This is part of my trilogy of posts about the Fulbright Berlin Seminar. See the first post for an introduction. This post is about the conference itself, including the socializing that happened around it.
After we arrived and checked into our hotels on Sunday, the conference offered us tours of Berlin. I chose one that focused on immigration and Islam. We visited the gorgeous Sehitlik Mosque, where a Muslim guide pointed out the architectural highlights and answered our questions about both the building and the religion. It was fascinating not only to hear her talk about Islam in Germany today, but also to see the wide range of my peers’ levels of knowledge about Islam. I was not very knowledgable, and I learned about core tenets of the religion and also about cool features of mosques. (I was especially intrigued by the niche that reflects sound back to the congregation so that the imam can face Mecca when he prays and still be heard by the people behind him.)
After a welcome dinner with far too much food and wine, we woke up on Monday morning for topic-based discussion panels. I was tasked with moderating the performing arts panel, where scholars who were researching (or simply attending a lot of) theater, opera, music, and dance shared their views. We talked about direction, funding, the experience of being a performer, the past and future of various media, and much more. The conversation was a bit all over the place (my fault, I suppose, given that I was supposed to be moderating), but often intriguing. One Italian scholar lives with an experimental theater company that brings art into public and private spaces as intimate as donated rooms in people’s homes!
As a thank-you for moderating, I was presented with the following mug. Look closely—you’ll spot a funny Germanism.
We had the afternoon free, but then it was time for the formal opening. After speeches from apparently everyone—a Fulbright Commission member, a representative of the U.S. Embassy, and the Chairman of the German Green Party, we were treated to performances by the arts scholars (a violin concerto, a piano concerto, and a piece of contemporary dance). Then we got more food and wine! At the reception, I ran into Olin College’s other Fulbright student this year, Erika Boeing. She’s based in the Netherlands, where she studies sustainability and technology-related policy.
We assembled on Tuesday morning in the beautiful rotes Rathaus, the city’s old town hall. There, we heard about life in other countries (that is, not Germany) from international scholars and were addressed by the Berlin State Secretary for Education.
Not much else conference-related happened on Tuesday, but something even more important happened instead: my 21st birthday! The Munich Fulbrighters ditched me, but others came out to help me celebrate. We went to a wine bar called Forum, which operates with a very unique business model. You pay a two-Euro fee for your glass and then refill it yourself as often as you like from an assortment of provided bottles. At the end of the evening, you pay however much you think it was all worth. The bar was full of students, which makes you think the system would soon collapse, but in fact the bar has been going strong for fifteen years.
On the final night of the conference, the Fulbright commission rented out a nightclub. But I’d done my share of partying the previous evening, so I joined a small group that went to the Deutsche Oper instead. It’s perhaps the ugliest opera house I’ve ever seen, and I wasn’t excited by La Rondine. Still, I can now say I’ve been to an opera in Berlin!
The best consequence of going to the opera was that it gave me an excuse to meet up with Helen Greene the next day to discuss it. Helen is probably the only other Fulbrighter who is quite as crazy about opera and theater as I am, and she is based in Berlin. (She keeps a blog of her arts excursions here.) We spent my final morning in Berlin at Fassbender and Rausch, a chocolate shop and cafe where we took photos with kitschy chocolate models of Berlin landmarks and excitedly talked about German performing arts over an extremely chocolate-y breakfast.
Very full of chocolate, I left at noon to catch my train back to Munich. Helen has promised to try to meet me there later this year for further adventures in arts and gastronomy.