Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Lebenszeichnen = sign of life.

After another 2+ month hiatus, I feel it is time for a new post. If I still have an audience, I hope this post reaches you well. As usual, I've had a few ideas about things I want to write about, but never the discipline to sit down and simply do it.

The time flies by, it seems. In the past two months I've been to Florida and back, and also to France for a wedding. I've had a few projects in school, I've made some new friends here in Berlin and found a new apartment (though I'm not moving in for another week) that suits me much more than my current domicile.

In a little over three weeks, after my semester ends, I'm heading back to Florida-- for a whole month this time. I am very much looking forward to it, though that has very little to do with the actual destination.

And more excitingly, albeit further away, my vacation to Oktoberfest in München followed by Cairo is also approaching! Less than 3 months left! All the hotels and flights are taken care of, though AirBerlin has changed their timetable making it impossible to fly with them back to Berlin unless we just want to be in Cairo for 1 day, which seems like a huge waste. In any case, I'm not that concerned and we'll just have to find a new flight home. Luckily there is still plenty of time to figure all this out.

[edit: AirBerlin refunded the flight and now we are flying back to Berlin on a different airline -Turkish Airways- with a couple of hours of layover in Istanbul.] I was pretty pissed at AirBerlin for changing their timetables, but they redeemed themselves when they issued the refund without much trouble.

I've been looking into Ph.D. programs for next year, after my Masters will (allegedly) be finished. From my research, it seems that the best schools in terms of job placement for the kind of program I'm looking for are all Ivy League or otherwise highly reputable schools. (Stanford, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and UC Berkeley to name just a few.) I wouldn't mind living in California again, I lived there as a kid before moving to Sarasota. In any case, I know I want to live in or near a city where stuff actually happens. The idea of moving back to a place like Tallahassee after living in Berlin gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach.

So, I've been thinking more and more about where life will take me after I am finished here. Though, I suspect that I will never really be "done" with Germany. I've invested way too much time and effort in learning the language to just throw it all away and decide to be a baker or a plumber. (Not that there's anything wrong with those professions!) I want to have a job that enables me to travel at least once or twice a year. Ostensibly, I shoud be able to do that if I had a good teaching job at a college or a university, since those professor types always seem to get the summers off, which is awesome. Hopefully during my doctoral program I will be able to "do research" here in Germany, which is a nice excuse to come back to Europe.

It also seems, according to several websites I've been looking at, that many grad programs demand proficiency in more than one foreign language. Having taken French for years during middle and high school, it seems like that would be the obvious choice. But, to be honest, I don't really want to. I also took Spanish at MCC, and that seems like it is a much more practical language to know in America than French. I don't know if I'd ever be able to become as good in Spanish (or anything else) as I am now in German, but that doesn't mean that I can't at least cultivate a decent reading/listening comprehension and also be able to do simple conversational stuff. Anyway, we'll see. It's on my list of medium-to-long term goals. It sure would be nice to be multilingual...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Accepting the Ashes

Hmm... I have thought about writing a post for a while now, and I realize that it has been about 50 days since my last one. .

Well, the "Summer" semester of 2010 has officially begun, as of last week. As much as I might complain about it, I am actually glad to be back in school. The boredom was starting to make me crazy, almost reminding me of my permanent vacation from last year. So far my schedule is alright but a little chaotic in that I do not know if I will be allowed to remain in a course (Hauptseminar) which I need in order to graduate on time. I suppose one of the disadvantages of socialized education is that they do not pay a vast army of administrative officials to worry about things like: setting class size caps or paying a teacher to offer more than one sitting of a certain class per week.

When I first encountered these organizational difficulties a few days ago, I reacted poorly. While it is indeed obnoxious, I suppose I should re-frame the situation. I am beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to live and study in Europe, and I should not expect things to always be easy or taken care of for me.

