by Laura Kadamus
One day in Deutsch Klasse, my teacher, Frau Katherin, taught us about the “Berlin Baptism.” Simply put: an initiation to this city means stepping in dog poop and getting your bike stolen. I am halfway initiated—during a group tour through our neighborhood, I definitely stepped in some Scheiße.
Since then, I have been able to avoid the piles that populate the sidewalks in Berlin. Not all of my friends have been so lucky. Particularly on Sundays, certain areas of the city smell a little funky when more people and pets are out on the streets. At the same time, people don’t lock up their bikes here like they do in New York. (I have yet to see a Kryptonite Chain.) Instead, they lean them against buildings, locking up only the tires with an old, weak-looking lock.
My real introduction to this city began as I started to learn more about the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). I have had the opportunity to learn about Soviet history from professors who were there to witness it. Another perk of living in East Berlin is discovering the remnants of Soviet occupation firsthand, every day.
I have found myself in a junk store stocked with Soviet spy cameras on Bernauer Strasse. Likewise, some of my friends ventured into a thrift store filled with the Soviet-style fur hats. Once, as some of us were leaving the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum, we saw a fox in the square outside. As it turns out, roaming foxes are not uncommon in Berlin because the Soviet Union allegedly completed 50 years of research trying to tame them. According to the urban legend, a lack of funding, due to the fall of the USSR, caused the majority of the 700 “test foxes” to be sold. They still occasionally roam Berlin’s streets.
Everyday in Berlin, I learn more about its unique past and, never before, has my interest about the history of a place been so passionate. I don’t know when my Baptism will peak—perhaps when I write on the wall, or buy a Soviet hat of my own, or that fateful day when, as my lehrerin (instructor) predicted, my bike gets stolen.