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Welcome to the Future

Happy New Year! If you celebrate by the Gregorian Calendar, obvs. 2015 is the year of hoverboards and Jaws 19 and ridiculous fashion, if Back to the Future 2 can be believed. Which surely it can be, as Marty McFly would never lie to us.

I celebrated the New Year with friends and many games of Articulate, which has thus far set the tone for my 2015. Unfortunately, tomorrow means I have to return to essays because university is still a thing and deadlines are looming.

But before that, I figured I might take a look back at 2014. Because what else are you meant to do in your first blog post of the new year? Happily, I have a whole blog of stuff to help me remember what happened in 2014.

I guess the most important thing about 2014 is that for six months of it I was living and working in Germany. Which was an interesting introduction to the real world, but hey, it’s not so bad. Makes me look forward to when I graduate.

Travelling wise I did more than I’ve ever done before. Budapest, Warsaw, Belgium. A dozen or so places in Germany, not to mention London and Norwich over summer. You can find my opinions on the European places on this blog if you have a search. London and Norwich missed out on a blog post. Whoops.

I had my first real job and then started back at university. Fourth year sucks. Well, the amount of work sucks. Some of modules are actually pretty great, and I love my house (except for the mould and the washing up). I picked up swing dance again, which is ridiculous amounts of fun, and my appreciation of Quidditch, though changed, still exists because, damn IQA players go hard.

The highlight of the year has to be seeing Eddie Izzard in Berlin. (See here for more details) But that doesn’t diminish how great other parts were, like exploring Shoreditch with my best friends and my 21st birthday.

2014 was a very busy year, and it was mostly good, which I feel is the most that can be expected from a whole 365 days. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I’ll never keep them, but I do have hopes for the rest of 2015. They’re mostly fairly grown up things, like I hope I graduate, I hope I get a job, I hope I find somewhere to live. It’s all boring but important things.

So after starting this year with a fairly sedate blog post, I hope your 2014 was mostly good and that your 2015 is as well.

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Great European Adventure: Part Eins – Berlin

Fair warning: this blog post has many pictures and few words. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, so…

 If you can cast your minds back to four months ago, I was leaving Ilmenau. And can you remember why? Don’t stress if you can’t. Seems harsh to spring a quiz on you when I went AWOL. And some of you are new. So to recap, I was leaving Ilmenau because my contract with the school (I was doing a teaching assistantship on my year abroad – check out these posts for details) was up and I was doing some travelling before headed back to Blighty.

So Berlin. I left Ilmenau super excited because in Berlin Maddie awaited me. You remember Maddie, right? She came over to see me way back in the autumn and we hit up Prague  and I haven’t shut up about Prague since. Also, you know. Berlin’s one of my favourite places.

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Maddie’s the fabulous blonde. 

With Berlin and one of my best friends awaiting, is it any wonder I was excited? So excited in fact that when I got to Berlin and had to use the S-bahn, it took me two stops before I realised I’d managed to use the ticket machine in German without any issues. Result. Year abroad really works, guys.

In Alexander Platz I met Maddie and she guided me to the hostel we were staying in, whose name totally escapes me at the moment. (Maddie has informed it was called One80). It was a decent hostel, the guys on reception were super lovely and it wasn’t a *ridiculous* distance from an s-bahn stop. What more could you want?

20140602_165104The global clock in Alexanderplatz. You can play guess where the tourist is from by which section they take a photo of.

The first afternoon I made Maddie do a huge walking tour of the places I’ve been in Berlin, for which I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. We went down Unter den Linden, to the Reichstag, past the Holocaust memorial, through Potsdamer Platz, past part of the Berlin wall, via a Fotomat to Checkpoint Charlie. Seriously, I made her walk so far. I am a terrible person. I mean, we were both shattered anyway from travelling and then I made us exercise. A truly terrible person.

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And we walked past Trabi World.

