Keegan is on an Adventure

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After Berlin, I went back to Serbia. The same professor (Dennis) takes a class every two years, and this year’s class has some people that I am very fond of. Plus I really enjoyed Serbia last time I was there. So I went to meet them. I was there for about a week, and had a really good time. I went out for several dinners with the group. We also went to see the Cherry Orchard in Serbian, which was interesting, as well as a performance by DAH, the Serbian theatre group that Dennis has been working with for several years. We went to an English class taught by one of Dennis’ friends, and ended up making friends with a couple of the students. They took us to a student performance in an abandoned sugar factory that has been renovated into an absolutely beautiful and crazy theater. They also walked around and showed us a few things one afternoon, which was a lot of fun. I was also able to spend time with my wonderful boyfriend, which was great. The last time we really got to spend time together was in December, which was way too long ago. The class is still there, as I left early for the purposes of work and whatnot. 

Right now, I am sitting in the Dallas airport waiting for my last flight. I left Belgrade at 2pm Belgrade time yesterday, which is about 6 am Colorado time. I will not fly into Colorado until about 10:30 pm tonight. I did the math. It’s about 40 hours of traveling. I never want to see another airport or airplane. At least not for a good long time. 

There will be a long wonderful post about how happy I am to be home and all of the things I’ve experienced tomorrow, as well as a whole bunch of pictures from Berlin and a few from Serbia. But for tonight, all I want is to make it home and find my own bed for the first time in five months. 

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Berlin Day 3

So this morning I went to the medical history museum, because I wanted something completely different. It was that. Most of it was in German, and there was a lot I didn’t understand. I speak German, but only conversationally. But there were some REALLY weird specimens. I saw several skulls with weird deformations. On one of them, the jaw had started welding itself shut with a bony formation. On another, one of the teeth was growing straight out right under the nasal cavity. It was crazy. Also, fun fact, apparently syphilis eats your bones. I saw multiple skulls and bones that looked like they’d had acid thrown on them. I also saw bladder and kidney stones literally the size of my fist. That just sounds awful. There were also several wax models of faces with eye problems, some of which were VERY strange. I also saw preserved tattoos (really fascinating) and the skeleton of an old woman that looked like it was made of lace. It was really cool. 

After that, I had thought about going to the Natural History Museum to visit the dinosaurs. But by the time I finished at the medical history museum, I was really really done. It was a beautiful day, and I could not stand to be in any more museums. So instead I walked around for a bit and then I went to the zoo. Because hey, why not? Also, the Berlin Zoological Gardens are world famous. There were a ton of animals, and it was a much less linear setup than other zoos I’ve been in. I definitely got lost. I’ve come to the conclusion that I absolutely love German animal names. They’re so logical. For example, one of my favorites is Erdmännchen. Literally translated, it’s “little earth man.” What it means is meerkat. They also call apes Menschaffe. People-monkey. Rather than “bat”, which makes absolutely no sense, it’s Fledermaus. (Flying mouse) Flusspferd, or river horse, is known to most as a hippo. Sea lions become Ohrenrobben, seals with ears. And the current best: Nashorn. Horn on nose. Rhinoceros., Which of course leads to Panzernashorn, which is the biggest type of rhino. It’s like somebody looked at it and said “hey. That looks like a tank with a horn on its nose. I know! That’s what we’ll call it.” Which really, if you think about it, is probably exactly how all of these names came about. 

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Berlin Day 2

Oh today was hard. Really really hard. I knew it was going to be, because I chose to do all the sad on one day and get it over with so that the whole trip wasn’t sad.  Of course, it also rained all day today.

So. First thing this morning, I went to a little Anne Frank museum in Berlin. The attic, of course, was in Amsterdam, but Anne was born in Frankfurt am Main. The museum here is tiny but interesting, and shows the parallel timelines of her life and the rise of the Third Reich. In the same courtyard, which I discovered entirely by accident, is Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind. Weidt was a German man who had lost part of his sight after World War I. He started a workshop that made brooms and brushes, and most of his employees were either blind or deaf. They were also Jews. Because one of his customers was the Wehrmacht (basically the combined armed forces), he was able to get his business classified as vital to the war effort, which meant the Gestapo took a lot longer to come after his employees. When they did start looking, he bribed the police and falsified documents for employees, as well as hiding a few of them in the back room of the workshop, with a door hidden inside a wardrobe. Eventually many employees were caught and deported, but not until 1943. Weidt saved about 30 people for two years, and then after the war opened an orphanage for survivors. I hadn’t known anything about this man before finding the museum, and I thought it was really quite fascinating.

