Frederick Tupper, Jr - University Life in Germany (1907)
Liebe Leserinnen, Liebe Leser,
heute führt uns unsere Reportage in die Welt der Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Berlin in den Jahren 1900/1901. Der amerikanische Englisch-Professor Frederick Tupper Jr. verbrachte einen Teil seines Studiums im Kaiserreich und in diesem Artikel aus dem Jahr 1907 beschreibt er seine Erfahrungen. Mich haben gerade die Schilderungen der wissenschaftlichen Karriere im Kontext unserer aktuellen #ichbinhannah-Debatte fasziniert - denn was dort vor über 120 Jahren geschildert wurde, ist etwas, das hoffnungsfrohen Doktoranden immer noch zu bekannt vorkommen wird.
On an October morning, some years since, a recent Vermont graduate and I entered together the Aula of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-University at Berlin. Lectures were still two weeks away; but Germany is a country of leisurely beginnings and this was the morning of matriculation. The great hall was thronged with an interesting company. At a long table sat the Rector Magniﬁcus, Harnack, the mighty theologian, and the professors of the various faculties. Moving about the room were students of three types: foreigners like ourselves; wanderers from other universities of the Fatherland; and boys from the “Gymnasium,” who had passed the “Abiturient” examination and become “mules” or freshmen. These last we regard with interest. They are unquestionably the best trained school boys in the world. For nine years they have been drilled by the best masters, every one a doctor, for some thirty hours a week. They have been taught not simply to remember, but to analyze, compare and classify, until, at the age of eighteen or nineteen stand often on a better footing than graduates of our colleges. But there is another side to the shield, as I learned when I grew to know them better. They have marred their sight — sixty per cent of Germans over eighteen wear glasses. They have hurt their health by long hours of work at home and by little play save perhaps skating in winter and gymnastic exercises on the “Turnboden.” With all his learning, the German Jack is often a dull boy. After presentation of credentials and payment of eighteen marks, the entering student now obtains three things. The ﬁrst is a certiﬁcate of matriculation, a portly and ﬂorid document, twice as large as a college diploma, attesting in pompous Latinity that, “under the auspices and authority of the very august and potent lord, William II, a most ornate youth has been duly enrolled, etc., etc.” The second is a student-card. Great is the power of this. It exempts from arrest, sometimes permits the holder to pass through crowds as one of the elect, and always provides reduced rates at the theatres, where the student may thus see for a triﬂe the greatest plays of Shakspere, Goethe, Schiller and Ibsen. The third is the “Anmeldebuch,” in which each course is entered upon the payment of twenty marks or ﬁve dollars, and which each professor signs. The matriculant is now a full-fledged student, free to come and go at will. Absolutely no restrictions are placed upon him, he may attend all lectures or no lectures. He wears no academic dress, he lives in no dormitory. As a result, he comes in contact with few men outside his own clique, and holds a little corner for himself against all mankind — Philistines, Camels, men of other corps, foreigners. Then too his self-sufﬁciency is a fearful and wonderful thing. “You English can never de Shakspere grammatik understand like we,” declared loftily a bulbous youth after the lecture, and one could only answer that his remark carried its proof. Add “Rechthaberei,” an insistence upon one’s rights at every cost, and a readiness to take offence, attested by many scars; and you have certain ingredients of the German students, class-prejudice, self-sufficiency, assertiveness and undue sensitiveness. Now let me describe three students whom I knew well. Carl Jürgen was no noble, not even well-born, but a man of the people. His clothes were shabby, his coat ill-ﬁtting and with an unnatural gloss, his linen or celluloid—I am not sure that his collars and cuffs were of linen— seldom above reproach, and his high hat was always brushed the wrong way. And yet he was a painstaking, earnest scholar,—a man present at many lectures—a student of intensive reading who, at the close of his six semesters, would make his doctorate with honor and ﬁll some modest place in the state. He knew few men; to the better class of students he was a Philistine, for he loathed duels and despised the military. In theory he was a violent social-democrat; yet I have heard him ask of a guardsman some simple question with bated breath. He was not of the world of German gentry; but he had in him some of the ﬁner elements that German gentlemen seldom have. He was a modest, gentle, kindly soul. Rudolf Biach, whom I met at the University of Munich, was a very different person. His father, a merchant prince of Vienna, out of