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)?

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

Gleiche Rechte, Gleiche Pflichten – Frauenwahlrecht in Deutschland — Deutsches Historisches Museum: Blog

Germany just went to the polls – so we thought we’d share this great post from the Deutsches Historisches Museum blog about the history of women’s right to vote in Germany!

Gleiche Rechte, Gleiche Pflichten – Frauenwahlrecht in Deutschland Am 24. September 2017 findet die 19. Bundestagswahl statt. Unter den zur Wahl stehenden Kandidaten sind in diesem Jahr 1.400 Frauen, 29 % aller Bewerber. Parteien wie Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Die Linke und die SPD haben sogar überwiegend weibliche Listenführer. Und seit 2005 gibt es in Deutschland…

via Gleiche Rechte, Gleiche Pflichten – Frauenwahlrecht in Deutschland — Deutsches Historisches Museum: Blog

A German Olympiad ‘Werdegang’

One prizewinner in 2017’s ‘Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland’, Beth Molyneux, first got involved with the Oxford German Olympiad right at its inception – and this year she was so enthused, she participated in every element of it that she possibly could! Beth was a joint winner in the ‘Migrating Communities’ essay category and a runner up in the Blog Post category. You can read her entries – and those of all the other winners – here.
In this blog post, she explains what got her involved in the first place and what she loves about the competition.

Prizes 2017The prize ceremony for the 2017 Oxford German Olympiad was the perfect culmination of what has been, for me and many other pupils around the country, an exciting, challenging and definitely worthwhile affair.

My involvement in the Olympiad started when I was in Year 8, with the theme Grimm Tales and featured me and my sister as Hansel and Gretel in a short film. At that time, I wasn’t aware of what the Olympiad was but certainly had fun making the video. It then wasn’t until sixth form when I was looking to extend my German outside of my A-level that this memory from year 8 came back to me along with the remembrance that there had been a sixth-former at our school who had helped us with our entry as well as submitting her own. Excited by this prospect, I gave ‘Oxford German Olympiad’ a quick Google and was pleased to find that it not only still existed but had been going strong for several years and, most importantly, entries were open for this year’s competition!

What I loved about the structure of the competition was how all the tasks tied into an overall theme but were so diverse, both within and across the age categories, which gave me a chance to explore aspects of German and Germany that I never would have before. The Olympiad provided me with a great opportunity to do some wider study of German culture and literature as well as the linguistic challenge of composing an essay in German, which was especially useful because I’m hoping to study German at university. I liked the sound of all the tasks in my age category and wanted to get as fully involved as possible so, instead of choosing between them, I decided to have a go at all three.

I started with the essay on Germany’s colonial history, which was probably the hardest task from a language point of view, as well as requiring the most research yet despite this I’d say it turned out to be my favourite task. After collecting the necessary initial research to find out what the story of Germany’s empire actually was, I thought it would be very easy for this kind of essay to turn out quite stale and technical but I wanted to make it come alive with a literary touch so I developed an extended metaphor, comparing Germany’s association with colonialism to an actor on a stage. This meant that I not only learned something new about Germany’s fascinating and unique history but was able to get creative and really have fun with what is a truly beautiful language. I think my enjoyment of this task showed in my entry and it definitely paid off, as this piece was joint winner in my age category.

Thomas Mann with Albert Einstein in Princeton in 1938

For the second task, I researched the Austrian German dialect, struggling to fit all its quirks into just 400 words and for the third I chose to write about the author Thomas Mann, one of the many authors who left Germany as the Nazis came to power. He nevertheless fought hard for his beloved country jenseits von Deutschland, as you might say. This entry epitomised the competition for me because Mann is such a remarkable example of this year’s Olympiad title. My research into his life and work has gone beyond the competition as I’ve explored German Exilliteratur, even choosing it as the focus for my Extended Project Qualification in sixth form. Again, I had a chance to get creative with this task, choosing to narrate his history as a story, with dialogue and literary features, rather than as an essay, which was yet another discipline I would never have explored without the Olympiad.

