British back on Berlin map

December 8, 1995

Germany's first institution devoted to the study of Britain is being set up in Berlin, a year after British occupying troops left the city.

The new Grossbritanium-Zentrum is to be both a research and teaching institution and expects to take on students of English culture, politics, economics and history by the next academic year.

It is based at Humboldt University, the oldest of Berlin's three universities and the only one in the city to have been controlled by the authorities in former East Germany until reunification.

The decision to establish an Anglo-German studies centre in Berlin was a direct result of the end of the Cold War. When the Allied forces officially left the city in June last year, the Berlin senate said it wanted something to remember them by.

The city already had the successful Kennedy Institute based at the Free University and specialising in American studies. It was decided also to establish a French studies centre at Berlin's Technical University and a British centre at Humboldt.

Anglo-German relations have received relatively little recent academic attention in Germany, which has tended to concentrate on its more problematic relationships with countries such as France and Poland or the influences of United States culture on its young people.

Politics professors also tend to feel that Britain's individual importance as a world power has waned, making the country an interesting subject of study for their students only as part of the European Union.

But support for the new culture from the university authorities is illustrated by their willingness to see it swallow up annually about DM1 million - more than Pounds 450,000 - when Humboldt University is facing cuts of DM20 million.

They hope part of this cost will be met through sponsorship. The British Council has already given Pounds 50,000 towards books to the centre, while the British Library has donated a Pounds 100,000 collection of 19th-century material on microfiche.

Jurgen Schlaeger, the first senior academic to be appointed to the Grossbritanien-Zentrum, said: "England has to offer a history and culture which is very important for us. There is a huge mass of people interested in aspects of Britain here both inside and outside universities. Our task is to respond to that."

He aims to work closely with the new Institute for German Studies at Birmingham University. The intention is to supplement the three permanent professorships at the Humboldt centre by recruiting lectures from Berlin's other two universities and abroad to give occasional classes ranging from law to music to geography.

Students arriving next autumn will be expected already to have first degrees and speak good English. Undergraduate programme and short courses for mature students are planned later. The emphasis will be on giving them a broad cultural knowledge of England including modern media and management, to make them as attractive as possible to employers throughout Europe.

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