his plenty, allowed his son some forty dollars a month for expenses. On this, with characteristic German thrift, he fared well; he dined heartily for a mark or less, he wore good clothes. and his dickey or false bosom (the Teutonic substitute for a shirt) was always a thing of beauty. He was at once young, irresponsible, idle and conceited. He knew as few men as Jürgen, but for another reason, a true Austrian, he despised the thick-witted Baeatians, the Bavarians. He seldom went near a lecture-room, conceiving in the pride of his youth that he knew more than many doctors; during the session he was fond of ranging far aﬁeld, and I have wandered with him, west to Augsburg, north to Nuremberg, south to the Tyrol. Finally, he was as clever a boy as I have ever met — a wide reader, with ﬁxed views on all the arts, a brilliant talker and a linguist of surprising gifts. After a few months’ training, he spoke English with fatal fluency. At Oxford, where I encountered him a year later, his command of the language, his wonderful self- possession, and his Austrian audacity won for him the suffrages of our little colony. Then there was Kuno von Eisenberg, a noble, whose people had been for ﬁve hundred years welcome at court, and a fair type of the aristocratic student, who never reads and who has no life outside of his corps. His cap of red, white and blue, and the gay riband that crossed his chest were his distinguishing marks. He had lived in an atmosphere of duels and beer drinkings, until his fat face was seamed with scars, and his body surfeit-swollen. He was always as full of quarrels as an egg of meat. The two proudest moments of his bibulous and bloody existence were the time when his mother led him forth to exhibit his ﬁrst gashes to less fortunate mammas, and the joyous season when he was “ﬁxed” or stared at and thus invited to a conflict by some famous swordsman. To a foreigner, who could not and would not ﬁght, his manners were genial, gentle and kindly—in a word, charming. I can recall now, how his heels went together, his elbow curved, and his hat was jerked stiffly to the side when he bowed. ln the University of Berlin there were many men like Von Eisenberg, for each of the seventy ﬁghting corps and vereins boasts ﬁfteen or twenty members. Now for the German professor! The last generation has seen the passing of the old type that appears in “Fliegende Blätter” and “Jugend,” grimly bespectacled, long-haired, absent-minded. He is now usually a capable, practical and responsible man of affairs, whom the dust of the schools has not blinded. He has made sacriﬁces for the higher end, for his upward progress has been slow. After his doctor’s examination, following three years of advanced work, he decided to forego an oberlehrer’s or higher school teacher’s position with its seemingly princely salary of thirty-six hundred marks (nine hundred dollars), and to take his place on the lowest rung of the university ladder, as “Private- docent,” with fees of perhaps eight hundred marks. His undoubted ability and enthusiasm attracted students (perhaps too much stress is laid on his drawing power), and after some two or three years of very lean kine, he became extraordinary or associate professor. In the meantime he “scorns delights and lives laborious days.” He can take no steps towards soliciting a vacant professorship; but his “opus,” on which he has labored so faithfully appears. His name is up from Freiburg to Konigsberg. A call to a chair in a larger university, Berlin or Munich, comes, and he is a made man of social rank and comfortable income. He is, henceforth, an oracle among men, and his fame draws many wandering students to his university. The ﬁelds of usefulness of the professor are three: His lectures, his personal association with students and his research. As a rule he is not a good lecturer, immeasurably inferior to his compatriot of the Sorbonne, who is nearly always a golden talker, and not approaching the best American or even English standards. There are, of course, many exceptions. Harnack and Willamowitz-Wollendorf drew and still draw large crowds to the “publicum” or public lectures; and few of us will forget the delight with which we listened to Dessoir discourse for many hours on Fine Arts. But Harnack and Willamowitz were giants and Dessoir had French blood. I think my statement holds—the lectures are often well planned, but they are too heavily burdened with fact, are poorly delivered and lack inspiration. Mountains of method, a thousand details, but few vistas and little illumination. The German professor is a social being. I remember how one great-hearted, deeply learned scholar affected young men. At the “kneipes” or feasts of his students he sat at the head of the table (wherever he sat would have been the head) directing the talk and joining lustily in the songs. The reverence for him was great; a quarrel in his presence was felt to be sacrilege, and the love of clash and conflict was nobly repressed. Then he drew men to his