Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rebuilding and relearning in Dresden

The next stop was Dresden, the city that was known as the Florence of the north before Allied forces bombed it at the end of WWII. Dresden was a city built at the height of the Baroque period and every building you see is a flourish of architectural and artistic genius. This is why it was bombed - as a sort of "pay-back" for the bombing of Conventry in England, another area known for its beauty and fine cathedral. The Frauenkirche was a particular target (seen rising above the streets of Dresden as it has been rebuilt) because it was perceived to be one of the most beautiful in all of Europe.

Seeing the amazing work that is underway to rebuild Dresden convinced me that Dresden will be one of the biggest tourism draws in Europe within the next 5-10 years. The other reason we visited Dresden was to stay overnight in student housing sponsored by the Studentenwerk of Dresden and to talk to students and staff who work with it. What an eye-opener. We found a very formal administration committed to serving students through the provision of financial aid, housing, and food. They believe that they have no role as it relates to learning. Student leaders are more or less bargainers for improvement in student conditions, rather than young people engaged in learning how to govern, how to influence their environment, and moving through their collegiate experience in predictable developmental ways.

I was struck by the impact of over forty years under Soviet control that fostered dependence, drudgery, and stifled hope. We were only there for less than twenty-four hours so it may be unfair to judge. However, it's hard not to observe that Dresden, and probably other institutions in a similar state, are in a process of developing capacity to engage more actively and collegially to improve their institutions. The conditions are what they are - it's critical to understand how Dresden got the way it is and what the opportunities of the future might bring.

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