Brian Murdoch

Brian Murdoch graduated in German with Russian in 1965. He is now Professor Emeritus of German at the University of Stirling.

Towards the end of his first year at Exeter, in 1963, he spent a semester at Göttingen University in Germany.

"How far back do we take these memories of study abroad?

"I went in the Summer Semester 1963 to the university of Göttingen as part of the honours degree in German, and at that time the requirement was to spend the third term of one’s first year at a German university. I am not entirely convinced that the first year was the appropriate time to send us, but it was nevertheless worth it, even though coping with the system of university education in Germany was tricky. It was hard to get much in the way of guidance, and we just signed up for what lectures or seminars we fancied, or thought (not always correctly) might be interesting or useful.

"Exeter was pretty small in those days, and there cannot have been more than about twenty of us taking single or combined honours, so that finding oneself in lecture-halls with hundreds of others was a shock. One of the lecture-halls in Göttingen was in fact a former church. Observing German university life was interesting: in those days Göttingen still apparently had active duelling societies (though they were very much under fire, and on their way out) but even seeing men in Verbindung-uniforms did make us wonder about which decade, or possibly century, we were in.

"That semester we missed a lot of news stories from back home (the great train robbery, the Keeler-affair) but I have a strong memory (partly because it was on my nineteenth birthday) of watching on someone’s small black and white TV John Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. The Cold War was in full swing and the Berlin Wall had not been up very long. Foreign students were offered a week’s visit to Berlin paid for by the West German government to see things for ourselves, and that really does remain in the mind – going through Checkpoint Charlie or from the station at Friedrichsstrasse into a completely different world.

"We managed to see Brecht’s Mahagonny at the Schiffbauerdamm theatre, however. While we were in Germany, too, we had to write a fairly substantial piece of work in German for assessment when we got back, significantly on the theme of war as represented in German drama. Mine included work on Hochhuth’s Stellvertreter – “The Representative” – controversially about Pope Pius and Hitler, which had at that time only recently appeared.

"Whatever thoughts I may now have about going abroad in the first year – my own students over the years have always gone later – it was (even after nearly sixty years!) an important and as witnessed, a memorable experience. I do have to add finally that while my hall of residence in Exeter (Kilmorie) had been male-only, the student residence I stayed in at Göttingen also housed lady students, and a few years thereafter, reader, I married one, and we have just had our fifty-fourth anniversary."