The History of an Old Friendship: Mephisto 96.7’s 18th Birthday and its Intersection with German History

An 18th birthday is usually something we want to celebrate among friends, and Mephisto 96.7 is no exception.  Mephisto’s birthday was also a celebration of a cross-national friendship that precedes its own birth. Mephisto 96.7 is a student led radio station at the Univeristy of Leipzig, founded in 1995 with the help of faculty from the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University.  Prior to the founding of this station, Ohio University and Uni-Leipzig had begun building a relationship in 1993, only four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Reunification of East and West Germany. In honor of that, 14 visiting students from Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, including myself, were invited to celebrate the stations 18th birthday at the Moritzbastei. The Moritzbastei, by the way, is another historical staple in Uni-Leipzig, it was part of a destroyed city defense wall and it was transformed in the 1970s by several Uni-Leipzig students, including current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

Back to Mephisto 96.7, Ohio University is not only an old friend of this radio station, it is actually one of its founding God-parents. Prior to reunification, the Journalism program at Uni-Leipzig was famous for being a training ground for journalist and media producers in serving the interest of the GDR (East Germany’s socialist regime). After the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reintegration of East Germany into Western Europe, the Journalism and Media program and facilities were dismantled and rebuilt from the ground.  Ohio University’s school of Journalism was one of the main partners in this process. With the assistance from Scripps College faculty like current Scripps School of Journalism Director,  Dr. Robert Stewart, Uni-Leipzig begun thinking about not only rebuilding their academic programs, but in creating a student medium that reflected the new direction they wanted these programs to take.  Mephisto 96.7 was modeled after Ohio University’s own student led radio and television station, WOUB.

According to Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Steinmetz, a Uni-Leipzig faculty member and significant part of the founding of the station, the creation of this station was an initial marker of this long-term friendship, he says “it [Mephisto 96.7] reflected a very early and very fruitful collaboration between OU (the US) and East Germany/Leipzig University. With help from the Foundation “Freedom Forum” (Washington D.C.), OU (in person of Professor Stewart) cooperated very early.” Mephisto 96.7 is unique in the context of German Universities, since most Journalism schools in the country focus on the theory and students get their “hands on” experience by doing a practicum at a media company during their final year in college.  In addition, the continued relationship and ongoing collaboration with Ohio University, allows bobcats visiting the University of Leipzig, to experience cross-cultural collaboration. As Prof. Dr. Steinmetz would put it“… this cooperation was very, very fruitful. And it opened Leipzig teachers and students the eyes for international aspects. And they started traveling and studying abroad, and OU/Athens was first!”

As I enjoyed the music, drinks and atmosphere, I kept thinking about how Mephisto 96.7 emerged from the collaboration between OU and Uni-Leipzig, and the US and a reunified Germany in the broader context. I also thought about being in a club that Angela Merkel, once a student like myself, help create. Pondering on these two historical fun facts, I was reminded on how the past and present, history and our everyday lives, public figures and averages Joes and Janes, are all intertwined with one another and how this connection becomes evident in different and interesting ways at certain points in our experiences.

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