Friday, July 22, 2016

Gender: A Year of Confusion

Around this time last year I came to the conclusion that I am nonbinary and settled upon the label agender. In the intervening year I've done a lot of thinking and angsting about gender--gender identity, gender expression, gender performance. Masculinity. Femininity. How race intersects. I am no longer labeling myself as agender, mostly because gender is born from external, societal forces/interactions and I don't want to give myself anything to hide behind such that I could opt out of thinking about what my gender means about how I interact with other people.

Last September I wrote a series of posts about gender: a post about Discovering Gender. Gender: MU, and Masculinity. I still mostly agree with the last one, but there are gaps missing in the sum of these. I'll try to fill those gaps in; it's going to get messy.


I reread these posts in order to prepare for this one and I cringed a lot while reading them. Past me had never really thought about LGBT issues until discovering that they were ace, and didn't tend to consider others' opinions and experiences. As a result, the posts above are pretty transmisogynistic. I conceptualized womanhood as belonging exclusively to cis women who are capable of bearing children*, and since that kind of womanhood is one I fervently do not want, I neglected to consider people who embrace a kind of womanhood beyond the one that society deems valuable.

*(At the time, I was reading a lot of Justine Musk (yes, Elon's ex-wife) and since she's very eloquent I unreflectively accepted her idea of womanhood/femininity as a working definition of "the" womanhood/femininity. But no one woman can speak for all women.)

Spoiler alert: this is not where I go "surprise, after talking to various other people I've decided that womanhood actually is something valuable to me and I want to be a woman and expand what that means." All power to people who do but that isn't me.

In the fall and winter, I had a lot of conversations with others in my dorm about various topics relating to gender/LGBT identities. One time, I and a gender-questioning frosh (who has since come out as a trans boy) asked two of our cis woman friends how they knew that they were cis. They both said that 1) growing up, masculinity was strongly associated with violence and 2) they resonated with the traditionally feminine roles of caring for, nurturing, and supporting others. So there were both push and pull factors.

What I remember most about that was a sinking feeling when they said "masculinity was associated with violence." Because even if I don't have a label for where I am on the gender spectrum, my trajectory is transmasculine. I am moving toward the pole of violence, dominance, entitlement, aggression, and a host of other ills that have hurt many, many people. So I'm wary.

But the thought of embracing femininity and womanhood makes me nauseous. I'm going to leave my dysphoria off the table for a minute, because the body does not determine gender, and look at what femininity means. For my cis friends, it was nurturing others, putting others' needs first, and god is that noble but god do I not want to do that. In high school I wrote a paper about relationships and power in Crime and Punishment and in the end came to the conclusion that Dunya, Raskolnikov's sister, won in the end because she wanted respect but also to support others, and she got both. This was one of those stumbled-upon conclusions, and I remember having to turn that thought over in my mind a couple of times before deciding that it was true enough to leave in--because I couldn't conceptualize being satisfied with that. I couldn't parse being in a subservient position and being happy.

This is not to say that that is all that femininity can or should be. And I definitely need to talk to more women, cis and trans and neither, about what their gender means to them, why they are women. Because femininity is currently placed in a position of less power than masculinity, and I don't have enough information about what is going on in the minds and hearts of people who claim it.

Ubermadchen was in some ways a way of working through questions relating to femininity. Marilla, the main character, is a very feminine lesbian--someone to whom maleness has no appeal. I think writing her helped me a lot with confronting my internalized misogyny, because she values sensitivity, vulnerability, emotions, intuition, and girls. These are not things we are taught to value. While writing I had to consciously stop myself a lot of the time and think, what would Marilla be noticing in this scene that you are leaving out? Most of the time the answer was either sensory details in the setting (a perpetual problem of mine) or people. How are people reacting? How are people feeling? This is not a question I ask naturally. In the past year, now that I'm trying to be a better human being, I've been trying to remind myself more and more to check in with how people are doing. It gets tiring.

I think that writing femininity for 500 pages was so unnatural and exhausting for me that I didn't develop the other characters quite as well as I should have. But as a first draft goes, I am really quite happy with how Marilla turned out. And seeing the world through her eyes was, as I said, very important because I had to put things front and center which I was not, and still am not, used to putting front and center.


