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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Casualties of Classical Music

*disclaimer: when I say "Classical Music," I'm referring to the term in general (encompassing all music written before around 1900), not the specific period from 1750-1820ish.*

I just got back from an amazing piano recital at the Großes Festspielhaus- an entire program of Chopin! He played the B minor Sonata and 10 Mazurkas. Plus 3 encores... so it was a wonderful (and long) evening. His third encore was the Schubert Impromptu I played Freshman year, so that was cool to hear. However, I'm not writing this post to talk about how great the pianist was (his technique was FLAWLESS) or how upsetting it was that he seemed so disinterested the minute he stood up from the keys and only halfway bowed to the audience as he sauntered off the stage. It's so hard for me to enjoy the music when it doesn't look like the performer does, no matter how good the pianist (and he was spectacular- I can't stress that enough). But really, that's not what this post is about. In fact, it's about the opposite. 

Two notable things happened tonight: 

Sitting directly in front of me for the evening was a blind man, something I didn't really pay attention to at the beginning of the concert but by intermission had given me so much to think about. The second Sokolov (the pianist) began to play the first movement of the B minor Sonata, the man in front of me sat straight up with an attentiveness that I can't really describe- almost childlike (this will lead me to my second topic in a bit..). As the movement progressed, it was evident that he was experiencing the music in a way I can guarantee no one else in the hall was. He was moving his head and shoulders, swaying from side-to-side, so actively engaged in what was happening. During the Scherzo movement, there were moments I thought he was about to get up and dance! And I can't even begin to describe his posture for the slow movement, or probably fathom what was going through his head. Near the end of the movement, his shoulders began to shake as he was moved to tears. It was clearly evident that he was hanging on to every note and so deeply understood what Chopin was saying with his music. It was beautiful, and completely enriched my concert experience. But not everyone's, as was made obvious by the stares, pointing, and even snickering by a few people around me. I'm glad he couldn't see some people's reactions because to him, there was no one else there. It was only him and Chopin. He understood the music, he GOT it- he FELT it- in a way I may never, and in a way most of us there tonight could only dream of. 

2 rows in front of me and over to the right was a family of four, the youngest being a boy of about 8 or 9 years old (this is where the childlike attentiveness I mention above comes in..). Again like the blind man, the moment Sokolov began to play, he was hooked. His face was glued to the piano, and he did not move for the entirety of the 10ish minute first movement. He was much more attentive than the woman who kept checking her watch, or the middle-aged man sitting next to me whose head got suspiciously close to my shoulder as he dozed off about 4 minutes in. You know, just the average demographic for classical music performances. But in a place where most children would dread spending an entire evening, this child was entranced- he was so in awe with the music he was hearing and again, it was beautiful to watch. (I'm not a creeper, I promise. I just have a lot of time to think in Salzburg...). 

As the music built up to the end of the movement and Sokolov played the final cadence, ending in a glorious B major chord, the child began to bounce up and down in his seat and clap! I wanted to as well- the performance was fabulous! However, I "know better" and remained silent. For a split second, the only noise in the hall was this child clapping and his enthusiasm for the performance, before the man sitting next to me (who, please recall, was ASLEEP) and a few other people around me (including the woman who kept checking her watch) loudly shushed the child and his mother quickly grabbed his hands, a look of panic on her face as she looked around, surveying the damage. The man I was sitting next to looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sort of scoffed as if to say "ugh, can you believe that child just did that?!" I really wanted to look at him, roll my eyes, and scoff as if to say "ugh, was that nap worth the 63 euros you paid for this seat?"  

People like this man, woman, and the multiple audience members who quickly and begrudgingly shushed the child are constantly complaining about classical music "dying out" or "losing its value." I'm upset about it too! It is a very real issue. But these are the exact same people who, know it or not, are contributing to its demise. For the rest of the concert, the child was nowhere near as engaged in the music and he exhibited little to no enthusiasm- a complete change from the first 10 minutes when he was soaking up every note, clearly going on his own adventure with Chopin. This may have been that child's first experience in a concert hall (it probably was because he didn't know the "clapping rule"). Sadly, this may have also been his last. As I filed out for intermission, I could see that his eyes were red and his head was hanging down- still embarrassed by what had happened. And how could you blame him? He didn't know any better, and now his experience has been ruined. 

