I write this on the last day of Spring classes, in the middle of summer, and the halls of the MLB are comparatively quiet. Students have headed home, are pursuing internships, or find themselves abroad on one of our study programs in Tübingen, Freiburg, or at Goethe Institutes across Germany; just perhaps, some of them are also taking time out to watch some soccer as the European Cup plays out in France…. Faculty, meanwhile, have turned their attention to the broad variety of fascinating research that defines this Department: research on the medieval conceptions of media, on the role of university museums, on the politics of migration; on the aesthetics of ancient and modern ruins, musical performance and on the role of sound in literature; on depictions of violence in fin-de-siècle Berlin and Vienna and on profound shifts in the very notion of life over the past two centuries – the list could go on, and we will report here on the fruits of these labors as they appear in print over the coming months and years.
The relative quiet of the summer months affords the opportunity to look back on a year full of energy and activity in the Department, during which I found myself telling audiences (and administrators) on various occasions how “teachable” Germany seems to be these days. For better or for worse, German-speaking countries have been in the news and have become the epicenter for the big questions concerning migration, cultural integration, freedom of speech, the future of the European Union, and many others. And the same could be said, in many respects, of Sweden and the Netherlands, two of the other countries in our Department’s purview.
We were fortunate, then, to have been able to bring to campus several prominent interlocutors with whom we were able to discuss some of these questions over the course of the past year: from the Consul General of the Federal Republic, who gave his prognosis on the refugee crisis; to Peter Richter, New York based cultural correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, who read from his recent autobiographical novel on the 25th anniversary of German unification; to Michael Götting, a young Afro-German author and cultural activist who read from his debut novel Contrapunctus; to Ingo Schulze, an important contemporary author who hails from the former East Germany and has accompanied the ongoing process of unification with great sensitivity (and occasionally satire). Having Götting, Richter, and Schulze here only whetted our appetite for a more sustained exchange with German authors’ voices, and I’m thrilled to report that we managed to obtain major funding from the Max Kade Foundation to host visiting authors at Michigan on a recurring basis. Our first guest, German-Turkish author Selim Özdoğan, arrives in the Fall and will offer a mini-course for advanced undergraduates as well as public readings. In September, he will join a panel with two further notable authors, Kerstin Hensel and Ulrich Peltzer, for a symposium on contemporary German Literature. We hope that many of you will be able to join us for these and other public events, and catch up on the many goings-on in the Department. And if you don’t want to wait for the next newsletter to read about them, you can keep up with us on our website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
As ever, if you find yourself in the neighborhood, do stop by: we’re always happy to hear from alumni and friends and to find out how they’ve taken the teaching of things German back into the world.
Johannes von Moltke