that it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that forges collegial
ties not only across oceans, but also across the Emory campus. The
Halle Institute’s Faculty Study Trip Program also has moments
of high comedy.
Aristotle would have seen this. He understood the comic as the raising
of the naturally low to a position above its station.
Take, for example, a group of sixteen American professors. Purely
for the sake of hypothesis, imagine them beleaguered by tenure ordeals,
departmental intrigue, grant-writing woes, and so forth. Now transplant
this self-effacing group of gentle intellectuals, experts on everything
from contract law to environmental economics, from midwifery to
film history—transport them, let’s say,
to Berlin, the burgeoning center of a unified Germany and a unifying
What likely purpose for this unlikely group? Nothing less
than the honor of being the first foreign visitors to the dazzling
Bundeskanzleramt—the German White House.
Yes, the first foreign visitors to Gerhard Schröder’s
new digs. Not bad. Although Chancellor Schröder didn’t
know it, this was one honor accorded us as part of the Halle Faculty
Study Trip, Germany 2001. We were received in the same chambers
where, the following
day, King Hussein of Jordan would make the first official state
visit to the Chancellery. News reports of Hussein’s visit
omitted the fact that the building had been rushed to completion
of the Emory delegation.
must be some mistake
Inaugurating the Chancellery was one in a series of wonders that
raised the question of whether our German hosts had been sold a
bill of goods about who was coming to dinner. Most of us had never
before been serenaded—let alone by the municipal chorus of
a small East German mining town, in traditional garb. Discussing
cars with the regional head of Rolls-Royce also would have had its
mind-blowing dimensions, even if the conversation had not taken
place at the table where Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin dined
during the Potsdam Conference.
Over seventeen days in which we were simultaneously fêted
and forced to hue to an unforgiving schedule of fascinating meetings,
we came to learn not only about Germans’ basic respect for
scholars, but also their deeper and, to us, surprising ideas about
In retrospect, we also came to realize that the royal treatment
we were accorded completely erased any apprehension we naturally
might have felt at the prospect of spending seventeen days on a
bus, and at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with colleagues we barely
In Bier findet die Wahrheit statt
Truth be told, it may have been hospitality at the Freiberger Brewery,
in particular, that broke the ice for us, establishing an
esprit de corps (should we say, eine Körpersgeist?!)
which unites us still across our disciplines. Skeptics, it is easy
for you to scoff at the idea of an academic purpose behind a tour
of a brewery. Do not neglect the supreme cultural significance of
beer—yes, beer—within the German society and economy!
Regarding the evening of our tour and pork-knuckle dinner at the
brewery, we must insist on the total innocence of the question that
set the tone for the rest of our trip: “I noticed that you
produce several styles of beer. Do you think we might be able to
taste them?” asked an Emory professor of film studies, displaying
true interdisciplinary spirit. The managing director of the brewery
met us at our departing bus burdened with six cases of beer. Nothing
like being proud of your product.
Divide six cases of beer, at twelve bottles each, by sixteen professors
carrying two suitcases each. The result: many animated late-night
discussions of German politics and culture in the hotel lobbies
of Frankfurt, Bonn, and Berlin. And the luggage got lighter as we
Did you have some fine,
An added delight for those Halle
travelers who visited Germany (India holds its own treasures in
this regard) ws the graceful guidance provided by Jürgen Pinnow,
the German escort whose smiling face accompanied us every inch of
the way. Jürgen’s most endearing trait is his inimitable
determination to express himself in complex English prose, frequently
with only the vaguest relationship between what he means and what
he says. Jürgen’s speech is to colloquial English what
a Paul Klee painting is to visual reality (see Klee’s “Head
of a Man”).
Thus, in Jürgen’s daily summary, an afternoon’s
typically include: “with the bus going, passports all having,
meeting for women’s issues then completing, there also lunch
Predicting our time of arrival, Jürgen might think, “if
there are no traffic jams . . . ” but say, “cars and
buses being a river flowing . . .”. Klee similarly has a painting
entitled “Highways and Byways.” It looks like a beautiful
aqua rag woven rug, splashed with sunset. You wouldn’t want
to use it as a map, but it sure is nice to look at.
Our particular favorite Jürgen-ism came with his description
of the Natural History Museum in Bonn: “This is the house
where the dead animals will be staying.”
Jürgen’s malapropisms are accompanied by an unflappable
dedication to the smooth operation of the Halle trips. He exemplifies
both German hospitality and, alas, a stereotypical affinity for
punctuality that can’t escape comment. For Jürgen, it
is never a matter of simply entering a subway to catch the next
train. In Bonn, he had done his research and told us that we would
be catching the 16:41 after a seven-minute walk to the station.
We are not making this up.
Jürgen’s efficiency complements a typically over-packed
schedule, planned by our enthusiastic German hosts. Consider the
ensemble of experiences planned for a single afternoon in Berlin:
arrival in Berlin by plane, lunch at an Italian bistro, bus-ride
to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial, bus-ride to a
light dinner reception, a meeting with the general who integrated
the East and West German armies after unification in 1992, topped
off by a night at the opera—Richard Strauss’s Salome,
at the Staatsoper. This defies even postmodern interpretation.
Dwindling resource: Gratitude for U.S. intervention
So why do they do it? Why are delegations of the Halle Faculty Study
Trip so well received in Germany? The most likely answer is also
the most astounding to the jaded American academic: they are thankful
to America. There is a whole generation of Germans, many now in
influential positions, who are flat-out grateful for what this country
did after World War II and for the U.S. role in unifying Germany
in the 1980s and 1990s.
This is not to say that the Germans the Halle groups met have no
criticisms of certain U.S. decisions, or of certain Texan politicians,
in particular. The subtlety of analysis offered by German interlocutors
on the Halle trips frequently lends new insights into U.S. politics
and culture. But the basic premise—open discussion, warm welcome,
intellectual respect paid to American professors—comes from
a German desire to be understood—concretely, subtly, and in
a contemporary context—by those whom they credit for Germany’s
important position in current world politics.
Call it an oddity of globalization that our German hosts want to
teach Emory professors to be proud of America.