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Rain, Towers, Rainbows, and New Beginnings

By Stefani Messick

LGBTQIt would feel more realistic to say that it was six months ago that I stepped off the plane to find myself in Germany’s capital; as I blog, however, it has been 21 days. The experiences I have shared with my peers in this short amount of time will remain pertinent and influential in my memory for years to come. As bittersweet as it is to already be leaving, I think it is safe to say that the FemGeniuses are experiencing stimulus overload, exhaustion, and maybe even a touch of homesickness. Nevertheless, our final day in Berlin was brimming with adventure, laughter, and reflection.

Despite the weather forecast, we woke up surprised to find gloomy skies followed by bursts of rain. The apartment was buzzing with nostalgia and delight, and after we said our first goodbye to Blaise, several of us headed to Hackescher Markt to seek out some last-minute Berlin memorabilia, perhaps for our family members whom we promised souvenirs or maybe as a last-ditch effort to spend the rest of our “monopoly money” euros. The tourist atmosphere was stifling, and after a while, we headed to BBQ Kitchen to grab some lunch, minus Casey, who was determined to find schnitzel before she left Germany. With our stomachs full, we easily traversed the bustling cobblestone streets and navigated various forms of public transport. We’ve come a long way since first arriving in Berlin with wide eyes and frantic expressions (at least I have).

FestivalOur main attraction for the day, the Lesbian and Gay Festival, was 13 U-Bahn stops from “home.” The streets there were colored with lesbian and gay pride, the air boisterous with affirmation and eccentricity. The product of small town Colorado, I could count on one hand the number of LGBTQ people I knew and had met while growing up. During my time in Berlin, however, I have seen more couples and met more LGBTQ activists than I’ve known in my brief 18 year existence. Nollendorfplatz brought more immediate comfort and relief than I was expecting. Before the rain started again, our group navigated the colorful streets in childlike awe and happiness, collecting brochures, stickers, and buttons—text in English not required. We all wished, however, that we had at least a basic knowledge of German language in order to enjoy a drag queen’s stage performance or read informational pamphlets of various activist groups. For me, the experience was valuable even without total linguistic comprehension. Although it soon began pouring, the weather couldn’t rain on the parade—there were enough rainbows around to keep the people smiling.

On the train that afternoon (after we left the festival) and again that evening (after we returned to check out the night scene), I exchanged social discomforts with other passengers. Kadesha told me about the rude commentary of a couple, which included the German term for lesbian, “lesbisch,” followed by laughter. And later, I was pressed to boldly stare back at an ill-mannered man whose eyes couldn’t seem to be separated from my new Amnesty International t-shirt and short hair. Throughout the trip, I had heard from several of my classmates that they felt particularly Black in Germany, and before these incidents, I hadn’t fully understood what they meant, since my whiteness, at least, helped me blend in. Discrimination and loathing isn’t always overt, and I find this to be a dangerous issue. When those with the “normative” privileges can instill discomfort in the “other” without laying claim to its problematic subtleties, oppressions scoot under the radar, beyond basic discourse and action. That’s why I find the experiences we had in Berlin with activists and authors who are at the front of various socio-political movements so significant. Where awareness is lacking, intersectionality and kindness suffer.

Our late afternoon and early evening was peppered with unique experiences as well. In the lively Alexanderplatz station square, we found ourselves in the midst of another cultural event, the Afrika Festival. We instantly wished we had come here in place of our visit to the Hackescher market, but that didn’t stop us from purchasing several hand-crafted, distinctive products from the kind vendors. In our interaction with an eager salesman and musician, Kadesha managed to acquire two free hand-carved creatures, an elephant and a hippopotamus she promptly named “Hippa.”

TV TowerA short walk away, we found ourselves craning our necks in order to see the tip of the TV Tower. We entered Berlin in style with our meal at 368 meters (1,207 feet), and our exit was no different. Our accommodations the entire trip never failed to disappoint. 147 floors above the ground, we ate a three-course meal on a revolving floor that allowed us an exquisite 360-degree view of Berlin. Together, we shared tasty delicacies and laughable memories from the trip. Although we all came from different places, including Peru, Turkey, Malaysia, and the United States, we were collectively one unit from Colorado College. We embarked on an adventure with an esteemed professor who helped introduce us to the revolutionary activism in Germany surrounding race, gender, sexuality, class, and migration. Each of us left with some new perspectives, whether on an international or personal level, and for that, I feel eternally blessed. As a child, when I dreamt about travel, I never imagined it occurring so soon in my life or that I would also be meeting and conversing with the authors of the books I studied for this course, the front-runners of a historical movement. Now, as we enter the air to go back from whence we came, we have new knowledge in our minds and new outlooks in our hearts.

