German Poetry Night
The German Club is one of the best things that ever happened to Bard College Berlin, simply because it’s the only place other than our German language classes, where we, without any shame or guilt, assert our imperfect knowledge of German. Initiated last year by second year student David Kretz, the German Club hosts a small event every week related to the German language or culture. The Club has had some permanent members––people who show up dedicatedly to each and every event, like Katharina Meyer, Director of the Provost’s Office. The Club has had many memorable gatherings, but one of the most unforgettable ones for me was the “poetry night” that took place on the 21st of November, on which we got together to read beautiful, and at times, intense German poetry (both in German and in translation). We started off with Katharina Meyer’s choice: “Die Füße im Feuer” / “The Feet in Fire” by Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, a poet who, even though the name suggests it, is not related to her in any way. The poem engaged us with the theme of revenge and forgiveness. It is about a man who tortured another man’s wife (for three years) as she was trying to protect her husband from him. The woman’s loyalty to her husband subjects her to severe punishment from the man looking for her husband. Gradually the poem shows the darkness lying in the heart of this man and the guilt he begins to harbor as a result of his atrocities. Yet as he finds himself again among the people who had witnessed the death of that woman, they forgive him and state that their revenge lies with God. We then moved from the lofty themes of revenge and forgiveness to the read Veronica Marcinschi (a third-year BA student) had chosen––the beautiful “An den Mond” or “To the Moon” by Goethe. The poem touches upon the lonely human heart and its yearning for worldly desires which yet recoils back into itself and finds solace in the silence of the nature. We then heard the most beautiful piece of the day in my opinion, “Kindergeschichte” or “Children Story” by Peter Handke. Mathujitha Sankaran, the senior student who read this poem, informed us that its verses appeared in the opening of a movie that she had recently seen. The poem shed light on the theme of childhood and, in particular, how children view the world.
Then it was my turn. I read a Goethe poem in my hesitant German accent. Goethe is a popular poet in Pakistani culture as he invested a lot of his time researching Oriental cultures and religions. I had often heard about him as a poet who bridged the two worlds together during German Romanticism. The poem I chose, “So laßt mich scheinen, bis ich werde” or “Let me appear, until I become,” I would consider one of Goethe’s difficult poems, as it addresses a lover or a seeker of enlightenment whose quest is for truth and love. Although difficult to grasp, Goethe’s poem seems to clearly hint at one thing––at a higher truth, which cannot be easily comprehended by any human being.
David Kretz then brought out in contrast to the prevalent tone of the evening the proletarian voice of the Brechtian poem “Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters” or “Questions of a Worker.” After we dealt with the woes of the proletariat, we engaged with the woes of a lover. And that was all that was missing––a short, simple and sweet love poem, that eventually brought us to the end of our German Poetry Night. The evening ended as we read Hermann Hesse’s “Stuffen” / “Steps” and as we all prepared to leave the dimly lit, warm and cozy room of the Student Center, we all hoped for many more similar Poetry Nights to take place at Bard College Berlin.
During the fall semester I decided to do an internship as a teacher’s assistant at a primary school in Berlin. In order to take full advantage of the opportunity, I backed up the practical experience I already had in the field with theoretical knowledge from Bard College Berlin’s internship seminar, “Berlin Institutions: Values in Practice.” The class dealt with the structure and functioning of Berlin institutions, and the way they have been reshaped in recent history by socio-economic changes. We engaged with materials related to the new market economy models and to how modern cities evolve into creative hubs and magnets for creative minds. Some of the academic papers we read often shed light on economic issues concerning our daily lives, for example city planning and gentrification.
As a course requirement, every student in the class had to be also involved with an institution. All students were helped to find a place where they could learn more about the different work environments and some skills that would come in handy later on in their lives. For myself, I have been interested in teaching children religion and critical thinking, and have always wanted to work in a school where I could start off with my teacher’s training. Although fearing that this might be a lot more daunting than it sounds, I applied to a number of schools and ultimately got an offer from the Berlin Cosmopolitan School.
I went for my preliminary interviews and trial sessions at the school, which is situated close to the U-Bahn station at Weinmeisterstr., ironically next to a clothing store called ‘The S*** Shop.’ BCS is a bilingual school, which has grades up to the IB (International Baccalaureate). Although the school accepts mostly German speakers, students from other nationalities are also seen on campus. As I started doing my required ten hours of work, I saw something very similar in the teaching approach at the school and what we do here at Bard College Berlin.
Contrary to what most of us have experienced in our childhood, i.e. having separate classes, devoted to each subject with little or no cross-referencing among the various fields of study, there is something of a “thematic” cohesive style which BCS applies. I have been working with the first-graders and have noticed that, rather than having to study different subjects, they study different themes. The structure is similar to that of the Bard College Berlin seminars, where we take up Plato’s “Republic” and deal with an infinite amount of themes that lie under the sun and relate them back to the main idea of justice and how it has been explored in view of its interconnectedness to the other themes. We also consult other materials as we try to make sense of the over-arching idea of justice. This gives us an opportunity to think in ways that have not been explored before. Surprisingly, the same approach of teaching seems to be applied at BCS as well. The children move from unit to unit, learning in each of them to write, read and do mathematics. These units range from topics like ‘Team work’ to ‘Animals,’ and help kids relate to the world outside in a more organic and holistic way.
I am often taken back to the time when I was receiving my elementary school education. Our teachers would make us learn and write stuff for millions of times, often only under the mere pressure of having to produce this work. Not only that, I was taught to speak English in a rather non-pedagogical manner. Speaking it wrongly or incorrectly used to be ridiculed often by the teacher and most certainly by the students as well. As I assisted the class teacher during my internship at BCS, I realized how relaxed and integrated learning environments help students produce work of better quality and also lead healthier life-styles.
The integrative education system of BCS as a whole has been a great learning experience. It has also been a sheer joy to work with children, who are carefree , innocent and want to hug me after every half an hour or so. And, of course, who wouldn’t appreciate being called ‘Ms. Khan’ for the most part of the day?
Debating in Berlin
Recently, there have been efforts to form a debate club at Bard College Berlin. A group of students have come together for this purpose and have collectively joined their talents and previous debating experience to produce a new trend among our community. The enthusiasm surrounding the initiation of the college’s own debate club motivated me to share my debating experience with the Berlin Debating Union at Humboldt University.
When I first came to Bard College Berlin in 2010, I decided to look for a debate club in Berlin, so as to continue to improve my debating skills. It seemed to me at the time that debating was more of a trend in the English–speaking world, particularly in England. As I was leaving Pakistan to resume my studies in Berlin, I had little hope that I would find English debating societies in Germany. To my pleasant surprise, not only did English debating exist in Germany, but Berlin itself also boasted one of Europe’s largest debating societies. And it was only by chance that one of my colleagues here at Bard College Berlin, April Matias, informed me of it and promised to take me there as well.
And so we went to Humboldt University on Friedrichstrasse, which was humming with the voices of students coming in and out of the university buildings, on a cold rainy November night. I was hooked even from the very first session. As we entered a large seminar room, we saw people sitting casually (mostly German speakers), as there was a training going on. This training session then led to a debating session of about one hour. People were relaxed and most friendly, so soon my stress and anxiety about speaking in front of a large number of people, who were completely unknown to me, went away.
Coming from Pakistan, I had four years of very vibrant debating experience. As part of the British legacy, Pakistani institutions have inherited a tradition in what is called “parliamentary style” debating. In this debating approach, there are always two teams, although depending on whether it’s “university style” or “world school style” the number of people in each team differs. In the “university style,” the team is comprised of two people, while in the “world school style” the team consists of three. In both styles, a certain view on a topic is given to the teams and one team has to defend this view while the other has to oppose it. It is this structure of the debate which is the trickiest part.
The first speaker from the Team Proposition takes the floor and thus sets the whole debate in motion. The speaker defines the topics for the whole House. At this stage of the debate, the Team Oppositionhas to carefully listen and prepare their case. They also have to comply with the terms and definitions of the topics set out by the Team Proposition. For example, if the topic reads as: ‘This House believes that single sex schools should be banned’, Team Proposition can choose to restrict this case to a specific country, for instance, they could argue that single sex schools should be banned in Germany or the USA. The way Team Proposition deals with the topic remains completely in their hands. The ultimate job of Team Opposition in turn is to show to the judges on what grounds the case of Team Proposition is weak and actually fails to convince the House of what they are proposing (while, nevertheless, always keeping to the terms and definitions set out by the Team Proposition).
Such are the intricacies involved in debating. Thus, to be able to respond well on the spot, debaters are extremely well read and quick in their thinking. Debating enhances one’s mental capacity to be able to think and critically analyze situations quickly, as well as to come up with the best possible solutions/arguments and counter-arguments, especially while dealing with unanticipated situations and problems.
In both styles of debating, it is the last speakers who summarize the cases and prove to the judge that their team has a more convincing argumentation. The last speaker’s job therefore is to take notes throughout the session and make sense of all the various arguments presented in the first half an hour of debating. Through the debates in which I participated, I gradually picked up all the nuances and tricks involved in the art of oratory. My debating practice in Berlin ultimately led me to also visit institutions like Sciences Po Paris, Vienna University, Sciences Po Le Havre, Jacobs University in Bremen etc. I thoroughly enjoyed travelling around Europe with the debating team, while being engaged in intellectual arguments and discussions. And though debating had opened up the world of intellectual dialogue to me, it was the people who sustained my interest the most.
The people make debating the most captivating experience of all. I met people who have remained my friends for life and who, with their wit and humor, brought a lot of joy in my life. Although my debating career lasted only five years, I’ve met hundreds of interesting people, and learnt from their ingenuous experience and failures. The friends that I made in Berlin I visit ever so often and meet regularly for badminton or tea. Debating not only taught me how to think, but also introduced me to one of the most interesting groups of people one can ever find.
Debating and travelling for debates has been one of the most worthwhile experiences in my life, and I hope that Bard College Berlin’s debaters will benefit similarly from theirs. Through participating in debates, one learns to expand the mind and also to find a wide social network of potential friends all around the world.
Weekend in Dresden
The trip to Dresden was organized as part of the class ‘Berlin: Experiment in Modernity’, taught by Florian Becker. On an extremely chilling winter evening we all left Berlin with Florian Becker and Zoltan Helmich (Residential Life Coordinator) and set on our adventure.
In Dresden we stayed at the Technical University’s “Gästehaus”. The Guesthouse was nothing less than a four star hotel and upon arrival we spent the evening eating and drinking in the guest-house’s restaurant. Our chaperons kept us entertained with their ingenious sense of humor. The next morning we all set forth to see the grand Christmas Stollen (an enormous cake which weighs 400 pounds), baked by various bakers. The Stollen was being prepared in the city center, where all the important buildings and churches are also to be found. We arrived at the center hoping to see the cake and the parade that was to follow. We were promised by Florian Becker that whoever catches a glimpse of the cake first would get a piece of it. That seemed like a difficult task given that we all were amid hundreds of people. And since we were all eager to try a piece of that famous gigantic cake, it was all a matter of strategy: I stood in a line that ultimately allowed me to weasel my way to a spot, which provided me with the angle that made me the first one to see the Stollen. As promised, as the first to catch a glimpse of the desert, I got a piece, rich in delicious raisins, which, after all, we all ended up enjoying (since a single piece weighed more than half a kilo––and that whole savory giant––for the price of only 5 Euro).
