Did you know that US fast food in general contains much more high-fructose corn syrup than similar food in Germany? Have you ever thought about how a dense public transportation infrastructure might contribute to overall better public health conditions?
These and other questions were addressed during the presentations given by ASC students who had participated in the ASC in Germany trip co-lead by Profs. Gundolf Graml (German Studies) and Katherine Smith (Art History) in May 2012. This two week trip, which started in Berlin and then led students via Weimar and Dessau to Köln (Cologne), offered students an opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary projects from various perspectives.
Lora-Beth Allen, a student of German and Neuroscience, was interested in the history of turn-of-the-century medical researchers such as Rudolf Virchow. Visiting an exhibit about Virchow at the renowned hospital Berlin Charité, Lora-Beth became interested not only in the way art was used to present the biography and the scientific work of Virchow, but also in how everyday life in Germany might represent some of the approaches to public health studied by Virchow and his colleagues. A dense public transportation network might actually be very helpful in reducing rates of obesity, as Lora-Beth noted anecdotally on her blog:
Along with external influences, the citizens are mobile via different means of transportation. The majority of Americans travel by personal cars. This not only has a negative impact on health because of increased smog and decreased physical exercise, but it has negative impacts on the environment and economy. What I noticed through observation and personal experience is that Germans are always moving. The bus and train system are adequately equipped to handle public transit, and the Berlin system is far better than any public transit system in America that I have traveled on. The fancy bike lanes that line the cities with red lanes (or as we liked to call it: “the red lava”) allow bicyclists a safe route to use. The country is designed so that pedestrians can get around. If I tried to use the Marta and walk around downtown Atlanta, not only would I die from heat stroke, but it would take me forever to get to my destination.
To read more about Lora-Beth’s experiences, visit her blog “Discovering the World“.
Kaija Lazda, a double-major in German Studies and International Relations, had already explored the differences in campaign financing during a directed studies course with Prof. Gundolf Graml and in a SpARC presentation in April 2012.
Kaija used the trip to Germany to further research how the much greater use of public money in Germany’s political campaigns seems to help to keep special interest financing at bay. As Kaija stated, it was the visit to the German parliament, the Bundestag, that was especially helpful for her project, because our host, MdB Harald Leibrecht, provided her with some special insights into the topic. (Below is a short video clip showing members of the student group discussing politics with Harald Leibrecht.)
Nga Than, a history major and German language student, participated in the trip to work on her oral history project about Vietnamese guest workers in Germany. After thorough pre-departure preparation, Nga Than visited several Vietnamese families during our stay in Germany and interviewed them about their migratory experience, their everyday life in Germany, and how their and their children’s sense of identity has changed over time. Nga Than came back with a fascinating set of histories that she now will use for a larger research project.
Food always plays an important part on these trips to Germany, so it’s no surprise that Lydia Lingerfelt’s project also focused on the role of food in everyday German culture. As a student of German and Sociology/Anthropology, Lydia had designed her project as a kind of ethnographic investigation of the link between public health and food. Closely observing what kind of food was served at different venues, how the food was presented, and what kinds of ingredients were used, Lydia came up with several interesting insights. As someone who is allergic to gluten, she paid special attention to the availability of a gluten-free diet:
When it came to bread, I was pleasantly surprised that very little dishes I came across used flour or any kind of breading. If there was going to be bread in the meal, then it was usually just a basket of roles or a bratwurst in the middle of a bread roll. Present, but easily separate. Most of the scheduled meals our group had together were already just naturally gf aside from that night there where noodles were served (in which I received potatoes instead) and the schnitzel in Cologne (they just gave me an un-breaded piece. […] I have a more difficult time dining in the U.S. simply because everything is breaded. It seems like anything that can be dipped into batter and fried is indeed dipped into batter and fried. Even the deli meats and cheeses usually contain filler ingredients or preservatives like maltodextrin or modified food starch (both of which are derived from wheat 90% of the time). Especially processed meats.
To read more about Lydia’s explorations, visit her blog “The Bread & The Butter“.
Of course, one of the main reasons to visit Germany is the ability to get a better sense of the country’s multi-faceted and tumultuous history over the last century. To get a first-hand look at how the memory of that history plays out in art was the goal of Alex Holliday, a (European) history major and German language student, who used the trip to study some works of art by renowned German artist Anselm Kiefer at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Instead of visiting the art exhibit to simply check off the information she had gained during her pre-departure preparation, Alex made use of the visit to Berlin to immerse herself into the actual presence of the paintings. During her presentation she delivered a personal and engaging account of her encounter with Kiefer’s art, her initial attempts at “reading” the sculptures, and of her subsequent understanding of how this art installation resonates with the memory of war and of the Holocaust.
Erin Atkinson, a German student with an interest in creative writing, used the trip to Germany to simply immerse herself into everyday life, following the tradition of flanerie as practiced by such well-known figures as Walter Benjamin and Franz Hessel. Walking the city of Berlin and some of the smaller towns, Erin photographed scenes of city life, talked to an interesting set of people, and shared some of her encounters with German “characters” during the meeting.
Yinying Luo, a music major, organ player, and now also student of German, spent a significant part during the trip visiting (and often also playing) famous and historic organs, such as the one in Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, which was the working place of Johann Sebastian Bach. (As Yinying will point out immediately, the organ she played is not the one actually played by Bach, but still, it’s the church he worked in.) As Yinying stated, it meant a lot to her as a musician to actually feel and hear these instruments in the architectural, spatial environments they were built for and often used in. [Come back to this blog soon to see a video of Yinying playing some of these organs!]
Two students, Andrea Harris and Lu Hao, are currently studying abroad in Marburg (Germany) and Paris, respectively, and were unable to participate. Andrea’s project focused on multiculturalism in Germany and she presented some of her observations on her blog “Multikulti Deutschland.” Lu Hao used her time in Germany to research the German parliament building, the Reichstag, as a symbol of history. [A short video version of her project will be available here later.]
With their broad range of topics and their interdisciplinary approaches the projects demonstrate the importance of looking beyond the domestic horizon and, also, of integrating the study of other languages and cultures early on in one’s academic career.
A loud “Bravo” to all students for their presentations and also to my colleagues, Profs. Kathy Kennedy (History), Calvin Johnson (Em. Music), and Katherine Smith, for mentoring these students! And a big thank you to The Halle Foundation and its Executive Director, Marnite Calder, whose continued support of the Agnes Scott German Studies program makes possible these learning experiences for our students.