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(Credit: Anna Zakelj)

Before the storm of tests and papers that is finals week at BCB, in the lull of spring break, a friend and I made our way to Prague. The trip was an adventure. We didn’t plan much, didn’t have much money to spend, and I forgot my passport at home, adding an air of excitement to the journey that was accentuated by my whiteness and US citizenship. The trip was filled with encounters with odd and wonderful people. In transit, in a subway station in Prague, loaded down with backpacks and sleeping bags, we were approached by an old man. He exited the train going the other direction and walked up to where we stood waiting for ours to come. “You traveling?” He asked in a loud, goofy voice. “Where are you from?”

“Slovakia and the US,” we responded respectively.“The US! We’re neighbors. I’m Canadian. I’ve been living here a long time, though. I came over when I was young, just a little older than you two. I used to travel a lot. One summer some friends and I took a long bike trip through a few different countries and one guy died.” My friend Veronika and I looked at each other, confused. Was this the punchline to some strange joke? Should we be laughing? “We drank beers for lunch before cycling,” he continues. “We weren’t thinking about the consequences, forgot about the alcohol. He swerved and got hit by a car. He was young. 30 something. But that’s another story. What’s past is past.” Before we could really respond, our train came and he left, flashing a peace sign with a toothy smile and an emphatic “Bring back the hippies!” The whole interaction lasted less than five minutes. Let’s use this as a learning experience. As we part ways and go adventuring during the summerbreak, let us always bring our passports, be willing to talk to interesting strangers, and remember to never drink and cycle!

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Smolny Campus. (Credit: Smolny Student Conference Organizing Committee)

Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Smolny student conference. Five days I frolicked about and ate lots and lots of pierogies. Not a single dull moment was lived. This article is a reflection on my experience of the city:

I boarded at midnight. The experience was positively surreal. I had run across Riga airport to catch my connection — a process significantly slowed down by the immigration police’s diligence in checking my passport and visa. When I ultimately reached the gate, steadying my heart rate, I saw my flight there was a tiny jetplane. The plane was crowded with a peculiar mix of people: businesswomen and football fans sat side by side. Its odor was a combination of garlic and sweaty old person. Everywhere I looked I saw  babies with the potential to spark total mayhem. The plane shook and puffed and finally got us there in one piece. All the while in front of me, a girl calmly edited her selfie for the duration of the 40 min flight, nudging the brightness back and forth to reach perfection — which of course took a while, because of the shaking and all. But there’s no questioning her determination. I had to remind myself I wasn’t on a bus to a rural town; I was flying to St.Petersburg, the country’s former capital. She greeted me with snow. Welcome to Russia!

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► Monday: Friedrich Kiesler – Architect, Artist Visionary

The architect, stage designer, artist and theoretician Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965) explored and challenged the boundaries between individual art genres and his theories of endless space and Correalism- which deals with the human perceptions and visions in relation to the cultural anthropology of architecture. This exhibition offers a multi-perspectival approach into his works in “space-time” architecture, sculpture and art.

  • When: 10:00 – 19:00
  • Where: Martin-Gropius-Bau – Niederkirchnerstr. 7, 10963
  • Admission: 7€
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► Monday: Black German Cinema: “Sankofa – Return and get it”

Jump right back into Berlin’s cultural scene by attending the film series In-between Performative Films, which focuses on artists trying to break away from patriarchal and national production contexts. This month’s movie premier follows artists and curators from Ghana. It raises various questions: Does the artist imitate art, or is it the art that reflects the artist? How can Ghanaian artists convey their history and heritage in art that is distanced from home? There will be a discussion with the director Maman Salissou Oumarou after the screening.

  • When: 20:00
  • Where: Naunynstr. 27, 10997
  • Admission: 3
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Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)

Wafa was arrested in 2011. The protests against the Assad regime had begun to heighten in frequency and intensity, with riots regularly breaking out in different Syrian cities. The Syrian authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on protesting in an effort to quell the rising dissent against the government, arresting many civilians. Amongst these were students who were dragged into prison for their activism, including Wafa Moustafa, now a BA1 student in the HAST program at BCB. “It was hard,” she says to me. “At this point, they didn’t arrest girls very often, so they had no idea how to deal with us appropriately.” After being beaten many times for disobedience, she decided that she would go on a hunger strike. But that, combined with serious asthma and an undiagnosed stomach condition, didn’t end well. “They summoned a doctor who force-fed me with syringes. Doctors here don’t help you, they’re all a part of the regime.”

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In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

A question on the exit polls during the US presidential election was which “presidential quality” mattered most. Interestingly enough, it was not experience, nor good judgment that people deemed the most necessary quality for a president: it was their ability to “bring needed change” (39%). That was also the only quality where Trump, lagging behind Hillary on all others, scored highest, at 82%. Among those who Clinton (in the biggest error of her campaign) described as a “basket of deplorables,” there seemed to be a lot of people who just really wanted change.

After the Dutch election, Europe let out a sigh of relief, with headlines exalting that the tide of populism had turned because far-right politician Geert Wilders hadn’t won. This shouldn’t have been big news, as the polls running up to the election had already indicated that Wilders, leader of the right-wing extremist Freedom Party (PVV), was not going to. Most narratives concluded that populism in the Netherlands was subsiding due to this modest gain of the PVV: an easy conclusion but a questionable causal relation. Equating the electoral result of rightist-extremist parties with the degree of populism in a country is not only faulty: it is dangerous. Still this happens on a regular basis and has been prominent in the reporting done on the Dutch election as well as the upcoming elections in Germany and France.

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Die Glühbirne: the lightbulb, literally the “glowpear”

Die Glühbirne: the lightbulb, literally the “glowpear”

After about four months of classes and 5 months in Germany,  I find myself in German A2, well aware that German — with its random articles and various cases, not to mention the seemingly impossible sound that lingers in the gap between ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ — is a difficult language to learn. But there is good to be found in the language learning process. German relies heavily on compound words, which anyone can invent and use whenever they so desire, while still remaining grammatically correct. This allows for amazing specificity and has resulted in many odd, whimsical sounding names for various objects and ideas.

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New No’s” Poster (Credit: Paul Chan and Badlands Unlimited)

New No’s” Poster (Credit: Paul Chan and Badlands Unlimited)

I left New York City for Berlin on the 24th of January. The days before my departure were saturated with a dissociative pain that stemmed from their proximity to the inauguration of President Trump, which took place on January 20th. Mostly I was aware of a void-like sadness. This void enveloped my singular self, everyone I loved, communities experiencing oppressions that I as a cis white woman will never be subject to, and communities that I belong to as a queer person and survivor of sexual violence. The effect was tangible in the city, between and across neighborhoods, a dull reverberation. The fact that this collective mourning was distributed unequally due to the diverse lived experiences and levels of social privilege of those affected complicated the act of articulation. I found myself and my peers falling into spells of isolation, or, conversely, dispersing articles, posts, and personal rants at a frantic pace via the constantly replenishing outlets of social media. Neither of these tactics left me with any feeling of agency or productivity: The nature of voids is that they swallow and calcify anything dynamic, leaving their subjects in a state of vertigo.

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