The first thing that comes to your mind if you think of Cambridge is probably its famous university where a lot of smart thinkers and influencers graduated from over the last 800 years. It is true that the university has a huge impact on the town of Cambridge. It is, for example, influenced by the colleges where most of the students spend their social life surrounded by this beautiful architecture. Most of the college buildings were initially monasteries and are therefore several hundreds years old. You usually find a chapel on college grounds, alongside a library and a bar. King’s College Chapel, for example, is one of Cambridge’s landmarks, and attending the evensong service there is a great addition to any sightseeing tour.
However, Cambridge is also an ordinary city where people have lived their whole life and do not participate in academic life. I got to know this part of Cambridge at my workplace because my colleagues are usually not related to the university in any way.
The Cambridge Bubble
I sometimes find it quite amusing when I tell students that I cycle 2 miles to work everyday, to an area of Cambridge where neither faculties nor colleges are located. “That’s so far away,” some of them tell me then, and I realise how much they are focussed on this tiny geographic area – their way from college accomodation to their department or library. Cambridge locals call this phenomenon the “Cambridge Bubble”, and they do not only mean that in a geographical but also in a conceptual way. The “Reality Checkpoint“ on Parker’s Piece marks the separation between academic and non-academic, local life in a rather ironic way, I guess. My colleagues, on the other hand, are quite astonished that I cycle two miles to work every day. Well, cycling is what most of the students do because it is still the easiest and cheapest way to move in the city centre.
The City and university Cambridge
When the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209, this gap between academic and local life was soon described by using the terms “Town & Gown”. A gown is literally the loose outer garment students wear for formal occasions, for example the matriculation and graduation ceremony or formal dinners. To distinguish it from „town“, the term „gown“ can also relate to the university itself and the whole academic body. I found these two words very helpful to structure my blog. As my husband Nis is a postgraduate student at the University, I am able to take part in student life as well. Not being a student myself anymore helps me to keep my eyes open for the many other interesting aspects of Cambridge.