Online teaching! Literature about the events of 1989

by Janine Ludwig

“Und es hat ‘Zoom’ gemacht” – is a famous line from a German song called “1000 und eine Nacht” (a thousand and one nights) by Klaus Lage.

Zoom has hit us all in March and quickly became the ubiquitous tool for online teaching. Since mid-April, I am teaching classes online, especially for our wonderful students who had to leave Bremen and suspend their study abroad.

One seminar deals with literature/novels on the events of 1989/90 and beyond in (East) Germany. In order to make it more attractive and give the students somewhat of a substitute for not being in Bremen, I invited seven German guests to participate in the online meetings:

Introductory sessions:

  • Egon Krenz, Head of State of the GDR in the fall of 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, attended a meeting and answered students’ questions. He described how accidental the fall of the Berlin Wall actually was, what the immediate Russian reaction was that he received, at what point he realized that his government was losing control over the events and why he thinks the socialist Eastern Bloc eventually lost the Cold War.
  • Emeritus Professor Wolfgang Emmerich, University of Bremen, leading West German expert on GDR literature, talked about how and why he re-wrote his standard book on GDR literature after 1990 and how he was criticized for that (as being a political opportunist). He also gave an insight into personal relations between intellectuals and writers in East and West, sadly describing debates with some of his East German friends/writers who were less enthusiastic about the reunification than he was.
  • Prof. Philipp Kneis, Oregon State University, and I reported for the students how we experienced the fall of the wall as teenagers. Our biographies, memories, and perspectives were not entirely the same, which hopefully was interesting for the students to understand. For instance, Prof. Kneis was in the church community (unusual in the GDR) and described the role of the church in the revolution of 1989.

Sessions on Wende novels:

  • For the now ongoing meetings in which we discuss literary texts, all four authors of the novels we read were so kind to accept the invitation to participate and talk to our students: Jens Sparschuh, Jens Wonneberger, Bernd Schirmer, Kerstin Hensel.
  • We discuss(-ed) passages in their texts and ask(-ed) them questions about their ideas behind it, or what they think about our interpretations. They share(-d) intriguing insights into the writing process, disclosed some hidden allusions in the texts, their biographical background and how they as writers experienced the upheavals of 1989 and later on, including difficulties in a completely changed literary sphere.

I am happy to say that remote online teaching is working much better than expected. It is not the “real deal,” but it works. And it is great to see our students regularly at least on screen. Of course, it demanded a quick adaptation to a new system, format, and way of teaching – but where would it be more adequate (and easy) to master such an adjustment than in a seminar about the monumental societal changes that occurred in East Germany in and after 1990…?

Academic Internship

by Corson Ellis ’21

IHMG conference  © J. Ludwig

From March until August of 2019, I helped the International Heiner Müller Society (IHMG) and Dr. Ludwig, the Academic Director for Dickinson in Bremen, with her work on the role of women in the works of Heiner Müller, a famous East German playwright, poet, essayist, and dramaturge. I attended two conferences (on Heiner Müller, organized by the IHMG, and Bertolt Brecht, organized by the International Brecht Society), helped translation, gathered research materials, digitized documents, and had the opportunity to get an article published in the IBS’s online journal “Communications” (ecibs). It was a formative experience, teaching me about time management, self-discipline, and the amount of work that is required in academia (it was a lot more than I had ever thought). Having already held a job in the US, the internship in Germany showed me in greater detail the difference between German and US work environments.

IHMG Conference, March 2019 © J. Ludwig

Above all else, the conferences left a great impression on me. It helped me realize that even in field of the study of a single east German intellectual, there can be a great variety of perspectives and debate. I saw people who were passionately engaged in debate that remained civil and friendly, while constantly looking at Müller’s or Brecht’s works in a new light. It helped me develop my own ability, especially in an academic context, of looking at concepts or artistic works from multiple perspectives and trying to figure out not just what the author intended, but also how a play about the Haitian revolution can provide an insight into modern politics in the USA.

