Finding new inspiration in Berlin…

“My stay here has not only given me practical access to sources and libraries. Being in a different academic environment has also given me new ideas and perspectives on what we do in Lund.”
These are the words of historian Marie Cronqvist, who moved to Berlin with her husband and children last summer. Now it will soon be time to go home, but before that LUM had time to meet them and find out about their new experiences.

Johan Ostling o Marie Cronqvist snurra


Marie Cronqvist and Johan Östling at Café Einstein Stammhaus on Kurfürstenstrasse. Photo: Susanne Ewert

We meet Marie and her husband Johan Östling, also a historian, at Café Einstein Stammhaus, a little brasserie in central European style on Kurfürstenstrasse. They explain that when they were on their way to Berlin they met another family of researchers who were just on their way home.

“They told us this was the best thing and the hardest thing their family had experienced. It’s a bit like that for us too”, says Marie Cronqvist.

If they had been asked six months ago, the answer would have been different. The autumn was a tough time. Their eldest son missed his friends a lot, and it is tiring to get to know a new city and get into a good routine.

After Christmas things started to improve and now everything works well.

“You should really stay for a minimum of a year if you want to go as a whole family with young children”, says Johan Östling.

Both of them got a taste for life abroad during their doctoral studies, when they were each in different places. They wanted to travel again, on the condition that both of them could work. They could during this period – Johan Östling under the Pro Futura programme and Marie Cronqvist as part of the STINT-funded network project Entangled media histories. Their two sons, Malkolm and Viktor, have not yet started school.

Marie and Johan take us to Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, where both of them work some days, and then on to the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (history of science), where Johan has carried out research during the spring. There are a number of these large, central research institutes in Germany and they attract many successful researchers from all over the world.

“It’s important that Lund is also represented in such places”, says Johan Östling. “That’s where you make real contacts. Individual contacts make it easier for international researchers to come to Lund University later and to a country where the language can otherwise be a barrier.”

There is not enough time today to visit Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv in Potsdam-Babelsberg, where Marie Cronqvist has spent a lot of time starting a new research project on the exchange of television programmes between the GDR and Sweden from 1969 to 1989.

“People thought that everything was closed between East and West. However, there was a lot of interaction across the Iron Curtain. During the 1970s, many Swedes viewed the GDR as a progressive country and were curious about both its politics and its culture”, says Marie.

Both of them feel that the humanities count for something and are regarded as an important field of study in Germany, in a different way than in Sweden. Historians in Germany have a different role in society and are more self-assertive. In Berlin, history is always present.

“It is particularly noticeable in the cityscape, and it therefore becomes clearer what contribution you can make as a historian. In Sweden this has been largely erased following the mass demolition hysteria in the 1960s”, says Marie Cronqvist. “Here, every decision on whether something should be built or pulled down is preceded by an endless number of debates, sometimes spanning many years, in which historians are one group who have an important role. One example of this was the debate on the old GDR parliament. Should it be demolished or should the old castle be rebuilt? This type of debate doesn’t happen in Sweden”, she says.

Similarly, they say that the presence of the humanities is seen in medical debates, for example on the issue of what can be done with a life. Ethicists and philosophers are always involved in those debates, and this also has its background in the Second World War and Nazism.

From the Max Planck Institute, which is located in an affluent area on the outskirts of Berlin, we make our way home to the couple’s district – or “Kiez”. A Kiez is defined by its inhabitants and can be a few streets with the same style and atmosphere. The family live in a guesthouse for researchers called IBZ, Internationales Begegnungszentrum der Wissenschaft, in Wilmersdorf in western Berlin. At the moment, there are researchers from around 20 countries living at IBZ, which has approximately 70 furnished flats of varying sizes. The researchers also have access to a nursery, conference room, library and studio. The area is very green with a lot of parks where the children like to play.

However, Johan and Marie chose a different nursery for their sons – quite a long way from their home, but they preferred a Scandinavian-German nursery because the children didn’t speak any German. They spend a lot of time travelling back and forth between home, nursery and their various workplaces in the city.

“We started getting the bus rather than the U-bahn after a while to avoid spending so much time underground”, says Marie.

They explain how, in many ways, life became more complicated when they moved abroad. Yet life also became simpler because they left many of their commitments behind and could focus on a smaller number of things – the children, their research and getting to know the new country.

Getting more people to spend a period conducting research abroad form part of the internationalisation initiatives at the University. It is natural in science and medicine to do a postdoctoral fellowship abroad, but it is not as common in the humanities. Marie and Johan think this is a shame.

“In my view, future mobility should be encouraged when researchers are still doing their PhD, and it should be made clear that an academic career may involve moving both within Sweden and out of the country. This may entail personal sacrifices, but I think both the individual and the humanities in Sweden have a lot to gain from it”, says Johan Östlund.

Text: Gisela Lindberg

More about Marie Cronqvist

Who: Marie Cronqvist, reader in history and senior lecturer in journalism and media history at the Department of Communication and Media

Visiting researcher at: Hans-Bredow-Institut für Medienforschung an der Universität Hamburg

Research: Carries out research on Cold War narratives, media and memory, and journalism and armed conflict. Her new project is about collaboration between the GDR and Sweden in the field of television in the 1970s and 1980s.

Surprising fact: Was going to be a trumpet player

More about Johan Östling

Who: Johan Östling, reader in history and Pro Futura researcher at Lund University and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS) in Uppsala.

Visiting researcher at: Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam and Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin.

Research: Conducts research on the history of ideas, politics and learning in the modern world and its impact on modern society. At the moment he is writing a book about the transformation of the Humboldt tradition and the idea of the university in modern Germany.

Surprising fact: Started out as a molecular biologist

Why conduct research abroad?

  • Access to sources and libraries
  • Individual contacts
  • New impulses and ideas – inspiration for new research projects
  • To be an ambassador for Lund University – demonstrate Lund’s presence in the world
  • New perspectives on one’s home research environment by seeing another academic environment
  • Contribute to internationalisation and mobility