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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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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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Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

Berlin, Again (Credit: Ronni Shalev)

[hupso_hide]

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Berliner Dom

Berlin Cathedral sits like a crown atop the Museum Island, resplendent in the dying light of day (photo by the author)

I arrived in Berlin from South Africa on the 8th of August – a day that was very memorably the kind of hot that had sweat droplets budding from one’s pores seemingly instantly after they were wiped away – in the same fashion I believe most Euro virgins do: unbathed, unslept, unattractive, and excited. Ignoring the prodigious weight of my suitcases, crammed with what then seemed like the most ludicrously inappropriate (warm and fluffy) apparel, I stumbled enthusiastically through Tegel Airport to meet the Bard College Berlin staff member that would guide me to my new home for the next four years.

Despite the lack of sleep, I felt electrified. I had resolved to make a conscious effort to remember my first impressions of the city. From inside the airport, already I attempted to piece together a profile of the Berliner population. There were all sorts there: Young and old, families and businessmen, the practically dressed and the stylish. What struck me most was the variety of skin tones: creams gave way to toffees, toffees to chocolates, chocolates to coffee. All were on the move. Their footsteps resounded in the low ceilinged hall. It was a buffet for the senses. I knew that airport goers would not necessarily be representative of city goers, but I nonetheless took pleasure in observing the ebb and flow of the multihued people. There aren’t many places where one can find such diversity.

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The opening of the 8th Round Table on Higher Education (from left to right: Prof. Dr. Thomas Rommel, Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Harpham, Prof. Dr. Catherine Toal and Prof. em. Micha Brumlik)

The opening of the 8th Round Table on Higher Education (from left to right: Prof. Dr. Thomas Rommel, Prof. Dr. Geoffrey Harpham, Prof. Dr. Catherine Toal and Prof. em. Micha Brumlik)

The Round Table on Higher Education was inaugurated in 2010 by representatives of German and U.S. educational institutions in order to define and advance the role of liberal arts in the higher educational practices of Europe. Both countries have a unique approach to higher education, whereby American universities cultivate exposure to an assortment of disciplines such as the sciences and humanities, and German universities foster research-oriented study along with teaching. The round table serves to acknowledge these differences whilst tackling an issue that confronts these two systems, that is: how should a university envision its education in lieu of the demands its graduates face?

The 8th Round Table was hosted by Bard College Berlin in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy on the 30th of January. Thomas Rommel, Rector and Provost of Bard College Berlin, commenced the event by quoting the German writer and Salon hostess Rahel Varnhagen, who noted that where disposition of talents divide us, we are united by friendship, understanding, tolerance and true education that go beyond borders. This was fitting for the transcontinental affair of the round table, where both representatives attempted to diagnose the issues they face of contemporary times, in particular the challenges that the labour market puts forth to the universities.

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An Aquatic Warbler perches on a reed (photo by Paul Gale)

An Aquatic Warbler perches on a reed (photo by Paul Gale)

While its name sounds like a creature Luna Lovegood might have made up, this small bird is in fact real, and in need of our help. To date, the Aquatic Warbler is the rarest migratory songbird in Europe and may be the first species to become extinct since the 1900s in Germany. Throughout Europe, the Aquatic Warbler occupies only forty sites in six countries and only four of those sites contain eighty percent of the entire population, with only 10-14,000 males in the entire world.[1] With breeding territory in Germany and Poland, the Aquatic Warbler, a habitat dependent species, has disappeared mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. Being “habitat dependent” means that the species is a specialist and can only survive in particular conditions, unlike a generalist species which can thrive in many different environments. Because of this particularity, the change in environments for the Aquatic Warblers has made them human dependent as well as classified as endangered. Having previously thrived in Germany/”Pomerania” (the border between Germany and Poland), the Aquatic Warbler male population dropped to 55 by 2011. The “Aquatic Warbler LIFE Project”, a project dedicated to “conserving Aquatic Warblers in Poland and Germany” has begun to inform people about the importance of conserving the species and to implement the necessary changes to save the species.[2]

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Berlin has begun transforming itself into a much more environmentally friendly city. (© berlingoesgreen.de)

Berlin has begun transforming itself into a much more environmentally friendly city.
(© berlingoesgreen.de)

There are many ways to study the world around you: through science, mathematics, literature, anthropology, philosophy etc. Environmental Science is one of those ways–a way to study the earth’s past, its present, its future, and our relation to it. When I originally thought of Environmental Science, I imagined a lot of graphs and statistics depicting levels of CO2 in the air, but while that is a part of it, there is so much more to learn. I could never have been passionate about graphs or statistics, but when I began to study Environmental Science in my senior year of high school, I learned about how I personally could have an impact on the world and this is what interested me most. The graphs of methane bubbles in the earth didn’t motivate me to become more environmentally friendly as much as learning how to identify birds did. Learning Environmental Science is about finding what connects you to the world around you and why you should protect it. After all of the information and class and lectures and vocabulary, something that has stuck with me most from my studies was the case of Germany.

This past decade, Germany has produced the most ambitious environmental plan the world has ever seen.

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Schaubuhne Hamlet in Rain

Photo by: Arno Declair

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and yet most difficult tragedies to perform. The reason for this difficulty is the complexity of Hamlet’s character. Often the actors choose one or more idiosyncrasies of character and focus on this, while ignoring the humor and cunning of Hamlet. I once watched a Hamlet who constantly desired to kill his uncle and expressed it through an exaggerated form of anger. Although it is true that Hamlet’s anger towards his uncle Claudius is a key element in the play, an overbearing focus on this can overshadow some other important aspects. Fortunately, German actor Lars Eidinger’s Hamlet had none of these problems in the play that was beautifully performed at the Schaubühne in Berlin on 23rd March (directed by Thomas Ostermeier). In what follows, I will focus on how educational this performance was in showing Hamlet’s character as perhaps Shakespeare would have wanted it to be.

The performance began with the funeral of Hamlet’s father, with all actors on stage attending the event in a comical manner. As they moved around eccentrically on stage, the backdrop showed close-ups of the actors’ facial expressions through a camera which Hamlet was holding. Simultaneously, we heard Hamlet echoing ‘To be or not to be’: ‘Sein oder Nichtsein’. The action then moved onto Gertrude’s marriage and then gradually it focused on Hamlet’s troubled disposition. We see Hamlet as a young man who is suffering from the loss of his father, and grieving over his mother’s marriage with his uncle which has taken place too quickly after his father’s death. Hamlet’s response to the whole situation remains aggressive, yet also very tactful. Hamlet suffers from hallucinatory moments in which he tries to rationalize his grief, yet amidst all this he remains aware of the fact that he has to take revenge for his father’s murder.

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