Renowned across Europe as a unique and progressive institution, the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations (CAGCR) at Queen Mary, University of London, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its innovative MA programme, ambitious cultural events schedule and two journals stand testament to the German Embassy’s description of the Centre as ‘an important platform for intellectual debate and cultural exchange between German-speaking countries and the UK’.
As a graduate of the MA programme in Anglo-German Cultural Relations, I am well placed to offer a glimpse inside this slightly formidable institution. Fully aware of its prestige – and that of its founding director Professor Rüdiger Görner – I was more than a little daunted as the day of my induction arrived, but my anxieties were soon dispelled. I found myself surrounded by academics and students from diverse backgrounds and engaging in open-minded discussions in an atmosphere that welcomed interdisciplinarity.
A module on cultural transfer embraced Heinrich Heine and Walter Benjamin, George Eliot and Stephen Spender, while weekly discussions in a class on translation transcended literature to incorporate music and the visual arts. Free to choose our own essay topics, I wrote about Ian McEwan and Rainer Maria Rilke, prejudice in British comedy and Hamlet adaptations in post-war Germany. The freedom to think and write outside conventional boundaries was intoxicating, sometimes overwhelming.
Weekly visits from or to Anglo-German institutions – including the German Embassy, the UK-German Connection and the DAAD – broadened our horizons even further, propelling us beyond the comforts of academia. Theory and practice are not adversaries, these visits taught us, but rather two sides of the same coin.
The embrace of unconventional thinking and the combination of academic rigour and real world application are embedded in every component of the CAGCR. In my view, these are its greatest achievements and, if emulated by other institutions, could inspire the next chapter in the story of intellectual and cultural exchange in Europe.
Here’s to the next ten years.
This blog was originally published on ELit Literature House Europe on 29 June 2015.