The Children of America are Missing out

The playgrounds here in Berlin are so much better than American playgrounds it is categorically unfair. They are all huge with massive wooden structures for kids to climb; they have really long and steep old school metal slides that look scary even to this 26-year-old; and I have yet to see one without a zip line about 5-10 feet (!) off the ground, which would scream lawsuit back in the states. Seriously, American kids don’t even know what they are missing!

Actually, the parks in general here in Berlin are really well done. They are all fairly big, though some are bigger than others and have a multitude of trails, both paved and dirt paths, meandering around trees, gardens and even small ponds. I went for a jog today around the park right near our apartment here in Stieglitz and every time I turned around a bend, the place just kept going. They are really well designed too, so it almost seems as if you aren’t even in a city once you walk a few feet in to a Berliner park. Also, most parks here have restaurants within the park, as in not accessible by car, another something you would never see in the US. The park restaurants seem to do pretty good business too, which probably says more about just how many people live in this city than anything else!

The biggest par in the city is the Tiergarten, which Adrian and I have already posted pictures of and explored briefly. That park is huge… not quite as big as central park, but it really has a lot to look at. I want to get a bicycle eventually here and ride around the Tiergarten, as I think that’s really the only way to make it around the whole thing without getting extremely tired of walking.

It’s the middle of fall here in Berlin, which means it’s turning really cold, but it’s also really beautiful outside. I am going to take advantage today by checking out the Schloss Charlottenburg, which has been described to me as “Berlin’s Versailles”. Should be a good way to spend a wednesday! I have class a six pm tonight though so it will be a brief visit I think.

Berlin Festival of Lights

The other night I got a chance to take a stroll and check out Berlin’s annual Festival of Lights, where some of the more famous buildings, including the Brandenburg Gate and the Berliner Dome are illuminated using massive projectors. Very cool way to take in some of the downtown sights!

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Sorry for the low quality of the pictures, but it at least gives you an idea of what it was like. If you’re curious about what the German phrase over Humboldt University means, it translates to: “what opportunities and risks are offered”


Maddie Visits Prague

Maddie just left this afternoon from an awesomely fun weekend here in Prague. It was sad to see her go, but so good to have her here. Maddie arrived early on Friday (while I was still in class) so she had to navigate from the airport to the Hotel Pivovar by herself.  Luckily she inherited a good sense of direction and made it here safe and sound.  I was able to meet her on my lunch break, let her into the hotel and allow her to get settled and relax before I had to run back to TEFL for my first teaching lesson!  The teaching lesson went pretty well (not perfect, but thank God the first one’s done!!!) and I wasn’t observed- so that helped ease the nerves a bit.

As soon as I finished up I rushed back to the hotel so we could get out and see some of Prague before the sun set!  Maddie and I headed first to Old Town Square, then up Wenseclas Square- just taking in all the sights.

After some sightseeing we were famished and decided we needed some “traditional” Czech food and beer.  It took a little while to find, but we eventually made it up to Pivovarský dům.  There we shared enjoyed some delicious goulash as well as the 8 beer sampler.  The sampler ranged from wheat beer to coffee beer to nettle beer to the beer of the month: Chili!  We both agreed that the coffee beer was pretty gross, but kind of enjoyed the banana flavor.

After dinner we headed back to the Prague 9 where we met up with all my wonderful TEFL peers at the Villa.  We had some drinks, hung out and then headed downtown to a bar/club.  It was a lot of fun to hang out with everyone, dance and relax after the long week.  Almost everyone went out and we didn’t end up getting home until after 5:00am!!!  It’s a big deal for me considering I typically like to be in bed by midnight and get a full 8+ hours if possible.  Made me feel young again:)

The next day we woke up a bit later than we had originally planned, but still managed to fit in a whole day of sightseeing and touristing.  We (of course) had to stop at Bohemia Bagel for lunch/breakfast.  From there we headed through Old Town Square, down to the Jewish Quarter, over to Charles University (my study abroad alma mater) and then to take some shots of the Charles Bridge.  The weather was FREEZING (33 degrees F and windy) so we had to stop and buy some pashminas. After the shopping break we headed across the bridge, over to the Lennon Wall and up the hill to Prague Castle. We took in the views, walked all around the castle and then headed back down the hill to find dinner.  We managed to find a cheap and delicious pizza place where we were able to warm up by enjoying a hot meal. That night we opted for a movie and ice cream over another exciting night out due to the cold and our 7-hour sightseeing extravaganza.  We (well old me) also needed to catch up on some sleep!