My trip last month to Denmark was fantastic! It was barely above freezing during the day, but it was at least sunny and clear most of the time. I really needed the travel experience, and it was a lot of fun to share said experience with my girlfriend. We have already planned a trip later in the year to München for Oktoberfest, which should be amazing because I've never been to that event. And to give the trip even more twist: We are going to Cairo, Egpyt afterwards. I've always wanted to go there, and I suspect that it will be rather eye opening as it will be my first trip to that region of the world. This trip is about five months away, so I'll be sure to write more about it later as the excitement and anticipation grows.

One thing that struck me about Copenhagen was the number of 7-11 convenience stores. We counted like 4 or 5 within one or two blocks of each other... Often within visible range of each other. Weird. Sightings of other American chain institutions (like a BlockBuster Video - my former place of employment from 2002 - 2005) were quite surreal for me. Perhaps it is surprising because I never cease to be impressed by the export of American culture and business to Europe. This is especially apparent in media. For example, one night after they came on in America, the Academy Awards came on in Copenhagen, subtitled into Danish.

As of this writing, the Icelandic volcano "Eyjafjallajökull" has been erupting and thus disrupting European air travel for four days. It shows no signs of letting up. The reports that I have read say that the wind needs to change direction, so it may linger into next week. Normally, I wouldn't care beyond the point of curiously reading news articles about such an event. However, I have a ticket to fly to FL in just 12 days, and I'd really like to be able to use it! One could argue that 12 days is too far away to start worrying. This is a good example of my ongoing struggle and attempt to not worry about (read: accept) things that I cannot control (like volcanic eruptions or snags in class schedules). At any rate, I'm glad that I'm not stranded away from home like many thousands of others around the world.

I think that I will end on a subject that ties in to what I was just writing about. Acceptance. Sometimes all it takes to accept a situation is a simple adjustment in perspective. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially in the past week or two. While I could bitch and moan about my "problems" of graduation requirements, insomnia, or it having been a little cold on
my vacation to Denmark... I think that the rest of the world (but more pointedly, myself) would be better served if I would just look at the situation differently. I am about to turn twenty-eight, and I've got no major health problems to cause concern that I won't make it to twenty-nine. I have had the remarkable chance to live in Berlin and should hopefully leave here with a Master's degree. I have an awesome girlfriend and our relationship is a continual force of positivity in my life. The sun is shining outside and I am able to ride my bike again. I do not have to worry about many things in life that most people do have to worry about (money, work, children).

The future, despite the inevitable disturbances that will come with it, is very bright indeed... when one looks at it from this perspective.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Breaking the Ice

It seems that I almost let February become another month without a post. Oops! To those of you who replied last month to tell me that you are still reading - Thank you. I promise that I will try to write a little more often. It's not that I don't want to write, I just don't make myself sit down and do it when I have an idea for a post.

My first semester of grad school at Humboldt is basically over. I don't have to go to classes anymore, I just have to write a 20-page research paper on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. I should also mention that I have been told to write this paper in English, which will make the project quite a bit easier. Not that I don't want to write papers in German, because I know that I will have to while I'm in this program... It's just that English is, unsurprisingly, the language of choice for international historical publications. Lucky me! In any case, I have until the end of March to write this paper. This is a good thing, because aside from the gathering of sources and some preliminary research, I have not started insofar as actual writing is concerned.

Tomorrow I have to sign up for classes for the Summer semester, which runs from April through July. I need to take some extra credits because my total number of credits for this last semester fell kind of short. I am thinking about taking a German language course, specifically a writing workshop. From what I have gathered after living here for the last 14 months, most people develop their reading and writing skills better/faster than their conversational skills. For me it is entirely the other way around, so I am going to try to work on that.

The long, frigid winter is finally over. Just a week ago there was still ice and snow all over the sidewalks. Now it has all melted away, leaving behind millions of tiny stones that the Germans use instead of salt as an environmentally friendly way of keeping people from slipping on the ice that forms when the snow melts under its own weight and then refreezes to form a shiny sheet of slippery ice (Glatteis). This year, hundreds of people fell and busted their asses on the Glatteis. I was lucky enough to avoid falling, mostly because when I walked anywhere I did so with my arms extended as though I was walking a tightrope, and each baby step I took was carefully considered. It was slow going, and I'm glad that it is over.