As the deadline for round one entries drew near and I was giving those final touches to my three pieces, I happened to check the Olympiad website again and was delighted to find that this wasn’t the end – there was a round 2! The tasks in round 2 were even more diverse, giving incredible scope for creativity. Having read some Kafka before, I enjoyed being mind-boggled as I read his Die Sorge des Hausvaters and barely knew where to start with a response. Having this chance to respond creatively to Kafka’s work helped me to delve deeper into his intentions and the thought processes behind his work as well as considering the weighty existential questions his work evokes.

The poetry of HC Artmann was, if possible, yet more bizarre than Kafka and undoubtedly a piece of literature which, without the Olympiad, I would never have been introduced to. The biggest challenge I faced in the HC Artmann task wasn’t understanding the German he used (helpfully provided alongside the original dialect version) but interpreting the poetry itself. Baffled, I simply chose to reflect this uncertainty in my response, writing two poems in response to his Kindesentführer, based on different readings of the poem which I had taken. Only Artmann himself knows whether either of my interpretations are correct (if there is ever a correct interpretation of poetry) but the responses were enough to win the prize for this competition, generously made possible by HC Artmann’s widow Rosa Pock.

Winners blow trumpet
Some winners get to blow their own trumpet at the ceremony!

Having submitted my grand total of five entries across Rounds 1 and 2 I felt not just immense satisfaction and pride at having accomplished this but also, most importantly, a passion for German literature, not initially kindled by this competition but certainly refreshed and burning brighter than ever because of it. I had dedicated a considerable amount of time to my entries and felt like I’d given a small piece of my heart and soul to the competition which was in a way its own reward. I probably didn’t realise how much the competition meant to me until I received the email with my results; I screamed so loudly that my parents came rushing upstairs thinking I had hurt myself! Besides the success itself was the exciting prospect of attending the award ceremony in Oxford at none other than the Bodleian library, an event which lived up to and surpassed expectations. I travelled down from Manchester with my Dad, the weather reflecting our mood in a sunny and more-than-usually beautiful Oxford and as we waited on the steps of the Weston Library, I realised the full scope of the competition as we saw students of all ages begin to gather. The event itself was incredibly well organised, managing to balance a comfortable and informal intimacy with the grandeur appropriate for a prize ceremony. Judges, organisers and participants alike were friendly, excited and welcoming. And the best part? With heavily book-based prizes, I left with yet more German literature to explore!

Beth Molyneux

Fancy having a go at the Olympiad yourself? The next competition is just around the corner! We’ll be announcing the theme for the Oxford German Olympiad 2018 later in September!

Das Mädchen schleppte sich… to the Oxford German Olympiad

This week, Sofia Justham Bello, talks about her love of German, onomatopoeia and how she approached entering the biggest event in the Oxford German Network diary: the Oxford German Olympiad. Click here to read her version of Hansel and Gretel.

My underlying motivation for taking part in the 2017 Oxford German Olympiad was my love for the German language. What particularly draws me towards German is its poetic nature and ability to combine individual words to form a larger word and meaning; for example, in my entry I used the word Menschenmenge (crowd) which can be broken down to Menge (an amount) of Menschen (people).

Prizes 2017Another reason that drew me towards entering the competition was the theme: “Deutsch jenseits von Deutschland”-German beyond Germany. This was intriguing as one could explore the role and power of German in any location, hence expressing the idea that language is not restricted to thrive in one place. In my opinion this theme is particularly encouraging and vital for our world today, as it reflects the need for different languages in our lives, increasing our ability to connect with people and understand each other’s cultures.

The category I took part in involved rewriting the story of “Hänsel und Gretel” in a different location. I chose to relocate them in modern day London, a multicultural city with an iconic landscape, which generates infinite possibilities for storytelling.

Illustration from the 1903 edition of Ludwig Richter’s collection of fairytales

The timelessness of the Grimm tale was key to motivating me to write; personally, I find that Märchen offer a sense of comfort to the reader; despite their bizarre and often gory themes, one is fond of their nostalgic structure and magical familiarity. My story was similar to the original, but I altered small details to fit the setting, such as instead of following a white dove, the children follow a pigeon; and instead of stumbling across a life-size gingerbread house, my story ends with a cliffhanger that leaves them peering into a cake shop window.

