Eines Freundes Freund zu sein – Friendship & The Oxford German Olympiad

This year’s Oxford German Olympiad celebrates friendship in all its forms: between people, nations and cultures. So in the next few posts we’ll be taking a look at what ‘friendship’ encompasses, especially in the German-speaking context – you might even get a few ideas for your entry to the Olympiad! This week, we focus on political friendships…

‘Wem der große Wurf gelungen, eines Freundes Freund zu sein’

(Who the noble prize achieveth, good friend of a friend to be)

These lines are taken from Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude/Ode to Joy, a very famous poem about friendship that was later set to music by Beethoven – and it was chosen as the Anthem of Europe in 1972. It expresses powerful ideas about the common humanity of all mankind, based on the Enlightenment philosophy of the time. According to the poem, shared experience unites people all over the world, including those separated by different languages, traditions and social classes. While this speaks to the basis of friendship between peoples and nations, John le Carré, a former German teacher and passionate advocate for the German language and German culture, has described learning a foreign language as ‘an act of friendship’ that can be performed by each of us. At an individual level, learning another person’s language means learning to communicate with them, listen to them and learn from them – and this can foster mutual understanding at the level of cultures, communities and societies.

Statue of Marx and Engels in the Marx-Engels Forum in Berlin

History is full of examples of famous friendships and collaborations – between men, women and across genders – which have shaped culture, literature, politics and science. One of the most famous in the history of German culture is the collaboration between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who got to know each other in Paris in 1842 and subsequently  became lifelong friends who collaborated on important works, such as The Communist Manifesto (1847), which have formed the basis for much political thought in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Friendships are also common in other areas of public life, whether genuine or not: the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was famously close friends with French President François Mitterand during the 1980s, and the two were jointly awarded a Charlemagne Prize in 1988 for promoting Franco-German friendship, thereby echoing the peace efforts that took place after the First World War. Kohl, of course, was also a key political figure in the unification of the two Germanies – the GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the east and the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) in the west – in 1990, an event that is celebrated every year in October. More recently, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama have discussed their close working relationship. Although this has also had its ups and downs, at the end of Obama’s presidency, Merkel could describe Obama as her ‘partner and friend’.

Obama and Merkel – a close working relationship in international politics

Of course, the UK and the German-speaking countries haven’t always been friends – relations between Britain and Germany in the twentieth century were marked by the two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45). Hostile sentiments on both sides have lingered on the in the post-war years, and many British people continued to hold xenophobic anti-German views that, for many years, found particular expression in sporting events.

Nevertheless, long held bitterness resulting from the wars has also been countered by movements that have built on political peace to foster symbolic friendships. The most extensive of these is the movement of town-twinning (Partnerstädte in German). It has long been one of the clearest expressions of international friendship, particularly after the experiences of the Second World War. After the Second World War, the cities of Coventry and Dresden established formal links as a way of promoting peace and reconciliation following the devastation both suffered during the conflict. The city of Reading celebrated 70 years of association with Düsseldorf in 2017. Oxford’s own link with Bonn is also one of those created during this early wave of Anglo-German twinning arrangements and each town marks the connection every few years with a programme of celebratory events. Nowadays, most UK towns and cities have a twin town in France and Germany, at least – and many in other places like the USA, Russia or even China.

Entries to the Oxford German Olympiad 2018 will close at 12 noon on 16 March 2018. You can view the full entry guidelines and competition categories here and submit your entry online here. Next week, we’ll take a look at literary friendships…




Printing the town – Raubdruck in Leeds

Perusing social media (as you do), OGN discovered that a British nursery had posted about ‘Raubdruckerin’. A ‘Raubdruck‘ is an illicit copy of a work (like a text or a painting) – and the Berlin-based ‘Raubdruckerin‘ describes herself as a ‘pirate printer’. We were intrigued and asked the manager at Best Childcare Nursery in Leeds to tell us more…

At Best Childcare Nursery we aim to ensure that our children learn and develop through unique play experiences that fascinate and enthuse them. Our play experiences are designed to support each individual child’s unique fascinations. Recently our children have been fascinated to explore cause and effect. We have also explored a range of prints and patterns through using our ‘loose parts’ collection in our art studio. As a staff team we like to research new and exciting ways to support our children’s fascinations – which is how we came across ‘Raubdruckerin’!

