Karl Friedrich Schinkel. If there is one thing that every student from one of John‘s Berlin programs remembers, it is the name Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
They may not have any idea who that is, but they remember the name and they know that he was important.
I witnessed this firsthand, because I was on two CHID Berlin programs with John — once as a student in 2004, and once as a co-instructor-slash-commiserator in 2011. (As many of you know, leading a study abroad program is not for the faint of heart, especially when your program is in a place that requires as much paperwork as Germany.)
Now, Berlin has a lot of terrible places … sites of unspeakable violence, places that still hold the ghosts of the twentieth century’s deeply troubled history. On John‘s program, we explored many of these. But it was on the 2011 program when, upon arriving at the student apartments and finding out that bedding had not been included in our rental contract, John courageously entered the most horrifying place in Berlin: IKEA. He and his wife Eleanor bravely shopped for sheets, pillowcases, and shower mats — yes, shower mats! Such are the sacrifices of a true educator.
Of course, IKEA in Berlin is eerily exactly like ikea in any other place in the world. Except at the Berlin IKEA, there is an East German memorial reminding shoppers of the ever-present threat of fascism in the parking lot. With John, you stumble onto all kinds of strange juxtapositions — in fact, I think that that’s one of the aims of CHID as John envisioned it — that students notice those unexpected contingencies, the odd and seemingly nonsensical accidents of history that make our world so confusing but also so wonderful.
But back to the all-important Karl Friedrich Schinkel. I may be John‘s only Berlin student who in fact does know what Schinkel did that was so important, because I went on to become an architectural historian and to quote John‘s chapter on Schinkel (from his book Becoming Historical) in numerous seminar papers. And I am proud to say that my CHID thesis, which John supervised, became my recently finished dissertation, so after all these years I may actually finally also understand some of what john was saying in the book.
In fact I think Schinkel, who was the leading architect in Prussia in the first half of the nineteenth century and designed some of berlin’s most important landmarks, would have fit in perfectly in CHID. His ideas were big, almost impossibly ambitious, but the results were nuanced and sometimes deceptively quotidian. His work was never about himself as an author, or even just about questions of design, but sought to help us understand our role as humans in a vast and complex universe.
John, CHID, for so many of us — who have felt misrecognized, misunderstood, overlooked, or lost — has provided a lauchpad, a safe foundation from which to begin tackling those big questions. It has been a space of radical openness where we were allowed to experiment, to endeavor, have impossibly big ideas, to make — and learn from — our mistakes, and explore our deepest passions. You created, nurtured, and fostered that space — on your Berlin programs, and on campus.
On the steps of the Pergamon Museum, as your student in 2004, I remember telling you very ardently about this amazing CHID class I had taken the spring before, during my first quarter at UW. It had opened my eyes to so much, made me consider the world in new ways. And you had the humility to simply give one of your friendly giggles and gently tell me, “Yes, I know. I created that class.” It takes immense strength, confidence, and faith to allow your work — academic or otherwise — to live that freely in the world, and to grant others, including your students, the freedom to make it their own. It is these aspects of CHID — the humility, the openness, the respect — that have shaped me, as an undergrad, as a CHID instructor abroad and on campus, as a staff member. And this is what I will take with me into whatever strange and wonderful moments this world has to offer. Thank you John. To you: my Urdoktorvater!