Writing a short story in German was more of a challenge, and it took practice to write in the imperfect tense. However, it was fun to discover new verbs which I would have never encountered at school, such as when Gretel felt tired, and therefore dragged her feet along the street (Das süße Mädchen schleppte sich die Straße entlang – very onomatopoeic!).

I also found it fun to discover new idioms to illustrate the siblings’ resilience, such as Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund (“The Morning Riser has gold in their mouth”, i.e. the early bird gets the worm); such an idiom perhaps highlights the positivity and character the German language has, which is likely to have compelled so many people to take part in the Olympiad this year.

Sofia Justham Bello

Mitmachen und Erleben im mittelalterlichen Stil

We’ve had several posts from south Germany and Switzerland in the past, so this week we’re redressing the balance and turning to a more northerly destination: a small town in Nordrhein-Westfalen. One of OGN’s team recently went to find out what you could do there over Pentecost, which is a public holiday in Germany. Read on…

Letztes Wochenende war in Deutschland ein langes Wochenende – wegen Pfingstmontag, einem religiösen Feiertag. Erwachsene haben am Montag frei – und die meisten Kinder mindestens eine Woche Schulferien. Das ist die perfekte Gelegenheit – ganz wie zu den Bank Holidays in Großbritannien! – in überhitzten Autos im Stau zu sitzen und sich in überfüllte Züge zu zwängen -, um z. B. Familienmitglieder anderswo in Deutschland zu besuchen.

Also schloss ich mich den Scharen an und fuhr mit dem Zug nach Krefeld in Nordrhein-Westfalen (die offizielle Website der Stadt findet ihr hier). Seit dem 18. Jahrhundert ist die Stadt wegen der Seidenstoffproduktion als ‘Samt- und Seidenstadt’ bekannt. Doch schon im Mittelalter wurde Flachs in der Umgebung angebaut, womit Leinenstoff hergestellt und auf dem Markt verkauft wurde. Dieser inzwischen tradierte ‘Flachsmarkt’ ist jetzt eine alljährliche Veranstaltung und einer der größten historischen Handwerkermärkte in Deutschland – und den wollte ich mit Freunden besuchen.

Burg_linn_02 joerg74
Burg Linn (Foto: joerg74)

Einmal angekommen, fuhren wir zum Veranstaltungsort des Marktes: der Wasserburg Linn, die vor den Toren Krefelds liegt. Sie ist eine der ältesten Burganlagen des Niederrheins (andere Burgen, die man besuchen kann, findet ihr hier). Die Burg ist von einem breiten Wassergraben umgeben und heißt deswegen ‘Wasserburg’.

Die Burg wurde als Stammsitz der freiadeligen ‚Herren von Linn‘ im 12. Jahrhundert errichtet, aber der Großteil des heute noch erhaltenen Baubestandes stammt aus dem 13. Jahrhundert. Als die Familie ausstarb, wurden die Grafen von Kleve mit dem Besitz belehnt. Etwa zu dieser Zeit wurde auch die Stadt Linn gegründet, die heute zur Stadt Krefeld gehört. Die ganze Burganlage macht also einen durchaus mittelalterlichen Eindruck mit Türmen, Torzwinger, Rittersaal und einem Bergfried, während die Straßen des umliegenden Stadtteils mit Pflastersteinen gepflastert sind. Alte Fachwerkhäuser stehen dicht aneinander am Straßenrand.


Der Flachsmarkt findet auf dem Parkgelände rund um die Burg statt. Die Anlage ist riesengroß – und das muss sie auch sein, denn über 300 Handwerker errichten hier ihre Stände und bieten ihre Waren an. Der Anblick all dieser Stände und der vielen Besucher war überwältigend: hier waren Flachsspinner, Handweber, Lehmbauer, Sattler, Seiler, Rüstungsschmied, Kettenhemdmacher, Perückenmacher, Imker, Buchrestauratoren, Spitzenklöppler, Töpfer und Buttermacher – und viele mehr – zu sehen. Und das Tollste war, dass man ihnen bei der Arbeit über die Schulter schauen konnte und in vielen Fällen durfte man sogar selber mitmachen. Das ist nämlich ein wichtiges Kriterium für die Flachsmarktaussteller – die Besucher sollen nicht nur ihre Waren kaufen, sie sollen dabei auch etwas Lernen und Erleben können.