In my post about masculinity from last year, I said that I saw masculinity as a self-centered deal, which works well for me because I am naturally self-centered. After talking to more people about it, though, I've shifted my viewpoint somewhat. The kind of masculinity that is played out most often in the world is not self-centered in the sense I use it--using the self as the main reference point--but rather, focuses on creating a hierarchy between the self and the other. This is toxic masculinity.

On the internet I've seen people say "all masculinity is toxic masculinity, toxicity is inherent to masculinity." Masculinity is fragile, is a prison. Femininity is also, although it causes more damage to yourself than to others if you take it on. The two concepts, locked as they are in this zero-sum transfer of power, seem irredeemable.

I would happily see both concepts made obsolete. What purpose do they serve, anyway? There are feminine men and masculine women, and everything in between, and anyone of any gender can relate to others in any way and have any combination of characteristics. Some combinations (nurturing woman who is comfortable with handling emotions) are more socially acceptable than others right now, and so people may feel pressure to align with those ones. But in the absence of those social pressures I doubt we'd see the same distribution of men and women around the traits called "masculine" and "feminine" today.

Whenever I start thinking about gender, it feels as though I push it down, then overbalance and find myself in a swamp, possibly having tripped over or stepped on something valuable. I say this because what I'm about to say is "but these concepts also have a lot of cultural inertia, so one way or another I want to come to terms with them."

What does it mean that I've been trying to achieve a more masculine presentation since concluding that I am not female? I thought of it as having my outsides match my insides, but there is nothing incoherent about a cis woman who shops in the men's section and speaks in a low register, or about a nonbinary kid who still wears dresses and dances follow. If gender is performative, where does that leave closeted people?

(The link above goes to an essay titled "I am a transwoman. I am in the closet. I am not coming out." Very, very worth reading and thinking about. A critique of it here. I'm still trying to figure out what I think.)


This is the part where I talk about dysphoria. To repeat: trigger warning: dysphoria.

I'm not going to go into detail about what it feels like, but I experience both social and body dysphoria. Looking back I think I had begun experiencing some low-level form of both, probably starting around third grade and possibly earlier, but I didn't have the words to describe it. In fifth grade we had a short sex ed module and I remember looking at the list of things that happen to girls during puberty and feeling utter dread. At the time the worst part seemed to be that after puberty you stopped growing taller. But I definitely wasn't looking forward to the other stuff either.

When I came to my conclusions about gender last summer I hadn't consciously had any dysphoria. Through the course of freshman year I had even come to enjoy certain aspects of femininity. I obtained a dress for dancing. I became more emotionally available to friends and tried a little harder to be emotionally sensitive. My first month in Indonesia I bought flats and skirts. These were important steps because this was me fighting against internalized misogyny, and then I realized I wasn't a girl and backtracked on the decoratively feminine aspects.

In fall of freshman year when I first started experiencing dysphoria, it was mostly awful because dysphoria is awful, but I also in a weird way felt validated. Aha, I thought, I feel sick wearing women's shirts. Looks like I'm not making this up after all. Aha, I who have not previously had body image issues now deeply loathe this biological machine I am inhabiting. Aha, this mirror to which I was once indifferent is not actively hateful. Aha...

But if I take dysphoria--violent rejection of the body coded as female--as evidence that I'm trans, does that mean that I'm buying into the idea that a "female" body means a female gender? A "female" body is not necessary to be a woman, so why do I need to reject my biology to reject my assigned gender?

I envy the transmasculine friends who are confident and brave enough to go through permanent steps in transition. One friend just had top surgery on Monday. Another friend has been on T for several months (on the off chance that he sees this post--C, dude, your voice is awe-inspiring). I am not sure if I will ever be ready for such steps, and I wonder if that's fine. There are many ways to be a man, many ways to be a woman, many ways to be anyone in between. I like but don't feel comfortable in liminal situations, and I am not quite in the closet and definitely not all the way out of it either. I collect guides on passing; I have short hair; a majority of my clothing purchases in the last year have come from the men's section. This is what I do to feel more comfortable in my own flesh--a compromise, an appeasement, of the revulsion.

