RA’s gave us special Meißen bread that was hollow on the inside. The story goes that in the olden times, the king’s messengers would just get wasted during errands. So he gave them this hollow bread that was specifically created in Meißen, and that way if they returned with the bread still intact then they did not get drunk during their missions. It was fitting that we got these the day after St. Patrick’s Day.
March 22 – VW (BMW) Factory
This final sociology excursion turned out to be one of the most interesting. I didn’t bring my camera with me, and that turned out to be a fortuitous circumstance. I paid more attention to the factory and how unique it was. Similar to the Max Planck Institute, the VW (pronounced Fauw Vay) Factory had glass walls so that the public could see the entire production of a car. We entered the factory and instantly felt like we were in the lobby of a 5 star hotel. There were fountains, receptionists, coat rooms show rooms, and tour guides decked in outfits fit for a concierge. A gaze towards the 5 story ceiling yielded a majestic view of gleaming overhead pathways and a tower of cars. Our tour guide, named Ida Maria Smentek, brought us to an overhead walkway that overlooked the main production floor of the cars. We noticed that there were no stains, scratches, or marks anywhere in the factory; plus there was not a lot of noise. Our guide informed us that the entire factory working floor was made out of Canadian Maple Wood, and that the overhead lights were designed to mimic the natural sunlight. This ensured that neither the workers nor Dresden were bothered by obnoxious lighting. And the workers did not have to move far for tools, because part of the wooden floor consisted of an extremely slow moving conveyor belt that moved the cars and the workers along the wooden floor.
This factory was to a Mechanical Engineer what the Max Planck Institute was for Biomedical Engineers; essentially it
was a nerdgasm. The floors had 60000 magnets that guided robotic tool kits into moving from the basement floor to the main floor three floors higher, every wireless electrical tool and screen was powered by induction from the floor, and one could customize the car like a glorified Build-a-Bear Shop. The example that our tour guide gave us was that a man asked that his grandfather’s tree from his backyard could be used as the interior wood of his car. And if you were set on buying a car, you could actually help assemble your car by putting some screw in or helping set up one of the frames. There was a refrigerator in the car and a computerized navigation system that detected what the speed limit on the road was. It was interesting to note this “glass wall” mentality in Germany. I guess that centuries of experience in Europe has led to differences in culture and actions. I feel as if handmade goods and products are appreciated more in Europe than in the US. For example, this factory has the capacity to produce over 100 cars a day, but instead only produces 48 so as to ensure that the workers have ample time to produce a car of excellent quality. Also it feels as if Germany, although more efficient and smooth than the US counterpart, has more patience and time for reflection than America. I just feel that this is the end result of over a 1000 years of wars and violence that has led to a more deeper understanding of what it means to have neighboring countries that just get annoying after a few decades.
But what intrigued me the most was that the glass factory also plays an integral part in the culture of Dresden. Operas, concerts, and ballets were performed there when the Elbe River flooded the Dresden Opera House. I instantly imagined beautiful music reverberating off of the glass walls as the cars in the background gleamed with the changing lights and the shadows of the dancers. It was this utterly beautiful and simple fusion of culture and technology that made me love Dresden even more.
To help the homesickness, one of my good friends here had his girlfriend from BU visit for a whole week. It felt so weird to see one of my old friends from halfway across the world just physically be here when I was skyping her roommate back in Boston. It was this feeling of being in a world that was so small, but also so connected. It helped me realized that my time here was still finite, and that I would be able to see my loved ones back home one day. But as this homesickness wanes and grows, I notice that my outlook on life changes. I have been starting to feel more used to European and German customs and traditions. I am starting to see this place as my home where a piece of me will always reside. And I’m okay with that.
Friday March 11 – Sunday March 13
Freitag March 11
It’s getting harder and harder to update the blog, because every time I get back from an excursion or a class I instantly just want to eat, sleep, cook, and then play or do something else like that. But today is the Wednesday after we got back from our weekend in Berlin, and there are definitely a few stories to share from that weekend. So on Friday morning the engineering students and the liberal arts students all got onto a chartered bus that picked us up directly in front of the Max Kade Haus. Some of us were still drunk from the last night’s activities since we were slated to depart by 6:15am. Most of us were asleep during the ride there, but a peeks from the 2 hour plus nap yielded sights of a far green countryside covered with mist and stories. Eventually we arrived at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and walked around for about 20 minutes. The multi-leveled Hauptbahnhof definitely looked a lot more impressive than the one in Dresden with its many high windows and columns supporting Strassenbahns.
After meeting at the designated point at McDonald’s, we were given a bus tour of the city of Berlin. It was a little bit cloudy and stormy, so the weather and lighting created a unique mood for the atmosphere of Berlin during our first day. We first passed by the Reichstag, which used to house the German Parliament up until 1933 when it burned down. And with its burning arose a newly inflamed Hitler. And it was not completely renovated until 1990 when the Berlin Wall fell down. And then 9 years later it became the sitting place for the Lower House of the German Parliament, the Bundestag. It was a marvelous building to behold with a glass cupola dome atop the building with a huge winding spiral that allowed people to walk to the top. And then we passed by the Victory Column which commemorated the Prussian victory during the Danish-Prussian War. As the tour continued, I slowly started to recognize names and the stories of the different places and people from my AP European History class a few years ago in high school.
There is one thing to know about our tour guide Markus, he chose ridiculous words and had a hilarious accent that showcased his enthusiasm and passion for Berlin. I can honestly say that I cannot think of a better tour guide than him. He would randomly whisper in German to our bus driver, or over-pronounce a certain English word. And at one point we passed by the German equivalent of the White House, Bellevue, and he started to speak in French. Opposed to some tour guides who sometimes had a few weird stories about the city, this tour guide knew a quirky fact about every single street and building that we came across. He shared with us that Michael Jackson spoke with the gorillas at the Berlin Zoo. The topic then turned to drugs as we passed by one of the shadier sides of town, and he said, “Drugs are fun, but distract you from your goal. Watch that out.” Then as we were passing through the borough of Charlottenburg he blurted out, “CHARLOTTENBURG! WE ARE JUST TOUCHING IT! TOUCHING IT! WE ARE JUST TOUCHING IT! Ah cozy Charlottenburg.” A lot of us on the tour bus felt mesmerized by the size of Berlin, because all that we have seen thus far have been small castle towns and villages, whereas Berlin housed 3.4 million people.
We passed by the Europa Center “where young men shop.” And then we entered into Schöneburg which held the great 7 story department store of KaDeWe and Wittenberg Platz, which was named after the city where Martin Luther first issued his 95 Theses. One of the more interesting themes of the tour and the city itself was the idea of acceptance. A rainbow colored pillar signified the beginning of the openly gay neighborhood of Berlin. This was where people of all ages and sexualities could live and find other people just like them. And right next to this neighborhood was a Catholic Church. Markus kept stressing that Berlin was “not a city where you have to fit in [because] you are who you are.” And I thought that that was so beautiful. I felt that the symbolism of having the gay neighborhood next to regular areas such as churches and main streets signified that people of different orientations did not need to be sequestered to a certain area. This neighborhood was similar to a Little Italy or a Chinatown with its high demographic of homosexuals. And at almost every single bus stop, there were advertisements and posters proclaiming, “Bündnis gegen Homophobie. Ich bin Lesbisch/Schwul und Berlin steht hinter mir.” (Alliance against homophobia. I am lesbian/gay and Berlin stands behind me.) There were two posters, one was of a female nurse and the other was of a mechanic of sorts. It felt beautiful to see this more widespread tolerance and acceptance for all people. In some cases, I got the feeling that Europe was more socially tolerant of many things when compared with the U.S.
The tour continued and we stopped at Checkpoint Charlie or Checkpoint C, which was the most well-known East and West Berlin checkpoint. To the right of the Checkpoint was a McDonald’s and for a small fee one could take a picture with actors who wore the uniforms of the old checkpoint guards. I felt very odd taking pictures of people smiling and children with their families easily passing through and around the checkpoint. There has been such a disparity between what happened decades ago and what occurs right now. After studying the history of post-WWII Germany and discussing the events that transpired I was a bit taken aback at how different things had become. The wall literally and symbolically stood for a barrier against social freedom and life. Families were trapped and separated, and people died attempting to cross the wall. As I was researching a little bit, I read a few articles about the 18 year old Peter Fechter who died trying to cross the Berlin wall to escape to the west. A year after the wall’s inception, Peter and his friend jumped into the death strip between the actual wall and the secondary wall. His friend made it over the 2+ meter wall but he didn’t make it because he was shot in the pelvis. And for a whole hour he bled to death a few feet away from freedom, and no one could help him for fear of being shot by the guards on the opposing side. Even though I was only reading about this past event in words, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the emotions. He was 2 years younger than me, and he only wanted freedom. And he died in brutal agony as his screams for help echoed across no man’s land. So much horror and evil that I will probably never hopefully experience.
Around 50 years later, we were dropped off from our tour bus to take pictures and get a coffee at McDonald’s or discuss what we had ordered from our free meal later that day.
It was also at this moment that several gypsies with their supposed children walked up to us asking, “Speak English?” And all of us just rushed by as they attempted to show us papers asking for money for medication and food in three different languages. Many of us simply ignored them, and went about our regular tour schedule. And boy were there a ton of gypsies around Berlin. Almost every major area had a Gypsy woman and a child with her. At one point later in the tour, we passed by a Gypsy woman who looked tired and had sit down next to her child in a dirty stroller who was eating a McDonald’s sandwich. I instantly remembered Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother; in those few moments I could see the lines of tiredness, experience, and worry upon her face as passersby weaved their way around her as if she and her little child did not exist. I still wonder about why many of the gypsies live on the streets of Berlin, and whether or not those children really belong to them or whether they are just part of a way to get easy money. I don’t know.
The bus picked us back up and drove towards the eponymous Museum Island, which contained dozens of varied museums. The final destination of the Bus was around the Unter den Linden street which was where many Kirchen were. It was also the site of Goebbels’ book burning during the reign of the Nazis. We then passed by the statue of the Enlightened Frederick II of Prussia, and we stopped in front of the Via Nova Restaurant (Universitätsstrasses 2-3a 10117 Berlin). It was a nice restaurant with a cozy interior. The best part was that we were still hanging out with the Liberal Arts students as well. Many people got the pasta and pizzas, and I just felt so excited. I was on the cusp of an adventure.
We left the restaurant, and the RA’s guided us through the winding passages of the Berlin metro system. We were advised to definitely not chance trying to get on the trains without a ticket, because they controlled more frequently there than they would in Prague or in Dresden. Eventually we got off at the Frankfurter Tor exit, and continued down Warschauer Strasse until we got to the Odyssee Hostel (Grünberger Strasse 23 10243 Berlin). The hostel was decorated to have the look and feel of a pirate/adventure-like tavern and cave complete with wooden tables, lanterns, and shower stalls that looked like stone crevices. One of the highlights of the stay was that many of us were fortunate enough to get to room 401, which held 22 people on 11 bunk beds. And since this was a hostel, the rooms were definitely coed. It felt so cool to be in a room with so many people and friends, all while surrounded by fluffy pillows and sheets.
After settling in, about 12 of us left to see the Berlin Mauer (Wall) East Side Gallery. It was walking distance from the hostel, but we still opted to take the public bus. We get to the wall, and for a few blocks down we see dozens of murals painted upon it. They were murals filled with visions of peace, freedom, nature, turmoil, satire, solidarity, and so many other nice ideas and words. However, what touched me even more than the murals were the graffiti scribbled upon the walls. There were messages in all different sorts of languages from visitors all over the world. Greetings from (insert country of origin here). There were images and cartoons drawn across the murals. And many names were written across the wall. But the most striking thing were the messages written down that asked provoking questions or seemed to resonate with such a defiant belief in freedom and peace.
“We will fight. Qui baise qui? Say yes to freedom, peace dignity and respect for all. Say no to terror and repression toward all living beings. In the beginning was freedom. J’aime Berlin. La liberté n’a pas de prix. Pour l’amour entre les peuples. Love. Give peace a chance. Make love not war. You’re not alone. Everywhere in the world I’m here for you. I Love U. Berlin 2011. Wer will dass die Welt so bleibt wie sie ist der will nicht dass sie bleibt. (He who wants the world to remain as it is doesn’t want it to remain at all.) Peace on earth is evolution for mankind. The world is your chance to create. Dawn of Peace. Je me souviens. A few more walls like this should fall. Berlin, you have been torn in two and you have only become stronger. One day I will return and make you my home. One World. Diese Flagge basiert auf dem Grundgedanken von Frieden und Einheit aller Völker. Sie ist eine Auseinandersetzung mit dem Erbe aller deutschen Generationen nach dem 2 Weltkrieg. Sie ist ein Symbol des Vereinenden und Aufeinander Zugehens. Ein mahnmal gegen Jede Faschistische Tendenz Reichskristallnacht 9 November 1938. Mauerfall: 9 November 1989. Lead me on my dreams among different time and space. To share hope with nations and believers. To observe with modesty the pure truth. And to reveal prudently the magic and the mystery. Forgiveness.”
