Berlin, Then and Now: People, Places, and Experiences Maymester

Name: Alex Krasnoschlik

Type of Project: Study Abroad

In May of this past year, I studied abroad in Berlin, Germany, with the Berlin, Then and Now: People, Places, and Experiences program. Throughout my time in this program, I attended a class 2 to 3 times per week while also going on class excursions 3 times per week. After this program ended, I traveled to other European cities.

Going into my trip, I had no idea what to expect of Berlin because I had not learned much about its modern history other than from World War II and the struggle between East and West Berlin. In the weeks prior to this program, I often went on the internet to search things to do in Berlin and general tips for Berlin travelers. At that point, I had come to the conclusion that I was not going to have enough places to explore over the entire month, since there were at most a dozen landmarks and activities that interested me. However, once I got to Berlin, I realized that I was completely wrong. I had known about the many tourist attractions such as the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, but I was thrilled to discover Pfaueninsel – an island with wild, roaming peacocks – among various other places in and around Berlin. When I left Berlin at the end of the program, I was wishing that I had a few more weeks to spend there because I had not explored every part of the gigantic city. This reminded me of the old cliché – don’t judge a book by its cover. Judging from internet searches and my history textbooks, I had envisioned Berlin and Germany to be a not so fun place with a dark history, but my experiences there have taught me that I should not be so quick to judge a place until I have visited and fully understood what the city has to offer.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

 

As I spent more time in Berlin, I discovered that there were many differences between this European city and the American cities in which I have lived or visited. Perhaps what struck me the most was Berlin’s quick, efficient, and easy-to-use transportation. In both Columbus and Cleveland, my experiences have brought me to the conclusion that our bus systems are unreliable – often changing routes without notice or showing up ridiculously late. In Berlin, however, I experienced a transportation system that for the first time in my life I felt was simple and reliable. Unlike most cities here in the United States, Berlin’s transportation system consists not only of buses, but also the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, which are underground and above-ground trains that share many stations. This makes it very convenient to travel anywhere within the city within a reasonable amount of time, and I could pretty much guarantee that the trains would arrive on time. Using European transportation every day for over a month has left me wishing that the United States will consider building a reliable rail network across the country for easy travel while also increasing funding for cities to create or improve their subway and everyday rail systems.

When I first arrived in Berlin on June 8th, it became very obvious from the beginning that the Berliners have a much different culture than Americans, and sometimes it was challenging to adjust. The first thing I noticed was the different language that Germans speak, which I was prepared to experience, but it was still strange to hear the German language wherever I went. In addition, the people of Berlin are, in general, very quiet people who mind their own business. Personally, I did not have to adjust to this because I am a very quiet person myself. However, when using public transportation, for example, our group was very loud on the S-Bahn, and all the locals were glaring at us unapprovingly. Also, we were advised not to use the showers at the hotel past ten o’clock at night. This reinforced that Germans are more respectful of their neighbors’ desire for a quiet, relaxed atmosphere regardless of the time of day. I believe the German culture has given me and my classmates a good reminder to be respectful of everyone’s privacy and right to peace and quiet – something that is often overlooked in the United States and around our campus.

My experience studying abroad in Berlin has definitely enriched my academic education, which was one of my goals going into this program, since I have learned firsthand about the many buildings and people that make Berlin the important historical city that it is today. Coming into this trip, I had only learned some of the history of Berlin that occurred around the time of the Berlin Wall and World War II, such as the Battle of Berlin and Hitler committing suicide in his bunker. During my time here, however, I have learned much more about these time periods and that Berlin now has a much more vibrant atmosphere than these dark, destructive times. I found it very interesting how wherever I walked in Berlin – whether it was past the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island or the Beethoven-Haydn-Mozart Memorial statue in the Tiergarten – there were hundreds of bullet holes remaining from the war. This observation really brought the Battle of Berlin to life for me, and it is still hard for me to believe that bloody gunfights took place in the now peaceful Tiergarten and Museum Island. Furthermore, living in Berlin for a month has given me the opportunity to go to more than ten museums, which have given me so much more knowledge in addition to what I learned in class. For instance, in class we learned about all the events related to the Berlin Wall, but when visiting the Berlin Wall Memorial and hearing the stories of dozens of teenagers and young adults dying while trying to cross the border, I finally realized how helpless millions of East Germans felt from 1961 to 1989.

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View of the Reichstag Building from a boat tour on the Spree River

This trip has without a doubt helped me transform into a global citizen with a better understanding of others around me. By experiencing the culture of the locals in Berlin, Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, and Rome, I now feel more comfortable being around and communicating with strangers and people from different cultures. This is very important for me because I am a shy person, and this trip has increased my confidence in having conversations with other people. Furthermore, the transformations I experienced on my study abroad trip have helped me get closer to accomplishing many of my personal and professional goals. Professionally, my main goal has been to improve my public speaking, and my program has helped me do this because not only did I have a ten minute presentation on the last day of class, but I also had to communicate with many German speakers by using hand motions and the few German words I knew. My personal goals going into this trip were expanding my social network and challenging myself to try new things. I accomplished expanding my social network by meeting all my classmates, the graduate teaching assistant, and the OSU professor who taught the class. I definitely challenged myself to try new things with this trip because I had never left the country before this, and I was a little nervous to be in Europe for over a month. I have learned from my experience abroad that being open-minded about new experiences can make these experiences much more enjoyable. In the end, it was definitely worth it, and I couldn’t have thought of a more transformative STEP project.

In conclusion, my time in Berlin has been absolutely amazing, and it has been fun to experience a culture on the other side of the world for the first time. I have enjoyed learning more around this historical city than I could have possibly learned anywhere else, and I am looking forward to coming back in the near future!

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