The second day we headed over to Kreuzberg for brunch. Now Kreuzberg was described to me at various points and by various sources as ‘the place to be’, ‘the root of all hipsters’ and ‘up and coming but not quite there yet’. It was only about 10am when we got there but it was dead. Last time I was in a place so empty I was in the business district of London on Palm Sunday.

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All found in Kreuzberg.

After walking down several heavily graffitied streets, we ended up at Nest, a place that The Guardian recommended for brunch in Kreuzberg. Yes, we’re super cool.

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Brunch of champions.

Brunch at Nest was delicious. Seriously, it was so good. You should go. Afterwards, in somewhat of a food coma, we wandered through Kreuzberg, taking photos of the graffiti and wondering how anyone can afford to buy things in the hipster shops.  We then crossed the river and walked up the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long section of the Berlin Wall that acts an art gallery. Many of the paintings are reproductions of graffiti that was on the Berlin Wall while it still divided the city. It’s really interesting, though I need to say, it is long. It was way longer than we expected.


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Yay Graffitii

After finding a S-bahn stop because we were exhausted from walking the length of the East Side Gallery, we ended up at a huge arts and crafts shop, whose name I have completely forgotten. We spent a good couple of hours walking round it, looking at all the expensive paper and fabric that we wanted but could neither afford nor fit in our suitcases.  And then at some point we must have headed out for dinner, and I can say with 90% certainty that we had beer, because we had beer with almost every meal.

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My favourite piece of graffitti we saw. Represents reunification of Berlin.

The next day we went to Kreuzberg for brunch again, because we are the coolest people you’ll ever read about in a blog. This time it was at a place called Salon Schmück and although good, it wasn’t as good as Nest.

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I like eggy bread. I like bacon. I kinda like maple syrup. All three together is a bit much though.

Afterwards we headed up to the Natural History Museum because I’d been wanting to see dinosaur bones since January. Like I said, I’m a cool kid. The Berlin Natural History Museum is currently undergoing massive renovations. However, they still have dinosaurs, they still have moon rock and the biggest wet collection of specimens in the world. That mean stuff kept in jars of ammonia, not in, like, a swimming pool or anything. Just so you know.

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DINOSAURS!

In the dinosaur exhibit they had binoculars that, when you focused on the dinosaur skeletons, filled in the organs, the skin and then what their habitat would have looked like. And then the dinosaurs moved. And it was one of the best things ever.  Then we wandered into an audio visual description of how the universe came into being and how it’ll probably end. And that sounds lame, but you got to lie back on a round sofa and watch it above you and that was awesome.

When you carried on round, there was a massive exhibition on birds, including what a T-rex would look like with feathers. Which is still one of my favourite things. And then in the shop I bought a stuffed toy bison. Because as I have previously mentioned bison are my new favourite animals. And Heinrich is the cuddliest stuffed toy bison to ever exist.

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It looks like a colourful chicken. Jurassic Park would be very different. 

We headed out for tea at some point, again with the beer, and then I, tipsily, decided we needed a selfie with the Brandenburg Gate. This lead to me getting very confused about the Berlin public transport system and selfies of this calibre:

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That’s the symbol of victory sticking out the op of my head. 

Which was a pretty great end to part one of my Great European Adventure. Because the day after I got up at an early time to brave the S-bahn alone, heading to the main station to get on a train to Warsaw alone.

I do love Berlin.  And getting to go with Maddie was awesome, even if she wasn’t so keen on the city. But I have to say the best part was Heinrich. Because cuddly bison are the best.

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Heinrich giving his best duck face.

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The Last Week

Guys, it’s finally here. My last full week in Germany. Well that nine months went quick. Did it feel quick for anyone else? I mean, I swear I got here a month ago. Anyway, on with the week.

Monday I was in Ilmenau having a wander, posting stuff, generally doing the day to day stuff of living here. Which is soon not to be my day to day routine. Seriously, where has the time gone?

