The Berlin Seminar ended on Thursday, March 24, and although I had a great time, ten days of travel around Deutschland (Hannover-Berlin-München) left me exhausted and eager to be home. After arriving home in Köln, Alex and I both felt like we were fighting off some sort of sickness. Thankfully, we didn't catch the flu unlike many of the other attendees at the seminar!
The last two days (I've already posted about the first two days, including a transcript of the talk I gave at the opening ceremony) of the Berlin Seminar were full of different perspectives, mostly from other Fulbrighters but also from a Berlin governement official.
On Tuesday morning, the American Fulbrighters were bussed to das Rotes Rathaus—a red brick building erected in the Mitte district of Berlin in the 1860s. Das Rotes Rathaus is home to the governing mayor of the city of Berlin, as well as the senate of the federal state of Berlin. Because it lies in the eastern part of the city, it served as the town hall of East Berlin after World War II; after German reunification, the reunified Berlin government officially moved into das Rotes Rathaus on 1. Oktober 1991.
The area surrounding das Rotes Rathaus is marked even today by relics of the Soviet occupation in East Berlin following World War II, although any differences between East and West Berlin are imperceptible. One such example is on the eastern bank of the Spree River: the Marx-Engels Forum, named for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (Marx and Engels authored The Communist Manifesto (1848) and are perhaps the two most influential people of the socialist movement, a trademark of the Soviet Union.) Inside the Rathaus, Berlin's divided past was mostly forgotten, and the progress of a new Berlin was celebrated.
The first session on Tuesday was the European Dimensions Panel featuring five Fulbrighters in other European countries (specifically France, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden) talking about their experiences in a different culture. One of the concepts that most impressed me was that of "Fika," a way of life presented by McKenzie K., grantee in Sweden. Fika, whick is derived from Swedish backslang of the 19th century by reversing the syllables in kaffi, is a coffee break, usually paired with sweet baked goods. However, as McKenzie learned from her advisor who decided to fika in the middle of fieldwork on top of a mountain, fika is not just a coffee break to the Swedes but a way of life. It is a value placed upon slowing down and enjoying life and the company of others. This is a concept I've observed even in Germany. On Thursdays, everyone in the I. Physikalisches Institut der Universität zu Köln is invited to Kaffeeklatsch for an hour to just sit and hang out and talk about anything non-work related. This contrasts significantly with my only previous experience with coffee breaks in which colleagues stand around a coffee urn and awkwardly update each other on the progress of their research project.
Other topics discussed at the European Dimensions Panel included:
- cultural politics in France (including the existence of discrimination despite an ideology of color-blindedness)
- working with the Roma (an ethnic minority) in Hungary
- nationalism in Hungary, a country that lost two-thirds of its land (including residents) following World War I
- living in Norway 200+ miles above the Arctic circle
- reindeer racing in Norway
- perceptions of the U.K. before and after living there as a professor
- the culture of London versus the culture of the rest of the U.K.
- the globalization of English as a means to learn about and accept others' cultures
After the European Dimensions Panel, the Fulbrighters had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Volker Pellet, Chief of Protocol and Foreign Policy Advisor to the Governing Mayor of Berlin, talk about Berlin as "a city that is constantly reinventing itself." Dr. Pellet described Berlin as a city of opportunity with increasing venture capital and a commitment to the arts. He also described investment in small initiatives to make ground in forging Berlin's identity, rather than large-scale projects that heed no results with changing governemnts. Regarding the arts in Berlin, Dr. Pellet described the city as having a "special spirit", but he acknowledged that perhaps there is too much opportunity in the arts, driving up competition and hence prices for spaces dedicated to creative works. Dr. Pellet also pulled from his previous experiences as a diplomat in New York City and Havana to comment on foreign relations (specifically those between the U.S. and Cuba).
After the welcome by the Berlin government, Alex and I had the afternoon off; we used this opportunity to walk down Unter den Linden, a boulevard through East Berlin crossing Museuminsel and ending at das Brandenburger Tor. From there, we walked to the Reichstag before heading back to the hotel.
The last day of the conference included a concluding panel of 12 project presentations spanning the humanities, arts and sciences. The Fulbrighters presenting talked about their work related to:
- using thermal gradiants to study prebiotic chemistry
- the global network of languages and the widespread use of English
- various methods used to restore art and cultural heritage
- needlework in Scotland
- nuerodegenderation and the role of microglia
- students' experiences with migration
- SpeechBanana—an auditory training app
- Turkish teachers and imams in Germany since 1961
- charge transport technology in solar energy
- Bulgarian culture
- the effect of urban noise on bats
- colonization of wood-decay fungi in living tree roots
This part of the seminar was a great showcase of the variety of projects and backgrounds of Fulbright grantees, showing a plethora of ways in which Fulbright lends to building a transatlantic future.