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  • Sun 01 Mar 2015 10:00

    Last week the results of the Literary Festival ‘Foundations’ competition were announced and students presented their amazing work. The audience were treated to wonderful poems, essays, short stories and photographs, before the winners were revealed.


    First place was awarded to Lola Adeyemo, for her moving poem on the kidnapping of the Chibok school girls by Boko Haram. James Dunn’s poem ‘Untitled’, influenced by English seaside holidays that don’t go to plan, came second and in third place was Cristina Burack for her essay ‘Berlin Cubed’, which considers how she changed over three separate visits to the city.

    The shortlisted photos are currently on show in the NAB exhibition space and will be coming to the first floor of the Saw Swee Hock on Thursday 5th March.

    Thank you to all the students who submitted work and congratulations to the winners!


     Read the winning entries below.

    Stolen Dreams in Chibok, The Foundation of A Nation’s Legacy
    Lola Adeyemo

    I think I hear them scream

    I think I feel their heart beat

    Glorious survivors

    Images of real warriors

    Treading on snakes and scorpions

    Do you feel their fingers tremble?

    As you conceive the atrocities

    your incompetence dealt

    The cards your complacency shuffled

    Does that instant rip your soul?

    Heartless beast

    What will it take to find your beauty?

    Betrayer’s kiss –

    Judas of our forefather’s legacy

    A nation broken

    As another dream is stolen

    I think I hear their thoughts

    I think I taste their tears

    Searching for answers

    Fairy tale endings

    Bleak as it be

    Praying for the prey

    This could have been me

    Questioning the last words I spoke to my father

    Reminiscing about the songs from my mother

    This could have been you

    The egocentricity of your inaction

    Rock our nation

    Red hands in gold plates

    Cold hearts in warm beds

    Drum beats against bomb ticks

    Mouths filled with distorted sweet

    Unfulfilled promises

    Stolen dreams

    Unmet needs

    Strangled by greed

    I think I hear souls bleed

    I think I watch my sisters impaired

    Condemned by indifference

    And buried by insignificance

    Their lives must count

    Their sacrifice must resound

    Our sisters,

    I think I hear mothers wail

    I think I watch them toil

    Searching for answers

    Digging for meaning


    Tossing in their beds

    Minds consumed with fear

    But, let this truth echo in your souls

    My sisters

    We love you

    Your names are imprinted in our nations’ heart

    Your pain a scar in our spirit

    We care about you

    Your life forever a reminder of our inadequacy

    Martyrs - on your loss,

    We will build our legacy

    by James Dunn

    Lashing, cutting down on single glaze

    the water bouncing off at angles

    opposite to the cold, which carries on -

    only our bones can stop that.

    Rented caravan - static - exactly

    replicates every other, equally spaced

    and permanent on concrete foundations

    rendering its supposed accident illusory.

    you didn’t have to remove yourself from

    the aluminium confines to take a piss

    and return with dirt and bodily fluids

    on your slippers stained green and ruined.

    Food-poisoned, sour monochrome complainants

    remain poised on their own foundations,

    crumbling this time, sinking unremittingly

    into clay; second-to-last holiday.

    damp pillow, crypt-like reassurance of

    her head, heavy now on my dead arm

    that I will move after this sentence

    or endure from now until morning.

    wakefulness exposes me to keenly

    welcomed effects of serotonin, unveiled

    single glaze exposing yellow and blue

    and the coffee pot and her.

    Berlin Cubed
    by Cristina Burack

    Berlin. Berlin? Berlin!

    I came to this city three different times, for three entirely separate reasons, for three varying lengths of time. Same city, three totally different experiences. Part of the reason is that I changed in between the visits, each of which was separated from the preceding one by three years. When you return to a place you have previously been, you see it differently because you have evolved and developed. Your recent experiences have altered the tint of the glasses through which you see the world. Sometimes the return is a letdown, and the city does not live up to the ideal you preserved in the display case of your mind. After taking time to carefully dust off any sediment which might have clouded the sparkle the city threw through memory’s glass walls, the return remains lackluster, drab, not as grand in reality as when viewed through memory’s framework, under brilliant lights and atop a pedestal.

    Other times a return lets you tackle unfinished business. You go back, you pick up a thread that you had left hanging, and then you continue to weave a narrative that seamlessly bridges your before and your now in that city. It is as if you have never really been away. The city has been waiting patiently for you to come back. It is less of a return and more of a homecoming.

