Dale and group members pose in front of Brandenburg Gate.

Georgia Journalism Student Dale Hackler Joins Program for December Week in Berlin

University of Georgia student Dale Hackler joined a group of 19 other red-eyed and tired American journalists and journalism students in exchanging greetings and light jokes at Tegel airport in Berlin in early December.

Everyone seemed to need a laugh. Transcontinental flights were rare adventures for most in this group, and 11 hours in the air with futile attempts at sleep can easily sour one’s mood.

That airport meeting at noon on December 3 was the beginning of what would be seven days of nonstop movement and discovery through the political, cultural and media landscapes of Germany. It was the beginning of the Fulbright 2006 Berlin Capital Program.

For Hackler, a dual major in Journalism and German in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, it was a first-trip to Germany.

Immediately after meeting at the airport, the group made a short stop at the hotel and began a bus tour of the city. Reiner Rohr, executive director of the German Fulbright Commission and organizer of the Berlin Capital Program, served as tour guide.

The group was diverse. Members came from California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., and they came from many different backgrounds and professions. One reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta, another for NPR in Washington, D.C. One was a producer for HDTV News with experience in Iraq, one a writer for Newsweek, another for People magazine, another a sports writer for a Chicago newspaper. Some, such as Hackler, were students, with Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley, also represented.

Rohr told the group that as journalists they were in an especially good position to benefit from the program, and that Germany stood in an equally good position to benefit from their experiences. He said one of the purposes of the program was an attempt to “sell Germany,” an idea of cultural promotion that would be echoed by others throughout the trip.

“Fantastic meals became a recurring and welcome theme throughout the program,” Hackler said. “German food is dense, filling and flavorful, and the wines and beers outperform most of their American counterparts.”

The meals also offered a prime opportunity to socialize, not just within the group but also with Germans working for the Fulbright Commission and other Germans who would occasionally join meals.

One morning the group breakfasted with Parliament staffers at Restaurant Tucher, and the conversations centered on defense and immigration.

The group also met, at the cafeteria of the Foundation for Science and Politics, with Özcan Mutlu, a member of the House of Representatives of Turkish descent, Daniel Bax, editor of the newspaper Tagezeitung and others. Another evening the group dined at Casita de Cuba and was joined by the chief editor of Bild, the largest newspaper in Germany with over 12 million daily readers. After that meal, members of the group enjoyed Cuban rum and cigars, a rare treat for Americans.

The program began every day at 8 a.m. and ran late into the evening, the longest day ending at 10:30 p.m. after a concert by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra Berlin.

The sessions were structured so that the beginning of the week was devoted to history, culture, politics and foreign relations, and the end of the week to media and journalism. One of the first people the group met was Peter Claussen, an American diplomat to East Germany in the years immediately preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall. “He told stories that seemed unreal, the stuff of spy novels,” Hackler said.

At that same meeting a history professor spoke briefly of socialism’s successes and failures in the old east, and the lingering economic and social effects of Germany’s division. Just outside of that meeting was a small preserved piece of the Berlin wall, one of the few remaining physical remnants of the iron curtain.

The group also toured the German Federal Foreign Office and met with officials in German-American relations. The officials spoke candidly of Germany’s disagreements with American foreign policy and of attempts to help Americans understand European perspectives as well as attempts to help Europeans understand American perspectives, especially what they saw as a modern “American Angst”.

The group also met with Dr. Volker Perthes, Chairman of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, an influential think-tank in Germany. One topic discussed was Germany’s role as a military force abroad, a very contentious subject.

The U.S. journalists and journalism students also met with Günter Krings, a member of parliament and Fulbright alumnus. Krings described German politics.

“We were told there are multiple parties, more cohesion within parties, and more emphasis on compromise,” Hackler recalled. “The typical politician was described as an intellectual, and there is much less focus on moral issues and the sex lives of politicians.”

Hackler, a senior, works as a research clerk in the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College. He was nominated for the Fulbright program by Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker, himself the recipient of two senior Fulbright Scholar awards in Germany.

The program included meetings with journalists and media experts. The group visited two publications, Tageszeitung and the newsweekly Der Spiegel. At Spiegel the group learned of attempts being made to expand into an English language market. The group also visited two German radio stations and one television station.

Also included were meetings with an editor from Die Zeit, a weekly newspaper, with experts on journalism education in Germany, a talk with American (and one Israeli) foreign correspondents in Germany, and a visit to the Axel Springer School of Journalism.

Many members of the group put the “free” time to full use, Hackler said, sampling the Berlin night life.

“Berlin’s nightlife was exciting,” said Hackler, who admitted he sampled some of same. “And the city proved to be full of interesting people.”

“The Christmas markets were up and running,” he added, “and the Americans were welcome guests in most places, be it a small neighborhood bar or a large club.”

Hacker added that the 20 U.S. visitors to Germany “forged many friendships between previous strangers, making the world a smaller and better place.”