Falke Burg Linn Pfingsten 2017
Ein Falke fliegt über die Köpfe der Zuschauer (Foto: Jolan)

Nachdem wir also alle Hüte beim Hutmacher anprobiert und dem Leinenweber an seinem Webstuhl zugeschaut hatten, ließen wir uns von den Rittern  beim Turnier unterhalten. Ein besonderer Höhepunkt für mich waren aber die Falkner, die in luxuriöser mittelalterlicher Tracht ihre Vögel präsentierten – dass ein Jagdvogel so lautlos und nah an allen Köpfen vorbeifliegen kann, hätte keiner von uns gedacht! Leider ist der Falke so schnell geflogen, dass niemand ein wirklich gutes Foto davon machen konnte (aber wir haben es versucht).

Flachsmarkt 2017Und trotz der vielen Besucher und des schönen Wetters war die Burg definitiv nicht so voll von Menschen wie mein Zug auf der Hinreise!

Madeleine, Stuttgart

(Uncredited photos by Madeleine & Harald T.)


Looking for participants….

This week a request for participants from Oxford’s Chair of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics, Prof. Henrike Lähnemann – if you’re in Oxford on 25 May 2017 and want to take part in some of the celebrations and events for Bonn Week, read on…

A portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1528)

I am looking for German speakers who would like to take part in a public reading of Martin Luther’s ‘Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen’ in German which is scheduled to take place on 25 May, 4-5:30pm, at the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford. This is to launch the first publication in a series of Reformation pamphlets in facsimile, transcription and new translations, provided in this case by Howard Jones (and with input from many of you). The reading will be recorded and made available together with the free, open access edition, in the Digital Library section of the Reformation 2017 blog of the Taylorian where currently there is already the facsimile and transcription available. Thanks to sponsorship from the German Embassy, we will be able to hand out free print copies to all readers and sell them otherwise at the launch for 2GBP (afterwards 5GBP); the download will be available free directly after the launch.

The launch is scheduled to coincide with Bonn Week, a celebration of 70 years of twinning with Bonn, so we hope to have a good mix of German and British audience. Further details to follow – for now I just need expressions of interest for reading; drop me an email to volunteer for a paragraph. It would be nice to have a cross-section of voices from young and old, men and women, German and English native speakers! The text is 7,000 words long = ca. 60 minutes reading time; if we could have 20 speakers, everybody would get one (longer or shorter) paragraph, between 2 and 4 minutes.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Henrike Lähnemann (email: henrike.lä

PS: You might have seen / heard the BBC series ‘Breaking Free – Martin Luther’s Revolution’; two episodes are now available from the website

Rahel Varnhagens Berlin

We’re back from our Christmas break, and Jana Maria Weiss continues our series of posts on literary images of Berlin with an exploration of the work of Rahel Varnhagen, a German-Jewish writer in the eighteenth century who also hosted one of the most celebrated literary salons of her day.

Manchmal träumt Rahel davon eine richtige Schriftstellerin zu sein. Sie weiß, dass sie das Zeug dazu hätte, und wird es doch nie werden:

Der größte Künstler, Philosoph oder Dichter ist nicht über mir. Wir sind vom selben Element . . . mir aber ward das Leben angewiesen.

Sie wird keine Gedichte, Romane oder Dramen schreiben – und doch ein literarisches Erbe hinterlassen, das von großer poetischer Kraft ist. In unzähligen Briefen, Reiseberichten und Tagebucheinträgen verarbeitet sie ihr Leben lang schreibend ihre Erfahrungen. Es entsteht ein Textgeflecht, das nicht nur Rahels Biografie dokumentiert, sondern ein lebhaftes Bild ihrer Zeit entwirft.