Each mural and marking of graffiti held a different story. Each groove, chip of paint, and handprint on that wall contained a different emotion and response. There were some that evoked feelings of laughter and joy at how good life is. Then there were some that brought out feelings of anger and vengeance towards some greater evil. And then there were some that made one feel at peace, and remember that the greatest power that we have is one of forgiveness and peace. We get to the end of the gallery, and we go around to the other side of the wall. As opposed to the murals, this side was simply white, and did not have as much graffiti on it. A few meters across was another wall, and we recognized the strip of land in between as the death strip. It was funny to note how easy it was to walk across to the other side of the strip and see the beautiful sunlight reflect off the waters of the Spree River. I wonder if there was a person just like me who tried to document everything, and also looked out longingly at the sun setting in the west across the waters of the Spree?
The group then decides to go back to the hostel and prepare for the night. We exchange our ID’s for access to the public kitchen, and we cook or reheat the food that we brought with us in order to save money from eating out. I had my delicious Meatless Beer Chili. The liberal arts students joined us, and we all gathered together in the 22 person room for pregaming. At one point, about 30+ people were in the room straightening hair, playing rhythm games, dressing up, freshening up, and singing. Most of us got pretty drunk, and we started singing songs that everyone knew. Since I had been in the Disney Musical last semester, I helped lead the drunkards in singing Disney songs complete with the background vocals. I don’t think that I had that much fun or laughed that hard since Prague. Everyone was smiling and singing along regardless of the notes or key that the song was in. Everyone just felt… good.
Drunkenly, I followed the majority of the group to the metro stop where we followed one of the RA’s to get to this club called Club Soda. It had several dance floors, and it was also huge. Since I was drunk, the discotheque seemed to be like a maze to me. I got in, and even though the girls got three free drinks, I didn’t want any because I was well beyond the point of drinking even more. I just wanted to sleep as soon as I got there. I just wanted to sleep regardless of the room that I was in, whether it was a techno room or a German pop music room. It wasn’t until we entered into the Black Music room when Usher’s “Yeah” came on that I just bolted upright and started dancing and grinding a bit again. Around 3am, we rounded up our coats and left. Some later explained to me that many of the Germans in the club didn’t leave until around 8am the morning after they stopped by. I was way too tired to even comprehend that statement. Eventually, we made it back to the 4th floor of the hostel, and I quickly showered and got into my pajamas. I jumped into bed, and I fell dead asleep before I could even pull the covers above my entire body.
Samstag, March 12
Everyone wakes up to different feelings and bodily functions. I for one felt great after a long night’s sleep, but I definitely had a hangover. I walk down to a 3 Euro all-you-can-eat continental breakfast of a nutmeg spread (similar to Nutella), salami, cheese, milk, bread, and cereal. Oh my God I ate so much and replenished my lost electrolytes. Then seven of us embarked on an adventure to see the different German sites. We took the Berlin metro to the Bundestag in order to see the Reichstag. Several of us had procured some delicious smelling herbs the night before, and wanted to enjoy them that day. We sat down in the field in front of the Reichstag, took a jumping picture, and then walked towards the Brandenburg Tor (Gate). If I thought that the old central square of Prague was hectic, then I was very mistaken. There were about 10 times more people visiting the Brandenburg Gate than almost anywhere else that I have been to in the world except for maybe New York’s Times Square. We saw a puppet manned by six people, an amazing hip-hop dance crew, and a chicken who also wanted donations. After watching the hip-hop dance crew for about 15 minutes, half the group split up to enjoy their herbs in the park.
I then enjoyed the wonders of American capitalism by going to use the bathroom in the Starbucks near the square. I also really wanted a Bier Stein, but the tourist trap shop was only selling them for upwards of 50 Euros. With the remaining group, we all had different ideas. I personally wanted to go down the Strasse des 17 Juni through the park, but another member of the group wanted to take the metro instead. We ended up at Friedrichstrasse, and we walked through the open white-stalled markets and shops that lined the streets. Some of us got hungry and got Berlin’s delicious Currywurst. The Currywurst is a wurst that is fried and then covered in curry-flavored ketchup. After walking for a bit, one of the group members felt a bit nauseous and then we sat down on a park bench and just sat around for about an hour. We just waited and watched the people pass us by. Maybe it was due to the hangover, but I just felt a little bit annoyed with the situation. I decided to write in my journal, and hope that the negative feelings would go away.
I just felt that at that point in the weekend, Prague was better than Berlin. I just felt that there were too many conflicts of interest to fully appreciate Berlin. Also, few things could compare to that first night wandering around Prague drunk and trying to find our “kidnapped” friends but finding weed instead. I was annoyed with the people who wanted to enjoy their herbs. I felt that they were not enjoying the moment. Maybe that’s what they do, and I accept them and their actions. I have nothing against that, except that I felt that they were purposefully going out of there way to do something that they normally would not have done. But then I thought that it was just the same as getting drunk and wandering around the city. I felt that they were not enjoying the moments as much as they could have enjoyed had they simply just explored the city for what it was. And if they found a suitable place to enjoy themselves, then they could do that. Then there were those in our group who wanted to always take public transportation, or those who were clumsy and dropped coins in a pan of Currywursts, or those who felt nauseous and just wanted to sit. I was raring to go out and explore. For some reason, all of these feelings put me in a unfavorable mood until I wrote them down in my journal. I then put my journal back in my bag, and I gazed at the puppies and the children walking through the small park where we were resting. And I felt a little bit better.
We continued our journey to the Zoologischer Garten stop where we met up with the other half of our group.Eventually we ended up at the Breitscheidplatz. Some members of our group got the munchies and bought Currywursts. I was not hungry, so I sat down on a tree. All of a sudden, a bird pooped from above me and landed on the thigh of my left jean pant leg. And it was still warm. One of my friends informed me that a bird pooping on you signified good luck because the chances of bird shit landing on you were pretty slim. I was not convinced, but I attempted to believe it. As I walked to the trash can to throw away a napkin smeared with bird shit, a gypsy woman and her “child” walked up to me. She showed me a card that asked for money to pay for food and medication. I knelt down and talked to the little girl, and I asked her what her name was. The older woman answered for her by saying, “Her name is Biana.” I told both of them to follow me, and I waited in line at the Currywurst stand. I asked Bianca what she wanted, and she pointed at one of the wursts. I bought them a Currywurst with a Brötchen, and I gave it to Bianca. The gypsy woman kept asking for money for medication, but I told her that that was all that I could give at the moment. I held both of their shoulders and told them to stay safe, take care of each other, and to enjoy the food.
We then entered the Kaiser-Wilhelm Kirche (Church) was located. During 1943, the original church was practically destroyed. Afterwards, four separate buildings were constructed to the west of the ruins. The new church that we entered looked like a octagonal column of cement that had a honeycomb structure of deep blue stained glass windows. The outside of the church looked very sparse, boring, and bare, but the inside was absolutely beautiful. The noise from the outside world ceased to exist as soon as we entered the church. The light from the setting sun illuminated the inside with rich hues of burning sapphire. And the soft glow of candlelight from either end of the church coupled with the majestic voices of the Gregorian Plainchant choir on the balcony helped everyone calm down and reflect for a moment. And seemingly floating above the altar is a Tombac (copper and zinc alloy), statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched. What occurred next was absolutely beautiful. Several people had moments in that church. Some felt it because of the glorious music, others experienced strong emotions, and one felt like she had just been awoken.
The whole environment inside the church seemed to touch everyone in a special way. I later learned that this one girl in our group felt so moved inside the church, that she just clasped her hands together and had tears rolling down her eyes. And the very next day, Sunday, she left the hostel early in the morning to attend a church service. After about 10 minutes we lit some candles and then left.
We continued our search for the elusive KaDeWe department store. We traveled down Potsdamerstrasse and played at the Berlin Legoland Store for a full hour. We commandeered one of the toy bins and created really exotic cars and vehicles. Painstakingly, we searched for wheel axles and pieces that gave our lego cars just the right amount of balance and torque to roll down the toy ramp. Our enjoyment was one of wild abandon, where we just enjoyed ourselves like kids again. By this time the sun was setting, so we continued down the street for a few more blocks. A large, expensive, and imposing looking building towered above us with the words KaDeWe embossed in gold letters across the entrance. The store itself is a little bit indescribable. I guess that one could imagine the most expensive 5 star mall or hotel, and then raise the quality and the atmosphere by 2 stars. There were 7 full flours filled with clothing, electronics, imported goods, caviar bars, oyster bars, cigar stations (with 1000+ Euro pipes), a beer named after their store, and a weird exhibit where a Native American Indian was making hand crafted items. I believe that the store was putting up an American West selection of goods for a while.
After realizing that everything exceeded our monthly stipend, we left to eat dinner back at the hostel. I eat my homemade chili, and go upstairs. Everyone begins to pregame, but I lack the urge to drink as much as I had done on Friday night. I just did not like the taste of my white rum anymore. Everyone leaves, and I eventually go to a nearby hookah bar with two of my engineering friends and one of my liberal arts friends. We start a discussion about the definition of pure evil and about the idea of good and evil. I’ve participated in this discussion many times with many people, so I proclaimed the idea that there is only good and that evil is simply the absence of good. However, what interested me the most was not the philosophical discussion, but how my liberal arts friend shared a story about his life. He shared how he used to only view the world through his drugs, none of them hardcore, and drinking. But he has made a greater effort to get back into society and the world in a more natural way. Sure he still drinks a lot and smokes a lot, but that’s just who he is. The hookah eventually runs out, and I once again shower and jump back upon my comfortable bed for a great slumber.
Sonntag, March 13
Everyone wakes up, eats breakfast, and receives a deposit back for returning their keys and bedsheets. Since the bus would be leaving soon, a small group of us decided to go to a nearby flea market at a park near the intersection of Grünberger Strasse and Kreuzigerstrasse. I was so excited to see what the open air stalls had to offer. I continued to look for one book, and I finally found it on the corner of a table. It was, “Der Kleine Prinz.” I had read it during my sophomore year in high school for French Class, and I have loved the story and the lessons ever since then. I have never forgotten this one line from the book:
“On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
“Man sieht nur mit dem Herzen gut. Das Wesentliche ist für die Augen unsichtbar.”
“One only sees with the heart, the essential is invisible to the eyes.”
I have never forgotten this important lesson that the fox told to the little prince. And I was so happy to have found this book in a new language that I am learning. I also discovered a box of old black and white pictures. I was entranced by these pictures, and I felt as if every picture that passed through my hands held a story that was waiting to be shared. I eventually got four pictures: one of the ocean’s waves at sea, one of a family overlooking some distance mountains, one of a brook through a forest, and one of some straws blowing in the wind. I just felt like these pictures held some distance memories and experiences that I wanted to think about.
The group then left the flea market to get their fix of Mexican Food at Ranchero Mexicano near the Frankfurter Tor stop. And before we knew it the chartered bus picked us up in front of the hostel and began the long trek back to Berlin. I sat next to one of the other liberal arts girls on the bus ride back, and I am happy that I did. We talked about our high school, and I shared with her stories about my beliefs, the Kairos retreat, and how my experiences thus far have shaped me to become who I am right now. We talked about our love of finding meaning in moments, and she gave me a good piece of advice. It was that one should not worry too much about the big, lifelong goals that everyone appears to have. Instead one should focus on doing small things that eventually add up, and being patient. As a small gift, she lent me her favorite book of all time: Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. She told me that ever since high school, she has brought this book with her wherever she went, and that if I read it I will find out why. I was advised to savor every word and not be afraid to reread sections. I gingerly held the book as if I were holding a delicate piece of artwork, and I thanked her. Back at the Max Kade Haus, I met an old friend from my floor in Freshman year at Boston University. She was the girlfriend of my good friend here. It was so cool to see her and know that home was never that far away.
