German Beer, Lively Exchange, and Impressive Guests
Letter from the UK! Helena Winterhager reports on her social activities at Oxford.
Feb 03, 2016
Studying at Oxford holds out many a surprise: This week, for example, quite unexpectedly I turned into a “German beer expert”: “What are the most popular brands, which ones are available in England?” Those were the kinds of questions to be dealt with. It’s not that I had succumbed to excessive alcohol consumption – not at all. Rather, my temporary commitment to German beer promotion served, if you will, a “higher” cultural purpose as part of the Oxford German Society – an association of German students at Oxford University established in 1911.
Among Oxford’s foreign student body, Germans – numbering 830 – make up the third largest group after Americans and Chinese students. Not all of them are registered with the German Society. Naturally, you also meet fellow German students who intentionally stay away contending that “since I’m here in England, I prefer to immerse myself in British culture” – a reasonable argument.
On the other hand, social student organisations whose membership is based on the students’ national origin do in fact have a long tradition in Europe. When abroad, it’s sensible – and also fun – to talk about what’s going on back home with fellow countrymen and to occasionally marvel at the peculiarities of our English hosts.
International Atmosphere at Oxford
An old truism suggests that we become more conscious of our roots abroad, where we also discover our own national characteristics and come to better appreciate the merits of life back home. And this proves true in university life too. At the same time, it has to be noted that the German Society reaches out to non-German students as well; its main target group includes British students of German Studies or those interested in learning German.
Overall, there’s quite a lively exchange among the various national societies and this plays a crucial role in shaping Oxford’s international atmosphere. As a half-Swede, I have the advantage of also getting to join the Scandinavian Society where it’s possible to forge interesting contacts to Northern Europe.
Prominent German Guest Speakers
My main social focus, however, is on the German Society where I serve as the events officer this year. In this capacity, one is responsible for organising a fortnightly German Stammtisch along with numerous other events. This includes our major so-called “freshers’ event” at which we recruit new members and, as mentioned above, the German Beer Tasting that we offer every year in February. In previous years, usually about 40 to 50 students showed up. At the moment, however, more than 400 people have already expressed their interest via Facebook. We’ll see how long the beer lasts!
The German Society, by the way, regularly invites prominent German guest speakers. Peer Steinbrück, Joachim Sauer, and Christian Wulff have all joined us of late. The lecture delivered by Barbara Salesch, known for her television show in Germany, was particularly spirited. Indeed, getting to know the judge during her visit proved to be an impressive experience. Here in England thus – paradoxically – we get to meet German personalities who would be difficult to approach in Berlin. Thomas Gottschalk too has committed to coming to Oxford. So as you can see: For many, Oxford is well worth a journey!