(None of this is to invalidate the people who cannot, for whatever reason, physically transition in even the cosmetic ways that I am edging towards--or who simply just don't want to. )

The social component of dysphoria is one I haven't thought about as much. I hate that my voice gets higher in situations where I feel less powerful, because all that's doing is drawing the line stronger between femininity and weakness, and that's a line I don't think should exist. (Also because I hate feeling powerless and having a high voice, even if it's in the low range for a cis woman.) Being physically unattractive is awesome because it means I've never gotten street harassment. At some point in my career it may become evident that failure to perform femininity is affecting my professional success (my parents are beyond convinced that this is the case), but I'm really hoping that in as male-dominated an industry as construction, being perceived as a masculine woman will work in my favor instead.

I know that people look at me and see a girl. I know that the woman who cut my hair on Sunday was confused when I asked her to go shorter. I know that when I'm filling out forms I have to check F.

I'm still trying to figure out how "out" to be in the future. When I thought I was a girl I used to fantasize about issuing powerful, moving statements about being a woman in STEM that would inspire other young girls to not abandon their love of technical subjects. Now, knowing what I know about my gender, I could not in good faith join any sort of professional women in STEM society or organization or anything. Having been socialized as a girl*, the kind of issues that face women in STEM still apply to me (impostor syndrome, being perceived as less competent) but I'm also not a woman, so I could not honorably take up resources meant for women.

*by which I mean, everyone assumed I was a girl when I was growing up. I've always been nonbinary, I just didn't have the words for it at the time.


After a year of struggling to come to terms with my gender and with gender in general, I'm honestly a little sick of it. Why is it not enough just to be a good person, regardless of what gender the characteristics of a good person are associated with? Unfortunately, I don't think that viewpoint is entirely tenable, given how big a role gender plays in how people move or are moved through the world.

In terms of personal conduct, I'm not going to consciously let the gender-coding of traits determine if I try to cultivate them or not--sure, I'm trying to be more confident in myself, but I'm also trying to be more emotionally available. But subconscious biases slip in so I have to be aware of ways in which masculinity could lead me to more harmful behavior (e.g. the reflexive protectiveness I display towards certain friends, who are almost always girls, may take on a patronizing undertone) (yes, I chose the word patronizing deliberately).

The question that really interests me is what to do going forward, not in terms of myself, but in terms of the trans and broader LGBT community. Trans people, including trans youth, are at elevated risk for bullying, homelessness, suicide, &c (sources for youth 1 2 3; general sources: 4 5)--not because of being trans but because of transphobia.

I shouldn't have had to realize that I'm trans in order to feel responsibility to do something--what? I'm not sure yet--to improve the situation of other trans folks. The philosophical labyrinths/mazes of "what is gender" and "what is masculinity really" are important to me because asking such questions helps orient me in the world. But it cannot and should not and will not be the case that all that comes of it is me buying another button-down from the men's section.

I've been feeling restless the past few weeks, perhaps because this is the first time I've been away from all of my friends since last summer and I want to talk in real time with people I trust about race and gender and problems in the world. Junior year is going to be real challenging academically, but I do also very much want to get involved with more communities on campus--because I'm realizing that as an individual I can do little, but organizing with others has a lot more leverage. Am I talking about activism? I suppose so.

Earlier this evening I started reading the Republican Party's 2016 platform but stopped halfway through because I was just making myself angry. Climate denial, homophobia, voter ID laws, anti-abortion--how anyone can talk about "progress" and endorse such backwards views is beyond me. I want to do more for people who are put in danger by the mindsets behind this platform, and I want to do something that moves the world in the right direction.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Model Minority/Solidarity

Some thoughts on race have been stewing in my head for the past couple of weeks, and I figure it's better if I just write it all out. Originally I had some grand plans about putting together a sensibly organized, thoroughly researched report of some sort, but perfect is the enemy of good and I have not been doing enough of the writing, in any form, lately. Therefore, a messy collection of words.