We started out Sunday the same way as Saturday- sleeping in a bit and then heading to Bohemia Bagel for breakfast/lunch. After stuffing our faces with bagel sandwiches and soup (it was another freezing cold day). We headed out to see the city!  We did some shopping, went to down to Vyšehrad, walked up to check out the dancing house and then trekked up the massive Petrin Hill.  It was a lot of walking, but a great way to see the city and appreciate its beauty…it’s also a good way to have hundreds of photo ops!  By the time we covered all that ground it was getting dark and we were starting to get hungry again.  I made Maddie walk with me over to my old study abroad dorm. It was cool, but so weird to be back at Pohorelec, waiting to take the 22.  It made me nostalgic for 2005 and my awesome semester in Prague, but I’m glad we went to check it out (doesn’t look too different).

We enjoyed a dinner that night at a place called Jama (formerly the Dog’s Bollocks) were we enjoyed nachos, chicken wings and chicken fingers…and of course beer!  We then headed back home to warm up and to spend some social time with the suitemates.  Maddie had to leave early this afternoon to catch her flight back to Brussels.  It was sad to say goodbye, but I’m so glad she came!  I’m also hoping to visit her in Belgium sometime before her program ends, plus she’ll be coming to see us in Berlin in December…so more quality time will be spent together soon.  So while I’m sad that she’s returned home I have another amazing thing to look forward to…Dave will be visiting next weekend!  I’m so lucky to have my two favorite people come to Prague two weekends in a row.

Oh Happy Day

First, I’d like to apologize to the general public for not contributing more to this blog… there is a good reason for that which I am about to explain.

First though, I need to explain something about myself. I have a severe internet addiction. I love surfing the net and do so constantly. There is so much information readily available. One can literally learn about anything instantly, for free from anywhere in the world. From an economics standpoint, the Consumer Surplus humans derive from the internet easily outweighs any other gains we have achieve in the last 30 years, though we dont have a good way of portraying that numerically yet.

Needless to say, when I tried to find an apartment here in Berlin, one of my necessities for the place was a working internet connection. Unfortunately, once we arrived here we found out right away that, to my abject horror, for some reason my MacBook could not connect to the internet here in the apartment a Beymestrasse 1. Adrian’s laptop had no problem, but my Mac could not connect.

For the first few weeks of living here I tolerated internet free life as best I could, but as soon as Adrian left, my problem went from bad to worse. She left behind her iPad, which gave me access to email, but alas, for the week she has been gone, in addition to moping around, alone with little to do here in the apartment, I have been experiencing major internet withdrawal.

Well, dear reader, worry no more. I am happy to report, I have fixed the problem and am now online!!! I am sure no one cares, but I was able manually configure the DNS servers, which for some reason were not automatically being populated correctly. Words cannot express how happy this makes me. My consumer surplus is once again through the roof and you can look forward to more boring blog posts from Berlin.


TEFL Prague- Week 1

The first of my four weeks here in Prague is coming to a close- and with a bang!  Maddie arrives from Belgium tomorrow and I have to teach my first class!  I’m obviously looking forward to Maddie’s visit much more than teaching, but now I’ll have two big things to celebrate tomorrow evening…

The first week of class has been intense and challenging, but also a lot of fun.  We’re in class from 10:00am-6:00pm on Mondays. Then the rest of the week we have morning sessions together, but breakout teaching opportunities two afternoons.  The other afternoons we have off to explore Prague, relax and work on our next lesson!  Even though we’re only 4 days in I’ve learned so much already.  We’ve had some basic Czech lessons, learned to teach writing, reading, grammar and vocabulary sessions. We’ve had two 15-minute teaching opportunities and learned tons and tons about lesson planning and preparation.  Tomorrow I’m teaching a grammar and listening session to a group of intermediate English learners.  I’m definitely a little nervous, but I’ve done a lot of work to prep- so hopefully they learn something!

Other than class and preparation I’ve been hanging out with my classmates and floormates- cooking dinner, talking and learning more about the differences between Americans and British.  For instance, did you know the word “bung” means to fling or throw aggressively?  And apparently sweatpants are called “joggers”? So many fun and interesting nuances between the cultures.

Tomorrow after everyone complete their first round of teaching we’re going to have a big get-together at the Villa to celebrate the successful completion of our first week. I’m looking forward to relaxing, getting out of our rooms and getting to show Maddie around Prague! Can’t wait!!