After a whole morning spent exploring the amazing Christmas Markets of Dresden, we all moved to our next destination: The Old Masters Picture Gallery. We had an amazing guided tour, as we moved from Raphael’s Madonna to Rubin’s beautiful women. The Gallery introduced us to art from the Renaissance to the Romanticism and evinced how across generations religious art gradually turned into a way for humans to express their deepest and darkest desires. The art featured in the gallery reflected the way artists from various historical periods thought about God and mankind. It was an awe-inspiring moment to stand in front of the paintings; they seemed to encompass history, emotion and a deep perspective on the human condition. The guide also remarked briefly how love for women or love for God had inspired the various artists to paint certain artworks, which further strengthened our bond with the pieces displayed. We slowly moved out of the gallery, hoping for a good meal and looking forward to equally wonderful and informative visits. Our hopes were rightly met the next day when we went to the Museum of Military History.
This was the place where one could become acquainted with the development of warfare from ancient times up to the present. It displayed weapons, tools, animals, stories and toys that reflect the effect of wars on society and human beings. The Museum is designed by the famous Daniel Libeskind––the same architect who is responsible for the unique architecture of the Jewish Museum in Berlin. In Dresden as well, Libeskind had added open spaces that, actually and metaphorically, shed light on a ‘way out’ from battles and wars for us as society. The Museum tour dealt with essential and important issues relating to military education. And it was quite interesting to see objects used in recent wars such as the Afghan and Iraq Wars of the 2000s. After the tour ended we went on the top of the building to catch a panorama view of Dresden.
The Museum tours enlightened us as to how and why certain objects had been preserved. These tours demonstrated the manner in which humanity through ages had expressed itself, as well as the complex relationship we humans have with God, society and violence. Amidst these intellectually stimulating museum tours, we all enjoyed the amazing Christmas Markets’ hot Glühwein and cakes. The trip demanded physical strength and the harshness of winter did not make it easy, yet we all marched happily from one place to another. It was the boisterousness of the group and the fascinating museum trips that made the trip ever so memorable and enjoyable.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde
This summer as I was visiting friends and family in the UK, I had the delight of watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Oxford’s famous bookshop Blackwell. The play was very interesting to me because it dealt with themes relating to the scientific practices of the early modern period––themes I had recently come across in my spring semester course on Early Modern Science at ECLA of Bard. Even though I watched the play out of coincidence, it was a way for me to further my thoughts on several things discussed in our class.
The play was a one-man show, in which the actor played all the parts by changing his voice and using different props and costumes. I must say that, given my theatre experience, the choice of the play’s acting method—a single man’s embodiment of different characters—seemed particularly accurate, as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde aims to gradually disclose the two personalities and their relationship hidden in a single man, Dr. Jekyll. Thus, in a most emphatic presentation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, the audience was presented not only with the duality of the main character, but also with two emerging issues: the first being the ethical boundaries that any researcher has to explore and the second being the dilemma scientists can face when making new discoveries and having to deal with conventional ideas about morality and ethics.
The play opens with an attorney and Dr. Jekyll exchanging thoughts about a certain person who seems to have committed violent acts of crime in the community. The dialogue moves on, and the audience witnesses horrendous acts of crime being committed by a vicious character called Edward Hyde. Series of strange and surreal incidents take place that gradually disclose odd similarities between Dr. Jekyll and Edward Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll struggles; the audience sees him twisting and turning, hiding and then coming back with a devilish laughter. Tension grows as pale stage lights fade into red lights and the whole stage turns into a platform for a dialogue between evil and good. In a constant back and forth––‘to be or not to be’––monologue, Dr. Jekyll gives in to his own desire to come out confident with his new invention. One of the darkest scenes of the play takes place when Dr. Jekyll introduces his medicine to a group of students. As he speaks his voice grows stronger, leaving everyone in awe of his great achievement: a medicine which allows human beings to let their evil desires rule over the more publicly approved personality. Since the play is a one-man show, the split inside the personality of Dr. Jekyll that surfaces as Mr. Hyde becomes explicit as the actor changes hats and voices to transform from one character to another. It is fascinating to see how the moral conundrum is resolved or, at least, discussed by the two personalities residing in one character.
The play also highlights the way scientific practice, when unsupervised, can lead to horrendous acts of crime. As Dr. Jekyll turns into Edward Hyde, he transforms solely due to a medicine which he invents using chemicals that would probably be prohibited in today’s day and age.
As I sat through the play, I was transported back to my classroom at ECLA of Bard where during our lectures and seminars we discussed various methods devised and practices carried out by early modern scientists. These scientists, as we read, often used their servants or wives as lab assistants and, like Dr. Jekyll, very often experimented with means and measures that would have dangerous and harmful repercussions. As one of our professors labeled them, these “Gentlemen of Science” only gradually learnt their way to the ethics of science. In one of our readings on plant medicine, we discovered how inauthentic and unethical medicinal discoveries in South America remained in use for decades before they fell out of favor or were banned. The practices of proper drug testing and patenting, as scrutinized by the state, were only gradually implemented when the harmful aspect of less-than-thorough scientific research and experimenting came to the front.
Throughout the play, there also remained a tension between reason and belief. Dr. Jekyll constantly struggled with the concepts of morality and customs that society had established. As he developed the potion, he questioned and challenged the reasons for not following un-ethical acts such as stealing and killing. This led me back to our discussions based on morality and the basis of ethical actions––discussions that had bothered many scientists from this era. During our sessions on Spinoza, we debated back and forth as to why human beings should follow a certain code of morality set in society. These debates, written during the same time in which the play was set, informed us of the conundrum which the early modern scientists had to face. They were constantly questioning what should be the right action and behavior in scientific research and whether that research ought to follow the norms of society or should surpass instead the age of old beliefs and cross the old boundaries, so as to discover new dimensions to the human societies and soul.
The play was performed with absolute ingenuity, blending together the aspect of a split personality with that of a one-man-show. I think that the play brought out several issues that are very much present in our daily lives; we all go through dilemmas, hoping and trying to make sense of our innermost desires and their place in societal conventions.
Why I want to teach English?
I have recently returned from Krakow, where I spent a part of my summer break to receive my Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults at the British Council. As a consequence, many people now ask me if I would see myself teaching English for a great part of my life. This led me to re-think and introspect deeply the reasons for going through four weeks of rigorous training in English language teaching. At the time when I registered for this course, I was teaching at a Teachers’ Training Institute in Pakistan. Although I was not hired as an English Language teacher, I was asked to impart the knowledge of English onto the students, as lack of fluency in English is a great hindrance in finding jobs and earning a decent living.
For two years now, I have been living in a part of Europe where English is a language without any colonial history attached to it. As I was growing up in Pakistan, however, knowledge of English determined the social class. The English-speaking Pakistani class is so small in number, that its representatives can still even be counted and form an educated minority in Pakistan. English middle schools charge exorbitantly, making it difficult for the common people to have access to this language. Not only are the common people marginalized in knowledge, but they also remain alien to the culture of the English-speaking population. And the social distance between the English and the non-English-speaking population has widened in Pakistan since the country’s independence from the British in 1947. My father often tells of what it used to be like to grow up in a newly independent country, making me more aware of the way the English language has affected the relationship the Pakistani people have, by and large, with the Western culture.
My father grew up in one of the poorest families in British India – poor and unknown immigrants, who had the will to change not only their own destiny, but also the lives of the others around them. Despite his having received an education in the UK and his desire for all of his children to learn English, he did not let us lose our ‘inner thread’ and inner voice, which, I think, British colonization has disturbed terribly, especially in developing post-colonial Muslim countries, such as Pakistan. The knowledge of English changes your social status, and with that comes a huge bundle of ‘capitalist’ responsibilities: you ought to educate your children in elite schools in the UK or North America; you even ought to change what you eat. If before you ate simple home-grown wheat, you now ought to buy what your friends call ‘Bio’ products. People from my father’s generation tended to be straightforward thinkers, and had the clarity of purpose which the people from my generation now seem to lack. They stumble about, trying to impress either the English-speaking Westerners or the Urdu-speaking conventionalists. But not all is lost…
As I was teaching at the Teachers’ Training Institute in Pakistan, I discovered how badly this language needs to be taught. And I have always wanted to teach this language without burdening my students to acquire it for the sole purpose of raising their social class. During my time at ECLA of Bard, I have come to form a very distinct relationship with English. This language has offered me the possibility of accessing many historical texts written in a variety of languages and translated into English. This language has also opened for me the doors to other Western languages. And it was while here, at ECLA of Bard, that I realized how English can be a language simply to be learnt for the sake of acquiring a type of knowledge – one that is different from what is available in the Orient or the East. As I travelled to Poland to acquire my Certification, I had found a very useful purpose for learning English. The language I have mastered all my life was not just to impress the local population with my Western and modern mannerism. I knew that English had for me a useful purpose, and my experience in Poland only validated this. As I taught English to Polish students, I saw myself teaching a language to help people discover another world. During the month I spent at the British Council, we were trained to teach English the same way as Mathematics. I could observe the practical usage of English and its importance for international speakers who thus had access to literature, job markets or knowledge available in English, without having to worry about their social status in society.
Turkish Markets in Berlin
I have been fascinated with the concept of bazaars since my childhood. Growing up in Pakistan, my mother used to go to the Sunday market – otherwise known as the farmer’s market – and buy loads of fresh vegetables and fruits. Our house was known for the variety of fruits and food items that my parents very lovingly picked out. We never ate out, and thus we were those fast- food -deprived children who always wondered when other people talked about a new restaurant.
The source of this dietary routine was the farmer’s market. Half of me loathed these markets and the other half loved them, with the people standing in rows behind tables full of food, yelling to attract the customers. These markets reminded me of the bazaars from the Thousand and One Nights, a narrative that filled a large part of my childhood. From Sinbad the Sailor to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, bazaars retain a very special place in the action of the stories. Intricate plots and the role which bazaars played in those stories made me further romanticize the notion of these markets. And to date, whenever I visit a different country, I look for a bazaar as a place to connect back with my childhood days.
This summer, living in Berlin, I rediscovered my childhood farmer’s market, which many of us know as Turkish markets. It was only while having a delicious meal with Aya Ibrahim, a classmate from Egypt, that I discovered the Turkish Market in Berlin. I have been lucky to go there since that day. The Turkish market is a heaven for those who want to buy cheap yet healthy food in Berlin. Fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, and poultry – one finds a large variety of food displayed at the stalls, being sold by interesting, cordial and mostly enthusiastic sellers. Most of the sellers are Turks residing in Berlin, but I also came across German and Spanish sellers. The beauty of the market lies in its both being crowded and cozy. It was like being home. It was an interesting social experience rather than hectic time out for grocery shopping. As I walked through the Turkish market I saw men and women smiling, and in very amusing manners inviting customers to come in, as well as sellers and the buyers arguing over food prices and quality. One sees people from all walks of life, from students to tourists and people from a variety of ethnicities, etcetera. The lovely Turkish market and the aroma of the various spices, vegetables and juicy fruits transported me to the bazaars of the Thousand and One Nights – colorful, loud and warm.