Raubdruckerin 1
Carefully preparing a manhole cover in Chapeltown for printing

‚Raubdruckerin‘ is an “experimental printmaking project that uses urban structures like manhole covers, grids, technical objects and other surfaces of the urban landscape to create unique graphical patterns on streetwear basics, fabrics and paper”. After researching this we thought this would be a fantastic project for our children to explore.

So we went out as a small group into our local community of Chapeltown in Leeds in search of some urban structures so we could create our very own prints. The children used washable powder paints to paint on the urban structure, then pressed paper on top which created our very own print. We ensured we washed our paint away with soap and water so that we didn’t leave a trace. The children were mesmorised by the print that was left on the paper! We are even trying to get our parents involved in trying this experience with their child out in their own communities!

Have you tried creating your own ‘Raubdruck’ from the urban structures in your area? We’d love to hear from  you and see your creative results – just send us an email (ogn@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk) or post in the comments below or on our Facebook page (and don’t forget to wash away any traces of paint from the objects that you print!).

A German in Oxford…

This week, Christiane tells us what she missed about Germany while she was in Oxford – and whether the rumours about the British weather are true…

Als Deutscher vermisst man natürlich das typisch deutsche Brot, von dem man maximal zwei Scheiben braucht, um satt zu werden und das man besonders lagern muss, damit es nicht nach ein paar Tagen so hart wird, dass man damit Leute erschlagen könnte. Es gibt zwar viele schöne Läden, die Brot verkaufen (wie z.B. die ‚Gail’s Bakery’, die übrigens auch eine sehr gute heiße Schokolade macht), aber auch das ist eher ‚luftig’ und weich und, offen gesagt, recht teuer. Dafür steht an jeder Ecke ein hübsches Café und eine urige Kneipe. Die Turf Tavern beispielsweise gehört ebenfalls zu den Sehenswürdigkeiten, die man auf keinen Fall auslassen sollte. Die britischen Charity-Läden sollte man auch nicht vergessen! Während solche Läden in Deutschland gerne zu einer Abstellkammer werden für Zeug, das keiner braucht, kann man sich in Oxford immer wieder mal mit wirklich günstigen und trotzdem guten Büchern, Klamotten u.Ä. eindecken.

Das Stereotyp über das Wetter muss ich dabei leider bestätigen. Momentan, beispielsweise, ist der Himmel blau, aber es regnet trotzdem. Ich glaube, ich habe noch nie so oft nasse Füße bekommen wie hier. Gleichzeitig habe ich allerdings auch noch nie so oft Sonnenbrand hintereinander bekommen; der Sommer sollte daher nicht unterschätzt werden, denn auch wenn er recht kurz war (zumindest dieses Jahr), kann es eine Backofenhitze geben, die dem Sommer in Deutschland in Nichts nachsteht.

Besonders witzig war es, zu sehen, wie klein die Welt eigentlich ist. Mindestens zwei Leute, die ich vorher noch nicht kannte, kommen aus der Gegend, wo ich in Deutschland studiere und die Wahrscheinlichkeit ist groß, dass ich sie dort wiedersehen werde. Eine Freundin, mit der ich einen guten Teil meiner Schulzeit zusammen verbracht habe, traf ich in London wieder. Und, wie es sich gehört, die Bekannte (die ich gar nicht kenne) der Schwester (die ich nur einmal gesehen habe) einer Freundin (die ich überhaupt erst in England kennengelernt habe) kommt aus demselben kleinen Ort in Deutschland wie ich auch. Sowas glaubt man erst, wenn es einem selbst passiert.

South Park
South Parks and the Oxford skyline (Photo: C. Rehagen)

Insgesamt kann ich definitiv sagen, dass ich die Zeit in England sehr genossen habe. Ich habe viel gesehen und bin froh um all die Chancen, die mir dadurch geboten wurden. Mein Englisch hat sich merklich verbessert und ich hoffe sehr, dass ich den britischen Akzent nicht verlieren werde. Oxford ist eine wunderschöne Stadt, die sich lohnt zu gesehen zu haben, und hier mehrere Monate gelebt zu haben, empfinde ich als Privileg. Die Zeit ist viel zu schnell vorbeigegangen.

