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.
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.
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!
‘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.
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?
…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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
Did you know that Karl Marx spent time in London – and a lot of time in the British Library? With the bicentenary of Marx’s birth approaching next year, the British Library has been digging into its archives – and came up with this fascinating insight into the multilingualistic aspects of working with Marx and his famous texts…
The British Library claims an important relationship with Karl Marx and his associates. Arriving to London as an exile in 1849, Marx became a familiar face in the reading rooms of the British Library (then part of the British Museum), making use of their extensive collections to pursue information that…
Helena continues her analysis of the puzzling presentation of Kriemhild in the early modern print reception of stories based on the Nibelungenlied. Here she explains some of the economical uses of woodcut images in early modern printing and what this meant for the relationship between text and image in printed books.
Weigand Han (1526/29-1562) and Sigmund Feyerabend (1528-1590) were among the most eminent publishers in Frankfurt during the sixteenth century and collaborated in overseeing the fifth print of the Heldenbuch in Frankfurt am Main in 1560. The title page proclaims that the print is “auffs new corrigiert und gebessert” [newly edited and improved] and is “mit schönen Figuren geziert,” [decorated with beautiful figures].
So the 1560 Heldenbuch really highlights its textual and iconographic features as a selling point and it is these features which distinguish it from the Heldenbuch’s prior versions. In comparison to the 1545 version’s 42 woodcuts for the Rosengarten, Han and Feyerabend reduce their print by over twenty folios by including 28 woodcuts in the Rosengarten. Furthermore, they don’t follow the image progression of previous Heldenbücher.
The majority of the 1560 version’s woodcuts are attributed to the artist Hans Brosamer (1495-1554), who was employed by both Weigand Han and his father-in-law and predecessor, Hans Gülfferich. However, although Brosamer’s woodcuts did not illustrate earlier Heldenbücher, they were not new to Frankfurt’s sixteenth-century printing scene: to minimise production costs, the fifth print of the 1560 Heldenbuch reuses 157 woodcuts from six Volksbücher(in English these are sometimes called chapbooks or incunables, although there is no really adequate direct translation of the term), which were previously illustrated by Brosamer and were manufactured in Gülfferich’s and Han’s printing press. The reduced number of illustrations and their reuse from other prints was a commonplace printing tactic in the early modern period, which favoured mass production and enabled printing presses to adapt illustrations to a variety of prints and maximise their production output with minimal effort and complexity.
The (Re)Use of Illustrations in Early Modern Printing
When I was looking at these texts in Oxford’s libraries, I was interested in how the economical printing approach to the Heldenbuch’s woodcuts affects its text-image conceptions – I particularly wanted to find out how this practice of reuse affected the relationship between Kriemhild’s portrayal in the text of the Rosengarten on the one hand and her pictorial portrayal on the other.
On the title page of the 1560 version of the Rosengarten, Kriemhild’s substantial impact on the demise of her male relatives is blamed on her authoritative position as the keeper of Worms’ rose garden. The direct connection between Kriemhild’s influential role and the plot’s trajectory, stressed from the onset of the story, is additionally enforced by the following text and its accompanying woodcuts, which spotlight the extent of Kriemhild’s power over her male counterparts. For example, after welcoming Dietrich von Bern and his men to Worms, Kriemhild declares that the winner of each chivalric contest will be rewarded with a kiss and a wreath of roses from her garden. Her absolute control over the contest and its prizes is reinforced by the following woodcut:
Taken from a print of an early proto-novel and Volksbuch called Fortunatus(1549), this woodcut by Brosamer depicts a queen (whom we are meant to interpret as Kriemhild) reaching out and touching a nobleman’s arm, who, in this case, may be interpreted as Dietrich. In this illustration, Kriemhild sports a crown on her head to symbolise her hierarchical superiority, which sets her apart from her plainly robed maid on the left of the woodcut. Kriemhild is also represented as powerful in her exchanges with her male counterparts, since she establishes direct contact with Dietrich by touching his arm and is unescorted. Therefore, although this woodcut fails to expose Kriemhild’s domineering nature as a dishonourable attribute, as previously suggested by the phrase “ungetriuwe meit” [devious maiden], its portrayal of Kriemhild nevertheless draws attention to her initiating role in the chivalric battle of the Rosengarten.
So Kriemhild’s instigating function in the Rosengarten is apparent in text and image, but her portrayal in the text as a thoroughly negative character does not translate to the pictorial dimension of the print. This is most evident in one of the Rosengarten’s final scenes, in which Kriemhild is punished for her arrogance when one of Dietrich’s knights, who overpowered 52 Burgundians, disfigures Kriemhild’s face with his bristly beard. While the text clearly states that Kriemhild’s “ubermut” [haughtiness] should be blamed for inflicting unnecessary pain on so many men and for causing her relatives’ demise, to which the title page already alludes, there is no woodcut to confirm and/or reinforce this final and decidedly unforgiving interpretation of her character. Instead, Kriemhild’s punishment is solely conveyed through the text; this stands in stark contrast to the previous prints of the Heldenbücher, as they provide illustrations to underscore Kriemhild’s chastisement (such as the one below):
The Perception of Medieval Literature in the Early Modern Period
Han and Feyerabend’s deviation from earlier representations of Kriemhild’s fate may be attributed to their reuse of woodcuts from other, unrelated projects, which presumably did not contain illustrations that related to the Rosengarten’s concluding subject matter. Nevertheless, considering that Kriemhild’s punishment is the most significant scene of the Rosengarten, as it explicitly summarises the moral of the story, it is striking that Han and Feyerabend did not follow in their predecessor’s footsteps by providing an illustration to accompany the text. Choosing to omit a visual supplement for Kriemhild’s humiliation, which would have foregrounded her uncomplimentary character portrayal, may not only result from Han and Feyerabend’s economical approach to their print of the Heldenbuch, but could also shed light on their lack of awareness of the Rosengarten’s original purpose, namely to serve as a response to the Nibelungenlied’s conception of Kriemhild. This notion is supported by the fact that the Nibelungenlied was no longer a known epic in the sixteenth century, which suggests that Han and Feyerabend may not have understood the Rosengarten’s fundamental implications and, thus, were not concerned with underpinning Kriemhild’s loss of reputation in both text and image.