Prof. Dr. Florian Vaßen, IHMG, in Hannover

Theater play in conjunction with IHMG’s Müller conference in Hannover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IBS Conference in Leipzig, June 2019 © Raffaelle Di Tizio

I spent 6 months in Germany, yet the time flew by, and before I knew it my internship was over, my finals completed, my bank account closed, and my rental bike returned. The time that you have to spend abroad is fleeting, and I encourage everyone to take the risks that I did. Try to get an internship, take a class you might not normally take, go on a Flix bus ride for 20 hours. Dickinson makes sure that you have all of the tools to have a once in a lifetime experience while in Germany, and it is up to you to seize that chance.

Nature Ranking: University of Bremen among the best worldwide

© University of Bremen

International top spot for the University of Bremen in natural sciences – Their scientists are among the best from young universities worldwide. The renowned Nature Index ranks them 18th of 175 universities under the age of 50. The Nature Index 2019 Annual Tables highlights the institutions and countries which dominated research in the natural sciences in 2018. The ranking provides important criteria for benchmarking universities and research facilities, and therefore indicates the international research quality.

“I am delighted that the University of Bremen has achieved such a good ranking worldwide and at the same time holds the top position among the young German universities,” says Professor Bernd Scholz-Reiter, Rector of the University of Bremen. “This shows how strong our scientists are in research.”

Top-quality research output in Earth and environmental sciences 

In the special field Earth and environmental sciences the University of Bremen takes the 3rd place, leading the group of the 14 young universities from Germany. Professor Michael Schulz, director of MARUM – center for Marine and Environmental sciences of the University of Bremen, is pleased by the top spot: “The research with focus on ocean, polar, and climate sciences is top notch in Europe.”

 

More information under:

https://www.natureindex.com/supplements/nature-index-2019-young-universities/tables/overall

https://www.natureindex.com/supplements/nature-index-2019-young-universities/tables/earth-and-environmental-sciences

https://www.butenunbinnen.de/nachrichten/gesellschaft/ranking-uni-bremen-weltweit-fuehrend-100.html

Film Night: “Free to Rock – How Rock & Roll Helped End the Cold War”

by Zoey Tu ‘21

On November 13, a film event was held by the Durden Dickinson Program in Bremen, at the suggestion of the U.S. Consulate General Hamburg. It was also a featured event for all students who take German 340 “Comparative Cultures: USA-Germany.” In addition to the required reading materials in class, which mainly focused on political issues, the film offered a distinctive perspective of the American cultural influence in the communist world from the 1950s to the 1990s – how soft power played a significant role during the Cold War.

Doug Yeager, the producer of this documentary film, attended the event and was interviewed after the film by Dr. Janine Ludwig, Academic Director of our program. Yeager gave insights about his motivation for making this documentary and emphasized again the huge but unconscious power of music as well as other kinds of popular culture. He talked about the twelve-year process for the team to complete this documentary, which includes interviews with Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States, and Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, who both realized the significant role of rock bands in the USSR and recognized the idea of freedom behind this specific music genre.

The 60-minute film introduced how rock music influenced the young generations in East Germany and the Soviet Union, explained how it was banned in the socialist world, and how it contributed to the collapse of the Iron Curtain. When rock music first came to the socialist world, it won great popularity among the youth. It awoke and inspired the young generations to demand the right to listen and play the music they loved and the right to express themselves freely. However, the idea of rock music – freedom and rebellion – was against the authoritarian governance of the Soviet Union.

It was a battle between two different ideologies: Democracy and Commu-nism. The US government hoped that rock music could be used as a certain means of propaganda. Looking at the results, this type of cultural propaganda was effective. The dissatisfaction among the Soviet public due to the censorship of rock music eventually led to movements as well as riots between the youth and the police, urging for freedom of expression. The idea of freedom, represented by rock music, also widely spread to the Baltic countries, since they demanded independence from Soviet control as well.

