Caleb – Germany

August 1, 2023

I have officially made it back to the U.S., although my heart is still in Berlin. I am so grateful for all the friendships I have made, the information I have learned and consumed, and the memories that will stay in my mind for years to come. This city is so eccentric, diverse, and unique, so it is hard to come back to the states where I do not have as much stimulation around me. I am a little sad to be back in the states because I was just getting accustomed to life in Europe, however, I look forward to visiting Berlin again (hopefully next year!).

–Caleb Joseph

July 15, 2023

Today I attended a tour on the history of queer life and culture in Berlin; the city once known to be the “queer capital of the world”. This tour had a huge impact on me because I got to meet other queer individuals and hear their stories, while also learning about how much the city has impacted queer life here and internationally. Several people in my group discussed their personal struggles related to their queer identity, and it was devastating to hear that this one aspect of their lives has caused so much tension and division within their families. It is always very humbling hearing stories like the ones these kind individuals shared because I am very fortunate to come from a family that is accepting and embracing of my queer identity. However, I know that a large portion of LGBTQ+ individuals face ostracism within their own homes, so I have a huge passion to advocate for the acceptance and appreciation of the queer community, using any platform available. With that said, I am using this blog to share what I learned about “Queer Berlin” during my tour.

In the 1920s, Berlin was a hub for queer individuals, as there were nearly one hundred bars and clubs where LGBTQ+ individuals gathered. One club in particular, “Eldorado”, was located within walking distance from my host mother’s apartment. Eldorado was internationally known and drew in prominent performers from all over the world. German/American actress and singer Marlene Dietrich was reported to have performed here, a performer whose style was gender-nonconforming for the time.

Although Berlin had a reputation for being a safe-haven for the LGBTQ+ community in the 1920s, this level of acceptance was controversial because conservative Germans found homosexuality and gender-nonconformity decadent and harmful to society. Rising concern about the free spirit of self-expression in Berlin led queer individuals to feel unsafe within a city that once openly accepted them, and this issue of safety was only exacerbated when the National Socialists took office in 1933.

In 1933, Hitler ordered the destruction of the “Institute for Sexual Science”, an institute started in 1919 by a German-Jewish medical doctor and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who also confidentially identified as homosexual. Hirschfeld was a leading researcher in human sexuality and gender non-conformity and used his research to educate the public on the natural variations of sexuality and gender. Hirschfeld also used his institute as a haven for queer individuals, providing them with therapy, treatment of STDs, resolutions to sex-related issues, as well as accessible means to deal with unexpected pregnancies. The destruction of this institute meant the destruction of thousands of hours’ worth of research that could have progressed German society, but this progression was completely halted when the National Socialists sought out to eliminate queer life in Europe.

While on this tour, I was preoccupied thinking about the many similarities that are taking place today, with the book-bans in and questioning of the importance of teaching gender, equity, and diversity in Florida schools. It is aery thinking that a similar form of censorship is already taking place in certain states within the United States. However, I am grateful for all that I learned on this tour and will share my new knowledge with anyone willing to listen, as we must look back and learn from history before it repeats itself. I am also grateful to feel so accepted in Berlin, as I consider this city to still be a “capital of queer life”, as there have been three LGBTQ+ festivals since I have been here, and there are several queer clubs and bars located around me.

–Caleb Joseph

Translation: “Love knows no gender

July 13, 2023

One of the biggest highlights of my trip so far is meeting so many people from around the world, who have quickly become my new friends abroad. I have become friends with students from the following countries: Turkey, Switzerland, Haiti, Syria, and Argentina. I treasure how quickly I have been able to connect with these new friends, and I would love if we stayed in contact when I return home.

It remarkable that I have this opportunity to meet new people and try new foods from all over the world each day that I walk out my door, as Berlin is an extremely multicultural and diverse city. Although I am studying in the capital of Germany, my worldview has expanded tremendously in the last three weeks. I have been able to learn so much about the cultures in which my new friends and classmates come from, and I even have learned a little bit of Turkish, Spanish, and French from the time we have spent together as a group.

Although we all come from different backgrounds, we regularly share our life experiences, and learn from our similarities and differences. What I find most interesting is that our common language is German, as learning about the German language and culture is what has connected us all together and brought us to Berlin.

A memorable experience with my new friend from the French-speaking part of Switzerland was getting to celebrate his birthday together. I felt a little sad for him that he was not able to be with his family on this day, so I wanted to make this day extra special. For his birthday, we ate Japanese food and spent the day walking around the city, stopping at any attraction he wished to visit. I am amazed at how quickly our group has bonded, and I will appreciate our time together for a long time, as I may never have a chance to visit the countries they come from but view our friendships as my way to learn about them.

