Freie Universität and Fragestellung

Fragestellung. Frage, question. Stellung from the verb stellen, to put or place.

It was 1989. I was a graduated student at the Freie Universität in Berlin, then West Berlin. The Wall still existed. As did West and East Germany, the Soviet Union, and many other places, people and things which have since gone.

The course was on international relations. Cold War. No mid-term or final exam, instead a paper, Hausarbeit, typically 25-30 pages in length, requiring some fairly solid research. By mid-semester each of us had our topic. Every third or fourth meeting the professor’s assistant – a brilliant Ph.D. candidate who then went on to receive his own professorship – addressed each of us one by one about the progress we were making.

“What is your Fragestellung?”

I recall very vividly the intensity of the meeting. He would ask time and again – politely, but relentlessly – “Wie lautet Ihre Fragestellung?”, what question we were putting, placing, asking, addressing. Again and again. Fragestellung.

It seemed as if we spent more time discussing our Fragestellung than getting into the topic. It fascinated more than bothered me. His intensity was true, honest, determined, most importantly well-meaning. He was pushing us to get clear, to be clear-minded.

When it comes to decision making the first – and fundamental – question is: “What actually is the decision we are making?”

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