Why is classical music dying? Because we place so many constraints and expectations on concert goers. There are rules and protocols, and if you don't follow them, you look like a fool. Also, some concerts exhibit an air of pretentiousness that is so nauseating, I don't want to be there. If you are unfamiliar to the world of classical music, how is any of this appealing? To me, the music speaks for itself, but I have been playing piano since the age of 5 and had the opportunity to grow up with it. We as classical musicians (myself TOTALLY included) have done a TERRIBLE job making this beautiful art form accessible to a whole new generation of people who did not grow up being classically trained. To the man who fell asleep and the woman glued to her watch that BOTH scolded someone for clapping at the wrong spot: that child was at a concert and listening to the music. Really listening. Where were you? 

I want the courage and freedom to listen, to be affected, and to dance like no one is watching- if that's what the music leads me to do. I want to be so moved that I just have to stand up and clap, or sit down and cry. Because what's the point if you don't feel anything? 
Classical music is not a museum. 
It's not a dying art. 
It's the most emotional and expressive art form there is. I might not be able to tell you how I feel in words, but I can sit down at a piano and guarantee that within 5 minutes you will know exactly what is going through my head. Through the most troublesome times in my life I've kept a journal, but it was made up of blank staff paper, not notebook paper. And so did Chopin. And Beethoven. And Mozart. It reminds me of a quote I've heard countless times: "Where words fail, music speaks." 

My generation may be the most drama-filled and emotional generation yet, but that's exactly what classical music is! Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is one of the most dramatic things ever created! Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber may be one of the most emotional and cathartic pieces ever written! There is SO much in classical music that my generation could identify with, that they NEED to hear. But why would they want to? The face of it is populated with fancy gowns and tuxes, a pretentious audience that will jump down a child's throat for expressing gratitude "at the wrong time", and a diva of a performer who may or may not give a damn about what they're playing, or the people they are playing it for. Where is the appeal in that? 

But classical music is SO much more. Classical music is not something to simply sit and listen to, it's something you experience. The blind man and the 9-year-old boy tonight went to a concert and had an experience. One day, I hope that's what I leave my audiences with. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beethoven-Archiv

Working at the Beethoven Archives may be the best musical experience I've had to date. Or at least tied with the Bach Competition...

This week I:
1) held a Beethoven sketchbook and teared up
2) read the ACTUAL Heiligenstadt Testament and was speechless
3) got to work with Thayer's first edition Biography of Beethoven- the first scholarly work on his life ever produced
4) was given a facsimile of another sketchbook with melodies Beethoven jotted down but then never used. Stefanie Kuban (head librarian) found it for me because "someone should use them." Another librarian told me she had never shown it to any of the other temporary researches.
5) became best friends with 3 awesome Librarians
6) worked exclusively in German- so I guess I've proven to myself that I sort of know this language

I've always been interested in research and musicology, but never really had a chance to thoroughly explore what that actually entailed. Now, I think I have a pretty good idea. I had SO much fun working in the archives this week. I also enjoyed getting to know the three librarians (that's what the position is called, but a better word in English would be researchers) with whom I worked, especially Stefanie Kuban, the head librarian. I did not speak much the first day, but as the week progressed, I began to talk more and the librarians opened up a bit as well. By Wednesday we had a very conversational work environment!

Stefanie made a few observations about me throughout the week:

1) She had never seen anyone so excited or happy to hold a Beethoven sketchbook in her life.

2) The next day, she asked if I was working on an undergraduate or a graduate thesis. When I told her undergrad, she said she thought so, because if I was working on a graduate thesis, there's no way I would still be this happy and joyful about my work. So here's my public vow to always be joyful in what I do... even in graduate school.... (we'll see..).