Reflecting back on this weekend, I can see how things turned out for the better. Maybe the adage about bird poop has some validity after all. I can honestly say that that was a well-spent weekend. I felt intrigued by the disparity of the times. Many things have changed since the reign of the Third Reich. I feel as if my world-view is changing once more. I am a witness to actually having more knowledge about the history of communism and Germany. I could no longer claim ignorance to what had transpired here, because I heard stories from people who had gone through those times. And now, Europe and Germany are centers of more social freedoms. In some cases, such as nudity, sexuality, and social acceptance, Europe surpasses America. I think that this arises from centuries of trial and error testing, many a religious war, and empathy with the general populace. I am not saying that America doesn’t have this, but I am saying that America is still a young country that is still learning like every other country in the world. Because I know that I am still learning right now. And I think that I have a few walls of my own to bring down.
On the Wednesday afternoon of March 2, the group took an excursion to the Technische Sammlungen (Technical Collection) Museum of Dresden. The museum was on Junghansstrasse 1-3 and the group ticket only cost 1,50 Euros. We split up into two groups, and the first group had the tour guide showed them around the different exhibits. There was only one tour guide, so we were allowed to explore any part of the museum by ourselves for an hour. This excursion was due in part to our Sociology class where we were supposed to present and reflect upon our excursions and how they concerned the culture and history of Germany. At first, we weren’t able to see how the exhibits affected the culture and society of Germany, because we entered into the Adventureland of the Technical Collection. Way up on the fifth floor was a Physics Playground with all sorts of fun objects found in science museums. It contained vacuums, air machines, angled surfaces, magnetic solenoids, mirrors, speakers, torque playground spinners, and wave polarization. Being the engineering nerds that we were, we all found this floor really exciting and fun. Then the floor below us consisted of a more child-friendly area of light shows, triad music towers, a bubble machine that could encase several people in a bubble, and mental puzzles. It was just an area for kids and adults to play and just experience wonder and excitement.
Eventually, our playtime ended and a tour guide walked us through several different exhibits. We learned about the science demonstrations, saw marionette puppet shows, walked inside a room-sized camera obscura, saw the firefighters exhibit, and saw countless cases and cases worth of cameras and micro photography. The photography was cool, because one of the main photographers, Robert Koch, attempted to fuse both art and science together in his micro photography. His intended to demonstrate how both of them did not need to remain separate. And I thought that that was cool, because it reminded me of sophomore year in high school when I studied a little bit about the development of photography into a pure and respectable art form. That has always been a debate in so many different cases from petty arguments between students to supreme court cases mandating what constitutes a piece of art.
However, one of the most intriguing exhibits consisted of a square pool of water that was situated in the middle of a room. The water did not appear to be clean and potable, and upon further inspection I could see extremely small worm-like beings swimming around. Our tour guide then explained that there was a woman who collected water from rivers all over the world and displayed them in exhibits. Her purpose was to demonstrate how each culture in different parts of the world has such a diverse array of life inside of it. The water from one river may appear to be exactly like the water from another river, but it is in fact totally different. The bacteria, germs, flora, and elements inside these sample pieces all differ from one another. This exhibit helped me realize a little bit about how it important it was to see Europe through the eyes of European and less through the eyes of an American. Actually, maybe it’s more imperative to see every country and person through the eyes of a non-judgmental child. I’m not too sure.
Then on Wednesday, I had a pretty regular day, but an amazing night. Several of us walked to the Grosser Garten a few blocks northeast of the Max Kade Haus. We wanted to have some good group bonding. We all walked to the inside of the garden where the lights were out and no one could see us. And we all just bonded as a group. It was pretty amazing, and it reminded me of the summer, even though the coldness engulfed us. We then heard a noise emanating from the inside of the garden, which also housed a zoo, and we thought that an elephant was making the noise. So we all got into formation where the one girl who was with us stayed in the middle, and we started walking even deeper in to the pitch-black garden. After a minute or two of walking, one of the group members got smart and suggested that we return back to the house. I was just so happy and in a state of happiness. I had brought my journal along with me, and someone suggested that I draw something. So I drew a smily face, when I had meant to draw an abstract drawing. I then tried to draw a house, but I instead drew a house with a smily face on it. And I could not stop smiling. I just loved everyone around me, and it was great. Life was good. The group walked back to the house, we hugged friends, watched Lola Rennt while eating Gouda and bread, and then we went to bed.
Then on Friday we were supposed to go to the Wismut mines. These mines used to be Uranium mines that the Soviet Stock Company, SAG Wismut (Sowjetische Aktiensgesellschaft), used to mine in order to harvest Uranium for nuclear reactors and weapon development. However, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wismut has changed its company mission from mining uranium ore to decommissioning and cleaning up the mines and the areas that were irradiated and contaminated by the uranium. We were supposed to go to the Hauptbahnhof and take a train to the Wismut mines. We would then go put on environmental suits, tour the mines, and then take a group shower afterwards. That was probably the event that most people either dreaded or looked forward to doing.
We get to the Hauptbahnhof, and the RA’s start laughing, because there’s a strike today. The trains will all be delayed and there isn’t another one that can take us to the Wismut mines. Most people were excited, and the RA’s decided to give us the unstamped tickets so that we could go to anywhere within the state of Saxony. One RA suggested that we go to Rathen by taking the train towards Schöna or Königstein. We get off at Rathen, and we walk across the small town to get to the Elbe River. We take a ferry across the river and enter into a quaint river town that has cafes, restaurants, and small stores that are not open because it’s the off season for vacations. The first thing that catches our eyes are the mountains in the background of the city. We look at the sign posts and decide to walk on the Bastei Trail. We start walking up the stone steps that were hewn into the hillside dotted with leaves and trees. It almost felt like a warm fall day with all the brown leaves strewn across the ground. We continued following the trail higher, and before we know it, we can see that we are a bit closer to the tips of small peaks and mini mountains. The cities of Rathen and Königstein were used as mountain fortresses during older times.
Before long, a few rocky outcrops gave way to a spectacular view of the Elbe and the fortress cities below us. The Elbe River almost appeared to stretch out endlessly before us. But the best views were yet to come. We then crossed an old, sandstone bridge that connected several rocks together that allowed visitors to pass a huge crevasse. The trail continued to wind even higher up. Eventually, everyone met at the highest point on the trail. And the view was spectacular. I don’t think that I have ever been that high except during my skiing on the Snowshoe Mountains in West Virginia. I could see the Elbe flow around Rathen and towards another town. I could see the flow of the landscape and the verdant green grass that grew as far as the eye could see. And then it hit me: I was still in Europe, and now had visited one of the most beautiful spots and trails when I could have just as easily been stuck in an old uranium mine. I am witnessing the beauty of nature in such a new way.
I did take a lot of pictures, and my old World Religions teacher from high school commented on my facebook album saying, “In these photos, I can just feel the excitement of your Journey through Europe! I love the contrast of your profile pic, dancing on a table or something and that one of you staring off in wonder from the mountaintop!” And yes, there is definitely beauty in both cases. It just seems to come together at some points. It’s almost as if some things and events just start to make sense when you least expect it. Up there on the mountaintops, I felt a bit of my own mortality. I knew full well that if I were to slip and fall, then I would die. But I also felt exhilaration at being fit and excited enough to get to the top of the mountain and see what so few people have seen before. I am so lucky and blessed. What did I do to deserve such an opportunity to visit exciting, new places and gaze across the German landscape for miles in wonder and awe? Maybe none of us deserve anything, but things just happen in life. Maybe what matters is what we do with the things that happen to us. In this case, I tried to soak in the smell of the fresh air, the feeling of the sun upon my skin, the sound of the whistling wind, the touch of the eroded rock, and the sight of a far green country that has seen countless sunrises. It’s too beautiful for words, and in that moment, I swear that I was infinite.
February 25 – 27, 2011
Wow, it’s Tuesday and I just finished playing some good old fashioned American Football with the liberal arts students and my fellow Engineering Study Abroad classmates here in the field behind our dorm. But I am still recovering from such a crazy and unbelievable weekend in Prague, Czech Republic.
Friday February 25
On Friday around 6am the engineering students all met at a bus stop near the Hauptbahnhopf to take a 2+ hour bus ride to Prague. We arrived at the Nadrazi Holesovice stop, and we are immediately greeted with many different cultural shocks. Seeing as we are just starting to become conversational in German, we were then thrust into a situation where we did not know how to speak or understand the Czech language. But the public trains were easy enough to navigate, because each line (red, green, and yellow), had a map that had a white dot showing where you were, and arrows pointing to what each side of the station led towards. We take the red line down to Florenc and then transfer to the yellow line in order to get to Smichovske Nadrazi, which was where our hostel was located. We get off at that stop, and we see a mini-grocery market (with a lot of Asians working in there), and then we cross a green walkway bridge that allows us to cross the train tracks. Once over the train tracks, you then could pass the street and then get to the Arpacay Hostel (Radlicka St. 76, Prague 5). The hostel had a 5 story building on one side of the street and another one on the other side. We didn’t check in right there, but we did leave behind our luggage that contained most of our clothes. And then we went back on the metro to stop in the heart of the city at Namesti Republiky, which was located near the tourist trap destinations.
Before walking, we were forewarned by our RA’s that Prague was notorious for the many pickpocketers that were so skilled in snatching wallets, money, keys, cards, and purses, especially from people who were just leaving or entering the trains. So we start walking through the cobblestone streets of Prague, and let me tell you how unbelievably beautiful the city is. Every turn yielded ancient villas, baroque cathedrals, vaulted archways, campaniles, street vendors, and thousands among thousands of tourists. Almost every major language in the world was overheard during that weekend in Prague. It was so beautiful to feel part of a larger history that surpassed anything in the US. And it was later mentioned that part of Prague’s beauty stemmed from the fact that it wasn’t bombed during the major World Wars. So we went on one of the guided bus tours that had headsets which spoke about various sites. And these headsets could be set to any of the 20 major languages ranging from French, Deutsch, English, Spanish, Czech, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and so many more. I would usually alternate my headset from French to English, and I was so surprise about how much I still remembered.
The tour brought us through alleyways, to the facades of Cathedrals, the banks of the Vltava River, and to the Prague Castle Square. The castle is also known as the largest Castle complex in the entire world. And it was breathtaking to behold. The bus drove across one of the bridges that crossed the river and then traveled uphill through the winding terraces and roads that wound their way around and through the castle. When we finally reached the top, the bus tour gave us a 30 minute break during which we could explore the large open square area and enter into the St. Vitus Cathedral. The view was absolutely stunning and amazing. One could see the entirety of Prague from above. And sometimes I felt as if I had just stepped into an older era of artisans, kings, lords, and European politics and monarchs. I instantly remembered the stories concerning Marie-Theresa fleeing to Prague for some reason that I could not remember.
We first had to enter through a gated archway guarded by the Prague Royal Guards who reminded us of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican or the Buckingham Palace Guards. We entered into the St. Vitus Cathedral, and were instantly greeted by vaulted archways and huge stained glass windows. It was beautiful to see the afternoon sunlight striking the stained glass windows and then shining colored light upon the ancient stone walls of a building housing the remains of Bohemian Kings and Holy Roman Emperors. Upon leaving the square, we were able to witness the changing of the Royal Guard. And then we were finally able to take our first Engineering Group Picture.
Then the bus drove us back down to the Old Town Square, and we followed our RA’s to the BU sponsored meal at the Staromacek Czech Restaurant. The waitress was dressed in traditional Czech country garb, and the food was absolutely delicious. There were plates of roast beef with nutty, fruity sauces, potato and bread dumplings, croquette balls, and scrumptious morsels of old-fashioned vegetables. We all had a good time eating together. And for some odd reason, pretty much all of the Asians on the trip ended up sitting at the same table which was hilarious. Fortunately, none of us got rice because we always made rice back in Dresden. And yes we had a little bit of fun taking pictures of each other. Actually, there was this one guy who always took creepy stalker pictures of a few people on our trip. It actually freaked one of the RA’s when she was taking a picture in his camera, and realized that over 2/3 of his pictures were of this one guy on our trip. And then I remembered what one of my friends told me about photography. Regardless of the composition of the picture, following the rule of thirds, getting good lighting, or whatever, you can never fully capture that perfect moment with a picture. There is just simply too much to contain that even a book with pictures, smells, sounds, and words could not even come close to the raw and unadulterated feelings and emotions that came with a moment. And as I will share in a bit, I was unable or unwilling to photograph some of the most beautiful or amazing moments during the trip. However I got some pretty damn good pictures.
So we left the restaurant, and the head waiter presented the RA’s with gifts for our group. We got outside and discovered that they were two liquor bottles. One of them was Becherovka, a Kräuter (Herbal) liquor similar to Jägermeister, and the RA’s decided to give one of them to us and keep one for themselves. One of them started to say that unlike Germany, the Czech Republic does have an open container policy and that it is illegal to drink alcohol open in the streets, but that she always does it. So then we all took turns taking swigs out in the open on the street, and the taste was very piney and herb-like; almost like a Christmas Tree or Thanksgiving in your mouth .Then the RA’s said their goodbyes to us and let us loose in Prague.
