In the first of our columns from students abroad, Anna Burzlaff gets to grip with the diversity Berlin has to offer
Fifty years ago, Berlin stood as a divided city. A wall, 96 miles long and 11.6 feet high, perhaps the most infamous construction of the twentieth century, spilt Berlin physically, economically and ideologically. From divided to unified, from communist to capitalist, Berlin has seen its fair share of change since 1961. The fall of the wall in 1989 led to the perfect combination of ideas and open space. The anarchy, idealism and alternative lifestyle that existed openly in the west, and privately in the east, found its roots in a new Berlin that has since become a significant tourist destination.
It is rather extraordinary for a city of such popularity to remain grounded in its roots. Berlin, I am delighted to say, has managed to do just that. The city screams rebellion and chants anarchy. It is a worldwide paragon of freedom and individuality, a paragon that for the next ten-and-a-half months I will call home.
Before I left, I had to stop myself from making assumptions about what Berlin would be like. Although I had been to the city before and knew it quite well, the greatest thing about Berlin is its constant adaptation. Nothing stays the same; no experiences are repeated. Rather they are improved upon, highlighted and made all the more sweet by Berlin’s infectious and never-ending charm.
Undoubtedly this trip would be a shock to my previous notions of relaxed summer days spent idly at cafés. If there was one thing that brought this home, it was the horror of my first-day early-morning start; 8:15am to be precise. While I was used to stumbling into a bed at this time on previous visits, today I would be arriving at my pre-German language course at the Freie Universitaet (FU) Berlin.
Although I could hardly function due to sleep deprivation, whatever senses had managed to awaken themselves could feel a growing sense of excitement as I boarded the U-Bahn and began my adventure. Oh the melting-pot of nationalities that greeted me (or, more precisely, huddled in awkward corners out of shyness)! Aside from being an opportunity to study in one of the world’s most exciting cities, I was well aware that my cultural awakening would stretch far beyond the boundaries of Berlin as I spoke to people from Israel, Italy, Japan, and Australia, to name but a few.
A student’s first day is inevitably going to be anti-climatic, particularly when it’s the first day of “the best experience of your life”. Naturally, you do not manage to befriend your life-long soul mate who will shape most of your future years. Instead you engage in some shallow niceties and hope your hair didn’t become too dishevelled in the wind. My first day at FU Berlin was not a great cataclysmic point in my life. It was short, sweet, and provided the tiniest taste of my year to come.
Exciting people, all with fascinating stories (such as the Australian girl who travelled from London to Mongolia by car in 2 months) made UCD and its tales of drunken nights out at Tripod pale in insignificance. Along with this unending list of Berlin’s cultural activities, and promises of many, many planned trips to the beer garden, gave me the smallest idea of just some of the things that this year would hold.
When I left the University to return to my new apartment, I began to think again about my expectations of the year; what I hope to happen, and who I hope to meet. Expectations can be dangerous things and can often prevent you from appreciating what does come to pass, however brilliant it may be, if it varies from that which you had hoped for.
However, when I sat in the train heading home I became extremely assured that this year would not disappoint, and that it would bring with it new and exciting people and experiences. I couldn’t help but feeling extremely lucky to be living in a city that is the pinnacle of culture, innovation, and change. No matter how sick of techno music I get, or tired of climbing the U-Bahn steps, or irritated by the obnoxious American student, I am sure I can find solace somewhere in one of the city’s many havens. Berlin is constantly changing; it changes with you and your mood. Dozens of galleries, hundreds of shops, innumerable cafés; perhaps Berlin itself will be the life-long soul-mate who will shape my future years, that I hope to get to know over these next ten-and-a-half months.