Recently, I returned from a trip to Berlin, Germany with a very important realization—Drew University is not nearly weird enough. Berlin is not the only unique place in the world, and it certainly isn’t the weirdest, but it is significantly weirder than Drew and probably even weirder than New York City.
I should first lay out a solid idea of what I mean by “weird.” “Weird” describes nonconformity, rebellion and a generally subversive, interesting vibe. Something weird should make you feel uncomfortable and stop you in your tracks. “Weirdness” is not inherently bad, and, by my definition, is actually quite a good quality. Weird art, for example, can go as far as forcing the viewer to reconsider an assumption they made about the world, or it can just make someone shrug their shoulders and wonder what they just looked at. Either way, weirdness is meant to break up the monotony and routine of everyday life and jolt you into reevaluating the status quo. Weirdness has a fundamentally democratic aspect to it–anyone can contribute to it, even by doing something as simple as wearing a ridiculous or unusual outfit.
Berlin is a prime example of weirdness: graffiti covers nearly every available surface, often depicting intricate and bizarrely imaginative scenes of city life. Incomprehensible art installations, brutalist apartment blocks, irritating political campaigners and a thriving underground music scene all contribute to Berlin’s generally weird environment. Many city goers wear the typical north face jacket and gray hoodie, but just as many are seen sporting absurd and bizarre clothing either 80 years out of date or evoking the future.
Why is Berlin so weird? A combination of factors — including major depopulation following the second World War, radical cultural change during the 1960s and 70s and the reunification of the city in the 90s — made it an inexpensive and desirable home for many of Germany’s eccentric artists and bohemians. Rising housing prices have resulted in some reduction of Berlin’s weirdness, as more young professionals move in and artists move out, but the city still retains many of its best qualities.
Drew University, by contrast, could stand to be a lot weirder. When I look around the public space at Drew, I see a space lacking democracy. I see too few areas where students are allowed to contribute without regulation, where music can be played and art can be made and displayed without having to go through any sort of bureaucratic process. I see too few students with megaphones and loudspeakers making unreasonable demands of the administration and society in general.
Although systemic change may be long and difficult, individual change is always possible. I encourage every student to perhaps wear that outlandish hat they’ve been debating wearing for months now, to publish that poem that they’re convinced is mediocre and to go make art even if they have no prior experience. This article is a plea for everyone to do their part to make Drew weirder.
Ian Odell is a first year majoring in International Relations.