So we then decided to explore the city on our own. The large engineering group then split up into several subgroups. We walked through the main streets and then stumbled into several tourist trap shops and stores. Almost every corner had a store that advertised 0% commission in exchanging Euros into Czech Crowns. However, one still had to be wary of the weird guys who sometimes stood outside of those shops and said, “Hey, do you want a good price for your Euros.” We had suspicions that they were going to give us fake money. We continued exploring the main city streets, and entered into a liquor shop. The prices for wines and beer were more expensive, but they also sold Absinthe in really cool bottles for much cheaper than sold in the tourist shops. It was interesting to note that many of us were interested in trying Absinthe that had wormwood in it so as to produce the hallucinogenic effect. There were some cool bottles and designs, and I was sorely tempted to buy one and keep it in my apartment in BU in the fall, but I wanted to save some money for the rest of the weekend. They even sold Absinthe with hemp seeds in them.
We continued to explore, and entered into a Cigar Shop where we were then able to buy Cuban Cigars. It was funny, because we were able to get these cigars halfway around the world here in Prague while we are still unable to legally obtain them in the US due to the Cuban Embargo. And Prague was so cool, because everywhere you turned yielded a new, adventurous cobblestoned pathway that led to herbal soaps and oil shops, marionette basements, and benches filled with young Czech teens. It was during this time that we smelled the scent of weed. It happened twice: the first occurred when these two burly looking men passed by us and the second time occurred when we passed a group of teenagers in a courtyard. For some reason, that smell always reminds me of the good days of the summer and of service. Yes, the smell of weed reminds me of Christian Service where I devote my life to helping others. Someone shared the same feeling with me, and we both believe that it has something to do with volunteering in Kingston, Jamaica and going to concerts in the open spaces of Maryland’s Meriwether Post Pavilion open air concert hall where I had once before felt infinite with my High-LI and best friends.
Because it was getting late and we still needed to check into the Arpacay Hostel, we all walked back to Namesti Republiky and took the metro back to Smichovske Nadrazi. We stopped by the grocery store, and bought alcohol to pregame for the night. For about two euros, one could but a plastic two liter bottle of cheap red wine. For 600 Czech Crowns (roughly 24 Euros), we were able to stay for two nights until Sunday. We then paid the key deposit (100 more Czk), and then we entered into our hostel rooms. There were three bedrooms with bunk beds. Two of the rooms were occupied with the BU Engineering students and the third one was occupied by Austrian guys who had just graduated from high school and were visiting Prague for the past week. And this Friday night was their last night, and they told us that they wanted to go out with a bang. Amongst the three bedrooms were a small toilet room, a shower room, and a kitchen common room area. Since we had planned ahead, a bunch of us had already packed some already cooked pasta, rice, and meat for the weekend so as to conserve money for souvenirs and entertainment during the weekend.
But I was in love with our bedroom. There were six beds in the room, and four of them were in two separate bunk beds. And the other two beds were in an alcove above the door that was so cozy and comfy. I’ll talk about it later, but the naps and the sleep was so beautiful and amazing. So we start to eat dinner, and we make friends with the Austrian guys. Their names were Lawrence, Laurence, Raphael, and Ryan. They were quite excited to talk to us, and the first one to break the social barrier was Lawrence. He was 19 years old, and he had teeth that had spaces in between all of them. We started to share where we were all from, and why were staying in Prague for the weekend.
Later on as we started to get into pregaming, several of us walked to the rooftop of the hostel were we smoked Cuban cigars and drank some cheap Czech liquor and wine. For some odd reason, I started to impersonate Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, while I drank my glass of rottwein. It felt so cool to be that high up in our hostel and see the far-off bright lights of Prague’s main streets. We then all walked back downstairs and the Austrians and the Americans kind of joined together in talking about German and getting even more ready for the evening. Apparently, Lawrence’s first words to one of the Engineering girls were, “I like your boobs.” Yes, they were quite direct in that respect. I had to leave in order to get more liquor, namely Prazska Czech Vodka. I returned and took about five shots in a row, and then stopped. It was pretty hectic with people left and right drinking the Czech beers, sipping on 140 proof Absinthe, and chasing vodka shots with saft and coke.
We then drunkenly leave the hostel and head to the metro station across the bridge. And with every 5-10 minutes I could feel each individual vodka shot hitting me. By the time we got off at Namesti Republiky, I could no longer focus so well on the streets, but I was able to talk about German with one of the other Austrian guys. I learned a few valuable lessons from him that night. First of all, I understood how to say, “I am horny” three different ways in German. I also learned how to get to the best pubs and bars in Prague. But despite my inebriation, I still acknowledged my surroundings. And it was such a cool understanding, because there was a stark contrast between Prague during the day and Prague during night. During the day, tourists of all nationalities walk the streets and families shepherd their members around on various sightseeing tours. During the night, the streets become lined with younger teenagers looking for fun, older couples looking to feel wild, and so many people of various ethnicities stumbling around the cobblestone streets of Prague. What I noticed was that the only black people in Prague came out during the night in order to solicit tourists to go into clubs and bars
We get to “The Pub” or the Beer Works Museum which is a bar and club where each table has its own tap of beer with a screen on it detailing how much beer the table has gotten from the tap. The entry fee was 100 Czk (around 4 Euros). So I enter, and I look behind me at the glowing spiral staircase. It turns out that one of our members had pregamed a bit too hard and had thrown up all over the staircase. So we quickly rushed her to the bathroom, and the manager approached our table. He said that either she or someone from our group had to clean. Mind you that I was drunk at this point, and I agreed to get the mop and clean up the mess. Thus I danced and mopped up the mess as the loud pop music blasted around me. Apparently before the manager told me that I had done a good enough job he said, “He looks like he’s enjoying it.”
I then sit back down on the table and realize that my free beer, that came with the entry fee, was nowhere to be found. I then open my journal and start writing something down to one of my friends, because the music was too loud.
I told him, “I want you to know something. Sometimes I think that I’m too nice, and I feel good for being a good person, but bad for not allowing myself to have selfish fun.”
He then told me, “It’s good to be nice but not too nice, but I don’t think you’re ever too nice. Your just very nice and happy. You should have fun and I don’t know why you aren’t. Don’t worry about selfishness, you already did more than anyone here and you came here to have fun so go!”
We continued the conversation for longer, and I continued to open up more and more to him. We finally stopped the conversation, and I wrote one final entry at The Pub: “I just want someone to hold on to as I hang out by the banks of the River in Prague. It’s hard to think it’s a drunk mindset, but I just want to be with someone. I don’t know who. Am I happy or not? I don’t know. I am definitely drunk, but I can’t help feeling still too nice, cleaning up vomit and helping others to the bathroom and such.”
It was around this time, that I decided to just try and enjoy myself, and coincidentally the final shot of vodka hit me and I was pretty drunk. I believe that I continued to mop about two more times after this and that I helped bring more people to the bathroom. A few minutes later, our group left The Pub to the open night and air of a different Prague. The large group started to head back to the station, but the Austrians and several other people in the group wanted to go find weed. As started to go to the station, the Austrians and four other people kept on walking, and three of us told the rest our group to go home to the hostel while we brought the rest home.
And thus started the adventure of the night. None of our friends were answering there phones, and the only lead that we knew of was a black person on the street telling us that the best place to get weed in Prague was in The Red Hat. And so we started walking through the bright, well-lit streets of Prague. As stated earlier, the night time was when many of the black people came out to solicit people to go to sketchy clubs and bars. And there were so many tourists and it felt so amazing to be a part of the melting pot culture of the Prague nightlife with nationalities from all over the world. And in our group of three wandering BU Study Abroad Engineers, two of whom were bedtrunken, we had the speaking capacity of four different languages. My friend and I spoke French, my other friend spoke Spanish, and we all spoke English and ein bisschen Deutsch.
It was so amazing to walk the streets of Prague after midnight in a drunken state. It’s indescribable to explain how the feelings and emotions came together to make me feel just so epic and a part of some part in the annals of history of young people in crazy adventures. And I was never alone. I was with my friends and I continued to bump into other people. Many people pointed us in the direction of the Old Main Square in order to get to The Red Hat. At one point we asked a relatively young couple if they spoke any English and the man said that he could only speak a little bit of it. But the guy could speak it perfectly and pointed us to a small alley that jutted out from the square. When we told him that his English was really good he retorted with, “Well I’m not some stupid American who only speaks one language.” Instantly my friend angrily spoke a phrase to him in Spanish and I said, “Merci beaucoup de tous de ce que vous avez fait pour nous. Danke schon,” which roughly means thank you for everything that you have done for us. Thank you. And his girlfriend literally bowed her head in shame and covered her face in embarrassment at what her boyfriend had said.
We continued to walk through the square and we bumped into other Engineering classmates, and they tried to dissuade us from looking for our “kidnapped” friends. They told us not to be superman and try to be the hero, but we said that we just wanted to find our friends and make sure that they are alright. To be honest, I also selfishly wanted to wander around Prague and just continue feeling the thrill of adventure and discovery. We continued on our way and our group grew to have a fourth person. We eventually found our way to The Red Hat and could instantly smell the smoke. Two of us went inside the shop to look for our friends, and the other two went inside to buy weed. I couldn’t find the friends whom we were looking for so we left. By this time we were cold and just wanted to return back to the hostel.
It was around 3am, and the metro had closed. But I was still happy, because I was on an adventure. My friends told me that I kept saying, “Guys, this is great. We’re cold, lost, and in the middle of Prague and we are having an adventure.” And apparently a lot of the black people spoke French, because they responded back to me when I tried to tell them off in French. Eventually we found our way to the Palacheho Namesti tram stop. And in the midst of our sadness at not finding our friends, we saw a hat and recognized one of them. And to our amazement we found our lost friends. Some of them were quite drunk, and we later found out from them that the Austrians were just taking them from bar to bar and not letting them go home. But that didn’t matter anymore because now we found our friends and we could all safely go home.
While we were looking at a map of the trams, a homeless poor man came up to me. And he explained how to get back home to Smichovske Nadrazi by taking the 54 tram. And then he asked for some money in exchange, and I gave him 20 Czk and we made it back to the hostel without incident. We freshened up, climbed into our beds, and I wrote a bit in my journal and fell asleep. Thus ended my first day in Prague.
Saturday February 26
So we woke up and had a complimentary breakfast of ham, cheese, bread, tea, granola, milk, orange juice, and cereal from the hostel staff. It helped restore the electrolytes from last night. And then the group from our Hostel room split, because some of us wanted to take a nap. The rest of us went to the National Museum of Prague. The first exhibit displayed the chronicles of Czech folklore and history. We witnessed their equivalent stories of ancient heroes, pagan magic, and fortresses and lords. It was so cool to go into that exhibit, but it was also weird because at one point it said that one of Prague’s castles was 300 years older than Harry Potter’s castle of Hogwarts.
We continued through the exhibits and walked past displays of animal skeletons, trilobites, and precious gems and minerals. At one point one of the female curators started yelling at me in Czech because she thought that I had broken one of the wooden displays. Several of my friends called me after they woke up, and we all planned to meet by the Old Central Square. But we were distracted by an open air souvenir market where I got my cool Prague stein, shot glass. After meeting up with the group, we all walked to a small crowded bakery called Krusta where the food was delicious. However, I dropped a 50 Czk coin, and as I bent to pick it up a man literally blocked my hand, picked it up, and walked away. And he wasn’t even dressed like a homeless man or a thief. He was just a regular looking husband with his wife at the bakery. For some reason, this incident really made me sad. I just couldn’t believe that someone would do something like that to me or anyone else for that matter without any reason. I mean, I could understand a poor person needing to steal something to survive, and I probably wouldn’t have been upset at that. But he looked like a well-off man and he looked me straight in the eye as he took it.
At one point I noticed that the group that had joined us later from the hostel seemed a little bit spacey. And after I had spoken to them I realized why. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to exploring the other side of the Vltava River over the Charles Bridge. We walked into the Franz Kafka museum shop, and onto the side of the river that supported the Castle. And according to legend, touching the statue of St. John of Nepomuk would make one’s wish come true and ensure that whoever touched it would return to Prague. And I was so excited to take part in this superstitious tradition. And as we passed by the castle again, I remember telling my friends that the reason why the nobles didn’t die during the Defenestration of Prague was because they fell into a dung heap.