    And then there is the third type of return. It occurs only seldom. This return is not reality’s disappointing intrusion into your idealized memory, nor is it the reawakening of a slumbering city princess unaware of the passage of time. Instead, it is something totally new. The same city, but new people, places, purposes. Almost no relation to your previous experiences of the city exist. Each stay exists in and of itself, and the city breathes life into them all. This type of return depends upon the person: they must have different goals and aims each time they find themselves once more in a place they have been before. But it also depends upon the city. Only a city diverse enough, unique enough, dynamic enough, a city that pulses with energy in a million directions, a city defined by its very undefinable-ness—only such a city offers this third type of return. Such a city not only lets you experience it from the multiple angles of your different visits but also enables you through, its depth of diversity, to immerse yourself in an entirely different scene, one that compliments the newest facet of your personality. You have developed, and the city has just the thing for you now, so welcome once again.

    Berlin was such a city for me. Each sojourn in Berlin was for very different reasons and gave me very different experiences. Unlike other cities I have lived in, I never purposefully tried to return to Berlin; my path just lead me back there as I pursued disparate opportunities over the years. These unconnected opportunities brought me back to Berlin because Berlin—that chameleon city that can be anything and everything to anybody and everybody—offered me what I sought each time. Even when I didn’t know what I was looking for, the city gave it to me.

    My first trip to Berlin was as a tourist in February of 2008. I was living as a study abroad student in Vienna, Austria at the time and decided to skip out on the group travel rigmarole and instead go with a good friend, Julie, to discover the capital of Germany. Everything was gray at that time of year—the sky, the buildings, people’s moods. It seemed cold and industrial; only graffiti brightened the streets with neon colors and chaotic designs. Instead of staying in a hostel, Julie and I couched surfed with a young family in Prenzlauer Berg, a husband and wife and their infant daughter. The man had grown up in West Berlin and the woman in East Berlin, and over our first night’s dinner with them, they recounted their experiences of the Fall of the Wall. The woman recalled going to the grocery store for the first time and wondering why on earth there were so many different types of toothpaste. What was the difference? Why was so much choice necessary to provide adequate dental care? The man recalled seeing bambi-eyed strangers walking around Kurfürstendamm in awe. They gave us tips on where to go, and we cooked them dinner the next night.

    We saw all the main sights: Brandenburger Tor, the ReichstagsgebäudeAlexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery, Potsdamer Platz. We also went into a dilapidated old building, one whose exterior would have doomed it to foreclosure and demolition in the US, but whose inside was a labyrinth of experimental art with paintings directly on the walls and installations on the landings, a bar on the third floor in a dark, curtained room with low slung chairs under once broken, now boarded-up windows, and a fifth-floor attic with an angled roof and an open floor for performances. It was my first taste of how in Berlin, what was Old can be New. Reinvention. Repurpose. Much like my subsequent visits to the city itself.

    I returned to Berlin for the second time with what one could call a professional purpose. I had been selected to participate in Das Lied, an international art song competition hosted every two years in the city. I had graduated from Northwestern University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Music in Voice and Opera and Bachelor of Arts in History, and in September of that same year, I moved back to Vienna to teach English as a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant. Teaching was the means to live once again in the musical capital of Europe; my plans to seriously pursue singing truly motivated my return. My life revolved around my singing. I took regular weekly lessons, coached repertoire nearly as often, auditioned for choruses and summer programs, and gave recitals and public performances. After my two teaching years were up, I aimed to enroll either in the Music University in Vienna or attend an American conservatory for my masters in vocal performance. My eventual goal was to sing professionally, so when I received my acceptance letter for Das Lied competition in Berlin, a few months after sending in my audition tape with confidence but tempered hopes, I was ecstatic and in disbelief. I, Cristina, was invited to go to Berlin to compete in one of the most prestigious vocal competitions for upcoming singers! I would be singing for Thomas Quasthoff and Brigitte Fassbaender, giants of the art song and Lieder world I wanted to enter! I would have to perfect my 40 song selections in three months, find an accompanist, make travel arrangements, give a dress rehearsal, and keep my nerves under control.

