Graffiti in Berlin: A Feast for the Eyes

While traveling this summer on IUSB’s study abroad trip to Berlin and Prague, one of our assignments was to create collage journals. With these collage journals, we were afforded the opportunity to have free rein to recreate our memories as we saw fit, being able to reflect back on the impressions both cities had left in our memories. One of the most striking and inescapable themes I decided to pick up on and highlight in my journal was while I was in Berlin. This theme was the graffiti found on walls of buildings, stairs following down to Berlin’s many U-Bahn stations, windows of various shops, and anywhere else there seemed to be an uncovered canvas. No matter where you turn in Berlin, there is graffiti waiting to be found just around the corner.

But what I did not realize at first was just how taken aback I would be by all this graffiti. When you think of the term “graffiti,” you tend to think about buildings being defiled and explicit words being strewn across a city for all to see. The graffiti in Berlin, however, is unlike any other I have seen. The artistic quality and the time it must have taken for these pieces to be completed reflect creative expression and impassioned attention to detail.

When I show my personal photos of various pieces of Berlin’s graffiti, I always say, “Berlin itself can be seen as one giant art exhibition.”

IMG_0891 IMG_0852 IMG_0880   IMG_0851  IMG_0850 IMG_0859

Because the majority of our time in Berlin was spent in the former Communist East part of Berlin, it was a constant reminder of how the former GDR’s economy and livelihood was seen as “stunted” by those in the Western part of the city. Run-down buildings with shattered windows and tattered apartment doors seemed to be the places where the most, and often most vibrant, graffiti could be found. In my opinion, that is a testament to how those Berliners took back the city as a whole in order to revamp and reclaim Berlin, and Germany overall, as a unified place. More than anything, the reminder of the former East Berlin is present by having not only part of the Berlin Wall still standing, but having pieces of the Wall erected around the city with the same artistic graffiti covering the pieces from top to bottom. Unfortunately I was not able to get my own picture, but one of the most famous pieces of art on the Berlin Wall is “The Fraternal Kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker.

Berlin, East Side Gallery

Berlin is often described as a gritty, harsh, and rough-around-the-edges city. Even the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, described Berlin as “poor, but sexy.” After spending one week in Berlin, I must admit that Mayor Wowereit is definitely correct in his explanation. Although Berlin tends to be a whirlwind type of city, one thing is certain: Berlin is a city that is sure to captivate your senses.

(c) Maddie Kindig (All photo credit of graffiti belongs to me, except for the one “kissing” picture)

Free Movie at the Natatorium: “Slavery by Another Name”

On Thursday, September 18 from 6.30-8.30pm, there will be a special screening of the documentary “Slavery by Another Name” at the Natatorium.

Few people in this area are aware of the rich legacy of Civil Rights — or the sad tragedy of segregation — in northern Indiana or specifically in South Bend. In 1922, the Natatorium opened in South Bend for whites only. As the Great Migration brought numerous African-Americans north looking for work and freedom, this shocked many of them as they expected northern states to be completely desegregated. By 1931, several prominent blacks in South Bend started to protest the segregation at the Natatorium, but no significant gains in rights occurred until the city of South Bend passed a new tax in 1936 to pay for repairs at the Natatorium. The tax frustrated blacks in the community as they paid for the repairs, but could not swim, and by 1937, thanks to several protests, African-Americans were allowed to swim once a week. In late 1949, citywide protests consisting of both blacks and whites erupted once again over segregation of the Natatorium and on February 3, 1950, the Natatorium was fully desegregated.

In May of 2000, sixteen IU South Bend students and faculty participated in the Freedom Summer 2000, studying the Civil Rights Movement in the South. When arriving back at South Bend the students founded the Civil Rights Heritage Center to “record, preserve, and celebrate the struggles and extraordinary achievements of citizens committed to social justice.” In 2010 the Engman Natatorium became the official IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. The Natatorium is a significant and culturally relevant landmark both in the history of South Bend and the Civil Rights Movement, serving as a reminder that the both segregation and the Civil Rights Movement were local, as well as national, in the fairly recent past.