Tuesday I was at the Freizeit Zentrum with all of the 3/4 classes, doing arts and crafts based on Knights. These included wooden swords, cardboard shields, princess hats (you know, the pointy ones with wafty cloth sticking out the top) and hobby horses. It is my greatest sadness that I did not get to make a sword as well. But I did get to watch the kids bashing each other to bits with them… Why we armed kids who hit each other anyway, I do not know. Because we were at the Freizeit Zentrum I went and had a look at the animals and was quickly joined by Miriam who was greatly amused by my habit of making animal sounds at the animals.

Tutoring was on Tuesday this week rather than Wednesday, so we ran through all of the memory games and dominoes that I’ve made over this year. I gave Luka and Vicky two Roald Dahl books each and in return I got a guide to Serbia with Luka’s home town circled on it and the instruction ‘visit here’.  Then I was at my last CV ever, where Kim insisted on telling everyone. Which was sweet. Awkward but sweet.

Wednesday I was back at the Freizeit Zentrum, this time with all of the 1/2 classes, doing arts and crafts based on Native Americans. My main contribution to this was explaining what a peace pipe was, that yes it was pipe you smokes and don’t use them as makeshift weapons. Seriously, what is it with kids and hitting each other?

When we got back to school, I had my farewell from three teachers because I pretty much couldn’t have picked a worse day to be my last day at school and everyone was busy. But I have a card signed by everyone and a brand spanking new huge towel. And I got hugs from my favourite teachers, so that’s pretty rad.

Thursday I started to pack up my room. I don’t know how I have so much stuff. Thank heavens Dad’s coming to pick me up.

Friday I did some more packing (a constant theme for the rest of this week) and I went into Ilmenau to post stuff and generally have a wander.

Saturday I went into Erfurt for the last time. Went to the Cathedral and mourned the soon to be lack of elven architecture in my life. Went to my favourite book shop possibly in the world. Generally wandered and tried not to freak out that I might never be in Erfurt again. Remembered that the Great European Adventure requires me to change train in Erfurt so it’s fine.

Sunday I finished packing for the Great European Adventure. What’s the Great European Adventure I hear you ask? It’s what I’m doing for the next two weeks. Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest. All before I head back to merry old England. Because if I don’t take advantage of the fact that travel in Europe is super easy, what is the point of my year abroad?

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Kat and the City

The city, of course, is Berlin. As capital cities go, Berlin is up there. I prefer it to Paris, to Cardiff. It even beats out Edinburgh. And this weekend, I got to go for the second time. Four hours by train seems to be the norm to go anywhere from Ilmenau. Getting on a train at 9.22 on a Sunday was a wrench, seeing as I normally get up at ooh about 12 at the weekend – catching up from all those 6.20 starts, you see – but once I got on the ICE at Erfurt it was plain sailing all the way to Berlin Südkreuz. I then had to figure out the S-bahn system (that’s the tram system) which became ridiculously straight forward when I realised that there were other platforms. Shocking that.

I headed straight for the Brandenburg Gate, because what’s a trip to Berlin without the essential touristy pictures of the city’s icon?

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Hello world, this is Berlin calling.

While I didn’t do a cheesy selfie (there were way too many other tourists around for that) I did take pictures from every angle possible. Then I had a wander to the Reichstag before deciding it was far too cold to explore the Tiergarten (a very green area of Berlin next to the Reichstag), and headed for the Willy Brandt museum.

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If someone could explain the difference between the Reichstag and the Bundestag, I’d be very grateful.

Willy Brandt is a babe. That’s how I described him in a message home during my time in Berlin, though it was pointed out to me that that’s not a suitable reply to ‘who is Willy Brandt?’ So a (very brief) history lesson. Willy Brandt was the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969-1974. The FRG may be better known to you as West Germany. During his time as leader of the FRG, he focused heavily on interactions with East Germany (aka the GDR), and improved relations between the FRG and the GDR. Essentially, he made a tense time better under difficult circumstances.

So having wandered round the Willy Brandt museum, discovering things like he escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Norway and changing his name, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1971, and was just generally a pretty kickass person, I headed to the gift shop, where I forgot all my German because the cashier looked like Robb Stark.

