Monday, December 05, 2005

Ed Hamelrath sends news from Dresden

Hallo to One and All at the History Dept. in Memphis!

First of all, I apologize profusely for not checking in earlier. The time simply goes by so fast it is difficult to keep track.

For those of you who don’t remember me, or who never met, I took off in September, 2003 with a Fulbright scholarship (I was actually part of their help for intellectually needy students program known as the ‘Half-Brighters’) to research my dissertation on the East German Police. The scholarship only lasted 10 months, but it was a great 10 months! Not enough to finish the research, but an excellent headstart. (Full of some fascinating people some of whom were geniuses and some who were dangerous.) Anyway, since then I have been keeping my head – barely above water by teaching English, and doing numerous written translation jobs. This is the former East Germany, so this kind of thing is always in demand. Sometimes in fact, I feel I am the only American in a 200 km square area of Dresden.

Unfortunately it takes time away from my diss, but that is preceeding actually these days much better. I have just been accepted to participate in a conference in Omaha in March, so that helps to bring focus. Dan (Unowsky) is doing his best to keep me in line, and I think it is working. On the way to Nebraska, I will stop into the department so say hello.

Part I: A few highlights

To expand on the above: I am guest-scholar here at the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism. I have a little office with several other graduate hopefuls who are from Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and even Germany. We are in Dresden’s former Judicial Center (on the Technical University Campus), that was later used by both the Nazis and the Communists to execute political prisoners, often by guillotine. My ‘caretaker’ here is Dr. Michael Richter who has been entirely open with help and advice. I even get to use all his files. Simply a great guy with a knack for German word-play – he has even published a book of aphorisms. He has nearly killed himself lately, sliding off of an icy cliff and falling off a ladder picking apples.

Last semester and this semester I have been teaching classes on American History (for the Hannah Arendt Insitute) with a colleague, Dr. Mike Schmeitzner (from Saxony) who has really developed a fascination for the US in the past few years. The level of negativity against the US is really quite astounding, and is often felt in these classes – but more about that later. I have also done some lectures on American history, politics, and culture, etc., for the language department of the TU Dresden – one last semester with a current Fulbrighter.

For my dissertation, I have travelled to Berlin, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Munich, Stuttgart just to name a few places. It is either trudging through the archives or getting personal interviews, which are always interesting. Everyone wants to know what the heck an American is doing researching such a things as the East German Police.

In the past year, the Hannah Arendt Institute has developed a partnership with an organization in Walbrzych, Poland in Lower Silesia (south of Wroclaw/Breslau), called the ‘European Centre.’ It is based in an old German castle (this is of course in pre-1945 German territory) that reportedly ‘King O’ Pop’ Michael Jackson nearly bought to ‘get away from it all’ (should a’ done it, Mike!). Things here have been a bit uneven in the birthing pains, but there have been some good conferences. For example, I helped work a conference there in August on Communist and ex-Communists Political Parties, hosted by Stephane Courtois who edited the famous ‘Black Book of Communism’ (1997). Many of the participants had at some time been in the party, including Courtois. I am convinced that they make the best commentators. Appropos, one of my highlights in Germany has been to meet the brilliant Wolfgang Leonhard who wrote, among many, ‘Children of the Revolution’ (I think it is so-called in English). He was with Walter Ulbricht’s group out of Moscow in 1945 that helped to found the GDR in 1949. Though Leonhard became critical and had to flee already in 1948.)

During the Fulbright time 2003-2004, I was able to particpate in a the Berlin Journalists Program (where they wanted, in addition, a couple of Poly Sci and Historian types to jazz up the joint) – there were 11 participants. This was amazing as we met many politicians from the Bundestag, went to the Chancellor’s office, the President’s office, and the public news (main news services of Germany) studios of ARD and ZDF. We were all a bit surprised on the concensus on the need for change, no matter what side of the political spectrum they were on – and an American should know that the political concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are deeply embedded here, and are really quite alien to the American scene I believe. (I have started to use these terms more myself if fact). Along for the ride were Charles Hawley, now editing the English ‘SPIEGEL-on-line’ service, Marek Dutschke (son of the famous German radical 60s leader Rudi Dutschke), and Nick Kulish who writes sometimes for the Wall Street Journal. We all became friends thanks to a common positivistic-cynical outlook we all seem to have on the world. Though this did not mean we agreed politically – hardly! But this made it all the more fun and interesting.

Most interesting for me, as my interests are in European History and Politics is to watch the bizarre situation that is on going with German politics. Very soon – if Dr. Crouse allows, and if all this is not too boring – I will send itstallments on the whacky politcal situation in Germany (with a side on Poland), anti-Americanism here (violently rearing its head again after ‘Katrina’), German self-hatred, and bits on the city of Dresden (including the big celebration of the dedication of the Frauenkirche, inevitably overloaded with symbolic meaning). Saxony politics is also interesting as now the extreme left (communists) and right parties (neo-nazis) have representatives in the state legistlature.

I should mention that in December of 2003, after a short stay in Budapest – still my favorite place in all of Europe - my girlfriend and I made it to Cluj, Rumania (capital of Transylvania) to see Chris Ivanes. He was doing very well, and in great spirits. He showed us a tape of an interview he did for a Rumanian TV stattionthat he works for. His girlfreind at the time was very pleasant and hospitable – we all met at her parents’ place one day where we ate like kings, and in the Eastern European tradition got stinking ‘blue’ on schnapps till we woke up the next morning!

I will leave it that for now, and send the next bit by the end of the week (I hope). Warning: my spelling has deteriorated and I have no English ‘spell-check’ on my computer.

All the best to the Dept., Ed


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