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MASNEWS 2/2015: From Charlie Brown to NATO Headquarter

Junker _detlef

Welcome to a new issue of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies’ MAS newsletter!

This edition features the commencement celebration of the BAS and MAS classes of 2015. Scarlett Ruan and Hanqi Yu, two current MAS students, review this year´s MAS Berlin excursion. Dusan Fisher (MAS class of 2014) reports on how his academic and professional life evolved after the MAS.

Further, Matthew Niebes, a current MAS student, provides insight into his extracurricular engagement with a university theater production in Heidelberg.

Please feel free to forward our newsletter to anyone interested in American Studies. Of course, we appreciate any feedback you would like to share with us.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Junker
HCA Founding Director

MAS Commencement 2015

On April 24, the HCA celebrated the commencement of the BAS and MAS classes of 2015 in the lecture hall of the Old University. In these festive surroundings, family, friends, and colleagues joined in the graduation ceremony of fifteen M.A. students and six B.A. students.

2015-1-caizerThe commencement ceremony was opened by the rector of Heidelberg University, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel. Acknowledging the university’s motto semper apertus (“always open”), Professor Eitel expressed his heartfelt wishes to the graduates, whose time in Heidelberg had opened new doors for them through which they could start changing the world. After that Prof. Dr. Henry Keazor, the vice dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, reminded the class of 2015 that where ever they end up, they should always remember their roots in Heidelberg—a place to live, to study, and to return to. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Junker, the founding director of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, then welcomed the graduates and their families, as well as the friends of the HCA. He pointed out that the students will profit from their interdisciplinary and intercultural education and reminded them to continue to expand their skills every day so they can put to good use their knowledge about the politics, culture, economy, and society of the United States. Professor Junker then introduced the commencement speaker as someone who has built bridges across the Atlantic and the whole world.

James D. Bindenagel is a former U.S. ambassador, a career diplomat, and expert on Germany, who currently holds the Henry Kissinger Chair for Governance and International Security at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-University Bonn. He started his keynote-address by comparing the friendship and camaraderie of the HCA students with the transatlantic relationship – both are based on trust. Born after the end of World War II and in a sense the child of President Truman’s containment policy, the special German-American relationship was also an important pillar for the U.S.-European partnership, both militarily and economically. This pillar remained a mainstay of U.S. foreign policy for decades, but, according to Professor Bindenagel, the question “Does the west still matter?“ needs to be recast as “Is the grand bargain still valid?” While President Obama has repeatedly emphasized that “America has no better partner than Europe,” Professor Bindenagel thinks it is the other way around – Europe has no better partner than America.

Professor Bindenagel’s commencement speech then turned to the topics of liberty and freedom, which are at the core of both nations. He reminded the audience that nothing epitomized the meaning of liberty and freedom better than the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty five years ago. It also marked the beginning of a new era in transatlantic relations. Their continued importance has become evident many times since 1989, most recently in the Ukraine crisis which showed that peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted. At the same time, there remain many challenges for the foreign policy of the U.S. and its partners around the globe: the Middle East, the emergence of the Islamic State, Iraq, and North Korea, to name only a few. While the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or the NSA affairs could put a strain on the U.S.-German relationship, Professor Bindenagel reminded the graduates that they should always act on the knowledge they gained at the HCA to defend freedom. Europe and America need to stand together. The commencement speaker encouraged the students to find their own answer to the question of whether the West still mattered and ended his remarks with a quote by Nelson Mandela: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

After a musical interlude with Joscha Sörös (piano) and Jan Prax (sax) and the presentation of the diplomas, the valedictorians of the MAS class of 2015, Leah Karels and Everett Messamore, shared some of their memories of the HCA. Following the ceremony, the graduates and their family and friends joined the other guests for a reception at the HCA, where they reminisced and made future plans. Congratulations to both the BAS and MAS classes of 2015!