Christiane Rehagen, Tübingen

Oxford through German eyes…

Christiane Rehagen, a Masters student from Tübingen, recently spent five months in Oxford for an internship with the university’s libraries and we asked her to give us her impressions of her experience – what did she do with her time here? What differences did she notice between Oxford life and her life at home?

Berufliche Erfahrungen zu sammeln, dabei insbesondere Auslandspraktika, sind heutzutage sehr gefragt. Im Rahmen meines Masterstudiengangs Deutsche Literatur in Tübingen, habe ich die Option, Erweiterungsmodule mit Berufspraktika zu ersetzen, die auch im Ausland stattfinden können. Da ich schon länger gerne nach England wollte, kam die Idee auf, meine Praxiserfahrungen in Oxford bei der Ex-Tübingerin und jetzigen Mediävistikprofessorin Henrike Lähnemann zu sammeln.

Tatsächlich bin ich erst einmal kurz in England gewesen und war deshalb sehr neugierig, wie sich meine Zeit in Oxford wohl gestalten würde. Ursprünglich waren drei Monate angesetzt, aber schon nach zwei Monaten war mir klar: „Das reicht nicht, ich muss unbedingt länger bleiben!“, und habe auf fünf verlängert. Die Arbeit in Oxford hat mir Spaß gemacht; im Gegensatz zu manchen deutschen Praktikastellen wird man hier wenig angemuffelt und erhält stattdessen ein überschwängliches Dankeschön für die geleistete Mithilfe, was mir persönlich sehr viel lieber ist. Auch wenn die einzelnen Aufgaben in der Taylor Institution Library, am Exeter College und an der Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages für mich spannend und abwechslungsreich waren, möchte ich stattdessen ein paar Eindrücke abseits der Arbeit zusammenfassen, die mir den Aufenthalt so wertvoll gemacht haben.

Squirrel in Christ Church Meadow (Photo: C. Rehagen)

Eines der ersten Dinge, die mir aufgefallen sind und die ich aus Deutschland so nicht kenne, klingt erstmal etwas seltsam: Die Tiere sind unglaublich zutraulich. Selbst aus Großstädten wie Hamburg ist es mir nicht bekannt, dass Eichhörnchen auf einen zukommen und um Futter betteln – und während ich mich nur ein einziges Mal daran erinnern kann, dass ich in Deutschland einen Fuchs gesehen habe, begegneten mir in Oxford innerhalb kürzester Zeit gleich zwei, wobei keiner von den beiden besonders davon beeindruckt war, dass ich plötzlich vor ihm stand. Ähnliches gilt für die Enten, die man fast schon als latent aggressiv beschreiben könnte. Eigentlich ist das ‚Punten’ bzw. Stocherkahnfahren eine wirklich schöne Freizeitaktivität, die besonders bei schönem Wetter nur jedem empfohlen werden kann, aber vor diesen mit Federn getarnten Haifischen sollte man sich wirklich hüten! Ein besonders freches Exemplar dieser Art hat sich bei unserem Picknick nicht auf die Generosität der Menschen verlassen wollen, sondern sprang tatsächlich vom Wasser aus ins Boot auf meinen Schoß, um mir mein Essen aus der Hand zu klauen. Und das, obwohl sie vorher schon eine Brothälfte aus der Hand einer weiteren Bootinsassin geklaut und davor den halben Finger einer anderen ‚Punterin’ abgebissen hat. So viel zu den Raubtieren in England!

Mit Federn getarnten Haifische (Photo: C. Rehagen)

Was sich als nächstes sehr schnell feststellen ließ, ist die Unmöglichkeit, alle Sehenswürdigkeiten selbst in der engsten Umgebung anzusehen. Kaum dass man denkt, man hätte schon ein ordentliches Programm geschafft und seinen Horizont bereits gut erweitert, entdeckt man noch ein College, noch einen Park, noch ein Museum und noch eine Stadt, die man unbedingt angucken muss. Nach vergleichsweise kurzer Zeit konnten schon Iffley, Binsey, Port Meadow, Christ Church Meadow, University Park, South Park (überhaupt alles mit einem Park am Ende und ohne Mauer drumherum), das Ashmolean Museum, Pitt Rivers und University Museum und verschiedene Colleges abgehakt werden. Erst danach hat der Geist die Ruhe, in die weitere Entfernung zu schauen und zum Beispiel nach London zu fahren. Das ist letztlich auch sehr zu empfehlen, da mit dem Bus die Distanz ziemlich einfach zu schaffen ist und die Tickets recht günstig zu erwerben sind.