After that I went to a Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauerstrasse. This was a point where the wall had been built through houses, and for a while, said houses were used as escape points. People just had to walk in one door and out the other. Of course, the police caught that pretty quickly, but Bernauerstrasse continued to be a point of contention. There were markers for four different escape tunnels within one block of each other, including one that got 57 people out in two nights before the police were informed and blocked it. At the memorial site there is also the foundation of a house that was torn down because the wall went through it, with markers showing where the rooms would have been.

Following that, I went back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Under the monument is an information center/museum with a timeline of the Third Reich’s attacks on Jews, as well as the Roma and Sinti Gypsies and homosexuals, among other groups. This museum was the one that was the worst, I think. There was one room full of letters, postcards, diary entries, etc written by people who were being deported or in ghettos waiting to be. Some were notes from children to their parents, and all of them expressed such fear and pain at not knowing their fate. The next room was the stories of families from various points in Europe, very few of which had even one surviving member. The next room was a constantly moving string of names, with voices in both German and English offering short biographies of the person and whether or not they had survived. There was also a room with several of the death camps listed, with short descriptions and photographs from them. Many of the pictures in the museums had apparently been taken by SS officers as memorabilia, and had been found in photo albums after the liberations. The last room was a compilation of pictures of several memorial places around the world as well as computers with links to the database set up by Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. The database has the name of every known victim, as well as any other information about them.  It was really really intense.

After that one, I tried to go to the Topography of Terror, which is the museum about the rise and fall of Hitler and the Third Reich, but I only got about halfway through it. I just couldn’t handle anything else today. So I left and walked around for a while and then I got dinner at the lovely cheap falafel place around the corner from my hostel before coming back to write about my day.

And here’s where it gets really sad. If you don’t want to read things that are sad and make me cry and might make you cry, or make you think, or maybe even make you a little bit mad at me, stop reading. Right now. This falls under categories of things that I think about because of museums like the ones I was in today, and while they are not new thoughts for me, (and hopefully not for you) they are still sad and are still things that I/we don’t talk about much. And I will also apologize once and once only, right now, for however preachy this might get.

End of disclaimer.

So…I understand how war happens. People want power, they want more land, they want more money, sometimes, if they’re really special, countries go to war because they have a hero complex and think they need to save the world from whoever’s doing something wrong right now. I’m not saying I agree with war. As a matter of fact, 99% of the time, I don’t. Not even a little. And before anyone decides to yell at me, yes, I support soldiers. They’re doing a hell of a lot that they really probably don’t have to, but they feel like it’s their duty and I support them in that, even if I don’t like it. I don’t agree with or support war. But I get it. I understand how it happens.  What I don’t understand is how it’s possible for one group of people to look at another group (or groups) and say, “You. You’re different from us. That means you don’t deserve rights. You don’t deserve to feel safe in your home, in the city you live in, in your business. You don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t deserve to live. Because you’re different, which means you can’t possibly be a real person. You’re different, so you can’t be human.”  And that, right there, is exactly what happened in the Holocaust. The Nazis looked at the Jews, the Gypsies, the gays, the blacks, ANYONE who was NOT LIKE THEM, and dehumanized them. Anyone who was different was somehow less. Less than them, less than human. And because they were not human, somehow it became okay first to ostracize and persecute them, and then to kill them in the streets, arrest them, deport them, kill them in masses. It became okay to put CHILDREN in gas ovens because they weren’t big enough to work. It became okay to separate families, to take possessions from people, to destroy people’s homes, businesses, and lives, because they were different. I just don’t get it. How can one person look at another person and say to them, “You are less than me because you are different”? That’s not how it works. And I hate to say it, but that has not stopped. That sentiment was not and IS not limited to the Nazi Holocaust. Yes, the Nazis took it to new extremes, but that is not a new thought. That is how slavery happened. That is how colonization and empires happened. That is how genocide CONTINUES to happen all over this lovely planet of ours. The same sentiment is behind battles like the one for gay rights. The one for black civil rights. The one for women’s rights. Listen to me, please. People are people. It does not matter whether or not I like you as a person. You might have made me really mad this one time and so I don’t really like you or want to hang out with you, or maybe we don’t really have anything in common to talk about.  But that does not mean that you are not a person. That does not mean that you don’t deserve to be happy, or safe. Everyone, no matter who they are, is human. We are not alone. Just because the guy down the street is Muslim does not mean he wants to kill you for being American. The Hispanic lady at the store might actually be a legal immigrant who speaks English, so stop talking about her like she doesn’t understand you. The amazingly feminine gay boy you see on the train every day is looking for love and happiness, just like you.  The girl you’re judging for getting an abortion would have been unable to take care of herself or a baby at the age of 14. The girl with the purple hair and 13 piercings and five tattoos just wants to have fun with her life and wants someone to accept that she’s pretty. So just stop. Please. Just let it all go. Every single person in this huge, wonderful, beautiful world is human. Just like you. Just like me. Different is beautiful.  Different does not mean less, or more. Different doesn’t mean anything, except for different. And different is fine. 

