Category Archives: Berlin

Day Off

That’s right, folks. I gave myself the day off in Berlin.

But, um… shouldn’t you be doing work?

I know, I know. I feel a little guilty about taking off an entire day, but Karen and I have gradually been getting worn out as the last two weeks. And it was supposed to rain today. Then it didn’t. Oops.

At least we’ve managed to rest our cobblestone-wearied legs and get a couple loads of laundry done! It was seriously piling up, and it’s not exactly an easy or quick process when everything takes hours to dry on the laundry rack.

As far as the research goes, it’s coming along fairly well. I have two interviews scheduled this week, and I’m changing up my tactics a little to try to get more responses before we have to leave. I’ve made an online survey, which some of you may have noticed on the new Stolpersteine Befragung page here on the blog. I’ve made some flyers to post around the city with the Website address in hopes that more people will take the survey.

Since the surveys have not (yet) turned up many people to interview, I’m also going to start doing semi-formal interviews: basically, just approaching someone sitting on a bench or people who don’t seem to be in a hurry, and asking them a few questions about the Stolpersteine to find out their opinions about the memorials.

Karen and I have also been having some fun along the way this week, so don’t feel too bad for our tired feet. A group of students from UT lead by one of the German faculty have been here for the last few days, and we went with them to tour a WWII-era flak-tower on Friday morning and also toured the Museum of Musical Instruments at the Kulturforum yesterday morning for a couple of hours. They were both amazing, and it was good to see some familiar faces – I audited the interdisciplinary-part of the course with these students during the spring semester. They get credit for both the class and the trip!

Finally, I know you are all probably begging for some eye candy (and by that I mean photos) so here are some of the most recent.

Kid with Marx and Engels
What a priceless face! Random kid with the statue of Marx and Engels in Berlin.
Karen at the Berlin Zoologischer Garten
Karen at the Berlin Zoologischer Garten – The Elephant Gate
Museum for Musical Instruments @ Berlin Kulturforum
Museum for Musical Instruments @ Berlin Kulturforum. Our tour guide could play almost every instrument in the place!
Crumhorn player
Our tour guide gives us a sample of some crumhorn music. So awesome!

The Best Laid Plans…

It’s the beginning of the fieldwork grind – the part where I put in a lot of work and make something out of this trip. Today I observed Gunter Demnig install Stolpersteine at three different sites around the northern Tiergarten area of Berlin (the Hansaviertel, as it’s known locally). They were very different and all very interesting.

We had no idea what activities would be going on at the different sites, but when Karen and I showed up at the first site we could make it to this morning (after a bit of a late start out the door…) we found not an empty sidewalk, but a gaggle of school children,  teachers, and family members.

My initial instinct was to think that this group had to be an example of the school groups who help Gunter Demnig with the Stolpersteine project by doing the research about Holocaust victims’ last home or business. I asked around and ended up striking up a conversation with someone that I thought was a teacher accompanying the group. He said he was actually a social worker from the school, but close enough for me. He informed us that the students were from the local elementary school, and while they had not helped do the research for this site, one girl’s mother was the sponsor for the stones being installed. (Each Stolperstein costs about €95.) The students, it turned out, were the school’s choir program! So they sang several songs accompanied by their music teachers (on acoustic guitar – think of the style of Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. Yes, I know it’s technically Austrian, and technically that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote it. That’s beside the point.) At any rate, the students were very good at singing, and nearly every song was sung as a round with three parts to make it that much harder.

Herr Demnig was running nearly a half an hour late, so we had a lot of time to watch the children sing and talk to the social worker, who also introduced us to the sponsor. When Demnig arrived, the installation only took about five minutes, and then he hurried off to lay a few more stones in northern Berlin that I knew Karen and I would not be able to make it to fast enough by public transit. I found out that Demnig and his assistant travel in a red working van with a lot of room in the back for the stones, tools, cement, dirt, etc. So while Demnig and his assistant drove on to the next few sites, Karen and I stayed to listen as the patron told the story about the girls who lived at this site during the Nazi regime. I didn’t catch all of it, but the important part was easy enough to pick up: “Ermordet in Auschwitz.” Murdered at Auschwitz.

During this mini-lecture, the social worker came up to us and explained that there was another group of students who were also there – a group of middle school-age students from a nearby Jewish school, with their teacher and a rabbi (or at least, I assume he was a rabbi.) They were the group that helped with the research, and their teacher said a few words about the process as well before the rabbi sang a very haunting chant in Hebrew and said the Kaddish.

After this was over, and I handed out some of my business cards to people I thought would be nice to stay in contact with, Karen and I headed off to find lunch before meeting back up with Demnig for more installations. I have the entire list and a map of the locations, by the way, which is how I knew where to find him at different points throughout the day. I’ll be doing the same thing tomorrow.

