The Potsdam, Germany Summer Study Abroad Program 2011 June 8-July 23 was an immense success.
The W&M Potsdam, Germany Summer Study Abroad program is an intensive 7 week German Language and Culture program. Students attend intensive German Language classes in the mornings from 9-12:30 and a GRMN 290/390 German Culture class in the afternoons. This year’s topic was Berliner Moderne 1885-1933 taught by Program Director Rob Leventhal, Associate Professor of German Studies. This year we had 11 students participate in the program, 10 from W&M and one from Kenyon College.
Arrival/Orientation/Our First Days
Students arrived at Tegel Airport in Berlin June 8 and were picked up by their host families. The orientation program provided by the Universität Potsdam beginning the day after arrival and continuing for two days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) was excellent. On the first day, students received a general orientation on campus at the Neues Palais where the Humanities are housed at the Universität Potsdam. They meet the office staff of the Akademisches Auslandsamt, get their student identification cards, VBB Berlin ABC transport cards which covers all of Berlin and Potsdam for the entire time of their stay, a tour of the facilities, get instructions on how to connect to the Internet on campus, and learn the ropes of the library, the Mensa and the student cafeteria, student activities.
The next day (Friday, June 10) the students had an all-day intercultural seminar that explored the significant differences between German and American culture, living, and etiquette. In this seminar, conducted by AA Tutor Micha Adam, who studied history and politics at the Universität Potsdam, the students learn many things they will not have covered in the 1 credit spring seminar, which is also extremely useful for the students preparing to go to Potsdam. Things like cultural stereotypes, the use of water, Mülltrennung, protocol on buses and trams, market and boutique behavior, and restaurant etiquette are all covered.
On Saturday, we went on a whirlwind tour of Berlin, also conducted by Micha Adam. It begins at Berlin Friedrichstrasse, goes to the Mauermuseum and site in the Bernauer Strasse, Prenzlauer Berg, the Nikolaiviertel, the Museum Insel, Unter den Linden, Brandenberger Tor, Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie before it ends in Kreuzberg. This year we were extremely lucky that the festival of cultures was taking place that Saturday and the tour simply segued into this festival in Kreuzberg at the end, with all students electing to remain in Berlin for the evening.
There was excellent coordination between William & Mary and the staff of the AA at the Universität Potsdam. Cooperation between Sabine Reinicke, her staff (Martin Müller, Micha Adam, the tutors Caro, Anna, Sabrina and Marlene) and faculty, and the W&M PD was outstanding. The Potsdam staff took care of a large part of the day-to-day organization of the program, and were responsible for the host families. Sabine Reinicke was the first local on-call contact in case of emergencies. She and her staff were extremely well organized, competent and effective.
The Akademisches Auslandsamt arranges for welcome and departing dinners at a lovely restaurant in Potsdam (“Quendel”) where students, faculty, tutors and host families meet for a nice meal and live music. This year, both events were extremely well-attended and very successful. These dinners are particularly important for continuity in the program and to retain excellent host families. The hope is that, over time, we will develop a reservoir of excellent host families.
This year we undertook three major excursions: the three-day, two-night “bonding” excursion at the beginning of the program, one week after arrival; Lutherstadt-Wittenberg; and the Island of Rügen/Jasmund National Park on the Baltic Sea. Only the first is actually part of the program, the other two were paid for by the students themselves (basic train transport and stay in Youth Hostel in Rügen; Trainfare to Lutherstadt-Wittenberg). The major “bonding” excursion is conducted the second weekend of the summer, around June16-20. The first weekend students are acclimating themselves to their new environment and homestays and it makes little sense to tear them away from that the very first weekend. And they are still a bit jet-lagged. The Potsdam-Berlin orientation program was exactly right for the first weekend. For the bonding excursion, this year we did one night in Weimar and one night in Dresden, which was fabulous. Dresden is a rich cultural city with a complex, fascinating history. The differences between Thuringia, Saxony, and Brandenburg are also quite important historically and become very evident to the students on this trip as we cross borders into all three territories.
We did Lutherstadt-Wittenberg as a separate day-trip. It is easily accessible from Potsdam/Berlin in two hours and the Lutherhaus and Schlosskirche can be seen easily in an afternoon.
This year I was able to arrange a three day, two night excursion to the Island of Ruegen (Ostseebad Binz) and the Nationalpark Jasmund for 100€ per student (40€ R/T trainfare and 60€ for two nights and five meals at the Youth Hostel in Ostseebad Binz, which is directly on the water). This proved to be a wonderful break/excursion, especially because there were no Americans in Binz, and we were able to see the historical National Park Jasmund, the Königsstuhl/Viktoria Sicht and the Wissower Klieke in this Caspar David Friedrich-inspired landscape. This excursion July 8-10 was the perfect closing bonding experience for the group. The Jugendherberge Binz is clean, comfortable and the meals provided are substantial and decent. The excursion to the Baltic Sea provided a completely rural environment, formerly in the GDR, very different from all the other places visited by the students and highly unusual (students can go to Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck or any other northern German city easily and cheaply by themselves). Swimming in the Baltic Sea proved to be refreshing!
Berlin and Potsdam have extremely rich resources for pedagogical excursions, and our excursions included: two performances of Brecht’s plays (“In the Jungle of the Cities” and the ”Threepennyopera”) at the famous Berliner Ensemble (Theater am Schiffbauerdamm); a visit to the Museum of the expressionist group Die Brücke; a visit to Neue Nationalgalerie on Potsdamer Platz; a lengthy visit to the Jüdisches Museum. One of the real highlights of the trip was a guided tour on July 15th of the “Einstein Tower” (a solar observatory built in 1921 for Albert Einstein), the “Great Refraktor” (the fourth largest optical telescope in the world, built 1898) and the Astrophysical Center of Potsdam (AIP).
Dr. Jürgen Rendtel of the Institut für Astrophysik at Potsdam took us through the “Einstein Tower” and the Great Refraktor (1898). He is a wonderful, knowledgeable man who hit just the right level with our students linguistically, explaining the significance and function of the structures in clear, simple language. The students thought this was one of the great highlights of the summer.
Finally, we took a day trip to Schloss Niederschonhausen in Pankow, a summer residence of the Hohenzollerns, and the site where the GDR was formed and where the 4+2 talks took place to dismantle it in 1990, with Micha Adam. This proved to be one of the most interesting and historically relevant excursions of the entire summer. We traversed the path from the 18th century, the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm, Friedrich I, Friedrich II and the Enlightenment to the formation of the GDR, the Fall of the Wall in 1989, and the unification in 1990!
It was a great summer! Thanks to all of the students who contributed, to the Akademisches Auslandsamt at the Uni Potsdam, and the Reves Center!
Rob Leventhal, Associate Professor of German Studies, Program Director 2011