College days in Aachen, Germany by Karsten Rist

Karsten Rist

An aspiring mining engineer in Germany is required to work for one year in a variety of mining operations under the supervision of the bureau of mines (Bergamt) before starting four years of study at a technical university. Once enrolled at the technical university we were pretty much left to our own devices. Most courses were lectures only. There were assignments but there was no homework to be handed in and no course grade at the end of the semester. Many professors hardly knew any of the students enrolled in their classes. This carefree student life, alas, came to an end after two years when it was time to pass the ” Vordiplom “, a series of ten exams in all of the major subject areas studied, such as mineralogy, geology, chemistry and mathematics. Each of these exams involved an oral exam by the professor and most included a written examination as well. Most professors would examine students in groups of four and we were free to organize ourselves. The actual exams took place in a period of four weeks, which means there was one exam about every two days.

My exam group included my good buddies Werner Moehlendick and Heinz Mathiak, the fourth student was Noelle a fraternity friend of Werner’s. The dates for the exams were set well in advance and we prepared diligently for the exams at the beginning of the schedule. Our scheduling, however, was less than perfect. When we faced the last exam, which happened to be mathematics, we had just one day left to prepare. We were all exhausted from the preceding nine exams. There was not enough time for the type of in depth review which we had lavished on the subject matter of the earlier exams. In desperation we decided that each one of us would review just two selected topics so that, at least, we would have something to talk about if the opportunity should present itself. We tested each other on these subjects and agreed that we had the ability to sound knowledgeable as long as we were confined to our two topics. We then decided to go to the movies, hoping to get our minds off the uncomfortable fate, which lay in wait for us the next day.

Professor Lohman, a big, hulking man with a keen sense of humor welcomed us to his office the next day. He was quite gracious and did his best to put us at ease. Finally he said: “Well, gentlemen, this is supposed to be an examination of your knowledge of mathematics, what are we going to talk about?” There was a brief silence, then Heinz spoke up and offered to discuss his topic number one. He sounded amazingly knowledgeable. Professor Lohman smiled benignly. When Heinz finished the professor said: “That was quite interesting, indeed, I wonder what you other gentlemen have to offer.” Each one of us got his chance. All went well and we started to feel faintly hopeful. Professor Lohman was favorably impressed and continued his examination: “I liked what you had to say so far but we need to broaden our field of examination. What other subject matter has interested you in my lectures?” Each of us got the opportunity to present his second and last prepared subject. We felt we were skating on very thin ice. Professor Lohman summed up the state of affairs: “Gentlemen each of you deserves a very solid “B· on the basis of what I have heard, If you so chose we can terminate the examination at this point and we can have a pleasant conversation for the rest of this hour. I do not want the next exam group to think that I let you off too easy. On the other hand, you may also choose to continue the exam with a chance for an A, which, as chance may have it, could also turn into a C or D”. We looked at each other, I felt it was my time to speak: “Professor Lohman, we are just a group of young men who want to become good mining engineers and we have only modest aspirations in the field of mathematics. With this in mind it would be my choice to terminate the examination at this point.” My friends agreed with me wholeheartedly and we spent the rest of the hour in a most pleasant conversation with Dr.Lohman.

We celebrated the successful conclusion of our “Vorexamen” at the Ratskeller that evening. We were wondering whether blind luck had saves us or a kind professor Lohman who knew his students as well as he knew integral calculus.

During one of the last of Dr. Lohman’s lectures I had drawn a sketch of him, which my friends thought to be a good likeness. Since professor Lohman had always had a more personal relationship with his students than most of his colleagues I felt that he would appreciate getting a copy of this drawing. I produced one and sent it to Dr. Lohman with a brief letter of thanks and appreciation. Two days after I mailed my letter I heard heavy footsteps shuffling up the stairs to my room. I jumped out of bed to open the door and there was Dr. Lohman. He presented me with a book entitled “Methods of Practical Analysis” which was signed with a humorous and kind dedication.

I have to admit that I never actually read the book. It is, however, a prized reminder of Dr. Lohman and my student days.

Dr Lohman


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