Welcome to Berlin!
When I got to the airport, all the anxiety about this trip I’d been feeling over the previous few days melted away. I finally felt excited and ready to go–as ready as you can ever be for a trip of this caliber.
I made a few resolutions to myself while on the plane ride about this trip. I’m really determined to enjoy myself as much as possible and to minimize worrying about things, despite how stressful travel can be.
- Don’t be in a hurry. Enjoy things.
- Be flexible.
- Stay optimistic.
- Be patient.
And so on.
I arrived in Berlin without incident, except for Lufthansa losing my luggage during a 35-minute layover in Düsseldorf. I wasn’t too worried about it though since I had followed the packing advice of my high school German teacher, Frau LaTurner, and brought a change of clothes and some toiletries in my carry-on.
While waiting fruitlessly at the baggage claim I noticed another person there holding an IES Abroad folder, so I went over and talked to him and found out he was in the same program as me. So we took the public transit system together to get to the IES Abroad center from the airport. It was nice to not be traveling alone right off the bat in a foreign city. Random side note–it turns out he (Seth) is from Tacoma, WA and goes to University of Puget Sound, which is super close to PLU! Small world.
I was so extremely happy to finally be in Berlin, I didn’t have a care in the world. Normally reading maps and taking buses stresses me out because I get lost so much, but everything seemed to fall into place and we had no trouble finding it. We took the S-Bahn (subway) there and I remember just grinning from ear to ear as soon as it started moving. An older woman sitting across from us saw me smiling and smiled back–everything about us from the bags to the wide-eyed expressions and smiles just screamed tourist.
I spent most of the day at the IES Abroad center taking care of things like paperwork, buying a SIM card for my phone, changing dollars into Euro, and so on. The staff seem really great, they are friendly and funny. It felt easy to make friends with the other students too. I’m sure it will be easy to find friends to travel with on weekends. They are all American students, but from all over the country. There is actually one other person in this program from my university, Zach Ross, who I coincidentally also went to high school with and did a month-long exchange program with in 2009.
IES Abroad does not call the people we are living with “Gastfamilie” or host families, but “Vermieter,” which translates to renter or landlord. Indeed, we are no longer considered school-age students with host mothers and fathers and siblings to live with, but capable adults renting rooms from Berlin residents. The Vermieter are not expected to cook for us. I am a little bit nervous about this because I am a notoriously bad cook, but I’m sure I will learn. There are also tons of little cafes and cheap food stands near where I will be living, so I definitely won’t starve, but I want to try to cook for myself as much as possible to save money.
My Vermieterin (landlady, as opposed to landlord) picked me up from the IES Center in the evening. She was very friendly and talkative. We only spoke in German, which was nice because although the IES staff spoke almost exclusively German to us, between students we had been speaking English most of the day. Although I do not understand every single word she says, I find her easy to understand as long as I am paying close attention. She complimented my German skills, too, which I really appreciated because I don’t have a lot of practice speaking it.
Leonore lives on a quiet street just a block or two from the well-known area of Prenzlauer Berg and the street Schönhauser Allee. There did indeed seem to be lots of neat little shops and cafes around, but it was also much nicer than I expected. I guess I kind of thought that “artsy” and “former DDR” connotated dirty and run down, like some parts of Seattle or San Francisco, but it was very clean and organized. Being in the former communist part of Berlin, the streets are very logically laid out and easy to follow. I’m not going to lie, we make fun of the German stereotype of being very punctual and organized and having to have everything perfect, but it sure does make it easier to get around when the public transit is on time and maps are correct.
I was surprised to see a three-story shopping center so close, which was obviously built after the Wall fell. It had lots of useful shops in it, including a discount store, an organic grocery store, a post office, a bank, a used book store, and a bakery. I’m glad it will be easy to run errands having such a development nearby.
You’ll notice that I’m posting this at about 4 a.m. local time because I passed out so early in the evening and now I can’t sleep.
I also haven’t taken any pictures yet because I hate walking around with a camera in my hand looking like a tourist, but starting tomorrow I’m determined to suck it up.