What Pork Knuckles and Academic
Excellence Have in Common
The Halle Faculty Study Trip Program

By David Cook, Professor of Film Studies and Peter W. Wakefield, Program Director, Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning

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Forget 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 Europe.

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 on behalf
of the Emory delegation.

There 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 America.

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 knew.

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 went!

Did you have some fine, yesterday?

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 activities might
typically include: “with the bus going, passports all having, meeting for women’s issues then completing, there also lunch eating.”
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.