Walter Benjamin’s writings in German and in English

The Charnel-House

Besides studying Soviet history, reading Walter Benjamin was what got me hooked on all this commie crap. It was probably “On the Concept of History” that first did it. Enigmatic, baffling, simple yet sophisticated — these were my initial impressions of it. The rest is history, or a storm blowing in from the Absolute.

Of course, I was fortunate to be introduced to Benjamin the way I did. Following a few of his texts in Illuminations, I started in on Adorno and read Gershom Scholem’s Story of a Friendship. At least to some extent this immunized me to the different “readings” offered over the years by postmodernists, poststructuralists, hermeneuticists, and beyond. No one can pretend to be surprised that the secondary literature on Benjamin has become so voluminous, or all the uses to which his thought has been put. Because the Marxist component of his writing is…

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“Let me pay for that, my Erasmus came in! Oh wait.”

I got a little bit cocky when that saviour of a grant from the government came in and decided that suddenly money was no object. This was my hedonistic year abroad; the year to live it up and not worry about something so trivial as euros. But it goes fast my friends. It goes fast. Especially when you have to move flats, buy books, tickets for transport, pay for drinks, days out etc. Let me now take you on a journey through my first few money making exploits and fun projects I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of in the first half.

Whisky Shop

Having worked before at “The Scotch Whisky Experience” in Edinburgh (and of course coming from a Scottish family) I knew a little bit about whisky before I came to Berlin. I was also taught how to drink it, it seemed it was compulsory to have a dram with the co-workers after a hard day taking people off the Whisky Ride. The ride was in several different languages and I always loved the chance to use a bit of German when I heard the last bit of the tour say “Auf Wiedersehen”.

Anyway, when I was living in Friedrichshain I lived around the corner from a cute little whisky shop called “Cadenheads Whisky Markt”. I went in (in a tartan scarf, I’m really sorry but they loved it) and asked if they needed any help. Klaus told me I was in luck as they actually had an event coming up called “Tag der 100 Flasche”; a tasting event where people from all around Berlin came to try out some of the best whiskies and rums for a small entry fee. I couldn’t believe how many people showed up to this tiny little shop just round the corner from me. People queued up and waited patiently to be welcomed and presented with a dram glass and a stamp by me. I felt like a bouncer.Image result for whisky dram glass

The first thing my boss said to me is that they “sell honestly”. I asked what he meant and was told that I simply had to try EVERY WHISKY in order to know what I actually liked. Being a little 19 year old girl basically amongst these older guys who’d been holding their whisky for years, I became the most frequent visitor of the “bread basket” – my little lifeline that sat round the back next to the dusty bottles. Every tour that they guided was really informative and all in German. Even when the customers attempted to speak to me in English to hear a bit of the Scottish accent, my boss would helpfully and kindly swoop over and tell them “Actually she’s here to learn German!!” which I thought was just so understanding and cool of him. The customers were really interested in my life in Edinburgh etc. and loved the fact that I looked like such a stereotype with my red hair (I’m a natural blonde but let’s keep that on the DL).

The guys in the shop were so welcoming and really knew their whisky, having travelled all around the world and visited more breweries in Scotland than I even knew existed! I had a lot of fun and got to know some people living in the neighbourhood whilst standing on the door next to a giant whisky barrel.


My dad set me up with one of his friends who is a journalist from Berlin so I could get some tips. Given that it was winter, he offered to meet me up at the central Christmas Market with his kids. We went for dinner and he gave me some great advice to get applying for jobs and also asked if I wanted to babysit his kids for some extra cash! I told him I’d be delighted.

The kids were an unfortunate mixture of cute and ridiculously cheeky! They loved their dad but were clearly very picky about their babysitter, they told me they hoped I would have black hair! I was very confused. Apart from being challenging little terrors at times they’ve taught me a lot about patience and looking after kids! Kids are also a brilliant resource for learning German and since one of the boys is obsessed with farm animals I get to play farm games, read farm books and learn farm vocab every Tuesday evening which is fun.

The most challenging part of babysitting was when the oldest boy had his birthday party. I was given the job of accompanying the kids while they searched for the objects for the treasure hunt around the square which the dad had hidden. Things didn’t exactly go to plan when we opened the door and all the children flew out in a gigantic swarm screaming and not even looking for the clues but following the arrows and treating it like a race! The two single girls at this party were the only ones who seemed to listen to the concept and as a result they found ALL 11 of the treasures… I guess girls are just smarter. The cruel irony was that the prizes were numbered and they had to share them out to their rightful owners, and in the girl’s boxes were hot wheels cars while some of the boys got their coveted pink Bubble Makers… this just reminded me of every birthday party pass-the-parcel I have ever been a part of. Wouldn’t say it wasn’t FUN… but looking after 11 kids running around the street hyped up on sugar is tough. At least I got to use the German words for “slow down”, “watch out for the car” and “please don’t fight over the toys”! The parents also taught me to make waffles in a waffle machine which the kids all enjoyed!

