Oberlin-in-London Blogs

Cold War Spies
››› April 1, 2012 | Posted By Arielle Swernoff '14

Last week was spring break, which has definitely been one of the high-water marks of my semester so far. I was traveling with a friend and fellow blogger, Logan Buckley, and we more or less at random chose three cities to see: Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. It was incredible, and made even more so when I discovered that our route is the exact one that Western spies took when defecting to the Soviet Union.

Our trip, however, was purposefully apolitical. The previous weekend, our class had traveled to South Shields to learn about the coal miners' strike of 1984-1985, the decline of union power in Britain, and some of the institutions of the welfare state. It was a fantastic but very full weekend, and it topped off six weeks of intense academic study of social class. After that, I was ready to take a break from discussing class and gender and explore Eastern Europe. Some of the highlights of my journey:

- In Berlin, a German art student showed us around an exhibit he and his friends had installed in an empty room on the fourth floor of an office building near the Kurfurstendamm U-Bahn station. The theme of the exhibit was "Berlin ist . . ." ("Berlin is . . .") and it was a wonderful introduction to the city, as seen through the eyes of the young people who live there. The students were also preparing lunch, and we ate waffles with them as we looked out of the window of their gallery towards a march going on in the street.

- In Prague, we warily went to a traditional Czech restaurant and ordered pickled cheese, pork and cabbage, and dumplings. I was a little wary, to be honest--Eastern Europe isn't exactly known for its food--but it was delicious. I didn't know it was possible to make cabbage taste that good.

- In Budapest, we stayed with a friend's sister, and I loved getting to know her and her housemates. They were all from Germany studying medicine at a Hungarian university. One evening, they invited us to join them for a barbeque at their friend's apartment. I don't speak a word of German, and though they all spoke excellent English, it was more comfortable for them to converse in their first language. Although everyone around us was speaking a language I couldn't understand, it was one of the most fun barbeques I've ever been to.

In each city, too, we ended up spending an afternoon in a public park. I have a tendency to be drawn to outdoor spaces when I travel, since they feel so much more familiar than other parts of a foreign city. As one of my fellow London-ites said, "Everywhere's got grass and trees," which, although not strictly true, is a comforting thought in an unfamiliar place. In my first weeks in London, I often found myself in parks on the weekends--Green Park and St. James's Park, which are near Buckingham Palace, as well as farther-out and more extensive spaces, like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park. This is one thing that London has over other cities: it has huge amounts of public green space.

There are a number of reasons for this. A lot of the parks were royal lands and used for things like hunting, and there were also historical bans against developing certain areas around the then-city. In any case, though, I love London's parks. Being in a city is wonderful and exciting and I love it to death, but I usually find myself noticeably relaxing when I'm in a park. The park in Berlin had a zip-line, too.

And, lest Marc Blecher read this post, our journey was not without analysis. We talked a lot about history and identity, and I feel recharged and ready to once again dive into class.

Responses To This Entry:

I'm disappointed – you were supposed to take a week off from analysis! :-)

Posted by: Marc Blecher on April 3, 2012 12:05 PM

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