All pictures: © Calvin Wirfel

Compared to other factors, the soft power of pop culture has been less discussed in public discourse when analyzing the causes of the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, it is an area that is worth further research. Therefore, the influence of US pop culture is included in the syllabus of the German 340 class, taught by Dr. Ludwig, and will be discussed further. Moreover, besides the required readings and the class discussion, the film is also a good supplement for the students to gain a better understanding of different cultural influences.

Please hear a sound bite here:

Please find the link to the movie presentation here: https://www.freetorockmovie.com/

and the poster here: Poster Free2Rock Bremen rev.0

A cooperation between the William G. and Elke Durden Dickinson Bremen Program, U.S. Consulate General Hamburg (specifically Dr. Susanne Wiedemann, Cultural Affairs Assistant), Carl Schurz German-American Club (specifically Ulf-Brün Drechsel, Vice President), the University of Bremen, especially the department English Speaking Cultures (specifically Dr. Karin Esders-Angermund), and the Institute for Cultural German Studies (ifkud).

THE ranking: University of Bremen once again among the 50 best young universities worldwide

© University of Bremen

The University of Bremen is once again confirmed to be among the world’s top 50 young universities. This is the result of the latest “Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Ranking 2018”. Bremen is ranked on place 34 among the 250 listed universities.

Especially good in research

Various indicators are measured in the categories of teaching, research, the frequency of scientific citations, third-party funding from industry and the internationality of students and staff. The indicators evaluate key statistics in these categories. In the case of quality measurement, statistical ratios such as staff per student or the number of completed doctoral theses are also compared. The University of Bremen was able to improve its results in most categories. Particularly noteworthy is the result in the category research. Here, the University of Bremen was able to improve by 11.5 points on the previous year.

The President of the University of Bremen, Professor Bernd Scholz-Reiter, is naturally pleased with the result: “It is very encouraging to see that we moved forward in 2018 as well. This shows that the University of Bremen conducts teaching and research at a high level.”

More information under:

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/2018/young-university-rankings#!/page/1/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats

 

 

5th Dickinson College Public Lecture (DCPL)

“Germany’s Role in Defending Europe and the Emergence of a New European Security Architecture” with Prof. Andrew T. Wolff

Andy Wolff (l.) and Rick Yoneoka (r.)

On June 5, 2019, Andy Wolff, Dickinson Political Science Professor and Resident Director of the European Studies Program in Bologna, Italy, gave the fifth Dickinson College Public Lecture. Prof. Wolff’s talk posed questions about the current state of transatlantic approach to the security of Europe. The lecture took place in the tower hall of the Bremen Cotton Exchange (Bremer Baumwollbörse) to a crowd of Bremen citizens. His lecture was preceded by comments of distinguished guest Richard Yoneoka, U.S. Consul General in Hamburg, and the discussion was moderated by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Franke, member of the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies at Uni Bremen.

Angie Harris (left) with studen

The DCPL is organized by Dr. Janine Ludwig, Academic Director of the William G. and Elke Durden Dickinson Bremen Program, and Neil van Siclen, President of the Carl Schurz German-American Club, Bremen. A reception with refreshments was held after the lecture at which our Dickinson students helped to serve the guests and engaged in discussions themselves. Also present was Angie Harris, Associate Dean of Students, who visited the program. Please find more photos and media below.

Here the full description of the talk: “The Transatlantic approach to providing security for Europe, i.e. American involvement through NATO and deepening European integration is being challenged internally and externally. The United States has become hesitant to lead NATO, Russia is an assertive and revanchist power, and the European Union is in danger of fragmenting. How does Germany fit into this new security environment? What policy choices does Germany have for the construction of a new European security architecture? As Europe’s politics and security become more unstable, Germany must make difficult decisions that will impact the future of Europe and the transatlantic alliance.” 5th DCPL 2019 Flyer

 

Moderator Anneke ter Veen, Producer of the TV Talkshow „Budder bei die Fische – Der Ter Veen Talk,“ talking to Consul General of the USA, Richard Yoneoka (in German):

Meeting a famous politician

by Dr. Janine Ludwig

On May 19, 2019, we had the great pleasure to visit Dr. Rudolf Seiters who had been the Federal Minister for Special Affairs and Head of the Office of the German Chancellery of the FRG under Helmut Kohl from April 1989 to November 1991. In this position, he successfully negotiated with the GDR government under Erich Honecker the passage of the East German refugees in the West German embassy in Prague to the Federal Republic of. He was responsible for diplomatic relations with several major East German governmental figures during the 1989 revolution (Honecker, Egon Krenz, Dr. Hans Modrow) and later involved in negotiating the contract for German Unification.

