Complicated and interlocking political and economic administration systems. I expected most of Germany to be devoid of trees and heavily influenced by the Cold War cement. Waking up at the end of my flight I noticed a polka dotted landscape of villages that grew in size while coming closer to major cities. All over Germany there are fields of wind turbines and solar panels. A brave utilization of land, lush and beautiful. The area I called home for a year is the ‘Ruhrpott,’ distinguished by a preserved mining heritage reminding me of Butte, America. Embodied in the state-of-the-art UNESCO museum at the Zollverein Mining area, it follows Germany’s history in utilization of coal mining, industrialization, and worker life in the area. This museum displays local artifacts ranging from archeological treasures found while mining, cultural tides of an imperial past, and the final chapters of coal mining in the area. Local Dortmund peers educated me on the Fußball Club rivalries and diverse communities within the Ruhrpott. As one could expect, this city prides itself on diversity with citizens coming from all over the world. I was particularly impressed with the international students at the Techniche Universität campus as they number 14% of the student body.
I opted to intern with a local high school as an English teaching assistant in my second semester. Unsure how this experience would go, once these “at risk” students learned about where I was from their curiosity pushed them to communicate in my native language. It helped I spoke enough German to answer simple questions and I was able to play a bit of charades when these students wanted to dig deeper than their English textbooks allowed. (I was really proud when during this year my I managed to pass as a local giving directions at the Hauptbahnhofs.)
Personal connections are the lasting souvenir from Dortmund. In an online German Intensive Language course, I invited a bunch of peers out one evening and quickly became friends with a Turkish fellow, Maltepe. He had been attending a Military Academy in Istanbul with the expectation to become an officer. I immediately knew I’d found another politics buff. We traded thoughts about Turkish current events and American culture. I enjoyed telling him stories of my Montana home and other parts of the U.S., particularly national parks, and he enjoyed explaining growing up in Malatya on an apricot farm. He opened up about his love of Turkey and his hope for a better future. He works hard for his studies in a foreign country, learning his fifth language, working, and following a different career than he was educated for. He became a fellow explorer of German culture, architecture, bratwursts, and museums.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time using the Deutsche Bahn public trains because of the easy use long distance and local systems. I was able to use the regional train systems with the German 9 Euro Ticket allowing individuals to buy an all-inclusive ticket to travel anywhere in Germany (regional and local in all cities). This was a promotional legislation and experiment to see if Germany could attract a large amount of tourism after the pandemic. It worked and train platforms had no elbowroom and felt like being at a concert.
Dortmund is an undiscovered gem. A central location near the Rhine river, there is easy access to historical sites in Germany such as Cologne, Aachen, and just a few train stops from Münster (where they conceived of national sovereignty). The downtown boasts the oldest Pharmacy in Western Europe that was founded in 1332 which put into perspective how young the United States are. While traveling Germany and exploring the national museums show an ancient and divided history in a youthful nation (remember it only unified after the fall of the Berlin wall). I was fortunate to study and travel Germany while political passions were high. The election of a new Chancellor (Olaf Schultz of the SPD). A common spirit of decency and respect and anti-Nazi sentiment referring to the far-right AfD party. Traveling the former Eastern block countries when Putin’s War in Ukraine began gave me a fright and incentivized a habit of being glued to the news even while in museums. I had a few heavy visits to concentration camps; in particular the Dachau camp which my great grandfather Allen Chesbro Jr. (UM Class of 1941) helped to liberate with the Rainbow Brigade. I enjoyed representing Montana to my international peers, it gave me a diplomatic perspective I hope to carry in my final year at the University of Montana. The intensive German language learning courses offered by TU were a great way to meet other new exchange students and there were many events on the TU campus to connect with the local Germans before classes began. Learning a language takes a little humor and a lot of dedication to try. I took many classes on the E.U. structure and recent crises. I learned from new friends to make traditional Calcutta Curry and Schnitzel while memorizing different phrases in Turkish. While participating in day trips and longer travels in Europe I taught these same friends to respond ‘Fight On’ to my chant of ‘Go Griz’.