You might be wondering why a blog on studying abroad in Scandinavia has a post about Germany’s vibrant capital city, Berlin. Why Berlin? The answer – Study Tours!
Study Tours are particularly unique, especially exciting parts of summer at DIS. Each class (in Sessions 2 and 3) embarks on a multi-day trip to a destination somewhere in Europe, where, as a group, students embark on a number of different cultural and academic visits related to their course. In Gender, Equality, and Sexuality in Scandinavia, our Study Tour is to Berlin. I didn’t know much about Berlin before going, although I did know that it has a rich LGBTQ+ history. After my five days there with DIS, I can tell you all about that, and so much more!
Ultimately, I was inspired to write this post because I did not know what my Study Tour would entail until the day before it happened. So, I want to give you all a sense of what Study Tours are all about. Below is my journey through gender, equality, and sexuality in Berlin.
Day 1: Arrival Day
7:04 am: I caught the bus from Hornstull, the T-bana train station near my DIS Student Housing, to Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. I was a little sleepy, but the excitement of leaving for Germany kept me awake!
9:45 am: We take off from Stockholm to Berlin!
11:15 am: We arrived in Berlin. After gathering our bags, we made our way to the Grand Hostel Berlin to drop them off.
1:00 pm: Lunch time! I get my first German food – currywurst – at Curry 61 with some friends! German fast food became a favorite of mine during the trip.
2:00 pm: DIS gave us tickets to explore any of Berlin’s famous Museum Island museums, so my friends and I headed to the Neues Museum! There, we saw the famous bust of Nefertiti, amongst other amazing Egyptian artifacts.
7:00 pm: We had our first group dinner! Here, I really got to know a bunch of my classmates more, and we shared our experiences at Museum Island.
9:00 pm: We had the rest of the night to ourselves. This was a theme throughout our Study Tour – having evenings free – and with the long summer hours, it was often possible to see a final monument or memorial before heading home for the day.
Day 2: My own exploration of East German history, and the Queer City walking tour
Study Tours tend to be pretty structured, as DIS wants you to get as much out of the experience as possible, but on Sunday we had most of the day free. So, a friend and I got up bright and early, and used our free time to explore some East German history!
8:30 am: Free breakfast at the hostel! DIS organized and paid for a majority of the meals we had, which was super helpful.
9:00 am: Our first stop was the East Side Gallery. This portion of the Berlin Wall is the longest remaining original stretch of the wall and is also the world’s longest open-air art gallery. We went early to avoid the crowds, and it was definitely worth it!
Some of the many murals on the Berlin Wall. I loved seeing the variety of art styles and artists from all over the world, and it was particularly amazing to see the famous “The Kiss” mural.
1:00 pm: DDR Museum. This museum gave us insight into what life was like in East Berlin before the wall fell. It’s fun and interactive, and I learned some very unexpected facts about Soviet-occupied East Germany (Gender, Equality, and Sexuality related: the East German Government only proclaimed gender equality out of economic necessity!).
3:00 pm: The Jewish Museum. One of my favorite museums in Berlin – this museum uses art and architecture to convey the myriad emotions of various Jewish experiences under the Third Reich. For instance, res*o*nant was a light and sound installation using an interplay of vertical voids, loudspeakers, and strobe light pulses to induce feelings of expulsion, absence, fear, and hopelessness in the viewer.
5:00 pm: Our first DIS group event, the Queer City Walking Tour! Our guide, Finn, gave us a walking tour of Berlin’s gayborhood, Schöneberg. Here, we learned about the history of LGBTQ+ life and movements in Berlin. The founding of the first LGBTQ+ rights organization in history occurred in Berlin and was spearheaded by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a major sexual rights activist. We also learned about Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”), brass plaques placed all over Europe in memory of the victims of Nazism. Finn pointed out a few of these stumbling stones to us around the neighborhood, telling us the stories behind some of the LGBTQ+ residents’ lives before and during the Third Reich. Along with being a place where people lived and worked, Schöneberg also used to be a huge entertainment hub – Finn told us about a bisexual entertainer who performed in Berlin named Josephine Baker, who was famous for riding around the city in an ostrich-drawn carriage!
8:00 pm: Dinner, then the rest of the night free.
Day 3: Our first full day! World War II to contemporary queer culture
10:00 am: We begin our day at Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp about an hour outside of Berlin. Here, we learned more about the gay men persecuted under Nazism. It’s difficult for me to accurately, comprehensibly describe my experience at Sachsenhausen. I can say that it was harrowing, and there were a variety of emotions that went through me, and that it was not necessarily an easy visit for me. However, I believe it is so, so essential to visit places like Sachsenhausen, to get a true sense of the sheer degree of horror that people were subjected to under Nazism.
