The popular song “7 Years” by Lukas Graham represents my study abroad experience a few ways. To start, they are a Danish band; so as Danish-made music is reaching American culture, this American is experiencing and enjoying Danish culture. It also references speeding up from being seven to 60 years old just in the few minutes of the song. I have been in Copenhagen for two months, and that seems like way too little time to be halfway done with my semester. Most importantly, this song reflects my life here because I have been listening to it and singing it as loud as possible for a while now, much to the disdain of my roommate.
The other thing on my mind is my recent trip to Berlin with my Cross-cultural Psychology class. DIS, my study abroad program here in Denmark, arranges these trips so that every student travels to some location in Europe with their class for a week. This is probably one of the biggest strengths of DIS because it really allows us to experience the world and realize what we learn outside of just the classroom. Through tour guides at every location, we are able to learn a lot more about the importance of the place we are in than we would if we were just going as tourists. Berlin was the perfect destination for us to better understand the cognitive and behavioral differences and similarities among people of varied cultures and how that can be played out with disastrous effects. (We also ate a lot of great food.)
My initial impression of Berlin was that it was very gray and dull. Compared to lively Copenhagen with different colored buildings on every street, Berlin seemed sad. But that is probably a pretty good description of the emotions of the city considering its tragic past. Our main academic visits were to the Jewish Museum, the Berlin Wall, different memorials, and the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Unlike other nations (the U.S.) who try to repress their dirty past, Germany is able to acknowledge their mistakes and pay respect to those they mistreated. For example, the United States can write in history books that slavery was bad, but there is not a memorial that I know of to remember and grieve this tragedy. On the other hand, Berlin, just in what we were able to see for the few short days we were there, has different memorials for Jewish, homosexual, political, and Sinti and Roma victims of the Holocaust. Denmark, too, seems to be ignoring its problems and pretending they do not exist. So, in this sense, Berlin is a pretty special place.
Germany seems pretty fragile, and I am afraid that it is going to break, again. The tension between East and West Germany, while obviously not as salient in the minds of younger generations now, is still visible. For example, we had a discussion with two people, one from West Berlin and one from East Berlin, who were children when the wall came down. Even though they were friendly with each other, there were some subtle attacks between the two that showed that they still held on to some of the antagonistic ideologies they were raised with.
Within the past couple of years, an anti-Islam group named Pegida has gained strength and visibility in Germany. Their name in English means “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” and they have thousands of people helping to spread their message of hostility. They are not located in Berlin, but while I was there I had to walk through a heavily guarded police line to enter my hotel near the central metro station because, according to a policeman, they were preparing for a Pegida protest that occurs every Monday night there. Maybe this is just because I was hyperaware of the circumstances, but I think that I saw more policemen around Berlin during my time there than I have ever seen in New York City. The Nazi rise to power happened so quickly and easily in part because of the feelings of the people at that time. It is terrifying to think about what this group and other anti-immigration or anti-Islam groups will do in the future in Germany, the rest of Europe, and the U.S.
Looking beyond my sadness and fear about the state of the future of the world, Berlin was a pretty neat place. They had orange trashcans everywhere that had funny and sassy sayings on them, like one next to an art museum that said “Museum of Modern Trash,” and one near the exit of the former American sector of Berlin that read “You are leaving the dirty sector.” There were also beautiful murals both on buildings and the Berlin Wall that reflected on the pain of the past and pointed toward an optimistic future. My six days in Berlin, while opening my eyes to a tragic past and an uncertain future, made me appreciate the happiness and safety I feel in Denmark and made me eager to get back to my home in Copenhagen.