German in the UK – Kids Club

Language Learning Lab
Like her facebook 😀

Our family friend Sarah has begun work on a great new project to help toddlers learn the basics of foreign languages whilst they’re very young. The idea is that bilingualism improves overall intelligence, confidence and ability. Not sure if that’s true in my case! But I do know that had I begun German at a younger age I’d maybe be as good as my German friends are at English, and I really think that languages are a great skill to have, and lots of fun to learn in the beginning!

When I returned for Christmas I was so honoured when Sarah asked me to help her with the German department. She uses a mixture of classes, resources and tutors to make learning French, Spanish and German easy and fun for kids. I got the chance to record sounds for an app and rewrite some translations of nursery rhymes. If you want to learn more about it visit her website here, she’s based in Falkirk and works with children from pre-school to age 7. The songs I did for her German app should be available soon.

DISCLAIMER: This is actually a waffle my friend got from the waffle joint just below my flat… mine faltered in comparison unfortunately

And now I come to the second semester of my year abroad and I have an exciting announcement to make about the next half! I’ll let you know all about it in my next post! 😀 Thank you all again so much for reading this and if you’re also on a year abroad or working in Germany I hope this helped you in some way 🙂

The Berlin Music Scene. Gigs I’ve been to!

One of the most enjoyable parts of my year abroad so far has been going to see the mind blowing concerts that Berlin has to offer. Every weekend here I have a really massive fear of missing out on all the stuff that is going on in the many little secluded venues around the city. I’ve been very lucky to have become involved in the amazing music scene that the mega-creative city attracts.

Hip Hop (or something) – Young Fathers

I was having one of my weird evenings after university where I decided I wanted to look around the BioMarkt for some Halva for my flatmate and myself when I was asked a question by a guy with probably the best set of dreads I’ve ever seen. We got chatting and I found out he was from my hometown Edinburgh and had a gig coming up in “Gretchen” club in Kreuzberg. When I asked what kind of music his band played I remember he described it as “sort of hip-hop type electronic youngfatwith reggae and drum bass influence……” I was really intriqued, and then when he said “Young Fathers” I recognised them as the Mercury Prize winners of this year!

I recently saw in an interview that they said “when an artist knows what genre they are they’ve f’ing failed”. I can vouch and say that their music is really unique and I feel so lucky to have been at the show that night. They performed with the brilliantly talented Law, of whom I am ridiculously jealous. I, much like the band, don’t really know how to put a label on what I heard that night, but all in all it was one of the most powerful gigs I’ve ever seen.

5/9/14 Gretchen

Electronic/Synth Pop – Molly Nilsson

Hearing about the launch of Molly Nilsson’s album SEX was also one of those lucky moments. I had met two cool girls, one on a night out and one in my German course at university, who were both up for going. The launch was in a little club called “Chesters” in Kreuzberg. We knew that we could be bounced at the door (like many other Berlin concerts) but we had a back up plan. Because my friend had hair and make up that matched Molly’s exactly, she agreed to claim she was her sister… if I were a bouncer I’d have believed her. Luckily it didn’t come to that and we got in straight away and were presented with complementary gift… I’ll let you figure out what this is. (below)

Cheers for the pressie, Molly. I didn’t use it on your gig night unfortunately…

Her lyrics are so dark and witty. They reminded me a lot of The Smiths, especially the song “I Hope You Die” which has the lyrics “I hope you die, by my side, the two of us at the exact same time.” – one of my absolute favourites of hers. My old guitar teacher, Rab, a metal head from Edinburgh, used to make fun of Morrissey’s voice and I’d protest saying “actually I’d say it’s haunting…” and he’d roll on the floor laughing before refusing to teach me the riff from “This Charming Man” (which I still hold a grudge against him for to this day, but hey, I know the riff from “Enter Sandman”). I would also use the word “haunting” to describe Molly’s voice. She silenced the room when she sang and put on a breathtaking show. I’ve since seen her walking up and down Warschauer Straße near where I stay as she is based here in Berlin. Her song “Meanwhile In Berlin” is also really cool, it’s partly apathetic but also positive about the city.