Tu parles Fraincas?
Every year the French speaking community at ECLA of Bard gathers in one of the dorms to cook, eat and express their enthusiasm for French culture and cuisine. This year as well, we all gathered in the music building on Wilhelm Wolf Strasse, and prepared to cook various kinds of French meals. Edit Gerelyes, the French instructor at ECLA of Bard, organizes such activities for all the French speaking students, so that the ones who are still grappling with the concept of what this language is can become more acquainted with the French cuisine and its culture.
I recently finished one year of learning French at ECLA of Bard. However, learning French had been my dream since my childhood. My desire to learn French started in high school, when I used to spend a lot of time in the school library. There I found a girl who would sit right across from where I sat, and she would very actively work on her French grammar. Somehow the image of that young woman mingled with the novel that I was reading at that time, Jane Eyre. And this inspired me to learn French, though I had to wait for another six years before I could actually begin to learn this language. Later when I came to ECLA of Bard I realized that I want to spend the rest of my life teaching children religion and philosophy – and what could be better than acquiring as many international languages as possible in order to be able to access the philosophical and religious materials in these languages?
I was reminded of this as I was sitting mutely during the French Dinner. I realized that, even if I could not make one sentence, I was learning through listening and observing others express themselves beautifully in French. I was surrounded by people who could articulate themselves quite well in French. The dinner also included many nice jokes and laughs from my various friends and their experiences in France with French people.
Amidst the sunset we all enjoyed a delicious meal very passionately on the terrace. Salmon baked in a Dijon mustard sauce, chocolate mousse cake, and French onion soup were among the many treats. Paris, my friend from the 2nd year BA, thoroughly entertained us with her absolutely frank and honest sense of humor. I enjoy Paris’s sense of humor from time to time during our seminars. During the French dinner, she brought to the table interesting stories from her teenage years spent in France. We all laughed most heartily enjoying Paris’s animated and most vivid description of mixing up English and French words to her utmost surprise and embarrassment as a teenager. The dinner concluded as we all washed, cleaned and set forth to prepare for the school day that lay ahead.
Biking in Pankow
In the autumn of 2012, I interviewed ECLA of Bard’s site manager Lars Köhler about the location and site of our campus. Lars explained why our location in Pankow-Niederschönhausen (in the quiet north eastern corner of Berlin) serves as an ideal setting for the student body. Our site manager remains firm in the belief that Pankow is the best place for ECLA of Bard, since it is quiet, peaceful and only twenty minutes away from the center of the city. However, a number of students would argue that the area is too quiet and would prefer to experience the livelier parts of the city. As such, Pankow remains unexplored by some of us.
Pankow tends to be a rather not-so-active district of Berlin with respect to night life, cafés and other activities, especially in comparison to bustling districts like Kreuzberg and Mitte. Pankow is mostly a residential area, with a population of young families and seniors. Despite it seeming not so exciting, Pankow has great gifts to offer if one sets out to discover them. A couple of months ago, I purchased a bike. The grey winter gave me plenty of time to fantasize about biking around Pankow once the snow melted in the spring. It has been nearly a month now since the spring sun decided to show itself. Though on some days the weather remains brisk, I decided to set out with my bike to explore my neighborhood.
To my surprise, Pankow is now one of my favorite places in Berlin. If one rides north, towards the area which is called Buch, one finds a small graveyard. This burial site boasts the grave of the country’s former currency, the Deutsche Mark. Traveling further on, there lie the beautiful Botanical Gardens of Pankow. On a recent visit, I rode my bike through the gardens and passed peacocks, deer, ducks, hogs and trees filled with the most colorful birds and bird houses. The botanical gardens have farms with mustard fields where the grass comes up to my chest. Riding hastily between the fields, I feared bites from strange insects. Undaunted (and unharmed), I emerged unscathed.
But Pankow also has other beautiful parks waiting to be explored—like the Schlosspark and the Bürgerpark. These particular sites boast small lakes that shine and gleam under the sun’s light, and soft voices of children playing which fill the outdoors with their echoes. A strange, yet serene stillness accompanies the bike trip through the Schlosspark to the Rathaus Pankow (the local city hall). From my visits to all these places in the neighborhood, I feel as if I do not belong anywhere but Pankow. Hopefully, with the aid of my bike, I hope to explore even more of Pankow, in order to uncover all its majestic beauty. Together with other students, I will spend this whole spring relishing the scenic beauty hidden around our neo-Bauhaus buildings in Niederschönhausen.
What is love?
It was an absolute delight to attend James Redfield’s lecture. He visited ECLA on the 8th of May. The lecture focused on Plato’s Symposium, and James Redfield discussed Socrates’ ideas about love. The lecture in text form was given to all the audience members, which made it even easier to follow James Redfield as he delivered lecture. He spent the first half of the lecture laying down a very detailed account of the Symposium’s historical background and how each of the characters was placed in the setting of Rome of that time. This introduction very smoothly paved its way into the book as Professor Redfield connected real-life incidents to some of the characteristics and speeches that the guests in the Symposium state.
I had read the Symposium three years ago, but after sitting through this lecture, I could actually feel the Symposium somehow as an event that had actually taken place. The lecture helped me visualize the Symposium as a real-life event as Professor Redfield brought each character alive by giving a detailed yet relevant biography. Before sitting through this lecture, the love which Socrates has for his friend Alcibiades only seemed like two very long accounts of love that have little relevance to modern-day life. After James Redfield’s lecture, I could relate to the characters as I would in my real life. For Socrates, love is just another way to find your true self, the hidden self that can help you determine your path in life. According to James Redfield, Socrates attempts to extract more out of his erotic love than just enjoyment of sexual element of it. Love, for Socrates is an accelerative force to leave a mark in this world.
Redfield very effectively focused on the fact that erotic love for Socrates only remained a way to know his own “self” better. And Socrates wanted to teach this to his lover as well. In my own life, I have been thinking a lot about finding my own inner thread or what Joseph Campbell calls ‘following one’s own bliss’. I think that being in love really helps one find this center, a core that defines the very parameters of one’s character. James Redfield also mentions that for Socrates this centre can be found through love. Love is thus a journey one partakes to find one’s true purpose in life as well as a strong sense of being which helps people discover a deeper meaning in their lives. It is basically this desire that the lover has which is to leave a mark behind, to leave a legacy that can affect the beloved. And true love – according to Socrates as Redfield proposes – can help one find this.
In the 1970s, the Pakistani government recruited my father for civil service. He underwent training at a well-known local academy, thus preparing for a career in the government sector. The academy itself was established during Britain’s rule of the subcontinent; therefore, training bore an English influence in the academic and physical education curricula. Officers attended courses in world politics, law, history, and other geopolitically related subjects. At the same time, students honed their physical strength in activities like badminton, horse riding and swimming. My father, who comes from an exceptionally poor background, was perhaps only marginally acquainted with badminton (as it is often a sport reserved for the leisure class). Undaunted, he quickly took to it and emerged as a star. Years later, when my siblings and I were still young, my father would often reminisce over the days of his early youth and the time he spent at the Civil Services Academy playing badminton.
In the early 2000s, my two sisters (following my father’s example) also successfully passed the academy’s entrance exam and began their training for civil services. Despite us having received a much better upbringing than our father (as we were much more aware of and exposed to a variety of sports), our love for badminton remained the same. My sisters won various matches during their time in the academy and brought back similar stories of success. This thread of badminton spun around our lives and connected our youth to that of our father’s. Badminton thus remains for me a way to relive my father’s successes and his youth. It is a constant reminder of a man whose love and patience never leave my heart.
However, unlike my sisters, I always played badminton only inside the familiar circle. That is, until I came to Berlin, where to my surprise I found a host of others who play it very enthusiastically (including ECLA of Bard’s very own Residential Life Coordinator, Zoltan Helmich). Zoltan often entices students to energetic matches, as he did one afternoon advertising a badminton game for Sunday, the 14th of April. I could not help but long for it—especially since my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on that very Sunday. I went to Spok, the local gym, to play a game for my father. I teamed up with Zoltan, no doubt ECLA’s best badminton player. During the game, I thought of sending love and warmth back home, and secretly hoped that, no matter how insignificant this match might be, it definitely connects me with my family which is now scattered in almost all parts of the world. Zoltan and I made an excellent team, and we won a very humble round against students David Kretz and Lotte Braam.
In this manner, the campus life here offered a way for me to relive my childhood experiences and memories. In fact, my life in Berlin bears a strong resemblance to my childhood, since I constantly learn and unlearn lessons for life here. Be it through academic or leisure activities, I often find myself rediscovering the world all over again. And it is in the moments when I attempt to play a badminton match that I am completely transported to my backyard in Lahore, to a childhood of absolute warmth, love and unending curiosity.
My cousins in Pakistan who are studying to be doctors often boast of their capacity to treat human beings’ greatest impediments in life—physical ailments. Such confidence comes from their commitment to contemporary medicine, which (unfortunately) is often mistakenly thought to be omnipotent for the rather remarkable strides it makes concerning patient health. Many debilitating diseases and disorders bearing grim prognoses are now losing their potent grip thanks to the advent of modern medical science and technology. However, with this contemporary ease of suffering and prolongation of life, an individual can lose perspective on what these ailments meant for people living a hundred or two hundred years ago.
On a recent visit to the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité (a requirement of the 2ndyear core course, The History and Philosophy of Science: Early Modern Science), I had one such moment of historical reflection when, for the first time, I actually thanked our ancestors and all those who contributed to the field of medicine. The museum displays a variety of tools, instruments and equipment routinely used in the early 1800s, a time when surgery was just becoming a popular way of treating people with various ailments. Looking on in amazement, I pondered on the extremely large and (certainly) painful cutting instruments used for surgery. With no or very little anesthesia, patients were crudely sliced open, as such methods were seen as a proper means of treatment. The museum displays Professor Rudolf Virchow’s personal collection of medical instruments. The physician was an anatomist who operated and practiced medicine in late 1800s. In keeping with the desire to accurately display the state of 19th century medicine, the museum also exhibited the particular ailments that called for physicians during that time. Illustrations and models of tumors, disorders in newborn babies and various skin diseases adorned the walls and display cases. After the exhibition, I realized just how far medicine has come from the days with little sedation and crude instrumentation, to an era of powerfully complex drugs and microscopically precise surgical incisions performed by exquisite machinery.
As I visited the museum with my seminar class, we discussed how the exhibition informed our understanding of the perilous journey medicine has taken. The museum visit left us pondering how future generations will characterize our attempts to treat diseases. During a heated class discussion, some students remained skeptical about the museum’s success in offering anything special to an audience outside the field of medicine. But the consensus of the group was that the museum’s efforts to showcase these items should be judged as a highly commendable initiative to evoke the success of medicinal practice overall. Seeing the tumors of patients on display, one can understand what this disease meant to someone in 18th century: they did not have proper treatment, and, even worse, no decent way to hide the disease from the rest of the world. The museum offers many such examples that led us to recognize how modern science has eased and improved the life of man.
