When opportunity knocks and the opportunity is Interrail

If you’re turning 18 this year, then keep your eyes peeled for the opportunity to apply online for free Interrail travel! The European Commission has set aside funds for the project so that an estimated 20,000-30,000 EU teenagers can travel and learn about the countries and cultures they live alongside in Europe. The UK is still in the EU – so grab the chance to travel across German-speaking countries (and others!). As Mit Vergnügen Berlin points out on its blog, you don’t just learn about other cultures – this is also the chance to develop important life skills and establish personal connections! Summer plans…sorted.

Die EU-Kommission möchte demnächst bis zu 30.000 Jugendlichen ein kostenloses Interrail-Ticket zur Verfügung stellen. Alle, die im Jahr 2000 geboren wurden, sollen sich bald online auf ein Ticket bewerben können. Die EU-Kommission möchte die jungen Menschen so für die Vielfalt Europas begeistern. Das klingt zwar erstmal ein bisschen weit hergeholt, ist aber eigentlich eine ziemlich…

via 11 Gründe, warum du eine Interrail-Reise machen solltest — Mit Vergnügen Berlin


Friends and double acts: Dazu gehören immer noch zwei!

The deadline for the Oxford German Olympiad is drawing nigh! In fact, 16 March is the final date you can enter the competition. There’s just time for us to post one more friendship-themed blog post for your last-minute inspiration…

The ‘double-act’ or Komikerduo is a form of artistic partnership with its origins in comic theatre. Double-act often take the form of unlikely friends or contrasting types: two people with very different comic styles or physiques who play with and against each other for laughs. In general, the comedy emerges from the uneven nature of the relationship between the two figures, whether it is one of size and shape, intelligence, social background or character. It’s worth remembering, though, that even the figure that might be considered the “straight man” will still sometimes be the butt of the joke! At the end of the day, the relationship between the two in a double act might be a love-hate type of friendship, but ultimately they need each other in the double act.

German-language culture has a long tradition of comic double acts. They can be found in stage acts of the nineteenth century and in circus clown acts of the early twentieth century – and of course on the cabaret stage from 1910 onwards! A very popular form of the double act is the Doppelconférence, a kind of comic dialogue, full of puns, misunderstandings and miscomprehensions.

Two Austrian actors, Rudolf Walter and Josef Holub, are credited with appearing as early as 1914 as the first Komikerduo on the big screen as Cocl & Seff – a format which influenced Laurel and Hardy, among others. Unfortunately, many of their films have since been lost.

Karl Valentin and Liesl Karstadt in Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (1932)

The long-running artistic partnership between Karl Valentin und Liesl Karlstadt began on the stage in cabaret performances from 1911, and later transferred into film. Their first short film Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (1932) was directed by Erich Engel and Bertolt Brecht. Click the picture above to watch it on YouTube.

More recent famous double acts include the collaboration between the caricaturist and comic Loriot and his dead-pan foil, the comic actress Evelyn Hamann – they appeared together in Loriot’s films (such as Ödipussi in 1988) and Hamann featured in a multitude of the sketches written by her partner in comedy, notably lisping her way towards a nervous breakdown while trying to pronounce the English combination ‘th’ as a continuity announcer – and the duo ‘Erkan und Stefan’, the fictional personalities of John Friedmann and Florian Simbeck, who brought exaggerated Turkish accents together with Bavarian dialect and English slang for comic effect (they owed some inspiration for their act to the British comic act Ali G).

Can you think of any other German-language double acts? Perhaps some of the literary friendships could be considered double acts – such as Max & Moritz – or are some double acts unintentional (like political double acts)?


