Berlin Adventures

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

So my friend has been here for about a week and a half, and we have done SO much, many awesome things. These things include: going to Tacheles (art house), where we became part of someone’s artwork (picture below – he gave it to us!), an attempted visit to the Olympic Stadium, walk through the Charlottenburg Palace gardens, a trip to the archives (to share my awesome research experience with her), many a bike rides through the city (like, over 60 km in two days alone), shopping galore (for her while I was researching), East Side Gallery,

a trip to Gubin, Poland (pictures below), of course visiting the usual Brandenburg Gate, Parliament, Victory Column, and more…

We’re off to go do some things, so I’m just gonna post pictures, enjoy!



Posted: August 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but for good reason.  I’ve been keeping myself busy with research, had a few deadlines to fulfill for essays (progress report, abstract, outline, and another essay, not for my project).  I’m going to post my abstract, so if you’re interested in the 200 word introduction of my project for a poster I’ll be putting together once I’m back in school, enjoy:

In this poster I present a summary of my senior thesis, which explores intersections and contrasts between German scientific and literary concepts and representations of homosexuality in the early 20th century – an era of sexual emancipation and scientific and literary exploration.  I investigate how many scientists and authors began to portray homosexuality as a natural element of human sexuality, as well as a phasic result of ones environment.  I specifically look at intersections between Magnus Hirschfeld’s scientific notions of sexuality as inborn and congenital, and Robert Musil’s literary depictions of homosexuality as a product of one’s surroundings. Hirschfeld was a German sexologist and human rights activist, while Musil was Austrian author of Young Törleß, a novel with homosexual desires of an adolescent as one of its underlying themes. Both Hirschfeld’s work and Musil’s novel convey an interest in scientifically explaining sexuality from the standpoint of an “observer,” and both view sexuality as a part of the psyche and soul that is “discovered.”  However, Musil’s notion of sexuality is still founded on the premise that heterosexuality is the normative sexuality, and that sexuality usually develops in this direction, while Hirschfeld observes gender beyond the male-female binary, and deems it inborn and fixed, incapable of development and change.  For Musil, sexuality is a test of controlling its “darker” aspects, in the case of Törleß, homosexuality; while for Hirschfeld, sexuality is a test of accepting ones nature, loving oneself, one’s partner.  Musil portrays (homo)sexuality as bound up with power-games and violence; although he contradicts his own critical depictions, as his character seems to experience homosexuality as more than a mere developmental “confusion.”  Hirschfeld’s research serves as a scientific tool in analyzing Musil’s characters, who are portrayed in a manner that almost resembles a psychological case-study.


Anyway, things have been going swimmingly here! I switched rooms in the past (almost) three weeks, the upgrade is quite nice…picture will follow in the next post. But, there are only two weeks left before I return back to the states, so things have to start happening way fast (namely, finishing the chapter of my research project I planned on finishing during this trip), it’s gonna be a bit hectic, but definitely doable.  Why hectic? Oh, yeah, my good friend Mallo is visiting me from home! Flying all the way here just to visit me…FOR TWO WEEKS! What a treat, can’t tell you how awesome and lucky I feel (but, you know…of course visiting me was mostly enticing because I’m in Berlin, only one of the bitchin’est cities ever.  We have a lot planned, despite my research goals (I’ll be putting in some odd hours to get everything done, but believe-you-me, it WILL be done, I’ll need some good RnR once I’m back home, no stress and pressure please!).  Some things on the agenda are: a trip to Wannsee, a trip to Potsdam, the usual here in Berlin, Tacheles, night life (a roomie has been talking this one place Berghein UP and DOWN…but you know, party starts at midnight…so we’ll have to have a long night planned if we want to make the expensive entry worth it), a day trip to Poland (yeah, that’s right, POLAND…super cheap to drive there with the train…bless the debt ridden cities who can offer cheap accommodation, bless them), among other things…we’ll have to see how friendly we are to our checkbooks.  I’m guessing pretty friendly, my ass is close to broke (and trust me, I’ve practically done nothing extracurricular in the last few weeks, damn the expensive plane tickets…damn them straight to hell).

Ok, more to come later, she arrives in a matter of hours – time to put final touches on everything!