Once the BSR (Berliner Stadtreinigung = the people in charge of cleaning Berlin) felt that it was appropriate, they began the process of de-icing the city. This was done primarily with shovels and picks, chipping the ice off of the sidewalks and throwing it into piles where it would melt away. It was very fulfilling for me to see this process, because it symbolized a change of seasons. I felt that I, like Berlin, would begin to really experience 2010. I have missed being outside. I miss riding my bike, and look forward to starting that again in a couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty cold (especially relative to my Floridian standards), but it is much more tolerable.

One good thing about the winter, I started going to the gym regularly. In the past 2-3 months I've noticed several changes: I am eating healthier. I feel stronger. I think that I look different, and most notably, I have noticed a significant increase in my mood/mental well-being. I only attribute part of this to the regular exercise, though. The rest of it may have to do with the presence of a certain someone in my life, and the unexpected but exciting relationship that has subsequently developed between us. I guess the best things that happen to us in life are the things that we cannot predict... If I felt that my blog was an appropriate place to do so, here is about where I would insert many happy emoticons to indicate to you, my audience, how much happier I am these days.

Oh! I am going to København (Copenhagen) on Friday for a long weekend! I have never been to Denmark and, aside from my two week trip to Florida over the holidays, it will be my first real traveling experience since I went to Amsterdam last July with my buddy Jake. Needless to say, I am very excited! It will be great to experience someplace completely new to me (that is, not Berlin or Florida). I will write more about the experience afterwards, but until then I've still got plenty of work to do: making my apartment clean/comfortable/presentable, choosing my classes for next semester, working on my KKK paper and getting fit at the gym.

Thursday, January 28, 2010



...Is anyone still reading this?

I see that I haven't updated since November, thereby breaking my self-imposed "2 posts a month" rule. Considering that January ends on Sunday, I probably won't make two posts this month, either. But we'll see.

I suppose I could blame several things for my absence from writing here. For one, I was on vacation in Florida for two weeks over the holidays and was only on the computer for a fraction of the amount of time that I am here. The vacation was very sorely needed after being abroad for an entire year, and I am very thankful to have had the chance to see and spend time with family and friends that I hadn't seen in so long.

I also really missed driving my car. That sounds silly, considering most people gripe about driving. Hell, I used to complain about driving from my apartment to campus at FSU, and it was like 12 minutes away. Well, over my 2 weeks in Florida, I drove over 1500 miles and spent time in Gainesville, Orlando, Jacksonville, Palatka (not for the scenery) and, of course, Sarasota. Listening to music and driving on the various Florida highways was a very surreal, yet familiar feeling for me and made me feel very relaxed.

There were a lot of weird little things about America that weren't "weird" for me until viewed through the lense of being in Deutschland for the past year. For example, my luggage was lost so I went to Wal-Mart on my first day back in Florida. While purchasing some staple items and necessities I couldn't help but notice how strange the other Wal-Mart shoppers seemed to me. I wondered, "Are these people an accurate cross-section of American citizens?"

Also, the weight issue. I can't believe how many people are unapologetically overweight or obese. While dining with some friends, I met someone who claimed to "never eat vegetables or anything green." I did not want to say what I was thinking, which was something along the lines of: "That is probably why you've got rolls of fat spilling forth from over your jeans." But, that would have been impolite to say to someone I had just met, so I kept my musings to myself.

Still, how troubling! Is the stereotype of the fat American more than just a stereotype? Well, probably. I don't know of any other country in the world where the people have the luxury of eating as much horrible food as they possibly can, combined with leading entirely stagnant, stationary lifestyles.

This sounds too negative, like I'm casting stones. Well, perhaps I am. But in all honesty, my trip home gave me a newfound appreciation for America. It is something that is difficult to place my finger on, and it may be nothing more than the overwhelming sense of familiarity that I had whilst speaking English to clerks at gas stations or ordering something off a menu at a restaurant. In any case, I felt myself quickly realizing that I should try to make it back stateside more often, and in 2010 I plan to do just that.

