Leipzig Resurrected The Past in the Present
September 2, 2016
Department of World Languages and Cultures
“I have concluded that I am not at home anywhere and I have become used to this condition. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I would recommend such a state of affairs to all patriots and nationalists. The world might then have fewer sources of friction that could ignite war.” Karl Frucht (1911-1991)
Why study abroad?
My Chapman students provided many reasons to do so. Several indicated that their time abroad had changed their perspective on the world, and led them to become more aware of their own identities and countries of origin. One former student athlete, Gavin Pyott ’15, who participated in the Munich interterm travel course several years ago, believes that preconceived notions about other students are significantly reduced as all encounter the same experience as a group, which provides a good basis for long-lasting friendships.
Others described their experiences as “life-changing.” One recent Chapman alum, Ally Bruner ’16, saw her time in Munich during interterm 2014 as an important first step because she was not comfortable leaving home for long periods at that time. She has since encouraged students who are hesitant about leaving their families and friends to pursue a similar path, and she is now considering living abroad. In the heated competition for a fellowship or similar awards to study or teach abroad, building connections with people in the country of your choice can be a great
help if you are trying to stand out. For example, last year Germany’s Bosch Corporation supported two Chapman students, Sara Polito ’16 and Colin Arp ’17, in the Munich interterm program. Another recent Chapman graduate, Evan Inglis ’16,
was inspired to participate in a semester long study abroad program in Paris after spending three weeks there as part of Chapman’s winter interterm program with Prof. Véronique Olivier. He had a particularly compelling story to share since he was studying in Paris during last fall’s terror attacks. He was at the home of another international student when the party there was interrupted by the sound of gunfire, and the group remained sequestered there for the entire night. Evan decided to stay in Paris although many of his classmates returned home. He is glad he did, even though it was a very challenging time for everyone in the city. Because he stayed, he engaged in discussions with students of varying opinions that often differed from his own to try to understand the causes behind these horrific attacks. He also encourages others to study abroad, despite the risks that exist in our increasingly interdependent world. After all, terror attacks and random acts of violence as occurred in Munich last month also happen here. Evan remains undeterred and will continue his international education this fall as he pursues graduate studies in political science in Warsaw, Poland.
As professors, we continually encourage students to test their limits and step outside their “comfort zones.” As foreign language teachers, we are especially aware of the significance of study abroad so students experience the target language and culture firsthand to master both language and context fully. For this reason, my colleague Heather Terjung and I have taken Chapman students to Munich, Germany, for the last four years (our most recent travel course was in June 2016).
Traveling abroad is valuable at any age. I owe my third and most recent experience as a Fulbright scholar in Leipzig to my Chapman students who accompanied us on consecutive journeys to Munich. They are ultimately the reason I applied for, and received, a summer Fulbright scholarship for professors of German in Leipzig in 2014, and why I felt compelled to share these experiences with my students and the wider community. This is an open-ended process that changes as the world itself faces new challenges. For example, the recent refugee crisis in Germany was not anywhere on the horizon when I traveled to Leipzig in 2014, but is now at the very top of all personal and public discussions in Germany and Europe. Evan Inglis ’16 encourages fellow students to keep up with world events, and he believes that they are more likely to do so and be interested in world affairs if they have lived and studied abroad. These experiences may increase our understanding of people of diverse cultures, which may also (we hope) strengthen the basis for a more peaceful world.
Even as a much older traveler now, my experiences in Leipzig achieved all these goals as I reframed my own sense of the former East Germany and my preconceived notions of the past and present. My talk before the Rotary Club of Indian Wells, which continues to sponsor college scholarships and study abroad programs, was entitled “Leipzig Resurrected: The Past in the Present” and summed up my experiences on the two-week summer seminar the year before. This pioneer Fulbright seminar was designed for American professors of German to learn about the “New” united Germany and the former East Germany and its educational system, so we could in turn tell our students about it. That was perfect for me, as my background includes five years of my childhood in former West Berlin because my father was employed by Pan American World Airways, so I was literally a child of the Cold War. As a consequence of this experience, I realized that, like many other Germans of my generation, I continued to have a “Wall in my head” (“Mauer im Kopf”) that is only now disappearing. This term has been used since the fall of the Berlin Wall to describe the metaphorical wall that still exists in the heads of Germans based on their separate political histories and ideologies, which led to vastly different cultures, and the economic divisions between the former East and West that still exist to some degree today. I thought it was normal to have a wall run through your city. I also grew up believing that Communism was evil and that people on the other side of the Wall were virtually imprisoned and lived in dismal conditions because much of the infrastructure was still a shambles and air pollution was rampant. So what was Leipzig really like, then?