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Berlin Day 1

First of all, I’d like to introduce all of you to the latest addition to my adventures. Giraffe. He’s a purple stripy dinosaur. (I’ll post a picture later when I have better internet)

Secondly, Guten Tag aus Deutschland! I’m in Berlin for a few days. Today, I went on a free walking tour. First place we went was the Brandenburger Tor, or the Brandenburg Gate. It’s one of the few places in Berlin that’s still the original structure. It’s 200 years old, and was at one time part of the Berlin Wall. The square in front of it, Pariser Platz, was full of all sorts of random people. There were people dressed as soldiers, a guy dressed as Mickey Mouse, a couple guys dressed as bears, etc. Once we left the Tor, we walked over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s a huge area filled with 2711 black boxes that are approximately the same size as graves. They are all different heights, and are each one is meant to represent a Jewish community that was destroyed. Walking through it is very disconcerting, as the boxes quickly became taller than I am. It’s a maze, and it’s a little overwhelming to realize the sheer numbers.

Following that, we walked over to the carpark above what used to be Hitler’s bunker. Said bunker has apparently been filled in with concrete and is not accessible, and it’s odd to know that it’s right in the middle of everything. We also went to a building that at one time was the headquarters for the Air Force of the Third Reich. It was also the Ministry of Ministries for the East German government. Our next stop was a piece of the wall that’s still standing. It was interesting to see the area that at one time would have been known as the Death Zone, where anyone who entered that area would have been shot. In many places, it’s an absolutely massive zone. In others, it’s only about 10 feet wide. On our way over to Checkpoint Charlie, we also wandered past the Trabi museum, which I thought was fun. Checkpoint Charlie was somewhat smaller than I was expecting, but there are still soldiers “standing guard” there. It’s also possible to get stamps in your passport that you would have gotten from crossing the wall, though I did not do that because they’re quite expensive, for stamps.

After a short break, we continued on our way. We walked over to see the Gendarmenmarkt, where the French and German Doms are, as well as one of the major concert halls. We also walked over to Babelmarkt, where St. Hedwig’s cathedral and part of Humboldt University are. This square was also where the first gigantic Nazi bookburning took place, on May 10, 1933. 20,000 books were burned that day, and there’s a memorial under the square where you can look down into a room filled with empty bookshelves. Our tour ended on Museum Island, where we could also see the TV tower. I went to the Pergamon Museum, where they have rebuilt the Gates of Ishtar and a three story Greek temple. It was pretty cool.

For a snack, I bought my first German pretzel. They cut them in half and butter the inside. It was really quite tasty. I walked around for a while and wandered over to the Alexanderplatz. Then I decided I wanted to go to the Dali museum. Salvador Dali is one of my favorite artists, so I really enjoyed that. I’ve discovered several new pieces of art that will probably need to go in my house or something. I went to find dinner after the museum, and then walked back to the Brandenburg gate. On my way there, I discovered that there is a line on the ground all the way through the city delineating where the wall used to be. Then Giraffe and I went to take pictures at the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate before heading back to the hostel.

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I graduated!

