I’m going to a German conference this weekend to present work I did in Berlin on German minorities in Romania. Revisiting my research in order to prepare it for the conference has been nostalgic; it reminds me of the long hours spent in the university library, combing through the stacks for books on the Transylvanian Saxons and searching (sometimes hopelessly) for an unoccupied computer. For such a large university, you’d think that there would be enough computers for everyone. You’d be wrong.
My college in the United States has around 1,400 students; Humboldt University in Berlin has around 40,000. Here, I’m used to saying hello to all of the tour guides who bring prospective students through the library, because I know all of them personally. There, I once ran into one student whom I knew in the library and freaked out a little bit because that had never, ever happened before. Here, it happens all the time.
There is a great degree of independence expected in the German university system (and, from what I understand, in most European universities), but I think that may come with a price that’s not necessarily a function of the size of the university: a lack of personal connections between students. And that’s a part of my undergraduate experience that I’d be loath to give up for long.
I didn’t realize how much I missed public transportation until I returned to a city that had it. Galesburg, IL, where my college is located, is a small community of 35,000 people, so the subways and trams of Berlin feel very far away. I don’t have a car, so if I want to go anywhere, I have to borrow a friend’s (since nothing much is within walking distance).
This weekend, though, I’m in Boston, which has a pretty extensive subway system. Riding on a subway again was surreal. I know Galesburg’s tiny as towns go, but it could really use some good old public transportation.
The Berlin S-Bahn.