Berlin Excursion

The MAS class of 2016 visited Berlin for a week in May. Scarlett Ruan and Hanqi Yu share their impressions.

​With excitement and many different expectations, the MAS class 2016 met at the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof on the morning of May 4, where the journey to the German capital began. Led by our supervisors Katia Rostetter and Victoria Caillet, we got on the train to Berlin. It was an enriching train ride for everyone. Even though we all had to wake up really early, no one showed disinterest in one another. We had great discussions, exchanged experiences and ideologies, leaving us in admiration those who broke their own social, cultural circles while trying to understand classmates who come from different backgrounds. This excursion also taught us about interrelationships and mix of differences, being an opportunity for us not only to learn about one of the most renowned cities in Europe, but also to respect each other’s differences with grace.


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On day one in Berlin, an organized boat trip on the Spree lifted up the curtain for the week. It was a thoughtful idea because there’s no better way of getting to know a place than to see where the “blood of the city” runs past. Red rabbits running in the park and friendly people who waved at us from the banks of the river made us see the charm and openness of this city and its people.

On day two, the visit to the parliament exposed us to the political history of German legislation, answering questions like how does the legislative branch work and what are the political rankings in Germany? The lecturer led us through various historical periods, not only of the building itself, but also of the alteration of German legislative activities.

We laughed together when the lecturer made some funny jokes and we learned so many interesting facts about the Parliament. For example, the giant glass mirror hanging from the ceiling, which provides 70% of the light in the Parliament, reflects the German people’s rooted-in consciousness of environment-friendliness and energy conservation.

This fascinating trip overwhelmed us with the charm of Berlin: its culture, its history, its dynamite energy. If it were not for the HCA’s support and dedication in planning and guiding, this trip would have been a chaotic experience. Despite our trip being affected by a Deutsche Bahn strike, and the metro system seeming to be confusing and ever-changing, we still proudly made it till the end.

In the first two days we got the chance to have guided tours both by bus and by boat. During the boat trip, we enjoyed the wonderful architecture and landscapes along the river. During the bus trip, we explored many interesting corners of this city together with a local guide, whose humorous commentaries drew a vivid image of the past history. Berlin is a city with so many stories!

We also went to numerous museums. All the guides were fantastic, especially the one from Allied Museum. Not only did she demonstrate the historical and political background of the American airlift in Berlin, she also integrated into the lecture her own experiences with German people who lived in that hard time as children. Of course, we showed our appreciation with focused attention and long-standing applause.

Apart from exploring history in the museum, we were also introduced to a more modern side of Berlin: its street art. Graffiti-art is an inseparable part of the streetscape and demonstrated the freedom and tolerance of the city. We encountered some of the most extraordinary graffiti workings, expressing the social and political concerns of the artists. Though the weather was very cold and windy that day, the passion of the guide ignited our interest.

This trip has shown us many faces of Berlin but also bonded and tied us together like a true family: We loved and supported each other in so many beautiful ways, especially during the trip, and like most we felt at home, surrounded by all our classmates.

Life alongside the MAS program

Matthew Niebes, a student of the MAS class of 2016, describes how his engagement with the play “Dog Sees God,” has influenced his life alongside his MAS studies. Two performances of the play were presented in May 2015 by the “Schauspielgruppe des Anglistischen Seminars”, one of the oldest English drama groups in the country.

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Laurence Williams (MAS class of 2015, left)
played the lead in “Dog sees God”,
Matthew Niebes (right)

© pictures by Jeff Silence

​​Dog Sees God complicates the story of Charlie Brown and the other characters of Charles Schulz’s iconic comic strip Peanuts by portraying the characters as high school students rather than children. A coming-of-age exploration of identity, bullying, and mortality, the play struggles with its distinction as a comedy considering a broad range of emotions that do not necessarily lead to a happy end.

