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Education: Back to Abnormalcy

4 minute read

The last time Walter Hallstein saw the Statue of Liberty, he was wearing the uniform of a prisoner of war. Last week ex-Wehrmacht Lieut. Hallstein was back in the U.S., dressed this time in the neat suit befitting his eminent position as Rector Magnificus (president) of the University of Frankfurt. He had come to teach at Washington’s Georgetown University and make a year-long survey of U.S. education. This week Georgetown students heard him describe university life in 1948 Germany, and learned that by comparison U.S. collegians, for all their congested campuses, have it pretty easy.

Musical Chairs. About 22,000 students —twice the prewar total—have crammed into the universities* in Germany’s western zones. Frankfurt alone has 5,000, and 4,000 waiting to get in. Because there were not enough seats, students have had to lug their chairs from class to class. The space shortage has caused an academic revolution: in the old days, any qualified student could attend lectures for four years without showing his stuff until final examinations; today he is graded on his performance in a weekly Praktikum (quiz section), may be flunked at the end of a semester to make room for a brighter student.

Today’s typical German university man is a war veteran, 26 years old, intensely eager to finish his education and start earning a living. What leisure he has, the student usually spends in keeping alive—rebuilding his shattered house, making forays to the countryside for food, trading in the black market. He is ten times as likely to have T.B. as in normal times; the odds are one in five that he is a cripple or amputee.

Tuition Plus Labor. Besides a nominal tuition fee, students must contribute two days of manual labor each semester to clearing away rubble and doing repair work. The winter term (which used to run until March) now starts earlier, stops at Christmas. With not enough coal to heat classrooms, students wear dyed Wehrmacht overcoats to cold-weather lectures; a chilling wind seeps through the cracks or whistles through the holes in bombed-out walls. (Windows are fixed with “Hitler glass,” a kind of cellophane Hallstein acidly describes as “one of the big gifts this man gave to the German people.”) The rector had planned to spend $250,000 this year on rebuilding Frankfurt, but currency reform wiped out the funds.

Before 34-year-old Frankfurt reopened in 1946, the faculty was purged of active Nazis by the American Military Government. Hallstein, a prewar law professor (at the University of Rostock) who still teaches the subject, was elected rector by his colleagues. Once a professor is approved, he is free to say what he wants (in the Russian zone, professors must submit lecture topics for Soviet O.K.). Books are so scarce that Mimeographed lecture notes sell for sky-high prices on the black market.

Betwixt & Between. Frankfurt has invited several anti-Nazi professors back from U.S. exile, but has no course aimed specifically at eliminating Nazi thinking habits. The disillusionment of defeat, says Hallstein, has made most students thoroughly cynical about propaganda and Shulung (indoctrination) of any kind. Says Hallstein: “It would be absolutely the thing that would not have any effect.”

Most of the students are watching the cold war with the air of gamblers waiting to place their bets. Says Hallstein: “They don’t yet see which of these principles is more persuasive—government founded on power or on moral principles. In the German tradition are elements of both. You will not find many students who make a clear choice between east and west. They feel it may be dangerous to take a stand.”

*Which are for graduate study only. German undergraduates, as they did before the war, go to a Gymnasium.

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