In the area of rituals in Anthropology, they refer to “liminality” as being the disorientated space between one state of being and another, where you are neither what you were before, nor quite what you will be when you get to the other side. That is where I think I am, in a sort of limbo, trying to light a fire under myself to instigate myself back into an active rather than a passive part of life. Everything has been great, the weather makes home look like a Bord Failte ad, the temperature ensures all meals are outdoors, we swim every day in the river, it’s tremendous to be with Barry after so long. The Berlin existence, the Lulu that everyone knew, must still be hovering around Hermanstrasse S&U Bahnhof, off to find a hidden part of the city with her bike, finding interesting bars and cafes, looking up the listings to see what music or dance is on, checking out all the secret swimming spots, meeting a gang to pedal to Templehof for a picnic.

 
My other life disappeared without trace, almost overnight, and my work-and-study life doesn’t start until September. Before leaving Berlin, I tried to fit in as much as I possibly could in the final week or two, as I knew I would be returning to a rural idyll with very little excitement. Just to add fireworks to the departure, the World Cup Final was on the week before I left, and a jubilant Germany won: “Went to a Kneipe, old-fashioned corner bar, Warte Eck, on Hermanstrasse, to see The Game. Packed, everyone drinking beer and smoking like chimneys, served by a barmaid older than me. Level of tension very high, became unbearable for the collection of bonded-through-stress males. When Götze finally scored, the whole pub, the whole street, the whole town, the whole country, roared out an orgasmic celebration. Another couple of minutes, then fireworks, cars driving crazily around the streets, honking horns, singing. So glad I was here for an Erasmus world cup final, to see another side of Germany”. Quite apart from classes (which ran right up to the last day), it proved almost impossible to see everyone before I left, or to visit those places on my “Must-Do” list. Just coping with the bureaucracy of departure from the University, clearing my room and packing up took all my spare time.

 
Looking back over the year, I realise that I was a diligent student for the first semester, and became the typical Erasmus student for the second. Since I had taken far more credits than I needed to during the first half of the year, I slacked off and took lots of subjects on a participant-only basis, which meant I had few end-of-term exams or papers to submit. The freedom that afforded me was something I had never experienced – taking subjects just because I was interested in them, with no prospect of The Big Swot at the end. Even so, I did substantial field notes in the Anthropology project (14,000 words), wrote a paper on the Virgin of Guadalupe for Ethnography, and did a presentation on the cultural impact of the Beatles for Philosophy. Since I was sunbathing at the many lakes in Berlin, trying out all the groovy cafes and dancing as often as I could, I endlessly postponed the finishing of the school work I had to do, and ended up doing all the work in the final week. I couldn’t believe myself. I’m the person who hands essays in early usually, who never risks having to get an extension, who spends her weekends at the desk. Will I be able to revert to being a swot again? Having a completely laid-back semester has changed me in some way, made me less anxious about results in general, since they are all a ridiculous fiction anyhow. Well, I guess you could say that the fact that nobody on the planet will ever know what marks I got in my Erasmus year is a great relief, a method of deflating all the hype that goes on in normal University courses. I’m so thrilled to be in UCD that I feel duty-bound to do my best. However, I feel that my time there is finite, hence studying what I’m really interested in may be far more important.

 
Well, September will sort this out anyhow. It feels like a big tunnel that I have to enter; on one level, I dread the return, on the other, I know I’ll love most of the subjects once I get started. The other return I face is to work, which may be a bit of a shock. My job in Berlin was babysitting for a lovely American family, no stress, no late nights, no health issues. Here, I return to working nights, admittedly only half-time, but I’m completely out of practice when it comes to working 12-hour shifts. I know that all the details of life gradually seep in and take over your head, so that by the time I’m actually there, it will be fine.