Getting Reacquainted with Prague

I made it to Prague! I took the train from Berlin to Prague yesterday afternoon. It was about a 5 hour ride through some very scenic country. I got a little teary eyed saying goodbye to Dave at the train station.  Even though he’s going to come visit me in 2 weeks this will be the longest we’ve ever been apart during our 5-year relationship:(  Luckily (and I guess unluckily) I’m going to be in class from 10:00am-6:00pm everyday and then working on homework and curriculum preparation in the evenings- so I probably won’t have much time to miss him!

Today the group met in the early afternoon to take an “orientation tour” of Prague and learn the basics. A lot of it was a refresher for me, but was really helpful because though I’m usually pretty good with directions Prague is such an easy city to “get lost” in! There are 22 people in the TEFL certification program and most everyone is here already (classes start tomorrow at 9:45am). I initially thought we’d all be housed together, but we’re spread about a bit. There are 7 of us here at Hotel Pivovar (which is right next to where we’ll be having class).  There is another place about a 10 minute walk away that houses about 10 others and then a couple random apartments also about 10-15 minute walks away.  Apparently all the places are pretty similar, but comfortable.  I have my own room in a two room suite (my suitemate is a super nice girl from San Diego named Tamara). We also share a bathroom and a kitchen.  There are 3 other apartments with the same layout on our floor.

It has been amazing to be able to see Prague again. We went out to Old Town Square on Saturday night and things looked pretty much the way I remember them- some additional flowers and benches around the main statue, but that was about it.  We went to an Irish pub that was playing the rugby world cup and had a live band (playing mostly American songs- I heard Shipping up to Boston!).  The place was filled with smoke though (well every place was filled with smoke) so all of my clothes and my hair reek.  Seriously everything in my wardrobe is going to smell of smoke by the end of these 4 weeks!  The other big change is that beer (and everything) is way more expensive now that it was in 2005.  And with the Koruna stronger it makes it even more expensive.  I guess we were in a touristy-area, so that might play a role in the price of things. But the cheapest beer we found last was Staropramen and it was 75 Korunas!!!  This evening at dinner we found beer for 40 Korunas, but still a big jump from what I remember. When I was last in Prague Pilsner Urquell was the expensive beer and it was b/ 25-30 Korunas; Staropramen was only 20-23 Korunas. I’m going to have to adjust my expectations when it comes to the price of things here…

Starting tomorrow I don’t think I’ll be doing too much touristing during the week due to course work, but am hoping to get a lot in every weekend.  I already had my first big plate of goulash (so delicious!) and need to make sure to sample all my other Czech favorites on the weekends!  For any of my old Praha friends reading this- make sure to send me reminders of the best restaurants and places to go in the city:)

It’s off to bed now- I need to be well rested for class in the morning- but good night and na shledanou! 

On my own

Well, Adrian has left for Prague for a month and I am officially alone here at the apartment. Adrian is only going to be gone for 1 month, but I will obviously miss her a lot.  From speaking to her on the phone and knowing how much she loves Prague, I know she’ll have a great time there. Plus I get to go visit her in just a couple of weeks so I have that to look forward to!

Meanwhile my plan is to use my time here in Berlin to:1. Improve my German as much as possible and 2. Develop good study habits for the HWR program. Now anyone who knows me knows that the phrase “good study habits” and me do not belong in the same sentence. I am a notorious procrastinator. But am determined to change that this time around by drilling myself into doing at least an hour of work for school regardless of whether I have class the next day of not. I only have class two days a week (Tuesday’s and Thursdays), so I am trying to avoid having to do all my preparation on Wednesday and Monday nights. Well see how it ends up.

Also with Adrian not around, I have been able to do a little more unplanned exploration of the city. Adrian and I obviously get along very well, but I would say our one major difference is that she likes to plan ahead very carefully and with a lot of detail. I like a little bit of spontaneity once in a while, so after I dropped Adrian off at the train station yesterday, I spent the rest of the afternoon more or less wandering around the city.

My tuition at HWR includes unlimited travel on the S (elevated) and U (underground) trains which together are the subway system for the greater Berlin area. As I said in a previous post, I love the public transportation system here, so after dropping off Adrian, I spent awhile cruising around on the S bahn taking in some sights and listening to diffent street performers wander on to the train playing accordions, guitars and other instruments- panhandling for Euros.

I got off at the Tiergarten stop and immediately noticed a huge outdoor market that was going on so I walked through that for a while. It was without a doubt the largest and strangest outdoor market I have ever been to. Conservatively I would guess there were 200 different booths selling everything from antiques to radishes. I loved checking out the old German memorabilia, but I couldn’t find any Nazi related objects. I wonder if they’re illegal or something? Maybe they’re just considered bad taste.  All in all a very interesting and entertaining afternoon.

