Across the border

Many projects at the Professorship of the Local History of the Rhein-Maas Region, The InKuR, and the Institute of Netherlandic Studies reflect the location of Duisburg and Essen in a region that transcends the historical and cultural boundary between Germany and the Netherlands. In partnership with Radboud University Nijmegen (Professor Wim van Moers), the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences (Professor Alexander Brand) and the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem, the UDE’s Junior Professor Ute K. Boonen (Netherlandic Studies) and Professor Fuchs organised the summer school ‘Werkstatt an der Grenze’ (‘a workshop on the border’; 2018–2021; funded by the Dutch Language Union, the Province of Gelderland and others). It is designed as an annual week of projects involving lectures, exercises, excursions and guided tours of the host city, which changes every year (2018: Kleve, 2019: Nijmegen.) The 2020 instalment of the event was going take place in Essen but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Every year, small groups of researchers develop new insights into a range of regionally relevant topics (e.g., cross-border emergency services, Euregio, European energy policy) and presented them to a broad audience. The results are then published in a concluding report (

Despite the close geographical proximity between Germany and the Netherlands, both sides still subscribe to stereotypes about themselves and the other. Germans are precise and punctual; the Dutch are relaxed and pragmatic. Such clichés can have cognitive advantages, but they also cause communication problems and misunderstandings. Professor Boonen’s project ‘Unser Bild vom Nachbarn’ (‘our image of the neighbour’) seeks to answer several questions: which stereotypes shape the view of ‘the Germans’ in the Netherlands and of ‘the Dutch’ in Germany? How did each image emerge, and how do literature, language classes and other factors shape it? What experiences do pupils and students make in real-life encounters that confront them with (positive and negative) prejudice? To what extent can intercultural communication and intercultural learning help them identify differences without judgement, teach them to appreciate those differences, and qualify stereotypes?

Our Faculty also studies the border itself – as a complex subject area and a spatial, political, geographical, social and cultural boundary. Border research is a dynamic field informed by several disciplines. Albeit occasionally interdisciplinary in nature, the individual studies it produces tend to be received primarily within the individual disciplines that constitute each author’s own academic background. Professor Hannes Krämer’s and Dominik Gerst’s M.A. (Department of Communication Studies) project ‘Konturen kulturwissenschaftlicher Grenzforschung’ (‘outlines of border research in cultural studies’) addresses this intriguing relationship and investigates ways of describing borders beyond the boundaries of specific disciplines. It is based at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION (Frankfurt/Oder), where Professor Krämer is an external associate.

To study borders, scholars need a concept of ‘borders’ that is rooted in cultural studies and incorporates a variety of perspectives into its analyses. The field of cultural studies, which unites approaches from the social sciences and humanities with a foundation of cultural theory, provides the vocabulary for that concept. Borders are to be understood as a specific and arbitrary setting of differences. They must be studied as complex relationships with an empirical and theoretical focus on their symbolism, cultural codes, constitutive practices, material presences and technological infrastructures. The project seeks to determine how to plan and execute such a research endeavour.

In this context, Dominik Gerst has dedicated his dissertation project to the understanding of borders in the field of German-Polish security (‘Grenzwissen im deutsch-polnischen Sicherheitsfeld’, supervisor: Professor Krämer). What linguistic methods are used to discuss the security field of ‘the’ border? At the centre of this question lies the categorial order of the border, which indicates a historically grown, locally differentiated understanding of borders. Unlike scholars engaging in interdisciplinary border research and border sociology, those with a background in ethnomethodology do not focus on the effects and impact of borders but on the border itself and its various interpretations.