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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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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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Congratulations! You’re on your way to a legal stay in Germany. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, modified)

An essential part of the Bard College Berlin experience for all foreign students is the residence permit application. The school provides assistance to obtain one, and the process generally goes smoothly thanks to Xenia Muth. But sometimes, things happen: you forget to submit a document, you fill out a certain form incorrectly, you put all of it off until it’s three days before your 90-day window. Should you find yourself in the sad — but not uncommon– predicament of waiting outside the Ausländerbehörde all night, here are a few tips to make the experience as enjoyable and memorable as possible:

Stage 1. Before Arrival

Preparation is everything. It is the lack of such a thing that landed you in this situation in the first place, so make sure you’re prepped and ready to go for your adventure.

Step 1.1. Be too nervous to take a nap before your overnight visit, and make irresponsible decisions that will come back to bite you later. For example, go out to dinner in Mitte and forget how long the M1 ride back home is.

Step 1.2. Make sure you dress for the occasion. If you’re planning on paying the infamous bureau a visit soon, wear three pairs of wool socks, all the shirts you own, and two scarves. Conveniently forget a hat and gloves.

Step 1.3. Pack yourself too many snacks that you will forget to eat while waiting outside the office and will find squashed in your backpack a few hours later. Make sure to download podcasts, music, or Netflix episodes that you won’t be able to watch because of some unforeseeable technological problem.

Step 1.4. Decide to get there at 1 AM instead of the recommended 3 or 4AM to ensure yourself a spot. You could probably afford to arrive at 3 or 4AM, but you want to feel safer and more responsible than you actually are.

Stage 2. On Your Way!

Congratulations! You’re ready to leave. The most important thing is getting there, so here’s how to do it right:

Step 2.1. Make sure you bring more bags than necessary so that everyone notices you struggling to leave campus and you have to explain in great detail where you’re going. Pretend that the “Good Luck!” calls aren’t patronizing and reminding you of your mistake.

Step 2.2. Get on the bus and type some journal-y sentiment with the notes app on your phone in an attempt to reflect on your predicament. Immediately get sleepy because of how nice and warm the M27 bus is, and think about how sad it is that such extreme circumstances finally led you to do the Berlin exploration you promised your friends and family you would do much earlier.

Stage 3. Arrival and The Infamous Wait

You’ve arrived. You’re armed and ready. Nothing can stop you now.

Step 3.1.  Get lost trying to find the nondescript parking lot and the tiny nondescript door to the Ausländerbehörde. Walk in a circle about eight times until you see some other sorry souls holding a piece of paper. Feel silly signing your name on the sign-up sheet.

Step 3.2. Have a seat in the parking lot where you will spend the wee morning hours. Make small talk with the group of people in front of you. You’re one of the first, which fills you with ease. Thank whatever you believe in for the fact that it’s not raining. Preoccupy yourself with your expertly packed activities until your hands get too cold or your eyelids begin to feel heavy. Stand up, call a friend or your brother, talk for awhile and be amazed at how quickly the hour passes. Maybe this won’t be as bad as literally every other person you talked to said it would be.

Step 3.3. At 4 AM, go with all the women that are waiting in the parking lot on a journey to find coffee. Ask where everyone is from, smile, and revel in your absurd shared experience. Cheer loudly upon finding a Späti, and drink your cup of watery, terrible coffee. Unexpectedly make a new friend.

Step 3.4. Pace the parking lot with your new friend. Talk about politics, friend each other on Facebook, talk about how annoying German bureaucracy is. When your new friend says she has to pee, spot her as she ducks behind a car. Afterwards, give her hand sanitizer and congratulate her on her first outdoor pee.

Step 3.5. Pace some more until all of a sudden it is time to line up. Stand in a huddle by the door until someone takes charge of this group of grown adults. Form a line, and laugh uncontrollably as one of the people ahead of you turns around and says, “It’s lonely at the top.”

Step 3.6. Struggle your way through the German and explain to the security guard at the door that you are here for your student permit. March up the stairs, take a seat. Fight sleep by making conversation with people who have a passport from the same country as you or your new friend.

Stage 4. The (Possible Non-)Bestowal of Your Permit

Step 4.1. Wait for your number to be called, and be greeted by an overworked, sleepy Ausländerbehörde employee. Try not to get mad when he tells you that your bank documents should have been notarized but that you’ve got some time to fix it. Ask him repeatedly that your overnight wait was not in vain. Receive a temporary extension and make a new appointment to come back that is at a reasonable hour. Alternatively, receive your resident permit and march out, successful. Pay for your permit at a nondescript kiosk while a security guard stares at you the entire time. 

