Monday, February 21, 2011

Berlin Calling

Berlin is the city I had the opportunity to live in during four months. With its more than three million inhabitants, Berlin is the capital of Germany and the biggest city of the country. A great aspect about Berlin is that it has something for each one of us no matter which culture one comes from. Praising diversity could be, in my opinion, the motto of this multicultural city.
Finding accommodation in Berlin was not an easy task. Most of the research happens on the internet but some landlords and/or co-tenants demand a meeting in person. The key word is patience. An important criterion that appears to be very relevant in a capital concerns the proximity to the university, which is situated outside the city centre, and at the same time to the centre itself, where most of extracurricular activities take place.
However, even though Berlin presents itself as welcoming, it asks a lot of an international student to fit in. The first environment requiring adaptation is university. The German system is very different from the Belgian one. Taking the professors’ advice, I mostly took seminaries. Such class-types require a greater participation in debates. The class is not so much given by the professor but rather guided by the students themselves. They are encouraged to take part actively in discussions and to express their own opinion and impressions on every assigned book. Being permanently surrounded by German (as well as many international) students was the most enchanting aspect about studying at the Freie Universit√§t Berlin. Such a “linguistic bath” is perhaps one of the biggest fears of all Erasmus students at the beginning of their stay, but at the same time what they were looking for and what motivated them to leave Namur in the first place.
As far as the city in itself is concerned, Berlin is divided in districts which all convey in my opinion different impressions. The main difference is the one between the west and the extreme east of the capital, which still reflects the GDR “lifestyle”. The (more or less) established Turkish community of Germany has also introduced some traditions (culinary ones among the most prominent) taken from their own culture in some districts of the south-east of the city (e. g. Neuk√∂lln). The so-called “posh neighbourhood” of Berlin is situated in the middle of the city (Mitte) and encompasses most of the touristic places of interest, for instance the Brandenburg Gate or the Regierungsviertel and its elaborate architecture. There are many things to see, to hear, and to visit in Berlin, all of which cannot be achieved in four months. No sooner have we started to settle down in the capital, than we have to leave. The German semester begins later than in Belgium, in mid-October, and only ends in the last weeks of February. Not only does it mean that we have to reach a settlement with each professor on evaluation matters, but we also have to leave Berlin while everything just got started. We only realise how strong we had adapted to our Erasmus-destination when we get back in Belgium. Our once daily life seems to be very far away: we have to start all over again. Fortunately, finding one’s marks in Namur appears to be a much quicker process.

Vinciane Pirard

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