The preservation of historical landmarks such as the South Bend Natatorium is essential for humanity and for societal growth. So please visit the Natatorium on Thursday September 18, from 6.30-8.30pm for a special screening of the documentary “Slavery by Another Name.” The event will also have a special guest, Dr. Mitch Kachun from Western Michigan, who researches “how African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries have used historical knowledge and public commemorations in their efforts to work for equal rights, construct a sense of collective identity, and claim control over their status and destiny in American society.” The Natatorium and other museums that are similar in nature are essential not only to remind us where we once were as a nation, but guide us to where we are going we are going in the future. Please come for this event and learn about local history and the history of our nation.


For more information visit the Natatorium’s website:
Or the Civil Rights Heritage Center website:

Branch Out: Travel Abroad

Have you ever considered traveling abroad through one of the IU South Bend programs? The study abroad programs take you beyond the classroom to experience an entirely new environment – new sights, smells, sounds, and way of living. I took part in IU South Bend’s Mexico program last summer.

Lowell Ritter photo

Personal photo – Hierve el Agua

As soon I got off the plane, it was obvious I was in a different country. Bits of conversation in Spanish were heard and I attempted to translate the directional signs. Four weeks later, each member of our group had grown in their Spanish skills and felt comfortable in the country. Things that were unusual at first (like not flushing toilet paper!) were the new normal.

On the Mexico trip, students stay with a host family, which not only makes it necessary to utilize your foreign language skills, but lets you see what it is truly like to live in Oaxaca, Mexico. The house where I stayed with one other IU South Bend student was large and also had students from Stanford University staying. The family was friendly, the neighborhood was extremely safe, and there was a festival almost every weekend, most notably the Guelaguetza. In addition, we visited famous archaeological sites, such as Teotihuacan.

The trip combines studying Spanish at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca, visiting archaeological sites, and staying with a host family to create a rich experience. The institute also allows you to take cultural classes, such as cooking (my personal favorite), salsa dancing, or creating Alebrijes.  My one piece of advice is to not be afraid to try the trip. If finances are holding you back, remember there are scholarships available and you should speak with the Office of Financial Aid. If you are nervous about what you may experience, take a leap and travel overseas because you will be thankful you did!

Remember, there are many trips. If Mexico is not the right trip for you, consider traveling to Germany, Costa Rica, Berlin and Prague, Florence, or London.

This post is by Lowell Ritter (, who graduated in May 2014. 


Diary of a Young Girl

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

August 1, 2014 was the 70th anniversary of the last entry in Anne Frank’s infamous diary. On June 12, 1929, Anneliese Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany and moved to Amsterdam in 1933, the year that the Nazis gained control of Germany. The Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, and by 1942 started to deport Jews. For two years, Anne and her family hid in a secret room, with only a small window to see the outside world, until the family was “discovered” after a tip from a still unknown informant. The family was deported to Auschwitz and then Anne and her sister Margot were then transported to Bergen-Belsen, where they succumbed to typhus in March 1945, just a few weeks before Allied troops liberated the camp. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only member of the family to survive. After moving back to the Netherlands, Otto was given Anne’s diary from Miep Gies, who helped keep the family safe during their two years in hiding. Otto was surprised at the depth of his daughter’s thoughts and Anne’s written desire for it to be published. He sought a publisher for it, eventually succeeding in 1950. The Diary of a Young Girl has become one of the best-known pieces of Holocaust literature.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”

Anne Frank, May 1942

Since its publication, an edited version has been used throughout the US high school as a valuable learning tool in both literature and history classes. In the mid-1990s an unabridged version was published that created controversy because of Anne’s discussion of sexuality amongst other things. The controversy continues, but unfortunately another problem has been occurring: schools have stopped using The Diary of a Young Girl. As someone who loves history and plans on attending grad school in that field, this concerns me. American high schools are doing students a disservice when they stop using first-hand primary resources concerning history. History is more than fact based memorization; it is a dialogue between historians, both trained and untrained. I feel that, if anything, more primary resources should be employed in high schools. That is bare-boned history and it needs to be taught in that manner. Too many students feel that history is boring; utilizing primary resources is an important step in rectifying a problem that most likely stems from a lack of delving into primary resources as the core teaching material.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

The Continued Adventures of the Foreign Local

Intern Staci Barke is still in Japan doing independent research, and she has several new posts about her experience up on her blog, The Foreign Local. Here’s a list of her posts to date, by date:

May 17:
The Foreign Local
Onward to Tokyo!