Step 4.2. Congratulations! No matter what piece of pretty, pink paper you received in that hellish office, you’ve escaped. You’ve made a new friend, you’ve heroically pulled an all-nighter, you’ve experienced servicewürste firsthand, and you’ve got something that makes it acceptable for you to live here — at least for now. Emerge into the cold, cloudy morning and fall asleep on both the bus and tram ride home. Eat the food you packed for yourself when you arrive and remember you are hungry. Get your first sleep in 40 hours, wake up, go to class, and accept that your sleep schedule will take weeks to repair.

A night at the Ausländerbehörde won’t be as scary as other students have told you if you follow this expert guide. Embrace the restlessness, the bad coffee, the absurdity, and, most importantly, keep your new document close.

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CommuniTEA Promotional Poster (Credit: Malak N.AlSayyad and Mario-Jose Sarmiento)

CommuniTEA took place last Wednesday night in the Factory. Across the dark courtyard you could see the buzzing dance room, lit by fairy lights, inviting you in. CommuniTEA was the second event in a series of three organized by Pankow Conversations. In an attempt to bridge differences of opinion, the events provide a space for the college to connect to its neighbors. Each event has a central theme. Can you guess this one’s?

The event’s slogan was not “What does community mean to you?” Or “How do you define community?” Instead it was simply: “Come celebrate the change of seasons with your neighbors.” The slogan embodies the event’s focus. It centered on its activities rather than discussion. Questions of community and neighborhood were integrated into the activities. The event’s format was fragmented and informal. There were three different workshop stations, and people were free to choose which one they preferred. Bowls of chips and chocolates on the tables, a vague smell of parsley in the air, and late 90’s pop hits playing in the background contributed to the ambience.

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Our very own Honey.(Credit: Lisa Ostrovska)

If you’ve recently set foot in the dorm gardens between W16 and K24, a few medium-sized boxes may have caught your eye. Once you approach, you’ll notice the signs that warn you not to get too close – you’re not supposed to disturb the bees that have been there since spring.

Responsible for them is Daniel Bauer, a local beekeeper who runs an apiary in the botanical garden in Blankenfelde, about 3 kilometers north of campus. I meet him in the office of the administration building to talk about his work with bees, the environment, and how the collaboration with BCB came to be one Friday morning in late August. Before we begin the interview, the beekeeper gives me a jar of honey as a sample, which I gladly take home to my apartment. By the time I sit down to type up the interview, the jar is already half empty and my fingers sticky, a result of my roommate and I shamelessly sneaking spoonfuls straight out of the jar while savoring the last days of summer.

By now the first big batch of honey has arrived at the school and is a part of our cafeteria’s breakfast buffet.

After Daniel Bauer sits down on the couch in the administration building and I have set up the recorder, he points to a small red dot above his left eyebrow that I would have otherwise overlooked: A bee sting. When I ask how often this happens, he shrugs it off with a smile and tells me that being stung is just inevitable if you’re a beekeeper, despite the fact that he wears a protective suit:

When I started, I just wore a sort of veil around my head, but the bees find a way to get through it everywhere. Then I had a jacket with a veil, and by now I’m wearing an overall, a closed suit to prevent the bees from coming through almost entirely. But it still happens occasionally, and I generally get stung around five times a day. The stinger stays in the skin, so you have to pull it out very quickly so you don’t get too much venom in the wound. But you get used to the pain.

Don’t get me wrong – every sting hurts just as badly as the first one, but you learn to look ahead and keep working rather than think about the pain. The thing about beekeeping is that you’re in nature a lot, and there is always something trying to distract you. Either it rains, or it’s cold, the bees buzz around, you get stung, but you just have to try and stay focused. And this way even being stung becomes a minor thing.

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The European Parliament in Strasbourg, 05/02/2014. (Credit: David Iliff)

The European Union will collapse within fifteen years. The EU is a political monster created by the elite. Its goal is to exploit the populations of nations which have nothing in common, all in the interest of globalization and big companies. Its bureaucracy, to use an expression of Nietzsche, is the “coldest of all cold monsters” [*1]. It employs 42 500 [*2] outrageously privileged European civil servants who are supported by the taxpayer to produce nothing. Brussels has absorbed the sovereignty of its state members, which triggered secessionist velleity in Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders, … The European Union is not elected and yet it has the authority to impose its will on countries and their citizens. The EU prefers legislating on the size of the cucumbers and bananas [*3] instead of solving the refugee crisis. The euro is an economic absurdity. The EU is an abomination.

Enough!

Thank you for reading this subtle and optimistic summary of the main critiques concerning the European Union. Today, it is not only the “extreme-right” parties who convey this speech. Sentiments of Euroscepticism and populism have spread to the traditional political parties that have been in power for the last decades. But most people who make claims along the lines of those above don’t even know what they are talking about when it comes to the EU.

So we might ask: What is meant by the “EU”? Let us examine its history and structure more closely before making our evaluation as to its fate.

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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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