Vera Graovac Matassi

8. svibnja 2007.



"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page" (St Augustine); And that should be especially true for those interested in geography; We bring you therefore report on study trip to Germany, written by geography students; We find it an interesting combination of travelogue and geographic information and hope you'll enjoy reading it.

Since 2002, I have been a guest professor at the Department of Geography, University of Zagreb. My stay has been supported by the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service). This organisation also has a program supporting study trips to Germany for small groups of students from universities outside of Germany. The main goals of this program are to give students from abroad the chance to get to know different aspects of life in Germany in the country itself and to enable encounters between students and academics from and in this way to strengthen contacts between universities in Germany and abroad.

In May 2004, I had already done a similar excursion with 20 students, together with Prof. Dr. Borna Fürst-Bjeliš and Docent Dr. Milan Ilić from the Department of Geography in Zagreb. This year, it was possible for 14 students as well as for two colleagues, Prof. Dr. Ivo Nejašmić and Assistant Aleksandar Lukić, to participate in the excursion. Those students from the third and fourth year with the best exam marks were chosen as participants, and this has to be regarded a reward for their achievments.

The excursion took place from 5 to 15 October 2006. In order to prepare ourselves for the study trip – according to the principle “The more you know about a region, the more will you be able to see” – the students presented short contributions in English on various aspects of the geography of Germany in pairs in a seminar on 2 October 2006. Afterwards, the students wrote reports on each day of the study trip. These have been collected and are presented here.

Prof. Reinhard Henkel ________________________

We start in


(French: Strasbourg, pronounced /strazbur/; Alsatian: Strossburi; German: Straßburg), the capital and the principal city of the Alsace region in northeastern France, with approximately 650 000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area (1999). Located close to the border with Germany, it is the préfecture (capital) of the Bas-Rhin département. The city’s Germanic name means “town (at the crossing) of roads”. Stras- is cognate to the English street from the German equivalent of the word, Straße, while -bourg from the German -burg (“fortress, town”) is cognate to the English borough.

Strasbourg is situated on the River Ill, where it flows into the Rhine on the frontier with Germany. The German town across the Rhine is Kehl. It is an important centre of manufacturing and engineering, as well as of road, rail and river communications. Strasbourg is the seat of the Council of Europe, of the European Court of Human Rights and of the European Parliament, though the latter also holds sessions in Brussels.

Fig.1. Strasbourg – a big construction site at the moment

Historical development of Strasbourg

Strasbourg has a long and wealthy history. It was established in the beginning of 1st century as a military outpost of the Romans and was named Argentoratum. It belonged to the Germania Superior Roman province.  From the 4th century, Strasbourg was the seat of the Archbishopric Strasbourg. Through the medieval time it belonged to the Holy Roman Empire. During the 1520s the city embraced the religious teachings of Martin Luther, whose adherents established a university in the following century. Strasbourg was a centre of humanist scholarship and early book printing in the Holy Roman Empire and its intellectual and political influence contributed much to the establishment of Protestantism as an accepted denomination in the southwest of Germany. During the Thirty Years’ War, the Free City of Strasbourg remained neutral. However, it was suddenly seized by King Louis XIV of France in September 1681. The official policy of religious intolerance which drove many Protestants from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1598) by the Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) was not applied in Strasbourg and in Alsace. Strasbourg cathedral, however, had to be handed back by the Lutherans to the Catholics.

Fig.2. Strasbourg, La Petité France

The German Lutheran University persisted until the French revolution. Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed “La Marseillaise” on April 25, 1792, in Strasbourg during a dinner organized by Frédéric de Dietrich, Strasbourg’s mayor. However, Strasbourg’s status as a free city was revoked by the French Revolution. Annexed to the newly-established German Empire, as a part of the Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen, in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, the city was restored to France after World War I, in 1919 by the Treaty of Versailles. It was again effectively a part of Germany during World War II, from 1940 to 1944, and after the war part of France again. In 1949, the city was chosen to be the seat of the Council of Europe (CoE), and since 1979, Strasbourg has been a seat of the European Parliament. Strasbourg’s historic centre, the Grande Île (great island), has been classified  World Heritage site by the UNESCO in 1988, for the first time for a whole city centre.

Visit to the European Parliament

First we visited the European Parliament. The European Parliament (formerly European Parliamentary Assembly) is the parliamentary body of the European Union (EU), directly elected by EU citizens once every five years. Together with the Council of Ministers, it composes the legislative branch of the institutions of the Union. It meets in two locations: Strasbourg and Brussels. Sessions are held in Strasbourg only four days each month, with all other business being conducted in Brussels, while the Secretariat of the European Parliament has its seat in Luxembourg. Those sessions take place in the Immeuble Louise Weiss (also known as “IPE IV”), built in 1998, which houses the largest parliamentary assembly room in Europe and of any democratic institution in the world. Before that, the EP sessions had to take place in the main CoE building, the Palais de l’Europe.

