Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

Entering content area for Inside the Department of Comparative Biosciences

blog posts

  • October Update from Germany

    Hello everyone,

    Time for an update in the periodic blogs from my sabbatical fellowship in Germany.

    I saw this article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper about Alex Ferguson, the reknowned “football” manager and previous player here in Europe.  I thought it was appropriate:


    Fall has definitely set in here.  We generally have weather with temperatures from 40-50F, and this week, the temperatures are falling to the freezing level.   Leaves have turned and have started to fall, particularly after an entire week of rain and some wind rivaling that in C-U.



    View Along the “Maschsee” “(Masch Lake), a lake originally created for boating events for the 1936 Olympics.  It is only 2 meters deep.



    Also, as many would guess, it is Oktoberfest time in Germany. Actually, the formal 2 week celebration ends today in Hannover.  Here is a peak at the glorified carnival which sets up and is supported by beer and food tents, and lots of rides for the kids.



    A couple of weeks ago, it was also election time here.  As a comparison to the wonders of our 2 party system (current events are proof), Germany has 5-6 parties, and Angel Merkel’s party  won about 42% of the vote, and as usual, needed to develop a coalition with enough members of another party to essentially create a new government.  While our Congress shuts down the National Parks and NIH, Germany, within a few weeks of their election will have negotiated a new coalition with the SPD party and possibly 1 or two others.  The previous coalition featured the FDP party but it dropped below the 5% level to even participate in the government this time.  As part of the season, Angela Merkel visited Hannover 2 days before the election and we were able to attend on a very rainy Friday afternoon.




    Yes, I am also working very hard!

     This week, formal classes start here at the “TiHo,”  and I’ll be working with two “Junior Professors” to co-teach case and exercise-based elective courses in Clinical Pharmacology and in Clinical Endocrinology.   We’ll be teaching “7th semester” (4th year) students for the pharmacology, and 3rd  (second year), 5th (3rd year) and 7th semester students for the endocrinology course.  

    As I work on developing exercises and presentation in German, my German is necessarily ramping up.  I also supplement my day-to-day immersion with a 2-night-a-week class at the local community education school  with a course called “Besser Reden (Better Speaking.)”   With 18 participants and about 12 countries represented (only 1 other English speaking person, also an American expatriate), English is not a fallback option!

    It is worth explaining the veterinary training path here in Germany.  Firstly, students coming out of “Gymnasium” (nothing to do with “gym”), which ends with the 13th year of education in the public system, take an exam and place into universities, or not, based upon their scores.  In vet school, the first two semesters, includes biology, chemistry, physics, etc…what we’d call an intensive “pre-vet” curriculum, and they also have anatomy and physiology in there was well. Pharmacology would be taught in the 5th and the 6th semesters. Attendance is expected during the year, and there are formative quizzes and exams, but the real exams are in the summer after the entire year is over.  Each course discipline will examine students. Traditionally, it has been with oral exams, but they are also slowly moving over to more objective formats like multiple choice and essay exams.  You might ask how students earn money to go to school in the summer.  Indeed, they still have time to gain clinic experience and work jobs, but it is important to realize that their tuition is ENTIRELY FREE, and housing and food are highly subsidized.  They have an excellent set of cafeterias (one in the cattle clinic, which was the site of the old vet school), and one in the main vet school building (TiHo Tower”).  I was told that these “Mensas” (the term they use) were ranked #2 in the country for university eating facilities.  Particularly when the weather turns cold, I think I will start relying on these dining halls for a relatively inexpensive hot mid-day meal.


    I’ve also been attending clinical rounds for a couple of hourse at the beginning of the day at the small animal teaching hospital across the street. The clinicians have been very welcoming.  This experience has been very useful to see how German clinicians “think critically” and also to learn the medical technical terminology in German.  I am very impressed with the clinic, which is less than 5 years old.  The case load in this city of 500,000 is pretty robust, and private specialty practices, while becoming more common, are not yet drawing much of the case load from the country’s 5 vet schools.

     In the middle of September, I joined 9 other U.S. faculty members for the 2-day Fulbright Fellowship orientation in Goettingen, which is a very old university town., and home of 43 Nobel Prize winners. We were given a tour of the old city and were told about a tradition of newly minted Ph.D.’s from Goettingen.  The male graduates have to go to the fountain of “Gänseliesel” (of fairy tale fame, I am told), and kiss her.  


    Women graduating used to have to do this, but now they have a statue of a physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenburg ( )  who was a contemporary and friend of Ben Franklin.  He apparently was one of the first to envision charges involved with electricity, and the first to hold a professorship dedicated to physics in Germany.  Although they say that the statue underestimates his stature, he apparently was about 4 ft. 6 in, as he suffered from a congenital growth abnormality.  Notice the large ball with a (+) on it...that was his concept of electricity, charges, and he was one of the first to raise that concept.


    During our tour, we  were privileged to visit the old “student jail!”  It was a specially configured jail  as “fraternity” boys used to have a right of passage of doing something which would lead them to be thrown into jail.  Even future leaders like Bismarck were incarcerated here.  Of course, to prove you were there, you needed to leave graffiti on the wall!


     On a more academic note, Goettingen is known for the “Goettingen 7” a group of faculty who rebelled against the rules of the duke and were going to be fired and blackballed from being hired at any other universities.  In solidarity with these seven, students struck and faculty refused to hire new faculty.  In the university city of Hannover (also in the state of Niedersachsen), not too far from where we live, there is a statue to these 7 as well.  Notice some familiar names such as the Grimm brothers?


    I’ve had a chance to get to other cities while I’ve been here.  One of particular note in the prior “East Germany” is Dresden.  Its “Frauenkirche” was totally bombed during WWII and not rebuilt until the early ‘90’s.  The result outside and inside is just phenomenal.



     In Dresden, some of the locals seemed to be a bit old-fashioned, and even a bit silly!:


     Finally, some interesting local notes: Within 100 meters of where I live, there is “Knochenhauer Street.”  As shown by the sign, this area was known for its plethora of butchers….the name means literally, “Bone Basher” Street!


     I think I’ll end with some sports notes.  Of course, “Fussball” is king here as “Hannover 96” games are played about 2 kilometers away, and they would certainly rival at least a Big Ten football tailgate scene. Also, believe it or not, American football is played here in Germany.  At a local meeting of Fulbright alumni, I met a prior student Fulbright fellow who had been at the University of Tennessee.   He was so impressed with SEC football that he now plays football for a local team.  Hannover has a local handball team, and also an ice hockey team.  I found it interesting that it is called “The Indians” and that the team was founded in 1949.  So,  beyond the issue of the Chief, the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins,  and Chicago Blackhawks, there are the Hannover “Indians” to add to the list.

    More later.

    Auf Wiedersehen,