Leipzig has been a trade city since at least the time of the Holy Roman Empire, standing at the intersection of two important medieval trade routes between eastern and western Europe, connecting Frankfurt in the west and Breslau (now in Poland) in the east. Leipzig was once one of the major European centers of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing, and was also the home of Johann Sebastian Bach, who served as the government-appointed cantor (the official Church composer) for almost 30 years in the mid-1700s in the St. Thomas Church. At one time Leipzig had 70 printing presses, a huge number in those times, and more than any other city in the Holy Roman Empire. During World War II Leipzig suffered from conventional air raids, but not incendiary bombing like its neighboring city Dresden. However, the damage was still extensive, even though its city center was not entirely destroyed.
After World War II, Leipzig remained a major urban center within the German Democratic Republic (the former East Germany) but its cultural and economic importance declined, even though East Germany had the strongest economy in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War era. Near the end of this period, Leipzig played a significant role in instigating the fall of Communism, because of the events that occurred in and around St. Nicholas Church when 70,000 people took to the streets in a series of demonstrations. Chapman Professor Marilyn J. Harran personally witnessed these events.
The Church had been a haven for many dissenters committed to peace since 1981, but did not attract the wider populace for weekly gatherings until the late 1980s. How dangerous this undertaking was is documented by the Stasi [acronym for Staatssicherheitsdienst or literally State Security Service] Museum, a former Gestapo conference center that later became the local headquarters of the Soviet Secret Police or NKVD, and subsequently the regional headquarters of communist East Germany’s Stasi. Its documents show that the Stasi was on high alert and sometimes used force against the locals at that time. Former East Germans may now review their personal files, but many choose not to because they do not necessarily wish to know that their neighbors or best friends were spying on them. Chapman Trustee David C. Henley visited Leipzig last summer and wrote a thought-provoking article about the museum, which documents both Nazi and Stasi crimes.
Three days before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, East German television screened a documentary called “Ist Leipzig noch zu retten?” (“Is there hope for Leipzig?”). The findings were shocking: contrary to what the German Democratic Republic regime had been claiming, the film showed Saxony’s largest city, Leipzig, crumbling to pieces. Saving it would require so much time and money that some of the architects interviewed believed it would be better to tear down the historic quarters altogether.
In October of 2014, Leipzig celebrated 25 years since the peaceful revolution that helped bring down the East German State. Since the reunification of Germany on October 3rd, 1990, Leipzig has undergone many changes, with the restoration of some historical buildings, the demolition of others, and the development of a modern transportation infrastructure. After reviewing Leipzig’s historical transformation, Philip Oltermann of the British newspaper The Guardian reported on September 11, 2014 that Leipzig is once again an economic center, the “most livable city in Germany.”
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Oltermann maintains that the people of Leipzig now have vastly different concerns. Reports about the city’s thriving creative scene, green spaces and quality of living have earned the city the nickname “Hypezig,” and some locals fear its reputation as “the better Berlin” may attract private investors, and drive up real estate prices.
Based on these reports it might seem like the transition to Leipzig’s current state was seamless. During my two weeks there, however, I realized that arriving where it is today has been a complex process: here, as elsewhere, the past continually informs the present.