May 18:
Taking the Backstreets

May 22:
Party Time! Oh, and Possessed Dolls 
Antiques, Festival, and 2nd Tallest Structure in the World
Strangers? Never Heard of Them!
Let it Go, it is Only Honey

July 21
The iPad Struggle is Real…
Osaka Pt. 1

Take a look at her posts, and get a taste of life in Japan.








A group of 15 IUSB students began their study abroad experience after arriving in Mexico City last week along with Prof. Vanderveen and Prof. Davis. Above is the group photo taken in the indigenous site of the world’s largest pyramid (in terms of volume) in Cholula, Mexico. Later in the week, the group visited la Casa hogar hijos de la luna with Piñatas and tres leche cake. Recently, the group spent half the day in Monte Alban learning about the Precolombian archaeological site. If you are interested in knowing more of the 2014 Oaxaca study abroad program, follow our group on Facebook! ¡Oaxaca 2014!

Summer Session I Trip to Berlin and Prague: Histories of Both Cities

Panoramic photo of Prague from the Pražský hrad ‘Prague Castle’ gardens

Self-taken panoramic photo of Prague from the Pražský hrad ‘Prague Castle’ gardens

I can safely say that this short whirlwind of a study abroad trip was the most fulfilling and adventuresome experience I have had in my life thus far. If I had one word to describe my trip it would be this: magical. Prague and Berlin have momentously different histories and I was unable to overlook the juxtaposition in how both cities showcase their pasts and presents. Prague and Berlin showed me one main theme that I will never be able to forget: the way they embrace or ignore their history. It begs the question: What are these cities proud or ashamed of?

Prague has a nearly 1,000-year-old, rich history, and you are surrounded by this reminder of the past as you walk down the cobble stone streets and gaze up at the Gothic architecture. Prague is a city that screams, “Look, there’s history here! And here!” The two sites in Prague that help to explore the answer to this question are St. Vitus Cathedral and the Jewish quarter. St. Vitus Cathedral has been a central monument in Prague since the early 1300’s and its Gothic architecture and grandeur are something that Prague is most certainly proud to display. However, the Jewish quarter has a much different historical feel. In the Jewish quarter, you can see the revered Old Synagogue and the magnificent and morbid Jewish cemetery with its layers and rows of Hebrew inscribed tombstones. Alternatively, the strange aspect of the Jewish quarter is that it now has been turned into a swanky, upper-class shopping district for the wealthy tourists of Prague. To me, the Jewish quarter is the most glaring evidence of the Czech people not being so proud of their history.

In comparison with Prague, Berlin has a much different historical feel. Berlin is not nearly as old as Prague and has had a much more recently tumultuous past of destruction and subsequent reconstruction. Two sites are literally feet away from each other and could not be more polar opposite in remembrance: The Holocaust Memorial and Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker where he committed suicide. The Holocaust Memorial is located right in the heart of Postdamer Platz and next to the Brandenburg Gate. This site for the murdered Jews of Europe is impossible to ignore and I believe that is a reflection of German memory and willingness to look at their terrifying past with World War II and the Holocaust and learn from it. Nonetheless, Hitler’s underground bunker is mere feet away from the Holocaust Memorial and is barely given a mention other than one short informative plaque. Clearly, this speaks to Germany’s willingness to accept and confront the two driving forces behind their guilt surrounding their most recently (in)famous history.

At the end of my travels, it is still hard to reflect on and remember all of what I had seen and experienced. Additionally, I know that both Berlin and Prague have aspects of their history that they are either not ready to fully confront or have immense pride in being able to remember and learn from. These magical cities will forever hold a place in my heart.