The winter semester at the FU Berlin has started on a rainy Monday morning. Over night, fall has made its arrival in Berlin clear by showing me that my laundry won't dry on the balcony anymore and making me worry about my hair. Suddenly you have to decide before you leave the house whether an umbrella is enough or you should rather pick your jacket with a reliable hoody, even though you can say goodbye to your hair volume then. I screw volume and decide to stick to my always reliable winter jacket.
I enter an overcrowded subway wagon in at the Prinzenstr. Eight minutes later I change trains at Nollendorfplatz. During the following eleven stations, young adults in their early twenties enter the train on the student line U3. What strikes me the most is that all of them are equipped with a newspaper, an iPod and the promise they gave to themselves in the morning not to say a word before arriving at Uni. You think you're sleepy when going to school at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning? It doesn't get better at Uni, when your earliest lesson starts at 10:00.
At my second last station, Dahlem Dorf, the train empties itself dramatically, which unfortunately does not improve the air quality in the train.
Once I get out at Thielplatz, I have the feeling of being on a school trip. Lots of students all walking in one direction, in my case the more or less short way from the train station to the uni. The sidewalk is narrow, no one falls out of the walking rhythm and the person at the top of this hike demonstrates a rapid pace. I can't keep up with them, but why should I anyway? It's 9:40AM, so what's the rush, people?
Everyone stares down at the feet of the person walking in front of you, but I don't give a damn. I step aside and continue to walk next to this marching band without instruments. I choose to focus my gaze on the squashy brown fall leaves on the cobbled pavement. Remember, first year students: University starts in rainy, cold and dark October, not sunny, warm and bright August! Just to let you know, your motivation suffers considerably from that.
I dare to look up once I've reached the traffic lights. It's astonishing how many people care about their hair volume: A sea of umbrellas makes its way to the main entrance at Habelschwerdter Allee 45.
Once your inside, it's up to you to find the right room. In one of those introductory events that I attended (which I really recommend, because you learn the university room system and how your personal timetable is supposed to look like and you see lots of other confused first years, which makes you feel better) I became familiar with the room system, so I knew the direction I had to follow, but once I was on the correct floor in the correct
corner of the building, I still couldn't find that damn room. An older student struggled herself to show me where the room was. All I can tell you to do: Look everywhere, even at pieces of a wall that don't look like a door and where you wouldn't expect a door to be. It might actually be one.
The room I enter is half full but it gets fuller towards 10:00 AM, so the late comers have to sit on the floor or squeeze themselves between other seated people. It's too little space for 38 people. At 10:06 our teacher enters the room. Late? Not at all! We get told that when your lecture plan says 10:00 Am to 12:00 Am, it actually means 10:15 AM to 11:45 AM. How untypical for Germans not to say it correctly right from the start. A young woman with an opened backpack enters the room in search for a place to sit. The girl sitting next to me mumbles a comment to her neighbor about the unclosed backpack. Apparently some people never grow out of puberty.
I learn even more during this first lesson: There's an attendance list (How much school can there be at university, really?) to keep track of your presence at every lesson. You have to attend 85% of the course per semester.
It turns out I need a printer. While at school your teacher provided all the material for you, handing out copies at the beginning of every lesson, you have to do that all by yourself at the FU. There is an online blackboard that every course is enlisted on and we have to check it regularly for new material for the next lesson to print it out and bring it to class. More comfort for the teacher, I guess.
I've already seen some students solving the lack of printer problem by simply just downloading the handout on their laptop and bringing the laptop to class. Therefore you have the handout infront of you, but electronically. I belong to those people who prefer to take notes on the handout and not a separate sheet, so the laptop version is not the best for me. Of course the FU provides many printers that you can use at the Zedat computer center. This is where I see we're talking about an Elite university: iMacs everywhere! No Microsoft, no, no! I like that. There's plenty of computers and if you remain patient for a few minutes you might access one, but the printers are a different story. Six. Six? Yes, six printers for several hundred students
without printers. Another option might be the copyshop in the cellar of the philological library. It's not better. How many people work there? Two. How many printers are provided? Four. Oh yeah, not much more.
The library in general, on the other hand, has amazed me the most so far. Not only does it look impressive and unusual from the outside (check board patterned space ship), but it also meets the students' needs in the inside. It's as quiet as a church mice. The only sounds you hear are silent footsteps, lockers being opened and closed and fingers typing on keyboards. You can plug in your laptop everywhere to gain access to the wireless LAN for free. There is so much space that even when you think it's crowded, guessing from the limited number of free lockers left, you can
still find your own quiet place somewhere.
How do I feel after my first university lesson? Bored? Not really. Challenged? Yes, in a healthy way. Overcharged? Not at all. In my thirty minutes before my first lecture, I allow myself to check on the bathrooms. There are several spread across the whole building, each one providing three toilets. You shouldn't let the queue discourage you, you wait a minute at the most.
In my lecture hall, I notice several people with their netbooks in front of them. Printer-less people, I guess, but then I notice that they hardly pay attention to the professor. So my second guess is that they update their Facebook profiles, stating something like 'Lecture about to start. I'm sooo excited^^ / I'm so sleepy.
Our professor's mission is to raise our enthusiasm for the humanities, telling us why it actually makes sense to study humanities. A few jokes here and there, and you have the whole hall of skeptical young adults on your side. Towards the end, my rumbling stomach feeds himself with my concentration so the first thing I do after the lecture is find something edible.
I can't eat at the canteen yet, because I need a Mensa Card for that, which you also need for printing out stuff at the computer center by the way. It's like a London Oyster card for the tube. You can't pay with coins and banknotes. So I run back to the train station where there is a kiosk that accepts my pocket money.
Throughout the whole day, I try to keep track of my finances. What is the most important thing right now? Upload my cell phone? Purchase a printer? Put some money back in order to afford a T-Shirt from the upcoming Muse concert? Hair dresser?
Don't let promoters talk you into a three month trial of a newspaper, you lose 30 Euro straight away. It's lethal when your budget is limited like mine. It's peanuts when your parents are generous in their monthly donations or when your job allows you certain luxury here and there. Or it's both, and I hate you if that's the case.