When we were accepted to the program in Leipzig, we were informed that our accommodations would consist of a “home stay.” A home stay, I thought? I hadn’t been in a home stay situation since I was a twenty-year-old exchange student in France. Upon arriving in Leipzig, I discovered that my American colleagues, who ranged in age from their early thirties to late sixties, had similar concerns. But it turned out that the home stay was to be the most educational part of the experience. My hostess, a 67-year old single mother of two, had married early in order to qualify for an apartment (housing was a scarce commodity after World War II, as there was little money for rebuilding after 1945). She still lives in the same Stalinist-style block of houses which was to be my home for two weeks. When she was married she managed to secure an apprenticeship with a private tailor, not an easy feat under the old socialist regime. When she was divorced, however, her earnings were not sufficient to cover basic expenses, so the government compelled her to study engineering for the machinery used in a strip mining operation called Ferropolis on the outskirts of Leipzig. She was neither mathematically nor mechanically inclined, but managed to get through the program, and wound up in administration. She even joined the Communist Party and made it to the top of her department.
I did not question her decision to join the Party, as I am sure many people in her position would have and did do the same thing. We all make career moves that we think will benefit our families, and my hostess genuinely believed in the good of the party system. She also earned extra income as a tour guide in the Soviet Bloc. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, she was able to secure a good administrative post in a German firm but she was eventually laid off. She still serves as a tour guide on trips that now span the globe, but must live very frugally, earning a little money by hosting boarders such as myself from foreign countries. Her housing is no longer subsidized by the state and she must live on a small pension. However, she says that some West German women of her generation still regard her with envy because she has led a much more independent life than they ever did. The state provided free day care, and she was able to rely on a community of women in her neighborhood in similar positions. It does seem that it was easier to be a self-supporting single mother in East Germany than in the West. Proportionately fewer West German women worked, and my hostess maintains that, even today, they can tell that she is from the former East, not because of her comparatively drab and meager wardrobe as was formerly the case before and right after the fall of the Wall, but because they say she has a different demeanor. And yet I found it ironic because, well, weren’t the West Germans supposed to be the free ones? On the other hand, she also acknowledged that she envied both West German men and women due to their economic and political freedom, and that she also tried to gain access to western products and media through visitors from the West. As the result of lengthy discussions every evening, we both discovered that our preconceived and often contradictory notions about the “other” Germany were not necessarily accurate.
It turned out that our group of Fulbright recipients later happened to visit the very grounds of the now defunct coal-mining machinery at Ferropolis, where my hostess had worked. The tour guide at Ferropolis told us that part of her own family’s property had been confiscated in order to make way for the coal mining industry. Entire neighboring villages in the area had been slated for demolition in the 1990s, had reunification not occurred. Her house was spared. The former coal mine has since been converted into a venue for music concerts (mostly rock) with the old machinery serving as backdrop. Now the tour guide is making her living from those same machines and the only major annoyance she has to contend with is the noise of nearby concerts.
We also learned how the changes since reunification affected the lives of academics at the University of Leipzig. A main focus of our educational experience in Leipzig was to learn about the university there, including the library, where we had a reception with diplomats from the American Consulate and the President of the University, along with the library’s director. It is the University’s pride and joy: a library with open stacks, which is not common in much of Europe, and it is furnished with cutting edge technology. Sadly, however, many of the library’s original holdings were lost or stolen and some of them ended up in Russian libraries.
The changes underway at the University of Leipzig were also evident at the affiliated Herder Institute, where our program was housed. This institute, which teaches German to foreign students from all over the world, was an arm of the former East German Government, as it mostly taught students from countries that were sympathetic to the Soviet Bloc such as Cuba, Angola, and North Vietnam. Many of these teachers were fired after reunification. I met one of them, a salesperson in a store at the train station. She had to reinvent herself a dozen times since reunification and was finally able to separate from her husband. Then too divorces were easy to obtain under the East German regime, but the lack of housing often left estranged spouses living under the same roof indefinitely. Considering that she would have had a job for life under the old regime, had she continued to tow the party line, I admired her ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions at a relatively advanced age. Educators of my generation who were groomed to become a part of the elite of the East German State had varied experiences. One teacher at the school found a secure position, but another was working several part-time jobs, teaching at the institute and as a city tour guide in order to make ends meet (it does not differ from many part-time instructors here in the university system in the U.S.) It seemed that many who succeeded in securing full-time employment at the institute had studied abroad in the U.S. and elsewhere. The international experience they acquired made them more marketable when they returned. The institute and its affiliate
InterDaF (a German language school founded in 1992)
continue to serve students from all over the world whose goal is to enter the German university system. I had the privilege to sit in on some of the classes and meet remarkable young people. Several of them originated from war-torn countries and I came to admire their determination to acquire sufficient German language skills that would allow them enter such difficult fields as physics and math and thereby create a more secure future for themselves and their families.
