Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Perspectives of Frankfurt and Goethe

My summer of teaching at Goethe University and living in Frankfurt, Germany was valuable on so many levels. I enjoyed working with the Goethe students and experiencing a language and culture I had virtually no previous knowledge of. I must admit that I have become too comfortable (at times) living in Japan. My summer in Germany shook things up for me, and made me understand a little better what my international exchange students go through here in Japan. I hope the experience has made me a better teacher, anthropologist and photographer. Please excuse this highly reflexive post. But I feel I need to say something now that I have left Germany and am back teaching in Japan. I am not doing this for any sense of closure, because I don't want the experience to end. And in my mind it never will. And so this post, as I told my students at Goethe before I left, is not a sayonara (farewell) but rather a mata ne (see you again).

I went to a lot of places in and around Frankfurt and I took thousands of photos. One might think that seven weeks of this would make me somewhat familiar with Frankfurt. But two things make me question such an idea. Towards the end of my stay my friend Fabian took me on a tour of Frankfurt, beginning with a trip to the top of the Main Tower. Here I was able to see great views and gain a better understanding of the layout of the city. I was surprised at how close certain places were; taking the underground all of the time really distorted my sense of space and time. It seemed crazy that I had to take two different subway lines to get to the university when it was in fact so close to my flat. So I suppose this is a good lesson for anthropologists: get as high as you can to reach better understandings of your environment.

After seven weeks in Frankfurt I left for a three week visit to the United States. Then I returned to Frankfurt (to grade papers and calculate final grades). Upon my return to Frankfurt so many things seemed different. Posters and advertisements in the train stations had changed. Construction had been started or progressed in certain areas. The convenience store below my flat was remodeled. There were enough changes to make me wonder if I had actually lived there for seven weeks. And upon my return, still under the influence of jet lag, one of my students assertively quizzed me about where I had and had not been in Frankfurt. These things made me question the representations of Frankfurt I was making with my photos. Did I really know enough about Frankfurt to post photos on this blog? Did I really have an sort of ethnographic authority to post my photos? Were my Goethe students really justified to be paranoid about me "anthropologizing" them? I will continue to ponder these questions and welcome any thoughts/comments from those reading this post.

Click here to see photos of my friends and students from Frankfurt.

The Ethnology graduate students at Goethe have a tradition of pounding a nail into a special stump after they have finished their degree. Here Bastian looks at the stump in anticipation as he works to finish his Master's Thesis. Oh so many nails sticking out... but not to be hammered down.

Some of the Goethe Ethnology students are doing interesting things with photography. Check out their work below:

Link to Armin's Europott Frankfurt:

Link to Armin's fotografie:

Link to Daniel's thorpe-d:

Link to Annie's Photography:

When trying to come up with a conclusion for this post, the clip on my new Goethe University ball point pen broke off. So much for the stereotype of tough, rugged German products. Much of what I thought I knew about Germany and visual anthropology was challenged during the summer. And I am grateful. Frankfurt: I'll be back. Until then...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on getting to know a city :) it's true, there's so many little detritus that settle on a city for a short period and then leave. Almost like a kind of exfoliation.