Digitally United at the IPW 2021

The International Project Week (IPW) at Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences in Thuringia was a bit different this year as only four lecturers travelled there to participate on site (two of us from the Czech Republic, one from Poland and one from the US) while the rest taught online from their home countries. And along with goodies such as chocolates and a miniature sample from the local distillery, we also got some hand disinfectant gel, a week’s supply of FFP2 masks and a couple of Covid tests in our welcome bags, as well as a handy webcam cover for our computers since we were all still teaching digitally, albeit on campus.

It was somewhat strange to walk through the door – bearing a lovely welcome poster – into an empty classroom each morning, knowing I would see my students on screen instead of sitting there in person. After a few initial technical problems, the teaching went pretty smoothly and the week flew by as always. For my project entitled “The Rise of Populism” the students came up with impressive final presentations on the following subjects: a comparison of right-wing and left-wing populism in Germany; conspiracy theories and populism; the development of populism through different topics; and (the musicians among the group) populism and music. These students were a pleasure to work with, extremely patient with technical issues and actively participating throughout the week.

Although all the teaching was online, there was still a great real-life social and cultural programme for those of us who were there in person. The extra-curricular activities were mostly outdoors: trips to the Hohenrode park in Nordhausen, the rosarium in Sangerhausen, one of the largest rose collections in the world, and, at the weekend, the National Garden Festival (BUGA) in the picturesque town of Erfurt. We visited a peaceful monastery in nearby Walkenried during the week, stopping off on our way back to the station to watch the model railway with a small-scale steam train like the one that goes up to the Brocken on the famous Harz narrow gauge railway. And to relax after the last day’s work and students’ final presentations, we cooled off with a Friday afternoon swim in a local lake.

Video by Michal Menšík

We also listened to excellent talks on climate change by two university students at the Klimapavillon one evening and enjoyed a socially distanced version of the mid-week student party at the Karzer with a barbecue for a small group of lecturers and IPW team members in a secret garden beforehand. When one colleague left before the end of the party, we all comically waved goodbye in unison like at the end of a Zoom meeting. We weren’t allowed to go and dance inside the disco this year but we were happy to dance outside instead. And during the course of the week we still had dinner – and the odd beer, of course – at several beer gardens.

It wasn’t quite the same without meeting the students in person and they are generally tired of online classes after so many months – three semesters – and very keen to get back into the classroom. I also really missed my colleagues who were unable to travel to Nordhausen this year though it was lovely to see them online at least. I very much hope we will all be reunited in person next May, not only digitally. In any case, this year’s trip was a great experience all round – a big thank you to Patricia Kolbe, Thomas Hoffmann and all the IPW team for pulling it off under difficult circumstances!