At the beginning of the month I read this article in the Washington Post, with the clickbaity title "The Group that Seriously Outearns White Men." As I had expected, that group is Asian men. Here's a link to the Pew Research article referred to in the article.

I think if I came across this article with the mindset I had in high school, I would feel happy. Go azns or something facile like that. But the article leaves out any sort of analysis about what factors may contribute to the wage disparities among races. Even with my limited history background (APUSH was three years ago and very stars-and-stripes) I read that and I can tell that there's something missing. The country was founded on black slavery and Reconstruction failed to give freed slaves a real shot at economic independence. Many Latin American workers entered the US through the agricultural industry.

As for Asians, immigration was severely restricted until well into the 1900s and even then, the average immigrant from Asia was more educated/wealthier. (source for Asian immigration to the US; more general source on US immigration policy) Not saying this to ignore that Asian laborers came during the Gold Rush &c, but the numbers vastly increased in the mid-20th century. I'm coming at this skewed because I'm first-gen, but most Asians in the US are also not too far removed generationally from the motherland.


When I think of racism in terms of myself--that is, when I ask the question "what racism is directed at a first-gen Chinese-American kid who is presumed female?"--I think of mostly microaggressions. Random white people saying "ni hao" to me. Being asked where I'm from and then "no, where are you really from?" Looking at media and seeing myself nowhere.

This stuff hurts, but it isn't murder.


Relevant links:

Mapping Police Violence
Campaign Zero
Black Lives Matter
Letters for Black Lives
What white people can do to support BlackLivesMatter


Sandra Bland died one year ago today. I don't remember exactly how I learned the news, probably while scrolling through Facebook at work, but I do remember the feelings of sadness, anger--and impotence, because last summer I was in Indonesia. I have been feeling that impotence again, this summer, but have decided to push it a little bit more. Okay, so I feel powerless because I'm on a different continent than the US. But what would I be doing, if I was back home? Sharing articles on facebook--okay, I can do that anywhere. Talking to people--okay, but what does that achieve? Going to protests and rallies, putting myself in the path of potential arrest or danger? I probably wouldn't do that. I am not that brave.

But why wouldn't I do that? I'm not white, but the stereotypes slapped on my race do not invite upon me more violence than the violence dealt out to the countless black Americans who do put themselves on the line. I know what one response might be--"it's not your problem. Stay out of it." (The voice that says this sounds like my parents'.)

But why not? Abstract rebuttal: as a person who wants to live in a just society, I should be prepared to take concrete action towards achieving it.

Selfish rebuttal: as a POC I am harmed by racism, and all racism is interconnected. Fighting antiblack police violence helps me as well.

Leaving aside the fact that I should not have to invoke myself to be pushed to action against extrajudicial killings (src), I can see some people not being convinced by the argument that "all racism is interconnected."

If I was a person of greater character, this post would conclude with a list of actions I and others can take to support BlackLivesMatter. Instead, because this is where the majority of my angry internal monologue has been going, I'm going to poke some more at this--that is, the mind-shattering complacency that many Asians of my acquaintance have toward racism,. This may turn rant-shaped.


As mentioned above, I'm first-generation Chinese-American, which means that my parents immigrated to the US from China. I know a lot of people with the same/similar background--college-educated immigrant parents, probably in STEM, the kids are also probably in STEM, if not affluent then at least comfortably middle-class. And, although I am guilty right now of gross generalizations, among the people of this background that I've talked to about such issues, what stands out the most (and not in a good way) is the amount of antiblackness and the failure to approach racism as a societal problem.

One note before I go further: if my tone sounds too censorious it's because this is something that I've seen in myself and I really want to root it out.

Something I've come to see as a litmus test of sorts is what people think of affirmative action, because it is an issue on which my opinion changed during my freshman year of college. In high school, the AP classes were mostly populated by whites and Asians, and the model minority stereotype seemed affirmed at every step (not least because in the town where I grew up, "Asian" meant "East Asian"). I remember learning about the Abigail Fisher case in AP Gov senior year and everyone in the classroom thought that Fisher should win, that affirmative action programs were discriminatory. I also remember, vaguely, some proposition that was on the ballot in California that would strengthen affirmative action programs, and that my parents got really angry about it and went to some Chinese-American community meeting to figure out how to oppose it. I remember agreeing with them.

