Before leaving for my exchange, I was the most excited but also the most nervous I had been. I had wanted to go to Berlin for years whilst learning the German language. I was considering doing a semester abroad but finding about the Humboldt University Berlin in the Summer Program, I knew this would be more plausible for me. It was a rush to organise everything within a matter of 2 months which was worthwhile in the end. I got to spend my break immersing myself into a culture I was so intrigued by whilst receiving academic credit for it.
I was scared because I knew I would be alone there. This was my first time overseas by myself, and I did not know anyone else going, but I knew this was what I wanted to do. In my first week there, I really noticed the rugged nature of the city which gave its own character. Everyone dressed how they liked which I really appreciated, as I love to see people’s artistic expression through their style.
I was amazed to meet a variety of people from all around the world on my exchange and in my German class. It fascinated me how one program could do this. It amazed me even more knowing that most of their native languages were not English, yet they were onto learning their 3rd languages.
My class was situated on a quaint street tucked away from the buzz of Berlin, but only a few hundred metres away from some of its most popular nightclubs. Nearby was the lovely River Spree, and delightful bakeries where croissants were sold for only 1 euro. I loved how diverse this city was. Residences, nightlife, stores etc were all mixed together with things spread out in the city.
I was living in Kreuzberg, allowing me to experience the 24/7 buzz of Berlin. Street art decorated the old and new buildings, as well as the array of multicultural cuisine and nightlife. Being on the east side of the city really felt like it had more soul, than the west. However, the west had Tiergarten! A truly beautiful sight.
I got to enjoy Biergartens and the famous Berliner Weisse beer (I recommend the grün flavour!) and of course Currywurst. I saw the infamous Bahnof Zoo for myself as seen in ‘Wir Kinder vom Bahnof Zoo’ which I was surprised by how much the same it looked 40 years later.
Apart from the rigorous bike riders, I was pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the German people. Any stereotype I was informed of them being unfriendly was completely thrown out the window. I saw smiles from bus drivers and even those in supermarkets.
I loved the sense of freedom in Berlin. Apart from the fact that I was living by myself, the city felt freer. Police were hardly seen. You did not even need to pass through gates to get on a train – just present your ticket if a controller comes! No lockout laws, less of a reliance on cars, frequent open-air cinemas, bikes – the city just gave a free vibe to me. I really cherished this.
Having class only 3 times a week, I was able to utilise my long weekend! This meant I got to visit Amsterdam and catch up with some friends whilst also visiting Leipzig and Potsdam one week with my newfound friends.
It was difficult at first being on my own, but experiencing this city and forcing myself into uncomfortable situations was the best thing I did for myself. By the end of the month, I didn’t want to leave (except when the weather dropped below 20 degrees!). I know I will definitely be back to Berlin again.
By Beril Akbulut