Reflections on a Year Abroad (aka what I did all year)

We are counting down our days left in Berlin at this point. It has been nice experiencing Berlin through the four seasons. The ripe horse chestnuts that scattered the ground everywhere in the Fall turned out to have lovely piled up white-pink “candle” blossoms in the springtime. Previously frozen lakes are now swimmable.Image result for blooming horse chestnut tree

blooming horse chestnut tree

I had great plans for this year. I was going to volunteer with refugee organizations and at the kids’ school. I was going to become fluent in German again. I was going to enjoy a year off from working and eat a lot of cake. I definitely accomplished the last goal, the whole refugee aid and regaining German fluency not so much. But that’s ok. I’ve also promised to cut myself some slack and while I sometimes regret not having pushed myself harder to put myself into situations where I would be forced to speak German (a job or volunteer gig would have been the way to do this), I definitely kept myself occupied. Berlin has 170 museums and you can buy a year’s unlimited pass to all of the State Museums (a total of 17) for only 50 euros. This gave me the freedom to pop in and out and not feel like I had to spend 4 hours seeing every painting and absorbing every informational plaque in order to get my admission’s price worth out of the experience.


Taking in the ancient Roman Market Gate of Miletus at the Pergamon museum.

List of Museums/Attractions I visited this year

Gemaeldegalerie (Renaissance art, Flemish and German masters “painting gallery”)

Museum of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbe Museum including special exhibition Food Revolution 5.0)

Pergamon and Museum of Islamic Art

Bode-Museum (European and Levantine art and sculpture, special exhibition of African art)

Neues Museum (ancient Egyptian art)

Alte Nationalgalerie (German painters, some impressionists, Wanderlust exhibition)

Museum Barberini (Max Beckmann exhibition)

Brohan Museum (art nouveau, Berlin Realism exhibition)

Scharf-Gesternberg Collection (Surrealist art)

Museum Berggruen (Picasso, Chagall, Klee, Kandinsky)

Museum of European Cultures (Wool exhibition)

Jewish Museum

Museum for Photography

C/O Gallery (exhibitions featuring Irving Penn, Torbjorn Rodland, and Joel Meyerowitz)

Berlinische Galerie (Jeanne Mammen and Eduardo Paolozzi exhibitions)

Markisches Museum (history of Berlin, special exhibition on Berlin in 1937)

German History Museum  (exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution)

Kaethe Kollwitz Museum

Jagdschloss Museum (collections of Lucas Cranach the younger and older)

Die Bruecke Museum (paintings by artists of the movement “the Bridge”)

Kunsthaus Dahlem (art by exiles)

DDR Museum (life in former East Germany)

Hamburger Bahnhof (museum of contemporary art)

Berlin Biennale

Berlin wall memorial

Haus der Kulturen der Welt performance art exhibition by Rimini Protokoll (Staat 2)

German Parliament Building

Bauhaus Archive

Museum of Things (Werkbundarchive)

Berlin Botanical Garden

Palace Charlottenburg

Palace Sanssouci

Allied Museum

Other things I did when I was not helping refugees was coaching my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team. Odyssey of the Mind is a creativity competition in which groups of up to 7 students choose a long-term problem and must come up with a creative solution which they then present at a final competition. There are also spontaneous problems involving either hands-on (such as building the tallest structure possible out of pipe cleaners, paper clips, and tape) or written (make an animal rhyme “Mice are nice”), or mixed problems.


Gus and his team of Kindergarten-2nd graders and their intrepid coach, Mary.

My team chose the long-term problem in which they were to make a “Mockumentary” about a classic story from literature (they chose Alice in Wonderland). As my team was comprised primarily of 3rd graders, this involved a lot of discussion of how to recreate the Disney animated version in live action form. I think the concept of “Mockumentary” was a little lost on them (warning, the trailer for “Best in Show” is not entirely appropriate for a 3rd-grade audience). Needless to say, we muddled through and I think it was a fun experience in the end.


Here I am with my Odyssey team and co-coach, Nelvie.  Unfortunately, our spontaneous problem didn’t go as well as we would have liked and this photo was taken at the end of a long day of competition, hence the long faces and thumbs down.


I also ate as many smoked salmon bread roll sandwiches from the Friday street market as I possibly could.  Seriously, going to miss all the tasty food.  Reading for pleasure, going for runs to work off all that tasty food and of course my domestic duties filled up the rest of my time.  Next up, the return and reverse culture shock.  Always so weird!  Stay tuned…