Berlin and Palestine: So Distant, So Close

My semester is done. My adventure is over. It’s time to go back home.

I can’t believe it.

I have only a few days to enjoy Berlin after two intensive weeks of studying. I had to take an exam, write three essays and prepare a presentation.

The exam was for my “Berlin: Experiment in Modernity” course, which traced the city’s rise from Bismarck’s era until today, including the history of its art and artists. I was worried I’d forget names and dates for the exam. But now I’m really pleased to know the stories of the Neue Wache, the Memorial Church, the Reichstag and even the Fernsehturm, or the Berlin TV tower.

“Introduction to Film” was also eye opening. We learned about different film genres, camera techniques, montage and the critical film theories of Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Erwin Panofsky and others. I have been inspired. I’m thinking about camera and montage techniques for my senior project.

My third course was acting. It was my first time on stage. Although Al-Quds Bard in Palestine offers acting courses, I hadn’t thought about joining them. I didn’t think I could act. But in Berlin, I decided to try things that I haven’t tried before. I performed in different scenes from Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” and “The Good Person of Szechwan.” I went from knowing nothing to a lot about drama in a short period of time.

One of my courses was an internship that also included background provided in the classroom about  Berlin’s culture, jobs, rental market and immigration. This course gave me a tremendous opportunity to work at Associated Reporters Abroad, or ARA, a journalism startup that provides English language news to publications around the world. My experience there was informative and intense. I wrote stories about political issues in Palestine. I worked one-on-one with professional journalists from many countries.

Despite the richness of my Berlin experience, I miss Palestine. I miss my family and friends, my camp and my college.

During my semester overseas, Palestine was always on my mind. Some of Berlin’s history reminded me of my home.

The Berlin Wall Memorial reminds me of the existing segregation wall in Palestine that divides Jerusalem. When I saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall, I was very upbeat. I start imagining that, when the wall in Palestine is torn down, we will definitely keep up part of it as a memorial. The division between East and West also reminded me of the current rift between West Bank and Gaza strip and Fatah and Hamas’ different ideologies. Checkpoint Charlie reminds me of the checkpoint that I pass by on my way to my university. But I wonder how many Checkpoint Charlie-like memorials would we need to remember the ones in Palestine when they’re torn down?

The only reason I would live away from Palestine and my family is to gain new knowledge, experiences and skills to improve Palestine. When I think about the misery and wars Berlin endured and how Berlin surpassed those challenges to become one of the world’s greatest cities, I’m optimistic. It confirms that nothing impossible.

I’m bringing back two important lessons to Palestine.

In Berlin, I learned the importance of time. In one minute, one can miss a train and need to wait another ten minutes for the next one. One can learn so much in one semester. But one semester can pass in the blink of an eye. We should care about every second that passes in our lives. We should respect and take advantage of time. We can’t waste time. We must use it wisely. I think about how Palestinian children should enroll in educational summer camps, for example, so they don’t waste their summers.

The second lesson involves standing in queues. In Berlin, people stand in orderly lines. In Palestine, we need to act similarly. We must stand in queues in a manner that respects the rights of those who came before us. Not doing so reflects the chaos that we have to get rid of.

These two things sound simple. But I believe they are important for a well-organized society.

These positive changes should be put in place individually. Everyone should start with him or herself. If everyone tries to respect other people’s time, use their own time well, and respects the rights of others, things will change for the better.

Berlin’s historical background, its development and its current lifestyle have taught me that all Palestine needs is ambition, determination and the skills to start change. We can change everyone or everything. Start with yourself. The values that you emphasize will spread among your family, friends, colleagues and then to the whole of society.

Asma’ Jawabreh is a Palestinian student.


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