This week has been wonderful and weird all at once. I never expected to be able to go to graduation from Ireland. I’d mostly resigned myself to missing it, and then I didn’t have to. I got to see most of the people that I missed saying goodbye to last semester, and I was able to say goodbye to President Phifer. I went to my last honors convocation, and received the Dows award for exceptional service in the theatre. It was exciting, partly because my professors told me that it was a unanimous decision to give it to me.
Sunday morning was my actual graduation ceremony. It was amazing and a little scary to know that I am now a college graduate. I remember going to my mom’s graduation when I was in 4th grade, and somehow my brain never put it together that I would be doing the same thing. Both of my parents made it this weekend, which I was very happy about.
Sunday night I left for a bus at 2 am. The bus was an hour and a half late, so that was fun. On the bus, I ended up making friends with a guy from Chicago, whose name I still don’t know. When we got off the bus, I asked him to point me in the right direction for the blue line train, which goes to O’Hare, expecting directions. He said he had to get on a train too, so he walked to the station with me. At this point, I expected him to show me which trains I needed and be on his way. But no. This man bought my train ticket, and then proceeded to get on a train going the opposite direction from where he lives and take me all the way to the airport train. He made my entire day so much easier.
I’m headed to the airport for another whirlwind adventure. I’m returning to Ireland for two days before heading off to Berlin. I’ve never been to Germany before and I really wanted to go. So I’ll be there for about 4 days before I head back to Serbia to meet Dennis’s May Term class there. I’ll be in Serbia about a week, and then finally head home for real. It should be an adventure and a half.

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 I’m going to my own graduation. I didn’t think i was, and in fact had planned not to. But I had a whole bunch of emails this morning about other graduation things, and suddenly was very upset about missing all of that and the people i hadn’t said goodbye to. I called my mom, and next thing i knew I was on the phone with various people on campus while my mom was buying me a plane ticket. I’ve arranged everything so i can get to all the events, and I will be at my graduation. Mom is going to make it, which I know she’s happy about, and then I will be returning to Ireland for two days before heading off to Berlin and Serbia and then heading home. It’s gonna be an adventure. 

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After a lovely week of knitting and relaxing post-exams/papers, I hopped on a plane to London with Chelsea and Isabel. We managed to squeeze a ridiculous amount of stuff into a three day trip. Our first day, we went on a free walking tour. On the tour, we walked by Buckingham Palace and caught part of the changing of the guard. The palace is beautiful, and the garden outside was so bright and perfectly tended that the flowers almost looked fake. We also walked over to the house where Prince Charles lives and St. James’ Palace, which is a bit older than Buckingham. We then walked over to Trafalgar Square, and then over to the Horse Guards Parade and 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives. The last part of the tour, we went over to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, as well as Westminster Abbey. After a quick lunch we got on a train and went over to the Tower of London. We got a guided tour from one of the Yeoman Warders, and then wandered through to look at the Crown Jewels.  We wandered through a couple other parts of the Tower, and then over to look at the Tower Bridge. Then back to the hostel for a quick dinner before getting on a train to the East End to go on a Jack the Ripper tour. That was pretty cool, and kind of gruesome. Our tour guide brought pictures, and some of them were mortuary pictures of the victims, as well as a crime scene photo of the last and worst victim. On Friday, we went to the Globe. We took a tour and went through the little museum they have, which is about the history of the Globe and Elizabethan theatre,  as well as the processes that they went through to build the theatre. The Globe that exists in London today is not actually the original. The first Globe burned down in 1613 after a cannon misfired during a show. It was rebuilt, but then was torn down when Parliament shut down all theatre in the 1640s. The Globe that’s there now is a replica, though it is built as close to the original design as possible, down to the building materials and methods. Then, after the tour…We saw the Tempest. At the Globe. I saw Shakespeare performed in the Globe theatre. I can die happy now.  Then we went over to King’s Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾. There are so many people coming just for the platform that they have put a sign up on the wall with half a trolley going through it where you can take pictures. They even have Hogwarts House scarves you can wear. So that was fun. And then we went for Indian food for dinner and then a quick drink in a pub before going back to the hostel. Saturday was our last day there. We got up in the morning and went to the Tate Modern to look at some art. There was a whole bunch of crazy stuff there. After that we tried to go back to Westminster Abbey to go inside, but the line was really long. We were a little concerned about time, as we did have a flight to catch, so we didn’t make it there, but we did take a few more pictures of the outside. I had a safe flight home to Galway, and now there’s just a couple weeks left of my adventures here. 

