Friday, June 20, 2014

A final reflection from me (Janet) and our flashmob at Brandenburger Tor

I have been back in Ann Arbor long enough to be over jet lag and to miss Berlin and food, the likes of which we ate at our final group meal. I thought I'd include a final reflection and the video of our flash mob that I promised earlier.  At our final reflection and group meal, which was held at a nice restaurant at Görlitzer Bhf. called "Baraka" (which features Moroccan and Egyptian food-YUM!) the students shared thoughtful, insightful reflections and poems, pictures and memories of their experience. Some, I predict, will still find their way to this blog once the students are back into territory with easy internet access.

First off, this was a really nice group to work with and I am personally grateful to the University of Michigan’s Center for Global and Intercultural Studies and to the Residential College (and the Browns) for making it possible and for supporting the trip. Every student who came along received some support that went towards the purchase of theater tickets, museum tickets, food, and airfare. I know the group got so much out of this experience and the students were good ambassadors. Everyone we worked with in Berlin was impressed by this group’s openness and flexibility, and by the group's willingness to try new things, etc.

So here’s to celebrating the success of my University of Michigan students, including 5, who just began their study of German and German theater in the UM Residential College in January 2014 (!), three of whom are featured in this picture with me after our final group meal. What a crash course they had in German and performance arts; I commend them for taking the bold step of learning intensive German through the RC (8+ hours/week), taking my theater class (6 hours/week) and embarking on this trip with the promise of seeing about 10 performances in German! Here's to true immersion and adventure-seekers and also to the more advanced students in the group who were welcoming of everyone, regardless of their experience!

A major part of our Berlin experience was volunteering (tutoring) in Neukölln. We had fun working with kids at MORUS14 and I look forward to hearing more about some of the bonds that formed there. MORUS14 is a great community center and it is fully deserving of hours of volunteer-work. Gilles & co. put so much effort into keeping MORUS14 thriving and every aspect of their work is full of love and dedication. The MORUS14 kids (and the staff there) are GREAT and they were so welcoming to my students! I hope that our tutoring, our workshops there, our American food, and the final program we developed met with as much satisfaction and approval by the locals as they did with us. Here are a couple of shots from our workshops and performance

Building our performance at MORUS14 with Jacalyn and Marcela was a great process and I was really impressed by the final results. Our final longer piece, an adaptation based off of a Dr. Seuss book about a wall and war took our lessons in movement to a whole new level and led to a really nice performance at MORUS14. The MORUS14 "kids" were so easy to work with and they did great for their part, including their part in the longer choreographed piece and in the shorter poems and movement pieces. 

Our movement workshops, by the way, with Jacalyn and Marcela provided my UM students with some much-needed relaxation, so whether you eat your bread butter side up or butter side down, you might want to consider movement workshops as part of your daily routine. Even my students who reluctantly entered the world of dance quickly grasped its rewards.

If I had to pick one favorite day from the program, it would be impossible, but we did have a (rare) fair-weather day activity worth mentioning that was really fun for me to observe. It was the day of a movement workshop with Nadja R. at TanzTangente. It was also a preview, I hope, of work to come. I look forward to hosting Nadja and 4 other dancers from Berlin at the RC in the Fall in cooperation with the RC's Found Object Instrument class for an Artists' Residency. During our Berlin trip this year, I received word that I received funding from UM CGIS for next year, when we will return to Berlin and work more intensively with Tanz Tangente!

Nadja had my students moving like a dance company within minutes; her workshop was fun and relaxing, and some of the fruits of that workshop made it into the flash mob at Brandenburger Tor. (Fortunately, the flash mob did not involve sticks.)