Dr. Seiters discussed the events of 1989/90 with our students and shared deep political insight into the highest positions at the time. We found him to be a wonderful person, who was able to convey serious historical information in a very compelling way. For instance, he described how he took over his position and all the files from Wolfgang Schäuble in April 1989 after being alerted about the most pressing issues – there was no mention of the GDR at the time. Nobody knew what was coming and how drastically things would change just a few months later. He also relayed the anecdote of how an employee asked him on the afternoon of November 9 whether he could leave early for his child’s birthday. He said, “Sure, nothing much will happen today anymore.” Little did he know that that night the Berlin Wall would fall. His honest and entertaining way of explaining political work from an insider’s perspective was most intriguing to our students – some of whom had already met former East German Head of State Dr. Hans Modrow and heard about many of the same political events from a West German perspective.

In 1991, Seiters became Minister of the Interior, a position from which he had to step back in 1993 due to the shooting of the RAF terrorist Wolfgang Grams in Bad Kleinen, although it was widely agreed that he had done nothing wrong. From 1998 to 2002, Seiters was Vice President of the German Bundestag and until 2017 President of the German Red Cross.

It was a wonderful opportunity for us and very kind that Dr. Seiters and his wife, despite busy calendars, hosted us in their house in Papenburg, a small town roughly two hours away from Bremen. After that meeting, we visited the “Van Velen Complex,” a settlement of mostly tiny houses and cots from the 17th century – in a town that was built on dried marshland.

Please find a video in German here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeh_gdDtF6I

After that the long day, some of us went to see our beloved soccer team Werder Bremen who happened to play a friendly match that day against SC Blau-Weiß 94 Papenburg – on a small playing field that allowed us to see the likes of Claudio Pizarro, Max Kruse, and Josh Sargent close up.

 

Here is a short video of a corner kick from that match:

GRMN 340: Comparative Cultures

When I first enrolled into the course, I was skeptical at what we would be discussing, because as an American raised in the 21st century, I’ve never had to think much about Germans in the context of American culture. I appreciated the way this course was able to go through every major era in U.S. history, speaking about the German presence in each. I also enjoyed hearing more about the German perspective on America (as I’ve never really thought before what Germans think of us… I had no idea how Americanized Germany is, but it makes sense considering the U.S. occupied Germany for many years). It was nerve-racking to complete a 15-minute presentation ‘auf Deutsch,’ but I’m grateful I was able to get some practice before completing presentations in other classes. Overall, I feel like a I learned a lot from the course and enjoyed it very much. >Liz Bodenman<

I really enjoyed the course “Kultur heißt vergleichen: USA / Deutschland.” It was very challenging for me to read long texts in German, but it improved my knowledge of the language greatly. Overall, I learned a lot in this course, and I especially enjoyed studying German-American migration patterns. The trip to Bremerhaven was helpful and informative. I also enjoyed learning about the impact of American and Western culture in the GDR. >Malou Planchard<

I really liked the seminar because I learned a lot about the relationship between Germany and the US that I didn’t know before. It was great to learn about this changing relationship over the course of history and how its developments have influenced our thinking today. Moreover, we had a lot of interesting discussions which were very informative and a great place for exchange of ideas and opinions especially since all the attendees were from different countries. >Isabell Hamm<

I thought the course was really insightful for the relationship between the US and Germany. I liked that we started in the 19th century because most people often start with World War I and omit the immigration influx. Also, I liked looking through the lens of pop culture throughout the 20th century because in America, we only focus on the political tensions. It was unique to also read it from a German perspective of how they viewed cultural traits and where did they come. I thought the discussions went well as we had good debates, and Dr. Ludwig furthered the discussion. >Sandi Kadric<