Fig.3. Strasbourg, European parliament

The European Parliament represents around 450 million citizens of the European Union. Its members are known as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Since 13 June 2004, there have been 732 MEPs. (It was agreed that the maximum number of MEPs should be fixed at 750, with a minimum threshold of five per member state and no member state being allocated more than 99 seats). Official languages of European Parliament are German, French and English. Working languages beside those three are also Spanish, Italian, and in the future the sixth will be Polish, as the most widespread Slavic language. By the place where flags of all 25 members of EU are exposed, our guide told us that they always make a little quiz with the tourists where they have to recognize which flag belongs to which country. Most frequent mistake is the flag of Czech Republic being recognized as a Croatian flag.

A short tour around the town

After the parliament we visited the center of Strasbourg, where the Roman Catholic Cathedral Notre-Dame (German: Straßburger Münster, English: Our Lady’s Cathedral) dominates. It is widely considered to be among the finest examples of “high”, or late, gothic architecture. Its construction lasted from 1176 to 1439. Sandstone from the Vosges used in construction gives the cathedral its characteristic pink hue. At 144 meters, it was the world’s tallest building from 1625 to 1847. It remained the tallest church in the world until 1880, when it was surpassed firstly by Cologne Cathedral and then the 161 meter Ulm Münster. Today it is the fourth-tallest church in the world. We took a little walk trough the streets full of so called Fachwerkhäuser- houses made of  wood and mud, some of them older than 500 years. Here we could feel the medieval atmosphere of the city retained in a notable rate.

On the way to Heidelberg, the famous German university town

After we had shot some photos and eaten something fast, about 14,30pm we took the trip to Heidelberg, around 2 hours long. From the motorway we could see the Schwarzwald, the source of many legends. When we arrived, first we settled in our habitat for the next 3 days: Hotel Heidelberg, a small family hotel arranged in traditional south German atmosphere. At 17pm we had an arranged meeting with our colleagues at the Department of Geography of University of Heidelberg (Prof. Dr. Hans Gebhardt, Prof. Dr. Peter Meusburger, Assistant Holger Köppe and students). They presented us their department and the Geography Students’ Club and walked us through the campus. We were told that the University of Heidelberg was established in 1386 and that it is the oldest university in Germany. The 20,000 students of Heidelberg University are a very important part of the number of total inhabitants, if we know that Heidelberg has about 140 000 inhabitants. The Department of Geography has about 600 students. The sections for human and physical geography respectively are located in two separated buildings about 500 meters away. Studying in Germany is quite expensive. In the Geography Students’ Club room I saw an advertisement about a room that could be rented for 209 € per month!

Fig.4. Heidelberg, panorama with castle

Exploring Heidelberg

Our tour of Heidelberg was guided by Professor Henkel. This was a balanced combination of professional improvement and physical work-out, the latter being connected with a couple of hundreds of stairs leading to the Heidelberg Castle, our destination. Guided by “if the Chinese chicks in high heels can do it, so can we” as our motto, we successfully completed the climb, and, without even knowing it, experienced the so-called “wow” effect in tourism, as Assistant Lukić explained afterwards. The sweat and the thoughts of aching muscles faded away when our eyes feasted on the Heidelberg panorama…

Heidelberg is a medieval town that started to develop just beneath the Castle, more significantly expanding from 16th century on. The City is located where the Neckar River enters the wide valley of the Rhine River. The German emperors were elected by regional princes, one of them being Prince Elector of the Palatinate whose seat was Heidelberg Castle. Originally it was a fort strategically positioned on steep cliffs, which then was transformed into a castle in 16th century. Over the centuries, the Castle suffered destruction, as a consequence of wars or lightning strike, and was rebuilt several times. For some time castle stones were used as a building material for new houses in Heidelberg. Today, a big part of the Castle is in ruins. Since they have been famous for centuries as romantic ruins, they have not been fully restored, but only some parts were renovated. As a curiosity within the Castle, one must mention ‘a little something’ hidden in the wine cellar. There lies the world’s largest barrel, with a capacity of about 200,000 litres. If you wish to see the view from above (and the tourist in us certainly wished so), wooden staircase guides you to a platform built on top of it. In the wine-cellar lobby, we met a new temptation – tasting of local wines. Resisted successfully.