After lunch, Karen and I went to the next site on the list and met back up, quite unintentionally, with the sponsor from earlier. She had evidently sponsored four more Stolpersteine at this location, and again we waited several minutes for Demnig to arrive. There was no ceremony at this site because the sponsor, Demnig and his assistant, a couple of people from the Berlin organization that coordinates the legal aspects of placing the stones, and Karen and I were the only ones there. Demnig was much more open and congenial at this site, and he didn’t seem at all rushed like he did when surrounded by 50 or so kids earlier in the day! He strikes me as a very kind man with a huge heart to take on a project of this size, despite a somewhat gruff exterior.

The third installation was much like the first. This time, a high school class promoting diversity and tolerance had researched victims who lived at what is now the location of their school. The three new Stolpersteine were added to several that had been placed in the sidewalk in front of the school. Demnig was again surrounded by the students as he worked, and again did not say a word. After the installation, he hung around for a few minutes as the some of the youth talked about fighting against racism but then headed off again for the next site.

I hope to follow him around tomorrow to several more installation sites, and hopefully can talk to him a bit as we go along. As always, I’ll keep you posted as time allows.

Survey Says…

Stolpersteine at 15 Prenzlauer Allee
Stolpersteine at 15 Prenzlauer Allee

Well, one day into my fieldwork and the initial results show:

 

This is going to be hard.

Well, maybe not too hard, but nonetheless at least as difficult as I thought it might be. I observed 90 pedestrians today at three different Stolpersteine sites in our neighborhood, and two people looked at them. And by looked at them, I mean they glanced at them. No one stopped to read them, but I kind of expected that with these particular Stolpersteine because they were located in out-of-the-way parts of the sidewalk.

One, in fact, was almost covered up with a restaurant menu/sign. I plan to follow up with the owners of the restaurant in the next few days, after I build some rapport with them. I just had a coffee today as Karen and I used their space to do observations, and I didn’t explain what I was doing, but I’m going to attempt to show up regularly over the next few days to strike up more conversations and see what happens. Despite the menu board almost covering up the memorial, this was the best observation spot in our neighborhood because I could sit at the outdoor table and observe people without looking awkward (walking around with a brightly colored clipboard and pen.)

However, before anyone things I’m discouraged or anything, allow me to explain some of my other thoughts about this set of observations. First, Prenzlauerberg is well-known as a hip district that has been thoroughly gentrified. What was once a squatters neighborhood has been replaced with trendy 30-somethings, including quite a few Americans, with baby strollers in tow. Seriously, I would bet that more than half of my observations today were women, and quite a few men as well, with kids in strollers, babies in slings, or with slightly older children riding bikes at pace with their (walking) parents. Makes for a great neighborhood to stay in while abroad, but it might not be the best neighborhood to find people interested enough in the past to be on the look out for small memorial stones.

At the same time, there are some interesting things that can be gained from this observation: A vast majority of Berlin (geographically) and Berliners themselves have moved on. From the Holocaust, from the Cold War. They have come to terms with the past for themselves, and I think that will be confirmed once I get survey and interview information as well. I don’t really want a hypothesis to skew my research in any way, but I have a hunch that this might be the major finding.

At any rate, there is still much to learn and much to uncover. Hopefully I’ll find the time to keep everyone posted!

Time flies when you’re having fun… in Berlin!

Seriously, I need time to slow down. It’s already Day 5 of being in Berlin, and I feel like we haven’t accomplished much yet!

Sunday and Monday are pretty much excusable because of jet lag. I thought I might be doing myself a favor by being a grad student – used to less sleep and such – but it really just meant that there was no chance I could sleep on the plane from D.C. to Brussels. My normal bed time of 12 a.m. is 6 a.m. here in Berlin. So that’s no good, but I think I’m getting closer to adjusted now. That’s a really good thing, because so far if I had to give a synopsis of the trip so far it would something like:

  • Sunday: Arrival, jet lag
  • Monday: Jet lag, grocery shopping, exploring Alexanderplatz, IKEA, Skyping into my 641 seminar until way to late at night here
  • Tuesday: Woke up at 11:30 a.m. Blasted blackout curtains/jet lag. Back over to Alexanderplatz to buy a printer and some other supplies. Attempted to go bed at a normal time. Laid away until 4 a.m.
  • Wednesday: Woke up at 11 a.m. Still jet lagged? I felt that at least my natural wake up time was shifting the correct way (backward).

Yesterday I was determined to get some real work accomplished, despite the cold weather and threat of rain all day. So Karen and I walked around our neighborhood (Prenzlauerberg, part of the Pankow district) and identified five sites to do observations of pedestrians interacting with Stolpersteine. I’ll be doing this in other districts as well over the next several days. Then I took Karen to The Story of Berlin, a history museum that focuses solely on Berlin. On the way, we took the subway stop at the zoo and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – and I couldn’t believe my eyes when we got there! They are currently tearing down an old shopping building next to the zoo, and on top of that, the entire memorial church cannot be seen because they are about to start a renovation project on it this summer.