13/9/14 Chesters


Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (courtesy of Tristan Ryan)

When my friend Tristan came up to visit I was fortunate enough to be treated to one of the most well loved classical performances the world over. The Berlin Philharmonika.


The building in which Berlin’s orchestra plays every weekend was a really weird piece of architecture, it was really strange even by Berlin’s standards! It was beautifully designed and seemed almost like a tardis when I went inside. But the real spectacle was the people. Everyone inside was immaculately dressed in almost-ballgowns and perfectly-ironed-suits. Coming from an impromtu stroll around the shopping district I ran back to the flat to find the only pair of heels I had in Berlin. The kids were all excited about hearing some Mozart.

The conductor was one of the most energetic guys I’ve ever seen in my life. He exuded performance and we wondered whether he might just fall over in bliss. To be honest, I watched him almost the whole time. No regrets.

Since my sort-of classical music training in piano and singing in the church choirs through high school I’ve left classical music pretty much alone, reserving it for the days when I set my alarm clock radio to Classic FM in the morning. I would say that no matter what your music taste is it would be almost impossible not to feel something when the Mozart gets going and afterwards I caught myself saying something about the “acoustics” of the hall whilst sipping champagne. OK I’ll stop bragging.


Indie Rock – Trapdoor

Nick and Dan, Trapdoor

So I met these guys at a house party at the start of my year abroad and was really happy to be asked to see their first gig along with a lot of the other British Ex-Pats who I regrettably spend far too much time with!

They’re just getting started but are doing well and have already gathered up a decent following despite having lived in Berlin for the same length of time as myself.

I am a tad envious of their guitar and extensive record collection and also their success so far with the band. If you want to check them out their soundcloud is here and they post gigs up on their facebook page. They’re sort of like the lovechild of McFly and Bastille imo. But cooler of course.

Tommy Weisbecker Haus 12/12/14

So outside from these great concerts I’ve obviously been overwhelmed by techno techno techno (the pulsating heart of Berlin’s music and clubbing scene) but more on that later! 😉 I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences at these gigs and please comment if you were also at these gigs OR if you want to take me to more then please apply below!! *hold for applause*

Abandoned Theme Park Trip. Watch out for the guards and the dogs and the eyeless swans

So my friends and I woke up surrounded by books and bottles of beer after a night of study/drinking and decided we needed a well earned break… but also cultural fun… but also the rush of the threat of a potential brush with the German authorities.

We had heard about an abandoned theme park opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Plänterwald in East Berlin, which was now closed off to the public after the owner went bankrupt and was arrested for drug smuggling inside the ride infrastructures… now the place is guarded by a fence and patrolled by guards and dogs who stroll around the perimeter of the park. You could, according to the locals, still hear the creaking of the ferris wheel and many of the remnants of the old rollercoasters and scenery still remained.


then… now *gulp*

We’d asked our East Berliner mate if he could remember it and he told us a bit about the park. It had been the Disneyland of the DDR (Socialist State of East Berlin) but was closed down in 2001. Although it has officially been bought over and is private land, this is often not really respected, and there are a few stories of older former DDR-Bürgers going in and having a look at their old favourites. We naturally had to get a look at this weird and wonderful sounding place. And so it was that one high-tech camera (thanks Ross), two Sternburg’s and three German students set off to see one of Berlin’s worst kept secrets.


Probably the most bizzare thing about the entire experience was the fact that people literally just walk around this creepy place with their kids (the outside of course). There were joggers and old people just milling about as if there wasn’t a giant toppled over plastic dinosaur gazing directly at them from behind rusty gates. EERIE.

One thing that the locals DON’T do however is dig underneath the bars to break in to the private land. Well, I’m on my year abroad in another country and if there’s a time to break the law it’s now…?

anticipation and fear ._.
anticipation and fear ._.

We must have looked pretty shifty but believe it or not it’s actually quite a common tourist activity (see this website, honestly, the other kids were doing it) So we got some amused looks from other tourists, scolding looks from some parents and knowing glances from a similarly minded group of students.


no. Just no
no. Just no

Being in the woods of Plänterwald was strangely like how I’d imagined the Hunger Games to be honest, and though I knew this had been done by many others my heart was beating in my chest.

At the end of the day (from the comfort of my flat, drinking hot chocolate with my friends) I’d safely say the experience was worth it. The allure of the park is hefty though, we all want to go back at dusk! Also all those little haunted houses, dodgem cars, bridges and shady tunnels are just waiting for us to actually climb in.

