Damien Ehrhardt, Paris, France
Name: Damien Ehrhardt
Lives in: Saint-Mandé, near Paris, France
Period in Germany: 1991 to 1992 and 1998 to 2002 in Saarbrücken, Regensburg, Weimar and Jena
Educational and research institutions: Saarland University, the University of Regensburg and the Department of Musicology Weimar-Jena
Occupation: University lecturer
During the times I spent in Germany I worked as a university lecturer and researched Franco-German relations in the field of programme music. I decided to go to Germany because I grew up near the French-German border. I like the entire country, but the places I would recommend visiting most are the old town in Regensburg and the Goethe Park in Weimar.
Germany has a very different university system. Students have more freedom than in France. There’s more focus on working with university alumni, and that’s something I particularly enjoy as the Chair of the Association Humboldt-France alumni group. I’ve also learned to really appreciate how sociable people in the research world are at conferences, for example.
The arts world in general also plays an important role in my leisure time, especially visual and culinary arts.
‘The time I spent in Germany has had an enormous influence on my life’
From the very start, my academic career involved exploring Germany in France (writing my dissertation on Robert Schumann at the Sorbonne) and France in Germany (researching programme music in France between 1871 and 1914 in Regensburg and Weimar/Jena on a Humboldt scholarship). After finishing my studies at Saarland University in 1994, I formed a Franco-German music and musicology society in Germany with German colleagues at the university. As an alumnus of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, I’ve regularly organised lecture courses along with other Humboldtians since 2005. These played a major role in the foundation of the French Alexander von Humboldt Foundation alumni association (Association Humboldt-France) in 2008.
For my Masters dissertation, my supervisor at the University of Metz wanted me to work on Mendelssohn, but my intention was to work on Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. So my supervisor said to me, ‘If that’s what you want to do, you should discuss it first with colleagues in Germany at, say, Saarbrücken.’ And that’s what I did, and that’s how I met several well-known Schumann researchers who put me in touch with the Robert Schumann Research Centre in Düsseldorf and the Schumann House in Zwickau. It was through these contacts that I was able to attend a conference in Düsseldorf in 1994, during which I met scholars at what would later become my host institutions during my Humboldt scholarship.
‘A volume of the New Robert Schumann Complete Edition has just come out that I myself published with a German colleague’
In Germany, I was able to expand my knowledge of music theory (looking at Riemann’s system, for example) and music publishing practice. At a more general level, I particularly learned about new academic methods, which enabled me to compare different academic traditions.
When I think back to my time in Germany, I don’t think of anything in particular, or rather of anything more or anything less compared with my own country. In France nowadays, we need to build many international relations, but without neglecting our nearest neighbours, with whom we have much in common.
I’ve got lots of contacts in Germany and am in touch with many Germany alumni from my own country. The experiences gained by the Germany alumni are worth a huge amount. And yet the things you gain from these experiences aren’t immediately obvious when you get back to your own country. It’s more of a long-term gain that you only benefit from over time.
‘I admire Alexander von Humboldt for his openness to the outside world, and Franz Liszt for his ability to change his environment’
As Chair of the Association Humboldt-France, I’d like to help to develop a local and international alumni network. What I want to do is take part in intercultural and interdisciplinary dialogue. This should be broad-based dialogue so that an Indian Germanist, a Canadian physicist and a German artist can get together and develop joint projects with one another. Thanks to the Humboldt lectures financed by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, people and subjects can be brought closer together.
I don’t use online networks such as the German alumni portal in my private life but rather to publicise events or more generally to pass on information that’s already available on the internet. These networks mean I can reach more people, including many that I wouldn’t write an email to. Nowadays the virtual and real worlds are closely interlinked and each one has a strong influence on the other. We need both, and we just have to find the right balance between them.