Hamlet : Sein oder Nicht Sein, das ist die Frage
Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and yet most difficult tragedies to perform. The reason for this difficulty is the complexity of Hamlet’s character. Often the actors choose one or more idiosyncrasies of character and focus on this, while ignoring the humor and cunning of Hamlet. I once watched a Hamlet who constantly desired to kill his uncle and expressed it through an exaggerated form of anger. Although it is true that Hamlet’s anger towards his uncle Claudius is a key element in the play, an overbearing focus on this can overshadow some other important aspects. Fortunately, German actor Lars Eidinger’s Hamlet had none of these problems in the play that was beautifully performed at the Schaubühne in Berlin on 23rd March (directed by Thomas Ostermeier). In what follows, I will focus on how educational this performance was in showing Hamlet’s character as perhaps Shakespeare would have wanted it to be.
The performance began with the funeral of Hamlet’s father, with all actors on stage attending the event in a comical manner. As they moved around eccentrically on stage, the backdrop showed close-ups of the actors’ facial expressions through a camera which Hamlet was holding. Simultaneously, we heard Hamlet echoing ‘To be or not to be’: ‘Sein oder Nichtsein’. The action then moved onto Gertrude’s marriage and then gradually it focused on Hamlet’s troubled disposition. We see Hamlet as a young man who is suffering from the loss of his father, and grieving over his mother’s marriage with his uncle which has taken place too quickly after his father’s death. Hamlet’s response to the whole situation remains aggressive, yet also very tactful. Hamlet suffers from hallucinatory moments in which he tries to rationalize his grief, yet amidst all this he remains aware of the fact that he has to take revenge for his father’s murder.
Here I must appreciate the director’s effort to give the play a Freudian reading, since the lady who plays Gertrude also plays Hamlet’s lover Ophelia. The costume change between the mother and the lover takes place in front of the audience, even though Hamlet’s and other actors’ responses to both women remain the same. This took me back to our Psychoanalysis Course with ECLA of Bard faculty member Frank Ruda, where we constantly encounter Freud’s claim about the Oedipus complex. According to Freud, we all suffer separation from our mothers and Hamlet’s grief is also very much centered on this. He feels betrayed by his mother’s marriage with Claudius, as evident in Act 4, when Hamlet seizes her tightly and exclaims ‘Frailty, thy name is woman.’ Hamlet’s failed attempt to love his mother unconditionally leaves him divided and conflicted. The performance brought out this aspect by showing a Hamlet who is disgusted and hurt by his mother’s actions.
I really enjoyed the performance since it brings out the element of the Oedipus complex very strongly and mixes it very delicately with some oddly humorous moments in the play. For example, there is a point when Hamlet questions whether he has wronged Laertes, and at this moment Hamlet comes down in the audience along with his microphone and questions the audience as if he were in a quiz show. The audience and actor interaction here was brilliant and it reminded me of my experience at the Globe Theatre in London, when we were constantly advised to keep our interaction with the audience alive. It was indeed one of Shakespeare’s aims to have the actors interact with the audience as much as they can, so that the character is understood like a real life person.
Not only was the performance at the Schaubühne joyful, it also gave me a chance to see one of the stars of Hollywood, Geoffrey Rush, up-close. The play will be performed again in May, and I highly recommend everyone to watch it. It runs with French and English surtitles.
Finding my Genius
The trip to Weimar was literally one of the ‘Aha’ moments in my life. This is how Weimar happened; a day before we actually had to leave, I spent the whole day reading Galileo for a class. With my head drowned in my books I wondered to myself if I would ever get to spend some time with myself. Often one is able to discover many things about oneself while travelling. After a whole day of classes I came back to my room, dreading more work for the weekend. Then I read an email offering a free ticket to Weimar with the group that was travelling the next day.
And so it happened. I took that ticket and in an hour I booked a room in a somewhat nice youth hostel in Weimar. Despite having found a bed right next to a woman who snored all night long and the fact that the sheets stank very badly, my Weimar trip is definitely one of my most memorable excursions.
It was in Weimar where I came to realize that one can find or refine one’s genius at any given point in their life. And love seems to play a very important role in finding one’s ‘genius’. This dawned upon me as we visited Goethe’s house and his collection. Goethe, who would now be labeled as a polymath and a very effective politician of his days, wrote extensively on the topic of genius and how one can acquire it as one goes through life. His educational philosophy largely focuses on approaching various and diverse ranges of knowledge and fields. Goethe himself was deeply interested in variety of languages and he even attempted to learn Arabic. His interest in science, anatomy and botany can be seen through his beautiful gardens. The range of his interests and depth only increased his ability to produce knowledge that still informs us about variety of human dilemmas, from politics to metaphysics.
This genius of Goethe was not simply a result of his educational pursuits, but in addition, his love affairs affected the way he crafted his work and developed a certain position in society. Goethe’s most famous lover was Charlotte von Stein, a married woman and a mother of seven children. She came from an underprivileged background and they had a live-in relationship for twelve years. One could argue that Goethe’s unconventional behavior was seen badly, yet Goethe established the fact that when one loves someone, one has to completely disregard status, race, and ethnicity – rather, love is an unexplainable notion, and sometimes it just is. For Goethe, love had the power to reveal his true self to himself, Frau Von Stein reflected to Goethe, his deepest and darkest corners of his soul. In a poem addressed to Frau Stein, Goethe writes,
You knew every feature of my being,
Saw the purest tremor of each nerve,
With a single glance you could read me,
Hard as I am for mortal eye to pierce:
You brought calm to my heated blood,
Guiding my wild and wandering course,
And in your arms, an angel’s arms, I could
Rest as my ravaged heart was restored.
You bound your lover fast with magic ease,
And made many a day pass gloriously.
For many modern readers, this phenomenon probably would not strike as something which would be a proof for genius, but in my view, it really shows us the vastness of Goethe’s mind.
For myself, at ECLA perhaps, I live in a constant pursuit of finding my own ‘genius’. And somewhere in my soul, I am aware that it goes hand in hand with relationships one develops over the period of a lifetime.
Teaching Plato in Palestine
Carlos Fraenkel is Associate Professor at McGill University, jointly appointed in the Departments of Philosophy and Jewish Studies. At the beginning of March, he came to ECLA of Bard to talk about his new book and project: “Teaching Plato in Palestine.” The book is based on his experimental method of teaching philosophy to five different communities across the world (Palestinian, Islamic, Hasidic, Afro-Brazilian and Mohawk).
Prof. Fraenkel started his lecture with a very inspiring anecdote from his own life. He recounted how, during his undergraduate years, he traveled to Egypt in order to study Arabic. While he was living there, he became friends with Egyptian Muslims and every evening around the dinner table they would discuss their different backgrounds and value systems. On every occasion, Fraenkel tried to defend his secular modern values, which disproved of the existence of an afterlife, while his Muslim friends believed in life after death. They all debated the existence of God and the supporting evidence. These discussions led both parties to defend and advocate their distinct value systems even stronger, which prompted a subtle conclusion in Fraenkel’s mind: this mode of debating and arguing was basically very beneficial, since it gave all the participants a chance to defend their beliefs and, in doing so, they were fortifying the underlying reasons.
This conclusion led Fraenkel to dig deeper into the tradition of debate that existed during the Middle Ages. His research not only explored Western scholarship, but also investigated how Muslim philosophers and scholars dealt with the concept of debate. Fraenkel gave us the example of Al-Ghazali, a Muslim scholar from the 11th century who constantly wrote on the subject of Taqleed. “Taqleed” means the value system one adopts by default, due to one’s upbringing and education. For Al-Ghazali and Fraenkel, Taqleed may come in the way of accepting and even tolerating the views of the other. Fraenkel shared many anecdotes from the times of the Muslim rule in Europe, when debates and arguments were organized between scholars from different religions in order to encourage people to become more tolerant toward the ideas of the others.
The core reason behind arguing and defending one’s own religious ideas was to encourage people to think more about what they themselves believed in. This way of arguing helped people consolidate their own belief system outside the blind following of the culture and religion they were brought up in. Fraenkel then described the project that he launched in Brazil and then in Palestine following the same line of thought. In these communities, he introduced high school students to Platonic texts, in order to help them think and argue in a larger framework, outside their own belief systems. According to Fraenkel, his teaching experience at a Palestinian university in East Jerusalem was very fruitful in starting a debate between Israelis and Palestinians regarding their long-held beliefs and ideas.
The lecture ended on a merry note by encouraging the audience to constantly meditate on their own ideas, in order to have good arguments in their defense when the occasion arises.
Lorraine Daston is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin and Visiting Professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Her expertise lies within the history and philosophy of science. On 28th February 2013, Prof. Daston came to ECLA of Bard to give a lecture on “Observation, Time, and Scientific Experience in Early Modern Europe”.
Attending Lorraine Daston’s lecture was extremely enlightening, as she has a great command of this subject and her lecture prompted an altogether fresh understanding of scientific development during the 16thand 17th centuries. Throughout her talk, Daston had a firm disposition and was beaming with clarity of purpose. She started her lecture by talking about the reasons which led her to initiate her research into the history of observation in early modern Europe. According to Daston, many scholars have investigated the history of the scientific revolution, but her research pays particular attention to the methods and procedures developed for scientific logic during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Daston explained to the audience how observation started out in the households of illiterate peasants or on ships at sea and then evolved to become a learned experience and a part of university curriculum. It was rather surprising to hear this, since, as a modern audience, our relation to science is entirely based on empirical evidence. But, as Daston pointed out, empirical knowledge was considered merely conjectural knowledge at the time, due to the lack of sophisticated methods of inquiry. Beginning with the 16th century, a gradual shift took place in the status of science, from mere superstition to an authentic explanation of the world around. This shift occurred as an outcome of two phenomena: first, the increasing number of voyages to other territories became an incentive to develop navigation and travelling skills; second, there was a growing desire among scholars to establish the principles of the world with a degree of certainty.
In order to better illustrate her claims, Daston shared with us two very interesting observational methods. The first method was applied in weather observation. The 17th century natural philosopher Robert Boyle devised weather questionnaires, took detailed notes of all the changes in weather and would often send out travelers to get information for him. Methods like these facilitated data collection from various sources and gradually, through amassing all this data, scientists started to draw conclusions about weather. The second method involved sketching and drawing – a modern equivalent of it would be a video recording of an organism during its growth. Similarly, this method allowed observation of the evolution of a plant, which enabled scientists to fully grasp the nature of the plant and its growth mechanism. One interesting and important fact about these 16th century laboratories was the role played by household servants. The scientists often employed servants in order to carry out various experiments, something analogous to the tasks of modern-day postgraduate students.
Daston finished her lecture by outlining the financial difficulties scientists faced in the early modern period. She then answered several questions from the audience, giving us further details about the historical and philosophical context of the development of scientific knowledge. As a female student watching a venerable and established academic woman, I was greatly motivated by this lecture and I aspire to be someone like Lorraine Daston one day.
Steinbeck and Spinoza
When I last went back home, I experienced something quite unique. My parents, having grown older, are now looking forward to an altogether different period in their lives. All my siblings, having settled in different parts of the world, have left the house rather empty. It was once a house where the five of us used to shout, cry, play, laugh and sing at the top of our lungs. During the past five to six years, my siblings have left to other places, as they got married, found jobs and had children. Despite all the excitement, I found this particular visit home to be punctuated by their absence, as they were all heartily engaged in grown-up affairs. I, being the only single and student child of my parents, found myself attempting to escape this somewhat cold reality in a corner of our living room with a book. I picked up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. The novel more or less helped me see myself and my siblings in perspective, as it sheds light on families growing geographically and emotionally distant. The novel unfolds the story of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and how they discover and find their paths in life across three generations. However, more intriguing was the idea of good and evil, which resonates throughout the novel through different characters.