Well staying positive and keeping your head up really pays off like you’d least expect it to some times.  Since I won’t be able to return to the Magnus Hirschfeld Society, I had to turn to alternative means to acquire the information I need, after all, this is my research project and I want to do some quality work, can’t give because of one unfortunately discouraging happening.  So I took Mr. H’s advice and went to the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum), which has an archive full of information about homosexuality in history, among many other things.  This experience was simply wonderful: quiet, small, comfortable, the gentleman who runs the library and archive was super helpful, showed me where I can find all of the materials they have about my topic; it’s very interesting, intriguing, you definitely can’t hide the feeling of being in a small research institution.  I’ll post some pictures…the museum and archives are also in an interesting, hip part of town, about 1.4 miles away from my apartment (walking distance? hellsyeah. and the walk there is just beautiful). So the first day I only had about an hour and a half two max to check some things out, but I got through a whole envelope of articles and materials about his graveyard (seeing the name of one of the authors who wrote a biography on Hirschfeld was pretty sweet – a man mentioned her and the integrity of her research in a letter to some other researcher back in the 80s, apparently she did good work, or at least verified her information before publishing it – always a good sign, haha).

The most exciting part of this initial, brief visit was reading an article published in the 30s in Munich, by a NAZI newspaper – pretty cool stuff to see such an article before you, reading through the words and feeling the hate, sarcasm, fiendish nature of it all.  Also exciting was to see how active Hirschfeld really was at that time.  He wasn’t just some doctor who sat in a lab all day and invited gay people to him so he could take measurements of their extremities.  The word activist probably comes closest to describing him best, or maybe a truly dedicated advocate: Hirschfeld was a resource for anyone and everyone in terms of sex, sexuality, sexual tension in marriages, etc. etc., the list goes on.  The article published by the NSPD ridiculed, mocked, demeaned Hirschfeld for visiting a local school to talk about sexual issues.  When I think about how uptight, prude, uncomfortable some of these topics were for many of my classmates, even myself at times, I am astonished, impressed, so much all at once, that this man had taken so many great strides himself to clear the murky waters that had been brewing for many years.  And that was a hundred years ago.  Remarkable, really.

On my way there and back, I passed a small park, atop its hill stands an interesting monument…haven’t figured out yet what it is, I’ll get back to you on that. Either way, this location offers a great view of the city, and a nice place for people like me to escape the city life for a brief moment and see some green space.

Overall, this week was pretty exciting and eventful; here are some pictures of the things I saw:

These are pictures of: The Brandenburger Gate (as a whole, the top piece known as the Quadriga, and from the side next to the US embassy); front and rear of the Bundestag, German Parliament; a shot down the Street of the 17th of June/Tiergarten; and a picture of the Memorial of the Jewish Victims of WWII.

 A (bear) statue of the Statue of Liberty right inside of the US embassy – looks an awful lot like a pig, which seems rather fitting…

Pictures from Prenzlauerberg – I should have taken more, but, meh.  The left picture is funny: someone painted over and reworded the sign to say, instead of “designer closing sale” to “designer shit failed/fucked up”

These are three photos of the former Anhalter Bahnhof (Anhalter train station), where over 9,000 Jews were deported out of Berlin during WWII.  It was kind of a chilling sight, of course nothing like any of the concentration camps.

This is the Jewish Museum, my first stop of today’s adventures.  I spent about three hours in here, didn’t even see everything, and could easily have spent another three…

Pictures from Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg! What a happenin’ place.  I went to my first imbiss since coming back to Germany (mostly to avoid the temptation of eating döner), and had this amazing vegan dish. The imbiss was called Habibi, and the food was urughi – basically fried veggie-patties with salad, hummus, a pita. Simply delicious. The guy who served was super awesome, too, as he made sure to not use the sauce made with yogurt, what a guy.

 Some pictures of some pretty sweet graffiti in Kreuzberg.The mosque my friend Janet frequented during her stay in Berlin

 Some other pictures of Kreuzberg – this was such a cool place! Full of people and liveliness, loved it there!

Well, that’s most of the interesting pictures, hope you enjoyed them!

Worst-case scenario?

Posted: August 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

Today was a good day, a great day in some regards.  Unfortunately, the most important part of my day was the least encouraging and by far the worst part of the day.

The day definitely started off OK. Eh, ok not really.  I’ll put it this way, I had a positive outlook (as usual, being an optimistic person) all the way through until 5:04pm. I’ll start with everything before 5pm, merely for the sake of making myself feel better. Venting, the wonders it does.