Gleichzeitig hatte ich sehr viel Glück, was die einmaligen Veranstaltungen angeht, die während meines Aufenthaltes stattgefunden haben. Auf diese Weise konnte ich solche besonderen Ereignisse mitnehmen wie den May Day und Beating the Bounds, bei der die ursprüngliche Grenze des Pfarrgebiets einer (College-)Kirche abgeschritten wird, die Markierungen auf den Grenzsteinen erneuert werden, man dann mit einem Bambusstab daraufschlägt und mehrmals „Mark!“ schreit (einem Kind war die historische Dimension des Ganzen dabei nicht völlig bewusst: „Who’s Mark?“). Das gehört definitiv zu den ungewöhnlichsten Traditionen, die ich je gesehen habe. Ähnlich ging es mir bei solchen Events wie dem Carneval in der Cowley Road, das Farmer’s Festival bei Blenheim Palace, ein Mini-Streetfestival der Nachbarschaft aus der Chester Street etc. Es war ständig was los!

May Morning
May Morning (Photo: C. Rehagen)

Ebenfalls zu empfehlen sind Wanderungen an den Wegen der Themse entlang, die mit ihren Hausbooten wirklich traumhaft schön sein können. Allerdings sollte man sich darauf einstellen, dass man dort selten allein unterwegs ist, denn Oxford – allen voran die Innenstadt – kann unglaublich überlaufen sein. Unzählige Touristentrupps, die mit ihren Selfiesticks mitten auf der Straße stehen bleiben, sind besonders in den Sommermonaten keine Seltenheit. Auch der Verkehr ist für die kleine Stadt mit ihren teilweise recht engen (oder ‚eng geparkten’) Straßen sehr stark und vor allen Dingen vergleichsweise schnell. Wenn man die Straße überqueren will, sollte man wirklich aufpassen, denn auch wenn Autos an Zebrastreifen eher halten als in Deutschland, wird man dafür beim Abbiegen über den Haufen gefahren.

Christiane Rehagen, Tübingen

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

150 years of ‘Das Kapital’ – 200 years of Karl Marx

Karl Marx ca.1875

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…

via 150 Years of Capital — European studies blog

1867 edition of ‘Das Kapital’ by Karl Marx, held in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich

Kriemhild in Text-Image Constructions of the 1560 Heldenbuch

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.

Introducing the 1560 Heldenbuch

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:

Heldenbuch 1560
Woodcut from the 1560 print of Rosengarten zu Worms in the Heldenbuch. Qq, fol. 1v.

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):

Heldenbuch 1509
Woodcut of Kriemhild’s punishment in the 1509 print of Rosengarten zu Worms in the Heldenbuch. H, fol. 2r.


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.

Helena Ord, University of Oxford

A woman in a book of heroes: Kriemhild in text and image in the sixteenth century

Helena Ord is a Master’s student in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford University. This week, she offers us a glimpse into the relationship between text and image in early modern German printing, focusing on the Frankfurt Heldenbuch from 1560. In this first instalment, Helena introduces us to the puzzling figure of Kriemhild…

The Nibelungenlied, a Middle High German epic from the early thirteenth century, is arguably the most disputed text in medieval German literature. This statement is rooted in the fact that the epic culminates in an appalling bloodbath, but offers no definitive moral to justify its tragic ending. The significance of Kriemhild, an ambiguous female protagonist that transitions from a compliant wife to a dominant, murderous character, remains one of the biggest points of dispute, due to her exceptionally ruthless portrayal for a courtly woman.

An illustrated page from the Rosengarten zu Worms (1418) held in Heidelberg. Kriemhild and her lady-in-waiting reward the victors with a kiss and a wreath.

