Good Bye Berlin

It seems like just Yesterday that we arrived in Berlin, confused, excited, a little scared but most of all ready for a new adventure. In reality it’s been two full years since we touched down at Tegel airport and we have loved every minute of it. There are too many things to mention that we will miss about this great city, but in our last few weeks in the city we tried to hit a few of them. Before we left for our eastern Europe trip, I had finished my thesis and handed it in and Adrian had completed her time at Phorms, so we had a few weeks of free time before heading back to the USA to say goodbye to Berlin properly.

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Dave turning in his thesis!

First, we made an effort to try and hit a few of the tourist attractions in Berlin that we just hadn’t gotten around to. First among them we a trip underground to one of Berlin’s old World War II bunkers. Berlin was very heavily bombed during the second World War necessitating the building of numerous underground bunkers for the citizens to hide in during air raids. Most of these bunkers are no longer accessible, but one near Gesundbrunnen in the northern part of the city is fairly well preserved and there are daily guided tours that take you around the bunker. Some of the highlights were the fluorescent paint that was used to light the rooms in the absence of electric lights and some of the stories about the dangers faced by the average Berliners during the war including the cramming of 100s of people in rooms designed for 20 and using candles at different heights to gauge the amount of breathable air in the facility.

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On the recommendation of Adrian’s cousin Jamie, we decided to check out the Berlin Film museum (free on Thursdays). The museum had some very interesting architecture including one room with mirrors on the ceiling and floor creating a very interesting perspective.

The exhibits were also very interesting as the detailed the history of German film making over the past century. It is a bit surprising to learn how much innovation in Cinema there was in Germany especially during the early 20th century (The film Metropolis is, even today, a remarkable example). Of course, World War II and the Nazi regime put an end to all that; it’s certainly sad to think about how much great art the world has been deprived of thanks to wars and totalitarian governments.

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Another sight we wanted to be sure to see was the Panorama Point nearby at Potsdammer Platz. We took the self proclaimed ‘fastest elevator in Europe’ to the 25th floor and were not disappointed by the 360 degree views we found at the top. We were also pleasantly surprised to see an marriage proposal on the building across the street, happily reminding us of our own upcoming wedding this fall. We hope she said “Yes”!!!

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We also took a trip to Hohenschönhausen, the old East German secret police prison in East Berlin. The Prison is now a museum dedicated to remembering the persecution of the East German people under the DDR government. The East German secret police or Stasi used surveillance and interrogation to prevent the population from trying to escape East Berlin and also to silence critics of the regime. The museum included a tour of some the interrogation rooms and cells and some stories of the different inmates who spent time there. The tour was pretty dark, but learned a lot! Shortly after visiting we watched the film ‘The Lives of Others’ about a Stasi spy which included several scenes in Hohenschönhausen. The film was excellent and really brought to life some of the history we had just learned about at the museum.

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Of course the most important thing we wanted to do was to spend sometime with our friends and what better way to do that then with outdoor barbecues. One of our favorite activities in Berlin was taking advantage of some of the many parks around the city, starting up the grill and enjoying some food and drink with friends. We took advantage of some of our free time by making it out to Plotzensee for a bittersweet ‘farewell’ party with some of our best friends. We were also able to attend a BBQ in Golitzerpark with some of Adrian’s friends from work, a night out clubbing at the Kulturbrauerei, a visit to Bad Saarow with Jon and Paul and lots of time reminiscing over the past two years at our favorite neighborhood cafes and bars. We filled up on food at our beloved Kollwitzplatz Markt and said a fond farewell to Prenzlauer Berg with a trip to Mauerpark and one last Sunday brunch. Adrian was also able to visit the Barbie Dream-house with Saskia and had a great time checking out one of her favorite childhood toy’s homes:) It was a busy last couple of weeks!

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IMG_3662 IMG_3676 IMG_3681Our last Friday in Berlin Dave had to defend his thesis. He was a little nervous (who wouldn’t be?), but he totally kicked ass!! Getting a perfect score on his defense and a 1.3 (1.0 is the top grade in the German system) on his master thesis!! I was so proud of him after all his hard work over the course of the semester and we popped a little bubbly in Kollwitzplatz to celebrate.