From ‘old fashioned’ letter writing last week to electronic communication this week! Writing emails is something we all do, especially at work. And if you’re learning a language or working in a foreign language, suddenly there are whole new rules to learn about how to communicate appropriately and effectively. It’s especially important if you’re going to embark on an internship or work experience abroad. So, when it comes to German, it’s comforting to know that native German-speakers have to learn and practise these things, too…

Durch den Einsatz moderner Medien ist manch einer geneigt, alte Konventionen zu vergessen. In der geschäftlichen Korrespondenz gelten andere Regeln als im privaten E-Mailverkehr zwischen Freunden. Wer diese nicht kennt, wird womöglich unterschätzt. Im ärgerlichsten Fall wird so jemand als unprofessionell oder sogar inkompetent abgestempelt. Das kann Aufträge kosten. Wer Irritationen auf der anderen Seite…

via Vielen Dank im Voraus! Wann kann man das schreiben? — karrierebibel.de

The century of letters and friendship

A guest post this week: Dr Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig explains the special place writing letters had for German-speakers in the eighteenth century…

Since ancient times, letter writing and friendship have been intimately connected in people’s imagination. For centuries, letters were even defined specifically as ‘a mutual conversation between absent friends’ (to quote from Erasmus’s treatise on letter writing, Opus de conscribendis epistolis, 1522). Correspondence between friends also came to be associated with a distinct epistolary type: the letter of friendship. Such letters were usually characterized by a familiar tone and a level of intimacy not found in other types of letters, e.g. official communication sent from a public institution to a citizen.

In German cultural and literary history, letters of friendship flourished particularly in the eighteenth century. In this period, which has been called both the ‘century of letters’ and the ‘century of friendship’, people began to celebrate personal friendships in new ways. Letters played a key role in creating and/or sustaining these friendships – sometimes over long distances and periods of time. The language correspondents used was often very sentimental: friends would, for instance, write at length about exchanging hugs and kisses to ensure each other of their mutual affection.

Gleim’s Temple of Friendship (Photo: Ulrich)

One of the historical persons who exemplify this particular culture of friendship is the German author Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim (1719–1803). Not only was he a prolific (and published) letter writer; he also had a Freundschaftstempel (Temple of Friendship) in his house in Halberstadt. The Temple consisted of several rooms whose walls were covered with portraits of his friends (and can still be seen today in the Gleimhaus). Gleim also had a special writing chair made, which he would move around his temple in order to position himself in front of the portrait of the friend to whom he wanted to write a letter – or whose letter to himself he was about to open and read.

Title Page Rode Briefwechsel einiger Kinder-min
Title page of Rode’s book (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Sachsen-Anhalt)

Letters of friendship were not the preserve of adults. On the contrary: letters were among the first types of text children learnt about. Entering a correspondence was part of their education as it helped them practise a range of skills, including their spelling and grammar, handwriting, understanding of social conventions – and also their knowledge of foreign languages. We can see aspects of this practice reflected in what may be the earliest German book of fictional children’s correspondence – August Rode’s Briefwechsel einiger Kinder (1776). Among others, it includes the letters exchanged between a group of boys: Carl, Albert, Casimir, Heinrich, and Hamilton. They correspond about all kinds of topics, including their relatives, new experiences, and games played. Since Hamilton is writing in his native French – a language which all the other boys are learning – Carl also uses it in his replies.

Ultimately, Rode’s book is just one example of many which illustrate that friendship, letter writing, and learning go well hand in hand – and that is as true today as it was in the eighteenth century!

About the author:

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig is a freelance author, editor, scholar, and translator. Together with Caroline Socha, she runs the blog whatisaletter; their their most recent publication is the bilingual collection Was ist ein Brief? Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur – What is a letter? Essays on epistolary theory and culture (2018).

Forget the Oscars – it’s all about the Bears

The Berlinale – or Berlin International Film Festival – was founded in 1951 and is one of the world’s largest film festivals. And it’s 68th edition opens TODAY! The blog Mit Vergnügen Berlin gives us a sneak peak at the films that have been nominated for those coveted Golden and Silver Bear trophies (‘Goldener Bär’ and ‘Silberner Bär’). Which film would get your vote? Read on…

Am 15. Februar ist es wieder soweit: Zum mittlerweile 68. Mal macht die Berlinale die deutsche Hauptstadt für zehn Tage zum Mittelpunkt der Filmindustrie. Das komplette Programm wurde vor wenigen Tagen veröffentlicht. Für all diejenigen unter euch, die noch unschlüssig sind, welchen der Filme sie sich anschauen wollen, haben wir 11 Highlights herausgepickt, die sich…

via 11 Berlinale-Filme, die du nicht verpassen darfst — Mit Vergnügen Berlin

Wer bin ich – who am I?!

