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  • Daniel Reinhardt

When will the East show its true face?

Here I am now. Sitting in the Flixbus heading to Berlin. Luckily, there's no one sitting next to me on this almost six-hour journey. I am constantly wondering whether I should watch Netflix or listen to Spotify. #thestruggleisreal. I've actually ridden with the bus driver before - whether it's luck or bad luck remains to be seen. She seems really nice and funny. But she caught me not putting my rucksack in the luggage rack, as I had been told to do at departure - it was so full that I didn't want to squeeze it in... But well, shortly before departure in Hanover, she goes through the rows looking for charlatans and finds me in the last row. Instead of just telling me to please stow my bag upstairs, she gave me a moral lecture and embarrassed me in front of everyone at the back of the bus: what could happen if everyone on the bus suddenly had to get out of the bus in a panic and quickly, because my bag would probably be such a big obstacle. But well, being the good girl that I am, I immediately put the bag on the top shelf. On we go, another three or four hours...

The journey actually makes me a little thoughtful. A new phase of life begins, a new chapter is opened. I'm moving. Out of my parents' house and Hotel Mum and into a student dormitory. Out of the small town, into the big city. At least that's what some people actually thought when I said I was moving to Frankfurt an der Oder. For many, there is only the Hessian financial metropolis with its giant skyline. But no, my friends, there is also the other Frankfurt, isn't there? There is not only the big Frankfurt am Main but also its little sister Frankfurt an der Oder in Brandenburg, an hour away from Berlin by RE1, separated only by the Oder river from the Polish city of Słubice and united by a bridge to form a double city. Here in this seemingly lonely and unknown hamlet in the deepest east of Germany I am now studying. Hard to believe for many of my family and actually all of my friends.

I, a gay young man, want to go east voluntarily, mind you. To the hinterland, to the right, to the bereaved, to the homophobes. I always heard these and other prejudices. The shocked reactions are followed by questions about why, why, why? I got such reactions from all sides and above all warnings and advice not to "behave too openly gay" (!), whatever that is supposed to mean exactly...

Family, friends, acquaintances - everyone drove me crazy, why so far away, why out of NRW and the West and into the East to Brandenburg, why to a small town, why not Berlin, why, why, why....

To my complete surprise, I was even accepted in Berlin at the renowned Humboldt University, but my grade point average wasn't as good as the NCs of the last semesters there, but so be it. I told myself that Berlin was really cool, but it was too expensive for me and maybe too overwhelming at once.

So I actually dared to enrol at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder (cultural studies is NC-free here). Everyone around me was still in a state of shock, I was completely scared of the evil East Germans, the dark Frankfurt and totally insecure on my way to my "new life". On the bus ride, after watching an episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, I now have time to imagine what it will be like: all old people, going about their daily lives, no thriving, let alone colourful society, old university lecture halls, completely empty, run-down buildings, AfD stronghold, surrounded by bitter people who don't want to know anything about city life, who don't care about anything anymore and just leave everything as it is.

Definitely not a place to walk around outside with a rainbow flag. Not a place for me. Not a place for young people at all. Who wants to go there?

It is the end of my first semester. Now I'm sitting here, in the cool Blok-O, a co-working space with a café full of young people who are working on papers, practising lectures, going over oral exams in Spanish, English, French, Italian, Russian, exchanging the latest gossip, talking about the cute guy from the last row in the seminar, charging their mobile phones and laptops to distract themselves in between with social media, Netflix & Co, drinking coffee, laughing and simply living their student life. Outside the window, people walking around, getting on the tram, a New Yorker (the shop, mind you, not a US American), a kebab shop next door, waving friends from the dorm who just come in to say hello and then go back to uni, home or to Poland to shop and get cigarettes.

After a seminar in the morning, a few hours of work here at Blok-O, two three cups of coffee with milk and sugar (for me, mostly milk and sugar and some coffee), it's back to a tutorial for me. I keep asking myself why I put on headphones in the first place, but I take them off again almost immediately, because I'm being hugged by two of my girls (sounds just better in English with "hey, girls"!) right outside the door. I thought about it for a moment and realised that they had been at one of the parties in my hall of residence at the weekend. Short small talk: Hangover? Did I get the guy I thought was so hot? Where was one of them for the last two hours? Did she hook up with him? Well, then they both go inside, I put my headphones back on and walk on to the university. I actually make it across the square in front of the new Audimax building without a disturbance, just waving at a group of Colombian international students from a distance, with whom I danced reggaeton at the weekend. Arrived on the second floor of the Audimax, went past the unisex toilet into the room where the tutorial takes place, sat down next to a friend and then had an hour and a half tutorial. Then finally off home by tram. During those 15 minutes I always hope that I can just sit there and listen to my music, but it doesn't always work...

Yes, Frankfurt is not big, the university is not big, just 60,000 inhabitants, 6000 students. It's not Berlin or even Frankfurt am Main, but it has its charm. Completely different from what you'd expect, there are lots of cool bars, cute cafés, lots of parks, theatres and clubs. I keep saying I'm happy to be here, I'm not just a number among tens of thousands of students. Everyone knows each other here, you meet everywhere and say hello to each other. I feel comfortable. There is always something going on in my hall of residence, I have met many new people from all kinds of countries around the world: from Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Ukraine, Russia and China, to the USA, Mexico and Colombia.

Although it is only a little bigger than my hometown, it is so incredibly different from there. The atmosphere in this city is so much better than I expected. Of course there are some rough edges, but everything is really different because of the students. Since I've been living here, I've become so much more open. I've met new people so quickly and I'm out and about almost every day from morning to night. I attend my classes, do a lot with friends, get involved with the FSR Kuwi, go to AStA and StuPa meetings, help organise the Unithea festival here in Frankfurt and Słubice, meet friends and so on and so forth.... Not everyone has to take part in so many things and get involved everywhere, but for those who want to, it definitely works really well.

I celebrated my birthday with all my friends at a queer party in the club. Before that, I went through the city in the tram with a rainbow flag, nail polish and heart-shaped glasses. Only last night we went through the city with several people to remove the light blue AFD stickers - maybe a prejudice was partially right here, but our action proves that this is not even desired here. The current mayor comes from a left-wing and also otherwise only the public relations department of the right-wing seems to be strong!

There's so much being offered here. Although, or rather certainly / surely because there are so few students here compared to other universities, I feel so at home. I quickly made friends, quickly got used to life here and adapted, and I already feel at home. Of course it's good to question everything beforehand, but so far none of the prejudices have been revealed, except for the political ones, so I'm starting to wonder when the allegedly true East Germany will show itself...

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