What is the DAAD?
This extraordinarily well-funded organisation (DAAD; German Academic Exchange Service) exists to promote international academic exchange. Among other things, the DAAD brings scholars from all around the world to universities right across Germany, and sends German scholars abroad. For students from the UK and Ireland, the DAAD presently offers one-year grants for study or research in Germany to master’s and PhD students, postdocs, and junior academics in all disciplines, at universities or music conservatoires (although the application process for conservatoires is slightly different). There are also some shorter-term research placements. It’s even technically possible to renew a one-year grant several times to complete a whole PhD in Germany.
I heard about the scholarships via a departmental email, and applied because I wanted to explore primary material in the Berlin archives to support my work on symphonic music in 1933. This is a genre that historically has a close relationship with the idea of a German nation, considered in precisely the year that Hitler seized power in Germany. Thus even though my project isn’t exclusively Germany-orientated, a placement here seemed like a great opportunity. I also wanted to improve my rather elementary German, a language important for my area of research, and mildly put, a skill unlikely to hold back a career in musicology. Concerns about current language ability certainly shouldn’t discourage you from applying.
Studying (Musicology) in Berlin
There are two major universities in Berlin with graduate students in musicology – a legacy of the East/West divide. I’m based at the Freie Universität, in what was formerly West Berlin. This university doesn’t have a full undergraduate music programme – in fact, as far as I’m aware, none of the Berlin universities do anymore! To my mind this gives the faculty a rather curious flavour, tucked away in a wing of the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft. My supervisor runs a weekly research colloquium: papers are given either by members of the faculty, or by visiting academics. This doesn’t provide the social opportunity I might expect from an equivalent event back home. Nonetheless, I have picked up some useful insider tips for musicological research in Berlin from other attendees, such as the existence of the brilliant Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, next door to the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall. Most of my week is now spent either here or in the Musikabteilung of the Staatsbibliothek. Aside from my research I’ve also been taking advantage of the Freie Universität’s German language and pronunciation classes, as well as a class on life in the German Democratic Republic – there’s a diverse range of seminar series on German cultural history targeted specifically at exchange students.
Doctoral study in Germany has of course been quite different to what I’ve been used to in England, but it can be difficult to separate out the differences that result from living in a capital city with vastly extended travel times for instance, and those that are discernibly the product of a different academic climate. Speaking more generally, I’ve enjoyed the anonymity of Berlin, an antidote to the at times claustrophobic atmosphere in Oxford. The new experiences and influences have given me the space and impetus to come at my work from a new perspective. I nevertheless sometimes miss the buzz and motivational intensity of Oxford’s more densely saturated academic environment. The (frequently) more ‘hands off’ role of the German supervisor can also exacerbate the situation. This kind of relationship means the ability to self-motivate and build connections with other researchers is even more critical. I’ve thus really valued being able to email my supervisor in England ab und zu for advice and direction.
Language Requirements and Language Courses
How good your German has to be before applying depends on your proposal. It sounds obvious, but your German has to be at a (near-) sufficient level to handle the research or course that you want to do. If your chosen course/field requires no German, then you don’t need to speak any at all: some performance masters might fall into this category. For most historical musicologists like me, however, German proficiency is more or less unavoidable. But this doesn’t mean that anything like fluency is required before applying. I think important on an application is being keen to improve and showing that you’re actively doing so. The DAAD fund pre-semester language courses for successful applicants whose German is not quite up to standard (myself included). I spent two months at an intensive language school in order to pass a B2 (roughly post-A-level) certificate, and since living in Berlin I’ve progressed to C1 level, approximately the entry level for most German universities. I’m now able to deal quite easily with German sources that a year ago would have been extremely time intensive. On top of this, in my case, the language school was in Leipzig – this meant an entire summer getting to know another city. On the first day there all the DAAD students were taken on a walking tour of Leipzig, during which – sheltering from a sudden downpour in the Thomaskirche – we quite literally stumbled upon Bach’s grave.
True to national stereotypes, this is bureaucratic and extensive, but the staff at the DAAD London Office are always happy to answer questions. I’d recommend starting this some time in advance as lots needs to be collected together. In particular, aside from the usual references, CV and statement about your proposed research, you need to allow time to get written confirmation from your proposed supervisor in Germany that they will oversee your project, and to arrange an appointment for a German language test via your university’s DAAD Lektor. In the past the deadline for applications has been mid January; the year I applied (2012), brief interviews for those shortlisted were then held in March at the DAAD London Office. All the information can be accessed here.
Of course, most of the research advantages of a DAAD scholarship parallel those of any international exchange programme, like ERASMUS: the sources I’m using in Berlin will significantly enrich my PhD, often in ways I could not have foreseen, just as the process of hunting them down in a tricky language, unfamiliar libraries, and at times abstruse cataloguing systems has significantly enriched my research skills! Where the DAAD probably differs from other exchange programmes, however, is in the support network it provides. The DAAD doesn’t just abandon you in Germany – they put masses of work into helping you build up social and academic contacts, reflecting their desire to sustain a platform for global academic exchange. First there’s a meeting for British scholarship holders in London before the period of study, then a DAAD welcome event at your university when you arrive, and, later in the year, a conference-style weekend away. Throughout the year the DAAD Freundeskreis, a network of current and ex-scholarship holders in each university town, organises cultural trips, tours and other events – an easy way of meeting other students. It seems to work: some of my closest friends since moving to Berlin are people I’ve met in some way through the DAAD.
I would recommend the DAAD scholarships wholeheartedly, with the caveat for doctoral researchers that it could be very helpful to have some degree of back-up academic supervision at your home university. For me, the willingness of the DAAD to support me in improving my German was one of the biggest advantages of this scholarship. Their investment will enhance my work and open up possibilities long after I return from Berlin.
These are the scholarships available for students from the UK and Ireland.
If you’d like more information about what I’m up to in Germany, as well as the kinds of projects being undertaken by other UK and Ireland DAAD scholars this year, you can read our testimonials written for the DAAD website here.
More General Information
The homepage of the DAAD London branch.
Very general information about the DAAD as a whole.