3) She told me that my German was very good and was impressed that I was able to work exclusively in another language. On Wednesday when I told her that my final thesis was going to also be in German, all 3 librarians were shocked and extremely impressed (Stefanie also added jokingly: "Das ist gemein!" "That's cruel!"). After they found this out, all 3 librarians would correct any grammar mistake I made, would help if I couldn't think of the right word/phrase, and were always asking me if there was something I was reading that I didn't understand so they could clarify if need be. It was awesome! They adopted me as their German student for the week :)

4) One of the other librarians asked if I was writing this thesis for a graduate school application in musicology. I told her that it was for my Honors Degree and combined my two fields of study: Music and German, and that I was hopefully going to graduate school in Piano Performance. Stefanie was not happy with that answer, because apparently I'm "too smart to just play the piano" and I have a "love for the material unlike many professional musicologists today."

5) This morning when she asked what I had been doing in Germany before now and I told her I was in the Bach Competition, her responses were: "See- you don't actually need to get a graduate degree in it now, that should be enough. Musicology!" and "You're too nice to be that good at piano." Not sure if that last one was meant as a complement.. but it may be the biggest one I've ever received.

It was hard to leave the archives today, but I've done A LOT of research the past 5 days and will enjoy the time just to relax. A lazy night in Bonn tonight, meeting up with my friend Joscha tomorrow (he was a german exchange student when I was in high school- SO excited to see him!) and then off to Salzburg on Saturday for the Mozart Festival!

It's been a good week.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Remaining Calm (or trying my best to..) and Learning to Let Go

I am finally in Leipzig, sitting in my lovely 4 star hotel that is housing the competitors- I guess this really is the big leagues now... or the Hunger Games...

The past few days have been a bit of a roller coaster mentally and emotionally. Friday-Monday I was able to practice in Berlin for about 5-7 hours a day. If the past two months have taught me anything, it's that a person can spend only a certain amount time sitting in front of a piano before mental walls start to pop up, progress ceases, and you begin to loathe yourself... that may sound a bit drastic, but I will definitely be taking a break from the piano after all this is over, and will hopefully never sit at one for 7+ hours at a time for a while.. Of course, this is something that Erica (practice coach), Dr. Cowden (piano professor) and Dr. Masters (the other Tech piano professor) have all told me multiple times, but I have really learned it for myself now. I finally "snapped" last night in Berlin and am very thankful for FaceTime and a Father who knows so well how to handle me in that state...

However, now that I am in Leipzig, successfully registered, and staying put for 12 days, I am slowly starting to ease into a more relaxed state. Even better, my family gets here tomorrow, which is much needed.

I am SO excited for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I will get to play in front of some of the world's leading Bach Interpreters, and will get comments back from them when I don't progress to the next round. All that being said, this well may be the most stressful experience I ever have. I have worked tirelessly for 2 months to prepare an insane amount of music. Being one of the youngest here, I really don't have much experience when it comes to competitions or performances like these, but what a way to start gaining it! I may not have the experience, knowledge, or "interpretation skills" of these older, more seasoned competitors, but I can love and adore playing this music just as much as a professional with 10 years more experience, and that's really all that matters.

My favorite Bach quote: "I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music." I love this, because it shows why Bach wrote and did everything he did. At the end of a lot of his manuscripts, he often wrote the words "Soli Deo Gloria" (Glory to God alone), and that's very much how I feel about this entire process and the coming week. I am very thankful to have been blessed with the ability to play the piano and recognize that only so much of it really comes from the hours and hours of practice that I've put in (and trust me, there have been hours and HOURS). As I have reminded myself, none of this really is about me. It's a bit difficult to separate that sometimes, but I am trying to let go and enjoy the ride! I have put in all the work, done the hours at the piano, studied the scores, listened to recordings, and even spent countless hours with the metronome (my favorite...).

Tomorrow morning at 8:30, all of us are gathering to find out the competition order and rehearsal schedules, followed by the opening concert tomorrow night. As Leigh Anne put it, I'm about to meet my international group of peers: Pianists from all over the world who love Bach just as much as I do. I'm sure some of them have gone through the same sleepless nights and maybe even the bouts of nausea that have hit me the past few weeks- I have never been affected by stress like this before, but I don't think I have ever been so intensely invested in something either.