IMG_3805 We spent our last weekend in Berlin fervently packing, trying to shove two years of our lives into three suitcases and 4 boxes. We were able to get almost everything done by Monday night so that we could spend our official last day, Tuesday, savoring our city. We took the 100 bus from Alexanderplatz to the Brandenburg Gate. Then we walked through Tiergarten, visiting the Rose Garden and the site of our 2012 engagement. We laid out blankets and spent a few hours reading and enjoying our absolute favorite place in Berlin. We then hopped back on the 100 to Zoogarten for our final trip to our favorite biergarten, Schleusenkrug. We shared a flammkuchen, a pretzel, a piece of Apfelkuchen and of course a slew of beers and spent a few hours reminiscing on our time in Berlin. Schleusenkrug was the very first place we visited when we arrived in Berlin and we thought it only fitting that it should be our last. It was the place we came to celebrate our engagement, my first job in the city and Dave completing his thesis. It’s a really special place to us and we were sad to bid it adieu.

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IMG_3914 IMG_3923Post Schleusenkrug we went home to enjoy our final Berlin sunset (with some späti beers) at the Wasserturm. Then we finished packing up, had a last beer with Matteo and hit the hay. Wednesday morning we got up early, left our keys with the downstairs neighbor and hauled our three 50 pound suitcases and 4 incredibly heavy carry-on’s to Schonefeld airport. 20 hours later we arrive at the Chebuske home in Maine.

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It was incredibly hard to leave Berlin and we miss it everyday, but we’ve been adjusting well to life back in the States and we have a big day coming up in just three weeks;) We couldn’t be more thankful for the two amazing years we spent in Berlin and we hope it won’t be too long before we return. We met so many amazing people, were blessed to visit so many amazing places and fell in love with the most amazing city we’ve ever been able to call home.

Berlin, du bist Wunderbar! Bis bald!

Summer Updates

Time is flying by! So much has been happening the past month I figure the best way to tackle our updates is to do a (not so) quick run through…

The end of June brought lots of opportunities to hang out with friends and enjoy the lakes and parks around Berlin- particularly Plotzensee and Krumme Lanke. We had a bbq out at Plotzensee for Thomas’ birthday in June and have returned a few times since for a dip.

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IMG_1637At the end of June my wonderful co-workers and friends threw a Hen Party (Bachelorette in American speak) for myself and my fellow engaged friend, Sandra. We met up at a delicious Asian tapas restaurant for dinner and followed that up with an evening of drinks at CCCP’s and then dancing. They even put together a little book of advice and tidbits for married life! Everything was so thoughtfully planned and really made us brides-to-be feel special! Thanks ladies (and Jon!).

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June also brought about the festivities of Pride week and the big Christopher Street Parade. On the big parade day we spent the early afternoon out in Tiergarten watching the big parade and then in the late afternoon headed down to the smaller, more politically charged parade in Kreuzberg. We had so much fun celebrating with friends both gay and straight and enjoying the colorful events of the week. 

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July 1st signified the final two week countdown to the end of work as well as the arrival of my lovely cousin Jamie! Jamie stayed with us for two weeks and we had so much fun catching up, exploring Berlin and of course eating! She also rounded out her trip by speaking at a conference here in Berlin. Apparently it went very well- so that’s great news for her! Highlights of Jamie’s trip included swimming and sunbathing at the lake, her cooking up a massive Italian feast for us and some friends, clubbing in an abandoned swimming pool facility and sampling delicious beers all across the city. She was a great guest and we miss her already, but we’ll see her in just over two months when wedding festivities get going:)

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While Jamie was here we also hosted a big 4th of July BBQ to introduce all our international friends to the amazingness that is July 4th in America! We hauled a rolly suitcase full of beer, our grill and burger fixings to Friedrichshain Volkspark to get our America on. About 25-30 friends showed up and we had a great time introducing them to country tunes, drinking games and even a patriotic rendition of the star spangled banner- it was a very festive event.


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Another big update is that my work at Phorms finished up last Friday. It was a challenging, but rewarding year in terms of work. I learned a lot and will miss some of my kids and colleagues greatly. I gained an interesting perspective working in the classroom rather than in administration. And working in an international setting also taught me a lot. I’m not sure that teaching is where my future lies, but I love being part of a school community and am positive that education, in some form, is where I’ll end up career-wise.