Roaring Twenties

I enjoyed learning about the stereotypes both America and Germany have formed on one another. I also enjoyed learning about how German people emigrated to America in search of “The American Dream” as I think that this mentality was still as prominent in recent years as it was over 200 years ago. However, my favorite part of the seminar was discussing more recent historical aspects (1920’s-present). Anti-war protests, “the roaring twenties” and women’s rights movements particularly interested me. I also enjoyed learning about Iraq and Palestine and perhaps how the media influences a great deal of what we view on television/in the media. Finally, it was great learning a different approach on how to read articles/pieces of writing. I now know the importance in not believing everything I read as there are many factors to take into consideration such as the writers’ viewpoint/sources which influence what we read. >Amy Hughes<

What interested me the most about this seminar was the content specifically. There was a lot of material and texts given for the students to learn, in more detail, about the topics discussed. This was extremely helpful in understanding each topic every week. Personally, I found the topic I done my presentation on the most intriguing because of how much more I learned by all my research in order to understand as much as I could for my presentation. Overall, I learned an unbelievable amount of content about each topic which in turn, made me very interested in this module. I enjoyed this seminar immensely throughout the semester. >Lisa Doyle<

Berlin Excursion January 2019

Stasi

by Sandi Kadric ‘20

We visited the Stasi Museum and prison. We learned about the operations of Stasi, and how involved they were in East and somewhat West Germany. In the museum, we saw how many files they had for each individual, e.g. what they bought, where they lived, where they worked, what facial features they had, etc. We looked at the technology they used to spy on others and how outdated it seems today. Our tour guide also explained how Stasi members were trained, and how they would spy on people such as going into their apartments when the family was away. The tour guide did a great job of explaining how big of an influence the Stasi was, and how much bigger they were than other organizations such as the Gestapo. We also visited a Stasi prison and the tour guide was falsely imprisoned. He showed us all the prison rooms and he shared his experiences. He explained the circumstances and situations in the prison really well, such as sanitary conditions, the mental, physical, and emotional abuse.  The tour guide shared his own experience of how he was captured, and how it was a struggle to have a normal life after being in prison for so long when he was finally released.

 

B.K. and Christa Tragelehn

by Liz Bodenman ‘20

After a few days in Berlin learning about the living conditions in East Germany, on Saturday, January 13th, we had the pleasure of meeting a man and his wife who had, as I like to put it, lived the full East German experience. They had lived not only through the everyday difficulties in the GDR, but through the specialized difficulties of being at the center of a theater scandal. Theater Director, author, and translator B.K. Tragelehn, an older, kind-eyed gentleman who enjoys stroking his cat and smoking cigars, welcomed us into his warm and cozy apartment for a chat and “Kaffee und Kuchen.” As we entered, his wife began serving us immediately, being the perfect hostess, and letting us gawk at the 18,000 books that covered their walls.

Christa & B.K. Tragelehn (middle) with group (Mary, Dr. Ludwig, Liz, Sandi, Dr. Falk Strehlow)

Gently puffing away at his cigar, Herr Tragelehn recounted the pinnacles of his life. Being a child in Dresden whose family was subjected to the WWII bombings (firestorm). Befriending and working alongside famous playwrights Bertolt Brecht, Erich Engel, and Heiner Müller. Meeting his wife for the first time (who he has been with for over fifty-five years). And perhaps most fascinating, being sentenced to work in the coal mines after directing the

B.K. Tragelehn with Liz

GDR-critical play Die Umsiedlerin in 1961. His wife chipped into the story too, explaining how difficult it was to live on little money, trying to make ends meet while her husband toiled in the mines.

Visiting the Tragelehns was my favorite part of Dickinson in Bremen’s Berlin excursion. It was truly awesome to meet such kind Berliners who were willing to give us a glimpse into the East German world. It was a very valuable, memorable experience.

 

Mary, Dr. Ludwig, Liz, Sandi (from left) at the German Historical Museum