    The closer the competition neared, the less in control I felt of my voice and myself. My voice teacher would tell me I was singing well, but was I? It didn’t feel right in my body. I couldn’t trust my voice. What felt right, she said was wrong. What she said sounded right felt wrong. I planned my performance outfit for the competition, something I felt entirely comfortable in. My teacher nixed it at the dress rehearsal, saying it wasn’t mature enough. She suggested a more matronly dress, higher heels, gaudier jewelry and clownishly exaggerated make up. I felt like a puppet, all done up by someone else and with someone else’s voice emanating from my body.

    This second trip to Berlin was at once much more personal than my first trip as a tourist and yet more foreign at the same time. I knew my way around the city a little bit, and I stayed with a host family in Schöneberg, a residential area in the south-western corner of the city. They welcomed me with open arms, dog-hair slippers, and patience for my bathroom vocalises at seven in the morning. My host mother told me about the Trümmerberge, or rubble mountains, that lay in the neighborhood. They had been built by the women of Berlin following the end of WWII. These women fascinated me, the steely strength they possessed to pick up the endless pieces of bombed-out buildings, to gather the stones that marked suffering and death and destruction, and use them to change the landscape into the verdant, tree-filled escape it is today. 

    I was slated to compete the second day of the first round, so I spent the free day before the competition practicing in the regal Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler on Gendarmenmarkt in the center of the city. The Hochschule had a carved stone façade and plushy carpeted stairs. Echoes of Brahms and Wolf floated through its stone hallways on the practice floors. Its arched entryway unfurled out onto a cobblestoned plaza where an ionic-columned concert hall, a temple to music, sat ceremoniously in the plaza’s center. All this matched my visions of a European musical backdrop. But I felt out of place against it.

    The other participants in the competition were at various points in their careers, but most were actively performing. I was one of the youngest and least experienced participants, and I listened with eager ears to the professional pursuits of my co-competitors. Whirlwind travels (“Next week I’m in London for auditions, then it’s back to Montreal to start a six-week rehearsal period for an opera, but I have to go down to New Haven in three weeks to sing the Missa Solemnis with the symphony”). Flakey accompanists (“Can you believe he had the nerve to show up 10 minutes before my audition? I didn’t want to pay him, but I did”). Annoyances of long-term apartments (“I hate it when the people before you don’t leave any spices in the cupboard”). Premieres of new works (“I’m lucky, the composer writes well for the voice and he really took my strengths into consideration when writing the part, even asked for my tessitura!”). Typical gossip (“Didn’t you hear that Martina threatened to quit teaching at the conservatory if she didn’t get complete say over who was in her studio? What a diva.”) Everything they did sounded so exciting—traveling all over the world, collaborating with different musicians, being the vessels for entirely new works—and they were friendly enough, but I felt out of place in their circle, like an actor who has stumbled into the wrong scene. As I listened to their conversations, I heard a little but very clear voice in my head saying, “Wow, that sounds so exciting. I’m so glad it’s not me.”

    I didn’t make it past the first round of the competition. This early exit left me with a lot of time to get lost in the city and lost in my thoughts. I had not expected to get far in the competition, but I had expected that this experience in Berlin would solidify my aspirations for a professional music career. Berlin was supposed to be the doorway to my musical future, but it ended up being the place where I was out of place. I was suddenly confronted with the question of what I had thought was a given: a professional singing career. Nothing was certain anymore, except for the cloudy February skies above me, the damp air that hung like a shroud around me, and the hard concrete sidewalks below my feet, whose cold leaked into my soles as I wandered aimlessly around the city, killing time.

    In my mind, Berlin was to have been my musical mecca. But instead of being a resolution on the tonic at the end of movement one of my musical pursuits, setting me up to gallop onward into movement two, it was an abrupt finale, like a frustrated piano player’s fist crashing down on the keys before getting up from the bench. Berlin ended up being my musical oracle, revealing a truth that I had successfully buried within me under hour upon hour of practice sessions. My realization threw me into a drawn-out tailspin, questioning everything, sure of nothing. The city had not fulfilled what I had thought was my destiny. But it had fulfilled the destiny that was actually mine, and that I had not yet recognized. It gave me the clarity that my way was unclear. It gave me certainty that my path was uncertain. At the end of my trip, I left Berlin radically changed. This second visit reoriented my life, even though I couldn’t yet see in which direction I was now headed. This orientation would have to wait for trip three. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t think I would be back.