This week, regular guest blogger and guru of the OGN newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ Heike Krüsemann brings us an update from the Creative Multilingualism project, which is part of the Open World Research Initiative and recently held its second conference…

Wer bin ich – who am I?!

Well, only you can answer that! Our identities are shaped in highly individual ways – and if you have more than one language, probably even more so! Academics, teachers, students, artists, poets and other interested parties came together in early February at Reading University’s Institute of Education to exchange ideas on creative multilingual identities. The conference was part of the Creative Multilingualism programme, spearheaded by the OGN’s director and language enthusiast, Professor Katrin Kohl.

Katrin Kohl opens the conference

The first day kicked off with some splendidly varied presentations by early career researchers on topics such as translation, translanguaging (yes, that’s a word), language learning, and bilingual poetry and art. Of course, I flew the flag for German with some examples of how teenage German learners use metaphors – see what I did there??

A lively panel and audience then debated whether Modern Languages in the UK needs a new identity. Is it one thing – is it many things? Should the question be more like:

‘Wer bin ich, und wenn ja, wie viele?’

Someone should write a book about that – oh, hang on, they already have!

On the second day, we heard about nature’s many languages, and how linguistic and biological diversity complement each other perfectly in the area of conservation. Professor Jean-Marc Dewaele gave a highly enlightening talk about diversity, linguistic and otherwise: culture cannot exist without it. Society needs people who don’t fit into the usual pattern.

Amerah Saleh and Bohdan Piasecki, ‘Free Radicals’ from the Beatfreeks Collective moved the audience to tears for all the right reasons with their multilingual poetry in Arabic, Polish and English. Typical comment: “You ripped my heart out and put it together again”. Powerful stuff.

In two workshops, delegates explored the roles different languages have on the lives of multilingual speakers, and heard about Language Futures an initiative for primary and secondary schools to develop languages beyond the classroom.

Rinkoo Barpaga has everyone enthralled!

Then Rinkoo Barpaga took the stage and had us all enthralled. Rinkoo is an amazing storyteller and comedian. He is deaf and used sign language and an interpreter to communicate with the audience. We learnt about Rinkoo’s documentary ‘Double Discrimination’ about the variations in sign languages, racism, discrimination and different deaf  Black people’s use of urban sign languages.

Finally, Professor Terry Lamb chaired a panel on community languages in schools. A lot of good work goes on here already which sadly does not receive much publicity, but it’s crucial that teacher education should support multilingual classrooms in the UK.

An inspiring two days passed by in a multilingual flash. If you feel you’re struggling to construct your multilingual identity, relax: anything goes! Just ask yourself this:

Wer bin ich – und warum nicht?

If you’d like to follow up on the conference contributions, have a look on the Creative Multilingualism page.

Heike Krüsemann is a post-doctoral researcher on the Creativity in Language Learning Strand of Creative Multilingualism. To sign up for Heike’s OGN newsletter ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ – top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching, click here. Take a look at Heike’s latest blog post on how the image of Germans in the UK press affects pupil motivation to study German!


Symbol of divided friendship – the Berlin Wall

Monday, 5 February 2018 marked the point at which the time the Berlin Wall no longer existed equalled the time that it had stood. As a potent symbol of division where there should be friendship, no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting some of the remains of the ‘Mauer’. Susan Reed at the British Library wrote a post for the European Studies Blog, showcasing a number of the Library’s holdings to trace the history of the Berlin Wall. Read on below…

5 February 2018 marks a curious anniversary: the date on which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long it stood. There were 10,315 days between 13 August 1961, when the first breezeblock-and-barbed-wire barriers appeared, and 9 November 1989 when crossing-points were opened and hundreds of East Berliners headed…

via 10,315 x 2: the days of and after the Berlin Wall — European studies blog

Mit herzlichen Grüßen… und mit einem lieben Kuss versiegelt

‘Sehr geehrte Frau Präsidentin’, ‘Sehr geehrter Herr Professor Unrat’, ‘Liebe Marie, lieber Max’, ‘Liebe Kunden’… Writing letters is an important mode of written communication, but they’re not just an exercise in learning how to address the right people in the right way. Sending and receiving letters is a way of fostering friendships, maintaining friendly relationships (including in business), conveying news, and even sending presents.

