Die Bärliner - The Bard College Berlin Student Blog
Academic Events

View from Blithewood Garden on Bard College Campus featuring Annie Swett (EPST 2019) and Nancy Stanley (HAST 2019) (Credit: Emma Jacoby)

Studying abroad for one year at two separate institutions on two continents has been and will be exhausting but beautiful. The decision you made to spend two semesters in two separate locations was not taken lightly. After two years at BCB, you probably did know everyone and had taken classes across several concentrations; it was normal that you felt a little restless. You and most of your friends consequently decided to study abroad at BGIA, CEU, Bard, Lingnan, Sciences Po — and for two semesters instead of just one. Silly as it may seem, if you were considering spending those two semesters at two institutions, you realized it would be a good idea to come up with a kurz und knackig (short and sweet) introduction to your life. Even before coming to upstate New York, you’d been asked which state in the US you were from countless times. So your spiel was to establish that you were a German-but-international student from an undergraduate program at Bard College Berlin who has lived in places like Bangladesh and Georgia, yet always ended up at English-speaking international schools where picking up an American accent proved to be surprisingly easy (and franky unavoidable).

Your time at Bard during the Fall Semester began with an unexciting eleven-hour layover in Dublin, one that was made even more unpleasant than usual by the cold you had caught just twelve hours before your flight. After that fiasco of an airport experience, you would not recommend that particular AerLingus connection to future study abroad students.  Thankfully, things definitely picked up for you from there. Insider information about airlines or cafeteria food is something you’ve always appreciated in reflections about academic experiences when making big decisions, such as where to go to college or study abroad. You hope that your reflection, through the sharing of some of your unprofessional opinions on Bard and CEU, might be helpful to others in the middle of filling out their study abroad forms.

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Credit: Plato and Aristotle in discussion (Credit: Raphael, from “The School of Athens”)

In the context of the two recent Liberal Arts days on BCB’s campus that sought to examine the meaning of liberal arts studies and the role of discourse within them, a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “The Dying Art of Disagreement” was shared with the student body. In his speech, former Wall Street Journal contributor Bret Stephens details the allegedly tragic loss of ‘proper’ discourse on American college campuses, by which he means discourse which contains productive disagreements. He illustrates a world in which the ideologies of “junior totalitarian” college students engender the “bullying” of speakers they don’t like. He paints their vitriol against mostly conservative speakers as the result of an early “miseducation,” as the ugly culmination of an illiberal culture that has engendered a culture of ideological intolerance, in which those who would seek to educate themselves in higher thought irrationally bar the thoughts of those with whom they disagree. He decries a phenomenon that has been discussed ad nauseam in regards to U.S. institutions of higher education. What usually follows from these debates is an ambiguous call for the return to an alleged prior culture of ideological tolerance — a call that assumes such a time existed and ignores the fact that historically marginalized people’s voices have rarely been welcomed in the realm of this “tolerance”. Whether or not this is Stephens’ goal, his proposal ultimately amounts to a call for the rectification of the alleged “infantilization” of today’s youth in the US.

To support his arguments, Stephens calls forth his time at the University of Chicago, where he was taught the art of “interrogation.” His time there, he says, was not blemished by dogmatic instruction, but rather enriched by the freedom to interpret the texts he read with an open-mind: one could say he engaged in charitable reading before considering and potentially disagreeing with the ideas the texts presented. This form of education, so central to the project of the liberal arts, is being lost, according to Stephens. The liberal education that he received is being replaced by a reflexive, almost dogmatic opposition to those who  have unpopular opinions. At the University of Chicago, Stephens learned to “cultivate an open mind” and to “treat no proposition as sacred.”

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Stepping through gauzy curtains (Credit: Clara Fung, Institute for Art and Architecture, University of Fine Arts, Vienna)

Spatial memory is a term often used to describe the neurological process of recalling where something happened or where an object was placed. This type of memory is also used to project into the future, to plan a route to a desired location.

It is hard to consider spatial memory without invoking a poetic light. What is this intangible part of us that is tied to places and our memories of them? How is it that we can still recall the layout of a childhood home despite not having stepped foot in it in years?

The themes of the “Tread Softly” exhibit included “the city, migration, and memory”. The title is an allusion to the W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cloths of Heaven”, where he writes, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” [*1] It considered how the cities we live in become the space in which we operate, tenderly attending to ideas of spatial memories, among others.

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The School of Athens (Credit: Raphael, 1509-1511)

“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” (Adams, The Restaurant at The End of the Universe)

Whether the core was excavated from the bowels of the Earth 15 years ago or 500, the fact remains that Plato’s Republic is a timeless piece of philosophy that embodies the very essence of the discipline. It not only provokes a constant reinterpretation of our understandings and beliefs, but because the subject of the book is the human soul, a phenomenon unchanged from Socrates’ time despite changes in the environment, its relevance remains regardless of the epoch.

