“This Could Only Exist in Berlin”

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Katie Black, PennDesign, LArch ’16

If there’s anything previous travel has taught me, it has been that almost always, my expectations of a city, it’s culture, places, and people, rarely match reality. Prior to moving to Berlin this summer, I kept this in mind.

Yet despite how much I tried, I had mental images of what the place would be like. In my stereotype-laden daydreams, Berlin was some kind of never-never land where artists and musicians lived in moody hovels, pushing the boundaries of their life’s work, while major political movements that epitomize the world’s zeitgeist forge on in the background. It was a hipster rats-nest, where you’re expected to stay up clubbing until sunrise and take advantage of the god-given ability to drink in its many public places. Everywhere in Berlin would be loaded with history, every street would have a million stories.

My convoluted images of the city were mish-mashed against the fact that I was coming to Berlin for work. My knowledge of landscape architecture offices, of deadlines and of cherished sleep after a long day of work, clashed with this David Bowie fantasyland I envisaged. I had no idea what my life would be like in Berlin, and when I got on the plane, I was scared.  How would I survive? How would I fit in?

The city and the internship that awaited me were both intimidating, and, for the first few weeks, life was lonely and challenging. Working at an international landscape architecture office on design competitions, I was one small part of a team of interns who helped to create graphics and design drawings that communicated the concepts, strategies, and intentions of the partners and associates at the helm of the firm. We were expected to work quickly and our office had high standards for our outputs.

While I worked long hours, I still had many chances to experience the city that at first seemed so daunting. My bike ride to work took me straight down Karl Marx Allee, a monumental socialist boulevard and a major axis of former East Berlin. I turned past the TV Tower towards the office, in an older part of city-center. My flatmates and coworkers were kind and welcoming, came from all over the world, and were happy to explore the city and show me their favorite places whenever we could.

Ultimately, my imagined disparity between a fantastical city and a demanding job proved untrue – they were not two separate entities but a tightly intertwined experience. As time went on, I found myself saying more and more, ‘This could only exist in Berlin’. My work experience, the projects I was exposed to, the people I met, all came together because of the pull of the city. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to learn about my chosen profession, international practice, and what makes cities magical.

Author: Student Perspective

Views and opinions from current Penn students.