Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
I am Charlie… you are… we are Charlie. Photo: L’association “THE YOUNGZ” at sxminfor.fr

I am Charlie… you are… we are Charlie. Photo: L’association “THE YOUNGZ” at sxminfor.fr

This week, we ask faculty member Jan Völker who currently teaches «Ideology: a thing from the past?» about the event of Charlie Hebdo, the symptomatic slogan « Je suis Charlie » and finally, his specialty––ideology.

Read more if you want to find out if ideology is dead or still alive and kicking
Soul Explosion Party Flyer

Soul Explosion Party Flyer

When you live in Berlin, there are a few things you simply can’t avoid. The Rewe jingle, for instance, or small children in large snowsuits, well behaved dogs waiting patiently for their owners or, Techno.

Techno seems to me like an acquired taste, like olives, or anchovies. The things that you really don’t like, but hope one day you will. Maybe a rite of passage into adulthood, or in the outstanding case of Techno: proper Berlin nightlife.

Maybe I was never exposed to the right sort of Techno. Or maybe, I am genetically unsound, not fit to be a European urbanite but, to me, bass heavy pounding is a perfect recipe for a panic attack. And, to be frank, I have enough of that on my own terms; I do not feel the need to stimulate them for “fun”.

Berlin has a population of 3.5 million people, and sometimes it feels like every single one of them likes techno, except for me. So, this is what I have come to: Shouting into the void of the Internet. Hoping I am not 1 out of 3.5 million, trying to find things to do, and music to dance to that isn’t Techno. To make the quest more manageable, I’ve split it into categories. If you are like me, it can be helpful to ask yourself some questions: Do you like to dance, but just hate feeling like you’re in a robot world? Or, is the traditional Berlin nightlife not your thing at all? I for one, love to dance; I’m just not too fond of feeling like I am a cyborg, born of the fantasies of an omnipotent D.J God.

The following is what I have found.

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Marienvesper Chor (Photo by  Ansgar Book)

Marienvesper Chor (Photo by Ansgar Book)

As winter brought along a festive December air, it also entrained some fervent preparation for the final papers and first semester examinations. Yet apart from rushing through our last semester weeks full to the brim with coursework, many of us sporadically adorned our challenging schedules with various activities wintery Berlin annually hosts for its enthusiastic students. Between the jolly mix of Christmas markets and travels lies a wide range of choice for us. In fact, choosing becomes a rather challenging task in itself – the manner in which we spend our free time determines the pertinence of our preferred activities to the ambitious aim we initially set for ourselves – to leverage the cultural resources the city provides. In line with my inveterate avocation, music, I have long decided to dedicate my free time to choral singing – an amateur endeavor which gradually began to acquire the hues of an aesthetic, intellectual, and social practice. Its impetus is grounded in my wish to bridge the chasm between incisive observations on aesthetics made in the academic environment and a direct aesthetic experience of music. What had been steadily outlining itself as a significant background activity to my student life in Berlin this past semester culminated on the evening of the 13th of December in the musical performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s oratorio Vespro della Beata Vergine in Auenkirche Wilmersdorf with Cantus Domus, a Berlin-based choir of dedicated and accomplished music enthusiasts.

Composed in 1610, this monumental work echoes a far more superior musical testimony to Monteverdi’s ingenuity than the composer himself and his contemporaries could have fathomed. Its purpose is left for scholars to debate – the prevalent view relates to the assumption that it served as an audition piece for work positions Monteverdi wished to obtain – while the structural order of its numbered parts is in some places rather recondite. However, apart from the fact that Monteverdi established the earliest foundations of the opera with L’Orfeo, his stylistic innovations in oratorio music likewise received wide acclaim. The focal point of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine, i.e. the melding of the old and new styles, renders the piece a kaleidoscopic sumptuousness. The abundance of ornamentation, which preponderantly shapes the solo lines, rather than subsuming the entire composition, subtly gives way to and graciously elevates the polyphonic vocal fabric of the psalms. Preceding each psalm are the antiphons – beautiful verses sung as plainchant* by the lower voices. And although these are not prerequisites for the overall composition and are often performed at the musicians’ discretion, they provide a contemplative contrast to the polyphonic arrangement.

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The Berlin S-Bahn station signs that the team photographed on their trip

The Berlin S-Bahn station signs that the team photographed on their trip

Riding the Berlin S-Bahn seems to have become a thing among Bard College Berlin students. Some travel the Ringbahn for one hour to visit all 27 stations. Others go for the complete S-Bahn network in one go: 15 lines, 166 stations, 332 kilometres. Some even do it twice. Among them yours truly, who shall try to use the space of this article to convince you this grew neither out of out-right craziness, nor simply out of boredom beyond redemption, by taking you on the journey of how these journeys came about. For that we have to turn back the clock a bit to the warm and lovely days of spring 2014, when I was finishing the second semester of my second year at Bard College Berlin.

While thoughtlessly wandering some forlorn corners of the Internet in search of shelter from the essay deadlines that hung like dark thunderclouds on the horizon, I first stumbled on the idea of train transit challenges. A type of underground sport, in both senses of the term, they have gained a small but loyal fan-base in densely populated metropolitan areas with elaborate subterranean train systems, most notably New York and London. In the former, the challenge is known as “the Subway challenge” aka “Rapid Transit Challenge” aka “the Ultimate Ride,” in London it is referred to as “the Tube Challenge.” But the basic idea is the same in both cases: to travel the complete subway or metro network in as little time as possible.

