The fact that it's only five days until I leave for Berlin makes me both incredibly excited as well as nervous as hell. I've wanted to do this semester-long study abroad since I started at NSCAD University in 2012, and once I found out it was actually possible, I've been fantasizing about it constantly. I've been learning German at an unfortunately glacial pace, but at least I know basic stuff. I've read at least five history books on Germany (seven if you count the ones I haven't finished yet) and have jumped around travel blogs and websites looking for information on historical sites, museums, and everything else. I've had a place in Berlin confirmed since June. I also have places set for Leipzig and Munich. I've been working on hypothetical itineraries for the last year. I'm constantly tempted to talk my friend's ears off when it comes to this. I haven't completely nailed down the places I want to go and see, but I'm close. I'll be in Berlin for two months, then Leipzig for two weeks, then I-don't-know-where for another two and a half weeks (my eye is on Nuremburg for at least a week, as well as very short stays in Rothenburg og der Tauber, Wurzburg, Weimar, or Dresden), and then finally Munich for the last month or so (also might spend some time in Schwangau near Ludwig II's tacky-but-epic fairytale castles.
But I always remember that this will be my first time on my own in my life. The first time where I have to find, pay for, and prepare my own food, orient myself to a new place, meet new people (who may or may not speak the same language as me), and simply live on my own. This is the point where the romanticized, fantastical ideal of travelling becomes intimidatingly concrete. It's not a matter of having an epic, life-changing, art-making experience anymore--it's bean-counting. That is: figuring out how much money I'll probably spend (might as well take a torch to my bank account), how long I'll spend in each place, how I'll arrange cost-effective transportation (cost effective everything, actually), how I'll manage myself so that I meet NSCAD's course requirements (that's right, I'm being graded on this). And this doesn't even take into account the people element. I'm generally a socially awkward angsty artist type, even when the people I'm interacting with are able to understand me. The idea of timidly stammering in German to strangers could be either really fun in a pathetic kind of way or really hard to handle. I'm aware that most Germans speak fluent English 61.3% according to EF English Proficiency Index 2015, but I want to be able to come away from Germany having learned a good amount of the language, and using English as a crutch to get around wouldn't help me learn.
On the other hand, I'm not going in 100% blind. Besides the obvious Rick Steves books, history books, language books, and book books, I've been to Germany twice before:
This is a picture I took during my high school trip to Berlin. I only had a crappy point-and-shoot camera back then, but this was the trip that got me head-over heels in love with taking pictures. Unfortunately, because of a botched installation of Windows 7, I lost almost all of the over 2,000 pictures I'd taken from both of my trips to Europe. I have approximately a dozen photos left. I still cringe when I think about it.
Even though I've been to Berlin twice (once in 2010 and again in 2012), I've only spent a total of five days there--not nearly enough to get a sense of the city. But I saw quite a few significant sites, from the Brandenburg Gate/Reichstag area to the über depressing Jewish Holocaust Memorial (pictured below, from another one of the pictures that survived from my 2012 Europe trip). I also saw the Tempel Cecilienhof and the Sanssouci palace in Potsdam, and spent a few hours looking at vapid gift-shops in Dresden (don't blame me, I was with a school group and wasn't allowed to wander off or have fun!). I actually went back and found the old itinerary from my high school trip to figure out where I had been in Germany so I could visit them again, knowing what I know now about German history. I guess this new trip to Germany will sort of be a re-do on my part, in which I use my time to fully soak in the history and culture of the country I'm in, rather than being dragged through a gauntlet of gift shops. Better photographs (none of which will be deleted), better sights to see, no highschoolers comparing trinkets with "Ich bin ein Berliner" emblazoned on them. I only buy postcards anyway!
As the last days count down, I'm beginning to get my shit together. Camera gear: a Canon t3i DSLR camera with kit lens and two batteries, as well as a fairly fast prime lens and telephoto lens, a tripod, ND filter and shutter cable. If I can fit it, I might take my flash as well, but I'm iffy on that. Also, my hand-me-down laptop with all that fancy photo-editing software on it. Then of course, there's the drawing supplies: charcoal, graphite, pens, markers, sketchbooks. I'll buy the large paper and a new portfolio once I'm in Berlin, since my current portfolio is about as stable as a leaf in a hurricane. /I bought this sexy-ass hardcover sketchbook on a giftcard a few days ago, and I'm gonna try to draw in that every day when I get there. I love drawing people and architecture, so expect a lot of sketches like that.
Books: I have a few audiobooks on my iPod as well as PDFs on my laptop to save on space. I guess I should get some sort of grocery list to start me off on the trip too. That's assuming I can digest food at all after the 24 hours of flying and waiting in airports. I've had travel sickness before, and considering it's flu-season and airplanes only recycle everyone else's air, combined with the grungy airline food and lack of sleep, it'll be a miracle if I make it into Berlin without being comatose. The school term technically starts the day after I get there, and then I'll have to get my internet going so I can stay in touch with my teacher. Of course, I'll be updating this blog as well, complete with my new photos and drawings. But yeah, all things considered, I have just about everything taken care of. In the meantime, Ich werde Deutsche lerne Täglich. <---I'm sure the grammar's off on that one, but at least I'm trying!
I'm also listening to a bunch of German music right now. Rammstein and Kraftwerk have been huge for me since I was really young, but I can't forget Einstürzende Neubauten (industrial), Nico (neofolk), Gas (ambient), Faust (Krautrock), or The Notwist (soft rock/electronica). Those bands should set the mood when I make it to the city. I cannot wait to see this place again! I still remember seeing the East End Open Air Gallery, painted on a long expanse of Berlin Wall, or the long walk down Unter den Lindenstrasse, which runs through the Brandenburg Gate, Victory Column, and Tiergarten. It'll be much better now that I have a fairly good sense of the history behind each of these sites. I will finally know what it's like to be Hermione from Harry Potter. I've been casually keeping up with modern happenings too--the Syrian refugee crisis being the most notable one. Still not sure if I have the ability to properly respond to that issue in an artistic way without coming across as presumptuous or ignorant, so I'll have to read more about it.
Honestly, as nervous as I am, I know I'll be fine. I predict that the whole food/social interaction thing will be rocky at first, but I'll get the hang of it. When I get to Berlin, after settling my stuff, I'll go on the bus 100 and ride around the city to orient myself. I'm gonna be in the Charlottenburg district (within view of the palace by the same name), which from what I hear is a lot more relaxed and white-bread than, say, Kreuzberg, which is apparently the hipster/nightlife central of Berlin. I'm not nearly as worried about actually producing decent artwork, which is good. I already know that I'm going to visit famous statues (such as Kollwitz' memorial) and do sketches of them, and possibly draw some crowds milling around sites like Checkpoint Charlie or the Gate. I really hope to get a lot of those idealized "SOUL SEARCHING" moments out of the trip, but I know I can't force that to happen. In the end, I have to just do it and see what happens. The next time I post a blog here, I'll be in Germany. For over four months.
There it is again--that feeling of extreme excitement mixed with anxiety!