FarewellTschüss!

 

 

 

 

 

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Stefani IIStefani Messick is a rising sophomore at Colorado College and hopes to major in English and Education. She also runs for the cross country and track and field teams, and has been finding time to run laps around the block near the apartment where she lives in Berlin, rain or shine. She prefers shine.

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The FemGeniuses Are in Berlin

Students

Well, FemGeniuses family, we made it!

I arrived in Berlin on Saturday, May 24, and all of the FemGeniuses (pictured L to R: Nicole, Stefani, Kadesha, Melissa, Casey, Ximena, Blaise, Kaimara, and Beril) arrived yesterday—Sunday, May 25. Kaimara arrived around 8 am, and we were lucky that their apartment was available so that she didn’t have to roam around all day waiting for check-in. She did want to walk around a bit and get some air—which makes sense after her 8-9 hour flight from Chicago—so we walked to get some breakfast.

We ate at the Nalu diner, a place I found online a few weeks ago. I wanted to try it because I’m a sucker for eggs, bacon, French toast and thangs for breakfast, and that’s what they have on the menu. I ordered the aforementioned with some orange juice—delicious!—and Kaimara ordered pretty much the same thing except she ordered regular toast—she says it was delicious! Fun fact. The diner is named for a breakfast place one of the owners visited in Honolulu, where he spent time growing up in the 80s, called “Eggs and Things.” But “Nalu,” which actually means “surf,” is just an easy name to say in German, English, and Hawaiian.

By the time we went back to their apartment, Blaise had almost arrived. Once her driver parked, she almost killed some bikers by opening her door right in the bike lane. We only laughed because no one got hurt. She didn’t see the bikers because she claims she was so happy to see me. I was happy to see her, too.

After we got settled, we went to get Blaise’s currency exchanged—her hard-headed self didn’t heed my advice to do that in the TXL airport in Berlin. I was going to get mine changed at the airport in Newark, but the man was trying to hustle me and I wasn’t having it. To be honest, though, I didn’t even heed my own advice. I forgot to change my currency at TXL, and had to go to the city to get mine changed, too, after I arrived the day before. Haha.

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

BBQ Duck from BBQ Kitchen

During the non-exchange of the currency process, we ate some lunch at the BBQ Kitchen. I had BBQ duck—delicious!—Kaimara had pommes frites (French fries), and Blaise had some potatoes and thangs. I also had this great apple juice spritzer that was so light and refreshing! Let me also point out something I learned about Berlin when Tony—my husband—and I visited last November. They do NOT play about wasting condiments. You get one serving, and if you want more, you pay extra. No handfuls of ketchup at McDonald’s. Pretty smart, actually. Meanwhile, it was good getting out and about, even though we didn’t get the currency, because I was able to show them some things about getting around in the city.

After this, Blaise and I took her bags to her apartment. We walked for almost 30 minutes, which was silly because we could have taken a tram. That was my fault. Haha. Still, we were able to do some bonding, and I could point out some things about the area and give her some more tips about local travel. She’s super smart and has been picking up on all that really quickly. We had to stop by the main office to get the keys, which made us about 15-20 minutes late meeting Stefani and Kadesha, who were on the same flight from Denver to Berlin. Of course, they had to fuss me out. They’re so resourceful, though. When Blaise and I arrived at the main office, Nathan—the manager (who’s been SO helpful to me since I started planning this trip months ago)—told me, “Your students found some of our other residents and gave us a call! I told them you’d be there in about 10 minutes!” How’d they manage to do that without using their own phones? They buzzed almost every apartment in the building until they found someone to help them! Gotta love my FemGeniuses! I should also mention that they fussed me out even more because their (very beautiful) apartment is on the 5th floor, and there’s no elevator/lift! Haha!

Melissa & Ximena hadn't arrived yet. :(

Melissa & Ximena hadn’t arrived yet. 😦

I wasn’t able to stay long enough to greet Casey, because I had to go back to my apartment and get ready for our dinner at Käfer GmbH and tour of the Deutscher Bundestag, where the German Parliament meets for business. Fancy, huh? I’m not even gonna tell you how much dinner cost! But it was so very nice! It’s so prestigious that I had to send along our full names and birthdates so they could check our identification before we went through the security system.

The Salad

The Salad

For starters, we ate an elaborate salad—buffalo mozzarella with farm tomatoes with old balsamic and basil pesto. For dinner, we ate pink-fried beef filet with white asparagus, new crop potatoes, vegetable-vinaigrette, and Hollondaise sauce.

