Another week, another European adventure! After a month of staying in Spain and minimal travel, I headed to Germany for the Fulbright Europe conference that takes place in Berlin every year. I had been looking forward to this for awhile because I’m a sucker for conferences and meeting new people in new places such as Berlin. The conference did not disappoint and neither did the city. It has a more eclectic, 21st century hippie vibe all its own that I could definitely live in long-term. Berlin is high on my list of top 5 places to visit in Europe and one where mindful traveling is important.
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Catch a red eye and learn about the city
After catching a red eye flight to Berlin with a bunch of Fulbrighters, and getting lost on the way to our Airbnb, we finally made it. Our first stop was the East Side Gallery, formally a part of the Berlin Wall. I love how this divisive force has now transformed into a work of art, literally. I was born and raised around the arts so in each city I snap photos of any and all street art I see. There was no shortage of it in Berlin! Part of the conference on day 1 was a bus tour and when I first saw the artsy Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg area. It’s definitely a popular borough of Berlin that’s full of what tourists like myself love. I said to a friend that the area seems gentrified and later learned that it’s one currently fighting gentrification. It’s important to understand the context of my travels and I try to always read about current news stories in the destination. You can read more about Berlin’s gentrification here.
Make conversation with new people
The conference itself was an amazing experience. There were discussion groups where I was able to hear about other Fulbright experiences in Portugal, Bulgaria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Greece and many more. Every person came from somewhere different in the U.S, whether hometown or university, and even in our host communities from villages to cities.
Having conversations with educated and worldly people always sparks conversation, especially about Fulbright’s lack of diversity, and inspires me to continue on with my passions in my own life journey. My favorite presenter was Sawsan Chebli, a Palestinian-German politician who is the Under Secretary for Active Citizenship and International Relations. She spoke about how U.S. politics is changing the world already and what that means for Europe. I appreciated her honesty and insight as well as Brent Goff. He is the Chief News Anchor at Deutsche Welle News and a Berlin Fulbright Alumnus who spoke about politics, the media, the problems with echo chambers and silo thinking, populism and the differences between the way the U.S. broadcast news vs. Germany.
Sightsee as much as possible
It was a great week of education and relaxing! I ate the best kebab of my life, saw famous sites such as Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Germany’s Parliament, the DDR Museum and the Topography of Terror. Aside from London, Berlin had a lot of visible history than most European capitals. I think the Topography of Terror taught me the most and reinforced many years of history classes. Visually seeing how the city was torn during WW2 and how Hitler created whole neighborhoods out of fear and hate was mind-blowing. To be in the city and walk the streets where the terror happened left my heart heavy.
Berlin is a city of balance, so after a few days or heavy tourism and conference sessions my friends and I were able to enjoy the nightlife. We went out to a few underground bars and clubs, heard some hip hop music for the first time in a long time and just truly embraced the “anything goes” lifestyle. I was even able to meet up with a friend who currently lives in Berlin who showed us a good night out, the local way, with beers and all. We slept in post-conference, stumbled upon a street market, ate more curry potatoes and got lost a few more times before heading back to Spain. It was bittersweet to leave but ‘ll never forget my week falling in love with Berlin.
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