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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

The participants of the 2nd LESC in Freiburg (Credits: Alexandra Sachariew, University College Freiburg)

Hello all you BCBers,

In case someone has been wondering about my absence from BCB in the past semester, let me reassure you of my return in Fall 2017: I am currently not in Berlin but studying abroad at AUC in Amsterdam. The first question one might ask is probably: Why would I study abroad in Amsterdam? Isn’t it just like Berlin, only smaller and with canals and actual bike lanes? I asked myself the same things. But if that’s all you know about Amsterdam, you should just come here and fall in love with this beautiful city yourself. Very few people are able to escape its magic spell.

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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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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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The door is closed, but are you sure no one is watching?

The door is closed, but are you sure no one is watching?

I live off campus with some friends in a flat not far from the Berliner Zoo. Because of some technical difficulties we do not have access to the Internet: a situation that makes life in the modern world extremely complicated. I cannot do any research for my classes at home; I cannot check my mails and whenever there is an essay deadline I have to ring my neighbors and ask them for permission to use their computer for a couple of minutes. I never thought that the need to submit an essay could turn out to be such a nice basis for social interaction.

One day I was in the college’s library, surfing the Internet for a dentist via Google. Google was so nice to direct my research from “dentists” to “dentists in Pankow, Berlin.” “Thank you Google for making my life so much easier,” I thought. But then a message popped up saying something like: To make your research easier, please confirm that Google can have continuous access to your location. Information given to improve efficiency sounded like a good deal. Unfortunately at that point I had already started my research on mass surveillance and was increasingly becoming really upset about the NSA watching me. I simply ignored Google’s request for my exact location and decided to never search for a dentist on Google again.

Over a year ago, the young American IT specialist Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents of the National Security Agency to reporters that were subsequently published in global newspapers. These documents were an important piece of evidence for the US government’s massive collection of digital information like phone-calls, e-mails, and Internet searches without the explicit permission of those involved. The NSA denied these reproaches at first, but after Snowden’s disclosures the world got to know the truth and intelligence services all over the world had to take a stand.

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The Silent Climate March in Berlin, 2014 (Photo by Karl Jurka / Silent Climate Parade e.V.)

The Silent Climate March in Berlin, 2014 (Photo by Karl Jurka / Silent Climate Parade e.V.)

Yes, this is another article about climate change. Yes, I am only an 18-year-old girl from Germany that has never experienced the consequences of climate change. I am not an expert on this topic. Yes, I consume and travel, so I am part of the problem myself. So, you might ask, why am I the right person to tell you to get up and save our planet? I will then ask you: why do I feel the necessity to justify myself for demanding a change when it comes to our planet?

To me, climate change has always been connected to fighting. I imagine the disturbing Greenpeace pictures of birds fighting against the plastic rubbish they find themselves caught in, or pictures of small children struggling to survive after climate catastrophes. This article is not supposed to be a reminder of all these images that we are confronted with every day. My father works in the area of regenerative energy, so from early childhood on he taught me the importance of our environment, and that its fragility is always a good reason to fight.

In a recent newspaper, there was a very short and well hidden article about 2014 being the hottest year in the history of climate recording. The article said that the average temperature on Earth, which is around 15° C in September, rose to 15,7° C this year. We cannot deny that the climate is changing, but a rise of 0,7° C is no alarming number. As long as there is snow in winter and the sun shines brightly in summer, we should not be worried. Climate change is still far away. Right? -Wrong.

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Pespektive. Photo by the author

Photo by the author

I have always dreamt of having a blog and writing about my experiences regularly, so I was very happy to be able to write for the Bard College Berlin Student Blog. But soon I realized that blogging is not as easy as I thought: there is a variety of people who want not only to be entertained, but also to read about something they have not heard of before. Additionally, my predecessors set high standards. First I was overwhelmed and could not think of a topic to write about regularly. I spent a lot of time walking through the streets of Pankow after my classes were over, waiting to be inspired with the perfect idea, but to no avail.

After one of these walks, I went as usual to our lovely cafeteria to have dinner. The food was, as always, delicious. Instead of drinking coffee (what every college student seems to do at nearly every hour of the day, I included), I decided to drink the “Women’s Balance YogiTea.” Normally just looking at the packaging disturbs my balance. The tea bags are wrapped in pink paper, which I consider very sexist. And also, why should only women drink this tea to be in balance? Amazingly I really felt more balanced after drinking it. Moreover, a little note written on the tea bag gave me a nice surprise. Since these notes are written in German, not all students of Bard College Berlin can appreciate them. My little note that day told me: “To be happy, we have to change our perspective.”

Flavia in Potsdamer Platz

Flavia in Potsdamer Platz

This is why I decided to start a column with the title: “Say Yes to Berlin!”. I want to change my perspective by doing things that I normally would not do. It is my aim to say “yes” to every challenge that is suggested to me by the readers. The only rule is: it has to be connected to studying at Bard College Berlin or to the beautiful city of Berlin. Every two weeks I will post an article. For suggestions, questions or new challenges, I am reachable via e-mail: f.tienes@berlin.bard.edu. Thanks for your help and I look forward to accepting some challenges!