No matter how much thermodynamics likes to emphasise that time is the only constant, it cannot be denied that some times seem to change disproportionately to others. Athens isn’t the same mild-wintered, Mediterranean wonderland it was when Socrates frolicked in the streets: the tides are changing, and people must adapt to the urban heat island effect in the city centre if they want to survive. This is why, on noticing the general unrest in the student mind regarding Plato and the (long dead) old (white) man’s place in the twenty-first century, I felt perhaps it was time someone wrote a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Republic, to show what one can expect when opening this treasure-chest.  Here’s what my Guide has to say about the unbelievable things they talk about in the Republic:

Listen, Listen:

“In the next place, get yourself an adequate light somewhere; and look yourself — and call in your brother and Polemarchus and the others — whether we can somehow see where the justice might be and where the injustice…” (The Republic, 427d)

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A more manageable bubble (Credit: Pinterest)

Campus is a “liberal bubble”, right?

During many discussions on the current political climate, the word ‘bubble’ pops up, as if by magic. It attempts to explain why some recent political developments—Brexit, Trump’s election, AfD’s success, etc.—appear to have come out of the blue. Often, this observation is appropriate. “Birds of a feather flock together”: It’s natural for us to stick to the familiar. However, in the age of social media, this tendency has reached a whole new level. We increasingly find ourselves in online bubbles which, due to Facebook algorithms and our own self-selection, are drifting farther and farther apart.

On Tom Ashbrook’s NPR podcast OnPoint, guest Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and radio host, observed: “We’re all spending a lot of time building ourselves into communities that look a lot like us, thanks to the Internet, and we are less and less focused on the physical person that lives next door to us.” He’s right—How many of us can say we really know our Niederschönhausen neighbors? No, smiling at the 250 bus driver and saying “Danke!” to the cashier at REWE do not count.

It’s easy to construct a community of like-minded people online. Stepping outside this safe haven can be scary. You never know what you will find. But intuitively we know there can never be progress without discussion. This is true for both society and our own development. Change requires engaging in real disagreement, where the different parties have deeply rooted, contradictory opinions. Social change cannot exclusively happen online; we must also burst our online bubbles.

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“Plato Goes Live” Poster. (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

The contest “Eine Uni – ein Buch” invited German universities to pick a book, any book. The goal: to inspire a semester of events, ideas, and extensive, diverse participation… all with this single text. BCB students entered with Plato’s Republic. And we won. We were among ten universities who received the scholarship. Yay, us! The result: seminars, debates, conversations, film fests, and “a Long Night of Plato” sprouted from the seminal work of an infamous, bearded Ancient. (Shout out to the sponsors: Stifterverband and the Klaus Tschira Foundation, in co-operation with DIE ZEIT.)

Full disclosure: I’m not a student in the Plato course, not a Plato-phile in the slightest. Even so, last Tuesday curiosity led me to the “Wandering Image” event at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry. It was one of those ruggedly sleek buildings tucked away in a Prenzlauer Berg courtyard, packed with well-dressed intellectuals.

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“The Significance of Looking Upwards,” a drawing by Hannah Scharmer (Credit: Hannah Scharmer)

Learning. How does one learn? For whom is one learning? These questions have followed me as long as I can remember. Throughout my academic experience, my answers varied from “I am learning for the satisfaction of a good grade” to “I am done with learning.” Now, I find myself back in an academic environment (after a year of working) and suddenly, expectedly, these questions are more relevant than ever.

Now in the fourth week of the semester, I am beginning to — through dialogue and self-reflection — discover new answers to these age-old questions. I decided to explore my thoughts on this subject through a specific format inspired by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules by Sister Corita Kent [*1]. The original set of rules were introduced to me during the Language and Thinking course, and I decided to explore them further due to individual interest in both the format of the piece and the topic itself — how to think and learn.   


RULE ONE: Work harder (whenever you can)

RULE TWO: When you can’t work (harder), use your energy wisely. This means to not self-destruct, but to self-construct.

RULE THREE: Force yourself to produce. Anything. Always.

RULE FOUR: Never throw away your art.  

RULE FIVE: Before critiquing blindly, engulf yourself in the concept. Before critiquing anyone else, look at yourself. Before critiquing yourself, critique your critique.

RULE SIX: Contradictions = Movement

RULE SEVEN: First ask yourself “have I done enough?” Then ask yourself, “am I being honest?”

RULE EIGHT: The beginning of a class is for you to check, not showcase, your understanding of the matter.

RULE NINE: Allow yourself to admit that you don’t know.

RULE TEN: Consider your exploration of the world (aka a bus ride, a conversation, and so on) at least as important as a lecture. Treat it accordingly.

During the process of creating this piece, the significance of thinking about thinking became clear to me. This is the whole point: to act with intention, whether this be the act of being in a classroom or in the act of thinking. It seems to me a waste to do anything but this. The rules presented in this piece both instruct a certain mode of specific behaviours and, through their effect, ask the reader to question, critique, reflect, and (most importantly) think.

*I would love to hear/discuss your ideas on learning and being a student, and thinking, and being in general.


  1. Kent, Corita, and Jan Steward. Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit. Allworth, 2008.


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Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

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