A chronicle of fall quarter abroad at Oxford, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Today is my last day in the UK, and I'm packing and hoping that this all somehow fits into my suitcases and is still under the weight limit... How did the quarter fly by so fast? I'm dismayed, but also so excited to be home!
But before that, a final update on my travels in Europe beckons. Early on Tuesday morning, three friends and I headed to Berlin for thirty-six whirlwind, snow-filled hours of walking, sightseeing, shivering, and shopping. It was amazing how much we were able to pack into one trip, although a lot of that came at the expense of sleep. (At least, as my sister said, being sleep-deprived might help me catch some shuteye on the long flight home tomorrow!) Because both sides of my family hail from Germany way back, I was especially interested in experiencing what this unfamiliar country had to offer.
I found a Berlin that was magically covered in snow, brimming with Christmas markets on seemingly every block, where vendors sold everything from Christmas trinkets to fine artwork and clothes to amazing German meats, breads, and sweets. I realized that much of the homecooked food I grew up enjoying (besides green chile) is at least vaguely German: hearty stews, sausages, mixed vegetables, cobblers and candied sweets. We visited at least four or five Christmas markets over the two days, and I admittedly ate my way through most of them, from trying the different foods on sale to taking the many free samples. With the lights, snow, and cozy little huts, they cut a perfect Christmas picture.
In between market-browsing, the four of us toured some of the historic parts of the city, including the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag. We also visited the recently completed Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a sweeping field full of cement blocks of various heights, arranged in straight rows over undulating hills. This is a monument that must be physically experienced, and walking through it left me choked up. Our escapades on the first day also included Checkpoint Charlie, the former security gate through which officials passed from West to East Germany, and the western portion of the Berlin Wall itself. On the second day, we came face-to-face with the wall in a different way, as we visited the East Wall Gallery on the outskirts of central Berlin. This preserved sweep of the wall, which is now covered with modern murals and memorials advocating peace and understanding, was a testament to how such a hated symbol can turn into a sign of hope, at the same time as it warns us against similar atrocities in the future.
And, really, I felt like much of Berlin was like that. Parts of the city still felt grim and graffiti-covered, and I kept having chilling visualizations of what it must have felt like in the WWII and Cold War days. But it's also a city that's succeeding in rebuilding itself, and many of the stretches of modern street felt brisk and charming. Much of the architecture that remains from the 18th and 19th centuries (or has been restored) is quite impressive, from towers to cathdrals to museums and universities. The Pergamon Museum in particular was stunning, with real Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Islamic building ruins reconstructed inside huge halls and chambers. After a quarter of thinking about architecture in more technical terms, I was in awe.
With the cold weather, snow, and ice, I was happy to get back to England (which feels warm by comparison!), but also wished I could have stayed in Germany longer. That's for the next trip, I suppose...