•February 28, 2016 • 2 Comments

Last week I encouraged my students to write down their goals.  I introduced them to SMART goals, had them reflect on the past two semesters and asked them to think about goals they could write for the next semester.  SMART:





Time Bound/Timely



It got me to thinking; it has been a long time since I set goals of my own.  I have lived my life 6 months to a year for so long, that goals seemed unrealistic. My goals were finishing whatever I was currently bound in at the moment – a semester in school, a contract, a seasonal commitment. But now, the time has come that I need to set some goals for the next 5, 10, and 15 years.  I may not see them all achieved, but I need to set goals, so that I have something to work towards, so that life doesn’t become stagnant, so that I keep the passion alive. So, as I finish my Masters in Educational Psychology, prepare to return back to Vancouver, and look towards the future I am going to think about what’s next, how I am going to get there, and what I want it to look like.

I don’t know what my goals are yet, but I know that they will be educational, relational, personal, financial and familial in scope.  Stay tuned…




Christmas in Vancouver

•December 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

I am so excited!!! This year has been a challenge to say the least.  Not because of the classes I am teaching, not because of the issues being faced in the Middle East, and not because of life in general in Beirut. This has been a difficult year, because I have realized more and more what is important to me as an educator, and that the school at which I teach does not foster, nor does it seem to support those things which I value most: autonomy, creativity, exploration, and inquiry. So, the excitement to go back to Vancouver and visit is very real.

When times are difficult, the place I want to be most, is with family and great friends: enjoying old traditions and creating new ones.  This year, there may not be a massive family gathering like in the past, but I do get to see both my parents, friends and multiple other family members. I am looking forward to White Spot and Bowling with old friends who haven’t managed to be  in the same province or country for at least the past 5 years. I am looking forward to dinner with old roommates. I am looking forward to seeing Peter and Starcatcher with old friends and new friends. I am looking forward to Christmas morning coffee and mandarin oranges. I am looking forward to Christmas dinner surrounded by people who care for one another.  I am looking forward to the rain or maybe even snow. I am looking forward to enjoying the Christmas Lights on St. Paul’s Hospital, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vandusen Gardens and maybe the Stanley Park Christmas Train.  I am looking forward to fostering new friendships and developing relationships. I am looking forward to so much, because with each moment, there is a chance to be thankful.  I am so thankful for all that I have been blessed with. Is life perfect? No… but it’s full of perfect moments, and I look forward to more perfect moments.

Many people ask what my Christmas wish is, and to them I would say I really only have one: to enjoy many more perfect moments and hopefully, to share those perfect moments with a special other.

Happy Halloween!

•November 1, 2015 • 1 Comment

Halloween – for some people it’s bigger than Christmas!  Though I enjoy Halloween, I have never been one to go with elaborate costumes or head to the biggest parties, so Halloween in Beirut suits me well.  It’s not as widely celebrated as in most North American cities, but you can find little spots that put up decorations and throw a good party.  This year I was lucky enough to have an invite to the US Embassy Halloween party as well as go to the annual Fadlallah (the building I live in) Halloween Bash.  A number of people in the building made decorations on Thursday and we spent a part of Saturday evening putting them up before the big Bash.  This year, I went as Jack-In-the-Box (you know.. that lesser known Fast Food Franchise on the West coast).

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I found that I really do have at least a partial guard up all the time while living in Beirut – for a variety of reasons, so when I am able to fully relax, it’s an amazing feeling.  The Embassy party was one of those really good chances to let my guard down and enjoy the evening (unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to have our phones or cameras inside, so no photos are available from that party).  Fadlallah was fun too, but I became pretty tired early, and was ready for a little Netflix and bed by 11pm.  I returned to my flat and watched Charlie Brown’s “The Great Pumpkin Patch” (pretty much an annual tradition for me)… and snuggled up in bed before drifting off to sleep.

My sleep however, was anything but usual.  I dreamed about train rides that flew through the sky, running into friends randomly, while looking for a bus in Edmonton – though it looked more like San Francisco and, most disturbing of all, I had one dream in which my dad informed me that he only had 6 months to live.  I didn’t believe him initially, but he was so insistent, I finally recognized it to be true (in my dream that is)… the rest of the dream was people consoling the family. Needless to say, it was a little disturbing.  I hope it’s not a premonition.  Maybe I just had too much chocolate – ya, probably too much chocolate.  It’s definitely time to start a sugar fast.

Until next time….

Long time… Let’s catch up!