I remember, most of all, feeling real indignation at the thought of affirmative action. If the goal is to have admissions in line with demographics, then how many Asian STEM admits have to turn their letters back in? We (and who is this nebulous "we") made it--why can't others?

Even now, I'm not sure what the most equitable way of administering an affirmative action program is. For a while I strongly held the stance that affirmative action should be done on the basis of income level, not race, because when you're (I'm) coming from a place where people actually thought it was helpful to mention how "colorblind" they were, deciding how to handle people based on their race just "felt wrong." But racism is more than just classism (here's a blog post addressing the topic), and correcting for income level won't correct for the effects of racism.

It's getting late over here, so this isn't going to turn properly rant-shaped after all. I've had this argument in my head a few times this week, sometimes just trying to put the words together for myself, sometimes as part of an imaginary debate between myself and a friend (Chinese-American, STEM) who still very much holds these views that I have been trying to uproot in myself. Here are the main points:

The USA was built on the enslavement of blacks and the genocide/robbery of Native Americans. That is, racism has been one of the forces shaping the US since the very beginning, and therefore cannot be ignored or wished away.

The history of slavery/the failure of Reconstruction led to patterns of geographic and economic disadvantage which are still pertinent now.

For people whose near relations were immigrants who have come to the US and been successful, the national narrative of American individualism and exceptionalism is very, very tempting. I mean, I only need to go back a generation to get to people who worked the soil. My parents really did achieve the American dream--

--but they also came to the US having completed their undergraduate studies at prestigious universities in China (thanks, Communism). As skilled, educated immigrants they had access to opportunities that someone whose family has longer roots in the US, but who is poor, does not. A country will seem friendlier to talent it's trying to lure from overseas than it will to its most downtrodden citizens.

The Civil Rights Movement helped apply pressure for immigration reform. (src)

Antiblackness in Asian communities--all Asian communities--is rampant and disgusting. (A relevant article for South Asians here.)

Not to get into oppression Olympics or anything, but police killings and jokes about "squinty eyes" are orders of magnitude apart in terms of urgency, danger, and therefore importance. Yes, everything is connected, but some nodes carry more weight. (I don't know anything about networks, ignore this attempt at a metaphor.)

In conclusion: The model minority myth may lure us, particularly us East Asians who enjoy a comfortable income level and access to higher education, into thinking that racism means nothing worse than being assumed foreign in the country where we were born. It's a trap. Don't fall for it. We need to do better. I, personally, need to do better. I'll let you know where else this goes.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Berlin Guide


Here's an annotated map of Berlin that I made. Scroll through if you like--I'll cover the main points in writing below.


Basic logistic stuff:

Berlin has a top-notch public transportation system. You can get the Berlin Welcome Card or the City Tour Card which include free transportation and discounts on some attractions. Depending on how long you're staying and what you want to see, either one of those or the regular day passes could be a good option. Look at ticket prices here. For either, I'd recommend getting Berlin AB. C has some sites worth seeing but you only need AB to get around all of Berlin, and if you have a pass valid in AB then you can get an extension ticket (Anschlussfahrausweis--yes, really, Anschluss) to C for 1,60.

Download the BVG app to be able to look up routes between things. Very useful. Link to a PDF of the system map here.

Many places, particularly small food places, only take cash. But food in Berlin is cheap so you can eat out every meal and still stay under 20 euro a day (caveat: I have cheap taste in food and don't eat mammals). (See food section, below.)

English levels tend to be high. I'm trying to speak in German as much as possible because I want to improve my language skills, but it would not cause too much hardship if you use English.

Keep an eye on your wallet. Mine was stolen in my second-to-last week, probably at the U-Bahn station.


Okay, onto the fun stuff. What to do?