Trips of this kind date back to the 1940s in New York when a guy called Hermann Rinke travelled the complete network of his days in around 25 hours. Ever since, new records have been announced on a regular basis, and the fastest attempts for now seem to take around 22 hours. But since there is no official body to regulate the sport there are various sets of rules that each yield different records: some try to travel only every segment of every line at least once, without necessarily stopping at each station. Others try to stop at every station at least once, without necessarily covering every line segment. Some try to combine both, and Guinness World Records has its own set of rules. People have been attempting similar rides in Berlin too and the Guinness record for that is currently at 7 hours 33 minutes 15 seconds.

The idea of spending many hours in dimly lit tunnels with bad ventilation never much excited me—understandably, I hope.

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Graffitti

My first semester at Bard College Berlin just ended and I would like to write about the past few months and draw on my first insight into a liberal arts education.

At first, many people advised me not to study at a liberal arts university. In Germany you usually choose a field of study that is already very fixed in its subjects and then you can specialize after a few years of studying that one thing. As a person who would like to know everything about (nearly) everything, I felt out of place in this system. I was not able to reduce my interests to simply one area. After I graduated from a German school, my only wish was to sit in a library, stay there for hours, and just read every single book that seemed interesting. But of course life happened and it took me one year to make this dream become partly true (in my imagination it was not as exhausting and frustrating to get some reading done as it is in reality sometimes).

A lot of people said: “What do you want to do with this education? We do not need more people who only talk and talk for hours and never act. The world is full of these. Why don’t you study something useful, something with which you can make money and not live in a trash can out of necessity?” What those people do not realize is that the philosopher Diogenes lived in a large ceramic “can” because he believed it was necessary to be independent from material needs and to think beyond social and bodily constraints. But his example was not the reason why I went to Bard College Berlin, despite all the warnings. I always wanted to make the world a better place, but I soon became aware of the fact that one first needs to know about the world, about human nature, and about society before one can claim: “I am going to change the world now!” (Even though I have no idea where to start.) So this is why I am here at Bard College Berlin. I want to know more about myself and the world I live in.

I can still remember my first phone call with my German friends after my first day at the college.

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"The Family without Borders” / 2014 (Photo: Inasa Bibic)

“The Family without Borders” / 2014 (Photo: Inasa Bibic)

If you thought Pankow was the most boring, uneventful borough of Berlin – think again! Only ten minutes from the U-Bahn station lives the most fascinating, unique family you will find in Berlin – “The Family Without Borders.” The Alboths are a travelling family who together with their small daughter Hanna decided to live their life’s dream in 2010 – doing a 6-months long road trip Around the Black Sea, through the Caucasus to the Caspian Sea and back to Berlin. In 2011 and 2012, they continued their adventures when their second daughter Mila was born – the Between the Oceans Tour took them through Central America from Mexico down to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. In the summer of 2013, they went to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2014, they did their next big trip – Looking for Taka-Tuka-Land, through New Zealand and the South Pacific, with two big backpacks, a tent and hitchhiking enthusiasm on sailing yachts. It might seem strange to first introduce Anna and Thomas’s daughters in describing their travelling adventures – however, the Polish mom journalist and German dad photographer give their children a lot of credit when it comes to choosing the destinations and learning from people’s stories on the trips.

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Andrei Poama

Andrei Poama

I’m meeting Andrei Poama, a Romanian PhD candidate in Political Theory at Sciences Po in Paris, where he is working on theories of punishment. This fall he co-taught a class on Foundations of Moral and Political Thought, which I attended. He is also an alumnus of Bard College Berlin’s (previously ECLA’s) International Summer University of 2004, and studied in Bucharest, at Oxford, and Yale. We talked about his experience of the ISU, his current research, and models of education.

D: You joined the ISU in 2004, right?

A: Yes, I was there just for the summer school in 2004, when I was 20 years old. I arrived one week earlier, which made it almost two months.

How did you find out about the school?

I remember I was watching about it on television. The director of the program at the time was Theodor Paleologu. He talked about it in very nice terms. During the communist times there was this ‘Romanian Heidegger’—Constantin Noica—who founded the school Școala de la Păltiniș: kind of elitist, not so phenomenological as Heidegger, but close – in places as unintelligible as Heidegger. Noica’s idea was to create a school where the professors would learn more than the students, and Theodor presented the ISU as being sort of the same as Noica’s project. He really advertised it, and so I went on the internet, looked it up, and eventually applied.

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Map of Berlin Public Transport

It took some time but then one day I finally received my first challenge:

stay for one hour in the Berlin railway line which circles the whole city and get off only after you have passed all 27 stations*.

Since it takes me more than 40 minutes every day to go to Bard College Berlin with public transport, I thought that 60 minutes in the railway wouldn’t be a difficult challenge for me. I like railways as much as I like subways, buses and airplanes. I think it is an extremely fascinating space: it is not something you go to intentionally; you go there to go somewhere else. You might not disappear from this world for a few minutes because you entered the subway, but once in, you are neither where you departed from, nor where you want to be. A lot of people think that this time in-between two places and situations is wasted. They are right to some extent, as you cannot use this time on a tram or in a train to be productive (except if you forgot to do your reading for class and were too lazy to wake up at 6 in the morning to finish it – not that this has ever happened to me, this is just a purely hypothetical thought). I think it is great that we are not forced to do something productive on the train. We can either not use this time at all, or maybe free our minds from stressful thoughts for some minutes. As John Lennon already noticed: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted.” So I was very glad for the challenge and decided to enjoy the “wasted time” in the subway and just observe what will happen to me.

With a delicious brownie from the student cafe and a hot coffee that turned to ice coffee the second I went out in the cold, I get on the bus to Schönhauser Allee, where my journey will begin.

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