“Freedom without walls” [Emma Kennedy, Freie Universität Berlin]

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As I’m sure anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the news over the past week will agree, Berlin is a very exciting place to be right now. November 9th this year marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall (der Mauerfall), a crucially important day for Berlin and the whole of Germany, and I feel extremely lucky to be here to experience the anniversary celebrations. Berlin is already one of the most lively and exciting capitals in the world, always bold and never shying away from festivities, and it really comes into its own at events such as this. Across the city, following the path of the original wall, stood 1000 polystyrene ‘dominoes’ that had been painted by local schoolchildren, and were then knocked down, one by one, to symbolise the fall of the wall. With speeches made by Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel and our very own Gordon Brown (who unfortunately did not attempt to speak any German – shame, I think it would have livened up his speech somewhat) along with several other important faces, and crowds of tens of thousands of people, the whole event was very special. The incessant rain dampened our clothes but not our spirits and we endured 4 hours standing outside watching the speeches, the dominoes and a stunning fireworks display which we saw from Potsdamer Platz. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), our patience didn’t quite extend to staying for Bon Jovi concert at the end of the evening. I’m sure I’d enjoy a performance from the ageing rockers as much as the next person, but the prospect of heading home to a warm bed after so many hours out in the cold was too good to ignore.

It was my 20th birthday on the 4th and I was slightly mourning the loss of the ‘-teen’ at the end of my age (great, now do I have to behave responsibly at all times?) although I feel the end of my teenager-dom was somewhat lost on the Germans, and other Europeans, who don’t have such a concept (you’re either young or you’re old here. I’ll take the former please). Admittedly it was a little strange to be opening my presents alone for the first time, although I was simultaneously speaking to my Mum on the phone, which made it feel a little more traditional. I celebrated the day by heading out for a meal with friends and we then moved onto a bar where, ironically, I was asked for proof of age for the first time since arriving in Germany. Maybe they could sense my anguish about getting older and were trying to make me feel better?!

As are now well into November, the city is slowly easing into Christmas mode, with the first few Christmas markets and outdoor skating rinks appearing. Nothing could please me more, as I am a self-confessed Christmas freak and a frequent visitor of the annual German Christmas market in Edinburgh – I’m thrilled to be able to visit the real deal out here. However I must rein in my excitement as we are still over a month away from the actual event and it’s definitely too early to be thinking about Glühwein and sparkly baubles. Instead I must concentrate my attention on studying as the first few assignment and test deadlines are beginning to approach, although I don’t think the stress caused by these can be compared to the essay panic that most Edinburgh students will be familiar with. I must also continue to get out and take in more of the numerous sights of Berlin, making sure I don’t spend too much time cocooned in my room avoiding the chilly weather. This task is made slightly more difficult as I have found myself in the possession of a ridiculous amount of chocolate, thanks to my birthday and to the overzealous Ritter Sport man handing out chocolate samples at S-Bahn station the other day (I can now heartily recommend the new Olympia bar…). Also in danger of sending me into complete hibernation is my new favourite pastime – watching TV shows and films in German – although actually I feel that is a fully acceptable way to spend time: all in the name of learning, right?!

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