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…
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…
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!
Isobel Horsfall was a winner in this year’s Oxford German Olympiad ‘Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland’ – and taking part took her to another land! Metaphorically speaking. You can read her entry here: Runner up Blog Post. This week, she describes how she went about writing her winning entry…
Starting A-Level German in September, I am guilty of never having visited a German speaking country. Therefore the task of researching somewhere that speaks German – ausserhalb Deutschland – appealed to me as a way for me to start exploring the deutschsprachige world from the comfort of my own bedroom. A quick internet search revealed many options for the topic of my entry. However, I decided upon South Tyrol as it presented itself as an idyllic region, nestled in the Dolomites, that I had never even heard of.
As I began to write, I put some thought to what I actually enjoy reading. Thus, my entry morphed into a travel piece for South Tyrol, not because this is what competition necessarily asked for, but because I thought if I wrote something I would feasibly enjoy reading myself then maybe others would too.
Through my fact-hunting I discovered many brilliant reasons to visit South Tyrol: from stunning scenery, to incredibly rich heritage, all the way back to 3300 BC (the era of Ice man Ötzi). The region has been disputed by various nations throughout history, resulting in the unique amalgamation of different cultures and languages there today; German, Italian and Ladin shared by the 500,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, my research re-raised a recurrent question to me of how much of our identity is connected to languages, especially in the ever-globalising world. Writing freischaffend also allowed me to be more creative than with my GCSE German, a chance I relished.
From conversations with other entrants at the ceremony, I can safely say we would all recommend the rewarding experience which facilitated using German in a refreshingly different way als im Klassenzimmer! The competition has also kindled my interest in exploring German-speaking regions soon, perhaps with a family holiday…
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.
A new guest post – this time from Southampton University’s SoGerman website and blog. If you’re studying German and planning on spending your year abroad studying at a German university or just want to find out more about uni life abroad, click the link below to read more.
Studentenleben in Deutschland Wie ist es in Deutschland zu studieren? Der Unialltag in Deutschland unterscheidet sich vom britischen Studentenleben in vielfältiger Weise. Lerne die wichtigsten Begriffe kennen, denen Studenten im Land der Dichter und Denker täglich begegnen: Sommersemester Das Sommersemester erstreckt sich von April bis Ende September und ist im Vergleich … The post Studentenleben –…
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, in our last blog post in this series, two more graduates of German Studies talk about their experiences and choices after finishing their studies, which have taken them in very different directions.
I chose French, German, English and History for A Level and was completely torn about which combination to choose for university, until I realised that studying modern languages meant I could combine all four quite easily.
Languages beyond GCSE suddenly meant more than vocabulary lists, grammar, food, and trips. It meant studying literature, history, politics, philosophy, culture. I did as eclectic a mix of these as possible when studying French and German (and a little bit of Dutch) at Cambridge, where I met all kinds of interesting people and also got to spend three incredible summers teaching English at a summer school in rural former East Germany (Sommerschule Wust– see the recent OGN blog post). I spent my year abroad in Vienna, where besides eating cake, I also studied Swedish and History at the university there.
Having specialised in German, I then spent a year in French-speaking Switzerland, teaching English in several rural secondary schools. I was living just half an hour from German-speaking cantons, however, so I got very good at switching between two languages and also picked up some Swiss German. After that I did a Master’s degree in modern languages at Oxford where I got to use my French and German for research, including handling books first published in the eighteenth century.
Eventually I decided classrooms were way more fun than libraries as I spent part of my time as Master’s student helping out at a local secondary school once a week. So I stayed on at university to do a PGCE (just one of many routes into teaching), which made me think hard about how people actually learn languages and how to inspire the next generation of linguists. I now teach both French and German at a state secondary school, where I get to use both my languages every day, where I am never, ever bored, and where I get to pass on my love of all things Deutsch and français.