 
This is exactly how I was thinking last August, except I really didn’t know if I would succeed or fail. The overriding feature was accommodation, which sorted itself at the last minute, though there was so much stress attached to searching for a room in an apartment-share that it almost ruined the summer. The stress of organising money had to take back seat, and once there, it actually cost me less to live than I expected. Yes, things have a way of sorting themselves out. All the stress about our roof or the unfinished plastering/painting/building seems less important after having lived in Berlin, where “unfinished” is a cool look in cafes and flats. We’re part of the cool set, though I think that Berliners probably wash their windows more often, and they have no gardens to think about, just public open spaces and wildernesses. I have so enjoyed writing this journal of observations all year. This is the end of the blog, the end of my year away, the beginning of a great new chapter of my life. Thanks for reading, following and commenting on it. Love and harmony, Lulu XXXXXXX

 

 

So what did you learn from your year?

 
German efficiency is a myth – everything in the University was so relaxed it was unbelievable – quite the opposite of UCD. However, they do like hard copies of everything, with stamps on, as a salute to tradition, mixed up with online registration and websites that are a maze of confusion.

 
The university experience (apart from registration) was wonderful – a great selection of subjects, total understanding from tutors and lecturers, a welcoming attitude, positive reinforcement, and assignments could be handed in anytime up until the beginning of the following semester (or later, if it suited!). Doing presentations (usually PowerPoint) was the norm for everyone, and I ended up doing eight over the year).

 
Most Germans don’t like Berliners – they think they are rude, unfriendly, unhelpful, conceited. Sound like rural views of Parisians? New Yorkers? Amsterdammers? They can be gruff, but can manage to be rude while saying Please and Thank You. They have a city overrun by people like me, who think they are in a cut-price Nirvana (and the Berliners would like to keep it that way please).

 
Berlin is a great place to be over 60 – cheap efficient public transport, cycle lanes, cheap/free events, as much dancing as you can handle (cheap and not-so-cheap), fantastic value in food and eating out, no ageism getting in to venues (though I was told, more or less straight, that I was too old for three waitressing jobs. Afterwards, I realised they were right – I wouldn’t have the patience these days to smile through dealing with customers).

 
Berlin is safe at night for a woman alone – nowhere else that I have ever lived has felt like Berlin. After a night out with friends, you can leave alone and take the U-bahn. The station always feels safe, despite lots of homeless people in to shelter for the night. On the train, lots of people will be chugging away on a beer, totally socially acceptable, and there are no drunks at all (Berliners pace their drinking so that they never get unacceptably messy).

 
Leaving home for a full year is a risk. You could feel more at home in another country, and want to stay. You could fall out of love with your family and friends. Or it could be a total gift, a vast area for personal growth for everyone in the family, an opportunity to realise how much in love you are, how much you want to return home.

 
Being a mature student is a huge advantage to an Erasmus year. You are unafraid to try things, even if they don’t work out. You are able to gauge what you are capable of, and gracefully accept the limitations, knowing that there are loads of other opportunities. If you make the effort to go to the events organised for you, you will find others there who need friends (and I don’t mean other mature students) who don’t have a preconceived idea of what to expect of 60-year-olds. Most of my friends were in their 20’s, and I was so heartened to see how non-judgemental they were.

 
Nothing is ever how you imagined it – I can’t remember now what I thought Berlin would be like, but I know it didn’t match the reality at all. It can be disappointing; I had no idea just how spread-out Berlin was, but within a week, the new image has taken over and become your mental map.

 
New Year’s Eve can be a wonderful event – I always dread New Year’s Eve in Ireland. Are we in the right place? Should we organise something? Is there a Cool Place to be that everyone but us knows about? Sylvester (NYE) was one of the best nights I ever had, back-to-back fireworks, people losing the run of themselves, a city like a war zone, but, amazingly, no offensive drunks.

 
Skype is a most wonderful invention – When I went to the Black Forest, almost 40 years ago, even telephone calls were a luxury, and I wrote huge letters home with all my impressions of Germany. To be able to have dinner together with Barry or Clare, to chat for more than an hour, was a huge boost, and a homesickness-preventative.

 
Watching the changing seasons was a treat – outside my window were enormous trees, which marked the passing of the year. Berlin had virtually no wind (certainly compared to Ireland), so that extra “wind-chill-factor”, so common in Irish weather, is gloriously missing. Though summer was a special treat – walking, cycling, swimming, picnicking – winter was just tremendous too – cosy bars, clattery cafes, cheap cinemas, dinners with friends, and all with far less tourists than the summer months.

