Dr. Hertel is an Assistant Professor of German at Hillsdale College.
Jeffrey Hertel is an assistant professor of German at Hillsdale College. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Would you rather be a fabulous painter or a fabulous musician?
Probably a fabulous musician, because a fabulous musician can make mistakes, and nobody remembers them. But if you paint and you paint and you paint, and then you screw up at the end, then you’ve ruined it.
Is supper an acceptable way to refer to the last meal of the day?
As a Midwesterner, yes. However, dinner is not an acceptable way to refer to the second meal of the day.
What are your top three favorite restaurants?
A wing place in Bloomington Indiana called BuffaLouie’s, a Pakistani Indian restaurant in Berlin that I can’t remember the name of but the food is to die for, and Chipotle.
What are your favorite places on campus?
The Arboretum and the bench that looks onto the parking lot next to Lane.
What is your favorite state you have been to?
It’s a tie between New Mexico and Maine. I’ve only been to both of these in the summer. In New Mexico, it’s super hot, but you go into the shade and it’s cool which is a phenomenon that as a child of the Midwest I never had growing up. And Maine is just stunning, especially on the coast.
What are some of your favorite pastimes?
Hiking with my son. I mean, you can’t really call it hiking because he’s only four, but walking through nature with my kids, and amateur gardening.
What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Zurich, definitely not because of the cost of a cup of coffee, but Switzerland is really sort of this meeting point of French, German, and Italian culture, and you just see it everywhere.
What is your favorite part about being a father?
Knowing what unconditional love means. I come home from work every day, and my kids run up to me to give me a big hug. We’ve got a son and a daughter and my son is a little version of me and my daughter is a little version of my wife. In this book, “Elements of the Philosophy of Right” by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, he says that children are the physical manifestation of the relationship of their parents. So in that way, it’s like you see the product of the relationship that you have with another person and it’s just beautiful.
Do you prefer breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Breakfast when you have time to enjoy it and dinner when you don’t.
What is your favorite class you have taught?
I’d have to say 19th century German literature. 19th century lit is my specialty in the German canon, but what was really incredible when I taught it here, was that the students had an intuitive understanding of what the authors were writing about in a way that I didn’t see elsewhere. When these authors were writing their works, religion played a role in it in a way that it doesn’t in the more recent ways that people discuss literature. Literature reflects and speaks to the society that it was written about, and the 19th century was a century of such huge ideas about what a good person can be under the strictures of modern society. So reading these works with my students was just beautiful.
Why do you think it is important that people learn another language?
I think, especially for people that are already a bit older and know themselves already, learning a new language is an opportunity for them to relearn themselves and to re-assess what’s important to them. In the lower level classes, most of what we talk about is what we like and dislike and things like that and it can seem really petty and unimportant, but what it forces you to do is define yourself again, and that gives you an opportunity to build another little version of yourself in your head.
What is an aspect of Germany that you think is superior to the U.S. and vice versa?
I think that the average bread that you purchase in Germany is better than the average bread that you purchase in the United States. In Germany, it’s all good. But I think that Americans, even if it’s superficial, tend to be friendlier than Europeans are.
Do you think that the Germans have the drinking age right?
I think the prohibition of it makes it more dangerous for a lot of reasons, because it’s being turned into this taboo thing, and what are kids gonna do? They’re gonna do what their parents tell them not to do. That’s just what kids do. And so by accepting it as part of the culture, it becomes less of a problem. That’s not to say that there aren’t drunks in Europe, but I think German culture makes it less likely for people to do stupid things with it.
What is something that you wish was a law that is not a law?
I wish robo calls were not allowed to exist. I mean it’s horrible, right? The experience of colleagues on the phone has been so cheapened when you get this robot voice trying to pretend to be a person.
When should people start listening to Christmas music?
I think that in certain contexts it’s okay to do it all year round, but I don’t think it should appear on the radio until after Thanksgiving.
Do you prefer Thanksgiving or Christmas?
In some ways, they’re really coterminous for me. They essentially boil down to the same thing, which is getting together with your family and enjoying each other’s company. For one you get presents and for the other you get to eat too much turkey.
Would you rather go to the movies or to an orchestra?
If I was in Europe, I would love to go to the opera, but the orchestra is great anywhere.
Do you prefer mornings or evenings?
I used to be a night owl and now I am a morning person. I feel fresher in the mornings, and I have a clearer head in the morning. In the evening, I just want to sleep. I’m an old person now, and if I’m not in bed by nine I’m cranky.
What is your best relationship advice?
If there’s something you’re not happy with, for the person you’re with, don’t expect them to change that, because you have to take everything. People don’t come in bits and pieces. They are not Legos or something like that where you can switch pieces around to turn them into the ideal person that you want. You have to approach things holistically.