This past week I was able to join LMU New Europe and Science students in a weeklong trip to Berlin and Dresden. We all met up early in the morning, and we somehow managed to stuff small bags with enough clothes for 10+ days. After a 4-hour train ride to Berlin, we were greeted by our guide, Sion. He took us on a bus tour around Berlin. There is so much history and many other important sites within Berlin, the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Bundestag, Museum Island, the Holocaust Memorial, East-Side-Gallery and much more. We were given the chance to walk around the Holocaust Memorial. I didn’t realize exactly why the creator of the memorial chose large cement blocks. As I walked around, the ground was not straight and at some points I could not tell which direction I was going. It was a time for all of us to reflect in a different way and be alone with our thoughts.
Stopping at the Holocaust Memorial started to have us think about what had happened in Germany in the 1940s and the very next day we went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Over 200,000 prisoners were held captive in this camp. We were able to see for ourselves the size of the camps, living quarters and what was left of a gas chamber.
We then got a tour at the Reichstag Building. This is the seat of the German Parliament and one of the most historic buildings in Berlin. Our group was able to see where all the important decisions are made, the chamber. After the tour we were able to walk in the large glass dome that sits on top of the Reichstag and looks out onto Berlin.
On our third day we were given a tour of the Jewish Museum Berlin. I really enjoyed the symbolism that was involved in the designing and planning of the museum. Daniel Libeskind (the designer) wanted to create a space for people to learn about Jewish culture and history by establishing and securing an identity for Germany after World War II. The one thing that stood out to many of us was the Memory Void (Leerstelle des Gedenkens) These "voids" throughout the museum was to represent the absence of Jews from German society. When you enter the Memory void, you are greeted by 10,000 faces covering the floor. We were meant to walk around and many of my group were hesitant, so I took the first step. All you could hear was the clanking of the metal. Our tour guide told us that although it seems we are walking all over their faces, we are finally giving them a voice and allow them to be heard. That was my favorite part of the exhibit.
The next day we had our MY BERLIN DAY. We all had different activities planned. There were Multicultural, Cold War, Urban Art, and GDR. I was a part of the Cold War group and we went to many of the places that we have already visited. My favorite part was visiting the Checkpoint Charlie museum tour. Our tour guide was a journalist that helped smuggled East Berliners into West Berlin and was imprisoned by the Stasi. Hearing his insights into what was going on in Berlin during the Berlin Wall was very interesting and he was very passionate.
In Dresden we were given a tour of Dresden by Cosima, who lived there during the separation. We had a guided tour of an art museum 'Neue Meister'. Later that night we saw an Opera called 'Don Carlos' at the Semperoper. This opera was performed in Italian with German subtitle, so it was sometimes hard to follow along but it was fun trying to figure out what was going on. On our last day in Dresden we were given a tour of VW manufacturing factory. The factory is transparent and we were able to watch a certain model (Phaeton) being custom made.
It was such a great opportunity for all the LMU students to be travelling together around Germany and learning more about the place we are all calling home!
Dressed as dragons, bears, and crocodiles, our AIB students and I had the opportunity to take part in the traditional LiKüRa parade in Bonn, which falls on the Sunday of the Karneval festivities and runs through the towns of LImericht, KÜdinghoven, and RAmersdorf. But this wasn't just your ordinary parade experience - instead, we teamed up with Therapiezentrum Bonn and volunteered to assist disable residents with mobility issues so that they, too, could participate in the parade.
For a dreary February afternoon, the warm Karneval spirit sure did quickly brighten the day. After being introduced to the person we'd be assisting, it wasn't long until everyone was all smiles, singing along to the classic Karneval songs as we threw out candy into the crowds. The woman I assisted, Sandra, truly enjoyed this part and her face continued lighting up as we made our way down the parade route.
At the end of the parade, we were welcomed at the Therapiezentrum for a small get together, where we all continued getting to know the residents better and wa med up with a bowl of soup. Both students and residents agreed working together made parade was a very unique and meaningful experience. Not only did the parade allow us to learn more about Germanys' cultures and traditions, but we helped these residents to take part in the parade, which was truly the most rewarding aspect of our Karneval celebrations.