So tomorrow morning I will wake up, walk to Thomaskirche, find out my slot, and then just play the piano- I'm done with practicing. I can't practice anymore. But because of all the time put in, I can play the notes. And I know God will make the music.

Soli Deo Gloria. Because it's really not about me at all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Here I Go! (again)

I'm currently sitting at an airport gate in Chicago waiting for a flight to London, then Berlin. Strangely, this sort of feels familiar now. Before college, I had flown only a handful of times (mostly for college auditions) and not extremely far. Since I have been at Virginia Tech, I've had the privilege of traveling abroad every summer and have had some amazing opportunities. I am so thankful for University Honors for making a large part of it all happen (especially both trips to Germany). I remember how nervous and scared I was to travel and live in Europe ultimately by myself (I had Caroline for my flight over). This year as I sit in the airport, I have no feelings of uneasiness or nervousness, and am SO excited to make it back to Berlin. (Trust me, I have PLENTY of nervous jitters for the competition, but that's not until next week...). It's funny to see how much I've changed and grown in just one year.

I'm hoping to (faithfully) update this blog to record my experiences this summer and give the (many) people who have asked for ways to follow me as I travel a way to do so. I'll start with a bit of context for the next few weeks.

The main goal of my trip is to compete in the International-Bach-Competition in Leipzig Germany. The Piano Competition takes place every 4 years (winter Olympic years) and the Organ competition  takes place on a different 4 year cycle (summer Olympic years). The competition is open to anyone in the world ages 16-35. This year, there are 45 competitors and 5 of us are from America. I am the 4th youngest at 20 years old (the majority of the competitors are in their mid-20s and early-30s). I've included the link to the official website of the competition at the end of this post.

Here's the competition schedule

Tuesday, July 8: Registration (find out which day of Round 1 I will compete)
Wednesday, July 9: Opening Concert
Thursday-Saturday, July 10-12: Round 1 at Leipzig Conservatory
Sunday, July 13: Day off (find out if I advance)
Monday-Tuesday, July 14-15: Round 2 in the Gewandhaus Opera house
Wednesday, July 16: Round 3 (no day off...) in the Gewandhaus
Thursday, July 17: Rehearsal with Orchestra
Friday, July 18: Final Round in the Gewandhaus
Saturday, July 19: Closing ceremonies, prize-winner concert (all over!)

The repertoire list is even more daunting...

ROUND 1

Invention in G major
Invention in B minor

Sinfonia in A major
Sinfonia in A minor

Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (book 2)

Sonata in E major (CPE Bach)


ROUND 2

Prelude and Fugue in F minor (Mendelssohn)

Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Shostakovich)

Sonata in D Major (Mozart)

French Suite in B minor (Bach)


ROUND 3

Partita in C minor

Toccata in D major


ROUND 4

Italian Concerto

Concerto in D minor (with orchestra)


This amounts to almost 4 hours of music, all of which I have basically learned in the past two months... it's been a very strenuous and daunting process (but fortunately, Dr. Cowden ROCKS so it's been a little easier).

I'm currently en route to Berlin where I will be for 6 days. This will give me a chance to get over jet lag, relax a bit, and practice extensively before the competition. I am SO excited to be back in Berlin.

That should bring everyone up to speed for the next few weeks. There's another half to my summer in Germany which I will explain in full detail later (mentally, I can't see past this competition yet...)

Here's the link to the official competition page:
http://www.bachwettbewerbleipzig.de/en/bach-competition/bach-competition-2014

Looking forward to my next post being from Berlin!!

Bis bald

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reflections: Proud to be an American.... Sometimes.

I have now been back in America a little over a month, and have had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences abroad this summer. I can see how much I've grown as a person, but even more so, I can see how my global perspective has evolved and matured in a way only possible by leaving the country.

