Backdrop Got Me Here: Leipzig, Germany

Julie Ciotola

Back in March, I took a spring break trip with my family to Phoenix, Arizona. We spent the week hiking in 70-degree weather and dining on local cuisine.. Beyond enjoying the weather, the trip changed my mentality. Resting on top of a mountain after a two-hour climb, sweat pouring down my back, I felt renewed. 

Little did I know that just two months later, I would hop back on a plane, chasing that exact feeling.

 A few weeks after my return from Arizona, I found out that I would be spending about a month studying abroad in Leipzig, Germany. The focus of the trip was to study the complexity of the opioid crisis in Leipzig and to study German culture and history. I was one of five Scripps students on the trip, which included Ohio University chemistry students, Global Leadership Center students and a handful of faculty. Our group collaborated with German students and faculty from Universität Leipzig. 

In the days leading up to my departure, I felt a mix of anxiety and excitement. As someone who obsesses over acute organization, I couldn’t comprehend how the following weeks would transpire. I had never been so far away from home, surrounded by people with completely different cultural customs. 

When I finally arrived in Leipzig, I realized having zero expectations was the best way to prepare. Each aspect of the city felt like an exciting discovery– the food, the street music, the architecture and even the bustle of public transportation. I felt that familiar feeling of renewed curiousity I had perched atop an Arizona mountain. 
Studying the opioid crisis from a journalistic perspective was intense and fascinating. I had listened to insight from the editor of a local citizen newspaper funded by donations. He discussed covering the opioid crisis in his small community and how instrumental journalism is during a crisis. 

Our group also toured a MDR Studio, a media organization in Leipzig that produces broadcast news and television shows. This was a shift from learning about conflict reporting, but it gave me the opportunity to marvel at the modern technology and the content produced in Leipzig daily. 

Aside from studying the opioid crisis, much of the trip was a historical venture. Germany has a deep and dense past that cannot be crammed into a single trip, or even few semesters of history classes. Before the trip, my limited knowledge of German history centered on World War II.  

So it was no secret– I was ignorant.

At the end of our first week, we took a walking tour of Leipzig and learned about different historical spots around the city. Some places were celebratory, such as St. Thomas Church, where composer Johann Sebastian Bach worked as the music director until his death. Other places were more commemorative,  such as the Capa House. The Capa House was named after American photojournalist Robert Capa, who captured Life magazine’s famous photo series “The Last Man to Die” at the end of World War II. 

Even after World War II, Germany faced the incredible task of rebuilding. The country divided into East and West territories, and because Leipzig fell on the eastern side, it was subject to rule under the Ministry for State Security (Stasi).

The group toured a Stasi Museum in Leipzig, which revealed the strict style of government imposed upon the German people. After the collapse of the dictator regime in Germany, I discovered that the Germans implemented the Stasi as the official state security service of East Germany. The government controls were meant to establish peace in the country. Instead, the Stasi became a feared institution, disconnected from its people. This divide created another obstacle for the country to overcome to establish a sustainable and fair government.

The more I learned about German history, the more I came to appreciate Leipzig. The arduous journey of the German people throughout history demonstrates their resolve for peace and security. The city of Leipzig today is developed and full of culture and personality, and it felt almost impossible to picture it any other way.

Amid learning about German history and studying the current social climate during the opioid crisis, I always returned to feeling that I am but a small part of this incredible world. For me, the feeling was profound. At  20 years old, I finally realized that there is a huge world to explore outside the comforts of my hometown in Ohio.