10 Signs You Study at a Leftist University

I assume that when you study political science, you might naturally expect there to be a certain tendency towards political ideologies among your fellow students. I began the semester at the Freie Universität Berlin with the same idea but initially I believed to find a few scattered groups here and there, nothing too concentrated. There should be quite some diversity in terms of political believes in a student body made of 37000 souls, right?

Well, the first thing I noticed (specifically at the political science faculty but also with respect to the student government) was the left wing spirit and it was so surprisingly overwhelming that I decided to write a post about my observations considering the leftist atmosphere of my new academic home:

You know you study at a leftist university when…

1. The first workshop offered to incoming students is about how to behave during a demonstration.

2. Your professor for political theory spends several minutes recalling enthusiastically how back in the 70s (or 80s) the Trotskysts beat the hell out ofthe Maoists.

3. The café of the political science department is called “The Red Café” and is located in a building that has been seized by students decades ago during a protest.

4. The whole campus is full of red posters with the picture of Trotsky on them, in honor of 75 years since his death.

5. There is a whole week dedicated to critical approaches to uni where you are reminded of how important it is to resist authority when needed. Seriously, I would not have been surprised if during the critical campus tour, we would have passed by the grave of Rudi Dutschke. Courtesy to this funny article for giving me that idea.

6. One of the political parties running to be elected into the student government advocates for the implementation of the United Socialist States of Europe. Because who needs the European Union anyway?

7. There is ALWAYS a reason to go out into the streets and protest and the student government leaders will not hesitate to kindly remind you of your “responsibility” via E-Mail at least once a week.

8. At least one party running for student government has something along the lines of “the young communists” in their name.

9. One of the events organized by the student initiative of The Red Café (it was a party of some sort or maybe just a movie night) was called “The Red Café Fraction”. That name comes from the left wing militant group Red Army Fraction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group.

10. Among students, your political science institute goes by the name “Johannes Agnoli Institute for Criticism of Politics”.

I know it says 10 in the title but I do remember just another one: The study and examination regulations of your faculty “strongly encourage” you to take at least one gender focused seminar. The contents of those, so I gathered from my friend, can be so hardcore that even current feminists start thinking about whether this whole feminism thing was a good idea to begin with.



Commentary: The ‘Easiness’ of Not Speaking German in Germany

About a week ago the Christian Social Union Bavaria party (CSU) demanded that all immigrants speak German not only while taking part in public life, but also while they are in their German homes. In my opinion that is the most absurd thing demanded by a German political party, since the suggestion that tax defrauders should be punished by a revocation of their driver’s licenses (because as all of us know, Germans love their cars to death).

I do understand that integration is an important topic that is not very easy to resolve and has to be dealt with but as one of my professors put it: Do these politicians speak Spanish to their family over the dinner table in their hotel room with an open Spanish dictionary nearby when they are on vacation? Certainly not. So why should immigrants not be allowed to speak whatever language they want within their own four walls? Mind you, the professor is German.

So I had a discussion with one of my friends recently that went into the direction of whether it would be absolutely necessary to speak German in order to get around in Berlin or whether someone who doesn’t speak a word of German would be just as lost in Berlin as someone would feel lost in let’s say Tokyo without speaking a word of Japanese.  An interesting question that gave me something to think about and inspired me to write this.

I came to the conclusion that the answer to this question is no (you are free to disagree with me on this if you want). While the French in Paris for example, might expect you to speak only French to them and will deny to communicate with you in any other language because of their national pride, in Germany things work differently and so I decided to write this post to talk about some of the main aspects that make it so easy for many immigrants (and tourists) here to get along and not speak a word, or very little, German.

First of all, Berlin is a city of tourism. I honestly don’t know how our economy would survive without the millions of tourists that visit us every year from all over the world. Due to this, Germany has adapted to the situation and if you are a tourist here and want to ask something or need to communicate for other reasons, in most cases you will always find at least one person around you who speaks English and German.

But now let’s assume that being a tourist in Berlin has inspired you so much that you decided to come live here. When it comes to taking care of bureaucratic issues concerning your stay, you may find that many of the staff don’t speak anything other than German. That sucks, doesn’t it? Just now that you were convinced you can make it here without speaking German. No worries because technically you still can. In Berlin you can find an interpreter relatively easily. That is especially popular with the Russian newcomers. The translators they get are not necessarily professionals but they speak both languages decent enough in order to help out and since they are not really professionals but do it as a side job, they don’t cost a fortune.

What makes it even easier for immigrants to live in Germany is the fact that they have quite a lot of (even though not total) freedom to keep the cultural lifestyle that they are used to from their home countries. Certain nationalities are dominant in certain districts of Berlin. Like the Turks and Arabs in Wedding and Kreuzberg and the Russians in Charlottenburg (nicknamed Charlottengrad) while Mitte is kind of a mix of everything.  So whenever people come here from abroad, they have a tendency to get an apartment in the district where most of their countrymen live simply because they believe that they would be more comfortable living among those of their own kind, rather than among Germans who are relatively unknown to them. That is surely not a universal thing but there are enough such cases in order to create a very visible trend.