Prepping for Prague

It’s a cold, rainy Fall day here in Berlin.  I’m super comfy lounging in my sweats, wrapped up in my favorite UPS blanket.  It’s about 3:00pm and I have to admit that I haven’t left the apartment all day!  As I sit on the couch reading and writing email, posting new Facebook photos and surfing the net I decided that it’s probably a good time to start brushing up on my English grammar. For those of you who don’t know, I leave for a 4 week TEFL certification program in Prague this upcoming weekend.  I’m excited to get started, learn more about teaching and begin to search for jobs in Berlin! I’m also looking forward to meeting some fun new people!  One thing I’m not excited for however, is the glaring fact that my English grammar capabilities are gravely lacking.  Seriously, I have not even attempted to improve my grammatical abilities since Mr. Bernstein’s 9th grade honors English class (and let me say that after that class, I moved out of the honors track and back down to “regular people” English).  I’ve been doing a bit of reading online, but if anyone has advice on a useful (and possibly fun) way to improve my grammar in mere days I’m all ears.

Other than grammar preparation, I’ve been going over what I need to pack and what I’ll want to make sure to do while in Prague.  I’m sure the city has changed since I studied abroad back in 2005, but there are definitely some spots I don’t want to miss! Additionally, Maddie will be visiting me while I’m there.  I’m so excited to show her “my city”!!!  We’ll definitely be hitting up the big tourist spots- Prague Castle, Old Town Square, Pivovarský dům, the Charles Bridge etc…but again for those of you who’ve been to Prague more recently than myself, I welcome any and all suggestions!

Other than minimal Prague preparations, we’ve been taking it pretty easy. Yesterday Dave and I decided to check out a Berlin museum and headed over to the Altes Museum. We had a great time looking at the vast collection of ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan art.  My favorite piece was a sarcophagus featuring the story of Jason and Medea from Euripide’s play Medea. Essentially, Jason and Medea are married, but he leaves her for the daughter of the king. She doesn’t take the news well and while pretending to give her blessing plots her revenge.  Basically, Medea poisons the new wife, the king and then kills her and Jason’s children before offing herself.  (Don’t mess with that woman!)  A little morbid, but the carvings on the sarcophagus were gorgeous.  See the pic below!

After our museum outing we grabbed some delicious German food (lots of meat and potatoes) at a restaurant close by.  A couple of half litre beers were also on the menu:) And that brings us to today…

We hope you’re enjoying our blog so far and would love to hear from you! Especially about when you’re planning your trip to visit us!!!

Back to School

I had my first classes this week since graduating from UPS more than 4 years ago. It was certainly weird to be back in the classroom, taking notes and looking over a syllabus again, but I am really excited about the opportunity this time around. There’s nothing like having to go to work to make you excited for school!

I am enrolled at the Berlin School of Economics and Law in the Master of Science in Finance program. The program lasts three semesters with an optional internship for a fourth semester. The final semester contains one course: writing a thesis. The first semester, which I just started this week consists of four courses: Econometrics, Financial Economics, Corporate Finance, and Corporate Financial Theory. Each class has one four hour lecture session each week until late January of next year when we will have exams, which constitute 100% of the grade.

As you might expect from a Masters program, the Professors take a very “hands off” approach to teaching. They leave it up to us students to do most of the work, providing us with only their lectures, reading lists and information on exams. Very little hands-on teaching is involved, although all the professors made sure to provide their contact information and office hours and made a point of saying do not hesitate to approach them if you are unsure of the material. Two of the professors also scheduled social events for us to meet up and have a beer after class next week… now that’s an assignment I can handle!

I can already tell my favorite class will be Financial Economics. Much of our reading list for that class consists of articles that are very relevant to the current Euro crisis, which is ubiquitous over here on the news. The hardest class will be Econometrics; our professor has a PHD in theoretic physics so it’s safe to say that course will be fairly math intensive.

One thing that I like about this program is all my fellow students (there are 36 of us) take all the same classes together. That has made it fairly easy to get to know people. I am the only American in the program but it has been fun to get to know some of the other students from around the world.  So far, I have made friends from Italy, France, Lithuania, Russia, Bulgaria, China, Canada, Uzbekistan and of course Germany. Everyone is really nice and they seem to have similar thoughts and opinions as me about the professors and the program in general so that is very comforting. It is nice to feel like part of a group, especially when given a daunting task, which on its outset, this Master Program certainly seems to be.