We had a really fun end-of-year party for all of the Kita staff aboard a 3-hour boat cruise. The cruise took us around Tegelsee and we were able to bring our own wine and snacks aboard. It was a beautiful evening and a great way to remember the year.

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All in all, Berlin in Summer is just an amazing place to be and we’ve been taking advantage of all that it has to offer. We finally fit our May date at the zoo in and had a great time wandering around one of the world’s top zoos. Almost all of the animals were out enjoying the sunshine which was great for us.  Favorites included the elephants (always my favorites!), the wolf puppies chowing on a recently deceased chicken, the immense amount of monkeys and apes, the swimming hippos and the bears (both brown and polar). Plus we got to feed baby goats at only 10 cents a pop!

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We’ve also been able to hit up some new bar and restaurants, catch up with friends, explore more of this amazing city and even get in some beach volleyball. Unfortunately last night I had to say good bye to one of my absolute favorite people and Berlin bestie, Irene. She is moving back to Australia to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor (such a smartie!). Hopefully we’ll get out there to visit her soon or she’ll hop across the Pacific. It’s the first of many sad goodbyes to come. Dave’s been spending much of his time working hard on his thesis, but is nearing the finish line. We have 6 more weeks in Europe before we head back to the States and we’re planning to make the most of the time we have left. We are embarking on a “final” European adventure at the end of July/beginning of August and are excited about exploring a few more countries out east. We’ll be flying into Croatia and then making our way around Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia before renting a car in southern Germany and making our way back north to Berlin. It should be an exciting trip and we can’t wait!  It’s been a busy, but fun start to Summer!

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Until next time…Tschussi!!

Tis the Season

We LOVE Christmas. The music, the food, the decorations, the feeling of hope and happiness that the season brings- it’s one of the best times of the year. And no where does Christmas quite like Germany. The Christmas Markets that pop up all over the city come the end of November are one of our favorite things about living in this country. We made it to quite a few of the markets this year including Alexanderplatz, Potsdammerplatz, the Kulturbrauerei and the one down in Potsdam with it’s special Polish theme. Beautiful booths with some unique goods as well as some yummy Polish cuisine! When we were down there we also took a stroll around the grounds of Schloss Sanssouci to work off all the tasty treats.

Polish Food! Potsdam Fun in Potsdam

It’s a little sad to bid the markets “tschüss” now that the season has come to an end, but we frequented them plenty these past few weeks as well as enjoyed a variety of other Christmas parties, fests and traditions.

The conclusion of Thanksgiving means it’s Christmas music season. Dave and I both have a fondness for Amy Grant’s rendition of the Christmas classics- though we have different CDs we grew up listening to- so we heard a lot of her the past few weeks. We also spun through all the other hits via our ipods and 8Tracks playlists. These tunes are always best enjoyed with some fresh baked Christmas cookies and a glass of hot cocoa or glühwein.

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The start of the advent season also calls for an Advent Calendar- again something Germany excels at! There are so many varieties of calendars and people get pretty creative with homemade ones as well. We went with a childhood favorite of mine- Playmobile and had a lot of fun alternating days in which we could open a new window and add some figures to our Christmas scene.

Advent Calendar

Christmas season also brought about good times with friends and we were able to celebrate on numerous occasions including a dinner party hosted by Max and Sachiko, the staff Christmas party at Phorms and a festive evening at my colleague and friend Sandra’s place. Always so nice to share in the festive spirit with good friends!

Phorms Fun

One of the major perks of working in education is the break between Christmas and New Years- always a much needed period of rest, relaxation and recharging of batteries. I finished up work on Friday the 21st and have a break until January 2nd! We decided to celebrate the holiday in Berlin this year and have been having a grand old time doing absolutely nothing!

