Humboldt University – Berlin (January 2011)

International Explorer: Daniël

In January 2011 we sent 4 students to the Winter University at Humboldt University – Berlin. On their return we asked them the folloing questions (JW):

What can Stellenbosch students expect when they arrive in Berlin? How were you received?

My first glimpse of Berlin: Arriving at Schönefeld airport and trying to find a train to the apartments Humboldt University provides. I immediately realized that Berlin is not like some of the other physical attractive European cities. Tierpark (the area where the apartments are located) looks like a communistic paradise. A soundless snowing panoramic view of concrete slabs as far as the eye can see. If you have an interest in the history of Berlin, this is a wondrous moment. Even though I had no idea where precisely I was, there was no doubt about it – this is the former East Berlin. A pleasant lady, that is one of the coordinators of the program, awaited me and showed me where exactly my apartment is in this jungle of buildings. It all depends on the student him/her self, nevertheless, one thing that is expectable is a distinct atmosphere.

Describe your first day of classes at the Humboldt Winter University.

“Die philosophen haben die welt nur verschieden interpretiert es kommt darauf an sie zu verändern” is the first thing I saw as we walked inside the foyer of the main building. As I was told, this means: “the philosopher has interpret the world in different ways, what is important however is the change in it.” This is a quote by Karl Marx. The first feeling I got was a collective sense of pride in German education. The class was very small (8 students), which proved to be a good thing, since everybody had the opportunity to raise an opinion about the specific area under discussion. On day one we already had a somewhat in depth and critical discussion. This was typical the order the rest of our classes would be at Humboldt.  Our lecturer at the time was open minded and easy to talk to.

Taking in consideration what you know now – what would you do differently in terms of your preparation for your trip to Berlin?

I will definitely pack fewer clothes. If you have a lot of clothes, it takes up potential space for things you want to buy there. Yes, some things are expensive, but mostly it is affordable (if you shop at the right places). One can easily get the idea that things will be expensive, as a result of the Rand/Euro exchange rate. Most of the things happen to be in proportion. But it can fluctuate. For instance I bought multi vitamins in Berlin, which were much cheaper than in Cape Town. Music and DVD’s are also much cheaper in Berlin than in South Africa. So if you are in doubt about taking that extra shirt or not, do not give it the benefit of the doubt – leave it.

Taking in consideration your own expenses – how much do you think should a student budget to spent in Berlin? (Put together a small budget.)

I think that about 600 euros is safe (also for unforeseen events). One can save a lot of money, by buying food together with your flat mates. It is a lot cheaper to make food, than to buy fast food. But I think it is necessary to eat German food once in a wile, or at least once. Do not buy everything you see that seems to be rather cheap, because you will realize that it all ads up to a big amount. Clubbing can be expensive, because they can charge you a lot just to get inside the club and the drinks in there can be ridiculously expensive. Bars and pubs is definitely the way to save money for the party scene. Berlin is a very big city and if you search long enough you will find something cheap. Museums are not that expensive and showing your student card earns you discount.

Food:                                                                           100 euro

Buying, Social, Extended Travels                           400 euro

Unforeseen expenses:                                              100 euro

This budget is just my opinion and it can perhaps be too small or too extravagant! Remember that one does not have to use all the money in one’s budget!

What is the standard of the academic classes, and in what format does it take place?

The standard is fairly high, but not on such a scale that it would exclude anybody. The course subjects were unfamiliar to all the students, so we did not have any background knowledge regarding the articles we read. It is however expected that we all must bring something to the table at the end of the day. The professor is interested in the individual opinions. You just need to prepare the work that is required from you. The classes took place in seminars. I found it to be constructive, because we as a small diverse group (The Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa and Bolivia), could light all our respective opinions and perspectives regarding the specific subject under discussion.

What is the standard of the accommodation provided by Humboldt University?

It was good. The apartments were very spacious. It was however far from class, not in an incredibly exciting neighborhood and there was no wi-fi.

Do you have internet?

Internet (and wi-fi) is provided only in university buildings.

How much time do you have for excursions?

Enough time. Not too much, not too less, just right. The program is well balanced regarding the amount of hours we spent in class per week.

Name the highlights and low points of your trip to Berlin? (Name three of each – if you can.)


–       Getting to live in Berlin, rather than visiting it.

–       To experience European Higher Education.

–       Cultural experience combined with meeting different people.

Low Points

– I fell ill, but luckily had prescription medicine from our family doctor back home.