Fried Corn-Fed Chicken Breast on Asparagus Risotto with Braised Red Wine-Shallots, White Mushrooms, and Buerre Blanc

The Chicken

Blaise doesn’t eat red meat, so she ate fried corn-fed chicken breast on asparagus risotto with braised red wine-shallots, white mushrooms, and Buerre blanc.

Strawberry Tartlet with Sour Cream Ice Cream and Woodruff Sauce

The Strawberry Tartlet

And for dessert, we all ate a strawberry tartlet with sour cream ice cream and woodruff sauce. DELICIOUS, I tell you. And didn’t I tell you it was fancy? Just look at these pictures. Hmph—my FemGeniuses are sho ‘nuff spoiled.

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Deutscher Bundestag Dome

Now, I should tell you that the only reason I could tell you all the names of this stuff is that I only just now deleted the reservation email. It’s so fancy that they have a limited menu, and I had to order everything in advance. Yaasszz, hunty.

Reichstag

Deutscher Bundestag

After we ate and looked around the building—while Blaise took these pictures—we headed back to the apartments and tried to get some rest. But let me say a little bit about these apartments. First of all, they’re extremely beautiful. At first, I was looking for hostels—thinking that’s the typical way college students do study abroad courses. However, my colleague Gail Murphy-Geiss told me that she found apartments for her students studying in France this past spring, and I am really glad she made that suggestion. While I was conducting research, I found the most beautiful apartments that were suitable for accommodating large groups of people—the Old Town Apartments. And after Tony and I visited them this past November? We fell in love! I’m not going to tell you where the students are staying exactly, but if you click that link (above), you can see the beauty for yourself—they look just like the pictures. I swear.

Frauenkreise Berlin

Frauenkreise Berlin

The great thing is that I’m staying nearby in an independently owned apartment that I love. And all of our apartments, near Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, are also close to our classroom space at Frauenkreise. Please check out their website by clicking the link—they are doing some great work, and Gabriele “Gabi” Zekina has been tremendously great to me since we first connected last fall online. We’re all within a 5-minute walk of the nearest grocery stores, and our apartments are equipped with stoves, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, and cooking utensils so that we all can balance eating out with eating in. Things couldn’t have worked out better in this regard, and I must say that my students will be staying at Old Town each and every time I’m able to teach this course, which will hopefully be every year for the rest of my natural life.

Kaimara

Kaimara

Last, I should say that I couldn’t be happier with this inaugural group of students enrolled in my first study abroad course. I say that because five of them have taken a class with me more than once, so we know each other pretty well. Kaimara took her first Feminist & Gender Studies (FGS) course, Intro to Feminist & Gender Studies (Intro), with me last spring, and she also took Feminist Theory (Theory) with me this past spring. She’s going to minor, which couldn’t make me happier.

Blaise

Blaise

Blaise also took her first FGS course with me, Intro, which was actually her first college course ever. It was also the first time I’d taught a First-Year Experience (FYE) course at Colorado College (CC) during the fall semester in 2011, so our history together has some real significance for us both. She also took my Theory course. She’s also minoring in FGS (majoring in Biology), and she’s going to graduate next spring, so I’ll probably cry. Haha.

Melissa

Melissa

Similar things can be said about Melissa. She also took the same FYE course I taught with Blaise. She was also in the same Theory course. The difference is that Melissa also took me for Black Feminist Theory this spring and has decided to double-major in FGS and Psychology. She’s also graduating next spring, and I’ll probably cry again. Haha.

Kadesha

Kadesha

Kadesha also took me for FYE, Intro, during the fall semester in 2012. She also took my Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) course this past fall. She decided to major in FGS recently, and we’ll be working together on a college-funded research project this summer after our time in Berlin! Clearly, she—like Melissa—is ushering in the next generation of Black feminists in a flame way!

Stefani

Stefani

Stefani also took my FYE course, Intro, this past fall. She then took me again for CWS with Kadesha again last fall. I keep saying that I must be getting better at teaching FYE—a really hard first course for college students—because she’s the first student that took me that soon after the FYE. Most of the students can’t deal with me again for at least a year! Haha! Stefani’s a superstar, though, so I gotta give her credit!

Casey and Nicole

Casey and Nicole

Finally, Casey, Nicole, Beril, and Ximena are taking me for the first time here in Berlin.

Beril and Ximena

Beril and Ximena

I wholeheartedly welcome them into the FemGeniuses crew, and hope they’ll take many more classes with me before they graduate!

As for our time in Berlin, keep reading and following us during our journey! Today, we went on a walking tour, and Melissa is in the process of finishing up her blog about that experience as I write! Stay tuned, and be well!

Heidi

Heidi

Best,

Heidi