Judith Miller's Augsburg Year

We often encourage our students to go abroad:  ¿It will change your life,¿ we assure them.  And indeed, it always does.  They bounce back into our offices a year later excited about new cities, friends and families. My life has been utterly transformed by my stays in France¿the Parisian dream of an Ohio high school student years ago had come true.

Because I had taken many years of German in high school, the Emory-Augsburg faculty exchange was tempting.  The program with the Universität Augsburg was created in 1986 by Professor Thomas Burns. Over the years, graduate students and faculty have flown between Hartsfield and Munich Airport. Our connections deepened recently because our DAAD professor, Dr. Günther Kronenbitter, had come from Augsburg University. Christian Koepfer, now on the Ancient History staff at Augsburg, studied at Emory and even took History 500 with Professor Adamson and me. Thus, in the late summer of 2009, Professor Silvia Tschopp, a cultural historian at Augsburg, and I traded places for the year. 

No matter that Augsburg lies within the political state of Bavaria and is only an hour from Munich, one quickly finds out that it is really Schwäbisch, with a distinctive dialect (a missing dative and genitive) and traditions that resist any but the most limited affiliation with Bavaria. Augsburg was founded in 15 BCE during the rule of Augustus.  The Lech and Wertach Rivers surround it, and the city¿s Lech District is criss-crossed by narrow canals and more than 600 bridges. The cathedral has the oldest stained glass fragments in Europe.  In the Renaissance, it was a home to the Fuggers, the international banking family.  Many buildings in old city have Italianate balconies and windows that recall the city¿s trade and financial connections over the Alps. Most importantly, this southern German capital played a central role in Reformation History and is the source of the 1555 ¿Peace of Augsburg.¿ One can visit the rooms in the St.-Anna-Kirche where Luther stayed in 1518 during (unsuccessful) negotiations with the papal legate.  The city is proud to be the home of Leopold Mozart and Bertold Brecht. Of course, not all of the city¿s history was so glorious. The struggles of the region¿s large working class are recounted in murals on a main street. The 1917 art nouveau synagogue was burnt during Kristallnacht, but did survive the Holocaust. The new university, a vast tract of flat land south of the city with few trees, was built on the site of a World War Two Messerschmitt factory that used forced labor.

While there was history and music enough to keep one occupied for a year, my main task was to teach in the European Cultural History Program, one of several history faculties at the university.  I taught my courses in English¿while I wish I could report that my German abilities returned fully, that would be far from the truth.  I limped along, surrounded by colleagues and students who spoke English and French superbly. My classes had a mix of students from history programs as well as English, French and Italian.  I was able to teach some of my favorite courses, including ¿Revolutionary France¿ and ¿Music and Politics.¿ The students jumped into class discussions and showed a curiosity that extended well beyond the course materials. The colleagues, too, especially Günther Kronenbitter and Frau Inge Lev, in the program office, had endless good counsel, always in perfect English or French. I soon found companions for lunches and walks home. Il Porcino, the Italian restaurant that functions as the unofficial faculty club, welcomes strangers as if they were regulars. I was able to meet our 2010-2011 students from Augsburg, Hannes Baumgarten and Aleksandra Cierpinska, and was happy to help them adjust to Emory this fall. I even found a colleague who follows US football and basketball, a sure cure for homesickness.

Regional culture quickly became a favorite topic. A Göggingen journalist, who writes regularly on local history, helped to explain Augsburg¿s distinctive identity. My students described hometowns and local phrases, offering tours or ski lessons. They advised me on music¿the local group Anajo¿and podcasts.  They made sure that I knew about the Mozartfest in the spring and the outdoor opera in the summer. I introduced them to singer-songwriters like Caroline Herring. We talked about the meaning of ¿Juneteenth¿ with music from the Civil Rights era. They (politely!) feigned interest in digressions about the glories of the Ohio State Marching Band and the OSU-Michigan football game, and they sympathized about LeBron James¿ decision to leave the Cavaliers. 

One cannot talk about southern Germany without mentioning the mountains and especially the Allgäu¿the stretch of Alps to the south.  Frau Lev, an experienced mountain climber, led me halfway up the Zugspitze, through a perilous (for me) gorge called the Höllentalklamm. The family of a policeman took me for several weekend trips around the Allgäu. Their sons taught me to play tag, hide-n-seek, and pirates in German. To the north, the scenery and beer of Franken were the goal of an exhilarating drive with Christian Koepfer (who used to do mountain road races, I found) in May.

Thus for a year, I traded my Parisian heels for snow boots, my Sunday concerts at Saint-Eustache for the Saturday organ concerts at St.-Anna, metro carnets for Streiffenkarten and croissants for Walnusscreme-Torte at the Dichtl. While that sometimes took some adjustment, no adjustment was needed to the students and colleagues, and my newfound family of ¿pirates,¿ all of whom could not have been more welcoming. In short, it was a very good year.