Cleaning and Wondering

The countdown to the last month of my program begins. This week I have accomplished two major goals: cleaning the bathroom and traveling to Berlin. Since I live at home with my parents, I have never really took the opportunity to do basic chores like cleaning since my parents always took care of these tasks and believed that my sister and I should focus on school more. Unfortunately, this belief and mostly my own lack of initiative prevented me from developing these crucial manual labor skills. That is primarily why I chose to go to Bochum; so that I could understand life as an independent person.

As I pursued this objective, my roommates told me that they usually alternate flat (another English term for apartment) cleaning between each other so I decided to join these responsibilities. Once my turn came, I decided to clean the bathroom and asked my roommates what chemical solutions and other steps they took to clean the bathroom. Once I learned these steps, I started with scrubbing the walls, then the mirror, then the shower area, then the toilet, and finally the floor. This process took me nearly 1.5 hours to complete and made me feel guilty that I never really once asked my parents to do this task for them which also helped me appreciate their hard work. I know that once I return to the states, I will try to focus on cleaning one aspect of the house a week even if I am not able to clean the entire house so that I can contribute something to their efforts and house maintenance.

Once I finished around 10:20, 11APR18, I went to sleep around 23:20 and woke up at 03:00, 12APR18, which is one of the most shortsighted decisions I have ever made. I had to wake up this early because my train ride to Berlin was at 05:37 and I wanted to eat breakfast before I left. After eating some Italian pasta my Senegalese-Italian roommate made the night before, I left with my friends to the station. The high-speed train, ICE, left on a delayed notice but we arrived at 09:07 on that day to a giant central train station, Bochum Hauptbanhof (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: The Hbf

Afterwards, we walked to Alexanderplatz (Figure 2) which was a large public area in Berlin filled with landmarks like a tall TV tower. Afterwards, we went on a tour of Berlin that involved walking and using the local trains.  The most interesting part of this tour was walking though East Berlin. We arrived at a run down area filled with graffiti and fascinating art. Our tour guide noted an interesting comment about whether all the sites we as tourists are visiting in Germany are becoming slowly gentrified and assimilated into the world rather than being unique to the local area. I personally thought that although it was important to understand and see cultural symbols, it was also important to be aware of their history and be respectful of the local community that holds these artifacts. I believe this can correct any misunderstandings and help people better understand the histories of the culture they are examining.

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Figure 2: Alexanderplatz. I think it dictates the different time zones around the world.

Afterwards, we left our tour halfway and went to a restaurant to eat some food. I ate gnocchi with lamb which was great but I wish the meal was much larger.  Then, we went to a Currywurst Museum (Figure 3) where we learned about the history of Currywurst in Germany and tried some Currywurst there (unfortunately it tasted dry). After that, we traveled to the original site of Checkpoint Charlie (Figure 4) that divided the American sector and the East Germany sector in Berlin. I learned on the tour the day after that the checkpoint there is actually a replica which surprised me. It was interesting to think that decades ago this checkpoint was another symbol of the Cold War that divided countries aligned with the Soviet Union and nations aligned with America. It’s fascinating to see how far Germany has progressed in becoming an economic powerhouse in Europe.

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Figure 3: The exciting history of Currywurst.

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Figure 4: The KFC next to the sign starkly contrasts the tense and militarized atmosphere between the two sides decades ago.

Later in the day, we went to our hostel which unfortunately had no hand soap but we used alternative options such as using the soap from our friend’s room. We went to sleep ready for the next day.

On the next day, we checked out of our hostels and went on tour of the Reichstag (Figure 5) and saw other government institutions nearby. One of the sad parts of the tour was seeing the memorial (Figure 6) dedicated to the murdered Roma during the Holocaust. It was interesting to read about how the Nazis systematically murdered them and other groups during the Holocaust while suppressing any opposition. It made me think about whether something like that could ever happen again.

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Figure 5: The German parliament meets inside the Reichstag.

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Figure 6: The sites we examined in Berlin really did focus on remembering Holocaust history.

Then, we later traveled to a Holocaust Memorial commemorating the Jews that died in World War 2. This memorial was filled hundreds of concrete slabs organized in a maze that made me feel eerie and strange which could have been necessary to encourage people to think about what event led up to Holocaust.

Then, we traveled to a section of the Berlin Wall (Figure 7) which was quite underwhelming. For some reason, I was imagining the border wall between the US and Mexico. However, I later learned that there was a death strip near the East German side of the wall that prevented individuals from breaching it and crossing over so a large wall was unnecessary. I also saw a building that housed the former SS headquarters, and we went into the Topography of Terror museum (Figure 8) that discussed the history of the SS and their brutality. Although I’ve read about the terrible events that occurred in World War II, I still found it fascinating to see documentation from the Nazi period detailing organized extermination and suppression of people. This made me question how such groups can be prevented from attaining power and how we can encourage people to bond with each other even with their differences. Everyone in the museum was quietly looking over these documents likely in shock or intrigue.

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Figure 7: Berlin Wall was quite small but a huge symbol dividing two powers.

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Figure 8: What drives leaders to divide and kill?

When the time came to leave, this was when the disastrous part of my trip would begin. We went to look for a restaurant to eat at around 19:40. Then, we found it at 19:50 and ordered food which arrived 20:30. Then, we had to leave 20:45 to travel to Berlin Hbf before 21:07. We arrived at 20:56. Regrettably, we thought it would a good idea to buy some food from REWE, a German supermarket chain, before we left to the train. What a terrible idea in retrospect. We spent too long at the supermarket and left directly at 21:07 which coincided with the exact time our train left. As we saw it slowly leaving the station, we recognized that we had made a huge mistake. Then, we went to several information booths to see if we could purchase alternative tickets. Eventually, we settled on buying a Flixbus ticket that would leave at 23:45 but arrive home at 07:30 instead of the expected 13:15. We then left Berlin Hbf at around 10:30 and arrived at the Flixbus area around 11:15 and did not reach home until 07:30. I also had class at 09:00 and briefly slept for 10 minutes and arrived to class around 09:20. Never again will I go to the store to buy items ten minutes before the scheduled departure time. Next time I will also speak up and advise against shopping before a scheduled departure time. That is something I recommend to any other future study abroad participant. Otherwise, I enjoyed my trip and Berlin, and I hope to further explore its history and culture in the future.

 

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