Mannheim, a city of immigrants

Mannheim has a population of 308,000, which makes it the second largest city in the Land of Baden-Württemberg, right after Stuttgart. Mannheim is also the largest city in the metropolitan Rhein-Neckar area, and the second largest river port in Germany. Listening to our guide Holger Köppe, we soon learned of a special feature, one that makes this city unique among German cities, which is that central area of Mannheim (“die Quadrate” is its name) is laid out in a grid pattern.

Fig.5. Mannheim, example of address letter/number combination

The city centre is divided into squares which have no names, only letter/number combinations. So, if your Gastarbeiter path somehow leads you to Mannheim, and destiny determines you should live in the city center, you are bound to have an interesting address. Maybe something like: Q 6, 21, 68161 Mannheim. During our visit, a lot of construction work was in progress, most of it because of Mannheim’s preparation for next year, when celebrating 400 years of being a city. In the 17th century, when Mannheim became a city, it was destroyed twice and rebuilt afterwards.

During World War II, Mannheim, at that time a key industrial centre, was heavily damaged. More than half of the city was destroyed. After this period, the city was rebuilt, using a modern approach in the urban development, and mostly new architecture. Empty old industrial areas and unemployment are a major problem, so today Mannheim has to prove itself by building new modern business areas. Their goal is to destroy the negative industrial image at all costs.

Fig.6. Mannheim, city center, crossing of the Planken and the Breite Straße

Turks in Mannheim

As we continued our walk, we took a turn into the part of Mannheim situated just outside the chessboard centre, the Jungbusch quarter. Immigrants, mostly Turks, make about half of the population in this area. One of the indications of a strong concentration of Muslims is the fact that Mannheim is the only city in Germany with a mosque situated in a prominent spot – the very centre of the city. Our conversation also touched the issue of integration of Muslim population, since Mannheim has a lot of small Muslim associations with very different theological ideas.

Croatian national minority in Mannheim

The Croatian national minority in the city of Mannheim is organized around the Catholic Church which works as a strong pillar of paternity and patriotism. It is situated in the building of catholic missions together with the Spanish, Italian and Polish catholic minorities. The Croatian Catholic Church in Mannheim is integrated in the archdiocese of Freiburg which is one of the biggest in Germany. The churches in Germany provide a great number of working places. Apart from priests, the archdiocese of Freiburg e.g. employs 322 lay people in Freiburg alone. The leader of Croatian Catholics in Mannheim is priest Radić from the archdiocese of Sarajevo.  The approximate number of Croats in Mannheim – Ludwigshafen – Heidelberg area is around 6000 of whom the majority of around 2000 live in the city of Mannheim. Because of the very long distances between some cities in the area where Croats live, priest Radić sometimes travels more than 120 kilometers per day to hold the holy ceremony. In Germany, the recognized churches are entitled to collect church tax from which their pastors and priests are being paid.

Fig.7. Our hosts in the Croatian Catholic Church Congregation

Croats generally are very well integrated into German society and there is no segregation, nor spatial nor according to the language. The third generation Croats mostly use the German language among themselves, while for instance many Italian people in their third generation still speak the Italian language.

The majority of Croats have emigrated from the area of Orašje in the Bosnian part of Posavina but there are also lots of people from all the other parts of Croatia. In the 1970s and 1980s there were about 2000 people from the Orašje area. Most of the Croats in the Mannheim area work in 3 main factories: ABB, Mercedes and John Deere, but are worried about the delicate and hard situation in German economy nowadays. Many of them take even 18 % lower pension and get earlier retirement.

Our hosts also spoke about problems caused by the administration in Croatia with respect to the transactions and getting different kinds of permits. They have a great interest in the current situation and in news from Croatia. The main informative media is our satellite channel but the problem lies in the fact that Croats must pay their satellite channel while all other minorities in Germany use their legal right to have one free satellite channel. That is a consequence of inadequate work of Croatian diplomacy in Germany, they think. The main problem of the Catholic Church in Germany is the declining number of young people and young priests. This also applies to the Catholic immigration groups. Due to this, the German church nowadays closes many religious missions. This could also happen to the Croatian Catholic Church in different parts of Germany. Professor Nejašmić said that the only reasonable situation to close our mission would be that all Croats come back home to Croatia.

Fig.8. Croatian Catolic Church Congregation, priest Vinko Radić with our prof. Henkel and prof. Nejašmić 

The main activities of the Croatian national minority are singing traditional songs, organizing travels and taking care of all our people in their area. Most of our people visit Croatia several times during the year, but in the time of war they were going even more often.

To be continued…

Text: Martin Belovari, Marijan Jukić and Maja Poturičić

Photos: Katarina Gobo, Lana Marinković, Maja Poturičić, Petra Radeljak

Edited by: Lana Marinković, Zrinka Zaninović and Reinhard Henkel

Prepared for by: Aleksandar Lukić

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