Haniel Spring School 2014: Pre-departure

This year’s Haniel Spring School 2014 is taking place in St. Petersburg, Ivangorod, Narva and Tallinn from April 5th-13th. The School is sponsored by the Haniel Stiftung and partnered with the Center for Independent Social Research in St. Petersburg. Prof. Dr. Ettrich is accompanying the group of 11 Brandt School students and 4 Russian students on the study trip entitled Border Policies from the Soviet Union to the EU. In addition, Prof. Dr. Heike Grimm will be joining the group in Tallinn. The participants will be blogging about the School throughout the week.

Below you’ll find a pre-departure blog post from Yu Chen, who was in Moscow before the School with a few of the other students.

by: Yu Chen


After spending five days in Russia, I still don’t know how to describe my feeling about this place.

The Soviet Union used to be China’s big brother in the 1950s, during which time a lot of Russian literature and folk songs have been translated into Chinese. When I was young, the political influence was not that strong but the Russian literature still has an influence in China. As a teenager I read books written by Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy and Maksim Gorkiy (well, all in Chinese). Russia is one of my dream places to visit. In 2007 I traveled to Northeast China, a place quite close to the Sino-Russian border. But I had difficulty to get a visa and cross the border. At that time I could hardly imagine several years later I would study a master’s program in Germany and get the chance to take a course in Russia. My life is so dynamic and full of possibilities!

I flew to Moscow with Leonore and Ritu before joining the group in St.Petersburg for the Haniel Spring School. I kept listening to Moscow Night, a Russian folk song, which was popular all over the communist countries. I got quite emotional when I saw the cathedrals and the Kremlin on the red square, or even heard some Russian music when standing on the ultra-long escalator of Moscow metro. I spent sometime alone, visiting the exhibitions in the museums and the sculptures of the great writers. I am glad I finally made the trip. It even helps me to look back on how I become my present self from a teenager girl.

However, Moscow doesn’t look as mysterious as I expected. When I saw people smoking in the restaurants, I even felt that I am back in Asia. “Well, this is not Europe,” Leo told me. I still feel confused on this opinion, but not as shocked as when I first heard Eastern Europeans mention that they didn’t consider themselves Europeans. It is hard for me to understand, if Eastern Europe doesn’t belong to Europe, what it is then? I am appreciated that my European classmates provided a new perspective for me to understand Europe.

I am looking forward to the Spring School, which will start tomorrow. I’ve been interested in Sino-Russian border disputes for a long time and have read The Sino-Russian Treaty of Nerchinsk of 1689, until the news of final resolution of the disputes in 2004. It would be interesting for me to learn Russian’s border policies with its western neighbors. It’s also special for a person who grew up in a communist country and studies in an EU country to cross the border on foot and visit the two border cities in Russia and Estonia respectively.

Well, I still have to finish the readings tonight and prepare for the group work. See you guys in St. Petersburg soon!