    Two and a half years later, in March of 2014, I found myself once again en route to Berlin. This time it would be for longer, five months to be exact. I was traveling there for something entirely different than before—an international exchange program that would bring 120 young professionals from 31 different countries to Berlin to work in a Member of Parliament’s office and experience German parliamentary democracy. This time I would be surrounded not by musicians but by aspiring politicians, or such was my preconception.

    Mick Jagger once said that politicians are wannabe rock stars. Would the people in my program be that different in mindset from the spotlight-seeking singers of the competition? Would I fit in with this new group of people? I had never studied political science or worked in an overtly political capacity. Growing up outside Washington, DC, where politics permeated the everyday, and one stint of political canvassing was about as far as I got. Would I be an outsider among the future Hollandes, Gaucks, and Ashtons? Would everyone there have a steely glint in their eye and manicured talons, eager to take down their next victim on their climb to the top of the political pyramid? Would the city taunt me with memories of my last visit? Friends who had spent time in Berlin tried to reassure me, telling me about how much they loved it, how alternative it was, how great the nightlife was, how dynamic the art scene was. Would I, former opera singer that I was, early-to-rise, early-to-bed, cup-of-tea kind of girl, be hip enough for the city itself now that I had to live there? Or would I once again arrive in Berlin only to feel out of place, a perpetual outsider?

    My fears and anxieties did not endure long past my arrival. The infectious rhythms of the city—endless variations that constantly pulsated and modulated—knocked down my inhibitions as easily as the walls of Jericho. This time, Berlin bombarded me with graffiti, music, peeling posters advertising DJ performances, book readings and rallies. I bought a bike at the chaotic flea market in Mauerpark, a weekly mass of second-hand humanity, and began pedaling all around the city, discovering its distinctive neighborhoods: Mitte, with its broad boulevards, triumphant monuments, and modern buildings of political power; Kreuzberg, a mass of languages that smelled of kebab drippings and where night-goers filled the streets until long after I was asleep; Friedrichshain, where former Soviet cement buildings hosted hipster coffee shops and cute home decor stores displayed items organized by color; Charlottenburg, decidedly suburban in feel with colored houses, flowered balconies and shady river banks; Neukölln, with its alles-für-ein-Euro stores, windows with head scarves in saturated solids and lively floral patterns, and market stands on the sidewalks that tempted me with rainbow fruits.

    I got to know other people in the program who, like me, found themselves in Berlin because they followed an exciting opportunity to an exciting place. They were not racing down a straight highway towards political greatness but a meandering path that let them explore their diverse surroundings. Oh, the aspiring politicians abounded, but they got excited about the opportunity to snap a photo with the Minister of the Interior. I got excited about seeing a World Cup game projected onto a church wall with live organ accompaniment. And others did too. These were my friends, the individuals who were not there with a mindset to achieve but to absorb, to take in everything, do everything, try everything across the broad spectrum of offerings that the city poured daily into our laps.

    I started attending musical events regularly for the first time since that fateful competition. A friend who lived there and worked in music management opened my ears to the diverse and innovative musical events going on in all corners of the city. I attended symphonic concerts at the Berliner Philharmoniker, heard a cembalo performance in a converted pumping station with a view of Alexanderturm in the background, and saw a production of Bizet’s opera Carmen that combined a post-financial crisis apocalypse with voodoo skulls and themes of sexual violence that could have come straight out of Pedro Almodovar’s Matador.

    Most days, I would take the longer but more scenic route to and from work, biking over the bumpy Gendarmenmarkt and passing the Hochschule für Musik. I couldn’t help but smile as I would fly by the ever regal building on my way from the Bundestag to home. There, a quiet dinner and a book awaited me. Or maybe an evening open-air jazz concert in a park with good beer and good friends.

    As I think about these experiences, I am tempted to ask, “Where was this Berlin when I had visited it before?” But that would be the wrong question. The correct question would be, “Where was this Cristina when she had been in Berlin before?” And therein lies a knotted conclusion: without the Berlin of yesterday, the Cristina of today would not be. This Cristina blossomed in Berlin but eventually said Tschüss to go on to her next adventure in a new city, armed with her recently acquired confidence. But the Cristina of tomorrow can come back to Berlin and experience it yet again as something entirely new.

