Don's Diary

July 5, 1996

SUNDAY. Concede four (unstoppable) goals this morning for my German football team. Try to explain to twin sons that this is not normal. Coincidentally they are also four today and birthday party with other children takes place in the afternoon. It is very encouraging to learn that there are children more badly behaved than mine. My time as a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, the Institute for Advanced Study, in Berlin is coming to an end and I am beginning to reflect on what has been achieved both on and off the field of play.

Monday. Outing to the old Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. Building bears an uncanny resemblance to the London School of Economics. Start looking for my office, secretary etc. Nobody finds this very funny except me. Police states are much discussed by academics but it is overwhelming to see what is involved in the mechanics of data collection. Nothing less than an obsessive attention to the most banal facts of everyday life, a pathology of record keeping whose effects are still felt. Victims' fascination with reading their own files is also great and perpetuates the unhealthy prurience of this dreadful system. Either burn the lot or keep them for the next generation of historians (who will no doubt wish that they had been burned).

Tuesday. The Kolleg is being audited by the Landesrechnungshof, the state auditors. These people seem to be serious. When I introduce myself, they say they cannot talk to me about matters to do with the Kolleg. I reply that this is a pity since I could tell them a lot. Uneasy laughter. Am I being serious or not? I am not serious; my loyalty to the Kolleg and its supportive administration is absolute (almost). But I can see dangers ahead. Simple questions about the authorisation procedures for travel expenses can slide inperceptibly into tougher issues relating to intellectual strategy and the whole point of a research institution like this. And why do we need such a nice restaurant? I fear that unique and wonderful organisations like this will soon need the friends that they have established over the years.

Wednesday. United Kingdom tabloid coverage of the "Beef wars" in Germany makes embarrassing reading. Have I turned into a "good European"? Does this mean I cannot return to the UK? Today I had lunch with a Hungarian author, a Finnish economist and an Italian political scientist. The conversation proceeded in many languages (except Finnish, Hungarian and Italian). Sitting at this table it was easy to feel that the idea of Europe is strong and healthy. Difference, tolerance and all that sort of thing. Looking back at the UK there is an ugly and depressing British fundamentalism which has its roots in insecurity.

Final match for my Berlin football team in the evening. Before the game a German team mate tells me a joke about British beef and Arsenal football club which I do not really understand . . . or do I? We need to win to avoid relegation. With ten minutes to go the opposition, a crack team from Charlottenburg, lead by only one (unstoppable) goal after much pressure. We equalise and score again with a minute to go. Such drama and so few spectators. But it is time to celebrate; you would think we had really won something. It is a pity I will not be around for next year's relegation battle.

Thursday. Evening seminar at the Kolleg by Peter Glotz, author of a controversial book on the reform of German universities. It seems to me that the real crisis of German universities is that German professors talk too much. There were no questions to the speaker. Simply a series of presentations. This is academic life at its worst. I came to Germany to write a book about the excesses of auditing and evaluation in the UK. Now I think that German professors need a big dose of this sort of thing. How can one do this and avoid the pitfalls of over-auditing?

Friday. There is an end of term feeling about the Wissenschaftskolleg. The administration is increasingly preoccupied with next year's batch of lucky bastards (I mean, scholars). There is also less interaction among the fellows I or perhaps everybody is just avoiding me. Perhaps they do not wish to hear about auditing any more? Perhaps they never did? It is too late to worry. I shall be sad to leave, particularly as I am returning to be head of department. The "book" has been written so there is something concrete to show, but I feel I have only just begun to understand Berlin and the Germans.

Writing a book about the growth of auditing when every day the German papers reveal more of the crisis of public finances in Germany has been strange. It has given my project almost daily relevance but I cannot yet judge whether the Germans will respond by creating the silly evaluation systems we have in the UK. Yes, I can definitely feel next year's research and travel grant application coming on. And it will be essential to do field work in Berlin. Sneak off (although no one is watching) to Kieperts, a wonderful academic bookshop, to browse.

Saturday. It has been a long hard winter in Berlin. But the summer is here and the cafe and street life have a special quality. It is said one feels the intellectual benefits of being a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg years after leaving. I can only say that there are also lots of benefits while one is here.

Professor of accounting at the London School of Economics and 1995/96 fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

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