 
The Erasmus experience is something all students should experience – for me, it was life-changing, and allowed me to see that there’s a world out there where things are much more possible than I thought. I have brought that back with me, and feel more confident about everything here too.

 

 

 

20 wonderful things about Berlin (not necessarily in order).

 
1) Listening to the nightingales in Templehofer Feld in the middle of the night. Berlin has the highest population of nightingales of any city in Europe.

 
2) 5 Euro Dinner on Friday nights in English bookshop “Another Country”, cooked by the owner, the wonderful Sophie, sitting at communal tables, making new friends.

 
3) Mauerpark Bearpit Karaoke, 3pm-7pm on Sundays, with MC Irishman Joe Hatchiban – some of the greatest laughs I had in Berlin.
4) Cycling to Köpenick with friends to swim in Műggelsee – a great feeling of powerful freedom, followed by some of the worst mosquito bites I’ve ever had.

 
5) Taking my babysitting charges (9 & 7) to the Ethnographic Museum, amazing artefacts, and realising that all those things belong in their country of origin and not to the Museums that will “take better care of them”.

 
6) Going dancing in “Gayhane” with Brigid (my big sis) – the gay Turkish/Indian music night in Club SO36 in Kreuzberg, an old-established cool club that also holds neighbourhood meetings, bingo nights and fundraisers. Going dancing in dozens of wonderful clubs the whole year long.

 
7) Crafts from Recycling and Free Film Night (about the Zapatistas) in K9, Friedrichshain, a co-operative living space, previously a squat, where my Ethnography lecturer lived.

 
8) Travelling on the S-bahn and U-bahn, especially, and also buses, trams and trains. I sometimes took the long way home, just to enjoy the journey.

 
9) Barbeques in Templehofer Feld, surrounded by groups of people cooking their dinner. Templehof is an old airfield, now reclaimed as a community facility.

 
10) Drinking good inexpensive coffee in all my favourite cafes, cosy in the winter, outdoors in the summer.

 
11) Berliners way of drinking – everyone consumes plenty of beer, each man pays for his own, but all paced exactly as they like it, so that there are no drunks, pukers, staggerers, or danger.

 
12) The marvellous way of utilising rundown premises, furniture, stuff, to throw together clubs, cafes, talking shops, bars.

 
13) Berliners way of smoking – rolling cigarettes is the most normal way to smoke, and after a certain hour, you can smoke most places. It’s hell in the winter, indoors, but totally okay in the summer. I just like the way they challenged the no-smoking-law and won.

 
14) Lakes dotted around the city, swimming possible every day, and a great open attitude to nude bathing. No ogling and no perfect bodies either.

 
15) Maybe it was just the area I lived in, but I experienced virtually no wind in Berlin for the whole year. Coming from Ireland, it was a pleasure to have rain falling down in straight lines, meaning umbrellas were never blown inside out.

 
16) The genuinely laid-back attitude of Berliners. The more uncool you are, the cooler you are. No dressing up to go dancing – you won’t get in wearing orthopaedic platform heels and tons of make-up, unless you’re a man. Jeans/shorts and a teeshirt are the norm.

 
17) Wonderful gay scene, open enough to everyone, genuinely inclusive of what’s considered straight, though most people see sexual preference as a scale that you can move up and down on, as the mood take you. You can’t tell who’s gay and who’s not.

 
18) Cheap accommodation (compared to Dublin), cheap groceries, cheap drinks in most places, cheap and efficient transport, fleamarkets everywhere, and Humana, second-hand chain all over Berlin – the best branch it’s five-storey outlet at Frankfurter Tor.

 
19) Abandoned amusement park at Spreepark, a vast swathe of green space that could eventually be utilised for fancy-schmancy apartments, but for now, is a wonderful magical mysterious place – and all the empty lots and undeveloped green spaces all over the city. They may be developed in the coming years, but for now, they provide breathing space for all the residents.

 
20) Berlin’s attitude to it’s own history – expose the gory details, deep wounds, appalling history for all to see, and acknowledge what happened. I’ll be interested to see if other countries do anything similar to acknowledge their colonial or jingoistic past/present.

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