The Rosengarten’s disconnect between text and illustrations is most likely a binary consequence of certain transformations in early modern printing and literary awareness: firstly, the lower number of woodcuts and their loose relation to the text exposes the declining interpretative and increasing commercial significance of illustrations in sixteenth-century prints, which is indicated by the title’s emphasis on the work’s ‘new’ and ‘beautiful’ artwork; secondly, while the illustrations point towards Kriemhild’s authority, their failure to convey her unfavourable textual portrayal accentuates the lack of awareness in the text’s sixteenth-century audience of the Rosengarten’s original purpose, namely to clarify and enforce her negative rendering in the Nibelungenlied. As a result, the text-image conceptions of Frankfurt’s Heldenbuch from 1560 not only elucidate the developing characteristics of early modern printing, but also shed light on the transformed function and understanding of the Rosengarten in the latter half of the sixteenth century, which continued to exist without its literary source material.
Another possible interpretation of this development in the presentation of the Rosengarten in the 1560 Heldenbuch concerns changes in the contemporary interpretation of the work: the diminished visual attention that is devoted to Kriemhild and her punishment may be understood as an intentional shift in focus from her character to the masculine valour demonstrated by Dietrich, a well-known Germanic hero, and his men – much like the nationalistic interpretations of the Nibelungenlied in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which chose to place an absolute emphasis on German heroism. This reading of the Rosengarten, which would also explain Kriemhild’s decreased visual prominence, is connoted by the prints’ collective title: Heldenbuch, or Book of Heroes.
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.
The 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.
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.
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!
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!
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).
Another 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.
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.
The Oxford German Network is delighted to announce the launch of a new essay competition for 16-18 year olds in the UK: ‘A German Classic’. The piece of classic German literature celebrated this year is Goethe’s Faust, Part I. To find out all about entering the competition, visit the OGN website here, where you’ll also be able to download a wealth of podcasts and other study resources to help you. The competition prize has been generously donated by Jonathan Gaisman, QC, whose first encounters with German as a schoolboy left him with a lifelong enthusiasm for German literature. In this week’s blog, he tells us how this passion came about.
My first German teacher, a perceptive man called Roy Giles, wrote in my initial term’s report: “He will do well at this language, because he likes the noise it makes.” And so I did: aged just 14, I was immediately delighted by the disembodied voice on the audio-visual tape, which was how my acquaintance with the German language began: “Hören Sie zu, ohne zu wiederholen”. The cadences of this unremarkable sentence, bidding one to listen without repeating, still enchant me today. The story on the tape told of the prosaic doings of a German businessman attending an industrial fair. He was called Herr Köhler. Presumably this was a joke, though one unlikely to appeal much to schoolboys. But what caught my attention was the dramatic plosive – unlike anything in English – available to those willing to launch into the sentence “Plötzlich klingelt das Telefon”. That this sentence, like its companions, was of an almost Ionescan banality deprives it of none of its nostalgic appeal: I was already reaching for the handle of the door.
Four years later, by the time I left school, I had passed well and truly through. In those days, studying a modern language involved intensive study of literature. We studied Prinz Friedrich von Homburg and other writings of Kleist, carefully read Maria Stuart, and more than dabbled in the shallows of Faust part I. A personal enthusiasm bordering on obsession led me to commit large slabs of Faust to memory, and they are still there. Giles had introduced us to recordings of Gründgens‘ performance of Mephistopheles in Faust; another teacher, Mark Phillips, earned my particular gratitude by playing me Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. And so the way was opened though literature to poetry, to Lieder, to Wagner and to the extraordinary contribution of the German language to the life of the arts from the 18th century on.
German literature and culture had thus passed into my bloodstream, and become part of my imagination and mental being. So it was inevitable that I would take modern languages to university, where I was lucky enough to be tutored by a third fine teacher, Francis Lamport, at Worcester College, Oxford. Sadly, before long, but not before adding authors such as Büchner, Grillparzer, Kafka and Mann to my acquaintance, I abandoned the outer form of German studies, and dwindled into a lawyer. But the fire within was alight, and it burns still. The few years between the ages of 14 and 18 when I studied German represent the dominant intellectual influence in my education, and the one for which I am most grateful.
The simple aim of this prize is to enable other students to set out on the same journey which has enriched my way of seeing the world, to discover the inspiration of the German literary canon, and to avow the great truth uttered by Karl der Groβe himself: “The man who has another language has another soul”.
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…
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.