A lot has been written and discussed about Steinbeck’s attempt to draw a certain conclusion about this theme. According to Steinbeck, each one of us is presented with the choice to become either a good or evil person. He argues throughout the novel that nobody is born evil, it is a matter of choice. This idea is articulated in his incorporation of a concept from the Bible—Timshel, meaning one may. In East of Eden, good and evil are polarized, and we encounter people who are either completely good or completely evil. One such example of evil is Cathy Ames, a woman who sets her own house on fire, thereby burning her own parents. This is a perfect instance of a character that is born into a perfectly stable and lovely household, but elects to do evil.
Steinbeck focuses on human beings determined to follow this particular course since early on in their lives. All the characters in the novel develop the instinct to differentiate between good and evil in their childhood, and they form a behavioral pattern which develops further into a firm constitution of either pure evilness or goodness. Till the very end of the book, Caleb, one of the main characters, constantly moves back and forth thinking that his evilness was injected into him. He studies his father’s behavior and, interestingly enough, he is the son of Cathy, who is a prostitute in a neighboring town .Yet, Steinbeck argues that our genes do not determine our fate and the choice between good and evil is exclusively ours. And we make this choice as individuals growing up; we choose to live either by doing good deeds or by spreading evil around us. This choice rules the rest of our lives.
The notion of personal self-determination is just such a topic raised in the writings of Spinoza, particularly concerning his theory of good and evil, with which I have gotten acquainted in the courses here at ECLA of Bard. Spinoza argues that good and evil are just modes of thinking, as opposed to actually existing in the physical world. In a perfectly Spinozian world, good and evil are two different ways of thinking that an ordinary individual would use to label and define a certain situation, person or concept. Spinoza’s response to Steinbeck’s characterization of personalities as evil and good would be that Steinbeck had simply compared his characters’ behaviors among themselves and labeled them as either good or evil. For Spinoza, there is no real distinction between good and evil. Unlike in Steinbeck, it is not a path that we choose, it is a way of thinking about our own actions and how others perceive us. It is simply a way of judging human situations. For Spinoza, reality lies beyond good and evil.
In Steinbeck’s book, we hear him actually passing judgments on how certain people choose their paths in this world. It seems to me that, whereas Spinoza considers all good and evil actions to be relative to us, he fails to take into account that certain actions are intrinsically harmful. This might be based on my too strict reading of Spinoza. However, Steinbeck’s account of human behavior informed me a lot more about how we as human beings are completely individual in our choices—regardless of the actions and lives of our forefathers. Our lives are a direct product of how we choose to live them and how we choose to affect others around us.
In 2010, I received my BS in Economics from the Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, Pakistan. After graduation, I enrolled in ECLA of Bard’s Academy Year to further my studies in philosophy. I was so engaged with academics at ECLA that I never quite had the time to reconnect back with Kinnaird. Due to this lack of introspection, I always spoke about my undergraduate experience rather absent-mindedly, emphasizing its colonial history rather than sharing my personal connection to it with others. That was until I unearthed some photographs that chronicled my experiences during that time. Revisiting these images reminded me of my struggling years at Kinnaird, where I learnt to fully speak my heart and mind. I spent four years at Kinnaird, playing various roles sometimes in the theatre and at times outside of it.
I majored in Economics, but my passion remained with the stage. I recruited four close friends who shared my love for drama, and we stole away to our secret hiding places to read Shakespeare aloud. The school’s Anglican staff house, which hosts visiting faculty from abroad and from other parts of Pakistan, became our refuge.
Beginning my college acting career in my first semester, I auditioned for the annual play production. From that point onwards, I participated in all the annual plays conducted at Kinnaird. The significance of these productions extends beyond my personal investment and our campus walls. For the greater Lahore community, they were celebrated and well-attended events. Though the 86-year old auditorium could host 400 guests, the demand for college-produced drama exceeded the limits of our theatre—to the disappointment of many. From rehearsals to the opening night, the theatre made a lasting impression on me. And it is because of this dramatic education that I cannot look back upon my experience at Kinnaird without placing myself in the midst of Sartre’s Huis Clos or Shakespeare’sMidsummer Night’s Dream.
My experience in theatre was not the only place which helped me develop an independent voice. The college student union became a platform for me to fully embrace my individuality. In my final year, I contested the Head Girl of the college. The Head Girl is the president of the Student Council, which is an elect body representing all the students on campus. Among 4000 women, I won the elections and to this date the victory remains for me a constant landmark of success and of my ability to lead people. The Student Council went through one of the most difficult periods during my Head-Girlship. Certain administrative changes took place which led to a severe strife between the faculty and administration. Although I displeased many, I weathered the storm quite successfully.
Yet, all my success as an actor and as Head Girl was only possible due to Kinnaird’s congenial environment. Since it is exclusively a girls’ college, the natural competition that accompanies co-ed schools was unknown to me. The masculine world was foreign and often romanticized by us. My friends and I would talk endlessly about our romances under the thick oak trees. Never were we told that we are less than any man or superior to him. It was the difference between men and women that was always appreciated. Now that we have left college we often laugh at what romantic views we had about men – especially about European men. We all came from a variety of economic backgrounds, but we appreciated the differences about each other. This led us to independently craft our own personalities and characters. Kinnaird will always be a place that I can call my second home in Pakistan.
Postcard from Pakistan
Pakistan is a country of sweet contradictions and extremes, from the Himalayas to the Indus River. Such is my experience of living in this country. I come from the city of Lahore, which shares borders with India. Lahore is Pakistan’s cultural capital and is the second largest city in terms of population. The theatre, television, cinema, literature and the beautiful colonial and Mughal architecture in Lahore are all of historical importance. Winter is mild, with January slightly chillier, yet still one of the most pleasant months of the year. The golden sunny days invite people to sit outside on their lawns or in parks, often enjoying winter with barbecues and teas.
This is also when the wedding season kicks in every single year. Because of the scorching heat in summer, people wait for winter to organize their weddings. On more than one occasion, my friends from the West have questioned the traditional institution of marriage in my country. I am often asked: ‘Do the bride and the groom know each other before they get married?,’ ‘Are women allowed to choose their own grooms or are they involved in this decision at all?.’ Of course I cannot answer on behalf of the 180 million people living in Pakistan and each marriage has its own framework. But what I prefer to highlight is the social importance of a wedding ceremony in Pakistani society. Weddings are an occasion on which political debates, social arguments and family disputes are discussed and settled. On our weddings we meet the extended family, sing songs, dance to Bollywood music, laugh at our politicians, fight over political beliefs, and share various conspiracy theories, while aged aunties inquire about unmarried people in the family.
On a recent wedding I overheard one of my distant aunts talking about me secretly to another aunt:‘She must be having an affair with a Westerner.’ A distant cousin who had studied Medicine in the UK was also present. He looked around condescendingly at all his Pakistani loud relatives and seemed least interested. All the women with daughters of marriageable age hovered around the young doctor as if he were Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. The wedding faded away after the bride and groom had left. But people stayed on, sipping Kashmiri Chai (Tea) with Carrot Halwa. Men gathered around in a corner discussing politics. Some middle-aged men walked out of that discussion and joined the tables where the women were sitting. Somebody asked the most pernicious question of the day: ‘What did the bride’s family give to the groom’s family?.’ One of my aunts provided the exact figure spent on gifts — it seemed a lot. This gave everybody enough evidence to make guesses on the bride’s family’s source of income. ‘One briefcase, ji, one briefcase’ shouted one of the guests. The term ‘briefcase’ is often used in Pakistan to suggest bribery which has either been given or taken in the form of a briefcase full of money. The people at the table agreed. The discussion again turned to the political situation. This time they discussed the new political program that focuses on the India-Pakistan relationship. One of my uncles discredited the Indian government, completely forgetting that half an hour ago his daughter had performed one of the latest Indian songs beautifully. In fact, the whole wedding hall was still under the spell of those dances and songs played during the ceremony.
Amidst all this sat I, wondering and thinking about my life at ECLA in Berlin, about my seminars, the people I see in the streets and my friends. It seems difficult to join these two worlds, but each has something unique to offer. Pakistan is intense, and living here requires explicitly saying what one thinks and feels with everyone around. The society’s core belief lies in human contact, both emotionally and physically. You feel the warmth and closeness even during a chaotic wedding or a nasty political situation. And on the other side of the world lies Berlin, quiet and silent — yet in its silence grows my mind and heart that yearn for truth.
All work and no play
Every year at ECLA of Bard, sporting fever is roused by the Residential Life Coordinator, Zoltan Helmich. Although the college is located in the quiet and calm neighborhood of Pankow, Zoltan, along with other sport enthusiasts, manage to add some fun and games to liven things up. Since the beginning of the term at ECLA of Bard, two badminton tournaments and several soccer matches have been organized.
The motivation for sporting activities increases as students spend most of their time reading and writing in the dorms. In early autumn and in spring, soccer becomes a medium for many to unleash their energy, and it really helps the students feel upbeat and refreshed. Not only can students participate in various sporting activities on campus, but they also have free access to a gym and sports center in the neighborhood called SPOK. At SPOK students can use the indoor and outdoor halls for all kinds of sports.
Apart from physical sports, students are often seen busy playing chess with Zoltan in the dorms or in the student center. Although no formal chess match or competition has ever been organized, all kinds of players are invited to borrow the chess board and test their chess-playing abilities. In the yesteryears, the chess board always travelled to the various excursions that were organized for students.
This is my second year at ECLA of Bard and I have not managed to excel at any specific sport so far, but my physical health has only improved and flourished. During the harsh winter, sauna and gym facilities come to the ultimate rescue after long hours of thinking and writing. Sporting activities at ECLA help students shake off routine and mental sluggishness, increasing their ability to think and argue better.
The American Academy in Berlin is situated in Wannsee. It was established in 1994 in order to promote better understanding between the people of Germany and United States. Scholars and fellows are invited every year to the Hans Arnhold Centre of the American Academy to study, learn and give lectures on various issues that concern both countries. The building of the Academy faces a beautiful lake and, in being away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it provides the necessary peace of mind for intellectual activities.
On November 15th, the second-year BA students visited the American Academy for a seminar on Hegel. As part of the core course on Property, we dealt with excerpts from Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Students from ECLA of Bard were invited to attend a seminar led by the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, Dean Moyar. The seminar discussion was based on Dean Moyar’s work on Hegel calledRealizing Morality in Hegel’s Unified Account of Practical Rationality.
Two professors from ECLA of Bard also participated in the discussion. Various aspects of Hegel’s political philosophy were discussed and clarified. Moyar dealt with issues related to identity, selfhood, marriage and equality in Hegel. Students and faculty members asked various questions and the discussion became even more interesting when somebody brought in Fichte and Kant into the picture. The seminar cleared several important debates that rest within Hegel’s text on property and ownership. Moyar facilitated us with a copy of his article on the idea of freedom in Fichte, Kant and Hegel. The seminar lasted for ninety minutes and was accompanied by hot tea and delicious chocolate cookies.