So…I woke up on time, even a bit earlier actual.  The usual pleasant thoughts that have been occupying me before and after slumber were there, so it was indeed a good start. I get on the computer, have an encouraging conversation with a very special person I’ve been talking to recently.  Afterwards, I started to get work done as a preparation for my archive appointment.  Again, this all went ok – granted I didn’t get as much done as I anticipated, but I never do (I think that’s because I set unrealistic goals…but they keep me pushing further so I don’t know how to really interpret that).  So I packed up everything I was going to need for the next few hours, brewed some joe, went along my way.  Advice: when you walk outside and think to yourself ‘hmm…looks a bit like rain, meh’ turn the freak around and get an umbrella.
So my plan was to make a quick visit to the Chancellory and Magnus-Hirschfeld-Ufer: the Chancellory being the former location of Magnus Hirschfeld’s scientific-humanitarian society, and the Ufer being the memorial (Ufer is German for shore, the memorial borders the Spree – river running through Berlin – and is located across from the chancellory).  I felt this was quite fitting for my experience here in Berlin, even though it doesn’t really play a roll in my research or paper, but there is definitely a certain sense of accomplishment and motivation to see the place where an influential person one is interested in made history. And after all, it’s the memorial to the very man that brought me here.  This was really great! I got some great pictures to submit with my research report (part of the conditions of being award a scholarship for my project), with me in them, too.  Up to this point, still no rain! So I started walking toward the central train station, and it begins to lightly drizzle. No biggie, I really enjoy rain.

So I start looking for the train I need to get to my final destination.  No luck, as I was playing things by ear – I veered away from my original schedule, but still had time to get to where I needed before my ticket expired.  There are at least four different floors in the train station (I’m pretty sure that’s an underestimate), and I had two potential types of train I could take: subway or the fast-trains. So I get fed up, and just get on a bus. I’m pretty damn good with busses, so I felt relieved to know I knew where I was going.
I arrived at my destination with 20 minutes to spare. But, by this point, it had started poring.  Again, I love rain, but I had nice clothes on (trying to make a quasi-professional impression?), and my camera, and phone for keeping track of time.  Whatevs, I kept everything secure.  So I reviewed some of the questions I had, and waited around for the gentleman I had an appointment with (who, by the way, sounded quite pleasant on the phone when we arranged the meeting).  The time is now 5:oo pm, and no sign of Mr. H.  Typical / Atypical? Hard to say, Germans are usually punctual, but with the rain and all I wasn’t expecting anything typical.  So 5:02 rolls around, I see a man biking far down the street – must be him.  Sure enough, he pulls up, a bit wet of course. I extend my hand and introduce my self. I get his name (which, um, I already knew? Yeah, pretty damn sure I knew that already…and having seen his photo online, I knew what he looked like, but he had no idea who I was really…I thought it was logical). Awkward silence. awkward. silence. Walking through the building, through the courtyard. Awkward, awkward silence. A cold feeling, a bit stand-offish but I’m keeping it cool. Cool? I thought so. So we are about to walk into the archive, or should I say office with high ceilings and high bookshelves.  I ask him how his day is going, very politely. I get a weird look and a smug “my day? well, I’m wet.”  OOOOOOOKK. That’s when shit went sour, because German is not my mother language, I don’t respond so well when I get the cold shoulder, merely because I’m not so confident how to bounce back from that with a 60-something year old man.  Whatever, he starts speaking to me in English, so I take advantage of the opportunity.

He really wasn’t being mean, or rude, just German, I suppose.  For some reasons, I couldn’t seem to make it clear to him my research intentions, in any language. He started off talking about part of my project that really doesn’t have anything to do with my visit.  I kept persisting, and finally we switch to German, whew.  We get on track, but being a bit nervous at this point, I start making stupid errors in my speech, and get easily side-tracked.  I got some useful information, but as it turns out, he has no more time to meet with me, not even one more time, in the next 6 weeks. Great, could have told me that a few months ago, when I wrote you, mentioning how I wanted to access materials in your office. Whatever, he definitely gave me some great reference points and further material to look into. I did learn something – that transvestites are not necessarily homosexuals, which has nothing to do with my project, sort of. Ok so I definitely got more useful information than just that.  A few more interesting things, but the whole time he keeps making subtle suggestions, hinting at the fact that I couldn’t be wasting his time in a more intrusive fashion. Why did you agree with this time, or even suggest it? It turns out he had to leave work to meet with me.  So I feel like an ass, and even less confident in what I’m trying to do.  I was clearly less prepared than I should have been, he made that pretty clear.

Long story short, he definitely was trying to help me, I just don’t think he knew how, and wasn’t making the situation easier (not sure if he was aware of that…could be.).  Bad news, I’m pretty sure that is the only visit to the office I’ll be making – but, good news! There is another archive I can go to, and most of the other materials I will need are at the library. Oh and the archive is definitely within walking distance to my place. There comes the typical optimism I am so keen on!