    Just like it did for the women after World War II, Berlin let me build my own Trümmerberg. I gathered the pieces of my former dreams and goals and carried their weighty burden around until I could piece them together and build a hill where I could climb to the top, stand on my dreams that were, and look over the terrain around me with a new perspective. I could see where I had been and how I had arrived at where I now found myself. And I could look to the horizon and see it silhouetted with cranes, just as in Berlin, cranes that were busy building my future to come.

  • Sun 01 Mar 2015 09:50

    As part of LSE’s 7th Literary Festival, students were asked to submit pieces of work on the subject of ‘foundations’. Students submitted poems, essays, short stories and photographs, with the shortlisted entrants invited to present their work. The shortlisted photos are currently on show in the NAB exhibition space and will be coming to the first floor of the Saw Swee Hock for the day next Thursday 5th March.


    The three runners up were Nadia Violet Erlam for her spoken word poem ‘The Foundations of Love: Meeting the Divine’; Adam Smith for his photographs ‘Foundations of a New Afghanistan’ documenting the opening of new schools in Afghanistan and Beth Warne’s poem ‘Foundations’, about two people who look too deeply in to a problem.


    Read Nadia and Beth’s work below. 

    LSESU would like to thank all students who submitted entries for what was a fantastic competition.

    Foundations by Beth Warne

    People are the romantic about foundations

    The clichés, they tell us

    “Be brave! Strip it all away”

    You don’t need it really,

    And under the pomp and the circumstance,

    There will be a beauty.

    Throw off the shackles, they say

    And the simplicity that remains,

    That is what will save you.

    Bull shit.

    We stood across the room when it was done,

    And stared at the emptiness we had created there.

    We had torn it off, every scrap, with words as

    tough and destructive as paint stripper.

    We wrenched and wretched and what was left.


    And ours we found,

    they simply didn’t match.


    I think

    Had I taken the time,

    To appreciate

    All that had he had been trying to build,

    I may have found place within it

    after all.

    The Foundations of Love: Meeting the Divine by Nadia Violet Erlam 

    I never laughed so much! Red cheeks, gasping, creasing. We plonked around the wetness as one. Wet and wellied. Colourful drips, drops. Juicy crystals on our flush faces. Sharpened instinct brought such synchronicities and I fell in love with One and every one again. Harmonised senses brings peace and love, refreshing sanity in utter, and gorgeous, chaos. It was so beautifully bizarre. White orbs sparked off your fingertips as you moved through sweet sounds and I saw stars in the shadows. Such magic men and women. Sacred grace and precision danced around us. We were so infused, and fell in puddles of hugs, hysterics and unconditional love. It was divine.

    Webs patterns cones intricacy and intimate delicacy balance mathematical beats dangerous safety unknown familiarity multiple realities pleasures frightening reassurances orgasmic beauty. I feel so humble. Loving radiance friendship hearts chakras each one pentagons elements rainbowsmoke sparkles vibes drones groans grown glimmering machines spinning human evolutionary potentials dance dance dancing with rage and love and spirals, all body and muscles, so sexual, so sensual. Curvy femininity, strength. Life…intriguing existence. How peculiar and what dripping beauty. Funnyness, funny faces. Splish splash colours, tons of people sploshing colours! Oily vibrations and vibes ricoshading off each other, rushing, rushin, washing, scrubbing, scraping that pain and stress and suffering away with raindrops streaming down my face in cracking humour and howling laughter. Trance. I am in trance. Transition? Transmission. Transmitten. Avec complete exhaustion, left me totally and utterly smitten.


  • Thu 26 Feb 2015 18:02

    Does the thought of cooking give you nightmares? 

    Do mealtimes often get your reaching for takeaway menus rather than recipe books? 

    A new BBC food campaign called Dish Up is aiming to get students having fun in the kitchen, cooking with simple recipes and learning easy techniques - and you can be in it!

    They’re looking for people to take part in the campaign who can share their own eating and cooking habits: how often you cook, how much you spend, what your favourite foods are. 

    This is for initial research at this stage, although some people will be filmed and may later become part of the campaign for TV (so you should be happy talking on camera).

    If you are interested in taking part, or know someone who is, email with a few honest words on how you currently eat in an average week, where you live, and your contact details.

    Good luck!