By Julian Dierkes
I spent the past year on a research leave from the University of British Columbia in Berlin, Germany, at the Free University’s Graduate School of East Asian Studies.
I found Mongolia to be much more visible in Berlin than in Vancouver.
Scale and History
Obviously, some of that is simply a matter of scale. 3.5 vs. 2mio inhabitants and a Mongolian community of over 1,000 in Berlin vs. perhaps 400 in Vancouver tell some of that difference. Partly, this is a question of history as well. Modern Mongolia has had significant links with Germany since the 1920s when the new state-socialist government connected with the union movement in Germany. Relations were quite close during the state-socialist era, of course, also involving significant flows of people between Mongolia and the German Democratic Republic. I would not be surprised that if we tallied all the visits by the President and members of the Mongolian cabinet to Germany in the past 5-10 years, this number would rival the number of visits to China, for example, and may even rival visits to Russia. [If you’re interested in/willing to construct such a tally, please get in touch, that would be an interesting metric on foreign relations/interactions.]
Canada-Mongolia relations are generally much more recent. These relations are developing perhaps most rapidly around two “hubs” that are apprpriate to Canadian interests and expertise, namely military cooperation around peacekeeping, and, clearly most significantly, Mongolia’s status as an emerging mining economy. As examples of these “hubs” note the recent signing of a Canada-Mongolia Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA, Sept 8), or
— Canada in Mongolia (@CanadaMongolia) October 24, 2016
My Bias, Obviously
Of course, whether I am in Berlin or Vancouver, I am more likely and more eager to notice anything Mongolian in daily life or in walking through the city. But presumably, that bias is equally strong in both locations, so would not explain my sense that there is more of a Mongolian presence in Berlin
Hey was? Ein mongolischer Imbiss in Berlin?
Da muss ich auf jeden Fall mal vorbeischauen!
Ist ja das richtige Wetter für Hammelsuppe! pic.twitter.com/Z0sr4cF3Fs
— Julian Dierkes (@jdierkes) February 7, 2017
Mongolia can even serve as a set-up for a nice political joke.
Headline im BVG Fenster “Michael Müller fliegt in die Mongolei”
– aus verschiedenen Richtungen Gemurmel: “Wer ist Michael Müller??” #de
— Ms Kitty Fantastico (@FischaelaMeer) July 17, 2017
Headline on Berlin subway TV: “Michael Müller [Berlin’s Lord Mayor] flies to Mongolia” – whispers from different directions: “Who is Michael Müller?”.
We’re used to jokes about the remoteness and exoticness of Mongolia, but here the set-up is very different.
Mongolians in Berlin
On the street in Berlin and on trains, I regularly heard Mongolian spoken. Obviously, someone who wouldn’t recognize Mongolian wouldn’t notice this, but I did.
There are a number of institutions aimed at Mongolians as well.
For example, Mongolians studying in Berlin have formed an association – MAS Berlin. They have one of the coolest logos for any kind of club I’ve seen, combining the Brandenburger Tor with a Soyombo.
In the academic world, Mongolia is represented at the Central Asian Studies Seminar at Humboldt-University. The focus here is on Mongolian language as well as comparative regional research in a Central Asian context.
While we have a very active Mongolian community in Vancouver as well and a strong presence of Mongolian students at UBC, I will miss the greater visibility of Mongolia in Berlin.