As a result of my experience in Leipzig, “the Wall in my head” is disappearing, though it’s true that problems and differences from the days of a divided Germany still persist. While Leipzig has been something of a success story, the rate of unemployment throughout the former East German territories is still considerably higher than it is in the former West German areas. In fact, the unemployment rate all over Europe is much higher than in the U.S., which is a source of great concern for officials throughout the region. A variety of other social and political problems due to the recent influx of refugees also remain unresolved. But Leipzig, at least, has undergone a renaissance in the last 25 years that no one expected.
It is definitely a good idea to apply for grant and fellowships to take advantage of Chapman’s diverse opportunities to study abroad for a semester, a year, or even just a few weeks because it will broaden one’s perspective in keeping with Chapman’s mission statement, which encourages students to become “global citizens.”
For information about travel courses, and semester and yearlong study abroad programs, please refer to the
Center for Global Education.
For further information please contact
Dr. James J. Coyle
, Director of Global Education.
For fellowships (undergraduate and immediately following graduation), please contact
Dr. Julye Bidmead
, Director of Fellowships and Scholar Programs, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.
(Pictured at top:
Contemporary view over Augustusplatz with Gewandhaus Concert Hall, the City Hochhaus (high rise), built in 1972, and the Augusteum of the University of Leipzig. The university church, which had not suffered any damage in World War II was torn down by the GDR regime in 1968 along with other university buildings. This was part of an ideological campaign that included using dynamite to tear down churches in Leipzig and in other cities in the former GDR.)
„Das Fazit ist: ich bin nirgendwo zu Hause und habe mich an diesen Zustand gewöhnt. Die Vorteile wiegen die Nachteile auf. Ein solcher Zustand wäre allen Nationalisten und Patrioten zu empfehlen, die Welt hätte dann weniger Reibungsflächen, an denen sich Kriege entzünden können.“ Karl Frucht.
. [Literal translation:
Obituary of Losses: A Report of Survival
] (Vienna, Kremyr & Scheriau, 1992) 284. Karl Frucht was a lawyer and Austrian refugee. The Nazi regime forced him to flee his homeland. He escaped first to France and ultimately to the United States, where he joined the US Military Intelligence Service in 1944. Christa Bittermann-Wille, “Nirgendwo zu Hause und doch angekomenn: die Freundschaft von Hertha Pauli und Karl Frucht” [“At home nowhere yet [they have] arrived: the friendship of Hertha Pauli and Karl Frucht”] Susanne Blumesberger and Ernst Seibert, eds.,
Eine Brücke über den Riss der Zeit: Das Leben und Wirken der Journalistin und Schriftstellerin Hertha Pauli (1906-1973)
Bridge over the Rift of Time: The Life and Influence of the Journalist and Writer Hertha Pauli (1906-1973)
] (Vienna, Praesens Verlag, 2012) 15-16. [My translation of German titles and Epithet above]
I had the privilege of having Evan in my beginning German course at Chapman this past semester. He and several others in the course were taking German for their personal enrichment (they had either already completed the language requirement or tested out of it). The course was composed of students from all over the globe. In fact, the combination of course participants might well have been considered a mini model United Nations.
Marilyn J. Harran, Professor of History and Religious Studies, Stern Chair in Holocaust Studies and founding director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman University, was a Scholar in Residence in Leipzig during these momentous times, as described in Marla Jo Fischer, “OC celebrates 20
year of Berlin Wall fall,”
Orange County Registrar
, 8 November 2009
and Marilyn J. Harran,
“Orange County Voices Political Reform: Civics Class Now in Session in East Germany,”
Los Angeles Times
, 11 December 1989.
David C.Henley, “A legacy of shame and terror,”
, 11 July, 2015, 1, 5 and 8 and the Reader Report of the
Los Angeles Times
Philip Oltermann, “Is Leipzig the New Berlin?”
, 11 September 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/sep/11/is-leipzig-the-new-berlin