Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with David J. Fischer
FISCHER: The other day I ran across some old photographs. For me it was a lark, a total lark. I had no idea what the consequences might be. I can remember you could buy cigarette lighters in kiosks in Vienna for about three or four shillings. In Budapest, which had one or two good restaurants, the game was you could order whatever you wanted and in the end rather than paying the check, you would leave a cigarette lighter on top of the table. The waiter would come by and palm it and that would be that. So for me it was living the life of luxury in Eastern Europe. But I traveled in, I spent a lot of time in Yugoslavia, I went into Bulgaria, actually went into Albania. I went about ten miles into Albania. They had a bus service that would allow you on a day trip to buy a tourist visa, a one day trip.
Q: This part of a Yugoslav deal, l wasn't it?
FISCHER: Yes, it was out of Lake Ochrid. So I was probably one of the few Americans that ever went to Albania in those days. But I traveled around Europe a great deal and it was for me an extraordinarily broadening experience.
Q: When you came back to Brown, you said you really didn't connect with Brown again. Your last year you used to write a paper or something?
FISCHER: My class was the first in an experimental program, which subsequently was enlarged to become the famous Brown curriculum, but I think there were ten of us who were designated university scholars, on the basis of grades and whatever. So we were allowed to do pretty much what we damn well wanted to. We didn't have to attend classes. I attended I guess a couple of history courses but I worked mostly at the Widener Library at Harvard, my thesis which was on German-Polish relations from the end of WW I until the outbreak of war in 1939.
Q: Were you feeling that Eastern Europe was the place for you?
FISCHER: I don't know how I ended up interested in eastern European studies. I think the reason that I may have fallen into that is that I must have been looking for an excuse to go to Europe, again I don't know how I even found this institution that sent me there. I was working with a guy who subsequently went on to be my history advisor, who was a Germanist, he said well, it's a good opportunity. Eastern Europe is an interesting era of history, German-Polish relations and whatever. That kind of became a focal point for a couple years. I learned Polish, enough to read. And of course I had German. So that was a logical step, later on in my career certainly.