I completed the Academy Year programme at the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA) in the summer of 2011. This fall, I returned to ECLA for the BA program. During the whole recent year, I worked with a theatre group and also taught theatre skills back home in Pakistan. Working in the theatre industry required long hours of physical labour, and my working hours extended to twelve hours a day. My only relaxation remained savouring my days at ECLA. Every night, as I would lie down after an extremely fatiguing day, I would look back to the walks taken in Pankow, to the exciting essay-writing process, and – of course! – to the friends that I had discovered in Berlin. Although I was not physically present at ECLA, I remained deeply connected to it.
My reason for coming back to ECLA was greatly determined by the desire to strengthen my foundation in humanities. My year in the theatre industry helped me discover my passion for teaching children philosophy and religion through the medium of performing arts. I knew that ECLA’s curriculum and unassuming environment would help me acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.
During the entirety of last year, ECLA went through a structural change and it is now one of the many satellite colleges affiliated with Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Apparently, many administrative changes have taken place: Bard students have come to ECLA for a semester or a whole year, increasing the number of students on campus; a student centre along with a writing centre have added to the number of structures on campus; various plans have been introduced as an effort to gradually expand ECLA.
Despite these expansive measures, ECLA has retained its intimate and intellectually stimulating environment. When I came back to ECLA last month, I felt as if I had returned home. I grew up in a large intimate family and my father’s intellectual discussions helped us become distinct from one other. Despite our differences, my parents taught us to love each other and examine our own behaviours very carefully. The rigorous academic life at ECLA and the intense residential life resonate a lot with my childhood back home in Pakistan.
Here at ECLA, I spend most of my days relishing my French and German classes, writing and thinking critically, and reading Montaigne and Hegel. I feel that the residential life’s most interesting aspect is sharing common spaces with people from all over the world. In this process of sharing and living together, I have always found friends from different corners of the world. Living on-campus can be very intense for some, but the intensity has always helped me understand the diversity of human nature. This experience makes me contemplate, and creates a world removed from a specific culture, nationality, and tradition. Finally, it allows me to form my own truth and grooms my ability to simultaneously love and judge.
Globe and Mrs. Wilson
Susannah Harris Wilson finished her graduate studies in Drama at Stanford University in the summer of 1960. After finishing her degree, when Susannah began looking for a job, someone shared with her a listing for an opportunity in Pakistan. The principal of a liberal arts college, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, was looking for a person to help with the schools’ theatre department.
Susannah took the big leap and in the autumn of 1960 she travelled to Lahore, Pakistan. What was to be a four-month tour became the most memorable four years of Susannah’s life. Lahore was a city rich in arts and culture and Susannah enjoyed and greatly supported the theatre, arts and music scene of the city. She made many different friends; “[a] second family and home,” she still claims. Her production of Amadeus there is still widely remembered.
There were two things that inspired her greatly about Pakistan: the women and the Pakistani sense of humor. Susannah often says that she admired the strength of Pakistani women and that she was always taken by their wit and the ability of Pakistanis in general to laugh at themselves — even when going through the worst of times politically and socially.
In 2007 when I was a sophomore at Kinnaird College, I met her for the first time. I worked with Susannah on Shakespearian Rags, a performance which consisted of seven different scenes from seven different Shakespearian plays performed in seven different settings. Susannah and I have remained in touch since that time.
In February 2011 when I was at ECLA, Susannah called me from Oxford, where she lives now. She told me very briefly about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s festival Globe to Globe 2012. The Globe Theater had invited countries from all over the world to perform Shakespeare in their own language while staying true to the text and meaning of the play.
She had taken up this project for Pakistan and had asked a senior Pakistani TV/Stage Director to direct the play. She herself remained the producer; managing finances and other logistics of the play. She asked me if I would like to join the production after my Academy Year was over. At that time, I was walking around with an admissions offer from a graduate school in the UK, but with no money to fund the education.
I kept hoping to start graduate school by October, but fate had something else written for me: I found no money for my graduate school and returned to Pakistan in a state of uncertainty. Susannah called me and emailed me. She encouraged me to start appearing at the rehearsals which had already started in April. Amongst a cast of 12 members, I was to play a dancer and also be the Production Manager for the play. Gradually the play became an important part of my life.
Pakistan’s submission will be The Taming of the Shrew. As Susannah puts it, “nobody could have done Taming of the Shrew better than Pakistanis; it is a tale of an educated, stubborn woman who would only settle down for a clever and chivalrous man, a story of female femininity and the power which lies in it and last but not least a story of servants and multiple social layers of society.”
Susannah urged the translators to not portray the protagonist, Katharina, as beaten and miserable; rather she should be a figure who finds strength in her womanhood. As a Pakistani woman, the play constantly prompts me to learn and unlearn my very own tailor-made concept of male-female relationships.
Katharina (Kiran in Urdu) from The Taming of the Shrew faces the same conflicts that a contemporary educated Pakistani woman goes through. At the end of the play she arrays herself like a shy traditional bride yet is portrayed as having formed a considered judgment of the partner with whom she will spend her life, and of the situation she finds herself in.
Our production of the play is full of Persian and Urdu classical music and dance and depicts Lahore as the cultural equivalent of Padua, a center of education and learning. The play has educational value, as it places great emphasis on the arts as a medium of education and also conveys that the arts can spiritually and emotionally purify a human being, while at they also sharpen the mind and thinking process.
This experience has led me to rethink my educational plans. I have decided not to apply to graduate school to study what I had intended to before, philosophy and public policy. Instead, my involvement with this project, combined with my full-time job at a teacher’s training institute, has urged me to look into the field of Arts Education.
I now plan to study Arts Education, focusing on how using folk arts as a pedagogical tool can enhance creative and critical thinking in the educational system in Pakistan.
Working on this production of The Taming of the Shrew allowed me to meet new friends and also participate in an exciting travel experience. The play will be staged at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in May 2012, followed by performances at Said Business School and Oxford University.
If a painting is presented to two people, each of them would probably see something different in it. They might even disagree about what they see to the point of drawing daggers. Art involves the viewer in a very unique way and the experience of looking at something and feeling something is individual. As we study Renaissance art this term, we look at how objective or subjective this art is, by analyzing the different methods of drawing used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci over the course of history.
ECLA invited Dr. Frank Fehrenbach, who is currently living in Italy, on sabbatical leave from Harvard University, to give a lecture on basic questions related to Renaissance art. His lecture focused on various aspects of Leonardo’s art.
He started his lecture by describing the 16th century art period as a “revolution within a revolution.” He went on to describe that the revolution of three-dimensional art had started during the 13th and 14thcenturies – the early Renaissance period during which artists began depicting images in a more human and real way. The 16th century was a step further in the direction of naturalism and realism.
The beauty of 16th century art lay in the way it was painted to involve the viewer in an extremely inclusive experience. It defined the methodology of art and influenced later art. We would now take techniques of perspective as a given in modern art, in the same the way we take the solar system for granted, but at the time when this technique was discovered, it was revolutionary.
Leonardo, as Dr. Fehrenbach put it, changed the meaning of reality and ‘natural’. He started his study of art from the inside of the object and went on to paint the outside as well. Dr. Fehrenbech showed the drawings Leonardo had done in preparation for his work and explained how those drawings showed the inner workings of his mind. He showed us how the drawing clearly dealt with each and every minute detail of the work with the intention of showing the very way the actual thing would be. In as many words, Leonardo made people see the reality for what it was and the way he viewed it. In his work, there is a play with the idea of objectivity and subjectivity.
Dr. Fehrenbech also very clearly laid out the autobiography of Leonardo and linked it to his process of creating works of art. It was a surprise for me to know that as a child Leonardo dropped out of high school, which would never allow him to learn Latin, Greek, and Mathematics. Yet, his genius was indubitable when it came to creating highly technical equipment for war or for the city.
He also identified himself as an engineer and not as an artist in a letter written to a ruler of that time, when offering his services to him. Leonardo produced unlimited works of art during a very short period of time, but he embraced his artistic side in the most difficult and psychologically depressing periods of his life. When he struggled most with his work, he produced the best art known to mankind.
Dr. Fehrenbach’s lecture highlighted some of the most important aspects of Leonardo’s art techniques and the message to take home was: what exactly is reality and nature in Leonardo da Vinci’s view?
We spent the whole of last term talking about love and the many different ways it strikes us. Coming from the East, I was introduced to a whole different set of values associated with love and its manifestations. A very basic observation is that in Eastern cultures when people fall in love, they avoid public displays of affection whereas in the West these displays are a norm which strengthens the bond between two people. My close study of love in the Western tradition made me see the differences between the West and the Orient in the political, social and economic sphere.
C.S. Lewis talks about four different kinds of love in his book The Four Loves. By closely reading the text along with Plato’sSymposium, one understands that in the Western tradition love is not only a source for sexual mating between two lovers but it is also a tool used for transcendent thought. A very big misconception which rests in the Eastern tradition about Western cultures is that relationships in Western cultures have lost their value because of the presence of pornographic media. But one is pleasantly surprised to read about the sacred concept of love present in Western literature.
Love, as described by C. S. Lewis, can exist between friends, acquaintances, and lovers. It can also exist in the form of ‘agape’. Agape, or Charity, is practiced by human beings for the love that people have for God. The ultimate message of Christianity is to love and serve your life by helping each other.
The question which a Saracen or a non-Westerner asks while living in present day modern society is, where do you see or feel this kind of love that is being advocated in the Bible and some ancient texts. Do people actually look for transcendence when they fall in love? What effect does this kind of love have on the modern day Western liberal democracies? The answer to these questions can be a long and hard one but on some investigation I was able to craft a response, which satisfied me and hopefully will do some justice for my readers as well.
The contribution of Western societies in the field of knowledge has been very significant; one of the most distinguishing contributions has been the methodology of research, which was unknown to the world. Although the ancients contributed a lot in various fields, their ways of conducting research were not very well refined. Research techniques were something which mankind still had to discover and establish.
Research as a practice, requires the subject to study the object in such great detail that he has to be immersed in it to find out in great depth what that object is and what value it holds in the modern world. This practice then gives birth to new ideas emerging from the old one established. It is in the same way that Copernicus was able to refine the then known information existing in the world.
The point that I made at the very beginning of this article was that love and research are very closely connected. The concept of love asks you to honestly and sincerely dwell on something, to get married to it and devote your life to it. This kind of devotion not only promises transcendence, which students and professors together experience in universities and learning centres in the West, but also plays a huge role in the development of the society.
An important factor to note here is that although Western civilization has achieved remarkable success in the area of knowledge, they paid a very big cost for it — the cost of family life. The life of a Westerner is so fast-paced that it is impossible at times for him or her to acquire a normal balanced family life.
Often times, my Westerner friends would even laugh at the concept of me planning my marriage, while I should be only focused on my career and academics. I admit that my marriage or family responsibilities change the dynamics of life, but the important question to ask is, how happy will I be with all the important qualifications and career moves? Is it not important to have human beings as your prime motivation for success in your life? This is something that Eastern societies do not miss: Family.