I've shown two people around Berlin (Lieutenant Sarcasm and my sister) and for both, we did one very busy Mitte day and one chiller day in the west of the city, which I think worked out well (although you'd have to ask them)

Because Berlin is so decentralized geographically from its history as a bunch of villages that grew together, it really requires a lot of time to see--I lived there for eleven weeks and still feel as though there are huge swathes of the city I don't know at all. But Mitte is the have-to-see stuff, and you can pick and choose from more peripheral parts of the city based on your interests.


MITTE: city center must-sees

There is a lot of famous and worthwhile stuff in the city center, so for this section I will prescribe a recommended itinerary.

From wherever you are staying, get yourself somehow to either the Potsdamer Platz or Brandenburger Tor station. If you're in Potsdamer Platz, head north to Brandenburger Tor.

Spend some time at the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe. The famous one with the stone blocks. My personal policy for such monuments is to be alone, even if I arrive with someone, because with tragedies it's common to feel the need to conform to some societal expectation of grief/mourning/processing and that performance can impede actual reflection about what happened, why, and where to go from here.

Brandenburger Tor is a big gate. Look at it. Appreciate it.

Brandenburger Tor

My sister and I went on a lecture/tour of the Reichstag Building. You can register for free here. It was very interesting and informative, and the views from the dome are spectacular. Takes about an hour.

Walk along Unter den Linden, look at the shops &c. Turn right on Charlottenstraße and go to Fassbender und Rausch, the chocolate store. They have a cafe on the first floor (er, second floor). The hot chocolate is expensive but extremely good.

Gendarmemarkt is supposedly one of the nicest squares in Berlin. Nice buildings. Go north to the Humboldt University campus. Notice the rather inconspicuous memorial to the Nazi book burnings in front of the law building.

The Deutsches Historisches Museum is huge and interesting, and if you are into history definitely worth taking a look. But if you are short on time and want to go ahead to Museuminsel, that is also understandable.

The most important thing on Museum Island is this statue of Livia Drusilla (wife of Augustus).
Museuminsel: go early enough in the day that you can go to at least three museums, because then the day pass is worth it. The five museums on the island are: the Altes Museum (GrecoRoman), Neues Museum (prehistoric and Egyptian), Pergamon (Middle East), Alte Nationalgalerie (paintings mostly from 1700-1800s), and Bode (medieval and Renaissance). If you have to pick three I would recommend Altes, Neues, and Alte Nationalgalerie because Pergamon is mostly under construction and Bode has mostly religious art and that is not my personal preference.

When the museums close at 1800, cross the river on the other side and get dinner at Hackescher Markt, the corridor by the AquaDom, or Alexanderplatz. Depending on what season you visit, you may still have a few hours of sunlight left. Do with them what you will!


For the rest of the city, I'll just list some interesting things to do by region/neighborhood.


If you have more time, there are a lot of other things to do and see in the city center.

Kulturforum is a short walk from Potsdamer Platz and has the Gemäldegalerie and the Philharmonie and such. The Technikmuseum is huge and quite cool. The Jewish Museum is also excellent and their permanent exhibit, which takes you through the history of Jews in Germany starting from the middle ages, blew my mind. The official monument to the Berlin Wall is informative although not particularly exciting. On Sundays there is a huge flea market in Mauerpark nearby, usually with various musicians performing scattered around the park; good for picking up souvenirs.

I am fond of Hauptbahnhof.

Just walking along the Spree and then through Tiergarten can also be fun. If you go through the whole thing, make sure to get a closer look at the Siegessäule (victory column), ft. war damage.


The side of the city I know the least well. Alexanderplatz is historically important and has the TV tower. The Stasi prison museum is a bit out of the way but very interesting and tours are sometimes led by people who were imprisoned there. East Side Gallery has cool art.

ESG: Whoever wants the world to stay as it is, doesn't want it to remain.

Honestly, I did not spend much time in the Kreuzberg or Neukölln, so I have less to say about them. A trendier actual travel blogger can cover you for what to do there.


Schloss Charlottenburg

If you walk through all of Tiergarten this is where you'll emerge. The big draw is of course Schloss Charlottenburg--walking through the grounds/gardens is free. Lots of good Asian food nearby. The Technische Universität is also here. Overall, one of the ritzier neighborhoods in Berlin.