Rahel Varnhagen von Ense (1817) – a portrait after Moritz Michael Daffinger

Ihre Zeit – das ist die Epoche der Romantik um 1800 in Berlin. 1771 wird Rahel Varnhagen (1771 – 1833), die damals noch Levin heißt, als Tochter eines wohlhabenden Berliner Bankiers geboren. Man lebt in der Jägerstraße am Gendarmenmarkt, einer der prächtigsten Gegenden der Stadt. Trotz ihrer hervorgehobenen Position im Wirtschaftsleben sind die Levins als jüdische Familie gesellschaftliche Außenseiter. Ihr Leben lang leidet Rahel darunter. Sie kämpft um Anerkennung und versucht sich anzupassen. Ganz gelingt ihr das nie. Dass Rahel trotzdem ein großes Selbstbewusstsein entwickelt, hat sie vor allem dem Lesen zu verdanken. Autodidaktisch macht sie sich mit der großen Weltliteratur vertraut, liest Shakespeare, Dante, Lessing und Goethe. Das umfangreiche Wissen, das sie sich auf diese Weise aneignet, gepaart mit ihrem geistreichen Humor, macht aus ihr die charmante Intellektuelle, die später von so Vielen bewundert wird.

Kaum eine andere Frau wird eine derartige Palette an Komplimenten großer Dichter aufweisen können: Heinrich Heine nennt sie die „geistreichste Frau des Universums“, Franz Grillparzer bekennt, nie in seinem Leben jemanden „interessanter und besser reden gehört“ zu haben und der von Rahel innig verehrte Dichterfürst Johann Wolfgang von Goethe verdichtet sein weit ausholendes positives Urteil über sie in den Worten: „sie ist, was ich eine schöne Seele nennen möchte.“

Doch wie gelingt es der jungen Rahel solche Aufmerksamkeit auf sich zu ziehen? Eine Schönheit ist sie nicht, doch verfügt sie über die Gabe, Menschen zusammenzuführen und zu unterhalten. Sie ist ein wahres Geselligkeitsgenie und weiß es auch. So schreibt sie in einem ihrer Briefe an Clemens Brentano:

Ich liebe unendlich Gesellschaft und bin ganz überzeugt, daß ich dazu gebohren, von der Natur bestimmt und ausgerüstet bin.

Wie viele andere jüdische Frauen gründet Rahel, ihrer gesellschaftlichen Außenseiterrolle zum Trotz, schlichtweg ihre eigene Gesellschaft: Sie eröffnet einen Salon. Im Dachstubenzimmer der Jägerstraße 54 trifft man sich fortan in geselliger Runde, um über Kunst und Literatur zu sprechen. Bei Tee und Gebäck wird diskutiert, philosophiert und Musik gemacht. Die jüdischen Berliner Salons avancieren zu einem Kult, der Intellektuelle aus ganz Deutschland in die preußische Hauptstadt zieht. Als Salon mit der größten Anziehungskraft gilt bald der von Rahel Levin. Größen des Berliner Lebens, von den Humboldt-Brüdern über romantische Dichter wie Tieck und Schlegel bis hin zum preußischen Adel, gehen in der Jägerstraße ein und aus.

Man suchte sie gern auf, nicht bloß, weil sie von sehr liebenswürdigem Charakter war, sondern weil man fast mit Gewißheit darauf rechnen konnte, nie von ihr zu gehen, ohne nicht etwas von ihr gehört zu haben und mit hinwegzunehmen, das Stoff zu weiterem ernsten, oft tiefen Nachdenken gab oder das Gefühl lebendig anregte.

So schreibt Wilhelm von Humboldt 1834 über Rahel. Doch ein Teil der populären Gesellschaftsdame fühlt sich immer noch einsam. Aufgrund von Rahels jüdischer Herkunft scheitern mehrere Verlobungen. Erst im Alter von 43 Jahren wird sie den Diplomaten Karl August Varnhagen von Ense heiraten. Ihre vorigen Affären und gescheiterten Beziehungen veranlassen die Berliner Gesellschaft zu bösem Gerede.