2:30 pm: After getting back to the city and eating a group lunch, we received a private tour of the Sammlung Boros art collection. The location is a World War II bunker turned nightclub turned art museum and private residence, so the visit was both a unique cultural and historical experience. Unfortunately, I could not take pictures of the art, but I would recommend checking it out if you’re an art enthusiast!
4:00 pm: Before the next event, I went to the Berlin Cathedral with friends, and tried my first ever schnitzel! The views from the top of the cathedral were beautiful.
Views from the top of the Berlin Cathedral! It takes quite a few stairs to reach the top, but that’s definitely part of the reward.
7:00 pm: Our class went to the studio of performance artist Olympia Bukkakis, known for kickstarting Berlin’s alternative drag scene and organizing a variety of queer performance nights. I loved Olympia’s lecture – she talked to us about the radical transformative potential of drag and gave us examples of this through a drag performance and an alternative drag makeup tutorial video. She also ran a make-your-own drag persona activity for us, in which we worked in groups to come up with our own drag identities. At the end of the event, Olympia invited us to an alternative drag show in the city, which was one of the highlights of my Berlin trip.
10:00 pm: Some friends and I made a final stop for the night at the Brandenburg Gate, one of Berlin’s most famous attractions. The gate has played a number of different historical roles since its completion in 1791, and today is recognized as a symbol of peace.
Day 3: Cold War sorrows, present-day battles
10:30 am: We began our day at the Palace of Tears, the train station at which many East Germans said goodbye to their West German friends and family for the last time. While I had seen some Cold War-era information presented already at the DDR museum, it was interesting to be able to read about the personal journeys of people from the DDR in the actual, historical location in which those journeys took place.
12:00 pm: Lunch at KaDeWe, Europe’s second-largest department store and foodie heaven (if you’re looking for a unique souvenir, this is the place to get it).
2:00 pm: Pro Familia visit. Pro Familia is a German organization that does education and outreach surrounding sexual and reproductive rights. Similar to our visit to RFSU in Stockholm, during our visit to Pro Familia, we learned about German sex ed, although different from RFSU, Pro Familia also does individual and couples counseling on sexuality, abortion, marriage, and more. As I discussed in my last blog post, having the opportunity to compare Swedish, German, American, and Danish sex ed models has led me to better see the strengths and weaknesses of each.
5:00 pm: I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism in my last bit of free time. Both of these were powerful, salient memorials that I would recommend visiting on your own DIS Study Tour in Berlin.
7:00 pm: Our final group dinner! It was sad in the sense that it marked the close of our time in Berlin, but heartwarming in the sense that it reminded me how close my classmates and I had become.
Day 5: A final farewell
One of the many aspects of my Study Tour that I appreciated is that we really maximized our time in Berlin. Thus, even though our flight to Stockholm left that evening, we spent the morning and afternoon attending two final events in Berlin.
10:30 am: We attended a lecture by Swedish activist Alex Alvina in Berlin’s trendy, LGBTQ+ friendly Friedrichshain neighborhood. There, Alex read us some excerpts from their upcoming book, and also discussed with us portions of their thesis on queer feminism and trans experiences.
2:00 pm: My final DIS experience in Berlin was the Refugees Show Their Berlin walking tour. In this tour, a Syrian refugee guided us around the Neukölln borough of Berlin, where a diverse population of immigrants resides. At the beginning of the tour, our guide told us about his personal journey to Germany. I learned that it costs thousands of dollars and a significant amount of time for refugees to escape hostile circumstances and that the journey is often wrought with a number of moments of terror. He then gave us an activity to help us experience one of the most difficult aspects of immigrating to an entirely different country – overcoming the language barrier. He guided us down Sonnenallee (Berlin’s “Arab Street”), which houses businesses with names primarily written in Arabic, and had us match words on a card to the various businesses. I was proud to have eventually found mine because I struggled, but I learned at the end that I had passed 3 other businesses with my word before finally recognizing one! Overall, the tour was uniquely insightful, and I really enjoyed the experience.
5:00 pm: The final activities I did on my own were going to the top of the TV Tower (the second-tallest tower in Europe!), and ending my trip as it had begun: with currywurst. It was difficult to say goodbye to Berlin, as I had really grown to love the city, but I felt content knowing that DIS helped me to maximize my experience there.