The southwest side of the city. I lived and went to school here. A quiet neighborhood, some would say boring, but I liked it a lot. If you look at the map I made you will find many food suggestions. As for things to do, the Botanical Gardens are quite nice although nothing compared to, say, Berkeley's.

The Freie Universität is in Dahlem and has neat architecture, including the Philological Library which has been called "the Brain." The Dahlem Museums are affiliated with the FU, and include the Ethnological Museum and the Museum for European Art. Domäne Dahlem, a former manor house which is now a working farm, is right across the street from the Dahlem-Dorf station and was part of my commute when I got up early enough to walk to school. Writing this section is making me miss Berlin :(


Big forest to the west of the city. Get to the Grunewald station and, before running off into the woods, look at Gleis 17. This is where deportation trains left.


Teufelsberg ("devil mountain") is the site of a former NSA watch tower built on top of rubble built on top of what was intended to be a Nazi university. Probably the creepiest/eeriest place in Berlin that I went to. You can pay to get into the actual summit but just walking around gives a good sense of what it was all about.

Walking through Grunewald is fun because walking through forests is generally fun.

Along Clayallee you can find quite a few museums, of which my favorite was the Allied Museum. For one, it is free (unless you go on a Sunday and pay one Euro to get into a plane used during the Berlin Luftbrücke). For another, the exhibits are interesting. When I went there was a special exhibit on Denazification.


Go to the Wannsee station. The two main things at Wannsee are the Max Liebermann Villa and the Haus der Wannsee Konferenz. The Liebermann Villa has lovely art (he was a German-Jewish Impressionist painter) but the House is...I hesitate to say that it is a must-see because it is mentally and emotionally demanding, but I think that it is one of the most important places I went to while in Berlin. This is where the Holocaust was planned. Nazi officials sat in this house and looked at these beautiful gardens and this beautiful lake and planned a genocide. Think about that.

SONSTIGES (et cetera)

Tempelhof is an old air field which was used during the Luftbrücke. The hangar is currently housing refugees.


Two places to go to with the C extension, in opposite directions:


Schloss Sanssouci

You can get to Potsdam by S7 from Wannsee or, if they are still working on construction along the line, using regional trains from Grunewald or Zoologischer Garten. I went to Potsdam three times and each time did pretty much the same thing: look at the Alter Markt square, go along the main street, walk around Sanssouci for a long time. Friedrich the Great was a very interesting person with a tragic backstory (that is, when he was a young man he and his lover were planning to escape to England, his father found out, Friedrich watched his lover get beheaded and was forever traumatized by this event). Even if you are not particularly interested in Old Fritz, the gardens are beautiful.


I am sure the town is nice, but when I went it was with a class to go to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. You really cannot get away from this stuff in Berlin, and I have no idea how neo-Nazis exist when the evidence of the horror perpetuated under such ideologies is everywhere. You can reach the Oranienburg station along the S1 line.


Food. The most important part.

There are various restaurants listed in the map, but most of the time I just ended up eating wherever. There is typically some sort of food to be had in any given station. Some suggestions for food:

Snacks: Get a bar or two of Ritter Sport chocolate for snacking upon as you go on your adventures. The tagline is "Quadratisch. Praktisch. Gut." which may be the most German way to advertise anything (translation: Square. Practical. Good). Eis means ice cream/gelato. Since I am lactose intolerant I always got the Zitrone-Eis (lemon flavor), about which I am not complaining in the least. Paprika chips (pepper-flavored chips) are really, really good and can be found in any grocery store.

Cheap food: Imbiss means a small food stand. Food is usually very good and cheap--on-the-go lunches recommended. There are Asian fusion restaurants everywhere--some combination of "Viet" "Thai" and "Sushi." Sushi in Berlin is good and cheap. Noodle boxes are good also. I never had currywurst because I have a no-mammals policy but it sure smells good. Döner. A Turkish street food which is hugely popular in Berlin for good reason. People have gotten sick from eating too much döner so do not go for the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. You should probably be paying at least 3,50. Bakeries are everywhere and usually very cheap. Cake. Cake is good. My personal favorite: Bienenstich (beesting). Pretzels are also good.

