An Extra Early Alarm

That first sliver of sun emerging from behind the buildings reminds me of the way it feels when you’re holding a newborn baby in your arms.  You wonder how such a tiny human can even exist when suddenly an illuminating smile spreads across their precious little face.  It’s that awe-inspiring sense of hope that I am overwhelmed by every time I witness the sun rising.  There’s a certain promise that accompanies it.  “See,” says the sun, “I am here and I always will be.  Even on those gloomy days, I’m just behind the clouds waiting to meet you again.”

I appreciate this promise since sometimes we have so many dreary days in a row I begin to question if sunlight itself has permanently retired to some other part of the world.  I really can’t complain however, considering I’m still in an insanely cool city and my friends/family in Michigan are suffering through a spring snow.  Although a bit over-ambitious, a goal of mind this semester is to watch the sunrise once per week.  I decided to strive for this many because I speculate I am maximizing my chances of seeing the most impressive display of colors.  I’m waiting for the perfect cloud-to-sky ratio to dazzle me beyond belief.

Naturally, there are times I miss my weekly rendezvous with the sun.  There have also been a few unlucky mornings that one large meddlesome cloud looms exactly where I wish it wouldn’t and obstructs the view completely.  Even on the overcast days, I am glad to have forced myself to roll out of bed at such an anomalous hour.  I am given the opportunity to join the bustling swarm of people hurrying to work during morning rush hour.  Dark eye circles and heavy lids occupy the faces of every individual traveling by metro around 6:00AM.  Once the doors open, the half-asleep crowd pours onto the platform and wills itself towards the escalator as one unified entity.  Despite being separate and unrelated, each passerby seems to share the same objective . . . to live, to get by every day.  We may be complete strangers who speak different languages, but this is where our humanness communicates without words.

On a less existential note . . . the experience has some fun and simple aspects as well.  I truly feel like a local when I’m handed a newspaper with a warm “dobrý den” (meaning “hello” or “good day” in Czech).  My journey to the sunrise typically ends on the Charles Bridge.  It’s an ideal location for watching the sun come up over one side of the city and cast a serene glow upon the other.  Being there at this hour also provides the benefit of a substantially smaller number of tourists which cover every inch of the cobblestone on nice days.  Below you can see some of the stunning views I’ve captured from the bridge.  Stay tuned!

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Berlin & Prague

IES EU sets apart 21 days during our time abroad to travel as a program to different cities around the EU with the purpose of comprehending the current status and the inner workings of this intricate nation-state partnership. They break the time down into 3 separate segments and in September I had the chance to visit Berlin and Prague for our first field study! This field study had the headline “Europe: From Division towards Integration” and each day we not only toured around but had scheduled meetings with governmental representatives, cultural scientists, and a journalist.

Our group met in front of the Freiburg train station at 6:00 am on a Monday to depart for Berlin. Traveling around Europe by train is so clean, efficient, and incredibly timely so I was looking forward to the quiet solitude. Four hours later, we were on our way to a city walk of Berlin and by 6:00 PM we had the rest of the evening to ourselves. This city is by far my favorite place in Europe, although I can never pin point exactly why. With its extensive history, there is always something new to explore. Berlin is a city that has withstood the toughest of wars. Visitors can explore everything from the Holocaust Memorial to the Berlin Wall to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where over 100,000 beings were killed. There is also a unique vibe to the city and can be characterized as a city that literally never sleeps! My favorite meeting in Berlin was at the Hohenschonhausen Memorial, a former prison of the GDR Ministry of State Security (Stasi), where we had a tour led by a former Stasi prisoner. What remains of the prison is a well-preserved depiction of the psychological warfare that existed as a result of the Soviets struggling to maintain control over their people.

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Reichstag dome
Reichstag dome
East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall
East Side Gallery
East Side Gallery

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Cathedral
Cathedral
Brandenburg Gate, half of IES EU
Brandenburg Gate, half of IES EU

On Thursday, we made our way over to Prague by train and arrived in perfect time for a city walk through its enchanting streets. My friend, Tiffany, and I spent the rest of the evening watching the sun set over the Charles Bridge, eating Nutella and strawberry crepes in the Old Town Hall, and going to a traditional Czech restaurant recommended by our program. There we feasted on roast pork and knedliky, which are boiled sliced dumplings, the most popular Czech dish. To be honest, it felt like a less tasty Thanksgiving dinner but I appreciated the meat included in the meal. Friday was my favorite day away from Freiburg. I started off my day waking up to see the sunrise over Charles Bridge. For those that haven’t visited Prague, this bridge is the most touristy place and is always crammed with people. There was such a peaceful ambiance encompassing the place at 6:00 am that made the early wake up call so worth it!

Charles Bridge

roast pork and knedliky
roasted ham and knedliky

view from Charles BridgeOld Town Square

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
Old Town Square
Old Town Square
our most favorite food group...crepes
our most favorite food group…crepes

Then we met with Ms. Marketa Hulpachova, the editor of Media in Cooperation & Transition, a media development organization that implements projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She gave us a Czech citizens’ perspective on the transition from communism to post-communism, on EU integration, and on Czech’s EU Membership. I found this young professional incredibly fascinating due to her extensive expertise in such a male dominated arena. For the past 5 years she was living in Iran doing work for MICT. Ms. Hulpachova talked about how ideological differences in Iran have created strong distrust within the community and how Europe is continuously investing in the Iranian economy by working with larger companies that have strong ties to the oppressive government. Being able to converse with such an important individual felt very surreal for me, and Ms. Hulpachova was very open to our questions. This meeting was my favorite in Prague! Around 4:00 PM, we were all done with conferences and Tiffany and I spent the rest of the evening getting lost in Prague’s cobbled streets, taking pictures of the castle, eating baked goods, and then dancing until sunrise in Prague’s infamous 5 story club. It was so fun and definitely a great way to end our trip!