It was late in the afternoon by this time, so we headed back to the Hostel for dinner and pregaming. But this time, the Austrians had already left and we played games as we drank. We played a game of zoo, which was a rhythm game where every person had a hand motion and passed it on to another person. We continued with a rousing game of Never Have I Ever and the car crash game. We all got drunk, and once again made on to the public transportation to get to a club. But this was not just any club, but the 5 story Karlovy Lazne, which also holds the title for the largest single club in Central Europe. My favorite floor was the third floor, which played “Black Music.” A clarification should be made here, because black music in Europe stands for any American pop song that is played on our hit radio. Each floor had two bars, couches, tables, and a large dance floor in the center that randomly spewed out fog from machines. I was dancing in ecstasy, because I was listening to my favorite music. At one point I got on top of a ledge and started dancing to Katy Perry’s California Gurls, and continued through I Gotta Feeling, Club Can’t Even Handle Me, and Pokerface. And I felt so amazing just dancing, and would often look at the guy on the ledge opposite mine and pretend that I was attempting to out dance him.
Sunday February 27
We woke up in our deliciously comfortable beds, ate the hostel breakfast, and checked out. However, the morning started out in a weird way, because we get to the train station, and as we switch stations the Controller approaches us and asks for our tickets. I reach to grab mine from the day before since it had probably not expired by then, but I realized that I had left it in my bag back at the hostel. He told me to come with him, and I sadly followed him. I was informed that my fee would be 700 Czk. I was so sad and shocked, but then he started apologizing to me. I withdrew the crowns from an atm, and he asked me about where I was from. He then shared his knowledge of the city of San Fransisco and the state of Texaco, his friend in the American CIA, his past profession as a Czech Colonel during the Communism days, and his intent to write President Obama a letter about how much he admires him. And I told him about how I was studying Engineering in Dresden and that both my parents were Filipino. And to my shock, I understood that I actually made friends with an old Czech Controller, and I asked him to take a picture with me. And even though those 700 crowns cost a lot of money, I was still happy. I made a new, crazy memory and had made friends with a retired Czech Colonel who wanted to write our president a friendly letter.
After that incident, we get to Letna Park. It was quiet, and one could almost swear that we were nowhere near Prague. One of the most beautiful moments occurred when we saw a small child laughing and chasing around a puppy. It was such a great moment of unbridled innocence and joy that one couldn’t help but smile in such a wholehearted way. And then we get to the edge of the park where a lot of teenagers were skating. And behind a giant metronome was the city of Prague far below us. Just like when we were at the castle two days ago, we were able to see the entire city surrounded by the Vltava River.
Excerpt from my journal:
“The weather is cool and the sun is warm. Prague is amazingly beautiful. There is a lot of mist, fog, or smog in the air that covers the city. This is Prague, and I’ve experienced it in such a new way. So many beautiful memories and people here. Wonder. We are seeing something here that so many people will never be able to see in life. And this was one of the cities not bombed during WWII. And once again I can say life is good.”
The view inspired me. I cannot even put it into words. I did feel glorious. I imagined seeing the city during the olden ages of lords, medieval armies and vassals, and conflicts concerning the Reformations. How many people collided every day in this city? What were the stories that everyone had that we would never be able to hear? Sure, there are so many mysteries in this world, but at least after this weekend I could say that one of those mysteries was answered
We walked down the terrace-like steps of the park, and entered into the city through Parizska Street, which was a ritzy high class store area. I turned to go down a road that had Jewish Synagoges, and I saw a few stands selling clay replicas of the Golem of Prague. But what caught my eye was this woman who sold shot glasses that had a beautiful design etched upon them. She told me that the etching took a long time to make. And so I bought my second shot glass from her, and it is one of the most beautiful things that I could have gotten from Prague, and it wasn’t some easily replicable touristy item. Her name is Veronika Tesarova and I believe that she was part of a company called Galerie Tesar (http://galerietesar.ic.cz).
I was walking alongside Sean, and we both started to get hungry so we stopped by this restaurant called Lokal which was next to a Traveler’s Hostel and Club Roxy.. It was recommended to me by my BU Alternate Spring Break friend who lives in Prague. The restaurant was quite large, and had a paper menu because the dishes changed everyday depending on the season. And they also had menus in English with explanations for their dishes. It was funny because when Sean tried to order a potato salad with his Roast Beef with Raspberry Cream Sauce, the waiter told him no and that he should instead go with the bread dumplings because they went complimented the dish better. I ordered the Sausage Goulash, and I was so excited to taste authentic Czech Cuisine that was all homemade. And afterwards, I asked the waitress for the Raspberry Sauce recipe and she delivered a handwritten note to me in Czech from the chef himself. Then we left the restaurant, regrouped with some of our classmates in the middle square, left to go back to Nadrazi Holesovice, and then took the bus back to Dresden and the Hauptbahnhof. And that my friends was one of the most memorable weekends of my life.
This past Sunday I attended the Katholische Hofkirche past the Altmarkt and near the Elbe river in front of the Theaterplatz Bahn stop. It felt so amazing to attend the 6pm messe, and still understand everything that happened even though the language was auf Deutsche. I could tell when the priest was giving the homily, and I could tell from his expressions and the few German words that I knew that he was speaking about Jesus Christ rising up to heaven. I think that it definitely had to do with the fact that it is going to be Ash Wednesday next week. Being a singer at the Youth Mass in my hometown in Maryland, I could tell when the singers were singing the Great Amen, the communion song, and the other mass parts. When we were making the sign of peace, the man to my left said something to me in German that I did not understand. It turns out that he was saying, “Peace be with you,” in German. I understood the meaning, but I had a bit of a hard time repeating it until he told me that it was, “Friede sei mit dir.” That was an amazing mass. I felt connected with my faith and with the larger church. And I understood that regardless of where I was, whenever I prayed or went to mass I was instantly connected with a living, breathing body that connected so many people together.
After class on Monday night, the RA’s wanted to take us out to yet another club. For the record, this has been the third German club that I have been to. It used to be called Flower Power, but the name has since changed to Nubeatzz. To get there, one had to take the train past Albertplatz and to the very tip of the Neustadt area. It was student night during Mondays, and they were featuring black, pop, indie, rock, and house music. Yes, apparently they also feature black music, which I guess would be hip-hop, rap, and probably not ragtime or reggae. It is interesting to note the influence of American pop culture in the German environment. At the first club, Musikpark, that we went to two weeks ago, they played California Gurls, and when we entered into Nubeatzz the first song that was played was Fuck You by Cee Lo Green. Once again, most of the Germans just danced in their own little groups. Unless you went as a couple, there was little to no making out or grinding. Unlike American clubs, where most people are looking to hook up for the night, groups of German men or women would just go to clubs for a good time and just dance in their own little group with their friends. There are not a lot of attempts by the males to approach a hot woman and start dancing with her. And the women here are blunt, because they will flat out tell you no if you even tried to dance with them. So yes, that was a culture shock in itself, that and hearing American oldies from the 60’s and 70’s.
Then on Tuesday, the Engineering group took an excursion to Leipzig. The train ride from the Hauptbahnhopf took around 3 hours, because we kept stopping due to strikes and other technical difficulties like that. When we arrived, we walked through the city square to a museum called the Hauptsache Arbeit. That museum contained the recorded history and events that occurred between East and West Germany starting from the end of WWII to the present day. The importance of this visit was that many American don’t know too much about the history of the rest of the world. I guess that we kind of grow complacent with our reasonably comfortable lot in life, and do not see a point to try and strain ourselves to learn about cultures that might not even matter. This is also apparent in our general lack of knowledge concerning other languages other than English. So many people in Europe know 2 or more languages, while there exists American who have trouble speaking their own mother tongue.
The exhibits showcased the leaders and the different parts of the government that existed after WWII. For over a decade, the people of both East and West Germany were freely allowed to move from one place to the other until August 13, 1961 when the Berlin Wall was erected almost overnight. For decades the GDR, German Democratic Republic, held control of Eastern Germany. This socialist government did restrict the social freedoms of the deutsches menschen, but it guaranteed everyone a job and financial stability. It was interesting to see that the Eastern citizens tried to escape their restrictions by going on vacation to the Baltic Sea or spending a weekend in a small, one-room garden house where they could just plant fruits and vegetables and mentally escape the doldrums of everyday life.
The reason why the museum was based in Leipzig was because that city was the site of the largest peaceful protest against the Eastern German government and against the idea behind the Berlin Wall. Over 70000 people took part in the peace protest, and showed the rest of the world that many citizens did not support the ideals of the Socialist government. It was later discussed in our Sociology class what defined freedom. In a sense, America and many other capitalist nations interprets freedom as freedom of speech, religion, practice, and actions to become whatever you want to become. However, this also means that you may worry about having enough money to support a family. And some people just don’t know how to responsibly handle that much freedom. Some still argue that the GDR of Eastern Germany is more free because one didn’t have to worry about losing a job and financial stability. It all depended on perspective, and it was stressed not to think about freedom in just one way. Rather one had to understand that word and that ideal through its many different facets and meanings.
Then on Wednesday night, a group of us went to the Efes Shisha Cafe where we all smoked Hookah. They only cost 4 Euros if everyone bought a drink. We got the Apfel, Strawberry, und Watermelon flavors, and boy did they taste and smell good. During this time I talked with a lot of my fellow engineering classmates. We talked about what legacy we wanted to leave behind, and I especially shared a good conversation with Matt. We both talked about how we were similar in that we didn’t want to have any enemies. We just wanted to be good to everyone. When asked about how it is possible to not have any enemies, he told me that when he disagrees with someone, he just walks away. And coupled with this outlook was the idea that one should not stress in life. He said that life was worth so much more and was too important to worry and stress about. I admired him for that, because I still have so much trouble coping with stress. I then shared my outlook in life revolving around my Catholic faith and my idea that I should just see the good in everyone and spread my joy with others. That’s why I’m so happy all the time.
We continued to share stories and discuss our ideas on religion and experience. Matt, along with several others who participated in the conversation that night, were raised Catholic but did not actively practice the sacraments or go to mass. And I think that that is alright. I accept the fact and the validity of all walks of life and beliefs as long as they are sincere. Matt also is interesting in the way that the thoughts of others really do not affect his actions. You could tell him that he shouldn’t do something or that something that he does is bad, and if he believes otherwise then he would not even give a crap about whatever you told him. And that itself is an admirable thing as well. He also shared with me that he hopes to spend one of his Spring Breaks driving a moped down the coast of Milan and just exploring. I don’t know if I want to do that during these 6 months, but I would definitely want to try something like that sometime within the next three years.
When we started talking about what we wanted to do with our lives, I shared my dreams to devote my life to serving others through Social and Christian Service. One of the main aspects about Service is the idea of justice. I was reminded about this during the sociology class today and the discussion on the different facets of freedom. I think back to Justice Action Week 2010 during the summer where I was a peer. During this week, over 20 Catholic high school students lived together in a Church in Baltimore City to learn, pray, and do service. We saw Baltimore City not just as a city rampant with evil, drugs, prejudice, racism, and death, but also a city that is healing. We ate dinner with undocumented Mexican immigrants, were served meals at a soup kitchen alongside homeless people, talked with everyday citizens, and started to reflect on what justice truly was. One of the highlights of the trip was a discussion led by Judge Canon Omega, a Baltimore District Court Judge. She is a Buddhist, African-American judge who has served the legal system for many years. And this was the second year that I was given the honor to partake in a discussion with her. The year before, I remember her sharing her idea about justice. She is usually asked what justice means to her, and she always returns the question back to us, and then questions us about it. During Justice Action Week 2009, she shared the idea that we should spread love in this city. I cannot remember too much about it, but she said that it was only through first seeing the good within ourselves that we were then able to see the good and do good within others.
During the 2010 session, I asked her what justice was, and she laughed a little bit and said that she was always asked that question by dozens of groups. Now the interesting thing about her was that whenever she was asked a question, she didn’t quickly, and mindlessly answer it. Rather she would furrow her eyebrows, hold her chin in her hand, and think for seconds to minutes at a time until she could return a well-thought out and sincere answer. She then asked me what I thought justice was, and I repeated to her the same thing that she had shared with us the year prior. But she then did something that I did not expect; she asked me what that meant in realistic terms. She gave me an ultimatum to choose whether she, as a judge of the law, should choose a decision based on her ideals and emotions or based on what the law states. I couldn’t give her a real answer, and for another time in my life I was stumped.
