Column: From Berlin to Houston


Lea Baner

A photo of Leo Baner on the infamous Berlin Wall

EDITOR’S NOTE: Follow CVHS sophomore Leo Bader in an ongoing column series as he spends this year as an exchange student navigating the differences between the lives of youth in Berlin and Houston.

Most of us grow up surrounded by a set of similar points of view: reading from the same set of news sources, talking to the same sorts of people, and with little change in our day-to-day lives. Our views and understandings are shaped by our lifestyles and environment, and for the vast majority of people, those lifestyles and surroundings rarely change.

As it happens, I’m spending my sophomore year in Berlin, Germany, completely immersed in life here. I’m speaking the language, going to a German school, and hearing what others have to say. With that opportunity, I will hopefully have the ability to understand and learn from these perspectives, and see how the different day-to-day activities, decisions, and lifestyle here affect education, social life, culture, and public opinion.

Take, for example, my school. It is one of the best regarded schools in Berlin, and it is named after a 1960’s rock star, John Lennon. Lennon was a creative and spontaneous person; he and his wife famously stayed in the bed of a hotel room for seven days to protest the Vietnam War. In contrast, two of the best schools in Houston, Carnegie and DeBakey, are named after a steel tycoon and a cardiac surgeon. It’s hard to imagine either of them staying in bed for a week.

Albeit just a little detail, the names reflect a larger difference between the communities of the two cities. Berlin is full of aspiring artists and students fresh out of college; graffiti and street musicians are common sights. It’s an energetic and poorer city. Houston, on the other hand, is much wealthier, and feels much more “put together”. People generally live in private houses rather than apartments, and unpermitted graffiti would be a very surprising sight in most of the city.

Small differences such as these are everywhere— and I want to use this column to communicate how they give the residents of Berlin and Houston, and the cities themselves, their identities. Through focusing on both little things like the difference in school names, and also broader concepts like cultural sensitivity and activism, I will try to convey a comprehensive view of how Berlin and Houston differ from each other, and how that affects people living here.

The takeaway that a reader hopefully leaves with is an interest in discovering new systems and lifestyles. Along with that, I want to provide a view into a new city, one that is very different from Houston—and in doing so, to offer a meaningful break from the everyday comings and goings of CVHS.