A perennial Easter conundrum

Which came first – the chicken or the egg? It’s a perennial conundrum and particularly apt at Easter. According to German satirical news Der Postillon, German scientists have solved the problem once and for all. Jetzt gibt’s wohl Friede, Freude und Eierkuchen für alle…

Tübingen (dpo) – Was war zuerst da: Die Henne oder das Ei? Dieses womöglich größte Rätsel der Evolutionsgeschichte ist offenbar endlich gelöst. Forscher der Universität Tübingen haben heute eine aufsehenerregende Studie veröffentlicht, derzufolge das Ei eindeutig vor dem Huhn da war. “Eigentlich war die Lösung überraschend naheliegend”, erklärt Professor Gustav Becker. “Wir sind die Frage…

via Wissenschaftler lösen Rätsel: Das Ei war zuerst da — Der Postillon

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

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

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.lähnemann@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk)

PS: You might have seen / heard the BBC series ‘Breaking Free – Martin Luther’s Revolution’; two episodes are now available from the website http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08nyr3b

Deutschland 83 – Exploring the challenges of subtitling

In the midst of a month that saw reading groups galore, Olympiad celebrations and the end of another Trinity term at Oxford, OGN hosted one further event, this time focussing on translation and in particular the challenges of subtitling.  The topic?  The highly acclaimed and highly watchable German TV show Deutschland 83

As part of Oxford Translation Day 2016 the editor of New Books in German and OGN’s former Coordinator Dr Charlotte Ryland ran an event looking at translation from a German perspective.  Deutschland 83, a German drama brought to British audiences by Channel 4 using English subtitles, seemed a fruitful topic to discuss and dissect.  With the aid of clips from the series and quotations from UK press reviews, the workshop explored the linguistic and cultural issues that arise during the translation process.

The popularity of the show suggests that it reached a far wider audience than is usual for ‘foreign language’ films/tv shows, where the use of subtitles often feels off-putting for those who are not familiar with the original language.  Of course, the rich subject matter – Cold War Germany, a young soldier being sent to West Germany as a spy for the East, myriad family complications and love interests – did much to recommend the programme to UK audiences, but the fact that viewers tuned in week after week arguably has much to do with its watchability and the high quality of the subtitles.

The group of approximately twenty attendees at the event – Oxford students, local teachers and pupils, other lovers of German – were first asked to consider some of the complexities of translation in general, before then focussing on the specific constraints of subtitling for film or television: How to reduce speech to short, readable lines?  How much context to give for cultural references?

Moving to Deutschland 83 itself, Charlotte presented a series of short clips for the group to consider – did the subtitles ‘match’ with the original German?  Was anything lost where there were in fact differences between the two?

The real challenge for the group then came as they were asked to attempt their own English subtitles, armed only with the transcribed German and a set of dictionaries.   It quickly became clear just how tricky it really is to produce a rendering that is concise, clear and culturally relevant!  All left the event keen to further explore translation and subtitling, and to re-watch the first series of Deutschland 83.  Here’s hoping for a second series very soon!

Nicola Deboys, OGN Coordinator

Brigitte magazine – a history of the book phenomenon!

For me and perhaps many of you too, Brigitte is a magazine hastily grabbed at an airport or train station to flick through during a trip to Germany. It is glossy, glamorous without being aloof, and genuinely seems interested in the lives of its readers – with sister publications targetting a variety of groups and age ranges: from Brigitte Young Miss to Brigitte MOM and Brigitte Balance to the only recently launched Brigitte Wir. According to recent statistics Brigitte is the overall market leader amongst quality fortnightlies for women in Germany. That’s no mean feat in an increasingly saturated marketplace. But what does this have to do with ‘History of the Book’? – Surely Brigitte, as a modern magazine, has no place in a field which traditionally focuses on manuscripts and marginalia?

Absolutely not! As part of a recent project I have been studying advice texts for women from the seventeenth century to the present – with ‘the present’ represented by Brigitte, in particular its online version. The other texts in my study are Georg Philipp Harsdörffer’s Frauenzimmer Gesprächspiele (1641-9); Johann Christoph Gottsched’s Die vernünftigen Tadlerinnen (1725-6) and Sophie von La Roche’s Pomona (1783-4). But for now, let’s focus on Brigitte. Despite its apparent modernity, Brigitte’s success is an enduring phenomenon, stretching back into the nineteenth century.

The magazine now called Brigitte began life as the weekly Dies Blatt gehört der Hausfrau in 1886. The early magazine featured serialised novels, poems, advice about the home, garden and health, alongside travel tips, historical and scientific articles, and even sewing patterns. By 1894 the print run had reached 85,000. From 1952 “Blatt der Hausfrau” was prefixed with “Brigitte” and finally in May 1954 the title became simply Brigitte. By 1954 it appeared fortnightly, cost 65 Pfennig and around 177,000 copies were sold per issue, reaching 970,000 women.

From this…

And since then the magazine seems to have gone from strength to strength, developing spin-offs focussing on different age groups or hobbies, and putting increasing emphasis on digital content. For my project, which focussed in particular on the relationship between author and audience, Brigitte’s ‘Stimmen’ campaign really struck a chord. ‘Stimmen’ presents real articles written by real women.   This is articulated in the slogan “Hier kommt ihr zu Wort!” Brigitte is currently searching for its next round of readers turned writers to share their “starke Stimmen”. The 200 or so Stimmen originally published display exactly this range in topic and tone. Apart from a very few where a cartoon image is used, each article is accompanied by a real photograph and short biography. Some tell very personal stories, such as “Ich trage kein Kopftuch mehr” or “Ich bin eine Transfrau”, while others engage with controversial issues and adopt the tone of an editorial or comment piece, for example “Warum ich gegen die Frauenquote bin”, “Helikopter-Eltern: Warum ihre Kinder später ein Problem haben” and “Frauen, ihr wollt mehr verdienen? Dann geht hin und fragt!”

…to this!

In the context of my study, this campaign marks an interesting progression from early advice texts for women, which, since the seventeenth century, gradually attempted to build a relationship with their readers, whether through presenting female figures, projecting fictional female narrators, or encouraging readers to write in with their own contributions.

So on your next trip to Germany, as you grab a copy of Brigitte to read on your travels, you’ll know that there’s a lot more to this polished publication than meets the eye, and perhaps, if you take a look online you’ll encounter some ‘Stimmen’ that chime with your own experiences.


Nicola, OGN Coordinator