Berlin (Summer in Europe 2)
In this post I talk a bit how the rest of my summer holidays went. In the previous post I showed what I did in the beginning of the summer: go to Leiden in the Netherlands to attend a summer school of Digital Humanities and Chinese Studies. Now we continue the adventure.
I went back to Belgium after my super crazy adventures in the Netherlands — well, normal crazy adventures. I was home once again, though it felt something or someone was missing.Turns out I was missing my dog; every time we parked the car, I was mentally preparing to be greeted by him (or in more recent years the other way around) and to take him for a walk, only now it was empty. I wrote more about losing him in this post a few months ago. Apart from the necessary adjustments to this new situation I really had a happy time being back home.
And it got even happier when I was visited by my classmate Iju and her sister who were travelling around Europe after attending a conference in Berlin. They stayed at my place in the very little town of Loenhout, I made pancakes for them, we went to get Belgian fries etc. They went to Bruges by themselves (I was a bad guide that day because I had a powerpoint presentation to attend to) and I took them to Antwerp. It was really nice to have them there and I hope to welcome them again in Belgium in the future.
After a small week or so, it was time for me to leave to Berlin. As I walked about in the new-and-improved airport of Brussels (you probably know what happened in there on 22 March 2016), I hoped this was my airplane:
Unfortunately I had to make do with a normal plane instead of Tintin’s rocket. I flew with Brussels Airlines, but I was slightly bothered by the bad service:
“Would you like to buy something from the bar? What are you? EasyJet? Ryan Air? No, you are supposed to be an airline of a normal to higher class, I guess you could offer me one glass of water by yourself no?”
Anyway I arrived safely in Berlin and after finding my hostel I went for a brisk city walk. My first night in Berlin was not the best ever; I wasn’t afraid or anything but I felt not really at ease, probably due to me losing my way on my way back. Still, I had seen some pretty good things on my first night, including the Brandenburg Tor:
The next day was much better, I had to register for my International Symposium of Ancient Chinese Grammar (ISACG 9) in the late afternoon so I decided to do some museum hopping. Being unable to enjoy the full benefit of the 3-day museum pass I chose to tackle the Museum Island (Museuminsel), a collection of five museums that hold some nice treasures. I first went to the Bode Museum, which houses a medievalish collection.
After that I walked to the Neues Museum (New Museum) because I had heard they have the head of Nefertiti over there. They did and it was wonderful. I think I stayed for at least fifteen minutes just staring at that royal head — you’re not allowed to take pictures of it and there are three guards near it so I just wanted to let this moment soak in. Did you know, when I was little I wanted to become an Egyptologist when I was older. It’s funny that I chose another area to work on now, but the fascination with Egypt and especially Egyptian mythology remains.
In the pictures you can see me and my bro Heinrich Schliemann, the one who discovered Troy; a small statue of Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess of war; canopic jars to put organs in during the mummification process; the Egyptian god Thoth, the ibis-headed god of writing; a bas-relief of monotheistic pharaohs Akhenaten (Echnaton) and Nefertiti.
After this I went to the Pergamom Museum, which unfortunately is under construction; ironically the Pergamum wing cannot be visited at this time. However, I did see the glorious lapis lazuli gate of Ishtar, originally excavated in Babylon. Oh My Ishtar, it was so beautiful. It was hard to believe how the colour could stay so beautiful after al this time. I think I stood in awe for half an hour; the guards were looking at me suspiciously but I just wanted to let this sink in.
Next I paid a visit to the Alte Nationalgalerie, a collection of paintings and a few sculptures. Here are some that I thought were cool:
And now we come to the last museum I visited that day. If it was exhausting for you to read this, imagine how much more it was for me, who spent the whole day there! The last museum is the Altes Museum, which houses the classical collection. I got to see some really famous sculptures, as well as take some nifty pictures with some of them. This often took many attempts.
Now, off to more serious matters. I had become more comfortable in Berlin by this daylit exploration of the Museum Island, which also happened to be situated very closely to the university where the symposium was to be held. So the next day the symposium started, in a beautiful room of Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (when I asked people where the other Humboldt Universitäte happened to be, they didn’t get my joke. I hope it is funny anyway).
The symposium was organized mainly by the lovely Barbara Meisterernst, an expert on Han-dynasty (and before and after) verbal aspect. One of the reasons I really wanted to come here was that in a point in the past (about one and a half year ago) I had become interested in her work and mailed her about possible PhD positions. The answer was negative at the time but she did come across as a really caring person, which also showed in the organization of the symposium.
Most of the attendants of the symposium were Chinese or Taiwanese professors. I felt there was a tendency to use very formal ways to solve linguistic problems but there were also a few nuggets of functional-cognitive insights that really struck with me. And, apart from that, I felt really happy to get to know these people, as it shows research on Premodern Chinese is far from dead. One lesser point was meeting the person whose book I used to write my bachelor paper. I guess some idols can lose their pedestal.
When it was my turn to do my presentation, my audience wasn’t super big. It didn’t come as a big surprise, since the parallel session had big names like Alain Peyraube as the chair and the aforementioned pedestal loser as a speaker. I had, however, a really friendly chair Lien Chinfa 連金發. And given that the speaker right before me didn’t show up, I still had a decent audience of really interested people.
So I did my presentation on “Ideophones in Old Chinese: The case of the Shijing 詩經” and got some useful comments, for which I would like to thank my audience should they be reading this.
The symposium was ended with a dinner that brought us closer together in a more informal setting. I was happy because most of the young kids (those -30 year olds) got to sit together, and afterwards we discovered a nice beer place. Denying my Belgian heritage, I drank mojito and discussed events of the conference and other stories with a few people until the bar closed.
the War side of Berlin
As I had some two days to explore the city, I decided to do some more recent things than what the Museuminsel had offered me a few days before. So I first went to East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km stretch of Berlin Wall that has been graffitied and acts as a monument of freedom. Below is a picture of me and the most iconic painting, the Bruderkuss (Fraternal kiss), a.k.b. its real name My God, Help Me to Survive this Deadly Love (German: Mein Gott, hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben; Russian: «Господи! Помоги мне выжить среди этой смертной любви»).
Next I explored the land that lay beyond the Museuminsel. The Dom of Berlin and also the very cool Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall).
After this I took the S-Bahn (I have become an S/U-Bahn expert in this small week; no longer do I need the sentence “Ich weiße es nicht, ich bin auch ein Turist”) to the Bundestag, f.k.a. the Reichstag. This is where the German parliament holds meetings. You can visit the dome if you make an appointment on time. Unfortunately, my schema was heavily restricted by the conference and there were some restoration works in progress. Nevertheless, I made an appointment to go and remembered about it five minutes before I had to be there, when I was in my bed the first day… Maybe another time then ha.
And lastly I went to see the darker side of Berlin with that stuff that happened in the 1930s and 1940s. I saw the former HQ of the Gestapo and also the monument to the Jews. It made me silent.
I had a bit of a transformational experience in Berlin. At first I didn’t really like the city, but through seeing things, meeting people, going places I slowly began to appreciate it and I know I will go there again in the future, because there is still so much left unexplored. A pleased man, I went back home — once again in a normal plane and not Tintin’s rocket.