The Waterloo Centre for German Studies – on its way to reality
by Herwig Wandschneider
An idea in the back of some minds for a time has moved to the foreground and one step closer to reality: The Waterloo Centre for German Studies.
The idea is this: To found a Centre in the Waterloo Region which will focus on recognizing and maintaining the region’s German heritage, culture, language and history, and offer a variety of learning opportunities, events and activities on heritage subjects as well as contemporary life in Europe’s German-speaking countries. The Centre will create a link between the community and university scholars internationally through extensive archival holdings of historical documents, academic research and publication.
What exactly is involved in founding such a Centre? Dr. David John, Chair of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies at the University of Waterloo, and member of the project’s steering committee, explains: "To begin, we need a Director with a small administrative staff who are dedicated to the Centre on a full time basis. No bricks and mortar are involved at this first stage. In order to realize the Centre, we clearly need to start with the minimum cost. However, to flourish, the Centre must grow and be financially independent. We are delighted to have the full support of University President Dr. David Johnston and the university’s existing infrastructure for this first phase of development."
"The Director also needs an Advisory Board, about half of which would come from the university and half from the community. Overall control of the Centre’s administration and activities, however, would remain in the hands of the University."
The Director and his staff will administer a program designed to provoke and stimulate interest and participation by the community: cultural, economic and business presentations, dance, music, films, art exhibitions, presentations on current events and politics, discussion groups, and courses on many aspects of the above. The program will also involve students at all levels. Interested people in the community will be free to participate actively or just absorb events of interest simply by attending, listening and observing.
The concept of a Centre for German Studies is not new, but implementation in this region would be a first, and is long overdue. It is clear that, unless a dynamic link is generated between a population with first- and multi-generational Germanic roots and the younger population interested in acquiring or maintaining knowledge about Germanic cultures, the great contributions of Germanic settlers of the past will gradually be forgotten; still, if the focus is only on the past, the vibrant personal, cultural and business links between our region and the German-speaking countries will not grow as they should. "Above all the programme has to be modern and up-to-date to stimulate interest and participation at all levels of the community," explains Dr. John.
Similar ideas have been realized in two comparable North American locations, the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the Chair for German Studies at the University of Winnipeg. These succeeded as a result of demographics, specialty connections, links to specific groups in the community and programs that are coordinated to address the community’s needs.
Germanic Departments exist at many Universities, but in most cases without the ability to reach out to the community, either because corresponding demographics do not exist or the community is not sufficiently coherent to support such a Centre.
"Not so in the Waterloo region," says Dr. John, outspoken proponent for the realization of the Centre. "Our demographics here are even better than in Madison or Winnipeg. No-where else in our country or on this continent," he points out, "is there a concentration of history, heritage and cohesive effort to maintain the Germanic heritage today as in the cities of Kitchener-Waterloo and the Waterloo region as a whole. Just look at the number of thriving German clubs, at Oktoberfest, the Christkindl Market, German Pioneers Day, to name just the major events forming part of life in the Region; and look at the strength of the University of Waterloo’s German program. The demographics and the cohesiveness are ideal to make this project a success".
Participation from the University side is not an issue. The University of Waterloo’s Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies currently has some 934 enrollments in undergraduate German courses and a thriving graduate program. There is a German student club, which meets on a regular basis to further studies through interaction. What would help even more is a lively interaction between the Germanic community and the body of Canadian, and 2nd, 3rd or even 4th generation students of Germanic heritage. The mutual benefits of such interaction between community and students would contribute enormously to keep this vibrant community intact. Dr. John: "The key purpose is intended to provide a service and a benefit to the community."
To finance the Centre, the more difficult part of this endeavor, an endowment fund will be established to ensure that the administrative and program costs can be carried in perpetuity. For optimization of the program and avoidance of duplication, certain activities could be brought to the Centre through agencies of the Austrian, German and Swiss Consulates and Embassies. The Goethe Institute in Toronto, for example, has a large program of activity, which could be linked readily to the Waterloo region to increase public exposure to their events. The Consulate of Switzerland has just sponsored a performance in German of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der alten Dame at the university. Speakers and artists brought from Europe for events supported by the consulates could be brought to K-W at the same time, thereby saving significant costs.
In order to attract the necessary high quality people to develop and maintain a "major, first-class Centre in perpetuity," says Dr. John, "an initial endowment fund of $2.5 million is needed, which, prudently invested, is thought to provide enough annual return to finance the Director and administrative costs. An additional $1million is needed for an endowment to carry the annual costs of programming." Significant sums have already been pledged, and milestones reached will be announced progressively.
The project’s steering committee consists of Dr. David John, James Breithaupt Q.C., Manfred Conrad, Ernst Friedel, Wilhelm Huber, Paul Tuerr, Dr. Marga Weigel with support and frequent participation by University of Waterloo President Dr. David Johnston. All are well-known, influential members of the community and are dedicated to making this vision a reality.
There is also a vision of a Phase II of the project, which would involve actual bricks and mortar. Volunteers like Bill Krohn, Architect, are quietly at work sketching out some ideas with Dr. John to visualize what such physical facilities could look like. These would replace the Centre’s temporary facilities provided by the university during Phase I. "We should not attempt to realize too much of our vision at one time," states Dr. John. "We need to get the program underway before looking at the feasibility of the next phase."
One can only hope that this project will flourish and prosper.
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