I didn’t take the what are perhaps the stereotypically expected paths of a language graduate when I left university (I studied History & German at Sheffield University) – neither teaching nor translation work really appealed to me. After an MA in Creative Industries in London, I worked my way through a stint as a researcher for a legal directory and somehow a job or so later found myself working as a B2B conference producer – first in IT and then aviation engineering. But the door to this career was opened by my degree in German. Despite English being the lingua franca of most industries, many events are still conducted in the local language and I started with a focus on DACH-area events [DACH = Germany (D), Austria (A), Switzerland (CH)]. This has led to a career that takes me on trips to various corners of the world each year – and while I may not be using my German on a daily basis, the stereotype of the German engineer is not dead and I have plenty of opportunities to practise.
Many thanks to all of the contributors to this series of blog posts. Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your degree? Or did you learn German later? Tell us about why you studied German and where it has taken you now – we’d love to hear from you! Comment below or email the OGN team!
Thinking about studying German at university? Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you? Last week we heard from two recent graduates – this week we find out from two more graduates about the importance of German and languages in what they have done after finishing their degrees.
Studying German at Oxford is challenging. There are no two ways about it. Or at least that’s what I found in my four years there. Sometimes I wanted to scream and cry and pull my hair out and quite frankly just pack it in when I just didn’t get it. But those years were also the best four years of my life where I got to delve into another language’s literature and discover great stories and poems, find new favourite writers (I genuinely still read Rilke’s poetry), and battle (sometimes fruitlessly!) with translations. It might sound corny but my German tutorials were also somewhere I found great friends, where we supported one another through hard times, both academic and otherwise, came out the other side, and are still going strong. I also had the chance to call Berlin my home for six of the most amazing months of my life during my year abroad. Although (sadly) I do not work in a job where I get to use my German, I do work in one where I speak and write French (the other language I toiled away at in Oxford) on a daily basis. Whilst I may not use German in my day to day life, it is my languages degree that got me where I am today. It has made me more confident, more determined and taught me to believe in myself so that I finally (and rather tardily) realised that I actually love studying, just in time to embark on another degree.
Unlike most of the other contributors to this blog, I didn’t take a degree in German. Instead I studied chemistry, though having taken German as one of my A-level subjects and with a longstanding fascination for languages, I made sure to keep developing my knowledge of German during my spare time and I was fortunate to have the option of taking a German paper as part of my Finals. This all came in rather handy when I stayed on for a doctorate and found myself working for a German academic in a field where most of the other leading researchers were also German. Although they (mostly) spoke excellent English and published their work in English, having knowledge of their own native language definitely helped me to win “brownie points” and also made networking at conferences that bit easier!
After my DPhil was over I left academia and qualified as a patent attorney, which is a fascinating crossover between the worlds of science, law, and language. Much of my work involves corresponding with the European Patent Office, which is based in Munich, to argue the merits of my own clients’ patent applications and to defend them against challenges by the Patent Office or by competitors. I also advise my clients about the validity of their own competitors’ patents and file challenges against those at the Patent Office. The three official working languages of the European patent system are English, German, and French and, while it’s not essential, it’s definitely helpful to have a working knowledge of at least two of the three. It’s very common to encounter legal, scientific, or industrial documents written in German and being able to read them without the need for a translation is a real time-saver. As part of my job I also attend oral hearings where the merits of a case are argued in person and, while I will always speak in English, I often find myself up against German attorneys who opt to work in their own native language. To be able to understand their submissions without the need for simultaneous interpretation is a definite advantage.
I should point out that having a science degree is a prerequisite to qualify as a patent attorney. However, my work also brings me into contact with barristers and solicitors specialising in intellectual property, who carry out overlapping or complementary work to my own and who are not required to have a scientific background. The closely related career of a trade mark attorney is also worth considering if you are a language student interested in a legal career and have less of a scientific bent: this is another truly international field of law, in which knowledge of more than one language is a definite asset. In addition to this, many trade mark cases can hinge on an understanding of the impression or meaning that a particular word in one language might convey to a native speaker of another, and so having a good knowledge of phonology and comparative linguistics can be extremely helpful here.
Check out next week’s blog for more insights into the paths German Studies graduates have taken! Have you recently graduated with a degree in German or you took German as part of your studies – or maybe you learned German later in life? Let us know about your experiences and where it has taken you: comment below or send us an email!