The whole city of Berlin is like a museum one discovers on one’s own, though many tourists may miss that aspect. For me, an exciting part of our program was to learn from others how art and artifacts are curated and how space is viewed. The virtual book ends of our program were a guided tour of the BOROS collection in a bunker and the tour of Teufelsberg. Visits to the Gropius Bau (the Wei Wei exhibition), the Topography of Terror and major art museums on Museum Island, as well as the many other options available to students: Hamburger Bahnhof, Käthe Kollwitz museum, Berlinische Gallerie, etc.,  got me thinking about the role of museums and curating. How do we choose what to show and what not to show? What to preserve and what to hide away?  The museums themselves visibly reveal their own history, apart from the art and artifacts that they hold. In places, the walls of Pergamon and the Neues Museum (not a new museum at all!) show layers of styles and wear. By sketching at these sites, we were able to look a little more closely and etch a little more into our own memories. And of course, an awareness that many artifacts are from so far away gets one thinking about the where, why, and how of collecting and even moving parts of history.

Berlin itself shows layers of wear and reminders of the past, with markers visible everywhere, either because they were put there deliberately or left as they were (to be ignored or discovered). Berlin feels both comfortable and uncomfortable as a site to those who are aware of this. At the same time, the city seems to welcome everyone with a sort of greeting: “Come as you are. We’ve seen it all here.”
Pock marks from shrapnel still evident everywhere (if you look).


Gleis 17

Walking through Berlin can be a history lesson and it is also a place to actively live and leave one’s own mark. This is immediately obvious by the sheer amount of graffiti and the street performances that are everywhere! Possibly nothing that anyone could ever do here will be truly original, but the mere range of sites, attitudes, expression, the sense of history and innovation and this sense of Berlin as a giant welcome mat will always make people try. Old is next to new. Professional is next to Amateur. Deep, sublime is right there next to shallow and superficial. Everything seems to say: "Go ahead and look at me, I dare you! But if you don't, I could care less!"

Steps outside our dance theater (in former East Berlin) there are fancy cars the likes of which would have never been seen there 25 years ago. At the same time, the East German Trabis, once abandoned or left by the sides of highways to become giant planters for weeds, are now part of the “Ostalgie” (nostalgia for the East), something that can be rented to tourists who want to experience or imagine a little bit of life in the DDR. Stepping away from our reading of banned writers at the Bebelplatz at the Lesen Gegen das Vergessen, I couldn't help but laugh when I saw a caravan of Trabant cars parade by with giant ads luring tourists willing to do their part in the very consumerism that was once scoffed at in the East. Graffiti and flyers --omnipresent in Berlin—all underscore Berlin’s way of defining, redefining, and asserting itself and its history.  

I think it is fantastic how Berlin is into recycling and how spaces are re-purposed, especially in the former East where building after gray building stands monstrous with a look that seems cold, conformist, and unimaginative, and yet: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” I walked by the Berghain every day on my way to and from the S-Bahn. One Sunday at about noon I encountered a young woman who had traveled far to go clubbing (yes Sunday at noon is a good time for dancing in Berlin), who was trying to figure out how to get to Berghain from Ostbahnhof. I overheard her ask some young locals or transplants how to get there and told her she could follow me since I was headed in that direction. As we were talking, when she learned I was in Berlin with a program from the university, she warned me: “Don’t let your students go there. It’s not for them. It’s really hard core!” I appreciated her (unsolicited) caring and dropped her off at the door and continued on my way. Minutes later, I mentioned this conversation to the young receptionist at my hotel, thinking it was a funny warning for the tourist to have given me for my students. The young, rather “hip” receptionist, whom I had gotten to know during my time at the hotel protested and told me straight up: “Why? You could totally go there. Age doesn’t matter at all in Berlin.” Apparently, she had thought it was really important to make clear to me that it would be perfectly acceptable even for someone like myself to go clubbing at Berghain. For the record, I did not do so--I wasn't even tempted, not even on a Sunday afternoon. I suspect that many do go to Berlin to reinvent themselves, though. I'm sure of it, in fact.