2010, weird. 2000 seems so... not a decade ago. Our perceptions of time can be strange, sometimes. I remember aspects of high school so vividly, but whole years between 2000 and 2010 seem to blur and run together. Bizarre. Oh well, I'm sure that I'm not the only one who feels this way. I do, however, notice a lot of differences in myself now as compared with the person I was at 18, 20, or 22.

On to other matters. I am a couple of weeks away from finishing the 1st of 4 semesters of my M.A. program here. While it has been a truly unbelievable experience thus far, I must admit that it is not what I expected. I guess the lessons I'm learning (aside from my studies about European fascist movements or Soviet prison camps) are that no matter where you go, people are just people. Most of us, including myself, have/had a sort of perception of Europe as being a kind of promised land, both exotic and mysterious. When the exotic land becomes home, and the mystery is toned down, one sees it for what it really is: just another place, except one hears many different languages and the social customs might be a little different.

That being said, I am not unhappy. In fact, I am happier these days than I have been in a long time. My goals for myself are becoming clearer by the day. I have been going to the gym regularly, and can already feel the results of that. I've been looking into doing a Praktikum ("internship") this summer, but I'm not sure in what field. I've got a long break between the end of my summer semester and the start of next winter semester (mid-July to early October, so almost 3 months), so I need to find something to do to pass the time. Though, I would like to use the opportunity to travel around Europe some more and also to come back to Florida again. Both of my parents are supposedly coming to visit me (separately) in Berlin this year, which I am also pretty happy about. While this is true for both of my parents, I am especially excited to spend some time with my father, whom I have not really had any one-on-one time with since childhood, really.

Well, I actually have a few more ideas for blog posts, but I'll end this one now. Maybe I will come up with a 2nd one this month, after all...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Random Act of Violence

Yesterday I received a subpoenae from the Berliner Polizei to act as a witness on the record.

...Maybe I should start over.

A few weeks ago, I was out with a group of friends. We had intended to go to a somewhat famous Berlin nightclub called Berghain. Before we actually got to our destination, however, we stopped in a Burger King for a snack. While standing in line with my friends, I looked over casually and noticed that a younger man had what the Germans call a Totschläger in his hand. The dictionary translation of this item is a "blackjack," but Americans would recognize such a thing as an extendable, metal baton. You know, the kind of weapon that riot police usually brandish.

I thought to myself, "That... is a weapon. Strange that he has that in his hand right now." The baton was fully extended, and his grip on it was firm. The guy holding it randomly looked at a German who was standing in front of me in line, and said something quietly to him that I could not hear.

Within 5 seconds of my noticing the weapon, violence erupted. The baton swung and hit the German in front of me square in the temple. The victim fell immediately, attempting to cover his head with his arms. As this was literally one arm's length away from me, I grabbed one of my friends and lunged away. Two of the attackers friends joined in the melee, kicking the victim in the back and abdomen while the Totschläger continued to land blows as well.

Just as quickly as it had started, it was over. The three attackers ran out the door and into a running car that was waiting for them, and they took off.

The victim was upright, being tended to by his girlfriend and two of his other friends. He was bleeding profusely from the head. There was blood everywhere, spattered all over the floor in giant swaths from the blows of the baton. What surprised me the most about this incident was not that it happened, but rather the reaction of the customers and staff of the establishment. The manager and the workers just stared in awe and confusion, as did the customers. Angry, I took some command, demanding that she call the police and an ambulance, and asking for a cup of water for the victim. As I offered the water to him, I asked him if he was alright and if he could understand me, to which he nodded and gave sluggish responses. I am not a doctor, but I am almost positive that he was in shock and probably had a concussion from the look of the side of his head. There really was just so much blood. My group of friends (there were 6 of us in all) were almost entirely useless. Only one other person in our group even offered to speak to the police when they (eventually) showed up.

