Week 1: Getting Oriented

Time truly flies when you’re having fun, exploring a new place while learning to accept it as a home for the following two months. What a wonderful first week in Berlin. Since arriving last Tuesday morning, our schedules have been so packed its difficult to process just how much we’ve seen and experienced in just one week. Upon our arrival in Berlin, we met with Intrax staff for a three-hour long walking tour of the city followed by a welcome dinner. Even having studied abroad twice prior, I’m still struck by how close parameters can spur such quick and comfortable friendships. Study abroad is uniquely bonding in that way. 

For the following three days of orientation we started off each morning with a two-hour long language class introducing us to beginner German skills to help with getting around the city. Wednesday’s language class was followed by exploratory cultural visits to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island and to the Amerika Haus, wherein we observed both ancient art and fascinating photographs depicting infamous aspects of American history. 

Thursday’s language class was followed by a day of exposure to German politics. Our first stop was the Worker’s Union. Our speaker was informative, giving us interesting facts and statistics about low percentages of membership in workers’ unions in Germany, as well as influence in party politics as a nonpartisan organization. Following the worker’s union visit, we made our way to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union, and party of Chancellor Angela Merkel). Our speaker for this session was incredibly knowledgeable but very evidently a politician. As a political science major, I began to sense that many of his answers to our inquiries were very unbiased, not taking a firm, controversial stance. Perhaps we asked one too many questions on Brexit! Or regarding the rise of far-right movements such as the AfD party, or Alternativ für Deutschland. Nonetheless, having deeply studied the rise of far-right movements and the contemporary state of European politics extensively in my coursework at Pitt, I found it intriguing and a valuable talk. After the CDU visit, we made our way over the the Green Party. A worker/campaigner for the Green Party showed us around a more gentrified area of Berlin. The wealth and income disparity reminded me of Pittsburgh in many ways. The infrastructure was completely different from where we are located in the city; it reminded me of the differences between Oakland and areas surrounding campus in contrast with neighborhoods like Homewood. Following our orientation activities for the day, my roommate Abby and I grabbed delicious currywurst in Kreuzberg, and later on that evening a few of us went to a rooftop bar to toast the beautiful views of our new city. 

Friday was our last day of orientation with Intrax. Following our final language class, we enjoyed a visit to the Coca-Cola headquarters in Berlin. There we learned about the Coca-Cola industry in Europe: its products, marketing, sustainability movements, etc. I found it to be an engaging and informative exposure to big business in Europe, and specifically Germany, which helped in making personal comparisons to the US (especially as a non-business student). After Coca-Cola we returned to the Intrax office for our final orientation discussion and preparation for internships. Later that evening we headed back to East Berlin to check out the East Side Gallery. I was in Berlin for four days or so last summer but the East Side Gallery I never got the chance to see. The artwork was stunning and many represented very political themes. Having heavily studied the Cold War in history classes, these works resonated with me.

Saturday was the first completely free day we had to ourselves. And after a rather chilly first week, the weekend enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather. In the early afternoon we walked to a communal beer garden in the Tiergarten for lunch. It was peaceful, enjoying the company of friends and observing local habits. Following this we made a brief stop at Alexanderplatz, and then on to the Topography of Terror museum. I had seen this museum last summer in my independent travels. Both visits to this museum left me moved by the power of information display, and the importance of historical awareness and collective memory studies. I intend to re-visit this museum a couple more times, as there is some new detail or theme to fixate on each time. 

Sunday morning a few us of went on a run to through the Tiergarten and when we reached the Berlin Victory Column in the center, decided to climb the 200+ winding stairs to the top for astounding views of the city. After this, we spent the rest of the day mentally and physically preparing for an exciting start to our internships! Looking forward to the next 8 weeks!