My road to Leipzig this summer was made possible by the Fulbright Commission and the German Academic Exchange Service. This is the second year that they have sponsored a two-week summer academy for American professors of German. The first week focuses on the (higher) education system in Germany, and the second week focuses on teaching German as a foreign language. Both of these areas are of interest to me, so I was very excited to be one of the fifteen participants from across the U.S. chosen for the program. It was great to learn about new teaching ideas and textbooks, and to make connections with other German professors, many of whom also teach in small programs. I am looking forward to implementing some of the new ideas and information from the Fulbright program into my classes, and I hope to stay in touch with other participants even though we are no longer in Leipzig.
When I read the description of the summer academy, it wasn’t just the topics that intrigued me, but also the location. Leipzig is home to one of the two branches of the German National Library, which is a treasure trove for my research. I have long been fascinated by East Germany (the GDR), and as a former high school teacher, I obviously am interested in secondary education. My research – which I hope to develop into a book – focuses on GDR literature in school curricula and textbooks in Germany from 1980 to the present. I am interested in questions such as: Was all East German literature considered propaganda in the West? Did East German textbooks ignore authors from the other side of the Wall? Did literature textbooks really change after German unification in 1990? As you can imagine, access to textbooks used in German schools is somewhat limited here in the U.S., so I was excited about the chance to work at the National Library. The timing of the Fulbright program and additional funding from the Koebrick Endowment here at Luther made things possible. My time at the library jumpstarted my research, and the ambiance wasn’t bad, either. (Check out the picture of the reading room where I spent my time.)
It was a complete coincidence that my arrival in Leipzig coincided with the 24th annual Wave-Gothic-Gathering (Wave-Gotik-Treffen). Besides Goths, this event also includes those interested in punk, steampunk, and even medieval reenactment. With 20,000 attendees from all over Germany coming to Leipzig for the weekend, it’s hard to miss! It was fun riding the streetcar next to women dressed in beautiful Victorian ball gowns, or watching a guy in enormously high platform shoes have his girlfriend help him across the street. The unofficial motto of the event seems to be “see and be seen”. Those of you who know me realize that I can’t claim to belong to any of these communities, but I admire the (mostly young) people who own their interests so visibly and so proudly. Although there were many Leipzig residents who stared, they also seemed quite tolerant of the influx of attendees.
While I can’t compete numerically with 20,000 Goths, a select group whose roads led to Leipzig meant a lot to me: former students. Just a few days before the Fulbright program began, I found out that Karin Maxey (’07) would also be attending. Karin was a German major when I first arrived at Luther in 2006, and she has gone on to earn her MA and Ph.D. in German. It was so much fun to re-connect with her in person and to realize the important role the Luther College German program has played in her life. Just over two weeks later, I also ran into my former student Ellie Van Der Griend (’15) at the Leipzig train station. She is completing an internship at an elementary school in Mannheim and will begin teaching at the John F. Kennedy International School in Berlin this fall. She was unexpectedly in Leipzig for an hour waiting to catch her train to visit another student of ours studying in Dresden. I refuse to believe that our meeting was a coincidence!
If you have never been to Leipzig, I would strongly recommend visiting. It is not as overrun with tourists as Berlin or Heidelberg, the downtown is compact, and there is something for everyone. You might not share your road to Leipzig with Fulbright, the National Library, 20,000 Goths or former students, but it’s definitely worth the trip.