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Studying Geography in Germany

Geographers examine the interaction between humans and the environment
An article by Daniel Kastner

Studying Geography in Germany
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That is what it’s about

Geographers explore how the environment shapes people - and how humans shape the environment. They deal with very different habitats, from Spitsbergen to Tierra del Fuego, from the local to the global level. "Every area and every region is interesting for geographers," says Werner Gamerith, professor of Regional Geography at the University of Passau and President of the German Geography Society. Using satellite and laser technology, they measure the altitude profiles of glaciers in the Antarctic, try to estimate how the adopted measures of the world climate conferences in Paris and Katowice have a global and regional impact, and investigate the causes and consequences of migration. For this they need a broad knowledge, not only of the natural sciences, but also of politics and cultural studies, art history and architecture. The subject therefore consists of human geography and physical geography.

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This is how the course runs

Human geography deals with structure and dynamics of societies and cultures and how people shape their living environments from an economic, environmental and political standpoint. Topics include global urban growth, migration, mobility, flight and spatial inequality. In turn, classical areas of physical geography are landscape development, natural hazards, and biodiversity. "The subject offers a good overview of the problems of our planet," says Werner Gamerith. In practical courses, students evaluate satellite and aerial photographs, among other things. In human geography, they learn how to design standardized surveys and use interview techniques, such as consumer behaviour or environmental awareness. In physical geography, for example, they analyse soil and water samples or the rings inside trees. "Anyone who studies geography needs to be open-minded to people and other cultures, as well as be adept at working in the lab," says Gamerith. The study program includes trips and field internships, during which students can, for example, grasp the extent of glacier melt in the Alps or explore how the people of South America deal with the climate phenomenon El Niño. Some field trips take half a day, others a few weeks. The costs for these have to be assumed at least in part by the students. For longer field trips, students can seek scholarships.

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Typical questions raised within the subject

  • Why do countries with fewer resources often do better than those with many?
  • How do you interpret aerial photography?
  • Which concepts can be used to reduce urban sprawl and surface pollution?
  • How should the routes of long-distance buses be worked out?
  • What do desertification and rising sea levels mean for human settlements?
  • How will a region or city develop over the next 10 to 20 years?
  • How do major construction projects such as airports, dams or opencast mines affect the surrounding area?

The subject suits you,...

...if you want to learn how to combine the different ways of thinking and working in the natural and social sciences. This is the appeal of the degree course – but it's not easy, especially at the beginning. The students have more to do with physics, chemistry and mathematics than many expect, for example, when it comes to the heat balance of the earth or weathering processes. Statistical data analysis is also a tool for geographers. For research in the field in wind and weather you need fitness and sometimes have to be able to concentrate for a long time. A good spatial imagination is also helpful.

Is there a numerus clausus?

Around half of the courses have an NC. Grades of between two and three are usually required.

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