home, opening up to them in his study great stores of special knowledge, stimulating, quickening them by the force of his personality and example. I shall always recall long walks with him in the “Thiergarten.” His lectures and readings from Shakspere and the English poets (“Vair is voul and voul is vair,” “I could not lofe dee, dear, so mooch”) sometimes appealed to an American sense of humor, but roads traversed with him in private led always to treasures at the foot of the rainbow, and one was very grateful. In research, the German professor is pre-eminent. The way that he cuts is often very narrow, the path that he blazes through the wood of recondite scholarship is wide enough for only one man; but he sets those with whom he has to do journeying in this or that direction with ax and torch. Lights ﬂash and steel rings everywhere, until the forest becomes known ground. Though others may range more extensively and with far better perspective, he has in accurate, painstaking, intensive scholarship, no equal on earth. And he attains and leads others to the goal in the face of at least one tremendous difﬁculty, a library system unparalleled in impracticability and inefﬁciency. Lack of catalogues and a poor library staff necessitate an interval of twenty-four hours between the time of ordering a book and its receipt, or rather the time due for its receipt, for, in many cases, when it is not on the shelves, its whereabouts are so uncertain that it may be reclaimed only when its usefulness is passed. All sufferers from this will doff their hats to the men who have triumphed over such conditions. A university lecture room is perhaps the best place to study the students. It is 12 o’clock and the famous Erich Schmidt is to lecture on “Goethe and Schiller.” But every German class-hour has its “academisches viertel” or quarter-hour of grace. And this noon one is passed by the men either in refreshing themselves at the wine-and-beer shop kept by “Frau Pudel,” the janitor’s wife, in the ﬁrst lobby-room on the left of the entrance, or in procuring orders for theatre-tickets in the ﬁrst room on the right. But by 12.15 the lecture-hall is filled with students, many of them munching rolls or sandwiches (one never knows when “Semmel” or “Schinkenbrot”will emerge from the capacious pocket of a German). The faces of the men are strong, but seldom clean-cut and clear-eyed; their frames are heavy but not athletic. I shall meet some of these fellows later at Munich, for the German student is a wide-ranger and sometimes completes his special course at three universities. The women are in large numbers at such a class as this. Then the professor enters in haste. Before he has even reached his desk, he begins, “Meine Herren und Damen!” (the order is signiﬁcant), and proceeds with a frightful velocity that seems to offer deﬁance to note-books. But these students are all masters of short-hand and pens move triumphantly over paper — you may buy a copy of such verbatim notes, when the course is next repeated, and save yourself many a long sitting. Occasionally scraping of feet, “Scharren,” a well-known signal, warns the lecturer that his words are not heard at the rear of the room, and he raises his voice, until the shufﬂing ceases. So the lecture draws to its close. Now, let us watch the student at play. This is the banquet hall of the Rhenania Corps on the evening of the “Weihnachts-Kneipe” or Christmas Feast. The walls are hung with old banners and armorial bearings, the long tables are groaning under steins and tankards, the ﬁr-tree in the corner is flashing with a hundred lights. Forty men in the caps of the corps are steeped in the joyous spirit of the German yule-tide. The “Bier-zeitung” of the brotherhood, rich in comic illustrations and teeming with amusing personalities, starts the revel. Songs are sung, as only German boys can sing them. The leader gravely conveys to me his regrets that they have not yet mastered the two national airs of America, “The Bowery” and “Linger longer, Loo;” but “Tannenbaum,” “Gambrinus” and “Gaudeamus” more than make good the omission. Salamanders are rubbed, jokes are told, speeches full of innuendo are delivered, all with tremendous effect. Then enters the humorist of the fraternity, with the snowy beard and gray cowl of the “Weihnachtsmann” or Santa Claus. To each and all he presents, amid shouts of laughter from the jolly crew, startling gifts. For instance, the American receives a handsome portrait of his esteemed country-women, “The Five Sisters Barrison, Misses Lona, Olga, Gertrude, Irmgard and Sophie, die beispiellos populärsten Damen des Continents.” Then the voices break again into song. As I conclude this sketch, that splendid chorus rings in my ears :— “Wer keine Sorge je und kein Verzagen weiß, Und wer sich rasch erstürmt des Lebens kecken Preis, Wer ständig lichterloh, doch nie zu Ende brennt, Lebt seinen Jugendtag als richtiger Student, Ja! Als richtiger Student.”
University of Vermont yearbook, The Ariel 1907, pp. 25-31.