Letter from Bonn

I miss you like the summer misses the rain, or like an Erasmus student who hasn’t started studies yet misses structure in his life (more of that later). While others work in the exciting industries of European radio and pedagogy, I have been pottering along merrily for over a week, contemplating what it will eventually be like to do something in the German city of Bonn.

The reason I am in Bonn is due either to Oxford’s sense of its own self importance, or modesty (depending on whether you treat Bonn as the West German capital it once was or as the small university city it is now). Urban legend has it that Hitler would have made Oxford his capital, so Oxford choosing the West German capital (although certainly completely unconnected) has some kind of historic coincidence to it. A moment which combined destiny and truth and all embodying historicalness was when I saw that the Oxfordstraße which commemorates the post-war linking of the two cities, was opposite Wilhelm Straße. That street and my presence in Bonn, plus a yearly colloquium on medieval studies, seem to be the only signs that the two cities are linked.

There is a cult of Erasmus in Europe that I don’t think has quite spread to England (perhaps mostly due to a film called L’auberge espagnole that at once glorifies and satirises Erasmus, a bit like Midnight in Paris’ treatment of Paris said a German I met at a party, not uncontroversially, but which I agreed with most heartily). Erasmus for them seems to stand for partying and drinking and meeting interesting people. When two days ago I tried to turn down a drink I was told very quickly that if I had not wanted to drink I should have done Erasmus in the Vatican. Whether this says more about Germany or Erasmus is unclear.

Whatever slurs one might target at Erasmus for only being partying, or for being a waste of (European) taxpayers money (each student gets a several thousand euro grant, which is “an outrage”, I was told not uncontroversially at a party in London, with which I heartily disagreed) the freedom in terms of what you can study is amazing. I was simply given a list of every module taught by the university and asked to choose what I wanted. This has led me to fairly unconventional pastures for a French and German student, such as the study of Eastern Europe’s Jewish community and the recent history of the Middle East as well as more conventional subjects like ‘Avant-Garde Poetry at the turn of the Century’. My only problem has been that the studying starts and fi nishes so late: mid October and mid July. Culturally Germany may well not be as different as China or any actually different non-Western European place. But there are still truly baffl ing aspects to Germany: there is the playing at parties of song after song remixed to sound like the smurfs (the closest thing that resembles this is Crazy Frog) which does become amusing as you move from genre to genre and see how far a smurf’s voice can stretch, both vocally and across the genres. An incredible and cliché following punctuality also exists: if you are five minutes late your new friends will leave without you. Discount supermarkets are frightening and confusing places but reward those with experience.

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I hope that everything is going well for Cherwell. The new online app is exciting and has been of invaluable use to keep the news coming.

Love,

Will