German food: If you go in the spring, Spargelzeit! The typical white asparagus is very good. Places with legit German food tend to be more expensive, or at least there are not as many cheap German fast-food places, but I could see splurging on a last meal.

To drink: this is not a real Berlin guide because I do not drink alcohol so I have nothing to say about Berlin beer. I will say, however, that Apfelschorle is fantastic (apple juice and sparkling water).

A few notes on restaurant etiquette: dinner is meant to take hours and hours, so you need to ask for the check. "Getrennt" means separate, "zusammen" together. Tipping is customary. If it is under about 15 Euro, round up; otherwise, 10-15 percent is a good ballpark. A lot of places will refuse to give you tap water.


This is a bit of a scattershot introduction to Berlin. It is a city with major scars and an international perspective. It is also my favorite city in the world, and I hope that things work out in my life such that I end up living there again at some point.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Brexit Links

I keep procrastinating on those Berlin posts, but they will get written, I swear. Quite possibly shorter than I initially envisioned, but something is better than nothing--and for today, there's something slightly more urgent.

In case you haven't been following the news, one week ago the UK voted to leave the European Union. Watching the fallout from Germany has been interesting and distressing. I have no background in politics/international relations, so I won't be offering too much of my own commentary. Here are links explaining different facets of Brexit and what it means.

The BBC has a very thorough article with major questions answered. Fairly objective and factual.

The Telegraph has statistics by region. Financial Times has some more graphs. The main sound bites in regard to demographics have been: Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted to stay, older people were more likely to 1) show up and 2) vote Leave.

This TIME article summarizes the major political consequences. David Cameron will be stepping down as Prime Minster. His resignation speech.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, is trying to find a way to keep Scotland in the EU by holding a second independence referendum. It seems like top EU officials and member state heads are keeping distant for now (article) but Scots are showing interest (they voted 62% to Remain).

This Bloomberg article covers the basics as well as touching on economic repercussions of the Leave decision. (Obnoxiously, also has an autoplaying video.)

The EU had a meeting on Wednesday. (Washington Post article here.) Focus: how to prevent more countries from leaving (i.e. make sure Brexit doesn't set off a chain reaction), how to handle Britain's exit. No one seems to want a lengthy process. An opinion piece (also WaPo) on options for doing so.

German perspective: Der Spiegel has some explanations (link in German). More clearly disapproving. Another article (this one in English) about power struggles in remaining European leadership.

Taking a step back from the political view: the Facebook group Worrying Signs has been posting examples of xenophobic/fascist sentiment on the rise in the UK post-Brexit. A bit plank in the Brexit platform was not wanting to have to adhere to the EU's mobility laws--which, in the current context of the refugee crisis, translates to Britain not wanting immigrants.

To be honest, this result frightens me. The Brexit referendum has been on the table for a long time, but even through the spring people didn't seem to be taking it all that seriously. I remember glancing at the news earlier last week and seeing news about the financial markets stabilizing a bit because it seemed as though Remain had gone up some in the polls. If the British right can score such a dramatic victory (or, since no one yet knows how this is going to turn out, the British left at least suffered a big defeat), what's going to happen in the US come November?

I am sure that there are people who have reasoned, non-bigoted reasons for voting Leave. But in Germany all that I've heard from the Brexit side is xenophobia and racism and the same kind of worrying new nationalism that is driving groups like France's Front National and Germany's AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) and Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, ft. the colors red white and black because apparently no one learns from history). The fact that Brexit won is emboldening nationalists, even outright fascists, and that scares me. (Incidentally, this is also why I will be reluctantly voting for Hillary. There are legitimate reasons to hate her but I fear what would happen--in the streets, not just in the White House--if Trump got elected.)

The Germans I know are worried. Germans have not forgotten the purpose of the European Union--greater economic integration, greater social integration, less war. I have come to my pro-EU stance mostly from absorbing the viewpoint of the people around me and there are definitely weaknesses, perhaps fundamental weaknesses, in the EU of which I am not aware. But the goal of nie wie da is a noble one and it is one which, apparently, 52% of British voters who showed up to the polls last week have decided is not worth pursuing.