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A few months ago, I was in Muenster meeting a friend, when I heard someone loudly say the word "Siegen" next to me. There was a group of young guys laughing and talking to each other, and I was a little bit surprised at what came next.
This is a joke that doesn't translate well into English, mostly because it's a pun on "Siegen," which means "Victory" or "Winning", Basically, the joke means: "What is worse than losing? Winning".
This is a common joke in the Siegerland, where I studied for my M.A., but I was surprised to see that it was known outside the region. Apparently, though, this reflects the reputation of Siegen nationally, because one former resident of the city felt the need to write an article defending her in Germany's top newsmagazine, Die Zeit.
Siegen is a small, provincial city of just under 100,000 people, of whom about 1/5 are students. It snakes down a narrow valley cut into the hills by the Sieg river, equidistant from Cologne and Frankfurt in a heavily wooded little corner of Germany that forms the border between three of Germany's states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, and Rhineland-Palatinate. The area is famous for it's scenery, especially the hiking on the Rothaarsteig trail, and has a unique local dialect, Siegerländer Platt, that sounds enough like an American accent, with very heavy pronunciation of the "R" sound, to turn my head more than once during my time in Siegen.
The city has recently gained the status of "Universitätsstadt" thanks to the growth of the University of Siegen. Founded in 1972 during West Germany's higher education boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s as a teacher-training college, it has since gained the ability to confer PhDs and expanded to cover four departments: Humanities, Education, Economics and Law, and Natural Sciences.
One field that the University of Siegen excels in is Media Studies. The department was one of the first to be developed in Germany, and continues to offer some of the best degree programs in the country at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It ranks especially high among Bachelor programs, and has a research focus, rather than a practical focus.
Siegen also offers a variety of English-taught Master's programs, including Chemistry, Physics, Mechanical Engineering, Economic Policy, and an interdisciplinary degree in History, Political Science, and Sociology.
The author of the "Zeit" article finishes by saying that, despite its reputation, Siegen is actually significantly underestimated. Considering the wealth of local physical attractions, study opportunities, the healthy local economy with the recent investments by the local government into infrastructure, Siegen is a very attractive place to live and study.