Berthold Woltze, Der Brief aus Amerika (ca.1860)

Until relatively recently, friends who lived in different places kept in touch by letter or (later) telephone. Sometimes, their private correspondence has been published so that everyone can read it and learn about their friendship: famous examples of this are the correspondence (‘Briefwechsel’ in German) between the writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) or that between poets Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) and Paul Celan (1920-1970).

In the eighteenth century, many authors wrote fictional letters as a way of telling a story. This form of writing is known as an ‘epistolary novel’: Goethe’s bestseller Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774/8) is told in this way, as a series of letters from the character of Werther to his friend Wilhelm. Women writers such as Sophie von la Roche and Bettina von Arnim also used this style of storytelling.

Letters can also give us an insight into the experiences, expectations and feelings of people who lived in the past, like this online exhibition of the last letters written by Jews around Europe during the Holocaust, in the days before they were transported to concentration camps in 1941, 1942, and 1943.

The digital age has transformed the way we make friends and keep in touch. Instead of laborious letter writing, most people now send emails and instant messages – peppered with their favourite emoji rather than written in beautiful longhand! Some people mourn the lost art of letter-writing, but others celebrate how much easier it is to find new friends, reconnect with lost ones or stay in contact with people from all over the world.


Nun hock’ ich hier an meinem Tisch
und weiß nicht recht zu starten.
Dort draußen sitzt man sicherlich
auf einen Brief zu warten.
Zu lange Zeit ist schon vergangen,
daß wir einander nicht geschrieben,
kein Brief ist hin und her gegangen –
wo ist die Post geblieben?

© Willy Meurer (Source: © 2005 /All Rights Reserved by Willy Meurer, Toronto)



Bücher sind bessere Freunde als Menschen – Literary friendship…

…And we’re back! With apologies for the long silence, but we’ve been busy reading up on friendship again. Literary friendship this time – another aspect for you to explore when you enter the Oxford German Olympiad this year!

Es geht uns mit Büchern wie mit den Menschen. Wir machen zwar viele Bekanntschaften, aber nur wenige erwählen wir zu unseren Freunden.


Copies of this famous monument to Goethe and Schiller in Weimar can be found all over the world.

We might agree, even over a century later, with Ludwig Feuerbach’s assertion that we treat books and people very similarly, reading/meeting many, but selecting only a very few to get to know (and like) very well – and the implication that we can sometimes feel that books are like friends to us. And literature truly is full of stories of friendships of all kinds and many friendships between writers and literary figures have, over the centuries, become almost legendary.

The long and intense friendship of the writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller  may be the most well-known example in the history of German literature: although they didn’t become firm friends on first meeting in 1788, their relationship grew stronger towards the end of the eighteenth century and they exerted considerable artistic influence over each other. Other prominent writers and thinkers have often been part of the same tight-knit friendship groups: the Schwäbische Dichterschule (1805-1808); the circle of Romantic poets around Clemens Bretano and the von Arnim family (around 1808); the Expressionist dramatists in Berlin at the end of the nineteenth century; or the GDR-based Sächsische Dichterschule which included Volker Braun and Sarah and Rainer Kirsch.

Books are full of descriptions of great friendships and their impact on people, communities and events. From Wilhelm and Werther in Goethe’s Leiden des jungen Werthers to Effi Briest and her loyal servant Roswitha in Theodore Fontane’s Effi Briest; the narrator’s relationship with her dead friend in Christa Wolf’s Nachdenken über Christa T.; the doomed and toxic relationship between Franz Biberkopf and Reinhold in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin: Alexanderplatz; Pilenz and Mahlke in Günter Grass’ Katz und Maus, or the close-knit band of friends who feature in Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts neues, literature has explored the good and bad features of platonic relationships in all their forms. However, while they thematise friendship and thus inclusion, such books can also highlight aspects of identity in the ties of friendship and of exclusion from certain groups. For example, Remarque’s band of soldierly comrades is divided approximately into two groups by his narrator: the group of classmates who joined up together on the one hand and the group of older men with established jobs and families on the other.