•October 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I mean a really long time!  So a quick synopsis of the last 6 months.   I didn’t really do any travelling after Greece in April and tried to focus on finishing well.  I started my Masters in Counselling and became a bit of a hermit in order to get done what needed to get done.  The school year finished off on June 27th last year. Then we had a week of collaboration and entrance exams for the upcoming year. My director was gracious enough to let me leave early, so, on July 2nd I hopped on a plane and headed to Vancouver. I spent a day and a half in Tsawwassen with my mom and family and then joined some of my favourite people and drove down to Seattle for a ball tournament.  It was amazing! I missed playing so much!  We placed 2nd overall and I have to say, after not playing for a year, I faired pretty well.

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As usual, as soon as the tournament was over, my busy self was back into work mode, as I took on teaching summer school in Coquitlam for 3 weeks.  I had the joy of teaching Math Skill Building 4/5, which was more like teaching Math Skill Building to students from grades 3-6.  But, it was awesome, and the kids had a blast. They built cities out of 3D polygons and we covered fractions, measurement, data collection, graphing, addition, and subtraction.  Every day, we started the day with a check in and a 10 minute mini lesson. Every group assigned members to be a foreperson, accountant, administrator, builder or artist, and they had to take on each role at least three times over the three weeks. Then they got to work. At the end of each day we covered new or unfamiliar vocabulary and they wrote in their math journals  – they responded to one prompt question based on what they were learning and one question based on how they felt the day went. At the end of the three weeks, the students had the opportunity to share their cities with other classes in the school, explain what they had done and describe what they had learned. IT was awesome!

During this time I finished my 3rd Grad course and was able to spend some quality time with friends and family… then one of my besties – Miss Melissa Barkman came for a visit and we celebrated friendship, pride and good times together!  I also had the pleasure of hanging out with other good friends – Jim, Todd, Luke, Colby, Jason, Mike, Shawn, Miles, Sam, Scott, Dan, Mike and many more…Throughout the summer I also met and made new friends in the city – Graeme, Gad, Darcy, Jason. I know there are names I am missing off both lists, but you get the idea. We went to movies in the park, played golf, danced the night away, brunched, and played the summer out!

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The summer was full of ball tournaments, coffee, meeting new people, and I was able to get up to Edmonton to spend some quality time with my sister and her family. I love them!

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After a whirlwind of a trip back home, I am now back in Beirut and about 7 weeks into the year – midterm. I am working on 2 more Graduate courses, teaching a full load and loving hanging out with friends here.  I’ve also had the pleasure of making a few new friends in Beirut and experiencing new places.  I was able to go to a concert at the Music Hall (http://www.themusichall.com/Subpage.aspx?pageid=171), eat at really cool eatery called Junkyard (https://www.facebook.com/junkyardbeirut), and play trivia at Dany’s.  Friends from home – Jason and Emily – who are working in Dubai, also came to visit and it was awesome being able to catch up with them! I haven’t seen them since Cyprus last December.

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My classes this year are awesome! My kids are far less crazy than last year, and even though my French section kids are still an insane group, they are 50% better than the last group and my stress levels are reduced in return.  Looking ahead, I am IMG_0312excited to be travelling back to Vancouver for Christmas this year and am hopeful for other developments that have seeds planted.  The school year is going to be great, but I’m thankful to have added distractions in my life as well.  Well there ya go. The readers digest version of the past 6 months.  I’ll try to post a bit more regularly, but you know how life is.

Also this:


When Students Cheat

•May 6, 2015 • Leave a Comment

When students cheat or plagiarize it hurts my soul.  Today I caught a fourth student copying work off of a website.  It causes me to pause and ask: “How many more of my students have cheated their way through the year?”  I don’t want to become jaded and cynical, or to feel like my students are always cheating.  From the beginning of the year I encourage them to demonstrate their own thinking, to show their creativity, and produce work that reflects who they are as a person. I reward independent creative thought, I get excited when they share new insights or quirky thoughts that only they can come up with. So, why do so many of them cheat or plagiarize their work?

There is an ongoing debate over whether or not the feeling of the need to cheat comes from the school valuing grades more than the students learning. The fear of failure, demanding schedules, lack of interest and perception that cheating is easy are some of the other reasons students may cheat (http://tlt.psu.edu/plagiarism/instructor-guide/why-students-plagiarize/).  There are a number of other factors as well, but I think, in my circumstances this year, as much as the institution may disagree, the value placed on grades far exceeds the value placed on student learning.  We can say as much as we want that learning is the priority, but until teachers stop using grades as a threat, common exams become less of a norm, and exemptions because of grades cease, the truth is, Grades will seem to be more important – and students, are very observant of this fact.