I had left America once before, but only for ten days. I thought I knew what to expect, but 6 and a half weeks is a completely different beast. Especially at the beginning, I was completely on my own. I did not know anyone, and I had to figure everything out for myself. Everything. The first Sunday I was there, I ate one piece of bread, the entire day. I was not aware that most everything is closed on Sunday in Berlin, and had not yet purchased my metro pass, so I was not about to journey into the center of the city by myself. I'm not complaining about it either; that first Sunday was a real wake up call that I was in for a completely new experience, and I needed to be smarter and more observant.

I also experienced a completely different type of fear. That morning when Caroline left for the train, I realized I was completely alone. It was the first time in my life that I felt that way. As I previously stated:
Foreign country
Just me
Figure it out for myself.

And I am so thankful for that fear. I grew up a lot this summer, because I was forced to. But not only out of necessity: I wanted to grow. For almost 20 years I had only been exposed to one country, and really only two different homes (Cary and Blacksburg). I am thankful for all of the experiences I have had here, but I firmly believe that everyone needs to leave their country for a time. The discoveries can be eye opening.

I am proud to be an American. I love my country and am so glad to call it home. But there were times this summer when I began to think, maybe America is not THE best country in the world, but merely one of the best. Our way is not the only way to do things, you know. And there were also times that pride in my country was also accompanied by a tiny bit of embarrassment or even shame..

Encounter #1:

I was sitting on the S-Bahn (commuter train) one Saturday afternoon and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. We began talking (in German of course) and I told her I was studying at FUBiS for the summer and that I lived out in Wannsee. She too lived in Wannsee, and we griped over how far out of the city we were. All-in-all, we had a lovely conversation. She then asked me where I was from, or if I lived in Berlin. I said, "Ich komme aus Amerika. Mehr spezifisch, Virginia." (I'm from America. More specifically, Virginia.) A look of surprise came over her face and she replied, "Oh, aber du bist sehr nett..." (Oh, but you are so nice...). We continued to talk, but it was clear she was surprised that someone so polite and thoughtful had come from America to study..

*Something not evident to English speakers: in her response to me, she used "du" for you instead of "Sie." This means she switched to the informal when she had previously addressed me in the formal.*

This encounter occurred during weekend #2, and began a summer long examination of a lot of my beliefs and prejudices.

Encounter #2:

I was shopping on Friedrichstrasse one afternoon near my favorite bookstore, and decided to dash into Starbucks quickly to get a drink. I was in line behind 3 American girls, probably in their early 20's. The barista was a sweet German girl, probably around 17 our 18 years of age. She knew some English, but was definitely not fluent in it. The first girl was trying to order a Grande Frappuccino of some kind, I don't remember which one. It was a complicated order, along the lines of "extra whip, non-fat something, blah blah blah, etc."

When the barista said, "I am sorry, do not understand?" the girl ordering repeated it again, clearly agitated that the barista did not understand her complicated order. The barista then said, "Ok. No whip? Ext--" At which point, the girl replied "EXTRA whip. GOD!" and proceeded to repeat her order even louder and slower, using hand gestures and pointing to the menu, one of the drink machines, then back to herself nodding. She then thrust 5 Euros onto the counter, rolled her eyes, murmured "b****" under her breath, and walked down the counter to await her drink order. The barista was clearly troubled, and the other two girls just smirked and proceeded to order their drinks. When I got to the counter, I ordered my usual Weiße Schokolade Mocha and smiled at the barista, who by this point had a tear in her eye.

As I was waiting for my drink (and unfortunately behind the 3 girls again), I heard the first one voice her frustrations to the other two. "How am I supposed to order anything when they don't even speak English! This is ridiculous!" The other two nodded in agreement laughing about how stupid the barista must be....

Woman.
You. Are. In. GERMANY.
How are you supposed to order anything when they don't speak English? Maybe politely for starters..
Or maybe you could have taken the time to learn some basic German. Seriously.

And then it hit me.

How many times have I seen someone (myself DEFINITELY included) get upset when an "immigrant" or a tourist doesn't know much English (or any at all). I've seen plenty of people get upset (again, myself included...) and make snide remarks, such as "If they are going to live here then they need to speak the language!" or "this isn't Mexico, learn English"... Something rude along those lines.

