Assistant Professor, Germanic Studies
International Languages & Cultures
Paula Hanssen came to Webster in 1993 as an adjunct professor at a time when the department had no full-time professor of German. She has helped grow the program ever since, serving as a visiting lecturer, program coordinator, and promoter of all things German. This spring she was chosen for the post of Assistant Professor of German Studies, effective Fall 2007.
How did you arrive at Webster?
My husband and I moved to St. Louis from upstate New York. He was taking a position at another institution, also as a German professor. I found out about Webster and applied here. I’ve always liked Webster: I enjoy the students, the freedom we have to teach, and so many great colleagues.
Two German professors in the family – does that explain how you met?
Yes, we met when we were getting our doctorates at the University of Illinois-Urbana. My dissertation was on the women who worked with Berthold Brecht, particularly Elisabeth Hauptmann.
[Ed. note: Hauptmann was a frequent collaborator with Brecht, the influential German playwright, poet, and director of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Hanssen’s research on both continues today.]
How did your interest in German emerge?
Through music, actually. I was a music major in college, and I was going to attend a seminar in Vienna, and my music teachers kept encouraging me to take German and learn a bit of the language. As I studied German I enjoyed everything more and more: the culture, the art, literature, music. I acted in German plays in college, and afterward I spent a year in Vienna, then a year in Munich and a year in Goettingen.
Later, my husband and I lived in Dresden for a year, when he was on a Fulbright, so our daughter got to enroll in fourth grade at a German school for a year. It was a great experience for all of us.
What have been some significant developments in Webster’s Germanic Studies program?
I helped establish a German program at our Vienna campus with Johanna Posset [adjunct professor at Webster Vienna]. We’ve had the program there for five years now. We also reinstated the German teacher certification in 2003. And we have some new scholarships: Conseulo Gallagher established a scholarship for German majors, and the German American Heritage Society offers a travel scholarship for study abroad in Vienna.
What else is unique about the program?
Generally, we have more about Austria than most schools. A lot of programs focus only on Germany and neglect Austria. Also, we have intensive language weekends each year, a great variety of cultural classes – the next one will be on Berlin. We have a great collection of German film in the library that we’re constantly adding to. Plus the International Business Internship Exchange housed here at Webster has provided many Webster students opportunities for networking in Germany.
There are a lot of resources here. Great faculty from other departments, too: Warren Rosenblum [History, Politics & International Relations] has done a lot of research in Germany and Austria. Don Morse [Philosophy] teaches philosophy in Vienna. So many library resources to use in class, and the Vienna campus is a great asset for the program. I love taking students there and opening them up to all these new experiences.
Tells us some of your experiences teaching at Webster Vienna.
I taught a German culture course in Vienna, focused on turn-of-the-century art, architecture, and writing, using the city as a lab. So we went to theatres, museums, saw architecture all around the city, and of course, the cafés. I recently took a group to Paris and Vienna over Spring Break as part of a comparative culture course. I’ll be going to Vienna and Bratislava, Slovakia, as part of a Globalization hybrid course with Roy Tamashiro in the School of Education. These courses tend to draw a variety of students, not just German majors.
With some courses we take this great “Vienna and Death Tour,” a one-day tour to learn about their traditions in a museum about funeral traditions, and a mausoleum where they keep many royal corpses. Viennese have this great tradition, dating to the 1800s, of having big funerals with great processions through the city to the Central Cemetery, where there are 3 million tombs. Beethoven, Strauss, Schubert and Brahms are all buried there. So it’s a great perspective for the students: a place where all of these important people came together, which really crystallizes the cultural importance of Vienna for them.
Finally, what are your favorite places in Vienna?
The Staatsoper, of course – I love opera. And there are so many great museums, but I love the Theater Museum the most. My favorite café is the Café Hawelka, this wonderful, very traditional, smoky old place run by a father and son. The parks offer a place to relax in the middle of the city, and the different branches of the Danube by the Webster Vienna Campus have wonderful places to enjoy nature.
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