I have never seen so many tears over a low score; I have never seen so many students advocate for just one more point on a test or quiz; I have never seen students get as angry as I have this year about having to work with someone because they think they will pull their average down. As an educator who cares about my students and desires them to be independent, creative and critical thinkers, this frustrates me. It not only frustrates me, but it hurts.  It makes it so much more difficult to continue doing what I am doing. I feel like I am working in a system that goes against my nature as a teacher and I am trapped for one more year.  What’s even more difficult is that some parents here are supporting their kids in their efforts to cheat the system.41789_4.20.cl.oliviaanthonyo

My biggest hope is that by the end of this year my students will realize how much I value who they are as people. I hope that they will recognize that they have something of value to add to the conversation.  I want them to know that their voice is more important to me than the voice of someone they think says it better than they do.  Their thinking, their creativity, their ideas, their opinions, their dreams, these are the things that are important.

It’s a sad reality when students believe that “a person who has an entirely honest life can’t succeed these days” (http://tlt.psu.edu/plagiarism/instructor-guide/why-students-plagiarize/).  I hope this isn’t true or the belief of either my students or in actuality, because if it is… we are all doomed.

Keeping Weekends Active

•May 2, 2015 • 1 Comment

I have been really bad at keeping this blog updated and so much has happened. I have been to Athens, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodes, Patmos, and Ephesus. I have hiked the Chouf Cedar Reserve and the Tannourine Waterfall. I have experienced three more strike days (and I think there are more coming), and I have watched a full season of Golden Girls in the past two weeks.

My life is a mixed bag and I love it!  Being overseas continues to be an adventure, but as the summer draws near (60 days until I depart for Vancouver), I am finding the need to get out of the city and escape more and more enticing. So, the past two weekends I have been fortunate enough to do day trips into the beautiful natural areas of Lebanon.  They say pictures are worth a thousand words… so here are a few:

Greece and Ephesus (Turkey)

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The Chouf Cedar Reserve

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Teachers Day

•March 8, 2015 • Leave a Comment


During a recent “Cold day” off from school, I met a local friend for lunch. While walking in he said “Must be nice, to have a day off!” Definitely, a day where I am not required to go into work and be in front of students is a welcome break. Everyone, no matter what type of job they have, likes to have a break from the norm to be refreshed and rejuvenated. As we talked about work and made plans for the weekend, the comment began to sink in and cause me to reflect.

A teacher’s day is like no others. A teacher’s day starts like anyone else’s. Arrive at work – but this is where the similarities diverge. Teachers often arrive early to work (or stay late) because when the school bell rings to start the day, there is not time to gather materials, make copies or plan out the day, it all has to be done ahead of time. When I was in Canada, when the bell rang I would wait at my door, welcoming students to class for the day, smiling and giving gentle reminders: “Do you have a pencil? Did you finish your homework?” as 28-32 students filed into the classroom. In Lebanon, I am the one walking into the classroom, trying to carrel the students and have them get themselves seated and prepare for the day.

As a middle school teacher, I teach 4 to 7 classes in a day, have a parent hour and have two department or level meetings a week. Each time the bell rings, I have hopefully already told the students what we will be covering the next day, given them a closing task and written down in the classroom log book any homework I have assigned and filled in the attendance chart. Then I quickly move to the next classroom, sometimes 2-3 floors up or down with no elevator and begin again trying to calm the students whose previous teacher is doing the same thing as I am and has likely left the students to their own devices for the past 3 minutes. (It’s amazing what kind of trouble 11-13yr olds can get themselves into in 3 minutes!)

You might wonder when I go to the bathroom? I don’t. I have students fill my water bottle when it is empty and I wait, while allowing the students to use the toilet, to go to the bathroom myself on first break or second break. When I worked in hospitality, I at least had coworkers who could cover me if I needed to go, and when I worked for the Camp and Conference Centre, I had all the time in the world to take a bathroom break (at least that’s the way it seems looking back). As a teacher, I often invite students to meet me for 30 minutes of remediation. When I met with college students as a recruiter they always appreciated the lunch, students from my classes often like the break from the cafeteria but have difficulty focusing on their learning needs and don’t really want to spend their time learning grammar. I am often scarfing down food as I try to teach or prepare lessons. Many teachers (and administrators) go without eating due to time constraints of the busy job.

I am a lucky teacher, I have at least one 45min preparation period per day. This time is often filled with meetings. Meeting with co-workers, administrators and parents. Yes, this time is similar to many other jobs. Our “break” time is like many people’s work. When I am lucky and don’t have meetings, I am busy planning, grading, updating my website or making copies. Many teachers at home in Vancouver have minimal preparation time every week, often being limited to around 90 (or slightly more) paid prep minutes per week. Imagine having to prepare the majority of your work on your time! Most teachers spend at least 2- 3 hours daily preparing for work on top of their daily teaching time.