Go check out Ross’s post about Spreepark here. VIEL SPAß FOLKS. Cheers to Ross for the great photography.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp/Gedänkstätte/Memorial

disclaimer: this post was actually written at the beginning of the year in a notebook that I recently found, so has some “extras” about flat searching and meeting new friends in Berlin which was very much part of being new here and my beginnings. I’m not sure the end bit is particularly relevant to Sachsenhausen but I’ve italicised the parts about the museum if that’s what you came for! 🙂

An unfittingly beautiful sunny day. Standing in front of the monument in the centre of the vast former concentration camp.
Jewish survivor portraits projected on a screen in memorial

Today I went with Thomas’s family to the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp way up in Oranienburg, just outside of Berlin, which is now a Memorial and Museum. We collected audioguides which I optimistically requested to be in German… far too fast for me to take anything in I quickly switched! Sorry

It was a fantastic although harrowing tour of what was the biggest concentration camp of the Third Reich, and had so many personal stories from survivors whose photographs were projected on screens inside the barracks. As we went through the front entrance gates it felt unreal to look at the infamous words “Arbeit Macht Frei (work is freedom) in amongst the bars. What struck me the most when going in was the sheer size of it. It was hard to envision the people going for roll call and living and working under the terrible conditions described by the guide. I learned that about 200,000 people were admitted to Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. There was also heavy security to ensure minimal escape from prisoners, within the walls were guards and dogs and a border of electric fence and a gravel “death strip”.

The museum was particularly interesting as I’d just read “Maus” by Art Spiegelmann, which is a brilliant and moving book about life in the concentration camps. He often runs into complications trying to represent such a horrific event, so attempts to do so with a comic strip, representing Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. Sachsenhausen was one of the camps in the comic and I believe it gave me a good imaginative memory which I think can really help when looking at abstract places and memorials in general.

An excerpt from Art Spiegelmann’s “Maus”. Read it if you get the chance. It’s stunning and you will cry.

Afterwards we stopped for a kebab shop (which are everywhere by the way) and I got yet another currywurst… I know. We got the train and went for ice cream in Kreuzberg and I went back to the pub to recover my lost phone… phones and I do not mix well together. I then hopped off to Neukölln to search for more flats. I sat in a little internet cafe and spent a solid 2 hours applying for flats and was called for a viewing! An awkward moment then ensued when another girl came in who looked almost exactly the same as me (nose piercing, black clothes, long hair!) but we became friends on the train home! She told me she was from Melbourne and we chatted for a while about Tim Minchin and British comedy and our shared love of QI and Peep Show. I love Berlin in moments like this! It was a long journey back as usual but I was beginning to get used to the BVG (German transport system).

In memory of all who opposed Hitler and his regime

Streetdance Class :)

One of my Tasks for ThirdSpace was to try out a local Dance class and although traditional German folk Dance was indeed tempting, I felt that it would be more suited to my year abroad Location to take a street Dance class! My friend and I went Shopping for Nikes and signed ourselves up for a Probierstunde (try out).

new sneaks
new sneaks (essential)

Now, as someone who hated all the “Step Up” films with a burning passion, I didn’t know whether it was really “mein Ding” but the year abroad is about doing things that would usually make you cringe/uncomfortable/scared all in the name of YOLO. When they started to play Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” I died a little inside, but was really impressed by their camaraderie and had a lot of fun!

We made our way up to a basement with hip hop music blaring from a boombox and people in snapbacks and long vest tops doing stretches. The instructors mistook us for Germans and therefore mistakenly assumed that we knew what they were talking about when they told us “sit down if you weren’t here last week we are going over the previous dance” in a mutter and we of course stood up at the top of the room as the Music began to Play… not very street. Apart from that I’d say we did well in our avoidance of awkward moments! In streetdance it turns out what you lack in flexibility/grace/actual Talent you make up for in ridiculous amounts of moves and, dare I say it, sass…

The hip hop culture here is really part of what makes the City so intriguing so it definitely gave us a leg up in Meeting people who actually grew up here. Also learned the word “Digga”… (urban dictionary it)… when a guy came up to us for the first time and said “Was geht Digga?” we smiled awkwardly! Turns out it’s not what we thought… just means “dude”. So 90’s. So street.

Check them out, they’re awesome 😀 GEIL

Finding my feet

Due to my last post being laced with a frankly disgusting amount of nostalgia I’d forgive everyone for picturing me curled up in a ball crying into a tartan scarf. I’m obviously not! In fact, after a while here I now feel very settled in Berlin, or as settled as a person can be in this crazy and beautiful city.