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After our adventures in Edinburgh, I spent the next week sleeping and writing papers.  Sunday night, I got on a bus at 1 am with my friends to go to Dublin and get on a 6 am flight to Paris. Paris was absolutely beautiful. We were only there for about 2 and a half days, so there wasn’t time to do everything, but we managed to fit  a lot in anyway. Monday afternoon, we went to the Jardin des Tuileries. We sat by the fountain to eat lunch, and walked through for a while.  In the garden is an art museum, Musee de l’Orangerie, which we also went to. There are some massive Monet paintings in one area, and then downstairs is full of various artists, many of whom are French. We then walked over to the Eiffel Tower. Obviously it’s a very large piece of architecture, but somehow it was a bit smaller than I was expecting. We walked around under it for a while, and then met a few people that Chelsea and Isabel knew. We got dinner with them, and then sat by the Seine for a bit drinking wine and waiting for the sun to go down so we could see the tower at night. By that point we were all completely exhausted, so we went home and headed to bed as soon as we could. The next day, we tried to go to another art museum, but it was completely packed. So we skipped that and headed up the river to Notre Dame. On the way we found a bridge which is completely covered in padlocks left by couples. The theory is that putting a lock on a bridge in Paris will lock you together forever or something like that. I think it’s really cute. Chelsea and I walked around inside the cathedral for a while, and then decided to go up the towers. Thanks to our Irish student ID cards and a small language barrier, we got in for free. (EU citizens 18-25 get in free, Ireland’s part of the EU, I think they thought we were citizens, you know.) Unfortunately, we missed out on seeing the bells, as the one bell tower that’s usually open for viewing is currently closed for work. But we did get to see some absolutely amazing views of the city from the top of the tower. 422 steps later, we came down with VERY shaky legs. We did the math later, and between that, the 100 steps to get to our rooms at the hostel two or three times that day, and all of the stairs to the metro stations, we probably walked up and down somewhere close to 900 stairs in that one day. Legs were VERY sore. That afternoon, we went to Pére Lachaise Cemetery, which is where Oscar Wilde is buried. I was very happy about that one, and his grave is big and ridiculous and really fits him quite well. We also saw the grave of Sarah Bernhardt, a very famous French actress, as well as Moliere, Edith Piaf, and many others. We didn’t have enough time to make it to the graves of Chopin and Jim Morrison, but they are also buried in that cemetery. That evening, we found the restaurant/bar where Hemingway spent much of his time. On Wednesday, we got up and went to the Louvre. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and spent a few hours wandering through the halls. We saw a little bit of the Egyptian stuff and spent quite a while wandering through French painters. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around, and then got on a bus to go back to the airport. We made the flight back just fine, but about half an hour after we should have landed in Dublin we were informed that we were going to be rerouted to Prestwick, which is in Glasgow, Scotland. The Dublin airport, as well as the Shannon airport and apparently every other airport in Ireland, was closed due to WIND. We were told at one point that the wind was at about 50 knots, which is around 57 mph. Too strong to land a plane in. So we were kept on the plane, sitting on the tarmac, for about 3 ½ hours. They made an announcement that the Dublin airport was reopening, and we all got really excited, but then 15 minutes later they said that they could no longer fly that plane, as the crew had been working for too long and it was no longer safe. So we all got off the plane, went inside, and spent the next hour alternately freaking out and trying to email lecturers. Isabel and I had an exam at 4:30 pm the next day, and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it. We managed to get a flight at 7:30 in the morning, made it to Dublin, got on a bus at 9 am, and we made it home about noon.  After a quick shower and a study session with a couple of friends, we did make it to our exam. Our lecturer stopped by to check on us, and was very nice about it. He’d offered to let us take it at a later date, but we just decided we’d rather get it over with. We’re both pretty sure we passed, which is good. But after the exam, we both came home and absolutely crashed. We hadn’t slept in 36 hours, and we were just done. But hey, all I have left is two short papers and then I’m all done.