She shared an interesting aspect and view on justice. She said that justice is not just comprised on conscience or what the law states. There is so much more to justice than those definitions that we give it. For example, a mother who accidentally kills her child by leaving the child unattended in the bathtub for a minute is supposed to be sentenced to a jail term. Emotionally, one could feel the intense sorrow, pain, and regret that emanated from the mother but the law stated that it was her fault for neglecting the child and she should also serve time in addition to her pain and loss. Is that justice because the laws of the system are followed? This past summer, she offered the idea that we should never become comfortable following or having a finite definition of justice. There are so many different aspects, and we should never get complacent with our lot in life. Justice is relative to the situation at hand, and what is justice in one situation may not necessarily be the same justice in another one. And that mentality is exactly the same as the one that is echoed halfway around the world here in Germany. We should not get comfortable and complacent with our ideas concerning freedom. We should always fight for what we believe is true freedom wherever we go.
I’m going to Prague tomorrow with the Engineering group, and will be staying there for the weekend. Yes I am very excited, and will definitely take a lot of pictures and do a lot of reflection while there. And as I journey I will make sure to keep an open mind and an open heart.
Over Everything Love
So after the first grueling week of Intensive German language classes, a group of us decided to christen the weekend by going out. We left around 10:20pm, and got on the 7 or 8 train to Albertplatz. We walked down one of the streets of the Neustadt where we passed by several cafes, restaurants and bars. Then we saw a bar on the right, and we entered it. I cannot remember the name, but I will make sure to write it down next time. We walked into the basement, and the waitress asked us for our drinks. It was a very warm and bright atmosphere. Everyone was in a good mood and just wanted to hang out and chat. I was kind of drunk at this point, and had my first Long Island Ice Tea, in the Neustadt of Dresden of all places. It was pretty nice to just hang out with good friends all around and joke around. And this is why drinking is so much fun. You just get to relax and feel good. I suppose that this is due in part to the dopamine released into the brain when listing to good music, playing a game, hanging out with friends, being engulfed in faith, or doing anything pleasurable like that.
After a bit, we left the bar and walked down another street that branched off in front of the Katy’s Garage Club. After some deliberation, we entered into a Hookah bar. At first we thought that the place was sketchy, but we checked again and saw the Anti-Nazi propaganda posters on all the tables and we knew that we were in a safe place. This was preferable, because we knew that the next day heralded the second and final Neo-Nazi rallies that took place last weekend, and would take place on the Saturday February 19. We were also wary, because just as we left the last bar, a Neo-Nazi performed the “Heil Hitler” salute. It was pretty freaky, and so the code word for the night was “Bumblebee,” which stood for referencing any Neo-Nazis that we saw.
The Hookah only cost 4 Euros, and the employees there appeared to love us. After a while, one of them approached us, and asked us where we were from. When we responded that we were American study abroad students, he told us that this was the first time that he met American students studying abroad in Dresden. He then gave us all kosten loss, free, shots of a creme liquor, and then replaced our coal for us. It was such a great feeling to be drunk and relaxed by smoking the apple flavored Hookah. Everyone in that group was in a good place at that time. I started a deep discussion with one of my study abroad classmates there, whom I have known since the first day of Freshman year at BU. We talked about religion and faith. He was basically a nihilist, and believed that nothing really mattered. Even though he has a girlfriend, he totally believed in logic and that the chemical receptors in our brain were the only things responsible for the feelings of emotion such as love, happiness, and sadness. He also believed that it was wrong to raise a child underneath the banner of any faith or religion, because the child would then grow up believing in it. He felt that the child should grow up without any instruction in religion or faith, and instead should be decided to choose his or her own path and beliefs in life. And I respected him for his beliefs.
I then shared my beliefs in my Catholic faith and in emotion. Opposed to his views on relying on logic, I mainly rely on emotion and in some beliefs that I cannot see. When asked why I believed in what I believed, I responded that my faith has tangibly affected me in several ways. It has helped me with family troubles, saved my life, and has given my life meaning. I personally felt that I should raise a child with faith and religion, but allow him or her to challenge his beliefs and formulate his own beliefs. And we have always differed on this subject, but the best part about this discussion was how we could be such close friends and still wholeheartedly disagree on such a deep and personal subject. And then I remember telling my friend that I felt infinite in that place, at that time, and in that state of mind. And we both did agree that that was a beautiful thing. Then we paid our bill, and left the Neustadt to return home around 3am. Yes, it was a good night.
The next Saturday morning, I awoke to shouting and screaming. I looked out of my window around 11am, and I saw a mob of people standing next to my dorm, the Max-Kade Haus. After a short snooze, I looked out of the balcony in front of our kitchen window and I saw hundreds of protesters. They were gathering by the dozens and were waving flags and signs of all shapes and colors. At first I wondered why they were specifically in front of our dorm and whether they were the Antifascist demonstrators or the Neo-Nazis. I later discovered from their signs that they were the aggressive Antifascist demonstrators and that the streets around our dorm were supposed to be one of the three Neo-Nazi gathering hotspots. For the first hour or so demonstrators would gather around the front of our dorm, and then the Polizei in full riot gear would slowly march towards them in formation. The protesters would let their guard down and taunt the Polizei, and then the Polizei would rush and tackle the demonstrators. It was a bit terrifying and crazy to witness in first person.
A few minutes later, a large crowd of Antifascist demonstrators gathered around the field behind the Max-Kade Haus. I would say that they probably numbered over a 1000 people. It almost felt as if our dorm was under siege, but we were not allowed to let anyone in, even if they appeared to be harmless. By this point, the Polizei had already blocked many of the streets leading out of the dorm residences and the field. The wave of protesters then surged forward through the front streets and blockaded one of the main streets with giant dumpsters and recycling bins. By this time, several street signs were torn down, and the dumpsters were lit on fire for the third time in a row. As the crowd gathered and got even more restless, more of my study abroad walked on to the balcony to take pictures and record videos. Several demonstrators threw snowballs at us, and some asked us to come down and join them. It was interesting to hear them yell that we shouldn’t just take pictures but actively participate. And I really wanted to help some of the people who were wounded by thrown rocks, or those who were really hungry or wanted to use a bathroom.
I instantly felt the pull and the tug of the herd and crowd mentality. When some people started running, clapping, or yelling, then everyone else started to do that and inevitably started a chain reaction. The riot mentality was also interesting to witness from the top of the balcony. You could literally see the ripple that echoed through the crowds. And then we witnessed a mini battle scene. The barricaded main road soon became crowded with squadrons of Polizei, tanks with high-pressure water hoses, and dozens of Polizei vans. The rioters began shooting flares and throwing rocks at the Polizei, and for the first time ever I witnessed the typical riot throw. It is the image of a person dressed in black leaning back to hurl a molotov cocktail, rock, or any other projectile at the police.
Eventually the Polizei ran through the barricade, and routed the demonstrators who decided to riot elsewhere. And in some sense, the physical damage down by the extreme left Antifascists may be comparable to the psychological damage done by the extreme right Neo-Nazis. Both groups were dangerous, but many more people literally despised the Neo-Nazis. It was interesting to witness, and fortunately we do not believe that the two groups ever collided. A small part of me wanted to see it, but I feel as if I just wanted to witness more violence and fighting similar to the Romans and their Coliseum. I did not want to just appear is if I were watching a movie, but that was what it felt like from the safety of the fortified balcony. Yet, in the midst of the chaos and wildness I saw the best in some people. Several brightly dressed Germans acted as paramedics and EMTs for injured rioters, several students from the dorm put out the fires in garage bins, some of us rushed to find first aid supplies to lower down to other hurt people, and written in the snow on the hood of a car were the words “One Love.” Regardless of the left and the right extremes, there still existed those who wanted peace.
Later that night, the entire study abroad group of engineers gathered in the Gutzkowstrasse club to celebrate Bierfest. We divided into teams of five and played games revolving around bier. We challenged other teams to see how long we could hold up a full pitcher of beer with an arm perpendicular to the side of our body, we played Beirut (known as Beer Pong in the US), quarters (except with Euro coins), and then flip cup. Yes, our team lost horribly but it was such a great end to an eventful day. Just imagine trying to play coins when everyone decided not to wait for his or her turn, or during flip cup when a group member drank his cup and took his time to finish his bier. And yes we were known as the Hamburglers due to our masklike facepaint. But in the end it was all good fun, and was such a stark contrast to the hatred and violence that permeated the main events of that Saturday.
So it was our first Dresden Study Abroad excursion trip on the February 17. In the morning we left the Hauptbahnhopf, central train station, and rode a train for about 30 minutes to get to a German town called Bautzen. It turns out that the program got some good deals, because it turns out that our Bahn tickets only cost us 4 Euros per person. We passed by open pastures and country sides filled with quaint villages that seemed to have come from a bygone era. Clichés aside, we eventually stopped in Bautzen, and met our tour guide in the city square. Our tour guide showed us around the freezing 1 degree Celsius city filled with castles, archways, towers, and hidden walls. We first stopped by the city’s stone water fountain which depicted pivotal scenes regarding the founding of Bautzen. There were images, bilder, of a king executing artisans until his wife told him to stop, city fires, harvests, and founders. After spending 20 minutes circling a tiny fountain, we continued our journey throughout the rest of the city. Also, the city had a 5% Sorbs population. Now I know that my AP European History teacher would kill me if he discovered how much of European history, but I do not know too much about them.
Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the city. Apparently after the Protestant Reformation, Bautzen was one of the cities that allowed for Protestantism and Catholicism to coexist together. This was apparent in the city’s crooked Church known as Dom St. Petri. Inside the church were two altars, one for the Catholics and one for the Protestants. The church was unique in that it catered both denominations. While our tour guide showed us the inside of the church, a woman started talking to me and another one of my classmates who had a camera similar to mine. She only spoke Deutsch, so we did the best that we could with our limited German, and she motioned for us to follow her. She opened this huge, locked door and we saw the foyer of the church. The foyer contained stone tablets detailing the histories of family crests and coats of arms of the Bautzen families. And we walked up several stairs and saw pictures of all the Vaters of the church. It felt so cool to see the church from a new vantage point, and to go through the secret passageways. At the top was a 100 year old organ and a place for the choir to sit. An interesting thing about the church was that it was crooked about halfway through. Our tour guide shared several versions as to why it was this way: so that the devil cannot spit on the altar, to represent the broken body of Jesus Christ, and because the street on which it was built upon was crooked. The woman, whose name is Frau Elke Dutschmann, told us that the reason was the latter. I asked her if she worked here, and she replied that she worked in that church, and I believe that she was its caretaker. But it was a wonder to behold such an amazing church from the inside. You could see the vaulted archways and the pillars supporting it. And I was lucky enough to see part of the church that most outsiders would never see. I still wonder why Frau Dutschmann allowed us to go up there, but I guess that I’ll have to revisit Bautzen again to know the answer.
Afterwards, our tour guide brought us through side streets that led to beautiful cemeteries. I saw fresh flowers lying on the graves covered in grass and plants regardless of the snow and 1 degree Celsius temperatures. It was wondrous to behold such life in a place that seemed so ancient, lost and forgotten. I really didn’t pay that much attention to the tour guide at this point, and I sort of branched out to see the other places of the city that were not viewed as much. It was so exciting, because I knew that I was treading upon paths that were not seen by millions of people all over the world. It was pure discovery and a photographers dream.
The tour guide shared stories of ancient kings of Wilhelms and Redbeards and legends of ghostly knights rising from their graves to sharpen their swords. And apparently he had written books about Bautzen, because he was so knowledgeable about the area. One of the RA’s later told me that he had approached her and told her that he also loved Bautzen because he had had a crush or wanted to be with his girlfriend who lived there. I honestly don’t know which one is true. We later ate a delicious meal in the warm and cozy Alten Bierhof restaurant. Regardless of the fact that we’ve all been drinking every single night here, the point is that we as students are not allowed to drink alcohol during BU sponsored meals because of an incident that occurred a few years ago when a student blacked out and came to in a German police station.
The restaurant served amazing food rich in arugula, boiled potatoes and vegetables, fried schnitzel, spicy kebabs, and sauces reminiscent of greek yoghurts and madeira wine pasta dishes. The flavor tasted even better due to the overall atmosphere. You see, after walking through frigid archways of cobblestoned hills and frozen rivers, we felt amazing while sitting in the tavern like Bierhof. I absolutely adore the feeling of being surrounded by great people while eating a scrumptious meal in a warm place while knowing that it is freezing outside. It’s kinda like having a coffee at Starbucks or a panini at Panera while the bitter winds of winter bite you.