The one big plan we came up with was to celebrate by coordinating and cooking “9 Feasts of Christmas”.  Why 9?  Who knows? Unfortunately I contracted a gross bacterial infection on my tonsils which put a little damper on excessive eating, but one visit to the doctor and a Penicillin prescription later we were back on track. We didn’t quite make it to 9, but did get in 7 delicious feasts. We rated and debated and decided that the top three were:

1. Christmas Day Feast- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy etc…

Christmas Day Feast

2. Americana- buffalo wings, cheese burger and fries (The burgers were so good we forgot to stop and take a picture!)

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3. Deutschland- schnitzel, spätzle and German beer (Dave’s pick)
3. Small Bites Feast- jalepeno popper dip, stuffed mushroom caps, salami, cheese, crackers and olives (Adrian’s pick)

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Small Bites

As you can tell food plays a big role in our holiday celebrations and all of the feasts were fun to plan (and eat!).

As the big day approached we finished up last minute preparations and gift wrapping and then spent Christmas Eve enjoying a variety of Christmas movies and drinking hot tea and coffee on the couch. In the evening we headed down to the American Church in Berlin to celebrate the real reason for the season and had a great time at their beautiful candlelight service. In additional to all the wonderful songs the pastor’s sermon was particularly compelling and focused on the theme of hope. After the service concluded we headed home for fondue, champagne and our favorite film- It’s a Wonderful Life.

The next morning we woke up, made breakfast and got down to opening stockings and gifts. Santa was particularly good to us this year:) Our favorite gift would probably have to be the awesome projector from Al and Melissa. We’d been thinking about getting one for awhile and we have to say watching movies projected up on our living room wall definitely beats a computer screen! Thanks again for such a great gift! We also got a great box of baking goods you just can’t find in Germany and some sweet gifts from my parents. I love my new Packers sweatshirt!

Christmas Day Santa Came! Opening gifts!

Go Pack Go! Awesome Stocking Stuffers! Smoking Frosty

We also got some new books, movies, picture frames, a few beautiful sweaters and scarfs and much more! My big gift from Dave was a trip up north to a lakeside village called Waren. We left the on the 26th for a two night stay in a classy hotel called Hotel Harmonie. The hotel features saunas, steam rooms and spa services and a massage was included in my gift! We had a great couple of days relaxing in the saunas, playing games, walking around the old city center of Waren and hiking the surrounding lakes- completing a 10K hike Friday morning! It was wonderful to get outside the city, see another part of Germany and spend a few days in a pretty, peaceful spot.

Waren Jumping Shot Hotel Harmonie Old Town Waren Floating Fish Restaurant

Dave likes the busty mermaid Lake Scene

Dave and Adrian Yum- lake fish sampler plate

We got back to Berlin late on Friday and have been enjoying our new projector, munching on leftovers and enjoying the last few days of 2012. We’re headed to a dinner party at Saskia and Mathieu’s apartment to ring in the New Year and then will try to catch some of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl on the 1st before I have to return to work on the 2nd.

2012 has been a wonderful year. It was our first full year in Berlin and we saw and did so much. The major highlight has to be our engagement in March, but we have a lot of close seconds: our 8 week trek across the States visiting both coasts, the mid-west and attending 3 awesome weddings, the trip to Ireland for Dave’s birthday, the trip to Spain for Adrian’s birthday, family and friends visiting this Fall, exploring all the beer gardens of Berlin this past summer, Dave’s ski trip to the Alps, trips around Germany and Poland, Adrian finding a job at Phorms and many more!!  We’re pretty damn lucky and quite thankful for all that 2012 brought, but are pretty sure 2013 is going to blow 2012 out of the water! Bring on the New Year!

Visitors!

We had the pleasure of hosting a few members of Dave’s family the past several weeks: First his cousin Catherine and second his sister Cara and her Husband Will. We had a great time during both visits and thought we would share a few photos and write up the experiences (maybe to inspire some future visits???)

Catherine showed up a few weeks ago in the beginning of November .. just in time for the cold weather! We warned her to bring some warm clothes and she was lucky she did, because once she arrived the temperature in Berlin dropped at least 10 degrees. Pretty depressing!

We should mention that Catherine is spending the semester studying abroad in the UK in a small town just outside of London. She was loving her time there and was really looking forward to checking out Germany and trying some German food and beer. We did our best to show her a good time!

