Intersection of Influences

heiner mueller conference

Janine Ludwig (left), academic director of Dickinson's program in Bremen, and students re-enact a scene from a documentary film about Heiner Müller. Students, all class of 2016, from left to right, front row: Adrienne Brown, Rachel Schilling. Back row: Santiago Princ, George DeRosa, Ezra Sassaman, Cassandra Blyler, Katherine Mooradian.

Students experience a rich panoply of culture, literature and history in Berlin

by Tony Moore

Dickinson students spending the year in Bremen, Germany, recently headed to Berlin on a five-day excursion, and the agenda included trips to the Brandenburg Gate, the Pergamon Museum, East Side Gallery and a former Stasi prison.

The heart of the trip, though, was the Transatlantic Conference on Heiner Müller, co-organized by Janine Ludwig, academic director of the William G. and Elke Durden Bremen Program, on behalf of the International Heiner Müller Society.

“Heiner Müller is arguably the most important German-speaking playwright of the second half of the 20th century,” says Ludwig, who is the president of the International Heiner Müller Society. “He was an extremely charismatic and iconic figure who attracted and still attracts great minds in all kinds of fields: academics, artists, directors of theatre and film, political thinkers, sociologists, philosophers and many more.”

And many of those great minds—such as a German parliamentary leader, the chief dramaturg of Berlin’s celebrated avant-garde theater Volksbühne, a molecular biologist/civil rights activist and the president of Germany’s most prominent acting school—were in attendance.

“I was surprised by the wide variety and high caliber of the conference's guests,” says Santiago Princ ’16 (mathematics, German, computer science). “I joined a conversation with B. K. Tragelehn, a renowned director, author, translator and former student of Bertolt Brecht and friend of Müller, [and it was] indeed an amazing experience.”

What to carry first

“How often can students see how culture and politics interact and at the same time speak with highly influential figures of both to discuss that interaction?” says Sarah McGaughey, associate professor of German. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do so and to learn more about one of the major aspects of the late 20th century—the divided Germany.”

That intersection of history, culture, politics and language is where students found themselves living during their five days in Berlin.

“The first conversation I watched included a philosopher, a cultural journalist and a dramatic advisor, each of whom had a personal connection with the playwright,” says Ezra Sassaman ’16 (German). “It interested me that the work of a single man could carry so much meaning for three people of such differing professions.”

“The entire trip was filled with poignant moments of history and cultural difference, especially for me, after being raised in a small town,” says Rachel Schilling ’16 (German, English). “And the conference was an academic experience in itself simply because it was held in German, and we weren't accustomed to hearing long academic conversations in German.”

It sounds like just the sort of richly immersive event Müller himself would have loved.

“Müller famously said about the theatergoers and readers that he wanted to ‘burden the people with so much that they don’t know what to carry first,’ ” Ludwig says. “He believed that this concept of flooding or overwhelming the audience with images and thoughts would cause productive reactions.”

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Published October 30, 2014