Regardless of the history, Bautzen is also famous for its Mustard. Similar to the Dijon Mustard back home, you can taste the mustard seeds and the ingredients used in their mustard. The group entered into Bautz’ner Senfladen Manufaktur und Museum. Senf means mustard auf Deutsch. There were over a dozen flavors of mustard including: garlic, blueberry, sweet, premium, winter special, pepper, and onion. They were all delicious, and you could sample them using these host bread-like pieces upon which you could scoop the mustard on.
It was a pretty successful first excursion, and of course I look forward to many more. Sometimes I think about my blog, and I remember that it makes me happy that I will actively put my memories and thoughts down. Actually that was one of the discussions that I had while I was on the train back. I was talking with Ryan S. and Matt K. about superheroes and philosophy. It started about with a discussion about Batman and Superman. We were bringing up points about how Batman wasn’t originally darker, and that DC was just trying to make a character similar to those of Marvel. We started discussing the story of The Dark Knight. Ryan argued that the line, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” was about being a hero for too long that you became bored and eventually became a villain. Matt then said that sometimes when he thought back to his childhood he remembered how everything was somehow nicer and better than nowadays. Yes the conversation had changed at this point, and I stated how I felt that Ryan’s interpretation of the quote was incorrect. I personally felt that it was about how one man might be forced to act in favor of the greater good and resides in a land of moral greyness and ambiguity. Eventually, his actions may make others believe that he has become a villain since he now acts in a manner that disregards the rights and good of other people.
I then shared my belief about the past and how it is hard to understand that it is within our nature to see the older days as being better than they actually were. That’s why we call them the “good ‘ol days.” Ryan thought that my viewpoint was Buddhist in nature, and then we started discussing Buddhism. And that is one subject that I honestly cannot even come close to express in words. I do not have enough charisma or self-realization to be able to discuss this matter.
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
And yesterday I did see a spark of that fire that ignited the hearts of this world. On February 13, the 65th anniversary of the WWII Dresden Firebombing, 10000 Dresden inhabitants led a counter-protest against 5000 Neo-Nazi demonstrators. The Neo-Nazis misuse this solemn day of remembrance and commemoration in order to further their cause of hatred, fascism, and intolerance within Dresden, the capital of Saxony. Several of us left the Max-Kade Haus Dormitory after noon. Just as we got on to one of the side streets the Polizei stopped us and asked who we were. We all had to produce legal forms of I.D. I had to show them my Maryland Driver’s License, and they me to go through. However in order to get through to the Hauptbahnhopf, the central train station, we had to pass underneath an underpass. And the only way towards the main city centers were through a series of underpasses, and all of them were being monitored by fully armed to kill German police officers. There was a solemn air that surrounded each and every citizen as we walked towards the Altmarkt and the cathedrals. But in the midst of such a solemn atmosphere were the people who still had to walk through the checkpoints for their jobs, the children making snowmen, and the McDonald’s and Starbucks employees who still worked regardless of many businesses being closed for the day.
As we drew nearer to the Altmart, a chain of peaceful Dresden inhabitants protected the main buildings of the Altstadt. This human chain of literally more than 10000 citizens stretched across the plazas, cathedrals, and bridges (that spanned lengths longer than that of the BU Bridge/Mass. Ave Bridge) that crossed the Elbe River. Many citizens wore the white rose, weissrosen, which symbolized the peaceful counterprotest and solidarity of the Nazi Blockade. It was beautiful to see so many people joining together to show their support for peace and solidarity against the tirades of hate and intolerance. A brass band was playing “Dona N0bis Pacem,” and in front of one of the main churches were a series of candles that spelled the Hebrew word, Shoah. Shoah stands for destruction, and is another name for the Holocaust. It was so beautiful to join hands with the native Dresden inhabitants. And for 10 minutes the church bells rang without stopping, and the human chain joined together as one in order to show the neo Nazis and the world that we would not idly stand by as the rage of hatred burned around us. Today was a day in the world that demonstrated how peace, Frieden, was that much more powerful than hatred and destruction. This was not a chain of enslavement, but rather a chain of freedom and empowerment to protect a sacred city and place that was still healing after all these years.
And as I joined the human chain I felt alive. I felt the pulse of the city beat within me. It was a living, breathing entity that had endured countless torments and pains. But this unbreakable chain of love and understanding held fast for 10 minutes, and in that time I once again felt infinite. And to think that the night before during my jog, I stood at the exact same place overlooking the Elbe River when a man stood next to me and did the sign of the cross as he faced the Elbe’s banks. And after the bells pealed for the last time, the chain broke, and the people did break into applause.
Ah, these were the moments that made me feel alive and well. And as I walked back to the Hauptbahnhopf, I saw a large crowd of people. It turns out that there also existed members of an Anti-Fascism organization that truly hated Nazis and Fascism. And whenever a few Neo-Nazis appeared, the crowd of inhabitants would yell slurs at them and force them out through the blockades. At this time, the Polizei were monitoring each underpass that led into the main city center. And each policeman was fully armed to kill with nightsticks, handguns, tasers, and full body and riot armor in case of any emergency or incident. After walking past several checkpoints for about a mile, I was able to enter with the help of my Maryland Driver’s License and the German speaking skills of one of my classmates. And we made it back safely. It was a pretty hectic and crazy day, but it was definitely worth it.
I later read that the Neo-Nazis numbered in the 5000, but that they demonstrated in a different part of the city and did not come into contact with the peace chain of the Dresden inhabitants. I guess that was fortunate since no major incident occurred. Apparently this will happen again on February 19, because the Ne0-Nazis want to get more of their members to come. I don’t know if I will be in the city during that date, but I do know one thing for sure: that peace und Frieden will prevail.
On Friday the entirety of the engineering students received a guided tour of Dresden City. Something interesting to
So early in the morning, we all enter into what could be a greyhound bus and we drive through the altstadt (old city) towards across the river and into the neustadt (new city). We learned a bit about the small garden houses that were originally created to help sick patients recover by gardening and resting in summertime cottages. It was also interesting to note that these garden houses were owned by other Dresden inhabitants who wanted to feel as if they lived in some far off green country for a weekend. We heard stories about kings, presidents, palaces, rain collection systems, protests, and many a famous composer and artist falling in love with a young bar maid or daughter of a wife’s friend. However, what caught my eye was this area of the town near the Elbe River that is northeast of where our dorm is located. So the next day, 10 of us decided to go. We were Matt, Sean, Doug, Andrew, Luke, Kerri, Obi, Emily, David, and myself.
We left the Max Kade Haus, and we walked to the bus stop for the 61 bus towards Schillerplatz. Several of us did not have any tickets for public transportation, and we didn’t know the nearest place to buy one. So with my limited knowledge of German I asked an elderly couple, “Wo können wir ein fahrschein kauffen?” which means where can we buy a ticket. Well, I thought that was what it meant. It turns out that I was asking for a different kind of ticket. Either way, we got on the bus and got off a few stops later at Wasaplatz where we all bought tickets. The Boston T could take a few lessons from Dresden, because here one can scan a ticket and then get on and off any form of public transportation as long as it’s within the same hour as the scanning of the ticket. At Wasaplatz, we encountered a mysterious man, whom we called the Change Man. He spoke to us in German, and explained that the ticket machine took exact change or something like that. So he took out a contraption that had tons of Euros and cents, in coin form, out from his bag, and we exchanged our paper money for the coin equivalent. Then we continued on our merry way to Schillerplatz. It was so cool to just randomly go on the public transportation and successfully end up where we wanted to go.
Schillerplatz was a very quaint and fine area of Dresden. There were skinny houses and buildings that were adjacent to one another with the typical red shingled roofs of Germany. We crossed the first European suspension bridge that did not have any column supports, and we got to the base of a mountain-like hill. The group walked into an alleyway that led to a gorgeous chocolaterie. Whiskey chocolate, vanilla with rosepetals (rosebluten) chocolate, and so many other delicious and expensive flavors. But afterwards we walked up the cobblestone streets and roads that led up the mountain. It was so cool to see the houses built into the mountain itself with hidden doors that led to stone steps and vineyards that stretched above our heads.
Did we look like tourists? Yes we did, but we had so much fun discovering another small piece of the world that so many people will never be able to witness. With ever turn we would discover a new view of the city of Dresden and the Elbe river. The whole city stretched out before us as the sun set, and it was such an amazing feeling of wonder and discovery. This was what it was all about in a way. It was pure exploration and experience. So we get to the top, and we decide not to take the cable car back down, so we make the trek back down the mountain, past the chocolaterie, across the suspension bridge, and into a Turkish Döner cafe. Döner is a mixture between a Chipotle Burrito and a Panera Bread Sandwich. In between a pita bread pocket are slices of shaved meat that is coated with this red and white sauce, cabbage, lettuce, and cucumbers. Oh it was so delicious and yummy in mah tummy. I’m sorry for that statement.
We got back to the Max-Kade Haus without incident and got ready for the night. Yes, for the second night during our first week here we went clubbing in this place called Katy’s Garage. It was a smaller place with more seats for talking and drinking than dancing. Thanks to the recommendation from my RA, I got a Desperado, a tequila flavored beer. Yes, that was delicious. Then I started talking to my classmates, and I occasionally danced when the song was “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. Interesting culture observation; Europeans (or at least Dresden inhabitants) do not grind. They kind of bounce up and down as they swing their arms and bodies back and forth. Also, they love their smoke and fog machines. Let me give you a bit of a taste from the first club experience: 40 year old djs, hot women and men ‘dancing’ everywhere, a catchy Moscau song, broken glass, shirtless men giving out candy, no grinding, California Gurls, a pizza kitchen, too much smoke, poles for dancing, a conga line, kicking like Russian dancers, and a lot of Jersey Shore fist-pumping. Yes, we might have just started a new trend, and maybe we could pitch a show here called the Elbe Shore
“Never have I ever had a blowjob.”
And in those words I believe that a whole different change has occurred in this atmosphere of Dresden. So after today, February 9, we took a walking tour of the Dresden University campus with the aid of Dr. Zeuner. It was such a beautiful campus, and I could not believe that the skies had no clouds as the warm sun helped balance out the colder breeze. So now I know a little bit more about the campus buildings and sites. At one point, I saw a graffiti that said, “Studenten sint schweine.” This means “students are pigs.” It was weird seeing that, and trying to decipher the context that it came from. It made me sad to think that such a beautiful campus filled with so many great professors and students could have something so terrible sprayed across its walls. I don’t know the meaning of it, but it might have to do with the Neo-Nazi counter protest rally that will occur on Sunday, February 13. Okay, so here is the background. During World War II the Americans fire-bombed the German city of Dresden. And ever since then the city has tried to commemorate the victims of the fire-bombing. However, Neo-Nazis from all over Germany and Europe gather together in the hundreds to march upon the streets of Dresden to “commemorate” in their own special way the deaths of the Dresden victims. The city of Dresden and the country of Europe truly despise this ignorant show of hatred by forming a much larger peaceful counter-protest. I have been told that it is so beautiful, because the Dresden citizens join hands and form a human chain around the Neo-Nazi group in order to keep them from desecrating the sacred ground of Dresden and the people who died. It was a beautiful thing to hear, and we were all invited to partake in the human chain. That is so amazing and cool.
Then for lunch we cooked and ate some Bratwurst that we seasoned with soy sauce bought at Dresden’s Asian Supermarket. It was really yummy, but I won’t add the recipe here, because it literally consisted of frying the bratwurst in oil, and then pouring soy sauce over it. Oh boy! (For some odd reason, this has now become my catchphrase here in Germany)
Afterwards we ate at a restaurant in a neighborhood where we were given a buffet of four different kinds of pastas. Oh my goodness, we have such a nice and kind program director, Silke Fimmel. She could totally be a kindergarten teacher or something like that. She has a beautifully soft and flowing voice as well as a bunch of handouts and gifts to help us. During the dinner, she gave us cones that had pictures of cartoons on them, and inside of them there were candies and a chocolate egg with a surprise inside. It was so much better than the Wonderball that they had in the US. Then the RA’s tried to bring us to several other good clubs and bars, but they were either closed or didn’t allow that many students to come in at once. So I went to Netto’s, the grocery store (which I mistakenly called a liquor store, and I bought a bottle of 2009 Riesling wine. And since I had the largest room, about 20 of us played the drinking game of Kings with our wine, whiskey, bier, und other drinks. When it was my turn for ‘never have I ever,’ I asked the collective group if they were okay with all of us being open with one another. They all told me yes, so I said, “Never have I ever received a blowjob.” At first it was quiet, and yes I felt a wee bit awkward, but I broke the ice. We now were joking around a bit more and being more open, and I thought that that was important. I asked people if that was alright with them, and they said that of course it was.