Once she showed up, Dave met her at the subway station and they headed down to the center of Berlin for a free walking tour. It was the same tour that we had been on before: a three hour stroll through the center of Berlin tourist district that gives a great overview of the city’s intriguing history, including the Nazi period and the Berlin wall among other cool things. The tour was really fun, but got cold very fast. Dave and Catherine were both looking forward to the break inside a cafe that came halfway through tour!

Next, Dave and Catherine met up with Adrian back at our apartment in Prenzlauer Berg and then the whole group headed to HB for dinner and drinks. We had been to HB before but it’s a great place to bring tourists because they have very traditional southern German food and, of course, Mass Beers which everyone loves. We have a great time at HB and Catherine seemed to enjoy her German food!

The next couple days we spent with Catherine traveling around the CIty, seeing sites and sampling some local fare. She loved the CHristmas markets, but wasn’t so sure about the Currywurst. Overall it was a great time!

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Next, about a week later Cara and Will came for Thanksgiving! We worked hard to find all of the necessary ingredients for a real American thanksgiving, including a (small) turkey but were missing a few things and Cara and WIll came up big and brought it over from the states. We were very excited to have them here and to show them around Berlin and our neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg.

Thanksgiving dinner turned out great! We had two additional friend come over, Maxime from France and Sachi from Japan. The food was great and we had quite a few bottles of wine, but since Cara and Will had flown over that morning and were feeling quite tired at that point and decided to head back to their hotel.

The next day we took the two of them on a tour of downtown Berlin. We went to the top of the Reichstag building, but unfortunately it was a little to cloudy to get a real good view of the city. From there we walked to the Holocaust Memorial then to Potsdamer Platz for some lunch: Wurst with mustard and a beer. Will said he finally felt like he was really in Germany.

After some more touristing, we split up for an hour before meeting for dinner. We took them to a traditional German Brewpub right on the river down the street from the Berlin Cathedral. We sat down at a big table only to notice that we were completely surrounded by Chinese people. Cara and Will both speak Mandarin Chinese and the tempation to surprise the Chinese tourists with their skills was too much so they struck up a conversation. It was pretty fun to see the reaction from the 30 or so Chinese people to hear Cara and Will speaking with them. The brewpub food was just okay, but the beer was delicious so we made sure to drink plenty of it.

The next day we headed to a German history to take in some culture and then went to checkpoint charlie to look at some of the Berlin Wall and learn a bit more about the cold war. Then we headed back to Prenzlauer Berg to try some street food at the local market. That night we went to an Italian restaurant that is right downstair from our apartment. We had been their a few times before and they treated like regulars (as Italians like to do). It was pretty fun and Will and Cara were pretty impressed!

The next day, they had to fly away in the morning. It was a quick trip but we were so glad to have some family here for Thanksgiving. Will, Cara and Catherine, Thanks so much for coming!!

The 8-month Mark…

Today marks 8 months since we packed up our belongings into 3 large suitcases and left Boston for Berlin. I still can’t quite believe that I get to say, “Oh, I live in Europe.”- pretty surreal. It’s been a wonderful yet challenging experience and I think it’s only going to get better!

The biggest challenge for me initially was having to worry about how exactly I was going to legally stay in the country after my initial 90 days in the Schengen Zone. As my 90 days came to a close in December and I was still without a job I was getting pretty stressed out. Didn’t really help that in Berlin it would get dark at 3:45 in the afternoon literally making me feel like I was “in the dark” all the time. Luckily my problem was solved (or rather postponed) when I decided that to sign up for intensive German classes that would allow me to remain on a student visa. In the meantime I was able to secure a free-lance position with an international company and was provided with the paperwork I needed to secure a free-lance visa. Unfortunately the job fell through when not enough people signed up for the English courses, but at least I’d been able to acquire my much desired visa.