After scouring sooo many nice and not so nice flats around the whole of Berlin I finally found a flatmate! At first I thought my new flatmate was a born and bred German… we were chatting away about the heightening rents in Berlin (a popular grievance of Berliners) and how we wanted to live in the area. She told me she worked for (the German ASOS) as a translator. One fateful day, however, I discovered she was in fact Irish and we spoke in English, from then on it was impossible to Switch back! We still watch a good amount of Germany’s Next Top Model together when we’re in the flat and drink a fair bit of Hugo Sekt (German cava which tastes of elderflower and mint).

My Flatmate, Aille, and I having typical German breakfast (laaarge) in our street:

Flatwarming Brunch 😀 #Friedrichshain #macondo #Berlin

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I’ve been trying to write about Berlin. I’ve been trying to describe how it feels to be here and learning about a place that is so different to where I am from. It’s so difficult to put into words how I actually feel about it, but I’ll try if anyone feels like skimming the next paragraph!

(Try and hear this in a really unpretentious voice) I really feel like in the past month of living here I have changed. Sometimes in Edinburgh I felt really numb to everything because nothing ever changed for me. It was so comfortable compared to here but I’m starting to enjoy feeling a bit on edge if that makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t.

Erasmus Meetings

When in Edinburgh, I define myself as a local. Here, I guess that I’m trying as hard as possible not to define myself as a foreigner – or rather make that what defines me here. I find it kind of depressing when I meet people and they see me in the way that we see people who are obviously, in the purest sense of the word, foreign – like someone who doesn’t understand anything, culture or language wise. I really just want as far as possible to like fit in but not erase my background altogether which I think is a difficult thing to do.

The Erasmus meetings are lovely. They feel great. You know where you are at an Erasmus party. You know that whoever you meet they will speak English, they will also be new in Berlin and they will be feeling the same about everything. Yes, I think they are a great thing… but there’s an exclusivity. It’s a little safe place where everyone is clinging to their own culture and not embracing the new. The erasmus meetings always involve an uncanny selection of euro-pop tunes and feel very very different to any other night out I have experienced so far in Berlin.

By no means would I want to slander the group, I know how much it helps. And I know that my place might always be within these groups. It is certainly where I feel at ease. Apart from anything else the fact that the language of the group is English makes it necessary for me to look elsewhere. I didn’t come to Berlin to speak in English, and I also didn’t come to Berlin to feel at home or to talk about my country all the time. I wanted to learn both the language and the culture of People who lived here.

The Clubs of Berlin. Being Alone.

I’m fully aware that my younger cousins and distant relatives are also reading this blog so I’ll not delve into too much detail where the Berlin night life is concerned. Needless to say though, it is world renowned for being home to the most liberal, free-thinking and bohemian crowd. I would say the night life definitely reflects that.

My friends and I had heard about the exclusivity of the club scene and the fact that a lot of the club nights move areas to keep everyone guessing and ensure the best clientèle (less tourists, more locals). For that reason the door policy can be extremely random. The bouncers often tell people bluntly and in no uncertain terms: “You don’t belong in this club” or “Not tonight, you haven’t the right look”.

So when my friends from Edinburgh and I went to one of the world’s most famous techno clubs, all dressed in black, as the dress code recommends, I was really keen to get in to what I’d heard was the most exclusive nightclub in the world with the scariest bouncers. We had been turned away, but I was determined to get in, and I went up to the bouncer, who had one of the most impressive face tattoos and a sick leather jacket. We were advised to go in alone, big groups get turned away instantly. I was a little drunk. I walked straight up to the door and smiled at this really intimidating guy with a hat on, my hair in a pigtail and no make up. He smiled back, and I was in.

I went in by myself. I met a really great group of people, who accepted the fact that I have a weak but clawing grasp on the German language. I do a lot more listening here than I do speaking, like a little mute child… I often just smile and try to get by using as few sentences as possible… anyone who has ever heard me try and form German sentences will know why.

They asked me to a house party, where I was the only person in the room who wasn’t from Stuttgart, Germany. By the end of the night I can’t remember which conversations were in English and which were in German, which is a good sign!

It’s funny how the strange insistence of the clubs here on individuality actually forced me to be independent. I’ve never felt more out of my comfort zone, unsure, and off balance, but I’ve also never felt more intrigued and on my toes. I fail a lot of the time here, but when I succeed the rewards are ridiculously good. 🙂