So, I’m pretty sure I’ll never become a professor now, at least not in German…  At this point, I really don’t even feel up to writing my thesis, standing muster, presenting and publishing my results.  Is there a bright side? Of course, it could have gone much much worse.  How, you ask? Ha, no clue, but I know it could definitely have been worse – it could almost always have been worse, in any situation, unless it’s the absolute worse-case scenario.  I guess I came pretty close, having lost all motivation for future research, graduate school, the whole shebang, in a matter of minutes.  Not that I’m bummed out about it (only a bit, but really, just a bit), I just don’t know what to do now. Time to talk with my professor! They almost always know how to make things better in terms of academics, and my thesis advisor is particularly awesome at that and much more.  I feel pretty grateful right now, it’s a good feeling after all that.  My fingers are crossed pretty tight right now, though.

UPDATE: So, after having discussed my recent experience with Mr. H in the archives, several people have brought a very valid and important point to my attention.  Being a researcher, regardless of my academic status (undergrad, grad, PhD, etc.), Mr. H should be willing to make any necessary arrangements to aid me in my research. Now this doesn’t mean that he intentionally goes out of his way to insure that I find what I need, but should at least be willing to accommodate me more than once.  This fact alone is unnerving, considering I came all the way from the US to access materials that I otherwise would not be able to find at home.  If I do become a professor or researcher or whatever, I will make sure I never put anyone in a similar situation…professional goal, check. Oh, and here are some pictures from my adventures of the day.

These are pictures of the former location of Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science; what stands here now is the Chancellory.

And these gems are of the memorial along the Spree dedicated to Hirschfeld, located across from the former location of his research institute. I was pretty excited.

Yesterday’s birthday festivities were a great success! Friederike was hit with surprises left and right, keeping her in suspense the whole time.  The “like” cheesecake came out pretty awesome – I say “like” cheesecake because that because the joke of the day between Jonathan and I, the recipe called for a cream cheese substitute called “wie frischkäse” or “like cream cheese,” so by the end of it, it was no longer vegan cheesecake, but “like” cheesecake.  I have a picture of the thing attached below.  What happens when you spend the whole day switching back and forth from one language to another? You end up mixing your languages up, and, if you’re me, you’ll get a few laughs in the process. As I was explaining to everyone how you get the “like” cheesecake to have a thicker consistency – which is to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator – I mistakenly used the German word for sit, but Germans don’t say that, especially with something like a cake. The reason? Stools, cups, jars, bottles, and cakes all stand on surfaces, whereas books, napkins, paper and the like lay on the table.  Although I felt pretty stupid in the moment, Friederike made a mistake herself a few minutes later.  Swim, swam, swum in English is schwimmen, schwamm, geschwommen.  Friederike instead said schwomm, which, again, resulted in roaring laughter.  The joke then became: the cake sits in the refrigerator and swum in thought. The German is much funnier, at least it was at the moment.

I finally have my first appointment to visit the archives! This is truly exciting, as I am *finally* starting to fulfill my purpose of being here (not that I wasn’t already, but the archives are the exciting part of it). Unfortunately, I will probably be short-handed as far as resources in the archive are concerned, as most things were burned in the 20’s, but you never know…maybe I’ll find a few surprises.  More on this to come.

Today I get to see one of my friends from Bonn! The first since my return to good ole Germany.  We are meeting in an hour and going on the underground cold war tour – pretty exciting! It includes old bunkers and subway systems from WWII and the Cold War, should be a good time. I’m sure I’ll have more pictures of this once I get back, so stay tuned!

Oh and if you didn’t catch my segway segment below, you need to read that (part of “Vegans unite!”).  Just sayin’.

So tomorrow is Friedericka’s birthday, and Jonathan (these are two of my housemates) is planning a series of surprises for her (what a sweet boyfriend he is!), distractions and all.

As I mentioned before, Friede is making great strides to turn over a new leaf and eat vegan, and she is making it fun (a must, I would say, if you want to incorporate any new habits into your life).  Jonathan thought this was a bit absurd (in the friendly and playful way, I s’pose) at first, joking with me that I’ve given her crazy ideas (damn proud of it, if I may say so sir).  Now, Jonathan is ready to support her endeavors (again, what a guy).  Today she and Jonathan made hummus from one of my new recipe books – great success – and I made tortillas to accompany the spread, yuuummmmmmm!  We enjoyed a wonderful homemade, vegan breakfast together – what a great feeling!  Bonding with the roomies just got better.  Actually, it’s going to get even better: since tomorrow is Friede’s birthday, and since she is really trying to switch to vegan, and since I just bought a whole book on vegan baked goods, Jonathan has asked me to help him make her some good eats.  He filled me in on his day plan, incorporated my assistance into, picked out a recipe, and now he and I are making her a vegan cheesecake!  I am smitten with this outcome.  There will be an update of the outcome later this week.