On Saturday the 21st of February 2015 I was a speaker at the first Cambridge Undergraduate Conference in German Studies. The theme was “Germany in 2015” and I was part of the last panel whose theme was “Memory and Renewal”. This was scheduled for the end of the day, so I had ample time to watch other presentations and get sufficiently nervous.
I had never been to Cambridge before so at first it was quite overwhelming. I arrived the night before, where we were treated to a very old-fashioned, Harry Potter-esque ‘Formal Hall’ at Jesus College, which was worlds away from the regular Chinese takeaway and film watching in a rat-infested Nottingham house! After the meal I got to meet myriad German students from across the country, which was really interesting, as we’re sadly quite an eclectic bunch. When I retired for the day ahead I stayed at Trinity Hall (NOT, as I found out, the same as Trinity College, whoops).
The day in general was very interesting and the papers concerned a variety of different issues in Germany; from whether translators should be more dynamic and less literal in translating German medieval poetry, to a thought-provoking talk on contraception and abortion in Germany. (Let’s just say, I’m happy we have the NHS). My fellow Nottingham compatriot Kirsten gave a humorous and insightful overview of what it means to be a German, and compared the Danish and Sinti minorities; something I’d never even considered before. Unluckily Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, had to pull out the last minute due to the Greek Economic Crisis, but the key note speakers were still engaging and interesting. I especially liked the journalist from The Times, who had a voice ideally suited for audio-books.
After lunch and a water break (we were so spoiled!), our panel was up. I was the second speaker, and gave a paper on the memorialisation of the Holocaust, comparing Germany with Austria. I opened up with a discussion of my experience at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which I adapted from this blog post from 2013. I gave a brief overview of how both countries reacted towards their National Socialist past before examining the visual markers employed by both governments since the 1990s. I concluded that Austria, specifically Vienna, took a more outsider, almost ‘zoo-like’, approach in the way they memorialise the Holocaust, whereas German memorials tend to focus on an introspective feeling. I also spoke about wide-scale installations, especially the Stolpersteine project, which we find in both Germany and Austria, and their advantages and disadvantages. I was asked a few questions by the audience, especially on whether I thought one form of memorialisation was “better” or “more respectful” than the other; a question I believe you can not give a clear-cut answer to.
As a first time as a public speaker and a fish-out-of-water in the Cambridge environment the whole weekend felt surreal and mentally exhausting (in a good way.) Not only did I learn a lot about Germany, but a lot about my own abilities; it made my confidence really improve, and I actually feel very proud of mysel!