The more a certain nation concentrates in one part of town, the more this part of town starts to resemble the people’s homeland left behind. The district of Wedding for example has become what I, after five years of living there, have lovingly started to call ‘little Turkey’ because of its large Turkish and partially Arab population. There are shops selling halal products and fresh fruits and vegetables offered by friendly and chatty pitchmen. There are banks who are run all in Turkish. There are various Turkish barber places and salons for women where all windows are tinted or covered by curtains so that the women can take off their hijab without feeling ashamed and when people start feeling homesick, they go to the travel agency that will counsel them in their language and sell them a ticket home. There are many more such places and the list could go on for ever. Pretty much the same things apply to the Russian, the Asian or the Hispanic communities in Berlin. All of these places add to a great cultural diversity with their delicious food, their catchy music and their intriguing stories from far away.

However, the actual problem with integration in my opinion is created by the influence that multi nationalism has on local education. The dominant nationalities of Berlin also manage to set up their own schools and that goes beyond the usual schools by embassies for children of diplomats.

Even though the curriculum of local schools is in German, it often gets overshadowed by the things that immigrants want their children to learn about their own culture. I am by no means against the teaching of its own culture to a child with a migration background, in fact I believe that it is very important so that the cultural roots don’t get lost but when these teachings interfere significantly with what the child needs to know about its new home, I think that parents should be more considerate about how they raise their offspring. At least in the matter of language to begin with. I remember my early school days when most of my international classmates spoke barely any German even though most of them were born here. I on the other hand, had been living in Germany for six months, learning the language from scratch at the age of seven and my German was much better than the one of those with a German passport in the room. Interesting, isn’t it? It is most likely because of this wide spread attitude, that when I go to the doctor and he or she sees my Slavic last name, he or she asks me whether I speak German or not.

So I can conclude that for all these reasons, Germany is not the worst place to live for an expat or exchange student or immigrant worker with no language skills, even though I would not encourage you to let yourself go because of these little amenities.

Not all people are polyglots and gifted learners. Not all languages can be learned within months. One cannot expect a refugee, an expat or any other foreigner to master the language perfectly but when it comes to children who are born into a culture that is not their own, for the sake of their own future stability in society, at least they should be made to adapt if not the adults.

Why German Politics Are so Funny to Observe

My former school in Saudi Arabia had a Model UN club that pretty much everyone could join. At the very beginning I was as keen as mustard (I just looked up this idiom online. Let’s just say I was very enthusiastic) to join this club. I mean it is MODEL UN CLUB! How awesome would that look on my résumé, right?

But as I spent some time thinking about the offer, I finally decided not to join, just as I was standing in front of the teacher’s room, my hand in the air, ready to knock on the door.

I am not trying to say that politics are not important. Sometimes they are even catchy and entertaining but for some reason I have not managed to develop such a big interest in politics  based on the way it is presented to the public. Now, after traveling the world a little myself, I am indeed more into that topic though. That however, was due to my own efforts and not the sorry attempt of my German history teacher to teach us how to vote or how to perceive politics.

Generally, every time elections come along all of the satire shows on German state television have a tremendous amount of material to make fun of.

I think that the reason why so many young people struggle to be seriously interested in politics (especially in Germany where I have lived for most of my life and what this post is all about), is because German politics many times lack the right amount of seriousness themselves .

I was just thinking back of the weeks before the German elections, as I decided to write this post.

There were political posters all over town. On every billboard you would look at, the smiling face of some politician would look back at you with this “please vote for me” expression on his or her face. Or at least this is how it appeared to me.

What I found so funny about this whole situation was  that all this time, the politicians were just doing their regular work, without really going out to the people and JUST three weeks before the elections they have decided to change their tactics and all of a sudden it was all about the average German citizen.

This really makes me think of students that come running to their teachers, a couple of weeks if not days before the end of the quarter, begging for the improvement of their grades. Well, this is pretty much what happens every single time elections are about to come around.

One sunny day in September I was walking around in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg to take some pictures, when I saw a group of young people advocating for the green party. It was a group of vivacious, young people with big smiles on their faces that were giving out flower seeds to pedestrians. Nice thing to do actually and probably even a good tactic to raise environmental awareness but WHY does such a thing happen only once in four years and why only the moment politicians need to polish up their general image?

I have also been passing by the Potsdamer Platz, where I saw a Starbucks van. The Starbucks staff was giving out small portions of Starbucks coffee to pedestrians for free (even though there is  no such thing as a free lunch, to quote Milton Friedman at this point). I would not have been surprised if this would have been something of vote campaign origin either.

Another thing worth mentioning was Mrs. Merkel’s visit to a local college prep school. Guess what she was doing there? Substituting history in a senior class!!! I mean, personally I think this is a great thing to do. Coming out to the young generation like this. However, the fact that this was all just voting tactics (which some of the students even admitted on TV later) made the whole thing seem simply hilarious to me.

Remember those times when the teacher would be mad at you for not paying attention during a lecture? Don’t worry about it. Politicians don’t take themselves seriously either. I was watching a government meeting on TV one morning, where all the potential chancellor candidates were giving something that I would call a persuasive speech. Just like in school for history or debate class.

Just imagine the following: So there is a politician giving a really good speech and being so enthusiastic about it, his face turns red. But what do you think all the other politicians in the Reichstag do meanwhile? Well, the majority of them was either playing with their Ipads or chatting with some ministers, just as Mrs. Merkel did while one of her opponents was accusing her government of poor leadership.

Think what you want but after watching all this election circus I am really not surprised about the fact that so many Germans have refused to vote this year. Effort needs to be put into something constantly and not just three weeks before election day.