Yet, here are 3 Americans who set foot in another country, not knowing the language (at all), and are angry because their needs are not being catered to. There is a HUGE double standard there, and it was really the first time I saw it.

I wish I could say that was the only experience I had with rude Americans who made no effort to communicate in a polite way. (I mean SERIOUSLY. You don't have to know German, just at least be polite and patient if there is a language barrier). And on that note, Berlin is one of the BEST places for English speakers. Almost everyone speaks English, some better than I do most likely. So of all places outside of America, Berlin caters to English speakers well.

By this point in the summer, I was beginning to feel a tiny bit ashamed when I admitted I was from America. I had a few more small encounters, be it on the train, in a bar, or out and about, where I would be having a lovely conversation with someone, but once I said I was from America, the mood would change or the conversation would abruptly end. It got to the point towards the end of the summer, that I would not volunteer that information unless I was directly asked where I was from. A lot of times I could get away with "I'm a student in Berlin."

My eyes were being opened. At the bars, the loudest people were the Americans. Walking around the city, the rudest people in stores or restaurants were more than not, Americans. And I could hear what some of the Germans would say: Look at the Americans, so loud. That was rude, they must be American. And on and on and on.

No wonder Americans have such a bad stereotype abroad.
Wait.
There's the word.
Stereotype.
The word I'm sure everyone hates on some level.

Finally, the last piece in my perspective change. Stereotypes are generally assigned by the loudest and most outspoken people of a group. I was starting to become so disheartened with my country. I will be completely honest: there were points this summer where I was NOT proud to be an American. I love my country, and the country I call home, but what I was seeing (Starbucks encounter) or hearing was not matching up to the idealized picture of America I had painted in my head. It was shattered. And I was sad. I was ashamed. Of America. How unpatriotic is that? This was not the America I had come to love and know. Why was that?

Because it really wasn't my America. It was the American stereotype. And there is a reason for every stereotype. And oh, did I see it.
But what I also saw were many other Americans. Thoughtful. Kind. Patient. And I am willing to bet that these people greatly outweigh the "stereotype". These are my friends.  My family. People I have met through school, or church, or home. Friends I made at FUBiS this summer.

My perspective has changed. Yes, I am proud to be an American, but we are not the only country out there that deserves that kind of pride. I am proud to know German, and to have been adopted by Germany for too short a time. I am proud to have an expanded world view, and to have the courage to open my mind and grow in it.

How often do we stereotype people? Judge people? Just because they are different than us? I know I do it more frequently than I care to admit. But being on the receiving end of it, I can tell you, I will be far slower to lump people into a stereotype ever again.

We all have bits and pieces of that "American" stereotype in us. I am proud to recognize them in myself, and am excited to work towards changing them.

I am proud to be an American. But it is not the end-all-be-all in my life. There is so much more in the world than us. And I am proud to finally know that now.









Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fun in Transit (written in the Istanbul Airport)

So. I am exhausted (so who knows what I'm about to write….). And I'm only sitting at my gate in Turkey… It is 11:12 Turkey time (hehe, that's fun to say), and my 11 hour and 35 minute flight leaves at 1:35pm (6:35 am US time). I will land in DC at 6:10pm US time, and will then get to go through customs. Yay. 

My day started at 3:45 this morning (9:45pm US time… yesterday) getting a taxi and heading to the airport in Berlin. I stayed up through the night, because I was afraid I wouldn't hear an alarm, and hoped it would make me tired enough to sleep on the plane (I usually can't sleep on planes). Well… it worked. I'm EXHAUSTED. But I only slept an hour on my first flight because it was so bumpy and noisy. I'm hoping the other people on my DC flight shut up and sleep as well. 

From the time I left my hotel to the time I land at Dulles, I will have been traveling for 21 hours. Today, I will also experience 23.5 hours of daylight, because I'm flying "back in time" from Turkey. Crazy, right? 