Lobby card for the 1930 film adaptation of Remarque’s novel

Some of the best descriptions of friendship in literary works are in writing for children and young people. Many popular children’s books have been translated from other languages into German and have proved firm favourites. But children’s books by German-language authors have also traveled in the other direction and are very well known in English, especially for their depiction of friendship. The conspiratorial hijinks of Max and Moritz in Wilhelm Busch’s early cartoons have become embedded in the literary consciousness of many German speakers. The lively cast of characters in Erich Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive (1929 – recently adapted for the British stage: take a look at a review here) showcased their independence and resourcefulness of children in making new friends and teamwork, while the capacity for friendship and affection is also explored in the well-known children’s classic Heidi, Johanna Spyri‘s 1881 tale of a Swiss orphaned girl’s friendships with those around her. A German-speaking audience will, however, also be familiar with the long-running Burg Schreckenstein series (1959-1988) by Oliver Hassencamp, about the adventures of a boys’ school (occasionally joined by their rival girls’ school).

Emil and his newfound friends follow the criminal Grundeis in the 1931 film adaptation of Kästner’s Emil und die Detektive

More recently, themes of difference have begun to dominate much children’s literature. Two examples are Zoran Drvenkar‘s autobiographical Niemand so stark wie wir (1998), which looks at the balancing acts of intercultural friendships and family life of immigrant children in Berlin, and Uticha Marmon’s Mein Freund Salim (2015) in which two German children engage with a young Syrian refugee who can’t speak their language (read a sample from the book here).

Keep your eyes peeled – more posts on theme of friendship coming up…

Two Chairs – A Creative Writing Competition

If you’re itching to give your creative writing skills a go, look no further – we’ve got a competition for you! Organised by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick, entries to the competition can be submitted in English or German. For more, read on…

This creative writing competition is open to everyone. It asks you to consider the pictures of the two stone chairs above. The chairs make up the ‘Hafez-Goethe Monument‘ in Weimar, Germany. This commemorate the work of the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), whose collection of poems the West-Eastern Divan (1819) not only imagined a dialogue between the Christian European and Islamic worlds, but also sought to break down of rigid cultural divisions between them. The chairs, though, were left empty by the sculptors in 2001. They do not only represent Goethe and his Muslim counterpart, but allow anyone to occupy them, or even to ‘swap’ chairs and see the world from the ‘other’ perspective.


Artists and commentators alike continue to be drawn to the monument and respond to it with their own creative works. The two chairs are separate, solid structures, implying two distinct individuals, cultures, or perspectives – and yet they are both cut from the same piece of stone. The key idea seems to be that we can be connected to people of other cultures, mixing and intertwining with them, without losing our own identity.

In entering, you don’t have to write literally about Goethe and the monument. Try, instead, to run with the key idea. What do the chairs say to you? What personal experiences of encountering or crossing different cultures can you draw upon to inspire you?

Some basic points to note are:

  • You can write in English or in German;
  • Your piece can be a poem, short story or piece of prose no more than 1000 words in length;
  • The entry categories will be under 18s and over 18s, with a piece in English and in German picked from each (four winners in total); prizes will be £250 each.
  • The competition launches on Monday 25 September 2017. The final date for entries is 2 March 2018, 5pm.
  • Entires should be sent electronically (see particulars) to Dr Carly Hegenbarth: C.Hegenbarth@warwick.ac.uk

More detailed particulars, including conditions of entry,and more details about the themes and what judges are looking for, can be downloaded on the project website: warwick.ac.uk/twochairswriting 

We encourage you, please, to read these carefully before you begin, to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment!

Competition entrants and winners will also be invited to attend a prize giving ceremony and live performance at the amazing Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford, on Wed 9th May 2018 (please save the date!) and the winners in each category will attend writing workshops with our panel of renowned judges.

We will certainly undertake to pay economy-level UK travel costs for the four winners, and hope to be able to offer further financial assistance to allow unwaged and school entrants to attend in greater numbers. More details on this will follow.

Good luck – and we look forward to your entries!


Competition Organiser, Dr James Hodkinson.