Culture Cafe despite corona? No problem!

The corona virus dictated how summer semester 2020 unfolded at HAW Hamburg. As soon as it was clear that no in-person meetings were permitted at the university, the Culture Cafe was shifted to the virtual world and 13 of the 15 events were held online.

Studierende an der Elbe vor Containerschiff

Closing night at the Elbe.

Online events in summer semester 2020

The situation was new for everyone. So in order to make sure that the events could take place each Wednesday at 6:00 pm, despite the restrictions on physical contact, a lot of ideas were tried out. The Culture Cafe team had to be especially creative at the beginning of the lockdown phase. Nobody had experience with online events and there was a lot of experimenting: the team tried Facebook Live and Twitch, then HAW Hamburg made Zoom available as its online platform. After that the Culture Cafe took place via Zoom.

Stories from around the world

On three of the Zoom evenings the focus was on the stories of students from around the world. The participants came from Mauritius, Yemen and Vietnam. Many of the other students knew nothing about these three countries and took the opportunity to ask questions: ‘What do people eat there?’, ‘What music is in the charts?’ or ‘What are some of the traditions?’

Chiti and Neil were able to answer all these questions about Mauritius. The gorgeous pictures of the beaches in their country were a particular hit with those listening, but after Neil – who was in Mauritius at the time – went out to get a papaya from his garden, it was all about the food.

When Yemen was the focus of the evening, the listeners were fascinated more by the wedding traditions and Walid’s and Doaa’s stories. ‘Up to 2,000 guests can show up at a wedding,’ Walid explained. At such a big wedding, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. Walid and his family once even ended up at the wedding of people they didn’t know – and only realised it after they had already been there for a few hours.

Lilli from Vietnam preferred to provide travel recommendations: ‘The beaches in Vietnam are extremely beautiful.’ According to her, everyone who travels to Vietnam should visit the beaches and be sure to try the street food. This food is not only really cheap but also delicious and authentic. A top recommendation was of course the traditional Vietnamese soup ‘pho’.

Being deaf in a noisy world

The Culture Cafe also discussed a language without verbal communication for the first time. Pamela, whose parents are deaf, provided a picture of a quiet world and talked about what it’s like to grow up with parents who can’t hear.

 ‘Lots of people think it must always be quiet at our place. But if you can’t hear anything, you don’t know how loud you actually are.’ For example, when the dishwasher at Pamela’s is emptied there’s a lot more clattering of the dishes than at other people’s houses.

But what interested the Culture Cafe participants the most was the sign-language alphabet and individual words. Pamela taught those in attendance how to spell their own names in sign language and how to say ‘I love you’: the thumb, index finger and little finger on one hand are held up and spread out, while the middle and ring fingers stay folded down. This ‘rock and roll’ sign means ‘I love you’ and has become accepted internationally in sign language.

Staying active during exams

On 24 June the Culture Cafe took place in person again for the first time, with the necessary physical distancing measures. The participants met for a joint exercise session at the Inselpark in Wilhelmsburg.

They played volleyball, tested punching techniques from the martial art ju-jitsu and tried some acrobatics. ‘How do you do that?’ was probably the question asked most on this evening. Regardless of whether people were working on their volleyball serve or trying to go from standing into a bridge, everyone’s personal limits were tested and there was also lots of chatting in between.

Closing night

On the last evening of the Culture Cafe for summer semester 2020, everyone headed to the beach at Falkensteinufer. While still maintaining physical distance, everyone met in Blankenese and enjoyed the weather and the company. The evening was extra special because there had been barely any in-person get-togethers for the whole semester.

Relaxing together, having a drink and dipping their feet in the water – for several attendees this had been a rarity in the previous months. This meant the Culture Cafe participants and the tutors were even happier to finally really meet one another.

Despite all the difficulties, summer semester 2020 went well for the Culture Cafe. We’re looking forward to welcoming everyone who will be taking part next semester – hopefully in person at Stiftstraße 69.


Teresa Schaubs
International Office
T +49.40.428 75-9183
teresa.schaubs (@)