Some differences between traveling to and traveling from Europe:

1. International Travel is nowhere near as fun without Caroline Richards. There's not really much to elaborate on that point. It's just a fact. And I'm quiet jealous she gets to stay in Europe almost a month longer. :) 

2. I am nowhere near as stressed as I was coming over here. Caroline can attest to the level of my anxiety, especially when the Turkish Airlines system went down before our FIRST flight. Even though I'm not a huge fan of the Istanbul Airport (and hope Turkey will never be graced by my presence again..) it is a lot better having connected through this airport previously. I have a nice 2 hour 45 minute connection, and am currently sitting at the gate with some down time. On the way to Europe in May since our first flight was delayed (due to those AWFUL system failures) we had about 40 minutes to do everything: get to the terminal on a bus, go through international security, get to our new plane from another bus, throw a temper tantrum, have Caroline calm me down. But today, I was a pro at getting off the bus and going the opposite way the signs to the international security checkpoint lead (it's true, they point the opposite direction, and there are airline workers standing there that direct you the other way… it's stupid), and getting through security… almost….. which leads me to point three. 

3. Your life is TEN times harder if you are flying to the US. I was only expecting my one security checkpoint and a walk to the gate, but once I got there, an angry Turkish man yelled in terrible English that I had to go to the special "America" security line (we have our own special line, don't know if that's good or pretentious…), go through that security ordeal, then come back and go through the general security. So, I trudged over to our "special" line and was asked a range of questions, from "who packed your suitcase?" to "where you handed anything suspicious to hold for someone, and if so, are you currently holding on to it?" Then I got a special sticker on my passport, another special sticker on my boarding pass, and was able to go through general security. Once I finally got to my gate, there was ANOTHER security checkpoint, where I got asked even more questions, got another sticker (I have to admit, I do like stickers…), had my carry on bag completely combed through, and was one of the lucky passengers chosen for a pat down. And I mean pat DOWN.… It happened about 20 minutes ago, and I still haven't recovered. Just kidding… I'm really tired. 

4. Tegel airport (Berlin) is sort of falling apart, and the Istanbul airport is not terrible, but it's not super nice. However, once I got to the "American gates" (we have our own special gates too….. it's a bit ridiculous), I suddenly stepped into the Hilton of airport gates. Lovely padded seats, tables, clean carpet, our own bathroom, exclusively for our gate. I'm not complaining (AT ALL), it's just a big difference from traveling to America and traveling anywhere else. 

Only 50 minutes to go!!! Hopefully I won't go insane on this flight, and hopefully I can sleep a bit on the plane. I guess I'll have an answer to both of those questions when I post this, because I won't have internet until America.

Auf Wiedersehen Europa. Ich werde dich vermissen aber ich werde dich wieder sehen. :)  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Last days in Berlin: Some Closing Thoughts

6 weeks have flown by. Sitting in my hotel room, I feel like I should have just gotten off the plane. And what a 6 weeks it has been!

When I first got to Berlin, this hotel actually (Quentin Berlin), I was excited, but also extremely nervous and scared. That Friday, I hid in my hotel room most of the day as I was alone (Caroline had left early that morning) and I was uncomfortable in a new setting completely alone. I left the room twice: once to find food, and once to buy a convertor for my laptop charger.

Yesterday upon arriving to my hotel, I threw down my luggage, took a quick shower, and then went out to experience some of my favorite things about Berlin one last time. I took the S-bahn into the city to my favorite book store, went to Alexanderplatz, and just enjoyed being out in Berlin, a very different experience from the one just 6 weeks before.

I love Berlin, and have grown immensely in it. No longer am I as scared to try new things, or maybe break a routine once in a while (for those who know me well, I am a very routine person...). I did not take a merely a small step out of my comfort zone, but rather was thrown out of it completely, and I'm so glad I was. I met many amazing people from around the entire globe, and have made some wonderful friends who I intended to keep in touch with.

This has truly been the best summer of my life. I have grown exponentially in my understanding and speaking of the German language and even more so as a person. I am very sad to leave, but also excited to return home and see my family.

So tonight, perhaps I will go and see the Brandenburger Tor one last time lit up, get one last Berliner Pilsner from my favorite bar on the river, and eat my last Currywurst. I will never forget the memories that I made here, but I am positive I will return.