–Caleb Joseph

July 11, 2023

In my first blog, I wrote about my anxieties about meeting my host family, and in retrospect, I had little to worry about. I live with a very hospitable host mother that has given me a lot of independence to enjoy the city, and she has quickly made me feel at home. Her kindness has extended so far that she even joked about me applying to a German university and staying with her. Although I currently could not leave my life in the states behind, this offer made me feel good knowing she likes having me enough to want to be roommates. Also, one of my friends from last year’s program stayed with this same host, so it is cool to me that we immediately had a small connection of knowing the same person. It is a small world after all!

My host has made it very well known to me that she is very involved with the LGBTQ+ community, and even has shown me some artwork done of her by queer artists. So far, my favorite conversations with my host are the ones we have had about our love for the community, discussing how much queer individuals around the world have had to preserve through so much adversity. One morning, she even got teary eyed discussing how up until only a few decades ago, queer individuals were still seen as “perverted” by law in Germany. This same morning, we viewed artwork made by queer artists together, as I visited the “Schwules Museum” just the day before and had a lot to show her.

The “Schwules Museum” is a museum here in Berlin that focuses solely on LGBTQ+ history and culture, as “schwul” is the adjective for “gay” in German. At this museum, I was overcome with positive emotion, as I enjoyed seeing the community being honored in such a colorful way. This museum had many exhibits that focused on the “Gay Liberation” movement, showing how strong the community is. It is always very humbling studying the history of the community, as I have so much privilege to be myself that I cannot help but constantly think back to the brave individuals who fought for future generations.

It is sometimes rare that I find spaces so full of admiration for the community, and it was a delight to see. I recommend studying abroad for reasons like this visit to the museum and my discussions with my host, as I was able to find spaces abroad where I felt completely understood and seen. You never know what you might come across when you make that leap and connect with a culture different from your own!

–Caleb Joseph

July 3, 2023

Something I admire about my particular study abroad program is its emphasis on site visits related to the Holocaust: a series of politically oppressive events that resulted in the loss of millions of persecuted individuals. This program focuses on the most devastating period of the twentieth century for humanity, the Holocaust, and its impact today, as this genocide was organized here in Germany. Because of attending this program last year, I have become inspired to learn more about how something as dehumanizing as the Holocaust even begins to come into fruition, as I learned it is important to identify signs of oppression and discrimination, in hopes that a collective effort could prevent both micro- and mass-level genocides. Dr. Susanne Lenné Jones’, the program director and coordinator, offers a course on the Holocaust titled, “Literature in Translation: The Holocaust”. It is from this course that I learned how important those beginnings stages of oppression are, as they encompass a hatred for a targeted group that only continues to grow without awareness.

One Holocaust related site that I did not get to visit last year was the “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism”, located within walking distance from the German parliament building. Shortly after arriving in Berlin, I went and visited this site, and I am glad that I was able to, especially on one of the final days of “Pride Month”. I felt as though there wasn’t a more important time to visit this site, as despite how the LGBTQ+ community is celebrated internationally during the month of June, there is still ongoing oppression of this beautiful community, with which I identify. My heart breaks for the homosexual individuals persecuted during this time, as I wish they could see the mass amounts of love and acceptance given to their community during Pride Month. I also wish they could see how the LGBTQ+ has carved their way into society, fighting for equality, starting in part by reclaiming of the “Pink Triangle” badge given to homosexual men as a badge of shame by national socialist officials. The Pink Triangle was reclaimed as the first official symbol of pride for the LGBTQ+ community, so visiting this site during Pride Month was a powerful experience for me.

The memorial itself looks like a large concrete block, with a window looking in. Peeking through this window you will see images of homosexual couples kissing one another, a public display of affection not done out of salacious desires, but out of political protest. Looking into the memorial and paying my respects to those who were tragically persecuted, I couldn’t help but think about the importance of this site. This site is important because it is open to the public to visit and located in arguably one of the most important regions in Germany, showing that this group, among several others, were wrongfully targeted victims of abuse of political power. I also couldn’t shake thoughts of how this group is still targeted worldwide today, and how new laws and legislations continue to suppress the community from coexisting peacefully in many societies and cultures around the world. I encourage anyone who attends this program or visits Berlin to visit this site, along with the two respective surrounding memorials for the persecuted Jews and the Sinti and Roma of Europe.

–Caleb Joseph

July 2, 2023

Today is Sunday, the 2nd of July, meaning my first official week in Berlin has already come to a close. When I arrived in the city last Sunday, it felt like no time had passed since studying here last summer. In reality, some time did pass, as I spent the last year reminiscing on my first trip abroad and wondering what my second one would be like. Looking at this week retrospectively, I realize now that I had a lot of slightly naïve expectations about returning to Berlin. I knew that my experiences would be different this time around, so I tried to come in with an open mind. However, against all odds, I couldn’t shake the yearning for the same “magic” that was last summer.

