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Una with the partisan women in Zagreb, Croatia (Credit: Personal Archives)

Una Blagojevic, a Serbian 2013 BA graduate, has been around the world. Currently residing in Budapest, Hungary and beginning her master’s thesis at the Central European University, Una looks back on her time at Bard Berlin, then ECLA*, with great fondness. I sat down for a late-night Skype chat with Una to discuss the transformative and orienting powers of core courses, her shift from Berlin to London to Uganda to France to Budapest, and the consistent and enduring eccentricities of Pankow wildlife.**

Tell me about your time in Uganda.

My Uganda trip was quite amazing! After I left ECLA, I was planning to stay in Berlin for my  master’s, but the program I applied for was all in German, and my knowledge of German was not high enough. I also couldn’t find any scholarships to do my master’s in England, so I was quite unhappy and disappointed. And then, just totally coincidentally, a friend of mine saw that there was a safari company in Uganda looking for interns, which was a totally new thing for me because it had nothing to do with my undergraduate education at all.  

Right. After four years of doing school, this is something completely different.

Yes, totally different! Sometimes when I tell people that I spent a year working for a safari company they think that this was some kind of place where people go to shoot animals, and I would never do something like that. I didn’t do that and this was not that kind of company. They had some lodges all around Uganda, large lodges in the savannas of a national park called Kidepo Valley. I spent approximately four months there. It was so beautiful. I was always in nature, helping out. My tasks also included working in an office and helping with boring administrative stuff, documents, calculating budgets in Excel. I always wanted to escape from this sort of work after finishing my Gymnasium. There, in Serbia, you usually go and work or study in a department, like natural sciences, math or physics After I finished Gymnasium  I said ‘Never again!’ and then I turned to humanities. It was nice to do it again in Uganda, though.  

What was the community in Uganda like?

Even though the administrative work was boring, I was very close with the staff, helping out as much as I could and also hanging around with the guests. It was a very small, intimate approach to work, so we would all eat at a big table and they would serve us and we would all sit and talk about which animals we’ve seen and things like that. Sometimes I felt like it was strange because it was a place where very rich people would come and spend time in a ‘wonderful African, Ugandan experience’. Sometimes I was kind of not sure what to think of myself being there. But I had this great time where every day was filled with new and crazy experiences. I lived in a small hut, too, made out of wood and leaves and such: They tried to make it as natural as possible to give an ‘explorer’s experience’. I lived in one of these, and in the morning I heard animals making such crazy sounds, and, even though the hut was off the ground for security reasons, we would get woken up by screaming animals. It was always wild boars.

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This article originally appeared on The Point and has been republished here with their kind permission. David Kretz is a German-born Austrian and a BA 2016 alumnus.

Philipp Ruch (front left) in the action Center for Political Beauty’s action “Lethe Bombs” in front of the Reichstag, 2009. (Credit: Lara Wilde via Wikipedia)

The most compelling political performance artists in Germany do not like to be called “artists.” Nor do they prefer the label of “activists”—a term they reserve for gradualists, clicktivists, and the letter-writers of Amnesty International. Founded in 2009 by the philosopher Philipp Ruch, the Center for Political Beauty makes its base of “operations” (Aktionen in German) in Berlin, with changing groups of volunteers and partners throughout Europe. Its members, who wear suits and charcoal war paint, are organized into “assault teams” aiming to establish “moral beauty, political poetry and human greatness [Großgesinntheit].” They call themselves “aggressive humanists.”

The Center initially made a name for itself when it launched a campaign in the style of “Wanted” posters promising a reward of twenty-five thousand Euros for information leading to the arrest of the von Braunbehrens and Bode families, who share ownership of the arms corporation Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. Controversially, the company had proposed exporting several hundred Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia. One member of the board stepped down from his post after the exposure, and eventually the deal was abandoned on account of public pressure.

The Center has risen to new national prominence during the recent refugee crisis. In May 2014 the German Ministry for Family Affairs, headed by center-left secretary Manuela Schwesig, announced on a new website that it would offer asylum to fifty-five thousand Syrian children—1 percent of the five million who would need it according to UNICEF. This was in the build-up to the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, months before Merkel’s exhortation “We can do it.”

The website, which offered online forms for Germans to register as host families, went viral on social media. A video showed happy, grateful children in Aleppo thanking Secretary Schwesig for her initiative. Large crowds spontaneously assembled in front of the offices of the Ministry for Family Affairs in Berlin, celebrating and leaving an ocean of flowers and teddy bears. Such is the political beauty that the Center imagines. It was they who had created the website, as well as a complete Federal Emergency Program, including IT infrastructure, a ready-to-implement legislative framework, extensive PR materials, active hotlines with actors answering questions about the program, and contacts with schools and other organizations inside Syria—a hyper-real theater performance. The Ministry could have played along but chose not to. Embarrassedly and awkwardly, they declared a day later that, no, they would not save the children.

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This article originally appeared on Public Seminar and has been republished here with their kind permission. David Kretz is a German-born Austrian and a BA 2016 alumnus. 

Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria (Credit: Shawn Harquail | Flickr)

Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria (Credit: Shawn Harquail | Flickr)

December 4, 2016, was a fateful day for Europe, and the world. The Italians held a referendum about constitutional amendments and their No vote brought down the government. Though any longer-term effects remain unknown, the financial and political chain reaction that some said had the potential to unravel the European Union did not manifest.