The Eastern lifestyle promises a lot of comfort and genuine love, which families and communities enjoy within them. The concept of love in the Eastern tradition does not consist only of what comes from the Islamic tradition. Chinese and Indian traditions have also played a huge role in shaping that concept. It goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss the details of love as a metaphysical or social concept within each of these traditions.
But one thing that Eastern societies have achieved is a great place for human relationships and bonding. Something that is considered a waste of time in the West, would be considered mere selfishness in the East. My friend Oumaima Gannouni would be witness to this dichotomy. In the East, everyone has time for everyone. Neighbors, family members, parents, and siblings – all are overflowing with love and support. This network of support and love actually plays a very big role in shaping healthy minds and bodies.
Stable marriages breed stable souls. It is a divine comedy that although you find these minds in Eastern societies, the lack of opportunities and infrastructure does not give them an opportunity to outshine. Part of the reason why there are fewer opportunities in the East is because people lack a sense of proportion when it comes to emotional ties, which then leads to easy going behaviors and less efficiency. Moderately governed emotional ties actually breed very useful minds, which then are transported to the West in the form of a brain drain.
The two different forms of love that govern the world, contribute in different ways. It is now important for social psychologists and philosophers from both worlds to sit down and think about various ways to cut down the cost which development has brought in the Western world. The world would be a Utopia the day that both elements could co-exist simultaneously in the East and the West.
Think aloud or debate
he art of speaking is hard to master.
I began my debating career almost three years ago in Pakistan. Slowly and gradually I climbed the ladder of public speaking. It was right after I had achieved a big break in debating that I came to Berlin and found myself in one of ECLA’s seminars, dumbfounded and numb. The article below will reveal a lot of the things I discovered speaking and expressing myself in the seminars and as I started debating with the Berlin Debating Union.
ECLA seminars demanded extreme honesty on extremely difficult and demanding texts. Not only was seminar participation focused on your input about a certain text but other people’s ideas and questions instigated one to participate. It took me some time to understand the actual meaning of this participation and I struggled to speak my heart and mind about philosophers I esteemed. I was so scared having never meddled with them so casually before.
I was also learning what it meant to engage with a literary idea with all your heart and soul. The peer pressure was humungous. Initially everybody noticed your way of speaking, what you had to say and the recurrent theme in your questions and ideas. In close quarters, everyone discussed each other’s way of speaking. Some people were permanent favorites and others marred for good.
I questioned my own ability to talk and present something in public. Back home, I had received a celebrity status in my own college for my talents in oratory delivery. But who knew that an ECLA seminar would be just a lot more than speaking and presenting your ideas. As I was struggling to acquire a firm grip of this methodology I came across the Berlin Debating Union and I started debating with a group of people passionate about world affairs and debating itself.
It was a classic case of going from theory to practice. Where in a seminar I was learning to speak from my heart, in parliamentary debates I changed my approach towards speaking and I brought the two worlds together, to much benefit.
Every Tuesday night before the motion I stood. Even now as I stand, saying “This house believes that . . .”, I force myself not to just reproduce what I read in the Economist. Instead, I do what we all do in ECLA seminars: emotionally, spiritually, and rationally associate with the text.
In the beginning this resulted in me being unable to deliver a speech during several debate sessions, as I was trying to focus very hard on what the topic meant for me. But as time passed and as my fellow debater friends have witnessed, my debating skills have become much more refined and sophisticated.
As I travelled to attend some debating tournaments, I saw what superficial and bad treatment scores of debaters gave to the topic at hand. Whatever they had learned through bits and pieces of news, they would puke out in the seven minutes they would get in the debating match. The seminars at ECLA had helped me so much, as I was passionately able to associate myself with what I was speaking. Not only that, I was able to deeply analyze a topic which remains the prime concern of any good debate.
The challenge that I faced in the form of preparing for ECLA seminars helped not only in getting reasonable grades, but also helped me in refining my thought process and the understanding of the subject matter as a whole.
One of the biggest attractions of the academy year program is the Florence trip, which takes place every year before the spring term starts. The trip to Florence promises a very extensive education on Renaissance art and architecture interspersed with a glimpse of the political and historical ramifications of those works of art.
When I came to ECLA, students who had attended the program the previous year fed me their anecdotes about what Florence was like and what they did. Nothing of that reappeared except for the physical structure of the city itself.
The Florence trip is a cut out of ECLA’s usual time frame. It places you in another framework altogether — with different parameters of academics and relationships. During the one week that I spent in Florence along with 30 other students and professors, I strongly felt the changing dynamics of our relationships with each other and with knowledge.
For the first two terms, we studied the meaning of justice and what Socratic education is like. We also looked very deeply into how we understand the notions of love and passion. The last string in the series of knowledge was to see how art and architecture bring forth the complete understanding of what knowledge is and how we as human beings relate to it.
In trying to understand the creations of Ghiberti, Donatello, Raphael, and so many more artists and architects we closely observed the creation of knowledge and its manifestations in great pieces of art. With aching feet we stood with art historians and our professors, trying to absorb the meaning of creation, a process that will in turn affect our ability to create something in the world in which we operate today.
My dire question as to whether the philosophical training that we receive at ECLA is useful or not was also gradually answered. In a candid discussion with Peter Hajnal and Jakob Dreyer, we all agreed that philosophical education enhances peoples’ ability to contribute to the world. Philosophical education does not just consist of some big ideas that appeal to us on the basis of their popularity. Rather, it helps us to create by providing us with foundational ideas, just as philosophical ideas were the foundations of creation in the Renaissance. On a lighter side, during the Florence trip, we already began to see new musicians cropping up. TheWaldstrasse Boys made progress on their new albums and made the trip ever so joyful.
Not only did this trip help me engage with the creation of knowledge in such a genuine and honest manner but it also made me see the new developments in our interpersonal relationships. It would not be wrong to say that at ECLA we all exude very high level of energy. Relationships are intense and meaningful. We all tend to bring energy from the seminars into the dorms. The spirits of learning, competitiveness, admiration, and jealousy, all seem to co-exist at the same time. Our very beings, however you might interpret “beings,” develop in various dimensions, due to the many ways in which we relate to one another and the various texts we read. Art also helped our beings to expand. We were able to absorb a deeper sense of each other by engaging with the pieces of art that we looked at for hours. Michelangelo’s nonfinito sculptures raised questions about the ideas of perfection and imperfection. Nobody knows what perfect is. Sometimes a half finished piece of art can be considered perfect and give that artist a legendary status. For me personally, a certain kind of humor that sometimes seemed condescending now appeared more human — special courtesy to Anna Krasztev-Kovacs and Jelena Barac – as a result of understanding the ambiguity in the notions of human perfection and imperfection. Art did wonders for me. As we reached Berlin with aching feet and bones, our minds and hearts were fresh as ever and the spring term welcomed us with open arms.
David Levine’s class visited two extremely different and unique plays in Berlin. The first one was Nach Moskouand the other one was Othello. Both the visits were arranged as a part of the class “Acting and Authenticity.” The actors/students were to study the acting skills and discuss what exactly they understood by acting. Questions such as “Does acting mean mimicking someone or does it mean being a different person in terms of selfhood?” were to be tackled after the theatre visits.
The visit to Nach Moskou was not only shocking but also was a nerve wracking experience for many people. Many students who were not students for the acting class left the theatre building in utter disgust during the intermission. The students in the acting course had to bear another two hours of shouting, yelling, and howling from the actors on stage.
The play was an adaptation of Chekov’s Three Sisters. It was performed in German and actors kept on adding improvised lines and expression. Russian subtitles were displayed on the screen at the back. An interesting thing that appeared on stage was the intervention of a man with a camera, filming the actors’ expressions closely and especially those actors who were a bit further away from the central action on stage.
By the end of the play, we left the hall with headaches and strained eyes. David Levine’s optimism about this play seemed incongruous. In the class discussion that followed the play, many of us argued for the play being a burlesque attempt to portray Brechtian theatre, but we had not seen the play which was to come the next week: Othello.
Everyone looked forward to an awe-inspiring production of Othello. The play started off with water on stage and an incredible ensemble starting off the first act of Desdemona and Othello initiating a love-making scene. Gradually other actors on stage took their places and came forward. As the play progressed, despite excellent lighting, acoustics, and set design one thing came out as a very big problem for the audience: the acting.
Othello and Desdemona came forward with their rhetorical dialogues, wanting to impress the audience with their authenticity but hopelessly failed to do justice to their roles. Both of the actors sought the audience’s attention with their constant wailing and desperate cries. They seemed over-directed and even misdirected. The over-acting on the parts of the actors turned the tragic parts into clearly comic ones.
The most hilarious moment of the play came when Othello howled and wailed at his loss of trust in Desdemona and in respect the audience sat back and wondered at the stupidity of the actor when suddenly David Levine gave in and broke out into a loud laugh followed by the whole crowd.
The follow up discussion of Othello helped us understand several questions about acting and the idea of authenticity present in it. In Nach Moskaou, although the actors overdid the howling they did not lose contact with the audience. They seemed to inhabit their characters as themselves.
In Othello, however, it was difficult for the audience to relate to the already distant themes of the play, especially because of the actors’ failure to inhabit their characters. The two persons, the actor playing Othello and the character Othello were both visible on stage and made the experience utterly boring and disappointing for the audience. The acting class is still in search of the true meaning of acting and the quest for this answer is opening up new methods of acting and many more interesting revelations about the right find of acting.
The winter excursion came to an end with ECLA students dancing to the tune, “Neun und Neunzig Luftballons,” with local Germans in a small town restaurant. The excursion was full of merriment and joy, partly because the students had gotten to know each other so well and partly because of the scenic beauty of the area.
The excursion took place right after fifth week of the term. Although most of the students decided not to join and the bus was half empty, the trip became one of the most memorable in the lives of many. The excursion took place in the Harz Mountains near a town called Braunlage. Many had planned to ski and sled but the weather did not allow for these activities. The excursion was small, simple and yet very much needed and rightly timed in the term.
The first evening Zoltan convinced one student out of twenty, to join him for a walk in the woods. The rest of us planned to go ice-skating. For someone who had never ice-skated ever before in her whole life, it was like learning to walk on the moon. Those who already knew how to skate danced to the beat of Black Eyed Peas and helped people like me to at least reach the center of the rink by the time everyone decided to leave.
But if there was one thing which ice- skating taught me it was to balance myself. I didn’t learn much about skates in general — they still would haunt me, I guess, in times of falling down and crisis — but I did learn that what would really matter is my ability to balance myself.
The ice-skating left us tired and hungry and we all headed back to our youth hostel at the top of a small hill. On our way, some of us ran into a very interesting German lady. It is very interesting how locals of small towns differ from people of bigger cities. The lady smelled us right away as tourists and started giving us some useful information about the city.
After a while, we were all looking at each other, wishing and hoping that our German language skills would magically re-appear and we would understand each and every thing. But that lady didn’t stop. Rather, there came a point when she told us about a place, verbally motioning, where we can find men and women with very delightful physical appearances. Her description was so explicit that we labeled her as the crazy lady of the town.
