“Interesting. Good Luck Mate!”
Ben Heiden enjoys one last currywurst in Berlin before his study abroad trip – he’ll be sending “Letters from Birmingham” over the next few months.
Oct 25, 2019
My apartment in Berlin is rented out. I’ve said good-bye to my friends. The first notes of “London Calling” play on my headphones as the wheels of the airplane start to leave the tarmac in Germany. I smile to myself: I’m not headed to the British capital, but to the UK’s “second city.” At night from the sky, all big cities look impressive. Birmingham is no exception. As the plane approaches, the streetlights, buildings, and cars look like stars.
A customs official at the airport asks me about my travel plans in Birmingham. Probably the biggest adventure of my life, he adds dryly. “Interesting. Good luck mate!” The officials sit in raised cabins that force newcomers to raise their heads in reverence to the British state.
Later, I am standing in front of my new place in the Selly Oak neighbourhood. It’s a typical British terrace house, one of several hundred around here. There is definitely a Privet Drive vibe from the Harry Potter universe here. But there is none of the meticulous order and cleanliness that I would expect from Brits. One indication that this is a student neighbourhood.
Before the semester started, I was able to tour the campus and get my student ID card. The university grounds include several football pitches, banks, dormitories, a lake, a shopping centre, the university hospital, its own railway station, and of course all of the departmental buildings and institutes.
Towering over everything is “Old Joe.” Built in 1908, the clock tower stands at the centre of campus and has its own Twitter account. It chimes at the beginning and end of each class, and because of its size it helps overwhelmed students like me orient themselves.
In my next letter, I’ll tell you about Freshers’ Week, supposedly the most remarkable experience at British universities. And, of course, I’ll be sure to say a bit about the general mood as Brexit approaches.