University of Chester student impresses Cambridge academics

Posted on 14th March 2017

A Modern Languages undergraduate at the University of Chester has been sharing his research about the former East Germany, and its iconic car, the Trabant, at the University of Cambridge.

•	Poster Speakers - left to right: Elizabeth Orrin (Durham); Austen Lowe (Chester) Lea Reiff (Berlin).
• Poster Speakers - left to right: Elizabeth Orrin (Durham); Austen Lowe (Chester) Lea Reiff (Berlin).

Second year student Austen Lowe was selected to present his project at the Cambridge Undergraduate Conference in German Studies. His poster talk focused on some of the fundamental differences of societal life on either side of the ‘Iron Curtain’ and looked at the symbolism of the Trabant in particular. 

Austen said: “In a reunified Germany, it is often assumed that everything about the GDR (Former East Germany) was bad. Although terrible events did occur, the GDR did create a sense of identity which has since disappeared. This identity was inextricably linked to everyday symbols, such as the Trabant.” 

East Germany and West Germany were divided from 1961 until 1989 by the Berlin Wall. East Germany built the Wall to prevent its citizens from fleeing to the West to escape communism. 

Austen was joined by fellow undergraduates from other higher education institutions who also presented projects on various contemporary social and political issues, as well as papers on linguistic analysis. Austen also attended the Gala dinner where he met with other speakers and academics who all share his passion for German studies. 

Austen presented as part of the dedicated poster session. He said: “I was amazed that so many people were waiting to speak to me and were interested in my project. Researching can be quite a lonely process, but it was wonderful that everyone with whom I spoke completely understood my concept and this debate. My poster attracted positive comments from many Cambridge academics, including Professor Sarah Colvin and my poster supervisor Dr Erica Wickerson. This concept and intelligent discussion with others regarding this interesting vehicle has given me a real boost to continue researching this project during my undergraduate degree, and eventually take it to postgraduate level.” 

Dr Erica Wickerson, Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge and Austen’s poster supervisor, said: “Austen’s poster and his presentation were very impressive and professional. His poster was eye-catching, clear and informative. He engaged with large crowds of students and academics, eloquently explaining his project. It really was a joy having him participate in the day and I very much enjoyed mentoring him. We would strongly encourage Austen and others to join us again in future years.” 

Richard Millington, acting Deputy Head for the Department of Modern Languages and Lecturer in German, said: “From the start, Austen showed a lot of interest in and enthusiasm for the work we did in German looking at how East Germany is remembered today. We are very pleased and proud that Austen has taken his interest a step further. He did a great job representing the Department and the University at Cambridge.” 

Austen added: “It was an absolute honour and privilege to represent the University of Chester at this event; speaking with fellow students and well-respected academics, all of whom were extremely intelligent and diligent, has been a University highlight.” 

Austen’s poster is currently displayed in the Modern Languages Department in the Binks Building on the University’s Parkgate Road Campus.