We have cheerfully started into the New Year and the spring semester 2016 with our 90 new students who have arrived safely in Bonn. We are happy to welcome the New Europe and Science Students from Loyola Marymount University, the Bioscience and Visualization students from Texas A&M University and last but not least, the Landscape Architecture students from Pennsylvania State University to the AIB family.
We kicked off the semester with a hiking tour to the Kreuzberg in Bonn which was followed by a coffee and cake get-together at the AIB with host families & friends. The students are ready to explore what Bonn has to offer and look forward to experiencing the "fifth season" coming up in the Rheinland: Karneval!
My name is Lea and I joined the AIB in October 2015. Since then I have been coordinating the AIB's aid to refugees. I had seen the news about the refugee crisis on TV, yet I did not know what to expect from the job. This fall, the AIB became the neighbor of a home for refugees. In late October, people began gradually moving into the old building of the Poliklinik right next door to the new AIB (at Wilhelmstr. 27). 205 people have moved in so far, but more are yet to come. Seeking shelter and opportunities for a better life, they arrived in Germany without most of life's necessities. Working closely together with the people responsible for the refugee center, I learned more and more about the refugees' situation. Obviously it is much more personal to meet the people in person than to see them on a screen. It is incredibly interesting, as they all have different and sometimes incredible stories about why they came. They also have different national and educational backgrounds, which sometimes makes it easier and sometimes harder to understand each other. However, I have always felt welcome at the center and I enjoyed getting to know all the friendly people I have met so far.
In the beginning, WiFi was one of the most important things at Poliklinik. You have to understand that, although most refugees did not bring much, they all brought their smartphones. It is their chance to communicate with friends and family at home. Therefore, routers were installed to provide free internet access throughout the house in cooperation with an initiative called "Freifunk". Soon after, I heard about other needs which were not covered. With regard to that, the AIB started fundraising with our students' host families and some other local associations such as two kindergartens and the furniture store Mambo. We received generous donations with which we could help our neighbors manage their daily routine. Besides, refugees are not allowed to work in Germany until their application for asylum is accepted. Thus, we thought a kicker (soccer table) would be fun as well, since most of them do not have many things to do during the day.
In cooperation with volunteers of the church, I also helped furnishing a room which is now used as a café. The café is thought of as a meeting area for residents as well as volunteers. Alia, one of our helpful students, and I participated in cleaning and preparing the room. I can say that it now looks very cozy and welcoming. Furthermore, the AIB collaborated with the volunteer team which provides German lessons at Poliklinik. We helped out with teaching materials and books, and thanks to our students, it was possible to carry all the stuff next door.
One time I also had the chance to invite the housefather Mr Haspel over to the AIB for an information evening with our students. Mr Haspel talked about the situation at the refugee center and gave our students an idea of the refugees' everyday life. We at AIB were very happy to see that our students were interested in the subject and that they wanted to get in touch with our neighbors as well.
Together with our students from Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, Loyola Marymount University and Provincia Autonoma di Trento, who took part in our programs this fall, we organized a surprise for our new neighbors. Just before our students left to go back home, they collected Christmas presents which I took over to the refugee center on Monday Dec 21st. Unfortunately, our students had already left, when we handed them out.
Nevertheless, it was a very joyful atmosphere, as you can see in the photos. My colleagues and I had the feeling that our action was very much appreciated. So well done everybody!
Considering the short time span during which the people at Poliklinik arrived, it was a big task to accommodate them well. I feel that the AIB and its students did their best to help provide necessities and make them feel as comfortable under their conditions as possible. For my part, I enjoyed meeting all the nice people who supported us in our aid to refugees. Many things would not have been possible without them.
I would like to personally thank our students, their host families and all other volunteers for their extraordinary willingness to help and wish them all the best for 2016!
See you soon