Before coming to Berlin I knew very little about the city. I knew that Grunewald is a pretty area because I had babysitted there for four days when I was in 8th grade and living in Germany. I also knew that my embassy here, the Egyptian embassy, was housed in an ugly big marble cube of a building with Pharaonic symbols on its façade. And of course, I knew of the Berlin wall, but only that it once separated the city in two and that it fell after the war.
Oh and I knew from reading the news that there is an airport, whose name I could not remember (it’s Tempelhof) that has Germany’s biggest refugee camp somehow housed within it.
In fact, I still don’t know much about this city. Though I’ve been here a little over two weeks, I feel a little overwhelmed by its size, I have been to several European capital cities before, but Berlin is different in how grand it feels. Though I didn’t see anything of Berlin in my first visit in 8th grade, I knew to expect certain things this time around; I was told Berlin is not like the rest of Germany, not like Munich or Frankfurt or any other big cities and certainly nothing like Heidelberg where I lived, that it is not a typical German city, the word “Multikulti” came up a lot in the media I had watched about Berlin, a word my friends and I always made fun of as kids for sounding like a cheesy German version of “multicultural”, though I realize that here it takes on serious meaning.
Berlin feels extremely alive, even though shops still close pretty early and nobody takes credit-cards, it feels like a city that doesn’t stop moving forward and one that you’ll never truly know no matter how long you live here. I think the phrase “the place to be” takes on so many different meanings here, it is the place to be for everything from techno music, video-art and drag-shows to the drug-scene, cultural journalism and political activism. Perhaps the slogan “the place to be” goes beyond just Germany, as Berlin is seen as a model city for exercising “Willkommenskultur” because of how international it is and the many initiatives started by Berliners to make the city more welcoming to outsiders.
What I found most interesting about Berlin, as the capital of Germany, in relation to our material in class is this concept of the “Praktikumsgeneration” as mentioned by Madeline Schwarz. A lot of my friends have done major unpaid internships in Germany before, during and after their time in university. In fact, even my own sister spent her entire summer working full-time at a major law firm in Munich. As mentioned in Intern Nation, Germany’s unpaid internship problem is not as bad as in the US, and yet it takes up much more space in public discourse which impressively led to the law limiting internship durations in 2015 and hopefully protecting young people from exploitation. Perhaps one day the US can follow suit.