Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Tag "Marga Hattingh"
on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

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View over the Danube river in Budapest (Credit: Tanya Sharma).

Sunday, 8:00 pm, On our Way to Budapest
The train is quiet save the steady rumble of any old-fashioned locomotive. The noise laps gently at my ears, rising and falling with the heave of pistons. Night has laid its thick blanket over the window, replacing cityscape and countryside with the eerily distorted reflection of compartment’s innards. Bursts of unsuccessfully stifled laughter from two compartments over, where the rest of the BCBers are seated, are met by our own smiles of sleepy excitement.
I look up from my scribbling to Alona (BA 2019). She is curled like a contented cat in the seat across my own. The words that have been running, screaming through both our minds for the past 4 hours or so have finally settled into a rumbling hum.
We exchange a grin. I see the same words that have been at the tips of our tongues for so many weeks now hanging on the edges of her smile: “We’re going to Budapest”, she says.

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Paul Fest performing an impromptu concert for students (Credit: Acacia Mays).

Along with a flurry of new smiles and voices to acquaint oneself with, a sprinkle of tentatively sunny days, and the usual buzz of post-vacation excitement, the start of the Spring Semester at BCB brings with it a unique opportunity for new and returning students to explore the ultimately unknowable city that unfolds beyond our campus borders. This opportunity, offered to BCBers at the beginning of every semester under the innocent and unassuming name “The Berlin Weekend”, features some of the the city’s ever-changing and multifarious attractions — with a BCB twist.

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“Convergence” by Jackson Pollock, 1952 (credit: WikiArt.)

Just an Expression


I wish I could draw:

Give form to my thoughts

Relinquish all the chaos of my imagination

onto a page

for another’s to make sense of


I wish I could tap that




The fount of liquid fireworks inside my head

Let drip their colours into

paintings or sketches

Order the obstinate mercury into expression

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Winter impression of Oberbaumbrücke in Berlin. (Credit: Jackson.)

Rumours of a fast-approaching and fickel Berlin winter are making their way around the BCB campus. These rumours are not unfounded. With the rotation of the earth and Science, days are growing shorter and colder; light is growing less and dimmer as the sun is shrouded behind unknowably dense, grey clouds. The happy symphony of autumn has fallen to a barely audible whisper. Only occasionally does one hear the murmur of dry leaves as they skitter across the grey pavement, or the rustling of yet unfallen points of colour as the ominous wind whistles past. If we want to be optimistic, we could say the greyness is making way for the possibility of the cleansing white of snowfall, and that the silence is in respect of the oncoming holiday cheer.

But what if we don’t want to be optimistic? What if, with the draining of life and light from the earth and the bleaching of its colours, one begins to feel more than a little blue? [Read on to find out what then…] If you’ve endured such a drastic seasonal change before, you likely know what I’m talking about. If you come from somewhere where seasons are less inspired variations of one another, as they are in countries closer to the equator, you’ve probably already guessed that people might be crankier than usual in the upcoming months. Of course, most of us will get by just fine, and we will all have days when we’re just not feeling so great. But what if you begin to feel not so great more than occasionally? What if you get… SAD?

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Alexandria Sisson (BA 2019), founder of the Slam Poetry Club. Credit: Bard College Berlin

Every Sunday evening at 8pm, when a hush has stolen itself over most of the BCB campus as students scramble to prepare for the week ahead, a motley crew of outspoken and observant personalities congregates in the W16 common room for an hour (or more) of poetry. If, on such a Sunday, you were to stand outside the walls between which the Slam Poetry Club takes place, you would hear more than the familiar scratch of pens against paper or the voices of tender and seasoned poets bravely sharing their naked words: you would hear unexpected laughter, shed and swallowed tears, hesitation and uncertainty, immediate acceptance, reciprocated kindness, and power reclaimed. If you were to listen extra closely, you might recognise amidst all these sounds that of the borders between people crumbling — and, if you were to want to walk in, you would be more than welcome to join.

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Paul La Farge talking about how to build a writing career. Credit: Gaia Bethel-Birch (AY 2016).

The first time I saw and heard speak a real, published author in flesh and blood was in August of this year as part of the Language and Thinking Program offered at BCB, when Clare Wigfall came to discuss one of her short stories. The next time was in September, when the Romanian author Norman Manea came to answer our questions on writing literature in extreme situations. Most recently, BCB was visited by Paul La Farge, author of four published novels to date and recipient of numerous accolades. Thanks to these visitations, I have become increasingly convinced that the successful writer is not a myth. La Farge came to address any questions his audience had on the topic of “building a writing career” (which to him seems “a strange conjunction of words”), and to share an excerpt from his new and yet unpublished novel, The Night Ocean.    

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The BCB Choir Ensemble performing at Novemberlicht. Credit: Marga Hattingh.

As the days grow increasingly shorter, colder, and bleaker in Berlin, it can be tempting to shut oneself inside and despair at the absence of light and life. But despair not! Christmas markets, song, and snowfall accompany the Wintertime; with the cold and darkness comes the opportunity to better appreciate the warmth of fragrant glühwein cupped between thawing fingers, the sparkle of fairy-lights, and the intimacy of shared body-heat.

My first experience with a Christmas market came the Saturday before the first snowfall here in our very own Niederschönhausen in the form of the fourth annual neighbourhood Novemberlicht festival. I, along with many other BCB students who had bundled themselves up for the occasion, traversed the fearsome distance separating our campus from the local Rewe to watch the school choir’s first performance of the semester.

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