I’m no stranger to job searching, as I had taken the plunge twice before when we moved to DC jobless and then Boston. And let me tell you- job searching in 2007 as a fresh-faced college grad with no experience was a walk in the park compared to the Boston job search in 2009 and the Berlin experience in 2011/2012. Luckily things always have a way of working out in the end. In Boston I searched in vain for 5 months, but then landed my dream job at Northeastern (a job I still miss all the time). And here in Berlin I finally received the offer I’d be praying for when in late April I was offered a position as a Kindergarden teacher at an international school in Berlin!  I won’t start work full-time until September 1st due to our lengthy trip back to the States this Summer, but I’ve been working a couple days a week pro-bono to get a feel for the school, meet some of my colleagues and get to know the kids. So far everything is wonderful! Each class has between 15-20 kids and 3 teachers (pretty amazing S:T ratio!). Of the three teachers, two are native German speakers and one is a native English speaker. The idea is that the kids are exposed constantly to both languages and learn to understand and speak both through immersion. It’s a really interesting place to work and my colleagues seem great. I’m so thankful to 1. have a job! 2. be still in a school environment and 3. be at a place that will expose me to some great people!

Though the past 8 months did bring some stress with the visa situation and the job search so much more our time here has been stress-free and fabulous!  We’ve traveled to 6 different countries, celebrated our first Christmas together, explored so much of Berlin, met some great people and of course, got engaged!!!  My highlights thus far include the TEFL program I completed in Prague back in Oct/Nov, traveling with Maddie in Belgium, Prague and Berlin, our Christmas in the Black Forest, our engagement in March and our trip to Ireland for Saint Patricks day. Dave too has enjoyed the traveling, but has been much busier than me on the work-front. He’s finishing up his second semester in just over a month, working part-time at a non-profit and will soon begin his search for an internship come Fall.  Good thing he loves his program and economics so much- with all that’s happening with the Euro Crisis it’s an interesting time to be studying finance anywhere, but especially Berlin. When asked about his Euro highlights he mentioned his ski trip to Austria, his birthday trip to Ireland and drinking glühwein at the Christmas markets.

All in all I’d say we’ve been pretty happy here in Berlin and are excited for the next 8 months and beyond!

Dem Deutschen Volk

 

Springtime in Berlin and Germany

The weather in Berlin is fickle, to say the least. Hot, humid and 85 degrees one day; cold, rainy and 48 degrees the next…it’s kind of like Boston, but worse!  Luckily we’ve been able capitalize on some of the beautiful days and do some inside exploration on the not so pretty ones. We live right next to Kollwitzplatz and have enjoyed many an afternoon or evening relaxing in the little park there. We’re also within walking distance from Mauer Park and Friedrichshein Park- both great places to spend an afternoon reading and lounging. We’re both really into the Game of Thrones books right now- Adrian’s on the last book- Dances with Dragons and I’m impatiently waiting for her to finish so I can get at it.

I have been very busy with work and school as well, not that that is anything too interesting to read about… This semester at HWR is very short, only about 4 months in total, far shorter than last semester. Unfortunately, my professors are forced to get the same amount of material out in a shorter time frame, so the weeks and months are pretty packed for me with coursework. I have an interesting slate of classes though, including Risk Management and International Asset Portfolios so I don’t mind. We have been assigned a lot of group work this semester, which can be annoying but also rewarding in its own way.

My internship has been busy as well. I am working at Global2015, a non-profit research organization quantifying the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues. Currently we are putting together a compendium of all the most relevant climate change statistics for the upcoming Rio2012 Summit in Brazil. Our deadline is approaching fast but the work is interesting. I also really enjoy my co-workers, whom are from all over the world, including Spain, the UK, the Ivory Coast, Kenya and of course Germany. I have also been able to put a fair amount of my skills from HWR to use, as I have been working hard on helping to resolve some of the statistical issues with our research.

Adrian and I have been working hard at settling in to our new place in Prenzlauer Berg as well which has proved at times challenging but also pretty fun, P-Berg is by far the most beautiful neighborhood in Berlin; I am now convinced. It really is nice to leave the apartment everyday and be surrounded by beautiful trees and architecture with nice looking people wandering around everywhere. But we are in an old building and noticed just the other day that a large portion of the wall is falling out, just below the window sill. Not good!

The months seem to go by so quickly and we both are really looking forward to our long trip back to the USA this summer, though I know I will miss Berlin while we are gone. Still, we can’t wait to see all our friends and family soon!

Erste Mai

May 1st is a national holiday in Germany, roughly the equivalent of Labor Day back home. Adrian and I took advantage of the day off to take a trip to a huge carnival in Kreutzberg. We had a great time so I decided to put together a little blog post about the experience.

