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The Colgate Freiburg Study Group

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Die Bildungsreise

By Matthew Miller on March 1, 2014

Some four weeks prior to the official start of the summer semester at the Universität Freiburg, the Colgate Study Group commences with a journey through Germanophone Europe to introduce participating students to the living cultures and the histories thereof. The trip is conducted as a Bildungsreise, a journey for the sake of education (to refer to a longstanding conception of the value of informed travel in the wanderlustige German imaginary). By featuring site-specific study and intensive advanced language learning, this orientation marks the beginning of the study group’s two director-taught courses (German 341 and German 457) and paves the way for students’ integration into the cultural and academic life of Freiburg. In the spring of 2014, our trip begins there. From Freiburg we proceed into nearby Switzerland, visiting that country’s central city of Zürich as well as the Alpine town of Sils-Maria, where numerous European intellectuals such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno retreated from their lives in lower lying European lands to restore mind, spirit, and body. The pristine landscape of the Alps affords us time and space to reflect on the meaning of embodied travel, multilingual practice, and site-specific learning in a digital age. From Sils-Maria, we proceed eastwards to Südtirol, the formerly Austrian and German-speaking region now part of Italy (Alto Adige), where we can observe the ways in which linguistic ties cut across national borders in a Europe still shaped powerfully by the force of regional identities. From Meran/o we enter Austria proper, and its capital city of Vienna, that Danubian metropolis at the intellectual and cultural crossroads of western and eastern Europe. From the Danube, we cross back into Germany, traveling along the Elbe to Dresden in order to explore the turbulent history of one of Germany’s most beautiful, most destroyed, and most curiously reconstructed cities. Our stay in Dresden also serves as an introduction to the former East Germany, the history of which still casts legacies over the new states of the unified country and beyond long after 1990. Our next and most extensive stay, in the capital of Berlin, will afford us still more opportunity to scrutinize the 40 years of actually existing socialism in this part of Europe as well as plumb Germany’s turbulent history from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. While no study of the cultures of Germanophone Europe can avoid coming to terms with the catastrophes that have been perpetrated there and the ways in which they are represented in public discourse and memory culture, our engagement with the increasingly diverse global metropolis of Berlin as manifested, for example, in its incredibly vibrant theater scene, can demonstrate the salience of 21st century attempts to live in and with history futurally – and in a way that at no turn regards the future as foreclosed, but rather as a horizon to be imagined, performed, and made. In other words, only through and after Berlin can we return to Freiburg and stand ready for a full-fledged semester abroad.


Erster Halt: Zürich (Photo aus den Vorarbeiten vom Sommer 2013). Stay tuned for posts from the field.