In fact, her prominent involvement in the text’s catastrophic occurrences already appears to have shocked and perplexed medieval audiences: other texts that took up the story of the Nibelungenlied, such as the thirteenth-century texts Nibelungenklage and Rosengarten zu Worms, attempt to offer more conclusive explanations of Kriemhild’s intended role and demeanour. However, whereas the Nibelungenklage depicts her in a positive light, absolving her of blame, the Rosengarten perpetuates and reinforces the Nibelungenlied’s unflattering depiction of Kriemhild as a “vâlendinne” [she-devil]. In this story, Kriemhild challenges the renowned hero Dietrich von Bern and his men to engage in swordfights against her fiancé Siegfried and her relatives in Worms, which results in the bloody defeat of the latter group. Their demise is explicitly blamed on Kriemhild’s haughtiness.

This negative portrayal reassesses the cause of Siegfried’s death and the downfall of the Burgundians in the Nibelungenlied, and ascribes the blame to Kriemhild, foregrounding a consistent and overtly moralistic reading of her character that the source material lacks. Therefore, the Rosengarten offers a direct and clarifying response to the Nibelungenlied’s ambiguous portrayal of Kriemhild, and it is recognised as a part of the text’s reception history in modern scholarship.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Rosengarten was documented in twenty-one manuscripts – so not only was it a popular story, it clearly also had a prominent function as a reception story. There are four recognised renditions of the Rosengarten – manuscripts that are rather drily referred to as A, DP, F, and C. Version A, which is written in vulgate and appears in six manuscripts, is particularly concerned with presenting Kriemhild in a negative light. Her centrality to the Burgundians’ downfall is not only enforced by her textual rendering as an “ungetriuwe meit,” [devious maiden] who is punished for her “übermuot,” [haughtiness], but is also highlighted by the Rosengarten’s accompanying illustrations, which depict her direct interactions with the competing knights. Follow the link to look at a digitisation of a manuscript of the Rosengarten that is held at the University of Heidelberg.

However, while the Nibelungenlied’s literary significance progressively dwindled, Version A of the Rosengarten continued to attract the attention of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century readers, as indicated by its enduring presence in early modern prints. These illustrated works, published together and entitled Heldenbücher, contained the medieval German narratives of Ortnit, Wolfdietrich, Laurin, and the Rosengarten, whose widespread and prolonged popularity is underscored by the fact that the collection was printed six times by presses in Straßburg, Augsburg, Hagenau, and Frankfurt am Main between 1479 and 1590. Oxford’s collections include four prints from 1491, 1509 (also held in the Austrian National Library), and 1560, as well as the work’s final print from 1590, which is available online.

The Rosengarten offers a direct response to the Nibelungenlied, but the latter faded into literary history in the second half of the fifteenth century. So how was this reinterpretation understood in early modern prints? The answer to this question is not elucidated by the text and woodcut illustrations of the Rosengarten in the Heldenbuch’s first four prints. These were produced in different locations between 1479 and 1545, but primarily fall back on the format used in earlier manuscripts and, consequently, do not undergo notable semantic developments. However, the fifth print, which was manufactured in Frankfurt am Main in 1560, denotes a clear ‘break with tradition’, because it contains a new introduction and – most notably – departs from the conventional image sequence of its precursors. I took a closer look at this print, two copies of which are in Oxford’s Bodleian and Taylorian libraries, and its portrayal of Kriemhild in the text-image relationships of the Rosengarten and that is what I’ll be writing about in the next instalment of this blog…!

Helena Ord, University of Oxford

Psst!…Check out our previous post, by Dr Mary Boyle, which introduced the Nibelungenlied a year ago!

Further reading:

Karl Bartsch and Helmut de Boor (eds.), Siegfried Grosse (trans.), Das Nibelungenlied (Stuttgart: Reclaim, 2002, repr. 2006).

Cyril Edwards (trans.), The Nibelungenlied: The Lay of the Nibelungs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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!

Exploring German-language culture with the Olympiad…

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…

A view of the Dolomites: ‘Hochgebirge mit Firn und See’ by Josef Krieger, ca. 1914.

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.

Ötzi the Iceman, found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991 (Image © South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

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…

Isobel Horsfall