Oft unternimmt Rahel allein ausgedehnte Spaziergänge durch Berlin. Sie beobachtet das städtische Treiben und lässt dabei ihre Gedanken schweifen. Was sie wahrnimmt und wie sie sich fühlt beschreibt sie in Tagebucheinträgen und Briefen. So an ihren Freund Alexander von der Marwitz:

Wollte allein umherlaufen; mir war sehr unwohl im Gehirn. (…) Ich ging am Schiffbauerdamm und Weidendamm, kurz an allen großen Plätzen der Stadt umher und dachte an Sie.

Ganz im Sinne der Romantik widmet Rahel sich bei ihren Spaziergängen besonders der Naturbeobachtung. Genau beschreibt sie die jahreszeitlichen Veränderungen in der Stadt:

Hundertfälliges Grün, geputzte Blüten, alles empfängt Sie und weht Ihnen Juni-Gedanken an, das tut der Mai, leichtere Schatten präsentieren sich schon . . . die Stadt riecht nach Bäumen wie ein Wald.

Die sinnliche Erfahrung der Natur wird dabei eng mit der Erfahrung des Ichs, den eigenen Stimmungen und Gefühlen, verbunden:

Ich habe mir jetzt angewöhnt abends nach dem Tiergarten zu Marcus zu gehen (…) Der Wald ist göttlich! – wunderbar schön. So dünkt mich hatten sich Laub, Zweige, Blätter Scheine und Farben nie. Alles so zauberartig! Und wahrhaftig, ich befinde mich doch nicht so prächtig.

Zeitlebens begleitet Rahel eine innere Schwermut, die so gar nicht zu ihrem charmanten und selbstsicheren Auftreten als Salondame zu passen scheint. Doch vielleicht ist gerade das Geselligsein, der rege Austausch mit Anderen, den sie stets pflegt, ihr Mittel, gegen das Gefühl innerer Leere anzukämpfen. Rahel ist immer auf der Suche nach Selbsterfahrung: im Gespräch mit intellektuellen Größen, beim Flanieren durch das sich stets verändernde Berlin und nicht zuletzt beim Schreiben.

Rund 10 000 Briefe umfasst ihr literarisches Werk. Es ist das geworden, was Rahel Varnhagen selbst prophezeit hat: eine Original-Geschichte und poetisch – darüber hinaus ein wunderbares Porträt der Stadt Berlin.

Jana Maria Weiss, OGN Ambassador

Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany

The Oxford German Network recently launched its annual national competition: the Oxford German Olympiad 2017! Now in its fifth year, this year’s theme is ‘Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany’. The OGN Team put their heads together to suggest some of the questions and topics you might like to think about when you enter the competition…

A Pennsylvania Dutch badge design

Peoples have always migrated and taken their languages and stories with them. Moreover, languages and cultures are almost never confined to one geographical area or one nation. Of course, the English language provides a good example of this – but so does German! German and German dialects are spoken not just by those living in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland… and parts of the USA, and German culture has found its way into all sorts of unexpected places. So this year, the Oxford German Olympiad explores German peoples, language and culture beyond the borders of Germany. There’s a lot out there to provide food for thought!

Historically, Germany didn’t even come into existence until 1871 and Austria didn’t exist as a defined republican state until 1919. They’re both very young in terms of ‘nation states’. So what does that mean for what we might consider ‘German’? Would travelling back in time open up a world in which all of ‘German’ existed only ‘beyond Germany’?

A shop sign in Liechtenstein. In Swiss German ‘Hoi’ means ‘Hi’ – ‘Hoi zäme’ is for greeting more than one person.

Like English, German is the official language in more than one country. Do people in Austria speak ‘German’ or ‘Austrian’? And what about Switzerland? Officially divided into German, French and Italian speaking areas – the German you’ll encounter here is again very different and even varies with each Kanton! Did you know that German is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg?

Like Britain, France, Spain or Portugal, Germany became a colonial power, but only in the late nineteenth century under Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was a latecomer seeking a “place in the sun” – “einen Platz an der Sonne”. There are still traces of that heritage, e.g. in Africa, where the German Empire settled colonies in areas that are now parts of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana, and other modern African countries.

