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German Reunification

Leipzig Business School moves with the times

Marx would be turning in his grave. Until 1990, East German students went to the HHL to learn about socialist economics. Now, Germany's oldest business school trains tomorrow's industry leaders -- in English, of course.

HHL

The HHL campus is over a century old

Not any old person can enter these hallowed halls, built in 1898. As befits a private institution, visitors need a key code to get through the heavy oak door that opens on to the prestigious grounds of the Leipzig Graduate School of Management.

Back in the day, when Five-Year Plans rather than free markets were the name of the game, the walls were no doubt adorned with photographs of successful students just as they are now, and they probably looked as bright eyed and bushy-tailed as the class of today.

But they most definitely weren't wearing black robes and mortar boards. In other words, they certainly didn't look like American college graduates.

Goodbye Lenin, hello Bill Gates

HHL students

The major language is English

But now they do. And the prices compete with those of US colleges, too: A 15-month full-time Master of Business Administration at the HHL costs a tidy sum of 22,500 euros ($28,400).

Seventy percent of students here come from abroad, and the courses are taught in English. Seminars are attended by 25 to 40 students, and competition for places is stiff -- even though the fees are so high.

The lucky ones who get accepted have access to the library 24 hours a day, while the course includes an internship, a few months abroad and recently even what's known as a Negotiation Event, attended by students from other elite universities such as Harvard and Yale.

Despite all the innovation, the HHL is proud of its tradition. In 2008, the college which calls itself the oldest business school in Germany celebrated its 110th anniversary.

"It was all pointless"

During East Germany's communist years, the curriculum included Friedrich Engel's "Principles of Communism" and plenty of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Naturally, the courses were taught in German.

HHL students

HHL students come from all over the world

"The only ones left over from the HHL's communist era are myself and a few members of the secretariat," said Professor Hans Goeschel. "The school has been given a complete facelift."

As then chancellor, Goeschel experienced the turbulent reunification years first-hand.

"When the Monday demonstrations got underway in September 1989, we were instructed to schedule seminars with the students to prevent them from taking part," he said. "But it was all pointless."

Today, the HHL campus has been stripped of all traces of its socialist trappings. The grounds are teeming with students from all over the world, and the lingua franca even outside of class is English. The school's previous incarnations are no doubt of little interest to these young people -- they're more interested in the future than the past.

"When I'm finished I'm planning on working as a management consultant in the US," Fabian Schaaf from the MBA Class of 2009 cheerfully predicted.

Same old, same old

His course includes modules such as "Business Study with Elective Modules in Finance und Accounting."

HHL sign

Career? This way, please...

But get rid of all the Anglicisms and business neologisms, and the new syllabuses might have more in common with those of twenty years ago than students realize.

"Ironically, once you could see though all the ideology, the basic structures were fairly universal and sensible," said Goeschel.

"Take marketing," he said. "That existed in the GDR too -- we just called it advertising."

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