While Berlin is in some ways like an advertising campaign for recycling and repurposing, the area where we lived (Friedrichshain)--a hot spot and exciting area for young people, in particular-- is really looking shabby and trashed in places. Streets around Warschauer Strasse are full of broken glass left behind by temporary inhabitants of the space, herds of loud beer-drinking babblers of various languages other than German (for the most part). Tourists’ disregard for the area, which they love for its vibrancy and relatively low prices and tolerance towards outsiders, is starting to rub locals the wrong way. Berlin’s vibrancy and seamy underside are the stuff writers have been describing for over a century, yet this  somehow feels different and I only hope that Berlin won’t lose its charm as new waves of tourists discover it.
Our walking tours helped us understand the layers of history, including our Holocaust Memorial tour, where our guide got us thinking about the politics and philosophy behind designing memorials, comparing memorials of the past such as this one
with today’s memorials, designed to make people think more about and challenge themselves about their own views biases and behavior.

Perhaps our most bizarre learning site was Teufelsberg, which Taylor wrote about earlier. Nothing really matches the experience of climbing a grassy hill, knowing it is one of the highest places in Berlin because it was built on war rubble, the very stuff that "Trümmerfrauen" moved. Being guided through abandoned bunker spaces and bones of buildings that once boasted the promise of becoming luxury apartments (!), peering into spaces where top secrets were collected and in elaborate processes destroyed, and then walking in the open on a rooftop that overlooks the city of Berlin and its surrounds from this space which as part of a protected forest (!) can not be developed, destroyed or altered in any way made us tangibly experience a living part of Berlin’s history. Teufelsberg is somehow characteristic of and emblematic of the ironies and odd incongruency this city and its history hold every where one looks. 

Teufelsberg is full of wires, rooms piled high with items not fit for a rummage sale, and things hanging from walls where one thinks of asking: “What the heck is that?” and then thinks better: “Don’t ask.”  During the tour, we climbed and circled and climbed and I made sure to count that we had everybody after leaving every space. Doing the tour using flashlights on our smart phones to light up our path or take a look at Wikipedia statistics placed on the walls in its dark hallways made me feel like we were secretly being filmed. Well, this is a place that is probably not for the paranoid! And it is a place that might make anyone feel paranoid, who is normally NOT!

The best part of the Teufelsberg tour was the rooftop view over Berlin (well worth the climb!), which showed all of Berlin and the surrounding area. As someone who is claustrophobic, I was glad to get onto that roof, though others in our group admitted that they were afraid of heights. Teufelsberg seemed like it would be a great site for an RC Deutsches Theater performance (though guests would need to sign a waiver).  The room at the top, where our voices provided a beautiful, but fittingly haunting chill, were also an oddly appealing highlight.

Near the end of our tour of Teufelsberg (which, by the way, is increasingly difficult to visit without a tour) we discovered graffiti that was quite fresh still, from Teryn’s birthday (We didn’t do the graffiti, by the way, in case you wondered.). By snapping a shot of Teryn in front of “her" birthday graffiti and by my posting it here, we add ourselves to the history of this odd locale. I realize that this looks like it may have been shot anywhere in Berlin (or even in Ann Arbor, Mi) so you will have to trust me on its location. Something about Berlin culture seems to have made it many places in the world, at least in urban culture, come to think of it.

And speaking in a round-about way of Teryn's birthday (and with apologies for the length of my final reflection), here is that video I promised weeks ago of the first RC German (Deutsches Theater) flash mob at Brandenburger Tor, performed in Teryn's honor on what was one of the most fun parts of a really fun and great learning experience in Germany. Again, special thanks to CGIS, the RC, and the Browns, to Jacalyn, Marcela, MORUS14, and our teachers and guides, and thanks to my students, who were good sports throughout an adventure-packed trip, which took place for a good portion of the time in the rain! : )
And thanks to our readers out there. I hope you are enjoying our blog and that there are more posts to come! So keep checking in with us and also look for us next year in May!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this. You touched upon so many things that I experienced, when I was there for a short week years ago, and much of what you wrote is exactly why I want to move there and experience more of it. It's certainly food for thought and motivation to really make that goal reality. Plus you gave me lots of ideas for things to try and do once I'm there