Sketches of Germany: A visual journey by Omani students

On Tuesday, April 9, an exhibition was mounted at the German Embassy in Oman of sketches by Omani students’ field trip to Europe. Each year a group of the best ten to twelve Urban Planning and Architectural Design students from the German University of Technology (GUtech) in Oman has had the opportunity to engage in a two-week study-excursion.
In November 2018, ten young women and two young men focused on a drawing field-trip in collaboration with Beuth University in Berlin and RWTH in Aachen. The city of Aachen’s population is around a quarter million and is located in the west of Germany, near the Dutch and Belgian borders. Etchings from the main station in Liege, Belgium and Amsterdam reflected the students’ wider European journey.
As architecture students, the sketchbook is an important tool and common possession. They followed the long tradition of travellers, attempting to capture different atmospheres through their pencils and sketchbooks, collating them to bring back to the Sultanate. Initiated and supervised by Gazmend Kalemi, Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD), he explained that drawing is a vibrant mode of engaging with the physical, natural and human environment.
While one cannot deny the role of advanced design software tools in architecture, free-hand drawing enhances the perception and long-term memories of the student who spends considerable time in the environment. This is a skill being increasingly lost in the modern world, he continued, as drawing involves a process where students internalise objects. They immerse themselves in the object and start a kind of dialogue with it; it is a way of ‘thinking with the hand’.
Their first destination was the German capital, Berlin in north-east Germany with a population of three and half million. With its architecture well known for its rich history, Berlin was a real treasure to observe and draw. The art scene and its diversity are a significant asset of the city and magnet for young people.
During their stay they visited the celebrated Alexanderplatz, the Insel and Reichstag Museums where they perceived how the old styles meet with modern forms of architecture. In the exhibition, many perspectives of Berlin’s iconic buildings were presented by different students in pencil, charcoal and watercolour. The famous Dome Cathedral, the minaret-like monumental TV tower and classic form of the Brandenburg gates were illustrated numerous times in contrasting interpretations, while a 20th century factory provided a more mundane, contemporary structure for contemplation.
In the spring 2016, students from Beuth University, Berlin, supervised by Professor Gerd Sedelies were guests in an exchange at GUtech. They went on an artistic excursion around the Sultanate, producing beautiful sketches of the different regions of Oman. So this was a reciprocal visit, realised with financial support from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and an opportunity for collaboration between the German students from Beuth University, and the Omanis from GUtech, to exchange experiences in Berlin. Another highlight of the trip was the invitation from the Oman Embassy in Berlin to experience Omani hospitality and generosity abroad.
In Aachen they worked intensively on a small urban design project, witnessing the morphological effect of urban structure on the city and its surrounding, so different to Muscat.
Appreciating the students’ and professors’ efforts, the German Ambassador to Oman, Thomas Schneider, emphasised the vivid partnership between Germany and Oman: “Not only does our Embassy building itself stand as an example of a successful Omani-German partnership in the field of architecture but also projects such as the exchanges between GUtech and RWTH Aachen contribute to lasting, lively relations between people and institutions”.
The sketches, drawings and watercolours on display were of a superb standard, especially showing attention to skills of perspective, in and outside large buildings. Unfortunately, none of the students’ individual names identified each artist, nor the object portrayed. An accompanying booklet listed the twelve travellers however, and reproduced some of the miniatures in a delightful souvenir of the show as a collective venture and stunning achievement.

Photo credit Joachim Duester