In the mountain town of Oberstdorf, Dr. Barthel grew up surrounded by the overwhelming beauty of the Bavarian Alps…and lots of cows. This small town located in Southern Germany is known for winter sports and dairy cows, where there are farms located right in the middle of town. In fact, Dr. Barthel remembers waking up to cow bells in the morning as the cows walked down her street to the pasture each day.
During her childhood her parents, both teachers, would typically have the television tuned to the news during dinner. It was during these dinners that Dr. Barthel began to take an interest in Economics. She often wished she better understood stories about GDP and unemployment rates. She loved math and eventually realized that Economics combined math with social sciences, which made it possible to better understand these real-world problems that were shown on the news.
After High School, she went to the University of Mannheim to study Economics. Initially, Dr. Barthel wanted to learn about Macro-economics because it would help explain some of the stories on the news, however she soon realized that she loved Game Theory and Micro-economic theory. In other words, she started studying how individuals, consumers, and firms make decisions and how those decisions change if something in their environment changes.
Now, Dr. Barthel conducts economics experiments in the Engler College of Business Economics Club or during her classes. She has recently programmed a game for students that can be played on their cell phones where they play the role of a firm and compete against other firms to try to make the most profit. Through this game, students see how their own behavior, just like real world firm behavior, approaches the predicted outcome that they learn about in class. Along with teaching, Dr. Barthel also does research on optimal decision making, game theory, and industrial organization. Because of her work in this area, Dr. Barthel recently won the 2019 Research Excellence Award in the Engler College of Business.
Moving to the United States
College tuition in Germany is free. While free tuition is appealing, Dr. Barthel knew she wanted to study abroad at an American university where classes tend to be smaller than in Germany, students and faculty interact more outside of class, and where she could experience what it was like to have college pride, something that is not typical in Germany. She decided to study abroad at the University of Kansas (KU) in Lawrence, KS for a year. Because the levels of courses differ between Germany and the United States, Dr. Barthel had already taken some of the master’s level courses being offered at KU. This allowed her to take some Ph.D. level courses before she actually finished her first degree from Germany. One of the classes at KU required her to teach the lesson for one of the class periods. This is when she realized that she loved teaching economics.
During a snowstorm in January, Dr. Barthel moved to Amarillo to start teaching at WT in Spring 2016. Having moved from Wisconsin she joked, “I thought Texas was going to be warmer!” Either way, Dr. Barthel settled in at WT and has enjoyed teaching here. “The students are very polite, always saying ‘Yes, Ma’am,’ very hard working, and are willing to try even if they’ve never seen Economics before.” She has also noticed that they are very interested in other cultures. “They can tell I’m not from around here when I start talking that first day of class. When I teach I usually write decimals – I just like to show them at some point in class as an example that in different countries things may look differently.” This has led to some very interesting conversations during her classes by allowing students to learn about another culture through their discussions about Economics.
“It’s important to me that we have conversations with our students about differences in cultures. Just because something is different, does not make it wrong.”– Dr. Anne Barthel
While Dr. Barthel has made her home here in the United States, there are things about Germany that she misses. The first thing she does when she lands in Germany for a visit is find the German pretzel shop in the airport – it’s also the last thing she buys as she’s leaving the Munich Airport.
Germany is famous for their breads which are denser than breads that are typical in the United States and there are many more flavors to choose from. In fact, in Dr. Barthel’s hometown, most families buy fresh bread from the bakery a few times per week. Also, because she is from an area in Germany with many dairy cows, they have many different cheeses to choose from. As with bread, locals go to cheese stores to buy portions of cheese wheels for their families.
Speaking of cows, every year in September a festival called Viehscheid is held in her hometown. It is an end of season cattle drive where the cows return to Oberstdorf from the high mountain meadows where they grazed all summer. If a farmer’s herd has made it through the summer without any illnesses or other instances of bad luck, they choose their finest cow and adorn them with bells and a crown made from twigs, flowers, and ribbons. This headdress is a signal to everyone in the valley that this herd had a good summer in the mountains. The farmer then leads the head cow and the herd down the valley to the herd separation point. After the cows are separated, the community celebrates with music, food, and of course, German beer.
Christmas in Germany
With Christmas just around the corner, Dr. Barthel also fondly remembers small Christmas traditions in Germany that are not as common here in the United States. Christmas in Germany is the family holiday because they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. On December 5th, children in Germany shine their shoes and put them outside with their wish list for Saint Nicholas. The next morning, they wake up to find their list gone and their shoes filled with candy. Most families in Germany celebrate Advent by lighting a candle on the Advent Wreath on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. In Dr. Barthel’s family, they typically light the candle in the evening while enjoying cookies and tea. During the month of December, world famous Christmas Markets are set up all over Germany. Each market is similar to a farmer’s market where local food and crafts are sold. They are typically set up in the center of town with huts and Christmas lights. Sometimes they even set up a Nativity scene with live animals. People traditionally hang out at the Christmas markets with their friends and family while they enjoy gingerbread cookies and Glühwein – a spiced wine that is popular during the holidays. Presents are opened on Christmas Eve and the entire country shuts down on December 25th and 26th. None of the stores are open and Germans take this opportunity to enjoy a few lazy days during winter.
From the mountains of Oberstdorf, Germany to the High Plains of Texas, Dr. Anne Barthel has made a life educating tomorrow’s business leaders. Through her teaching, rigorous research agenda, and her appreciation of cattle, Dr. Barthel has truly connected with the students and the Texas Panhandle.