Last year I felt a strong sense of community because our entire group became very close, and I was hardly ever alone. I lived in the same neighborhood as four others of my classmates, and some of my favorite memories were created on our hour train rides to and from school. Subconsciously, I expected a similar feeling of togetherness, although I knew the group dynamic would inevitably be different than last year. A beautiful outcome of last year’s group is that I met many of the other students for the first, but I have continued to have classes with them at ECU, and they’ve become some of my closest friends. Shortly after arriving, I was even able to meet up with one of my friends, Riley, who was also in Berlin. It was incredible that we got to see each other again in the same place where we got to know one another, but one year later.

The program is still in its beginning stages, so some time has to pass for everyone to become accustomed to one another. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed getting to know my peers in this new group and look forward to the next three weeks with them. This group is very unique and diverse, with differences in perspectives and interests, and a shared commonality: a desire to immerse in the German language and culture. However, I have a very different schedule and live rather far away from them, so I have not had many opportunities to be with everyone. The moments we have spent together have been great, and I am so excited for them to discover what made me fall in love with Berlin enough to return.

Yesterday, our group visited Lübbenau in Brandenburg, Germany, just roughly an hour outside of the busy city of Berlin. This was a fantastic visit, as our group kayaked down the Spreewald, a biosphere river reservation with immaculate scenic views. After kayaking, we got to enjoy the slower pace of Lübbenau, in comparison to the rapid speed of a booming city like Berlin. Visiting Lübbenau was a delight, as there is a vibrant essence about this town, mainly because of the mixture of German and West Slavic/Sorbian culture. We spent the rest of our evening enjoying the local markets and vendors, riding amusement rides, listening to live German bands, trying foods custom to the region, and indulging in many free samples of “Spreewald Gürken”: pickles that the area is known for. A particular highlight from yesterday was having the chance to speak with native German speakers, as I spoke with two very friendly ladies who let me sit at their table when I needed a moment to sit and rest. Upon learning that I came from the U.S., they expressed that at first, this was surprising, as they thought I was a German because of how I was able to speak with them in their language. My German may not always be perfect, but this is the highest compliment a foreign language major could ever hear.

While experiences like the ones I had in Lübbenau are special when shared with others, I am going to challenge myself to become at peace with spending time alone. So far, I have had some remarkable experiences in solitude, spending time with just myself and the city of Berlin. For example, I amazed at how well I remember the geographical layout of the city and found that I can travel around Berlin fairly well without the help of others, and in some instances, without Google Maps. I look forward to more experiences like this because my success in navigating the city alone has strengthened my trust and appreciation for myself.

–Caleb Joseph

June 15, 2023

Hi everyone! My name is Caleb Joseph, and I am a senior, studying Psychology and German. I graduate in the fall, but before I complete my final semester at ECU, I will be studying abroad in Berlin this summer. With only a little over a week left before departure, I am truthfully a little nervous, but also very excited. Thankfully, I generally know what to expect from this trip, as I attended the same program in Berlin last summer. It is mind-blowing to me that a year has already passed, and that I am getting ready to go back to Berlin, as the month I spent there last year was the best month of my life. Using my experiences from last year to my advantage, I will be able to relax a little more this year because I now know what it is like to travel internationally alone.

I spent this week last year mainly preparing for the outfits I would wear and the pictures I would take for social media. This year, my priorities are a little different, as I remember putting so much pressure into dressing nice for Instagram, that I often found myself not present in the moment while abroad. I also found myself uncomfortable in some of the clothes I brought, although they photographed well. In retrospect, I now know that being comfortable is more important to me than dressing super fancy or fashionable. This year, I am packing more comfortable clothes that I can sustain comfort in during the long days I will have abroad. That is not to say that I will not bring any nice clothes at all, as I am planning on going to the Opera and will showcase my “Sunday best” then, but rather that I will dress as comfortably as possible to make my experiences more enjoyable.

While my “passion for fashion” was a major concern for me last year, this time around, I am more nervous about meeting my host family. I had such an amazing host mother last summer, and I was able to build a connection with her that extended to when I returned home. We have kept in touch, as we both had a lot of similarities and really bonded while I stayed with her. We both were very independent and self-sufficient, as she also lived alone and enjoyed her solitude. This year, I am hoping that no matter our similarities or differences, I will be able to build a similar relationship. As someone who is learning German, it is important to me to keep these connections, as my host mother taught me a lot about the language and culture last year. Fostering a good relationship with my host family means that I have a family abroad, something that is important to me as I may have opportunities in the future that call me to visit Berlin again.

I look forward to the upcoming month abroad and sharing my experiences with you all! Bis bald und auf Wiedersehen!

–Caleb Joseph