I told the victim's friends that I would stay as long as was necessary to speak with the police. I spoke reassuring words to his weeping girlfriend, offering that he could have been rendered unconscious or worse. The ambulance came first, and took him away swiftly. The friends remained with me and we all sat around somberly waiting for the police. It might be interesting to point out that during this entire episode, I was almost eerily calm and collected. I even ordered some french fries, when everyone else's appetite had (for perhaps understandable reasons) disappeared in light of this random act of cruelty and aggression.

There was no motive for this. It was not ethnically or racially motivated, as one might possibly imagine could be the case. The two groups did not know each other at all. What is known, is that the 3 attackers were not German. The accent of the attacker had a strong Slavic sound, so maybe he was from Ukraine or Russia... although I don't know enough about the differences in Slavic languages to be able to tell with much certainty.

The Polizei finally showed up, and I gave them my account, as did 1 of my friends. We both received a Vorladung (subpoenea) in the mail yesterday... so I do not know if they caught the attackers or anything. I just know that I have to be at a police station on December 1st to give them my account as a Zeuge (witness).

I mentioned that I felt very calm, almost detached, during the moment. Well, the next day, the reality of the even settled in and began to nag at my mind. The only rationalization that I could come up with was that this random violence was simply "fun" for the attackers, like something taken directly out of A Clockwork Orange.

We never got in to the club, which was probably just as well.

The world is a weird, complex place... as we all know. I read endless accounts of suicide bombings in Kabul or Baghdad, or of shooting sprees, like what happened at Ft. Hood in Texas recently, and I feel sympathy for the victims. But when it happens in front of your eyes, or when it could just have easily have been me, I suppose it forced me to pause and reflect on the nature of violence. On why humanity is so violent in nature. I do not blame the media, and I do not blame video games. Armies fight wars for political reasons (that the majority of soldiers themselves probably do not grasp, or even care about). Militias and terrorists blow up civilians for religious reasons. Disaffected youths shoot up schools like Virginia Tech or Columbine and everyone always reacts with shock or asks the elusive questions, "Why?," or "How could this happen?"

The thing that separates what I saw from the things I mentioned in that last paragraph, is the motive. Some would argue that it does not matter, that the attackers were just "sick in the head," or "psycho." But I think it is more than that. How or what exactly, I am not sure. Who is to blame? And what can I do about it? What can anyone do about it?

Saturday, October 31, 2009


= "Insomnia"

I am going to sit here and force myself to write a post, because it is the last day of Oktober and I've only written once this month. I've got to meet my 2-posts-a-month quota!

If Fall/Autumn (Herbst) exists in Germany, I did not notice it. It seems to have just kind of skipped over directly into Winter. Today the "feels like" temperature is -2 degrees Celsius (about 28 Fahrenheit). I still miss riding my bike and I have only seen the sun twice in the past two weeks. Graylight has mostly replaced daylight, and it gets dark around 4:30pm. I'm glad that I don't have Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Insomnia, however, has been draining me of emotional energy as of late. I think the next time it strikes, I won't just lay in bed tossing and turning for hours. Instead, I will just get up and work on things so that I'm at least being productive when I can't sleep. Have any of you seen those commercials for the Lunesta sleeping pills, where the green butterfly flies in and magically puts smiling people to sleep? (Do people smile in their sleep?) Anyway, I want that Lunesta butterfly to come visit me sometime.

Despite the fact that my grad program in Germany has just begun, I am already beginning to contemplate my next move after this. I am not sure of much, thus far. Obviously, if I plan on being in an academic, I need to get another degree after this. That is, if I want to have any hope of finding a good job.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that I really like living in a big city. The idea of moving back to Florida is almost painful, so that's certainly out of the question. I think I would have to move to a bigger city in the U.S., perhaps Boston or New York. In any case, I've got plenty of time to figure it out.

