Lessons from Modern Germany

Impressions of the Transatlantic Outreach Program

03/31/2010  |  DR. PAUL DICKLER
global education

For Transatlantic Outreach Program (TOP) participants, the real mission is to find the real Germany and bring it home to their classrooms! 

Guten Tag! Germany might seem to lend itself to many generalizations, but a closer look reveals the complexity of this land and its people. Order, efficiency, and diligence, it is true, are closely associated with Germany. However, after a TOP experience in Germany, one will come away with a greater appreciation for the difficulty in generalizing. It seems that a large part of the German population is on vacation, just returned from vacation, or about to go on vacation.

“Foreigners stand amazed and fascinated before the riddles posed for them by the contradictory nature at the bottom of the German soul.” Friedrich Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil)

Leisure time to pursue a range of passions is greater in Germany than perhaps any other country. Germany is exceptionally “Green” at present, with fields of wind turbines, high-speed rails and high-mileage cars. Yet, a trip on the autobahn will reveal cars often traveling in excess of 90 miles per hour — not the best for fuel efficiency. Retail businesses often have highly limited hours and a major football (soccer) game can bring the country to a near standstill. Where is the efficiency and diligence in that?

In 2008, I traveled through Germany as a guest of TOP and its partners (the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Goethe-Institut, the Deutsche Bank, and the Robert Bosch Stiftung). I have conducted eight in-service “Germany” workshops for TOP and have included my new-found knowledge in my university-level classes. Having taught both high school and university classes for over 35 years, I now concentrate on the university level, primarily graduate-level classes, and a think tank, The Foreign Policy Research Institute.  As my opening paragraph suggests, there is much to learn about Germany. In addition, there is much to learn about Germany’s place in modern Europe, and Germany’s place in relation to the United States and the world.

When one visits a country, there are many sights to see, museums to visit, and restaurants to frequent. However, access to the inner workings of the country are usually quite limited. With TOP, one gets inside the banking and industrial systems, with visits to boardrooms and factories.  With TOP, one meets politicians and bureaucrats, educators and curators, small business owners and innovators. On my trip, I visited Airbus, Deutsche Bank, the Federal Foreign Office, Directorate-General for Culture, the Internationaler Club, Bürgerstiftung Berlin (a private social engagement foundation), the two houses of government, the Bundesrat and the Bundestag,  Aker Shipyards, a ministry of education, a technical school, a scientific research institute, a university, and far too many more to name here.

TOP affords insights through meetings with, not only ordinary Germans, but also with the movers and shakers of modern German society.  The fullness and richness of the study tour translates to surprising discoveries that can be incorporated into teaching.  A few illustrations here can clarify these points.

When teaching about 20th-century history, both European and American, World War II occupies a prominent place. Before this visit to Germany, I had been told how well Germans address the events of the war and its legacy. Seeing this on the ground gives this story a much deeper perspective. From the tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on my first day of the program, to a series of interviews with Germans about their past history, I came to truly understand the ways Germans have responded. The adult generations alive in Germany today have, in fact, dealt with their history differently. The generation whose parents were involved in the war often feel shame and disgust at this past. The generations after theirs are curious to learn about the war and are very open about their feelings. The strong peace movement that has marked the post-war years in Germany reflects these reactions. The one-to-one discussions with Germans have transformed the teaching moments on this subject in my classrooms.

For a completely different illustration, I tried to learn as much as I could about German innovation during my TOP tour. I came home with many examples from the environmental, energy and transportation fields. Experiencing these developments firsthand clarifies and spices the teaching experiences on these subjects. One of the in-service programs I presented with TOP involved German innovation today. The subject of innovation has been seriously neglected in both high school and university classrooms. The TOP tour and follow-up in-service programs added depth and breadth to this topic.

I would like to close with one additional thought, referenced earlier.  Germany and modern Europe, in general, seem to be suffering a decline in American classrooms. It is not wrong to want to have students learn more about world history and culture, but there is a compelling case not to dismiss European history as a result. According to the 2000 Census, there are more German-Americans than any other ethnic group in the United States. Europe has historically been a source of central political, economic, cultural and scientific ideas for Americans. Surely, U.S., European, and World history/culture can be taught over four high school years. Surely, all colleges and universities should have ample offerings in European history and culture. The Transatlantic Outreach Program provides valuable experiences and materials in bringing modern Germany and modern Europe home to Americans.

To learn more about the Transatlantic Outreach Program, visit www.goethe.de/top.

Paul Dickler, Ed.D. is a Senior Fellow of FPRIs Wachman Center and Teacher-in-Residence at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a consultant for The College Board, ETS, and several universities and school districts. He is also on the staff of Camden County College.

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