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This bed was so comfortable.

By this time, I could check into my hotel, and I’d like to thank all family members who gave me money for Christmas because it meant I had a queensize bed and the best shower in the world. And Dad got peace of mind. So thank you very much. I then fell asleep in front of the Princess Diaries (auf Deutsch, natürlich) before heading out to the Imperial Club, for the whole reason I was in Berlin.

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This comedian is about 2/5s responsible for me studying languages at university.

As previously mentioned, I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan, and last year I got to see his show Force Majuere in Birmingham. So when I heard he was performing it auf Deutsch, I was super excited, and thus went to Berlin. The venue had about 150 seats, so it was tiny, but it was full. And there were so many native English speakers. I surprised the Americans behind me with my accent when I turned round to apologise for being tall, when they started discussing whether or not they could still see.

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See those purple lights? They’re at the back of the stage. And I was half way back.

The show itself was about an hour long, and was a very heavily cut down version of what I’d seen in Birmingham. No less funny though. I think the highlight was listening to him explain how at some point the English must have gone “You see this? It’s just a spoon. We’re not going to use feminine or masculine,” but explaining this in a language that still genders every noun. Was hysterical. He also pulls the universal face of non-native German speakers of “wait, did I say the verb already?” I kind of felt like I was watching an hour long oral exam, albeit it a prepared one. It makes me very glad my lecturers don’t expect me to be funny as well as accurate. All in all, it was an excellent evening, and if you’re in the Berlin area, he’s there for the next few weeks. Go. Have fun. Enjoy the cheap tickets and expensive alcohol.

Monday was a very cold day. The whole of Berlin was iced over, which made walking around for seven or so hours fun. But I hit up the nearby bakery for breakfast and then I headed towards the Fernsehturm. It took me a while to get there what with the ice, and getting distracted by the Nikolaiviertel, but I got there eventually.

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The tower disappearing into the clouds is the Fernsehturm.

The visitors floor is 203 meters above the ground and the idea is that you get a fantastic view of Berlin. I went on a day when it was both foggy and cloudy, so that didn’t really work out that well. But it was still cool and for the first time ever, someone who could speak English found out I was English and continued to speak to me in German. In the lift there are stewards and on the way down, the steward was telling me to be careful because it was very icy outside. I must have said thankyou one too many times or something because then he went ‘You’re German, right? Or English?” When I said English, but I understand German, he repeated the warning in English to the other tourists in the lift and then told me auf Deutsch that lots of people have broken arms and legs because of the ice. Basically, the staff at the Fernsehturm are lovely.

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I could just about make out the cathedral through the cloud cover.

Then, trying not to fall over, I headed to the DDR Museum, which was totally worth it. (DDR is the German for GDR.) There’s a ton of interactive exhibits, including the section on the Stasi (the secret police) where you can listen to what’s being said in another part of the exhibit. They’ve got a Trabi you can pretend to drive and a typical east German flat set up, and it was just really really cool. As a German student you get to study two parts of German history; WWII and the GDR, and personally, I’m more interested in the GDR, so this museum was awesome. Even if there was a school group of teenagers who really didn’t want to be there.

Following this I went and hid out in Starbucks for a while, because the cold was seriously getting to me. Bless Starbucks and their radiators. And their free wifi. Finally, when I couldn’t hide any longer, I braved the cold again, heading down towards Checkpoint Charlie. At the moment, just round the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, is a panorama of the Berlin wall. It’s not a hundred percent accurate, but the artist is trying to show how life continued despite the wall. It’s shown from the West looking to East Germany, and was generally pretty cool. Even if again, there was a school group who really didn’t want to be there.

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A very small section of the panorama.

Finally I went on one last wander that took in Potsdamer Platz and the Holocaust Memorial, stopping only to take ridiculous photos in a photomat from the 70s. It was only when I got on the train home that I realised I’d only been in Berlin for a little over 24 hours. Now I’m ready to sleep for a week, but it was so worth it.

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Oh, the things I do when I’m alone.