I recently acquired a copy of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I have not finished it yet, but I've been reading it relatively quickly. It's been a long time since I read fiction, but this book is amazing. I can't believe they are making it into a movie. It deals with survival in post-apocalyptic America, my favorite theme! As I wrote about back in May, it's not that I want the world to end... But I am fascinated with the idea of letting all the materialism, status anxiety and existential angst of humanity fade away. I wonder what would be left? I wonder if it would really be like it is in this bleak book that I'm reading...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Back to School!

*I just want to point out that the kid in the blue shirt in the middle of this picture is so excited to be going back to school that he isn't even touching the ground at all. Has anyone in the history of human society ever been this excited for anything?

Hi everyone.

I started classes last week! I must admit, it is wonderful to have a routine in my life again. Of course, when my alarm goes off, I usually grumble about it for a while before stumbling into the shower. But it feels nice to be actually tired (exhausted) at the end of the day. I have always had issues falling asleep, and now is no exception. But, it has been perhaps a little bit easier.

I have been to all of my classes so far, of which there are 9. Six of those nine classes are Vorlesung ("lecture") classes. These are an anomaly to me. At Humboldt, these lecture classes are worth 2 credits each. But all I have to do is show up and listen. There is no homework. No project. No test at the end. Only half of my lectures have attendance checks, so I don't even have to show up for the others. But I do anyway, because I need the practice.

So, since I signed up for six lectures at 2 credits each, 12 of my 28 semester credits would fall into the "very easy" category.

Yes, I said 28 credits. One class, called a Hauptseminar ("advanced seminar") is worth 10 credits because I have to write a long paper at the end, and give a presentation to the class. My advanced seminar is absolutely the scariest class I am taking this semester. It is about the National Socialism movements in 1920-1945, and how it spread outward from Germany across Europe.

And then yet another class is worth 4 credits. It's called an Übung, which means "exercise/activity," and concerns itself with the "Everyday life of students in Berlin in the 19th and early 20th century." Apparently we will just have discussions and stuff, which I am somewhat self-conscious about because of my accent. Just knowing words, and being able to say them, is not enough anymore. I must also have the confidence to inject my personality into what I am saying. And while I do possess said confidence, I have been feeling somewhat like Chinese exchange students must feel at universities in America... This feeling of alienation is almost totally unfamiliar to me, despite having been here for 10 months now. I must concentrate very hard on what is being said at all times, which eventually gives me what I call "language headaches."

When I get a language headache, all I want to do is sit and an episode of Heroes or read the New York Times so that I can relax a little bit. I am assuming that this level of intensity will pay off in short order. I already feel like I am comprehending more this week than I did last week. The road to fluency is a difficult one, apparently.

Two of my classes (1 lecture and 1 Proseminar ["undergrad seminar"]) are in English. The lecture is about British cultural history and the seminar deals with the various tribunals and courtroom proceedings against Nazi war criminals. These classes are interesting and fun, and require very little effort.

There are many strange, small differences between the atmosphere in European institutions of higher education and their American cousins. One interesting one is that students always applaud at the end of class, to show respect. But they do not clap their hands. Instead, they rap their knuckles on the desks to create a cacophony of knocking sounds. The first time I experienced it I actually chuckled to myself a little.

So, this is what I wanted! Grad school with the added difficulty of language acquisition/development. I knew not how vastly challenging this would be in practice. But I honestly believe that if I were taking such classes in America right now that I would feel significantly more bored with it. I just have to push through the remaining language barriers.

I miss riding my bicycle. It is getting very cold and graylight is mostly all that I get to see of the Sun during days which grow ever shorter as winter descends.

I am going back to Florida in 2 months to visit my family and some friends. I am looking forward to that, having not been back since I left right after Christmas last year. Unlike most people, I am not at all a fan of the holidays. I am not necessarily an Ebenezer Scrooge about it, but I don't find myself excited at all. I look forward to seeing those people that I care about, and those that care about me. The fact that it will occur over the holiday season is just a coincidence.

I have more to write about, but it will have to wait. My landlord needs me to translate for him again. Someone from the Romanian Embassy lives in my building (in an apartment that is easily twice as large and luxurious as my own) and his wife speaks English but not German.