My experience with Dog Sees God changed me as an actor, but what I have gained in skill has only been possible with the collaborative efforts of the cast, director, and the community we built together. We are all sad at the loss of the thing that brought us together, but I am so thankful for the connections I made from this experience. I portrayed the character Beethoven, a bullied creative that reminded me of myself in high school. Especially as a first semester master’s student, my personal emotions, fears, and longings were not terribly different from the character.

Building a community can be one of the most difficult parts of living in Heidelberg and working on a master’s degree. Unlike other international students, master’s students enjoy over a year abroad. Despite Heidelberg’s delightful scenery and fascinating history, the student turnover rate moves so quickly it makes building a solid, supportive, diverse group of friends insufferably difficult. In the first months of studying in Heidelberg, my closest friend at the HCA moved back to the US to pursue her dream job. Now as I move into my last semester in Heidelberg, about half of the friends I have made will leave the city to pursue further studies or jobs.


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As a result of being in the play, I have made connections with other students involved in theater and feel a greater sense of belonging within the university. This play gave me a chance to work through the struggles of living in a new place with a community; even though, that community dissolved after the last performance. As I pursue my studies in Heidelberg, I look forward to building new communities within the German university system.

Life After the MAS: Dusan Fisher

Dusan Fisher, graduate of the MAS class of 2014 is currently working as an operational analyst at NATO HQ Supreme Command Transformation. He reports how the MAS program has influenced his academic and professional life.

2015-2-life-afterGetting accepted for the Heidelberg Center for American Studies’ Master program was very exciting for me. I still can recall that Friday evening in May when I received the e-mail congratulating me on the achievement. I even remember the phone interview with the MAS Coordinator Dr. Anne Sommer after which I panicked and being afraid I had not said enough, called her back to say how much I would love to study at the HCA. Ever since my arrival in Heidelberg in 2012, the HCA and particularly the people working / studying there have been a great influence on my life.

First of all, the HCA staff (with any luck, my friends pardon me for putting staff first). Yes, some of them were better teachers than others. Yes, some of them were better friends than others. But, all in all, together they construct a solid group of very well-educated and intelligent people who have always been very helpful and inspirational.

The second influence came from my classmates, fellows, peers, but most of all, friends. The 2014 class was a mixture of characters, countries, nations, cultures, and values that created a melting pot of ideas. While spending time together, both inside and outside of classes, we managed to establish some long-last friendships. Although when studying abroad you seldom see your peers after you graduate, I still hope to keep the pledge to meet everyone in their respective countries someday.

Despite the praise both groups of teachers and students honestly deserve, at the end of the day the decisions that influence us the most are those of our own. While still in the program, I began exploring some post-MA opportunities. Since my primary focus of study was American foreign policy and its history, I applied and later got into the internship program at the George C. Marshall Center for European Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Even before graduating from the HCA, I signed up for teaching and guest-lecturing at the University of Economics and Comenius University, both based in Bratislava. I lectured on the topics of American society, history, political system, and foreign policy. Since I was still considered a student at that time, I could remember which teacher’s practices and habits to implement and which ones to avoid.

I am currently based in Norfolk, Virginia, working as an operational analyst at NATO HQ Supreme Command Transformation. My contract expires in September and I still do not have a clear idea what the future holds for me. One thing remains sure – I want to continue pursuing the goal of stronger transatlantic ties, raising awareness of American issues in Europe, and build on what I learned at the HCA.

Upcoming Events

October 1, 2015

  • The HCA opens the online application process for the MAS class of 2018. The due date for applications is March 31, 2016. We strongly encourage and invite our readers to spread the news amongst friends, family and colleagues, who are interested in American Studies, and to apply for the MAS program.

October 5, 2015

  • Start of Orientation Week for the new MAS and BAS classes at the HCA.

October 15, 2015

  • Awarding of the Rolf Kentner Dissertation Prize to Tom Kaden, Universität Leipzig for his Ph.D. thesis on “Professional Creationism in the United States: A Sociological Perspective”.



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Latest Revision: 2015-09-03
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