I came here expecting Germany to resemble the European country I know best, Belgum, where I was born and where I spent every summer until my 18th year. These bordering nations share many stereotypes: the people are reserved and cold, they subsist on meat, cheese, and potatoes, the beer is good, they vacation in Spain (Benidorm for Belgians, Majorca for Germans), and the weather is generally crummy. Though some of these preconceptions seem true in the first few days of travel, it quickly becomes clear how seriously misguided they are. The beer is not phenomenal, Germans will even mix in different sodas or syrups for a better flavor. I got a sunburn within the first week, though I think I’ve been very lucky with the weather. And I find that the people here are actually very friendly, open, eager to learn about new cultures, and have a goofy sense of humor.
Though I do not see a whole lot of profound resemblance between Belgium and Germany, there are little glimpses of the culture here in Bremen that catapult me back to my days as a young girl, spending my summers in the small city of Ieper in deep Flanders. Ieper is a city that was ravaged by war, rebuilt to preserve tradition, is surrounded by cow-country, and deeply Catholic. I have fond memories of strolling along the city walls, going to Sunday mass in Flemish, buying pastries filled with custard for breakfast, eating meat-potato mash for dinner, dipping butter cookies in my herbal tea before bed, and following my grandmother around as she tried to complete the wardrobe she had sown for me with socks and underwear purchased at the Saturday market. My mother later revealed that the brands sold there are not of good quality, yet all these years I felt that I had access to the highest-quality socks and underwear from a people that still received their milk directly from the dairy farmer and ate bread that was baked at 3am that day.
Findorff Markt in Bremen on Saturday morning.
The markets here are very similar. You have your staple stands of fruits and vegetables, specialty meats, a variety of cheeses, eggs of all sizes, artisanal soaps, and of course, clothing. When I saw the socks and underwear my heart sank and I thought of my silly little grandmother who had convinced me that she has exposed the best-kept secret on earth. Everyone shops at those big department stores now, but I knew where to get the quality stuff. I touched the fabric of the clothing here and felt perplexed, who would buy this stuff? The socks and underwear looked especially dismal.
It’s amazing how magical childhood can feel and how little things can trigger a memory so poignant that the present barely matters anymore. I suddenly felt nostalgic for a place and time in my tiny history when the minute hand on my grandmothers clocked moved at an impossibly slow pace, when I could eat 10 crêpes and run around in the garden or jump in the pool with my cousin Marie-Hélène just minutes later, when I would beat a 70 year-old woman at a game of Stratego, or when I would crawl up into the attic to play with my mother’s dolls and read old comic books. There is something about being in Germany that inspires moments of serious introspection for me and provides an appetite for a simpler time, juxtaposed with the complications of filmmaking and discussing the latest deep-sea technology with leading scientists in their field. It’s simply a strange experience to be here and I have grown very fond of Bremen.
–As my time in Germany comes to a close I wanted to share some quick reflections on two cities I visited over the course of my stay here. First Hamburg, then Berlin.–
Hamburg is a large port city nestled between the North and Baltic Seas. In my imagination, its city limits stretched to both coastlines and its streets were swamped by seafarers and wild winter ocean plungers. In reality, it is about an hours drive to either coast and the people there are composed, like to have a good beer, dress nicely, and live like anyone would in a metropolis of Northern Europe. If I could hire an illustrator to convey what once existed in my mind, you too might dream of coming to Hamburg. If I tell you what Hamburg is really like, well you would probably still want to come to Hamburg.
It’s a really nice city. I only had a two day visit and don’t feel comfortable claiming to know anything at all. I will say, however, that it is a romantic city with beautiful cafés in quaint neighborhoods, high-end clothing boutiques, and a port culture that may exceed that of Boston. I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend from elementary school who reminded me of the life we led on an entirely different coast on Long Island, NY. Johanna has been living in Hamburg for 4 years now and is obtaining a masters in American Studies, perfectly done in Germany! We reminisced about 7th-grade class projects, school trips, and the general angst of 12 year-old girls.
Berlin is the kind of city I can see myself moving to upon graduating from OSU. I imagine starting out as a freelance videographer for different research institutes around the country, eventually establishing a small science film production company, settling into a spacious apartment in the “multi-cultural” quarter of Kreuzberg, learning German for 200€/month, 3 days a week (that deal actually exists), interacting with fellow filmmakers and movie buffs, and launch from there as a filmmaker in science. It is not the most beautiful city in Europe as most of it was destroyed by the war and mostly rebuilt during a tumultuous time. My friend Marc (who visited from NYC) and I had a hard time finding those quaint cobble-stoned streets lined with centuries-old facades one might hope for while in Europe. However, there is a lot of ambition, history, and sophistication here. It is one of the most lively cities without being disruptive or overwhelming. You can really breathe in Berlin, chat for hours over a coffee at 3pm along the canal, stumble upon free film screenings in building courtyards and drink a beer, or walk along the streets without a need to hurry or move on to the next thing. Berlin feels fresh, optimistic, and open to the world, and I am eager to return!
I was fascinated by the remains of Berlin’s history surrounding both world wars, the DDR, and the wall. Top is a remaining section of the wall on the Eastern Berlin side, and Bottom is a the permanent “Topography of Terror” exhibition that covers the police systems of the Third Reich, both the gestapo and the SS.
I leave Germany tomorrow at noon…
As I prepare to leave Bremen and move on to the next thing, I find myself feeling a little lost. It’s strange to feel so attached to a place you barely had time to really get to know. I have loved my life here, the people I met, my job and co-workers, and the city. Now I am on to new a perhaps greater things, heading to Belgium for 5 days then off to Copenhagen to head towards Greenland. I will post one more entry from Germany, which will include the video I made while at MARUM and some lessons I learned in science filmmaking.