Yes, the cold/snow days are a luxury. Teacher’s days are full of work unlike most others. So on this actual scheduled day off – TEACHERS DAY – I am going to stop, relax and take a day for me… maybe. I should start writing report cards.


…. It consumes itself to light the way for others.

Adventures in Turkey

•February 9, 2015 • 1 Comment

This weekend was filled with fun, laughter and adventure as myself and 3 other teachers headed to Turkey.  There were many sights to be seen and touristy things to do!  BUT no adventure is complete without first getting on the plane and hearing the Safety Instructions. Pegasus Airlines didn’t let me down when the screens came down and the following video appeared:

Two of the teachers flew out Thursday right after school, but Liz and I caught an early flight at 6:30am. After our flight we were going to grab a shuttle bus, but accidentally/on purpose got on public transit. We made it to our first destination the Kadikoy Ferry docks with no major issues and then from the Ferry to the Tram and the Tram to the Hotel.  Luck was on our side!  Along with luck were some interesting experiences… I’m always a bit wary of theft etc when I am travelling, and as much as people say you need to be careful, you also need to watch for the amazing decency of people.  As we were on public transit from the airport to the ferry docks, people that got on at the back of the bus would hand money up to the front of the bus via perfect strangers. Some even passed up transit cards that needed to be swiped and then the cards were passed back to their owners.  It was a regular, normal, common practice and unfortunately, not something I could say would happen in Vancouver.  The ferry ride was beautiful and the view of both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul were incredible.  Did you know that Istanbul is the only city that has a continental divide that is clear and undoubted? One side of the bridge you are in Europe, and the other side you are in Asia. CRAZY cool!

After arriving at our hotel and throwing our stuff into one of our colleagues rooms (because we couldn’t check in yet), we went out wandering the streets, ate lunch and took some photos.  It would take forever to explain and describe all that we saw over the three days in Istanbul so I will list a few descriptions and let the pictures do the rest of the work.

Some of the places we visited were:

Hagia Sophia: Hagia Sophia is the one of the most visited museums and most prominent monuments in the world in terms of art and the history of architecture. It has also been called “the eighth wonder of the world” by East Roman Philon as far back as the 6th century. It was used as a church for 916 years but, following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was converted into mosque. Afterwards, it was used as a mosque for 482 years. Under the order of Atatürk and the decision of the Council of Ministers, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935.

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Basilica Cistern: This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals.Designed to service the Great Palace and surrounding buildings, it was able to store up to 80,000 cu metres of water delivered via 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea, but was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated from the Great Palace. Forgotten by the city authorities some time before the Conquest, it wasn’t rediscovered until 1545, when scholar Petrus Gyllius was researching Byzantine antiquities in the city and was told by local residents that they were able to miraculously obtain water by lowering buckets into a dark space below their basement floors.



Topkapi Palace: 
After the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmed the Conqueror at 1453, construction of the Topkapı Palace was started at the year 1460 and completed at 1478 . Palace was built upon a 700.000 squaremeters area on an Eastern Roman Acropolis located at the Istanbul Peninsula between Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Topkapı Palace, was the administrative, educational and art center of the Empire for nearly four hundred years since Mehmed the Conqueror until Sultan Abdulmecid who is the thirty-first Sultan. Although Palace was abandoned by the Ottoman Dynasty by moving to the Dolmabahçe Palace at middle 19th century, Topkapı Palace was protected its importance everytime.


Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque (Called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is an historical mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design.Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I. just like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasa and a hospice.Besides still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul.

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Egyptian Spice Market: The market was constructed in the 1660s as part of the New Mosque; rent from the shops supported the upkeep of the mosque as well as its charitable activities, which included a school, hamam and hospital. The market’s Turkish name, the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Market), references the fact that the building was initially endowed with taxes levied on goods imported from Egypt. In its heyday, the bazaar was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Routes from China, India and Persia.

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Mosque of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent: The Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest and grandest and dominates the city’s Third Hill, just north of Istanbul University, overlooking the Golden Horn. Inside the Süleymaniye is simply breathtaking in its expanse, a near-square 58 meters (63 yards) by 59 meters (64 yards). Süleyman—and his genius architect, Mimar Sinan—attempted to rival the spaciousness of Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) by hiding the massive buttresses that support the dome, incorporating the buttresses into the walls, and adding rows of porphyry monolith columns beneath the tympanums on either side. Although not as large as Ayasofya, the Süleymaniye exceeds it in feelings of light and openness.

