Don's Diary

November 24, 1995

Sunday. Breakfast in my lovely apartment on the edge of the Grunewald in Berlin. Decide to visit the "East" on the bus. Get there and realise it is really the middle. Bratwurst by the Brandenburg gate. It is odd to be face to face with such an important and familiar symbol which is also a rather ordinary spectacle. Finish bratwurst and head back home.

The Kurfurstendamm is underwhelming. Meet family from Tegel airport and allow one hour for the journey. Reach airport in ten minutes, park easily. This is not Heathrow. Or Frankfurt. Yet. Wish that sterling was a bit stronger.

Monday. Read papers for news of elections, the last for Berlin as a separate Land. The Communists win the east (middle) and the Christian Democrats take the west (west). So a wall is still there and the formation of workable coalitions will take time. Presentation in the afternoon by the administration of the Wissenschaftskolleg to the new fellows. They tell us they exist to support our research.

The vocabulary of intellectual strategy dominates. Of course, there is financial control. Of course, there is the management of scarce resources. But the language of economic calculation, value for money and management are relatively invisible parts of a system which is committed primarily to research.

Go to the coffee room to think about this. Suddenly feel very happy. Decide to fax colleagues in London and tell them what is still possible. This is an unusual and elite institution, so it is unwise to generalise. But one can dream.

Tuesday. Go to my office and wait for students to call and for phone to ring. Nothing happens. Check diary for meetings. Can only find the word "lunch with fellows" on every page. Suddenly I remember where I am and start writing a book.

Stop for a while and read. Suddenly feel very happy and decide not to fax colleagues in London. Phone them instead. Here at the Wissenschaftskolleg I am not externally accountable in any shape or form. However this does not mean there is no quality control at all. On the contrary there is quite a lot, but it operates at the point of entry.

There is a general lesson here, even if the Kolleg itself is a model that cannot be generalised: quality organisations invest heavily in making sure they hire good people and then have the confidence to trust them to get on with it. Constant ongoing evaluation has more to do with anxiety and the management of mediocrity. And endless quality chatter will never bring it about.

Wednesday. Talk to other fellows at lunch. Exciting diversity and tolerance. No one mentions the word "interdisciplinary". Or Research Assessment Exercise. Explain that I am interested in auditing and evaluation. Silence. Explain that I am interested in studying the phenomenon rather than producing it. General relief.

Animated discussion about the absence of ticket inspectors on Berlin buses follows. Auditing is interesting at last. Return to my office in a good mood. Colleague from London phones to discuss some administrative matters. He is not in a good mood. Something keeps getting in the way of the job he was hired to do and which he is actually very good at.

Thursday. Boat trip with fellows, families and Kolleg staff around Berlin. Gluhwein und Bier. Begin to think I am an intellectual. Discussion among other fellows about opera and theatre. Decide I am not an intellectual.

We can see that the U-Bahn across the river has just been reconnected to Warschauer Strasse in the old East. Bits of remaining wall strike the eye across the river from the Reichstag. Lots of cranes. And lots of British and Polish guest workers to help with the digging.

Friday. Briefly depressed in the morning. Will never speak German as well as the German fellows speak English. Discussion over lunch (in English) with (German) medieval historian about how to get tickets for Germany v Bulgaria. Crunch match. Finish draft chapter of book in the afternoon. Have time to make notes on some ideas for teaching when I return. Beginning to remember what it is like to be an academic.

Phone colleague in London to discuss this but he is engaged and probably more than briefly depressed. Discover that kindergarten places are available for children. Wife is now very happy. The school is a recently privatised ex-British forces establishment. Berlin is, perhaps finally, emerging from its garrison status.

Saturday. Manage to get a ticket for the match. Take the family to Charlottenburg. Three-year-old twins insist on visiting the porcelain museum. Take them to romantic paintings instead, but strapped into the pushchair. Dad sets off the alarm while telling them about a work by Schinkel.

Getting a sense of the best of the worst of this city. Cultural riches (German archaeologists seemed to have moved most of the city of Pergamon to Berlin). Green expanses (but a lot of relatively young trees since many were used as firewood during the war). Second division football (How can this really be a capital city?). Graffiti everywhere. And something darker in the background which contributes to Berlin's edgy restlessness.

Michael Power Professor of accounting at the London School of Economics and a visiting fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin for the 1995/96 academic year.

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