Tuesday, April 25, 2023

[BERLIN] Humboldt Versus Freie Universität

Even if you live in Berlin for two months, which I did back in 2017, it is still not enough to savor what the city can offer. I always declare it as my most favorite city in Europe, and that designation hasn’t changed over the years. Since I’ve been away for more than 5 years, I’ve decided that I wanted to come back to Germany’s capital, not for sightseeing per se, but just to be in the city again. But since we are already here, I decided to go sightseeing anyway. What about a campus tour? Humboldt and FU, are you ready?

Ever since I found out that German universities don’t charge tuition and that I could take a second degree BA here as long as my German permits, I’ve always been toying with the idea of just settling in Berlin for a three-year period to go back to school. What’s stopping me is my ever fluctuating German proficiency which shuttles back and forth between B2 and C1, when C1 is the usual prerequisite for admission for most universities. After visiting two campuses, that plan just gained more traction.

I started with FU. The campus of Freie Universität Berlin is rather far away from all the action of Berlin’s tourist core. The location appears to be halfway between Berlin and Potsdam. Because of this, the campus has a feel that is closer to its American counterparts, where the university grounds enjoy a detached existence from the rest of the big city. The U-Bahn trip lasted almost an hour, even though it only required an AB ticket. A few more stations down the line and you’d probably need a C extension.

This is what I liked most about FU, I guess. Far away from Berlin’s distractions, you can just immerse yourself in the academic atmosphere and get lost in whatever discipline you are studying. One specific attraction I made sure not to miss was the Philological Library, and boy, wasn’t I totally impressed? The collection of books from literature to philology is so vast, in different language branches that I’ve always found fascinating. I spent most of my time there, just ogling books with both eyes wide open in awe.

The rest of the campus is not shabby. In contrast to the evidently Baroque and attention-grabbing architecture of Humboldt’s buildings, FU’s are pretty much modern and minimalistic. The student spirit is palpable because what you see inside its walls are a rather specific sector of society, that of the youth and all the idealism they are supposed to be brimming in. Oh, to be young. The grounds also house the Museum of European Cultures, which was already closed for the day when I dropped by.

I then had a stroll at Humboldt’s campus the next day, which did not really require a trip via public transportation because my accommodation at Mitte was just walking distance from Museuminsel. The thing about Humboldt is that its buildings occupy a sprawl all over what is arguably Berlin’s most densely infested tourist area. This is the core of Berlin, which means it’s not just students that you will be stumbling upon here, but rather everybody, basically.

That is the problem I am seeing here. How are you to focus on your studies when you are physically located in Berlin’s pulsating core? The good thing about that, though, is you are close to every creature comfort and distraction you can think of. Everything Berlin has to offer is now within easy reach. Since the buildings blend with other tourist attractions like the city’s many museums, I felt like I did not cover much unlike what I did at FU’s campus grounds the day before.

So, what is the final verdict, then? The final verdict all depends on what you want to study. While the two universities have some degree programs in common, some are better in one or the other. As for campus tours, I’d say go out of your way to visit FU if you are a fan of big campuses. Humboldt is an easy side trip you can include in your tour of Museuminsel and the Alexanderplatz area.

[BERLIN] Humboldt Versus Freie Universität

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