Minor subject - major fascination

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After her retirement, Scandinavia specialist Susanne Kramarz-Bein wants to plug

After her retirement, Scandinavia specialist Susanne Kramarz-Bein wants to plug a personal gap in her life - and take a trip to Sweden. © WWU - MünsterView

King Olav V was determined to show solidarity with his people during the oil crisis. So early one morning on a weekend in 1973, when there was a ban on the use of cars, the Norwegian monarch demonstratively took a seat on the Oslo underground taking him to Mount Holmenkollen, just outside the city, where he wanted to go skiing. This sign of solidarity was a great success with his subjects. The Norwegians appreciated his unpretentious, relaxed style anyway - and the great majority of them revered their king as a "Folkekonge" - a "people’s king".

In 1984, the 25-year-old Susanne Kramarz - then doing a degree course in Scandinavian Studies - had the opportunity to see close-up that this approachability of the Norwegian king was more than just a legend. Kramarz, who had a scholarship to study at the University of Oslo for a year, was one of 40 specially selected foreign students whom the king had invited to his palace to thank them for their interest in Scandinavian culture and language. "He shook everyone’s hand," Susanne Kramarz-Bein remembers, "and he said to me, ’Your Norwegian is good!’ I was touched and deeply impressed by this appreciate gesture."

The royal words of praise were not the only reason, however, why Susanne Kramarz-Bein then devoted her professional life with much passion to Scandinavian Studies, or rather to Nordic Philology. It all began with her love as a young woman for the works of the Norwegian dramatist and lyricist Henrik Ibsen ("my ambition was to read and understand this great author in the original") - and will be ending shortly, at the end of February to be precise, when the Professor of Nordic Philology and Executive Director of the Institute of the same name, retires after around 22 years at the University of Münster. "Nordic Philology is only a small subject. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why students and staff learn and teach with an enthusiasm that is all the greater," says Kramarz-Bein, a native of the city of Siegen.

Around 170 students are currently enrolled at the Institute in Münster on Robert Koch Straße. A professorship, several lecturers, as well as freelancers, have created a positive, family-type atmosphere at the Institute. On the ground floor is the library, spread over five rooms, in which anyone with an interest can choose from among about 26,000 volumes. This is what it must look like at the 16 other sites of Scandinavian Studies in German-speaking countries. With three professorships and around 420 students, the Institute of Scandinavian Studies, Frisian Studies and General Linguistics in Kiel is the largest of its kind.

Nordic Philology is only a small subject. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why students and staff learn and teach with an enthusiasm that is all the greater.


The Institute in Münster has the advantage for students that they can get to know both Old and Modern Scandinavian Studies - the latter begins approximately with the Reformation in the 16th century. Susanne Kramarz-Bein is well acquainted with the works of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, but she also likes to look back further. The focuses of her research include for example the "literary milieu in Scandinavian courtly literature of Norway and Sweden in the 13th and 14th centuries" and Old Nordic literature referring to Charlemagne, Dietrich von Berne and (King) Arthur - for example in the Old Nordic "Brandanus Fragment" which belongs to the literary genre of Old Nordic (Norse) legends, of which Susanne Kramarz-Bein and her team are currently preparing the first German translation.

It was precisely this broad interest and knowledge which led to Kramarz-Bein’s appointment at Münster University. From 1997 onwards she was a professor at the University of Bochum, where only Modern Scandinavian Studies were offered. "In Münster, however, there was a demand for everything - which suited me perfectly," she says. "After her habilitation at the University of Bonn, she also benefited from the fact that, immediately afterwards, several positions for Scandinavian Studies became vacant at German Institutes. "Suddenly everything happened very fast - which I was delighted at, of course," says Kramarz-Bein, whose husband teaches German and Medieval Studies at RWTH Aachen. Her dedication was and is esteemed not only at Münster University: in 2006 the Norwegian Academy of Arts and Sciences admitted her as a member, and she is also the co-editor of the series ’Scandinavian Studies. Language - Literature - Culture’. "I’m delighted to be an ambassador for the subject," she says.

It is a subject whose representatives like to seek out close exchanges with other philologists. Münster’s Scandinavian specialists, for example, cooperate closely with their counterparts in the fields of Dutch, (Old) German, English and Romance Languages studies. There are some inter-departmental agreements, Kramarz-Bein reports, which all sides benefit from. And the teaching offered? Students who have enrolled for this winter semester, so the lecture timetable informs us, learn for example inter-Scandinavian communication, discover courtly epics and immerse themselves in the world of Scandinavian explorers.

It is not only the literature and culture of Scandinavia that have fascinated Susanne Kramarz-Bein for such a long time: there is also her love of the "exuberance of nature" in the north of Europe. "The light, the water, the fjords...." she enthuses. One thing that is difficult to believe, but true: the Scandinavia expert has never been to Sweden. "A gap," she confesses, "which I want to plug with at least one trip there after my husband retires."

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