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Year Abroad stories: Rosie Shackleton

German and History MA Hons graduate Rosie tells us about Wanderbücher for a post-Brexit Europe.

In Year 3 of her German and History degree, Rosie Shackleton spent a semester on work experience at the Fritz-Hüser-Institut (FHI) in Dortmund.

Rosie at work in the Fritz-Hüser-Institut
Rosie at work in the Fritz-Hüser-Institut

Dedicated to the literature and culture of the working world, FHI has an extensive archive of the estates of writers, publicists and literary associations, including that of the German ‘Arbeiterdichter’ (labourer-poet), journalist and photographer Erich Grisar.

Grisar travelled around Europe for thirty years mid-twentieth century, lending out his small notebook - his ‘Wanderbuch’ - to a network of artists to capture their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and wisdom as he went.

Working with FHI's Director Dr Iuditha Balint and her colleague Anna Kemperdiek, Rosie was inspired by the archival treasure to develop a new series of Wanderbücher celebrating contemporary European connections through literature, art and thoughts.

To cross all frontiers

It was towards the end of Rosie's four-month internship that Iuditha showed her and Anna the original Wanderbuch from the archive and suggested to them that they should build a project out of it.

Rosie came up with the idea for an artistic exchange between people from different European countries based on a sketchbook project her high school art teacher had done, while Anna developed the ideas for the website and interactive map that launched in July 2021.

The project, Ein Wanderbuch fr Europa: To Cross All Frontiers, involved sending five empty Moleskine notebooks to people of different ethnic and social backgrounds, religions, ages and genders across Europe who wrote or drew in them and sent them onwards to friends, family, and acquaintances, before they were returned to the Fritz-Hüser-Institut.

The entries began in the autumn of 2019 and continued up to the summer of 2020, charting a Europe being changed by Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, and touching on subjects including art, the everyday, depression, religion, and family.

Browse the Wanderbucher on the project website

From Dortmund to Edinburgh

A map of Europe with the wandbuch pathways
The Wanderbuch website shows the paths the books have taken across Europe, as well as the journey made by Erich Grisar's original book. Image © Wanderbuch.de

The iterative nature of the project meant that Rosie continued to work on it long after her internship ended and she had returned to Edinburgh for her final year of study.

Asked about the challenges, she says “They were definitely based around distance and communication. I was in Edinburgh, my other colleagues were in Dortmund or Essen, and then all the contributors were everywhere from Romania, to Greece, to Sweden, to Bradford. We had to do a lot of coordination and planning.”

“The fifth Wanderbuch, which went to Armenia, was also a special case. I'd sent it to my friend and ex-flatmate whom I'd met on a German course and visited in Armenia in summer 2019. By the time the book arrived, the conflict in Artsakh was still ongoing or had just finished, so obviously and rightly so, the book wasn't a priority. That was the last book we got back, and I'm so happy to have a contribution from Armenia in this project.”

As well as the Armenian entry, Rosie’s highlight has been the range of texts and images that came back from different European countries and in multiple languages. “Seeing how connected we are as Europeans and how keen people are to cement and expand those connections really gave me hope for the post-Brexit era. The website by IT Square is also brilliant, especially the map!”

Building on previous work and study experience

Photo of Rosie at Christmas in Dortmund
Rosie at Christmas in Dortmund

Before leaving for her Year Abroad, during which she also spent time at the PILOTENKUECHE International art programme in Leipzig, Rosie volunteered at the National Museum of Scotland, working with the Principal Curator of Middle East and South Asia, Friederike Voigt.

These work experiences, and her two years of German study, laid the groundwork for the busy semester at the Fritz-Hüser-Institut where the whole internship was in German and Rosie’s first task was translating an article Iuditha had written from German into English.

The skills she developed through a combination of study and work meant that Rosie could take on the role of German-to-English translator for the whole Wanderbuch project which, as well as being a great primer for her Year 4 translation tasks, helped her secure freelance translating work back in Edinburgh.

She also helped at events hosted by FHI, including an international conference at the Dortmund Museum for Art and Culture (MKK), and is currently employed through Jupiter Artland’s Kickstart Scheme as a Public Engagement Assistant.

Read our interview with Rosie and fellow graduate Sarah Partington about their work experience at the National Museum of Scotland

Over lockdown, Rosie asked a series of creatives - from musicians, to sculptors, painters and curators - how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their practice and what this could mean for the future of the arts. 

Read ‘Creating Despite Corona: What Does the Artworld Look Like Now?’ on Humankind

Are you interested in studying German at Edinburgh?

Our four-year undergraduate programmes can be taken by students who have studied the language at school and also by complete beginners, with classes streamed in Year 1 according to how much prior experience you have. You will typically spend your third year abroad, either in full or in part in a country where German is spoken, studying or working and, like Rosie, gaining lived experience of using German every day.

Find out more about undergraduate study in German