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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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The Wheel (Credit: Anna Zakelj)

When I was little, I didn’t like biking. I had a long string of second hand bikes, none of which ever seemed to work quite right — a complaint that had some merit but also one I used as an excuse to explain my otherwise irrational dislike of the activity. When I left home for boarding school at age 13, I took my bike with me and rode it exactly once a year. I soon stopped owning bikes and didn’t ride one for four or five years. After highschool, I took a gap year living and working in the outskirts of Portland, OR, where the buses run only twice an hour but the city’s  cycling culture persists. It took my 9am job, the infrequent public transportation, and an old man named Lou to get me on a bike again.  Lou gave me his old bike, helped me replace the numerous punctured tires, and switched out the yarn-secured milk crate on the back with real saddle baskets. I soon began biking almost everywhere I went. The change came from the necessity of getting to work on time, but biking quickly became integral to my happiness as well, allowing me to both mentally and physically distance myself from the stress of work. The movement had become a stabilizing habit, and, despite the physical exertion involved, it was easier, somehow, than sitting on a bus.

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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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Two girls nap on a sleeper train in Railway Sleepers Credit: World Film Festival of Bangkok

Two girls nap on a sleeper train in Railway Sleepers. (Credit: World Film Festival of Bangkok)

I only went to see two films at the Berlinale International film festival, and I only stayed awake for one and a half of them. Despite the negative review my nap seems to suggest, the effort with which I attempted to keep my eyes open tells a different story. Both films, Centaur and Railway Sleepers, were wonderful — beautifully shot with subtle but imaginative narratives. The festival lived up to my expectations twofold, and my expectations were far from low.

Founded in West Berlin in 1951, the Berlinale was originally conceived by an American film officer of the US Army as a propaganda tool during the Cold War.  It was meant to be a showcase of the so-called “free world.” Hitchcock’s Rebecca was the very first film to be shown, and, for the first years, the festival was dominated by American and British works. It wasn’t until 1955 that a German film won the top prize. Originally, East Berliners were also able to see films for lower prices at specific screenings. These screenings ended in 1961, but the propaganda continued as the wall went up, with 500 movie posters hung to be visible to East Berliners. The festival grew from there, eventually shedding the US influence. Now it is one of the most highly attended and well-reputed international film festivals in the world, as well as one of the most influential. After two films watched and 10 euros spent, I understand why.

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