Wust – one letter away from ‘Wurst’ and ‘Wüste’

Back in Februrary, on the way to our Kneipenquiz at a local school, OGN Coordinator Nicola discovered that one of our Ambassadors, Chris, had spent his summer in a place she knew very well indeed – in Wust.  Where?  Wust.  (I’ll leave Chris to explain…)  Between us we have spent three summers in Wust and wanted to take the opportunity to introduce this wonderful little place to a wider audience, and hopefully persuade more students to make the journey Wust-wards. Over to Chris…

Nestled deep in the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt, Wust is a small village in the former East Germany. That description generally draws some pretty bemused looks, and you’re probably wondering what the attraction could be for your average 20-year-old student. Well, I’ve now spent two pretty incredible summers in Wust, and have every intention of going back for a third time –  this post hopefully will give some idea of what is so special about the place!

This tiny village just west of Berlin comes alive for four weeks in July and August, when it hosts the Sommerschule Wust. Every summer, hundreds of Germans (the Teilnehmer) flock to Wust, keen to learn English. The summer school is open to all, from eight-year olds to eighty-year olds, from absolute beginners to fluent English teachers. They come from all over, mainly from ‘die neuen Bundesländer’ but also from as far away as Düsseldorf and even the Ivory Coast!

Leafy, sleepy Wust, home of the Sommerschule Wust

And who teaches them? This pleasure falls to a team of teachers (Dozenten) drawn (mostly) from Oxford, Cambridge and Brown Universities. The Dozenten are a very mixed bunch, usually, but not always, language students, with a variety of skills and interests, covering everything from highland dancing to macro-economics.  There’s no Wust ‘type’, and everyone quickly forms lasting friendships. The Dozenten live with local families – a great opportunity to sample German cuisine (yes, there is more to it than potatoes and pork!) and to practise your German.

A typical day in Wust starts bright and early with Morgenappell at 08:45 before the first lesson starts at 09:00. Teilnehmer have three language classes every morning, each with a different Dozent. You’re free to teach whatever and however you like, as long as it gets the class speaking English! In the afternoon, we offer a variety of ‘workshops’ about different topics. There are some which run every year, such as ‘Road Trip Around the UK/USA’, Film, ‘Dancing with the Stars’, Choir, and Literature, but there is also plenty of room for new innovations, depending on your interests – hence Salsa, Scottish Politics, and Euclidean Geometry were also on offer in 2016.

The highlight of the day is usually the evening activities on the Sportplatz. Each evening has a theme – such as 4th July or ‘British Day’ – and there’s always sufficient opportunity to make a fool of yourself playing volleyball or learning ceilidh dancing, while eating more Wurst and drinking more beer than you thought humanly possible! Rehearsals for the bilingual theatre production also take place in the evening: the Summer School’s annual play is something of a community event in the local area. Both Teilnehmer and Dozenten take to the stage for what is always an incredible production.

Teilnehmer at the Sommerschule Wust gather at the Sportplatz to enjoy the evening activities

You may be wondering why such a small village hosts such a big event. It all came about as the result of the efforts of Maria von Katte, who is now something of a local celebrity. Frau von Katte gained her D.Phil (doctorate) at St Hugh’s College, Oxford in the 1960s, and, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, returned to her familial homeland, determined to help the local community adapt to life post-Wende. The first Summer School was planned as a small course for local teachers run by two professors and a handful of students. Yet interest proved so great that it quickly evolved into two three-week courses, each for 200 Teilnehmer, run by three Professors and 30 Dozenten! The organisers had no doubt that the Summer School would catch on, owing to its informal and innovative atmosphere.  Indeed, last year, Wust celebrated its 25th anniversary, and it looks set to continue for another 25 years in pretty much the same spirit. Not least because once you’ve been, few can resist the temptation of going back – some of the Teilnehmer have been coming almost every year since 1991!

So, to summarise – Wust: found in the middle of a Wüste, famous for its Wurst, and an experience I would heartily recommend. We’ll be recruiting once again from Oxford this year – keep an eye out for the adverts around February time!

 Chris Ellison, 3rd-year French and German, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

[Although the text and all its imperfections are my own, I must give credit to two true ‘Wusties’ for their help: Scott Usatorres for his excellent photos and Michael Laver for the punny title.]


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