Illustration by Lauren You

J-term Guide: Berlin

Surrounded by so much culture, art, history and urban changes, each day in Berlin is full of ongoing activities.

Feb 4, 2018

A step out of the residence halls takes you to the gateway between former West and East Berlin — a UNESCO World Heritage site — and historic market square. NYU Berlin is situated in the heart of the city’s history. As the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg to the site of ideological division during the Cold War, Berlin now stands as one of Europe’s key cities.
“I have lived my whole life in the UAE, so everything was very, very different. The cold, the scenery, the people — it was a fresh shock at first,” shared Soaad Hammami, Class of 2020, describing her initial awe when she first set foot in Berlin.
A simple walk through the city will give you a good grasp of its atmosphere; high-rise buildings are not common, as Berlin retains its old architecture. Street art has made a big impact in Berlin. Unlike the preconceived notion of graffiti as thriving only in unsafe areas, it is an integral part of the city’s character.
Surrounded by culture, art, history and urban change, each day in Berlin is full of ongoing activities. Many courses in NYU Berlin take full advantage of such benefits by incorporating day trips to museums and historic sites to enhance the learning experience.
“I was doing a course called Art & Architecture in Berlin with Professor Sandra Peters during J-Term. I definitely recommend it; she is super sweet and encouraging, and she’s lived in Berlin for 15 years, so she knows the city really well. I think the reason I liked the course was [that] we often had class trips as part of our learning experience. Compared to my semester in Abu Dhabi, we were so much more in the city,” said Anushka Upadhyay, Class of 2021, noting her love for such experiential academics.
The residences are located in Kreuzberg, which is considered to be of the most vibrant and multicultural districts of Berlin. Popular tourist spots like Checkpoint Charlie and Museum Island are just around the corner, and trendy shopping streets with concept stores and boutique shops add to the uniqueness of Kreuzberg. While the Academic Center is a 30-minute commute from the Kreuzberg residences, Berlin’s outstanding public transport system provides an interesting journey. From trams to subways and buses, any mode of transport will take you to the desired destination quickly.
Many students, including Jacinta Hu, Class of 2020, praised the efficiency of the system.
“The public transportation in Berlin is really, really easy to navigate. It’s amazing. I never realized how big the city was until I saw the map of the subway — yet everything is organized so nicely,” Hu said.
Such convenience creates an ideal setting for random explorations, and students take advantage of this feature to go on their own walking tours and soak in the city.
“There was one metaphor that accurately described Berlin; one of the faculty called it a scrambled egg city, as opposed to a fried egg city. With fried egg there is a notable center where main attractions are clustered, but Berlin had everything everywhere, which made walking around the city so amazing. After classes we always set off for small adventures,” said Upadhyay.
Getting off a random train station or walking into unexplored territory did not mean that you were lost — it simply opened up a whole lot of hidden gems to be discovered.
Ji Young Kim, Class of 2020, particularly loved the process of finding these hidden gems, and offered a tip for getting around. “Take the M29 bus near the residences, and you can get off anywhere and encounter the coolest places.”
Food makes up an essential part of Berlin life, and its variety reflects the diversity of Berlin’s population and culture. A number of students stressed that Turkish food is a must-eat, particularly the Turkish doner. Put together with fresh pita bread and piping-hot roasted meat, it serves as an ideal, stomach-filling meal for the cheap price of four euros. German treats like currywurst, a type of fast food with curry powder and ketchup on sausages, are popular too. In Kreuzberg, there is a weekly street food market called Markthalle Neun, where every Thursday, international food vendors gather in an indoor market hall to provide the community with an array of menus, ranging from burgers to takoyaki and Nigerian fufu.
Berlin may feel overwhelming at first; its sheer size, lively rush and constant activity may be too much to digest at once. In the end, however, the city will open your eyes to numerous discoveries.
“In the beginning I didn’t like Berlin that much, because it felt way too big for me. But once I got to see more places and historic sites, the city grew on me,” said Kim.
Berlin is an exquisite blend of the old and the contemporary. If you are someone who loves walking and exploring places on foot, and are happy to be lost in the randomness of a city, mark Berlin as a possible study abroad destination.
Soohyun Hwangbo is a staff writer. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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