Acting for Peace team, Pfunds/Austria. An inspiring outing to a teepee village and the people who made the whole experience possible. Photo by Inasa Bibic.
Don’t hate the circumstance, you may miss the blessing. – Marshall Rosenberg
I am running towards something unknown in a never-ending direction, with no lights, and no passers-by. The night is cold, and my sight clouded, long thin shadows run alongside me – I don’t know where to turn. I am utterly lost. In the imaginative realm of the mind, the dissolution of my supposed path is already taking place. I see the next five months of my life becoming increasingly blurry, out of focus, disappearing from my sight. When the known becomes the unknown and the other unknown is taken away from you, as if I am spinning down the vortex of an unpredictable rabbit hole. This is how I felt one warm summer day in mid-July, when my afternoon nap nightmare of losing the grip on my supposed life for the next few months came true. I received a decisive email that in that moment had already started a process of inner transformation – without me even knowing how it might change the course of my life.
My exchange to Al Quds Bard Honors College in Palestine for the fall was canceled, due to the reawakened upheavals in the Gaza Strip and the general instability of the Palestinian state.
What is peace? Is it a mirage, a chemical hallucinogen, or a myth? Whatever it was, in this moment it seemed like the most distant, unfamiliar concept – one I could never truly understand. However, as it usually happens, life had already pulled an ironic joke on me – in two weeks, before I was scheduled to leave for Palestine, I was supposed to go to Imst, a tiny Alpine town in Austria, to work at a UWC short course – titled: “Acting for Peace – The Art of Conflict Transformation.”*
Sunset over Rosenthaler Platz. Photo by the author.
How can one convey a complete upheaval of comfort and routine, a loss of language and comprehension and direction? Is it possible to put into words the magic of discovering a new place for the first time? So have we, the Bard in Berlin cohort, experienced a complete cycle of disorientation and reorientation in moving to Berlin for this fall semester. The sixteen of us hail from Bard College, Al-Quds, Simon’s Rock and the Kansas City Art Institute. We are proud to join our fellow Bardians in a place that feels like home, but is really nothing like it.
As each in our group goes on their own adventures, works their internship, discovers a cool hole in the wall café or can decidedly say they have eaten the best Turkish food in the city — we expand our reach, taking in all that we can and are constantly searching for more. This city is monumental and massive, old and new, kinky, concrete and just plain crazy. One could only dream of seeing it all.
To get a grasp on our first few weeks in Berlin, I have composed a collaborative poem using language gathered from several members of the Bard in Berlin cohort. Our journey through the semester is both an individual and collective experience. This poem is an attempt to coalesce some of our best moments thus far, and to look towards our next three months studying, living and working in Berlin.
Theadora and Amelia looking out at Budapest from a cog train (photo by Eleanor Turrell)
I woke up early and packed my bags. My flight was at 14:35 and my destination was Budapest, Hungary. I navigated to my terminal and fell asleep there. I boarded my plane via a metal staircase and enjoyed reading my book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars, for the duration of the 1 hour 20 minute flight. Eggars wrote about his family mostly, and how his parents tragically died of cancer four months from one another. He wrote about what it was like to raise his younger brother. The more I read about his relationships with his family members, the more excited I was to see my older sister, Theadora, who has been studying in Budapest for the past months. I walked off the plane and there she was. Sitting in my terminal, short blonde hair and big blue eyes. We hugged and I bought myself a monthly student bus pass, something I would recommend to any student staying in Budapest, as it is cheaper than the five day pass purchased by most tourists.
The ride into the city was long, and my sister and I talked quickly with the kind of secret language that only exists between siblings. Finally we arrived at her stop. I rode the long (I mean really long) escalator from the underground up to the daylight. As I stepped up to the sidewalk, I was awestruck by the beauty before me. The Budapest Opera House is something worth seeing, and the ornately carved outside of the giant structure was nothing compared to the beautifully painted ceilings within. Theadora’s apartment was right across the narrow paved road in a tall, stone building. Immediately I could tell that Berlin and Budapest were two very different cities. While Berlin is inspiring and gorgeous in its own way, Budapest has a much more obvious beauty; it is almost glamorous.
Tahrir Square, Egypt, 2011 (photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy)
As an Egyptian living abroad for the past couple of years, I have realized that my daily morning routine has come to be something like this: click the snooze button a dozen times, get up, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, attempt to eat breakfast in three minutes and run out to catch the Subway / U-Bahn / Soviet-style tram to school or work, and finally––refresh the BBC Arabic app on my iPhone with a single thought “I wonder what the Egyptians have done today?”.
Watercolor by Amelia Walsh
Living in Berlin for the past four months has given me the unusual perspective of someone who is not from the city, but has had far more time than any tourist to explore and discover its interworking. During my studies, I have had many guests come and stay with me, everyone cherishing their excuse to visit one of Europe’s coolest cities. As a result, I have put together this useful guide for a quick visit to Berlin.
The virtual tour starts at Eberswalder Straße, a street full of shops and cafes, and one of the stops along the U2 U-Bahn line, and tram M1 and M10. From here, you are within walking distance of many treasures. If you wish to enjoy a cheap and tasty pizza, go to the San Marco restaurant at Schӧnhauser Allee 102, where you can get an entire pizza, toppings and all, along with a cocktail, for under €5. I recommend exploring the area and looking into all the little shops. Tourists tend to be particularly interested in a bar called Druide, at Schönhauser Allee 42.
If you walk southwest down Kastanienallee, one of the intersecting streets at the Eberswalder Straße U-Bahn stop, you will come across a pretty boulevard called Oderberger Straße. If you take a right on this street, you will pass many nice restaurants, as well as a delicious ice cream and waffle parlor, which is much larger than one would expect at first glance, called Kauf Dich Glücklich, located at Oderberger Straße 44. Just beyond this place, the street comes to an end and turns into Mauerpark. This park is always packed with people on Sundays, as it holds a large flea market, where you can shop for just about anything, from clothing to silverware and to food. For those interested in Berlin’s history, you may be surprised to learn that this park used to sit along the line between East and West Germany.
The premiere of “Spectacular!” written by Madison Christ (photo by Inasa Bibic)
Read If You’re a Theater Kid… (Part 1) here.
For me, art tends to be very personal. It comes from within the artist and is put on display for others to see, whether it is an idea you’ve had, an experience, a conversation, a picture. In Bard College Berlin’s Poetry and Poetics course, we recently studied Confessional Poetry – a genre of poetry dealing with very blunt, personal experiences, making it difficult to distinguish between the speaker and the poet. But to me, all art is in some way confessional; you can mask it as deeply as you want with metaphors, imagery, colors or characters, but something of your art has you in it because there’s no way to be certain of anything else. Even the painting of a portrait is the painter’s perspective of that person. As someone who likes to write, the greatest anxiety and the greatest happiness comes from others reading or seeing my work and liking it, because that work is a part of me. Were it not, I shouldn’t care what anyone thinks of it the same way I don’t care what people think of a rock we pass by on the street that I have no attachment to. Art is special because it lays a piece of your mind bare for others to experience.