Getting Settled in Berlin
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."
- Saint Augustine
In September of 2021, I decided to apply for an International Experience through the University of Cincinnati for the upcoming spring semester. I wrestled with the decision for some time, knowing the struggles I would face traveling in a world still dealing with the effects of COVID-19. However, my desire to understand the world better and to connect with people from other cultures and perspectives led me to commit to this program and to spend the coming months in the city of Berlin, Germany.
My flight left on a Wednesday afternoon and had two layovers: one in Washington, D.C. and another in Brussels, Belgium. Fortunately, there were no major complications or delays during the journey, and the clear weather made for smooth flights. The entire trip lasted about fifteen hours, arriving at our final destination early the next day. Although I tried to sleep on the plane, I couldn’t quite manage to do so during the overnight flight, so I stayed up watching movies instead.
By the time I arrived in Germany, I was understandably exhausted, but thrilled to finally be seeing the city. I found a cab right outside the airport and asked the driver to take me to my Airbnb in the southwest of the city. Berlin was grey and cold that day, and its architecture had a serious expression about it. Upon arrival, I could tell it was a city that was busy and full of life, yet quiet and composed at the same time.
I proceeded to roll my luggage into my Airbnb and began to settle in. I would be staying in a first-floor flat of a building that sat between two other apartment complexes. I walked first into the kitchen, then into the bathroom, noticing both were about the same size and each resembled a narrow hallway. These areas were efficiently used – each one carrying every appliance I could possibly need in as little space as possible. I then turned to the bedroom and the living room, both of which were much larger than the previous rooms. I was looking forward to making this place my home for the next few months.
On either side of my building, green spaces with large trees and bushes gave room for red squirrels and birds to scurry about. Just a few minutes away in either direction, I could find an U-Bahn (train) stop, a Marktplatz (marketplace), as well as restaurants, stores, and attractions that I would be sure to visit over the coming semester.
After taking time to rest and recover, I was able to visit some of the key landmarks of Berlin. Among these were the Brandenburg Gate, the Victory Column, and the Sony Center. The cold weather made for hurried walks through Tiergarten and quick sprints to catch the next train and escape the brisk winds. However, despite the cold, I always lingered a while at the sites and tried to take it all in – the history, the design, the craftsmanship, and the cultural significance of each one.
In my first week here, I found some time to take a day trip to see the cities of Schwerin and Hamburg before my co-op began. I got onto an early train before sunrise and opened up my sketchbook while the countryside of Germany passed me by. Schwerin was a much smaller city, with beautiful cobblestone roads and gorgeous architecture all around. Its castle was one of the highlights of my trip so far, incredibly rich in history and splendor.
Hamburg was more similar to Berlin in size. I walked through the bustling streets, seeing holiday lights still strung up over the walkways. A few historic churches stole my attention, so I ventured into a few and looked inside. However, the most staggering sight in the city was the church of St. Nicholas – A church that had been nearly destroyed during the second World War. I stood and read the words written describing the place and paused to reflect on the modern art pieces that stood below the tower. I took the train back from Hamburg to Berlin and arrived home late that night.
After a week or so in Germany filled with long trips to new cities and short walks to the market, I can confidently say that I am happily settling in here. I am already discovering new things, trying new foods, and meeting new people with incredible stories to tell. Looking out into the coming weeks, I am eagerly awaiting what is in store for me, and I am excited to experience as much as I possibly can during my time here.