Michael Davis, 2013

POST-TOUR COMMENT on the DAAD-StudyTour to the German-Polish Border Region (2013)

As a German and Polish historian living in Canada, I have been limited to literature and film as the principal means of gaining historical insight into each of these countries. The 2013 DAAD Study-Tour of the German-Polish border region offered a substantially different opportunity to further learn about the historic and current issues surrounding both countries. By visiting different regions within and along the border of Germany and Poland, and by exploring the tumultuous state of relations between them, both past and present, a firsthand and much more intimate learning experience was created.

The programme placed us in formal and informal discussions and settings with individuals and groups of a diverse variety, creating a truly unique academic experience. We were privileged enough to meet with prominent political figures, such as Wolfgang Thierse (SPD), the vice-president of the Bundestag, but also groups and individuals that functioned on a more local level in cities along the German-Polish border region, such as the urban art project “Nowa Amerika” in Slubice/Frankfurt (Oder). It immediately became clear that all of the individuals and groups we met were genuinely concerned and deeply passionate about altering and improving upon the past, present, and future state of German-Polish relations and those of their respective communities.

A lasting impression that the Study-Tour has effected on me personally is the role and importance of transnationalism in European relations, as well as the way in which transnationalism is now being incorporated into different academic
disciplines as a new form and approach. The European Union’s existence and success relies heavily upon the cooperation of its member-states. The EU has developed ideals that diminish the role of European borders, while also promoting a greater sense of European identity and community. Though the existence and implementation of such ideals within the EU has been problematic and remained a source of contention between its members, as I came to better understand with the example of Germany and Poland, European collaboration and the breaking down of borders remain as the key features for the future successes of the EU. Transnationalism has also begun to be incorporated into various academic disciplines. Many historians, myself included, have started to research and interpret history in transnational terms, prioritizing the interactions and relationships of various countries or regions, rather than the more traditional methods of the past, which constructed historical narratives around individual nations.

Since the Study-Tour’s conclusion, I remain very appreciative of the efforts of Professors Best and Ufer, who were able to design and produce a diverse, thought provoking, and unrivaled tour of the German-Polish border region. The various perspectives and insights that resulted from the tour have provided me with knowledge and experiences that I will never forget; simply being able to participate in many of the meetings would not have been possible otherwise. For this I am extremely grateful and can only wish to experience and partake in a similar academic experience in the future.