Settling down and shisha-ing up [Emma Kennedy, Freie Universität Berlin]

As the weather becomes colder and the beginning of university imminent, Berlin is beginning to feel slightly less like a place that I am paying (an albeit extended) visit to, and more like home.

I now refer to my S-Bahn map only a couple of times daily, rather than 539686. I have learned to accept that, no matter how long the queue is at the supermarket, another till will not be opened. I didn’t even bat an eyelid when the ‘barmaid’ who served me the other night turned out to be male – the strangeness is becoming normality.

Saturday was a bank holiday due to the Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German day of unity) so some friends and I headed to the Brandenburg Gate to see some of the celebrations – seems like everyone in the city also wanted to witness the two giant puppets move through the centre of Berlin (a fairytale version of the story of the reunification), as the street was so crowded we couldn’t move for about 10 minutes. It really gave me a sense of the true amount of people that live here – usually the city feels vast and spacious, with tall buildings, wide streets and plenty of room to accommodate the 3.4 million residents. However on Saturday it felt as if we were all squished onto the same single street. Not for the fainthearted but an exciting experience nonetheless and I’m glad to say I was there.

On Tuesday I went to matriculate at the university – I had heard that Germans are very bureaucratic so I had prepared myself for a fun-packed day of form filling but there didn’t seem to be an excessive amount of paperwork and I found the whole process quite straightforward. After paying the mandatory 200€ ‘social fee’, I received my semester ticket which allows free travel across all parts of Berlin for the whole term – very useful and much cheaper than buying 5 monthly tickets. So being a student has its perks in every country! The university itself is in Dahlem, a (somewhat cutesy, by Berlin standards) village slightly outside of the main city and around 30 minutes away on the U-Bahn. I find the commute a little strange as I was only a 10 minute walk away from Edinburgh uni last year, but I’m sure in a few weeks the journey will come in handy for catching up on lectures!

Slight stress of the week was the language placement test, which all students must take if they want to take any courses in German at the university. It consisted of eight short pieces of text and was essentially a gap-filling exercise (sounds easier than it was!) and I didn’t honestly know if my German would be up to the required standard but luckily it seemed to do the job. We have also had a couple of useful orientation days and tours of the campus and Philological library (also nicknamed the ‘Berlin Brain’ – Google it, it’s awesome!), so I now feel better equipped to start my classes next week. Although whether I will be able to attend the classes I want is anybody’s guess – registration for classes is usually done online, but for the Erasmus courses you’re supposed to just turn up at the first session to confirm your attendance. I’m not sure how this will work when there are 5000 international students and a 35-student limit per class, but it should be fun finding out. Talking of international students, both the Freie Universität and Berlin itself are very diverse and multicultural and I find myself proudly ticking off nationalities – I’ve already met people  from Spain, Poland, Austria, Russia, Australia and Portugal and hope to carry on making friends from all over the world. The general consensus of Scotland seems to be that it’s beautiful but cold – I think they’re right on the money.

Although the past week has revolved more around practical things than touristy excursions, I still managed to fit in a trip to the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum), which I found absolutely fascinating and very sobering. Even the building itself is designed to provoke thought, with the architecture heightening the intensity of the exhibitions. It was so interesting that I’ve already raved about it to all of my Berlin friends and, at the bargain price of 2.50€, I’m sure I’ll visit again. Other highlights of the week were visiting Palm Beach, a beach-themed bar complete with sand, deckchairs and all manner of exotic cocktails, and trying shisha at one of Berlin’s many Turkish bars – it looks like something your mother would disapprove of but it’s apparently a relaxing social activity, I’m assured it’s 100% legal and it certainly made a great talking point!

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