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, May 2011

For now, I’ve got to sign off and get to work, but I’ve uploaded some photos of our apartment to Facebook to appease everyone. It seems that Karen may not get around to it!

Actual New Year’s Resolutions

Spoiler: This has very little to do with Geography. (Also, this is my 60th post! Woohoo?)

Regarding New Year’s Resolutions, I’m not usually very good at keeping them because I never have any concrete goals in mind at the beginning of any given year. Since I don’t usually take these seriously, I figure that if I’m going to have some this year, I may as well have several so at least I can accomplish some!

So here you go. Silly, impossible or otherwise, my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions:

• Lose 30 pounds. Sure, why not? This time… I think I won’t rely on Crohn’s Disease to, ahem, assist me, so perhaps they will stay off a little longer this time? I haven’t gained it all back, but if this trend continues I should be able to be a contestant on the Biggest Loser by 2013.

• Train for and run a race of some variety. 5k, etc. Preferably more than one, but that will all depend on how more time I can devote to training. The good news is that Karen has agreed to do it with me this time. The bad news? We’re both really good at wimping out after a few weeks.

• Travel the world. (As a geographer, this is pretty much always a goal, not really a resolution. And since I’m planning on going to Berlin and other parts of Germany for thesis research this summer, this one should’t be too hard!)

• Read something other than the literature for my Master’s research and/or class. This one might actually be sort of hard! I’m thinking of reading the Lord of the Rings, but I seriously doubt I’ll find time for it this year, so I may stick to a few Star Wars novels I’ve been saving. Wouldn’t hurt to read some of the photography books I’ve amassed over the last 2-3 years either!

• Play my trumpet. Regularly. I’ve decided to break it back out from hiding/storage. Cleaned it up nicely last year but never played it much. The first step, however, is to get Story used to it so she doesn’t freak out and bark every time she even sees it.

• Become more fluent in German. The two German courses I’m auditing this semester should help with that, but I’m still slightly terrified that I won’t be able to interview people in German this summer!

• Somehow, find a way to not “overdo it” this year. I came close to overdoing it this semester, but I was able to stay on top of all my various projects, papers, performances, etc. by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to take a step further back from the edge, but I know in all likelihood that I may actually be inching my way closer to a plunge, given my course load and responsibilities this semester alone. I know Summer and Fall won’t be as bad, but there’s still field work and comps and thesis writing death to think about then. Speaking of field work, I’d like to request that everyone consider gifting money for field research travel costs in lieu of gifts this year, at least for my birthday. This perhaps may not be the ideal for unwrapping on March 9, but at the moment it looks like I will not know how much scholarship and grant money I will have until very close to the actual trip. I’ll keep you all posted…

As my small collection of devoted readers, you should probably know that despite my best intentions, I will truthfully not have as much time to spend online with you in the usual places (here, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) this year and into spring 2012, but I will try as time permits!

The General Lee…Berlin Style

I’m amazed that this photo (taken on a whim, and snapped really fast without composing) has become my most popular photo on Flickr.

Flickr has added a nice statistical tracking package to their feature that lets you see how many views each of your photos has received, where that traffic has come from (other sites that link to the photo), etc.

Most of the hits for this photo have come from Yahoo Image Search and Google Image Search, so I tried it out and sure enough, I’m on the second page of Yahoo Images when searching for “General Lee.”

(Edit 2/1/2010: I’m no longer on the second page of Yahoo Images, but I’m in the top 5 pages of Google Image search. Still not bad.)

Let’s get the creative juices flowing again…

It’s been about a month since I’ve really worked on my University Scholars project. I’ve done some data-gathering and organizing over the break, but I really wanted to get more written…and it didn’t happen. Now it’s time to start cranking out a page or two every day (except Sundays) from here until mid-March or early April.

And I can’t seem to get started. I’ve false-started two or three times this week. (That means that I’ve gotten as far as opening the Word document, scrolling down to the place to start writing, and then I’ve let it sit there.) So far, on my next two-three page segment on Unter den Linden that I’ve been wanting to finish for a month, I’ve got this much written:

“Throughout its history, Berlin’s most well known boulevard”

And that’s it. I can’t even write a complete sentence!

Anyway, I’m blogging just to get a feel for writing a few things out again. I don’t know if I’ve hit a road block to creativity, writer’s block, or whatever. I don’t think it’s senioritis creeping in, cause I’m really interested in most of my classes this semester and I’m not even that busy yet.

Well…Karen came over and wants to eat lunch now so I’m off the hook for the moment. Any inspiration you want to send my way, readers, would be appreciated.