A walk between university cultures

The building of the new HafenCity University
The building of the new HafenCity University
So what school do you go to?

I’m back in Hamburg. Again. After spending several months in Iowa, I’ve finally returned. Strange as this may sound (considering that I’m American), I feel like I’m home.
After living in Hamburg for nearly a year, I departed for graduate school at the University of Iowa. Although I may return at some point, for now I’m content to soak up the atmosphere of Hamburg and the HafenCity. Now that I’ve just returned from a typical “college town” in the United States, the differences are especially striking. A college town, briefly defined, is the town surrounding a large, state university. In many ways, the town is built around the university and its students. The University of Iowa – located in Iowa City, Iowa – is a perfect example of this.

Many local businesses are reasonably priced restaurants, used/vintage clothing and furniture stores, and Iowa fan shops. I counted eight stores within a kilometer radius selling Iowa gear. Gear* includes any type of souvenir imaginable. In addition to a wide variety of apparel printed with the Iowa Hawkeye logo (the school’s mascot), there are also Iowa table tennis balls, sets of silverware, jewelry, stuffed animals, door knobs … the list is endless. My apartment, like many other apartments and dormitory rooms, was adorned with posters of Iowa sports teams, Iowa stickers, and other U of I paraphernalia.  You get the idea.


What kind this will be
What kind this will be
Comparing this staggering* amount of school spirit in Iowa City with a dearth* of anything similar in Hamburg or HafenCity makes one think. I have yet to see anyone sporting a shirt, jacket, hat, or even a pin with the HafenCity University, University of Hamburg, or any other University or Fachhochschule in the Hamburg area for that matter.
Not only are Iowa students united through using the same gear, but they also attend university related events together. Although university sponsored concerts, lectures, and cultural events are frequently attended, the best example of this is the University’s (American) football games. Every Sunday when the team plays a game, everyone – and I mean everyone – takes part in football game related events. If you don’t attend the actual game, you go to a friend’s house or local bar and watch it on TV, along with burgers, hot dogs, and cans of beer. One time, I mentioned to my roommates that I was going to the library to study instead of watching the game, and they looked at me as if I were insane.
Outside of class mandated activities, I have never heard of German students participating in any type of university activity. They attend their classes, do the work required of them, receive their degrees, but that is it.

It comes down to identifying with the university. For Americans, it’s a mark of pride to tell people the university you attended. Not only that, but it really becomes a part of who you are. When asked, it’s common for students to reply, ‘I’m a Hawkeye’, or ‘a Hoosier’ (University of Indiana), or ‘a Buckeye’ (Ohio State University).
German students, on the other hand, often don’t tell you their school unless specifically asked. They may say something vague, like ‘I’m going to university,’ or ‘I studied in Hamburg’. The actual school they attended, however, is seemingly unimportant.
It would be difficult for me to find a suitable explanation for this stark contrast in American versus German student mentality. For some reason, American students strive* to be part of a single, group identity. Whether they are attending performances, wearing Hawkeye sweatshirts, or watching a game on TV, they constantly live and breathe the collective, ‘Hawkeye identity’. Students in Hamburg conversely, seem to stress their individual identity more. Despite all of these differences, there’s certainly one thing both American and German students have in common: they enjoy meeting for a beer after class!

gear – clothing, almost anything else that can be worn (ie, jewelry, sunglasses, hats), and other commonly used    every day items. Gear is usually used in reference to merchandise relating to a group, company, or sports team.
dearth – lack of, scarcity
staggering – unbelievable, astounding, amazing
strive – to try very hard to reach a goal