This is part of my trilogy of posts about the Fulbright Berlin Seminar. See the first post for an introduction. This post is about being a tourist.
Let me get this out of the way: I found Berlin to be a very ugly city. It felt sprawling, dirty, and architecturally unappealing. That said, it has some beautiful monuments and churches and tons of interesting museums, so it wasn’t a bad place to be for a conference. I used every spare moment to visit things in the city. While I certainly didn’t see it all (I most notably omitted the Reichstag, but I really could have used a few more days for museums, too), I think I did a pretty good job of sightseeing given the time I had!
Berlin is full of historical monuments and memorials, some dating back to the Prussian years and others commemorating the Cold War and the city’s divisions.
East Side Gallery murals
An East Side Gallery mural
The famous Brandenburg Gate. There are pictures of me in front of it, too, but they’re on friends’ cameras—I’ll add them if/when I get them!
Siegessäule (Victory Column) to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War. Mostly just a pretty, shiny statue atop a column
The “broken tooth” church—it was mostly destroyed in WWII bombings, but the remains were left standing and the new church was built around them
“Broken chain” sculpture signifying the severed connection of the East and West parts of the city due to the Wall
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.
At approximately the middle of the grant period, all of the Fulbright students in Germany are invited to the Berlin Seminar. This is an annual meeting focused on sharing experiences and discussing important issues in Europe. The German grantees (including students, professors, teaching assistants, performers, and journalists) are joined by Fulbrighters from other countries (I noticed strong presences from Scandanavia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Italy) as well as German grantees who will soon leave for the States. We meet for seminars, discussion panels, and lots of eating and drinking.
The four-day seminar was very full, so I’m going to split my experiences into three blog posts: one focused on Judaism-related excursions, one focused on “networking” (the conference itself and the socializing surrounding it), and one focused on general tourism. This is the Judaism post.
On our second day in Berlin, we had the afternoon free. Some friends and I grabbed tickets for a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, and one place we stopped was the memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust. It’s a strange monument—unmarked stone rectangles (which look rather like tombs) rise from the ground, increasing in height. They’re slightly angled, and walking among them is intentionally disorienting.
The following day, we visited the old Jewish district. This is full of Stolpersteine—brass “stumbling stones” marking where Jews who were killed in the Holocaust used to live. Many Germany cities have them, but not Munich. (A member of my synagogue is actually currently working to bring them to Munich.) They’re supposed to serve as a memorial to the dead and a reminder to the living, but I didn’t see that last part working: except for a few tourists, everyone I observed simply walked over them.
Ball season is over, but the Fulbright Ball defied convention and took place last weekend. Jamesa—a fellow Fulbrighter, whom I met in Vienna for a ball—attended with me. That was nice, because I didn’t know anyone else there! We sat at a table with alumni including one who’d been a Fulbright student in 1970. (She joked that our table had both the oldest and the youngest Fulbrighters.) Our tickets included a delicious meal and a dessert buffet (though I only got one bowl of creme brulee and two bowls of mousse before they ran out). The dancing was less exciting—the DJ played an odd mix of ballroom and disco music. Even during the ballroom music, everyone stuck to the partners they came with. But Jamesa and I joined forces for a messy Munich Francaise at midnight! (I was confused, because I’d just gotten good at the Fledermaus quadrille, and now I needed to do different steps to all the same music!)
The Künstlerhaus, where the ball took place. I had some trouble placing the era of the room—1920s or 30s, perhaps?
The view from out table
Jamesa and Ilana. The ball was nominally masked, but many people attended unmasked
Some of our table-mates
The room, again
The beautiful ceiling was patterned with two shades of gold
Orientation for Fulbright students was in Marburg this year. I admit, to my shame, that even when I was there, I didn’t quite know where Marburg was—only that it took five hours to get there by train from Munich. Thanks to Google Maps, you can be better informed.
It seemed a bit silly to travel so far for what was essentially a one-day orientation, but since the Fulbright Commission paid the travel, hotel, and food costs, I suppose I can’t complain.