It made me think about how it’s hard for some groups to bond together. I personally believe that is is important for people to be vulnerable in order for growth to occur among everyone. It is only once we say things that we are worried about other people knowing that we can truly become ourselves. In a way I was thinking that there is one sort of forbidden statement in ‘never have I ever.’ And that question is “Never have I ever had sex.” I think that so many people become weirded out by the idea that others may judge them because they have never had sex with someone. My guess is that we are scared that others will think that we are not charismatic enough, headstrong enough, too prude, or too innocent and nice to be that interesting. But that’s what has happened with many of us these days. We become so caught up in what others think about us that it is so hard to receive compliments or say what we truly believe in without worrying about others and their own thoughts.
After the game of kings, we all went to the Gutzkowstrasse Bar, and we just hung out. We would have gone sooner but there was a soccer game which attracted a full bar. So I was then asked by someone why I was so nice. I instinctively thought about my family, and how it is so hard to be nice and always happy around them sometimes. I definitely think that that will be better because my mom and dad are now physically living apart. So to a crowd of about 15 fellow study abroad students I shared my personal beliefs about my inherent happiness and Catholicism:
“Well this is really deep, but I’ll continue. So I am happy because of several things that have happened to me in my life. For example, I used to get really sad and kinda depressed in middle school whenever I got into trouble. I thought about suicide several times, but then I got into high school. And I just got stressed out because of the honors classes, the football, and the choir. I could not handle it all. But then I was asked by my mom if I wanted to pray the rosary with her and I though, “What the hell.” And then I did it. All of a sudden I felt something real and tangible; I felt a comforting presence the proved to me that what I believed in with my Catholic faith was real.
*another question about my Catholic faith*
So I went to a Jesuit Catholic high school that was pretty liberal in the Catholic Church. We could literally talk to our professors about hot topic issues such as abortion, masturbation, sex, wars, and so many other things that other Catholic schools would not even dare to discuss. And I grew up in this environment that intertwined my faith life with my secular life. In one sense, those two aren’t even separate at all. I mean, of course I have several issues and different ideas about the Catholic Church. I believe that premarital sex is alright and that gay marriage is also fine.
*question about whether it is my faith that makes me happy*
I believe that it is my faith and my personal outlook on life, which are both one and the same, that make me happy. There are a lot of religions and beliefs out there, and I believe that every single person is right in their own respect. It is all true to each person, but only if that person truly believes in what he or she professes to believe. I am happy because there is so much shit and strife in this world. And in my own special way, if I can make even one person truly smile then that day was worth it. Sure, I’m gonna screw up and sin, but that’s alright because life is beautiful and about learning from your mistakes and screwups. I truly do believe that every person is really good at heart, and that we are all different and have different outlooks in life.”
I attribute this openness to my high school senior retreat, Kairos, which means a moment in time. In this moment are all moments where we feel absolutely and irrevocably infinite. It is an impossible to describe sense of contentment and happiness where we can just be who we are and enjoy the moment for what it is instead of what it could have been or what it can be. This retreat has helped me to be open and share myself and my beliefs with others, because it is important to be vulnerable and feel raw towards others. It is only by opening out outer defensive shell that we can truly feel more relaxed with those around us. And it’s hard, because I love to wear a mask during so many moments. But I’ll never be perfect, and I’m fine mit das. And anyone reading this could totally disagree with what I am saying at this moment, and that is alright, because I respect our difference of beliefs. This is who I am, and I am proud to believe and say the values that I trust in during this stage of life.
But what was really beautiful tonight was that after my talk, several of my fellow students asked me where the Catholic church was. Someone even opened up to me about his personal life, and we started talking a bit more about religion and our personal values. And that my friends was pure beauty.
February 6, 2011 – “Wow it’s been a while since I’ve written in a paper journal. Recently I’ve spent most of my reflection time on my wordpress blog. This journal was given to me by my mom as gift that I can use while I’m in Germany. Right now I’m just tired and waiting in the gate for the flight from Dulles to JFK. Gate B64. I don’t have a cellphone, my checkin bag weighs 52lbs, and I am never going to live in my hourse again. But I’m moving on; this will be a long day.
I see two boys possibly of Middle Eastern descent staring out a window to look at planes, a black woman in a Costco hat just finished her burrito, two brothers in spray painted hoodies each read an iPad and a book, and everyone seems to be waiting while I creepily observe everyone around me.
So now I am on the plane to Munich. It was so much fun seeing everyone and so many old faces from BU show up. The first person whom I met was John, the guy who kept getting introduced at FYSOP… It was crazy to see that I knew about 90% of the people going on the trip. Compared with my Jamaica trip two and a half years ago, I think that I am more experienced now.
I had my first legal drink during the meal during the flight. A German Riesling wine. It was nice and a bit tart. the flight attendants here are extremely cordial. It’s hot in the middle aisle, and on either side of me is Emily Polson and Ana Christina. I look forward to bonding with this group as well as with many students and people from Dresden.
What is interesting is that during my new trip with a group of people, you get a chance to reinvent yourself in a sense. You can portray your personality in a whole new way to the new people whom you meet. For me, I have a tendency to act super happy, friendly, and a bit more absent-minded. I think that the former attributes stem from an exaggerated version of my actual personality, while the latter comes from my role in the Ancients. Maybe I enjoy the release of not being the leader in a group of friends. Sometimes I see myself as the leader in some other groups, and it;s a rleief to relinquish that responsibility with other group. We’re almost aver Dublin, and you know the best part? I’m no longer that afriad to be more social with people who are cooler than me.
February 7, 2011 – Room Number 237M… You know, it’s hard to beat the feeling of a mildly cool wind blowing through the windows signaling the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime. Sure, I don’t have internet or a bunch of Euros, but that doesn’t matter because life is good.
So much has happened since my last entry. We did a walking tour of the city where we walked all the way to the bridged that crossed the Elbe and connected the Altstadt to the Neustadt. I took some beautiful pictures and kept asking the German speakers how to say basic phrases. I believe that I have truly made good friends here. I made a deal to teach this girl in photography if she continued to teach me German.
So all of us hung out at the bar near the dormitory. We chilled and were quiet at first. We ordered the Dresden beer Feldschlosschen which tatted amazing. We all as an engineering group hung out. Then we played Das Boot, where we all pass and drank out of a giant boot-shaped beer container, and the last person to finish it ensured that the second-to-last person paid for it. It was such a fun time and our great group bonding for all of us. I actually jokingly said that I drank for the Lord. But I stand by what I said, because what we did these past few days were amazing. We helped each other get through the airports and plane rides, the unpacking, and the group bonding. This is beautiful and amazing for us all. I can see us growing stronger together as a study abroad family for the next 6 months. And yes, this was just the 1st night.”
And so marks the end of the two entries that I made in the journal thus far. It’s a leather bound journal that shuts close with a magnetic clasp, which is useful. Aww man there is just so much going on that it’s hard to concentrate on one thing. I love to observe people and see how they act. While by myself in the airports, I just looked at everyone to see what they were doing. I was people-watching, and it really made the time fly by. I stayed in JFK airport for about 9 hours while I waited for my flight and fellow peers arrive at the airport.
The jumbo two story airplane itself was cool, because each seat had a personal tv that had playable movies, cds, songs, and tv shows that were pretty much up-to-date. Haha, and let me explain my first legal drink. So dinner was served and one of the flight attendants asked what I would like to drink. So I paused my movie that I was watching, The Guardians: The Legend of Ga’hoole, and I asked for orange juice. She also offered some wine or beer, and I asked for a glass of Riesling. Yes, it was a very ridiculous situation, but it was very fun to already be exposed to a totally different culture while halfway over the Atlantic. By the way, the sunrise was absolutely beautiful as we were arriving in Germany. We
arrive in Munich for a total of some minutes and get on a very small plane that gets us to Dresden in about an hour. Finally we arrive at the Max Kade Haus, our dormitory, where every person has his or her own room, but shares a communal bathroom and kitchen. For some odd reason, I got the largest room of 27.14 m^2.
I got really frustrated on the first day at not being able to speak or understand any German. So I started to ask the German speakers several questions about the language. I learned the pronouns and their usages, and then I started to learn about the present tenses of several regular and irregular verbs. Then during the walking tour of the city I continued running around our group of 30+ people and I asked them what different words meant. Afterwards I would then yell that new phrase out in front of Dresden citizens. We got a few laughs.
Ahhh but it was beautiful to just sit back and enjoy a good time joking with fellow classmates at the Gutz, the club and bar that is literally connected to the dormitory. We all ordered the local Feldschlossen beer, and we all enjoyed it. You see, I typically dislike American beer, and cannot drink it more than a can in one sitting. However, I can drink liquor and truly enjoy its taste. But last night was different, because I actually enjoyed the taste of the beer.
And as for today, February 8th, I did not write in my paper journal. But here is what happened. We all woke up and filled out bank registration forms for our German bank, Sparkasse, where we would receive a monthly stipend in Euros. Oh boy, and then I had my first schnitzel, fried pork, for lunch at the Mensa, which is the school cafeteria. Afterwards we all journeyed to Ikea in order to purchase kitchenware and bed supplies for our rooms. In total I probably spent 75 Euros for personal items and food. I will be cooking a lot of food, and although I have not learned any recipes, I hope to make schnitzel sometime soon.
As things were winding down, I took a celebratory Vodka shot with the RA and some other friends, and then two other friends, Doug and Andrew, made spaghetti with me for dinner. It wasn’t homemade sauce or anything like that, so I won’t share any specific recipe. But boy oh boy was this a great second day. It’s interesting, because right now I do not have a specific emotion other than wonder at what will happen tomorrow. And I am so stoked to be learning more and more German. I can now say: I like the happy french fry tree. I am not a woman. Why is that woman a man? She is a friend. I am acquainted with you, and I know the tree. I am sorry. Excuse me. I do not speak German.
I’ve been working on getting the conjugations down for the present tense verbs, but it will definitely get a lot better when the classes actually start sometime next week. I will probably have less time to write longer entries, but the first ones are always the most important right? Well it’s definitely still new and the beginning. From here on out it’s gonna be a lot of Deutschland. Danke.
“I know who your boyfriend is.”
These were the words unwittingly uttered to me by one of my unconscious, sleepingtalking best friends as I carried him to his bed after a long, fun night of hanging out with new and old friends. My response was simply, “Yes, I know him.” I traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Thursday afternoon to Saturday evening. It was a fun and rewarding visit to a best friend from home and high school. Hahaha, he’s also probably reading this right now. His name’s Sean. It was nice to get out of the house for a few days and just explore a little bit more of Philadelphia and Drexel University. So during the first night, I was invited to attend and even perform at a Late Night Coffeehouse-like event that featured student comedians, singers, and performers of all types. So I sang an a cappella medley of hallelujah, which incorporated lyrics from Leonard Cohen, Handel, and Paramore. It was interesting to say the least, but I enjoyed performing in a different place.
So I didn’t see much of Drexel, except for the inside of my friend’s dorm room. The weirdest aspect was walking through the campus and not knowing anyone whom I passed by. It is interesting to have a friend with whom you can to and say anything to. It’s funny, because I’ve heard and witnessed scenes where people have said, “We’ll always be friends forever, and we’ll hang out all the time.” For me, this has usually occurred during graduations and at the end of retreats and reunions. The problem I discovered is that I cannot keep in touch with all of my friends. I would become spread too thin. And so it happened that I just tried my best to open up with as many people whom I felt comfortable with. I learned that it was only through becoming vulnerable and opening up my true self to others did I realize a true friendship. And with my growing number of true friends in Boston University, I have started to shorten the gap between my college personality and my home personality. I now can open up and share secrets about myself with people in Boston, and I hope to do that wherever I go in life.
I think the reason why Sean and I are best friends is due to the fact that we aren’t afraid to radically disagree with each other. Oftentimes we butt heads (sometimes literally) when it comes to matters of our faith, relationships, photographic techniques, and even cooking. And we are not afraid to tell the other that we are pissed off with the other or that we cannot stand the other person while I am inebriated. Haha, but I can honestly say that this holds true with my other friends whom I have made during my life’s journey thus far. Ever since September 26, 2008, I started praying for each friend and individual who has touched my life in some way. I say all their names in my head as I start my car to drive anywhere. It’s funny, but it’s my reassurance that whatever happens to me wherever I go I know that my friends will be safe.
Unfortunately I did not get to buy a Philadelphia cheesesteak (hoagie?) nor a Drexel shotglass. But I got to spend a great weekend with a wonderful friend who shared a great view of the world with me.
P.S. – My trip to Dresden, Germany is fast approaching and I have not begun to pack all of my belongings. I better get to that before I leave.