01 Jun 2018

Beyond Academics: The Marburg Experience

By Madinatu Bello

The day for our Marburg trip arrived sooner than we expected. By we, I mean the first batch of PhD students of the SDG Graduate School “Performing Sustainability: Cultures and Development in West Africa,” who are currently participating in a three-month exchange programme at the University of Hildesheim. We left Hildesheim with several expectations but not limited to our desire for exquisite sites to feed our inquisitive eyes. We arrived at Marburg Hauptbanhof after about two and a half hours in the “train a grande vitesse”.

Marburg appears to be a souvenir of Medieval times, typical of most German cities, with narrow paving stone alleys between timber-frame houses, steep flight of stairs connecting street planes and a beautifully reestablished non-vehicular town-center. One most interesting site is the castle of the Landgraves of Hesse, which now constitutes the University Museum of Cultural History. Flowing through the center of the town is the river Lahn which is populated with pleasant meadows especially in summer and which serves many purposes ranging from boating, games and relaxations.

Upon arrival, we proceeded to the Centre for Conflict Studies at the Philipps University Marburg for our first colloquium session (Zentrumskolloquium) with Dr. Jan Koehler from Freie Universität Berlin who made a presentation on the topic “Institution Centred Conflict Research in the Caucasus and in Afghanistan: Approaches, Methods, Results”. His presentation uses the methodological approach of institution centered conflict research to investigate this specific aspect of a theory of social order looking at whether institutionalized modes of conflict processing reduce violence, foster social cohesion and enable adaptive change. He uses this approach for a multi-layered empirical research into local dynamics of conflict in Eastern Afghanistan. After a two-hour intellectual discourse, there was an intermission of delicious lunch which interacted so well with the stomach walls of most of us. Three students from the SDG Graduate School “Performing Sustainability: Cultures and Development in West Africa” presented on their research projects for constructive criticisms in order to shape their thoughts and ideas. The first day of academic discourse ended making way for social interactions in the evening.

The early morning of the second day initiated us into a mouth-watering breakfast at the Hotel Marburger Hof which some of us alluded to British breakfast. That, to most of us, was the best way to commence a day’s work. We then advanced to the Centre for Conflict Studies for the next batch of students’ presentations and intensive intellectual discourse which lasted for about two hours. This was followed by a seminar on “Resistance, Collective Violence, Revolution” with Tareq Sydiq as the presenter. Lunch took place at Q-Café at about 2 p.m. “All work and no play” they say, “makes Jack a dull boy”. The journey of socialization began with us moving through the city of Marburg. Though the assumption of most inhabitants of Marburg is that everything revolves around the University, we thought otherwise after our visit to the Lahn river. A lot of studies have confirmed that the Lahn is the most popular canoe river in Germany. The river in its natural state contributes to wonderful experiences. It is said that the Lahn has its source in the Rothaar Mountains and flows through the Hessian Mittelgebirge (low mountain range), Westerwald and Taunus until it reaches the mouth near Lahnstein, where it becomes an offshoot to the Rhine. It invites tourists to a journey full of wonderful experiences and discoveries.

We were enjoying this beautiful and exquisite picturesque when the unexpected happened. The high sunlit clouds drifted across a clear blue sky. Suddenly, the sky above was full of tumultuous, dark, ragged clouds. As the wind was sighing and thrashing in the tree tops, the branches moaned. A curtain of rain beats down from the heavens intertwined with bolts of lightning tearing across the sky followed by a peal of thunder. Fear and trepidation seized us: we have a train to catch within the next twenty-five minutes but how do we make it through the rain with our delicate personal belongings? This was the question everyone needed answers to at that moment. After several minutes of ponder, we realized we had no choice than to soak through the rain and catch the train. In fact, there are no perfect phrases to describe our state of being when we got to the train station. It would have been better for us if the train arrived exactly the time it was supposed to. This sour part of our lives needs another conducive time and platform for discussion. A time to remember indeed.