Can you think of any famous German migrants in the UK? You could start with looking into the ancestors of the Royal Family or the ancient Rothschild financial dynasty… A wave of migration to other parts of the world was caused by National Socialism in the 1930s and early 1940s, but Germans also moved across Europe and across oceans for religious and economic reasons from the sixteenth century onwards. Religious reforming communities, like the Mennonites and the Amish, which have Dutch and Swiss origins in the sixteenth century and still maintain some of their linguistic heritage (e.g. ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’) to this day, can be found in parts of the USA, South America and elsewhere.

People migrate for many reasons: they may follow a friend or partner, work for an international company, seek an education abroad or just want to try living somewhere else. How many people in the UK do you know who originate from a German-speaking country?

Of course, texts also migrate – above all through translation – and can be adopted and adapted by other cultures. Think of the international cultural influence of Goethe’s Faust or the many well-known fairytales collected, adapted and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the nineteenth century. Pick a piece of German you find interesting – a song, a poem, a news article or part of a story – and try translating it. It’s fun! You’ll find words that are almost the same, and words that are challenging. Are any untranslatable?

Rumpelstiltskin ‘spinning’ a tale, from an edition of Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm, translated by Lucy Crane and illustrated by Walter Crane, 1886.

You’ll find lots more inspiration and interesting ideas on the Oxford German Network’s competition pages, as well as all the competition tasks and guidelines. The deadline for entries is 12 noon, Friday 17 March 2017 (note that submission is online only). If you have any queries you can email the OGN Coordinators at

The German Reformation – hands on!

Students and staff at the University of Oxford have been celebrating the inauguration of Prof. Henrike Lähnemann as the Chair for Medieval German Literature and Linguistics. As part of the events, students and staff of the sub-faculty of German have launched a new website that celebrates some of the 500-year old prints held by the Taylorian Library. One of OGN’s student ambassadors, Kezia, has been handling the texts and introduces the students’ work here…

Friday, 22 January 2016 was the day the Reformation 2017 Taylorian website was launched! 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which launched a seismic religious, social and cultural shift throughout Europe, and it will be the year that the Taylorian Library really gets to show off its incredible collection of Reformation pamphlets. So the German sub-faculty has started preparing already!

Students and staff at Oxford University present Reformation prints from the holdings of the Taylorian Library
Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babtstumb detail Taylor 2
A page from Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babsttumb (1527), held in the Taylorian Library, Oxford.


A group of German graduate students and I have started to scratch the surface of the trove of early sixteenth century prints. Thus far, we have read roughly 10 pamphlets and have already discovered: a previously-unknown print of a pamphlet by Andreas Karlstadt; detailed marginalia in Latin and German surrounding two copies of Luther’s De captivitate babylonica; Hans Sachs’ Shoemaker Dialogue, the shoemaker’s nose roughly cut and pointy in the title woodcut. We found a copy of Passional Christi und Antichristi with Christ and the Pope having a face off across each double spread – the Pope definitely coming out the worse for wear. The Pope also features in the 30 images of Eyn Wunderliche Weyssagung von dem Babstumb, including with a bear on his head, as a dragon, and in his underwear! The Lustgarten der Seelen also offers an intriguing, less blatant example of a Protestant text as every page shows an image of a saint in the process of being martyred in their own particular way, despite saints being devalued by the Lutheran movement.

There are over 500 of these pamphlets in the Taylorian and they are accessible by all Oxford University students, any subject, any college, which makes them an incredibly resource for anyone who touches on the Reformation period, printing or woodcuts. It is an amazing feeling to be working on printed pamphlets that have never been looked at in detail before and there are so many more to go! On top of that there is now a transcription of each of these pamphlets we presented, along with digitised images and information about them, available on the Reformation 2017 website. The pamphlets themselves are also in the display cases in the Voltaire Room in the Taylorian Library at the moment.

Go, have a look, the pictures are definitely worth it! And there are going to be more events, including music and a Reformation Trail, as the year goes on…

Kezia Fender, OGN Student Ambassador