Students occasionally ask me what I do other than teaching. “Research” is a very boring answer to many of them. They are more excited to learn that traveling to conferences is a big part of the research component of my job. On Sept. 15-17, I attended a conference in Essen-Werden, Germany.
The conference dealt with the social context of one of the texts that I work on (the Sayings Gospel Q). What was unique about this conference is that it brought together European Q scholars, who tend to focus on philology and theological ideas in the text, with American Q scholars, who tend to focus on social history, archaeology, and cultural context with respect to Q. It was, needless to say, an interesting mix.
Essen-Werden is not a large city; it’s kind of out in the countryside. It’s a small enough town that you can’t count on everyone knowing English, so you’d better have a few German phrases handy to get you to the train station, help you find a restroom, and whatnot.
Germany, as many know, has a vested interest in preserving and restoring significant places related to WWII. So for instance, I visited a synagogue in Essen that was damaged, but not completely destroyed, during Kristallnacht. It has been restored as a museum and memorial:
We remember WWII differently in the US. Because the conflict didn’t happen on our soil, there’s nothing to restore; there are only new memorials to erect.
Sometimes when we travel, we’re so busy noting differences between cultures that we often miss the vast similarities. For instance, many Germans, as with many Americans, would not like your dog to poop on their lawn (more properly, their “garden”):
Thus, although the language is different and the customs are different, folks are remarkably similar worldwide, even in the most mundane ways, despite how the media often constructs and displays our “essential” differences.
(Germany *does* have–in my opinion–vastly better baked goods than the US.)