By the time we got back, we heard some people talking about a “naked peoples’ festival” which was to take place the next day. On further inquiry, it was discovered that every year in this town there takes place a “naked sledging competition.” And so the next day was pretty much planned, a long walk in the woods for those who wanted to go and then off to see naked people.
What happened during the festival can be summed up in two words, boring and overrated. Not only were the people sledging only topless — which meant that the women stood out as being slightly more naked than the men — but also the view was blocked by people. The competition was an excuse for many to party outside during the afternoon.
One of the most interesting and everlasting experiences was the long walk in the woods. The woods were all covered with snow. The trees were sliver and shone brightly in the clear sky. Only seven of us including Zoltan decided to go for the walk, as the Harz trek was to last for almost about five hours. The biggest moment of the walk was the climbing of the Achtermann Mountain.
Difficult and tiring as that whole walk was, the way back in the cable car made things oh so memorable. As evening fell, it was hard to tell whether my legs carried my body or my body carried my legs, but an amazing feast at the restaurant did not stop me from dancing the night away.
The very idea of a Jewish Museum in Berlin speaks for the change in the global political and social scenario in the past fifty years. A visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin by ECLA students was arranged by Ryan Plumley, primarily for the “What is History?” class. The Museum visit was one of the most interesting museum visits for many of us, especially for those who had only read about the Holocaust in books or had seen movies based on it.
The Jewish Museum starts with an airport-style security check, which instills 21st-century anxieties of terrorism, that seem to set a tone fitting for a place that meditates on the terrorism that besieged countless communities during the Second World War.
Each and every person is asked to leave all belongings, even eatables, at the checkpoint, and in some slight way this incidentally mimics the anxiety instilled in many Jewish communities across Europe. The conflict, although it is over on the surface, can still be felt through the danger that the community itself feels. Or many people would simply say that old fears die hard.
The most amazing thing about the Jewish museum was the architecture of the museum. The museum was designed without any objects and only the architecture itself was to convey and narrate the history of the German Jews. The New York architect Daniel Libeskind designed the exterior, the lower level, which is interestingly the entrance to the first exhibition of the museum, as well as the ground floor. The basement had two different planes, one of the planes leading towards the isle of the Holocaust and ending in the tower of the Holocaust.
One of the last planes opens up a new avenue in History, the present relationship between Germans and Jews. This plane opens in the Garden of Memory where the plants grow around the inkling memorial. One can now see people taking snapshots, loudly chatting and some trying to impress their dates with their knowledge of history, walking through the memorial and the long shoots of plants. Here one can see a new door that has opened in the relationship between two communities, a relationship of love and mistrust at the same time.
The floors above were very intricately divided in several different parts, one specifically designed for the exhibitions and the other to cover the history of the Jews in Europe, from Middle Ages to the present. One of the most harrowing parts of the museum was the long-term temporary exhibitShalekhet (Fallen Leaves) put forth by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman. In a dark, dingy corner of the museum, an angular deep space had been left vacant and now has a haunting carpet of rusted, round steel faces.
The whole place echoed of clinking and clanking sounds as people gingerly walked on top of the thousands of faces. The very feeling of placing one’s feet on these faces- the feeling that hundreds and thousands and millions of people died and their faces and there identities remain unknown- sends a chill down one’s spine. The piece is dedicated not only to the victims of the Holocaust, but all innocent victims of war.
Another part of the museum that actually takes the visitor back in history is the Holocaust tower. It is hard to imagine though what it would be like in real life, but the Holocaust tower is still a good reminder of one of the darkest incidents in human history.
The tower opens in the aisle of the Holocaust where pictures and different memory icons are visible and displayed. At the end of the tower it becomes absolutely dark and then a huge black door allows you to enter the tower. One feels the darkness and the walls closing in, through which you can still feel the voices of the dying people. The tower is dark and yet at the same time a ray of light is allowed to enter from one part of the wall, intuitively suggesting that perhaps “there is light at the end of every tunnel.”,
Simon Trepanier on Plato and The Allusiveness of The Good
On Thursday November 11, Simon Trepanier honored the ECLA audience with an enlightening lecture on Plato’sRepublic. Trepanier is a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Edinburgh and has a BA and PhD in Classical Greek thought from the universities of Ontario and Toronto respectively.
The first question that guest lecturer Simon Trepanier asked was, “Are philosophers pasty-faced nothings?” This is also brought up in the Republicwhen Adiemantus questions Socrates about his thoughts on philosophers. The question is an extremely essential one as it lays down the whole foundation for knowing why philosophical education is important for us human beings and what kind of philosophical education should we aspire to. Over the course of the lecture, Trepanier tried answering these questions in light of Socratic and pre-Socratic teachings.
Trepanier dedicated the first part of the lecture to discussing the basic arguments put forth by Socrates. According to Trepanier, we as ECLA students along with him were going to play a game, which the puppets of Sesame Street play: “ This is my house, this is my street, this is my city, this is my world and this is my universe.” He, in his one and half hour lecture, dealt with the whole subject matter in layers, very candidly and profoundly.
Books 5, 6, and 7 of Republic remained the main focus of attention for Trepanier during the lecture. His choice of words remained very economical and simple. He drew the audience’s attention to Socrates’ basic underlying thesis which would be that only through the philosophical and scientific knowledge of the visible world can you achieve the invisible good.
He went on to explain the concept of good which is presented in the Republic through the divided line. By explaining the many portions of the divided line he gave the audience a clear vision of where the “good” is found on the line, and how we humans can reach that good. Trepanier also stressed that according to Socratic teachings, this good is the source of the soul. The soul has to reach back to its source to approach the good. How does that happen? This is further explained in the allegory of the cave.
The second half of the lecture focused very much on the form of literature that was being produced prior to and during Socrates’ time. An important aspect that he brought before the audience was the reason why Plato wrote literature as opposed to papers and literary critiques. During pre-Socratic times, the philosophy of life was preached as the Bible is in many religious circles today.The philosophers would gather people together and give sermons about how to change their lives. Plato’s writings were different. They involved dialogues that were loaded with irony, wit, and reason.
The form that Plato chose to educate people remains effective today and has a great influence on the human soul. Trepanier also pointed out the pre-Socratic philosophers who had also dealt with the idea of soul’s immortality and the form of the good. And these ideas certainly have influenced Socratic thought in many ways.
The lecture ended after a brief question and answer session and the audience left the lecture hall after a very refreshing lecture and discussion with Dr. Trepanier, looking forward to another amazing weekend in Berlin.
If Music be the food for soul, play on
On a chilly November night, students and faculty members from ECLA attended a live musical performance by Magdalena Kozena. The performance turned out not only to be memorable and delightful, but also extremely enjoyable for people of all ages. As we entered the hall, we saw it brimming with people, all lovers of music and art.
And then suddenly, Magdalena Kozena stepped onto the stage barefoot, along with her ensemble. She found her place at one side of the stage and, like a Greek Goddess, began the baroque Musical concert. Her voice, commanding and divine, put a spell on the audience and took them on an hour and a half long musical journey.
Magdalena Kozena started her career as a dancer, but due to a slight foot injury she switched to learning Soprano music. As a young girl, she was spotted as a budding talent. Ever since then she has been performing classical music all over the world. On her recent visit to Europe, she performed at Philharmoniker Berlin, to promote the release of her latest album, “Lettere Amorose.” The new album is based on the Baroque works of Fillipo Vitali, Giulio Caccini, and Gaspar Sanz.
During the Baroque period, from the 16th to the 18th century, the style of music in Europe changed from being complicated, abstract, and restricted to the elite class to bold and liberating. Many people also argue that this had a great influence on the form and idea of love present in the literature, art, and poetry of the era.
The role of the concept of love in Baroque music was especially interesting for the ECLA audience as this concert which came after a lecture by Sarah Burges Watson, in which she mainly discussed the forms of love in Orphic literature. The concert indeed proved itself to be a delight as it brought together the ideas studied In the lecture hall and the live music at Philharmoniker.
Many, however, sat through the concert completely ignorant to what the singer was singing, due to their difficulty in understanding either Italian or German. Yet, the music provided an opportunity for catharsis and brought peace to the soul.
What made the concert such a relaxing experience was the fact that it was arranged on a Monday night. The first day of the week can be extremely stressful, especially for students who have a rigorous and challenging week ahead of them. What could be a better way to loosen up than to spend an evening with playful baroque love songs?
A farangi’s journey
Two years ago, I found ECLA while sitting at my computer in Pakistan browsing websites, looking for a liberal arts school in Europe. I imagined actually coming to live at ECLA and thought I had a pretty good idea of what it would be like. In Pakistan, everyone would label me Farangi, which when literally translated means “Fake White Man.” This gave me confidence in my ability to merge into the hodgepodge of the unique Western world found at ECLA.
But it was not as easy as I imagined. From the moment I arrived in Berlin there were a few lessons to be learned. For a start, there was no one except me to make my bed, do my laundry, and wake me up in the morning. During my first week at ECLA, my friends dubbed me the “Princess of Lahore.” Yes, I was demanding … I complained about walking for forty minutes when in Pakistan, my driver could have picked me up and taken me home. All of these differences between my life at ECLA and my life back home came as a very big shock to me, a Farangi who had lived all her life in Pakistan thinking she knew the ways of the Western worldand sheltered from the storm of real life.
The process of learning began on the very first day when I learned that the initials E-C-L-A was pronounced as one word: ECLA. A unique sense of belonging washed over me and I felt like I was becoming part of this community already.
But something very startling also happened. I discovered ECLA’s size. Getting used to the idea that there were only 57 people on campus was tricky. The majority of students came from bigger schools and colleges from around the world. During the first week, living in a small community was scary. Many of us felt unable to share ourselves with anyone for fear of getting exposed to everyone.
But ECLA embraced me with open arms. I will never forget my first week — getting lost in Berlin, sharing my utmost fears with my Residential Assistant, leaning on a friend after a seminar and bitterly crying about my lack of knowledge of philosophy and that mischief-maker Socrates. I was able to develop and find new relationships based on trust and care. It surprises me now how close we all came to each other and how easily we were able to confide in people from drastically different backgrounds and communities. And all this happened in the first few days.
It could well be that the ECLA community is based on the concept of relatedness and belonging, while at same time we find ourselves far from home and confronted by strange new ideas and perspectives from day one. At ECLA, everyone’s concern is a mutual concern. Soon, we were helping each other find our own place and voice in a new land called ECLA.
ECLA has so much to offer. The Berlin weekend kicked off the year and took us from the Museum Island to the Reichstag, on a bike tour and onward to the revelry of a poetry night. It helped us all find our own selves in the large and endlessly spacious city that is Berlin and in a small community that is ECLA.
ECLA lectures and seminars always leave us thinking more deeply about life and its intricacies. During the first lecture on Socrates’ Apology, I was once again able to confront myself, talk to myself, and contemplate my innermost desires and perhaps even purpose on this pale blue planet.
Walking through the common rooms of the dorms, one hears Indian, Serbian and Arabian songs blazing out of laptops. Nobody really cares what the poor singers have to say. Rather, the music is an expression of the sheer joy of knowing and trusting each other, sharing our cultures and ourselves.
It is hard to imagine how the first two weeks at ECLA went by. For me, every day was a new day and I woke up as a new and better person altogether. Who knows what tomorrow may bring…