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Where we stayed

Fatih: is a municipality (belediye) and district in Istanbul, Turkey that encompasses the peninsula coinciding with historicConstantinople. In 2009, the district of Eminönü, formerly a separate municipality located at the tip of the peninsula, was merged into Fatih. Fatih borders the Golden Horn to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south, while the Western border is demarked by the Theodosian wall.


Hotel Nena: A luxury boutique hotel located at Sultanahmet. The magnificent historical places are nearby our hotel like Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar and many more… Nena provides high quality service and Turkish hospitality to make you feel at home.


Dessert Heaven – Çiğdem Patisserie: We may have stopped here at least once every day.  I may have eaten 3 different types of chocolate cake. YUM!


Other Areas we Visited:

Taksim Square (Turkish: Taksim Meydanı): situated in the European part of Istanbul, Turkey, is a major tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops, and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, with the central station of the Istanbul Metro network. Taksim Square is also the location of the Monument of the Republic (Turkish: Cumhuriyet Anıtı) which was crafted by Pietro Canonica and inaugurated in 1928. The monument commemorates the 5th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, following the Turkish War of Independence.

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Weekends (Sort of…)

•January 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s a sunny Saturday in Beirut. The weekend is probably my favorite part of living in this city. Don’t get me wrong I love my students and I enjoy teaching, however, the structure of the school often frustrates me and not having my own classroom is becoming more and more of an inconvenience that I am not going to be able to handle for more than 2 yrs. Classes in the morning are 50mintues long and in the afternoon they are only 45minutes long. The problem is, by the time I am able to get the students to focus and on task, 5 minutes have already passed. Then at the end of the period I have to leave 5 minutes in order to ensure these kids know what their homework is and what we will be doing in the next lesson or two. Additionally, the 6th graders are supposed to be dismissed 5minutes early before any break. So, when I have a 50 minute period, most of the time I really only have a 35 or 40 minute period. These kids own their classrooms. I have no control over how it is set up – all classrooms are in rows: my least favourite arrangement for any classroom.

I love collaboration in the classroom. Desks in rows make this very difficult. Not only, do I dislike the desks being in rows, I also don’t have a whiteboard or chalkboard. Yes, I have a smart board, but there are times when you want to write something down (i.e. Homework), so that the kids can refer to it later. I do my best to keep my Moodle Page updated so that it can assist in reminding students what is coming up and what they need to finish for each day, but if the students aren’t checking the Moodle Page then there is very little that I can do.

Moodle. I have almost always had a Website for students and parents to check. Using Moodle has been an easy switch, but they recently updated the system, and in doing so, have limited my creative ability. The fonts are less varied, the type and color are less dynamic and I am constrained to a smaller selection of media possibilities. How is this an updated system?

Lastly, the curriculum, it’s not a bad curriculum; the problem is that there are no set standards for the curriculum. So, I have been using the British Columbia IRP’s for my planning. This works for the most part, except that these students really are still learning English as a second language. It’s like English Immersion, so the standards are a bit high for them. In some ways, I suppose this is okay since it encourages them to work hard and they have been growing in their abilities with both written work and in comprehension, however, I don’t always know what is required of these kids on a broader school wide scale.

This brings me back to the weekend. I work fairly efficiently, which has enabled me to spend most of my weekends relaxing and travelling. I love the fact that I can role out of bed at 9:30am, have my coffee and toast, browse the internet and then go out for another coffee or have a nap without worrying about getting any work done. I love the fact that this morning I went grocery shopping and it was an event. I love that I am sitting in a café updating my blog drinking coffee. I love the idea that next weekend I am going to Istanbul. And, I love that I have the financial flexibility to live and enjoy life. Teaching overseas is great.

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Berlin for New Years

•January 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Another Photo Blog… Berlin was an amazing trip. I met new friends, met up with old friends, and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the history of the city, it’s place in the world and the conflicts and discussions that still exist in this liberal relaxed city. It is truly “poor but sexy.”  The snow was cold, but it was beautiful. The history was rich, but disturbing.  The life was crazy, but welcoming. I loved it!

The TV Tower:


Remains of The Berlin Wall:

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The East Side and West Side of Berlin:


Home to one of the many Christmas Markets in Berlin:


The Iconic Crosswalk AMPELMANN:


The Reichstagsgebäude:


The Jewish Museum:

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Graffiti Art – Prevalent throughout the city:

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Brandenburg Gate and Humboldt University:

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Monuments, Museums and Churches:


The Berlin War Memorial – to the Victims of War and Tyranny: