Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Days in Berlin

Sarah Hirsch acts as a birthday girl with no guests at her party, forcing audience members to dance with her. (Credit: Vera Yung)

On Thursday, March 8th, the Emancipe Initiative’s interactive puppet play, “The Puppet Show: An Inquiry”, premiered on campus in the Factory gallery space. This initiative, pioneered by first-year EPST student Danny Dubner, and co-lead by academic year student Sara De Monchy, was an opportunity for members of Bard College Berlin to experience non-formal educational practices and engage in a discussion about them. This was only the first instalment of the initiative; it will have more events on campus that involve “philosophy, politics, art and their intersections.”

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Artwork by ODIOUS collective in Südgelände park (Credit: Liza Ostrovska)

Google weather confirms: It’s been there for the past three days. Im-pos-sib-le. But look, it’s there, caught in the roof tiles of the Treskowstrasse 25 front building: There. Now do you believe me? It’s been there all along:

The February sun.

Have you noticed? As our studies resume, the world around us takes on a peculiar character. Our world starts to suffer from mysterious distortions. The difference between Platanen- and Eichenstrasse appears to be in the number of minutes it takes to transport oneself from Cafeteria to Lecture Hall, from Lecture Hall to the Iderfenngraben tram stop. The world around us suffers from puzzling distortions so that the only voices we begin to pay any heed to are those of Gospels, Critiques, Confessions, beckoning from the reading room and all agreeing on the same point: set the alarm for 6:45, latest. Well, I do. But in the morning, the M1 takes me away from academics, in the direction opposite the Reading room: time to reclaim the world and hit the (rail)road.

On the S2-nach-Lichtenrade, I resist the urge to pull out the latest reading assignment and resolve to count stations instead. Fumes of cars vibrating in the frosty air, Garten-Kolonies, bare branches of Humboldthain — and that’s it, the S2-nach-Lichtenrade, way too loud for the city center, is swallowed by the dark tunnel of Nordbahnhof. A few (fives of) minutes in the underground limbo, and I find myself facing the gate of the world far beyond the Reading room, more commonly known as Naturpark Schöneberger Südgelände.

Read on to find out what was lost on BCB campus and found again in a former industrial area.

A mutilated rendering of the Star of David (Credit: Flickr)

When one thinks of Antisemitism in Europe and particularly in Germany, the first images that are likely to come to mind are those of skinheads or Nazis, or even individuals who regard themselves as bio-Deutsch (ethnically German – whatever that means). These people represent a valid threat to those of Jewish background. What many neglect to realise is that they are not the only ones who hold Antisemitic views: Antisemitism among people with an Arabic or Muslim background is generally overlooked. It may be difficult to grasp the notion of a minority oppressing another minority as it contradicts many popular historical narratives, but this does not mean that the critique of such intolerance and hatred should be silenced. It is becoming increasingly important to voice these concerns today as Europe sees the rise of populist right-wing parties that target Jewish, Arab, and Muslim minorities.

The fear of being seen as ‘Islamophobic’ by the liberal left or having one’s stance instrumentalized by the far-right to promote an anti-migrant rhetoric is preventing a discourse on Antisemitism among Arab and Muslim communities, further marginalizing those with a Jewish background. In order to address this, one needs to understand the difference between European Antisemitism and that enacted by Arab and Muslim people. While both have brutal histories of victimizing, persecuting and marginalizing Jewish groups, the atrocities committed during WWII against the Jews in Europe generated historical guilt and shame that lead to hyperawareness, a nation-wide condemnation of Antisemitism, and Germany’s culture of remembrance. This culture of remembrance is  criticized by AfD’s senior member Björn Höcke when he references the Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Berlin, stating that “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital”[*1].  The implication of such a statement is that no remembrance or shame is necessary. This opinion, shared among party members and right-wing Germans demonstrates that, sadly, Antisemitic sentiments are still held by the supposed bio-Deutsche.

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Brazil 1, Germany 7 (Credit: The Telegraph)

To all new students: welcome to Berlin. As you make your way through the city, you will hopefully immerse yourself in the endless exhibitions and concerts, wide-ranging festivals celebrating all things from film to butter, engaging street art, striking museums adorned with (not uncommonly) stolen artefacts, shabby clubs that will reject you thrice in a row, and countless döner places that will have you believing döner is as much a part of the German cuisine as a schnitzel. At this point, it just might be. Many things in Berlin will enchant you, but it is only fair to warn you that there is also an adaptation period (which I have affectionately nicknamed my existence here thus far) that most non-Berliners will have to face.

Coming from Brazil, I don’t think the cultural differences could be any more striking than I have found them to be. After 17 hours of flying, one goes from saying “good morning” to strangers on the street to inadvertently sharing one-second eye contact at the U Bahn – which here could be interpreted as risqué flirting. Why would one look a person in the eyes? We have shoes for that.

Indeed, it is a peculiar day in São Paulo when the handrails of the train are not used for pole dancing by a teenager with a sense of humor or a street artist as a performance prop. I was not naive enough to expect a Carnaval at the U-Bahn, but it did surprise me when I dropped a water bottle on the train by accident and observed that the facial expressions that ensued could contextually fit a funeral. I know you are big on recycling, Germany, but I was going to pick it up.

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Congratulations! You’re on your way to a legal stay in Germany. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, modified)

An essential part of the Bard College Berlin experience for all foreign students is the residence permit application. The school provides assistance to obtain one, and the process generally goes smoothly thanks to Xenia Muth. But sometimes, things happen: you forget to submit a document, you fill out a certain form incorrectly, you put all of it off until it’s three days before your 90-day window. Should you find yourself in the sad — but not uncommon– predicament of waiting outside the Ausländerbehörde all night, here are a few tips to make the experience as enjoyable and memorable as possible:

Stage 1. Before Arrival

Preparation is everything. It is the lack of such a thing that landed you in this situation in the first place, so make sure you’re prepped and ready to go for your adventure.

Step 1.1. Be too nervous to take a nap before your overnight visit, and make irresponsible decisions that will come back to bite you later. For example, go out to dinner in Mitte and forget how long the M1 ride back home is.

Step 1.2. Make sure you dress for the occasion. If you’re planning on paying the infamous bureau a visit soon, wear three pairs of wool socks, all the shirts you own, and two scarves. Conveniently forget a hat and gloves.

Step 1.3. Pack yourself too many snacks that you will forget to eat while waiting outside the office and will find squashed in your backpack a few hours later. Make sure to download podcasts, music, or Netflix episodes that you won’t be able to watch because of some unforeseeable technological problem.

Step 1.4. Decide to get there at 1 AM instead of the recommended 3 or 4AM to ensure yourself a spot. You could probably afford to arrive at 3 or 4AM, but you want to feel safer and more responsible than you actually are.

Stage 2. On Your Way!

Congratulations! You’re ready to leave. The most important thing is getting there, so here’s how to do it right:

Step 2.1. Make sure you bring more bags than necessary so that everyone notices you struggling to leave campus and you have to explain in great detail where you’re going. Pretend that the “Good Luck!” calls aren’t patronizing and reminding you of your mistake.

Step 2.2. Get on the bus and type some journal-y sentiment with the notes app on your phone in an attempt to reflect on your predicament. Immediately get sleepy because of how nice and warm the M27 bus is, and think about how sad it is that such extreme circumstances finally led you to do the Berlin exploration you promised your friends and family you would do much earlier.

Stage 3. Arrival and The Infamous Wait

You’ve arrived. You’re armed and ready. Nothing can stop you now.

Step 3.1.  Get lost trying to find the nondescript parking lot and the tiny nondescript door to the Ausländerbehörde. Walk in a circle about eight times until you see some other sorry souls holding a piece of paper. Feel silly signing your name on the sign-up sheet.

Step 3.2. Have a seat in the parking lot where you will spend the wee morning hours. Make small talk with the group of people in front of you. You’re one of the first, which fills you with ease. Thank whatever you believe in for the fact that it’s not raining. Preoccupy yourself with your expertly packed activities until your hands get too cold or your eyelids begin to feel heavy. Stand up, call a friend or your brother, talk for awhile and be amazed at how quickly the hour passes. Maybe this won’t be as bad as literally every other person you talked to said it would be.

Step 3.3. At 4 AM, go with all the women that are waiting in the parking lot on a journey to find coffee. Ask where everyone is from, smile, and revel in your absurd shared experience. Cheer loudly upon finding a Späti, and drink your cup of watery, terrible coffee. Unexpectedly make a new friend.