On the same day, Austrians also voted in the final round of their presidential election. There, center-left candidate Alexander Van der Bellen (Green Party) defeated far-right candidate Norbert Hofer (Austrian Freedom Party, FPÖ) 53.8% to 46.2%. Austria is a small country, but the outcome of this election has international significance for at least two reasons.

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The Clouds in chorus (Credit: Tamar Maare)

The Clouds in chorus (Credit: Tamar Maare)

Maria Khan is a BA 2015 alumna originally from Pakistan.

Bard College Berlin has a special place in my heart. I love it. I adore it. I am shamelessly and unabashedly its biggest fan. I have loved all its transformations and will continue to do so. I spent my formative years at BCB, and my experience was enriched by the people I met, the friendships I formed, and the lessons I learned there.

Currently, I’m enrolled in a PhD program at Cambridge University, specializing in arts education. My PhD examines the use of drama for the purposes of cultural integration. I plan to work with Turkish immigrants in Germany and use Goethe’s Faust to instigate a conversation about interfaith dialogue, Western versus Islamic values, and how Muslim immigrants perceive themselves in a host community.

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Susan Gillespie speaks at the alumni gathering of December 11th 2016 (Credit: Tamar Maare)

Susan Gillespie speaks at the alumni gathering of December 11th, 2016 (Credit: Tamar Maare)

My past experience with the college reunions of friends and relatives included marching bands, brightly-colored seersucker, and the revival of retro kegger culture. The Bard College Berlin alumni event, which took place this past December 11th of 2016, was tame in comparison, infused with the muted but eccentric quality of BCB itself. Student art from the Open Studios event still decorated the walls of the Factory. Former students greeted each other with inside jokes and embraces; professors and faculty also filled the small room. A pile of black, mid-length coats were stacked in the waiting room in classic BCB fashion (some things, like style choices, apparently don’t change after graduation).

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Passing through, passing through.

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

glad that I ran into you.

Tell the people that you saw me

passing through.

–– D. Blakeslee, 1948.

 

One year ago I was finishing a blog article about the 2015 graduation. I had just come back from my time abroad and was glad about the chance to reflect a bit on travelling, on departures, on community and hospitality. Constant leaving and returning is built into the core of the BCB community. If, as a student, you spend your third year abroad, you will see the students of every other generation for only one year, and each year new people find their way to the college from all walks of life and some leave to follow different roads. It is in that sense a very dynamic community and I was wondering then, in my article, whether hospitality could perhaps be the name of the principle that connects us here, in this place where everyone is host and guest at the same time.

Recently I found a song which expresses some of those thoughts and feelings much better than I did then and then I can do now. Having just graduated, I would like to share it with you here by way of farewell.

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start-up

Berlin skyline at night (credit: Talent International).

Liberal arts students and graduates might be comforted by the claims in recent years that their degrees might not be as “useless” as they thought (or were told) they would be. The discourse around the demand for liberal arts graduates in the workforce especially revolves around hi-tech companies. It is skills such as “critical thinking, an ability to deal with ambiguity, to reach conclusions based on considered mastery of research and context” that make liberal arts graduates vital for growing hi-tech companies, says a Washington Post article called Why the Tech World Highly Values a Liberal Arts Degree. A Forbes article says a liberal arts degree has become “Tech’s hottest ticket” and describes similar, “human skills” to be required by high-tech companies and provided by liberal arts/ humanities graduates.  So we might have a “hot ticket” once we graduate, but is it really the hottest? Some of Bard College Berlin’s (ECLA) graduates and a current BCB student working in the start-up world shared their thoughts on their liberal arts education with me.

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Discussion

Students discussing matters of grave importance (credit: Inasa Bibic)

 

Dear all,

it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new semester for all of us and we at Die Bärliner feel more than just good about accompanying you also on the next episode of Bard College Berlin life. We hope you’ll savor on our pages its distinctive blend of effervescent craziness, deep conversations, playful idleness, and homely conviviality. Welcome, and welcome back!

The last semester concluded with debates and reflection on the diversity and lack thereof on our syllabi and the new semester, too, promises many occasions to continue thinking through what we are doing. Michael Weinman called for discussions on Public Seminar and a lively debate has ensued. Soon we will publish a longer article by Tamar Maare based on a series of interviews with BCB graduates in which they reflect on liberal education and the job market, continuing also our long-standing commitment to featuring alumni and alumnae on the blog. Two upcoming events  will offer further occasion to discuss the liberal arts in the contemporary world: the upcoming Berlin Weekend will feature a discussion session dedicated to this topic and a public panel discussion with BCB students and faculty is set for February 12th. More details to follow; save the dates!

Another focus for us this term will be student art. We want to continue publishing poetry regularly, and also aim to include accompanying audio recordings with it. Additionally, we look forward to sharing more visual and especially video art. To start us off we have a series of student short films forthcoming over the first weeks, and you will also find video recordings of guest lectures on the blog in the future (there are already quite a few on our YouTube channel!).

Creative content in all forms will come from our blog team – you can still apply! – but we also would like to use the occasion to call for contributions from everyone. Whether it is a poem for the Slam Poetry Club, a photo series of the neighborhood, or an installation for a practicing arts class, please consider submitting it to the blog. There is a small budget available to compensate your efforts.

Looking forward,

Yours,

David

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