Monday, June 14, 2010

Professor Barbara Swartz - Experiences in Berlin

Lately, Berlin has been warm and sunny and green, filled with flowering trees and people enjoying late nights in restaurants and cafes. This is a contrast to when we first arrived and found the weather to be cold and rainy. Berlin had the coldest May in their history but this has all changed. Right now, we're in the middle of the World Cup, actually taking place in South Africa but you'd think it was happening here. People drive around the city with German flags attached to their cars, honking and cheering. Germany won its first match last night against Australia, and everywhere you went, people were sitting in front of TVs at cafes drinking, laughing and singing. I saw the match at a German friend's house, and every time Germany got a goal (they got four), a little girl would come out on the balcony across the street and wave the German flag.

The students are thriving. The first weekend we were here, most of them went to Prague. This weekend, a group are in Paris; next weekend they plan to see Berlin; and the last weekend, many will go to Amsterdam. They're really making the most of their time in Europe.

In between, we've had a long bus tour around Berlin, eaten at a typical German student restaurant under the train tracks where each room is painted in different colors, had a human rights lecture by a German law professor and had a guided tour of the Reichstag, where we were able to see parts that normal tourists never see. This week, we're looking forward to a talk by a Princess whose father was a resistance fighter in World War II. We've arranged for her to speak in the building, now a museum, where Count Von Stauffenberg, played by Tom Cruise in the recent movie Valquerie, worked and was executed for his participation in a plot against Hitler.

Students who have stayed in Berlin this weekend spent the time exploring the many flea markets, going on a long bicycle tour around Berlin, visiting a concentration camp and seeing several of the numerous museums in this city.

In between, and most importantly, we have school. Most of our classes are held at a part of Potsdam University which is very close to Sans Souci, a wonderful castle built in the 19th century by Frederick the Great, similar to Versailles, with huge gardens where you can picnic, walk or bike ride. I've just finished my class in the Practice of Mediation. I think I was able to combine a genuine learning experience with lots of fun. During the breaks, I had the students stretching while doing the Hokey Pokey or playing Simon Says, which is actually a wonderful way to practice the skill of active listening. Many in the class, who didn't really understand what mediation was, now say they'll use in their practice. Some are even talking about becoming mediators.

It's hard to believe that we're already half through our summer experience. Time has gone so quickly. I know we'll all leave full of memories, new friendships, and some profound learning experiences, about life and academically. I think many will find this a life-changing summer.

By Professor Barbara Swartz, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in Germany 2010

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