We had been out very late the night before at a friends house… in fact we didn’t make it home till after 4am! The Berliners think nothing of staying up that late, but for Adrian and I, that is about as late as it gets. Incidentally, when we finally made it home to Prenzlauer Berg and got off of the train, the streets were still packed with people so that will give you a bit of an idea of just how nocturnal the Berliners are. Unfortunately, we aren’t ‘true’ Berliners, so we didn’t wake up on May 1 till late in the day, probably about 12:00 noon.

Adrian wasn’t feeling very well, but we knew we would regret not going to Kreutzberg, as we had heard really good things about the festival. Kreutzberg is one of Berlin’s most popular neighborhoods and it is by the city’s most trendy spot. Trendy people can be a little insufferable at times, but they at least know how to throw a good party. Had a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee and headed out.

The weather forecast was predicting rain, but when we left the apartment the sun was shining and it was nice and warm. I noticed that there were fewer people out and about than normal in our neighborhood and wondered if fear of rain was keeping people in for the today… I quickly found out this was not the case. It seemed everyone in Berlin was headed for Kreutzberg and the festival. The U-bahn train was absolutely packed with people. The closer we got to Kreutzberg also, the more people sardined there way on to the train. I could tell it was going to be a day of crowds (as most days in Berlin seem to be, if you come from Maine).

A quick word about the Erste Mai celebration: as I said, it is the German equivalent of labor day. Thus the left leaning portion of Berliners and Germans use the holiday as an opportunity to rally in support of pro-labor policies. Berlin has it’s fair share of activists, communists, anarchists, and other revolutionaries, but unfortunately, the holiday in recent years has been taken over by “demonstrators” who are looking to cause trouble, not promote social change. The last few years had been especially bad in Berlin with protestors burning cars, smashing windows and indiscriminately destroying private property. To make matters worst, Berlin’s far right groups use the holiday to demonstrate as well, so clashes between the two groups can quickly get violent.

The Berlin Police seemed determined this year to keep things under control, so once Adrian and I arrived, we were immediately struck by the massive police presence. It is fairly rare to see police officers in Berlin in general, so to see literally hundreds in one place was slightly surprising. The officers obviously had a plan for controlling things this year, as they funneled us orderly into the city blocks set aside for the festival.

The main artery of Kreutzberg is a busy street called Oranienstrasse which is crowded on normal days with outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants, but today the street was totally shut down to any automobile traffic and was packed with party goers. There were vendors selling street food every few feet on the side of the street and packed restaurants and bars selling beer and other drinks to anyone walking by with 2€. There was music everywhere, with a different stage literally on every street corner. There were people of all ages dancing, drinking and eating street food everywhere. It was quite a lively atmosphere to say the least!

Adrian and I spent the first hour at the festival just walking around, checking out the different stages and enjoying some of the live music. The festival is free of charge so there were no “big name” musicians playing, but it was cool to see some of the local Berlin groups, who ranged from abjectly awful to passably decent. The most popular type of music in Berlin by far is electronic techno music, with repetitive kick-snare drum beats and some synth layered over it, so that type of music was everywhere, but we saw ska, rock, reggae, punk, folk, rap and even traditional Turkish music. Our favorite was probably the reggae… there something about a sunny day and a little reggae that makes you think you’re on a tropical island.

After wondering around for a while, we stopped for a bite to eat and enjoyed a little people watching. As I said, the streets were packed so it was fun just to watch the different people walking by. Berliners make some interesting style choices to say the least… sometimes I wonder if this country ever made it out of the 1980s. The anarchists and other activist were easy to pick out of the crowd as they general have interesting and colorful hairstyles, as well as more than a couple facial piercing and at least one unfortunate tattoo.

We left the festival in the mid afternoon, hoping to avoid any potential riot and once we arrived at our apartment, it started pouring rain. I felt bad for everyone who got drenched, but felt like we made the right choice on leaving a little early. I heard from a co-worker that nothing happened later that night as the police made sure to keep all the demonstrators under control. Looks like their planning and effort paid off… I was glad to hear no one got hurt!