Step 3.4. Pace the parking lot with your new friend. Talk about politics, friend each other on Facebook, talk about how annoying German bureaucracy is. When your new friend says she has to pee, spot her as she ducks behind a car. Afterwards, give her hand sanitizer and congratulate her on her first outdoor pee.

Step 3.5. Pace some more until all of a sudden it is time to line up. Stand in a huddle by the door until someone takes charge of this group of grown adults. Form a line, and laugh uncontrollably as one of the people ahead of you turns around and says, “It’s lonely at the top.”

Step 3.6. Struggle your way through the German and explain to the security guard at the door that you are here for your student permit. March up the stairs, take a seat. Fight sleep by making conversation with people who have a passport from the same country as you or your new friend.

Stage 4. The (Possible Non-)Bestowal of Your Permit

Step 4.1. Wait for your number to be called, and be greeted by an overworked, sleepy Ausländerbehörde employee. Try not to get mad when he tells you that your bank documents should have been notarized but that you’ve got some time to fix it. Ask him repeatedly that your overnight wait was not in vain. Receive a temporary extension and make a new appointment to come back that is at a reasonable hour. Alternatively, receive your resident permit and march out, successful. Pay for your permit at a nondescript kiosk while a security guard stares at you the entire time. 

Step 4.2. Congratulations! No matter what piece of pretty, pink paper you received in that hellish office, you’ve escaped. You’ve made a new friend, you’ve heroically pulled an all-nighter, you’ve experienced servicewürste firsthand, and you’ve got something that makes it acceptable for you to live here — at least for now. Emerge into the cold, cloudy morning and fall asleep on both the bus and tram ride home. Eat the food you packed for yourself when you arrive and remember you are hungry. Get your first sleep in 40 hours, wake up, go to class, and accept that your sleep schedule will take weeks to repair.

A night at the Ausländerbehörde won’t be as scary as other students have told you if you follow this expert guide. Embrace the restlessness, the bad coffee, the absurdity, and, most importantly, keep your new document close.

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CommuniTEA Promotional Poster (Credit: Malak N.AlSayyad and Mario-Jose Sarmiento)

CommuniTEA took place last Wednesday night in the Factory. Across the dark courtyard you could see the buzzing dance room, lit by fairy lights, inviting you in. CommuniTEA was the second event in a series of three organized by Pankow Conversations. In an attempt to bridge differences of opinion, the events provide a space for the college to connect to its neighbors. Each event has a central theme. Can you guess this one’s?

The event’s slogan was not “What does community mean to you?” Or “How do you define community?” Instead it was simply: “Come celebrate the change of seasons with your neighbors.” The slogan embodies the event’s focus. It centered on its activities rather than discussion. Questions of community and neighborhood were integrated into the activities. The event’s format was fragmented and informal. There were three different workshop stations, and people were free to choose which one they preferred. Bowls of chips and chocolates on the tables, a vague smell of parsley in the air, and late 90’s pop hits playing in the background contributed to the ambience.

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A more manageable bubble (Credit: Pinterest)

Campus is a “liberal bubble”, right?

During many discussions on the current political climate, the word ‘bubble’ pops up, as if by magic. It attempts to explain why some recent political developments—Brexit, Trump’s election, AfD’s success, etc.—appear to have come out of the blue. Often, this observation is appropriate. “Birds of a feather flock together”: It’s natural for us to stick to the familiar. However, in the age of social media, this tendency has reached a whole new level. We increasingly find ourselves in online bubbles which, due to Facebook algorithms and our own self-selection, are drifting farther and farther apart.

On Tom Ashbrook’s NPR podcast OnPoint, guest Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host, observed: “We’re all spending a lot of time building ourselves into communities that look a lot like us, thanks to the Internet, and we are less and less focused on the physical person that lives next door to us.” He’s right—How many of us can say we really know our Niederschönhausen neighbors? No, smiling at the 250 bus driver and saying “Danke!” to the cashier at REWE do not count.

It’s easy to construct a community of like-minded people online. Stepping outside this safe haven can be scary. You never know what you will find. But intuitively we know there can never be progress without discussion. This is true for both society and our own development. Change requires engaging in real disagreement, where the different parties have deeply rooted, contradictory opinions. Social change cannot exclusively happen online; we must also burst our online bubbles.

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