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

From the Sea to the Night – but mainly in the Desert. A Review of Wolfgang Herrndorf’s ‘Sand’

Every so often, we at OGN Towers like to take a look round the blog-o-sphere and see what other people are writing about German-language life and culture. Last week we reblogged a post by Mary Boyle about her stopover in Aachen. This week, we spotted Heike Krüsemann’s recent review of Wolfgang Herrndorf’s acclaimed novel, Sand (2011). Heike published her post on her blog here: From the Sea to the Night – but mainly in the Desert. Review of Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf. She’s also written for the OGN blog in the past. But now, read on…

[An edited version of this post was published under #RivetingReviews on the European Literature Network website, 12 April 2017. ]


North Africa, 1972. A man with no memory wakes up in the desert with a massive hole in the head.  So far, so yawn: please, not another one of those lost memory characters stumbling around the plot trying to solve a mystery slash crime, been there, done that, keep your T-Shirt.  Not so fast!  Carl (named so after the label in his suit) is not your average unreliable narrator.  In fact, although we’re trapped inside his head most of the time, he’s not the narrator at all.  Somewhere, someone’s sitting at a desk writing all this down in the first person, someone who was there as a seven-year-old, dressed in “a T-shirt with Olympic rings and short lederhosen with red heart-shaped pockets”.  Who’s he? Not sure – everyone in Sand is reliably unreliable, apart from the author himself, who’s reliably, erm, dead.

After being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour in 2010, Herrndorf churned out some literary gems – including international bestseller Tschick (English title: Why We Took the Car) and Sand – and then, in 2013, shot himself.  Perhaps fittingly, Sand is stuffed full of pain, gallows humour, false hopes, dead ends, absurd coincidences, misunderstandings, senseless chance events, torture, and death.  It’s set under a desert sun so merciless, that a mere glance at the cover triggers an inverse Pavlov’s dog reaction of dry mouth for the reader. Sounds offputtingly soul-crushing?  Not so!  What’s holding it all together, over 68 chapters and five books from the Sea to the Desert, the Mountains to the Oasis and on to the Night, is the search for meaning, never mind the answers, it’s the questions that matter.  Of those, there are many – and it makes for a hilarious, intriguing, heart-breaking, and ultimately gratifying read.

‘And now Lundgren had a problem. Lundgren was dead.’

A young simpleton murders four Hippies in a commune (it is the 70s…), a mediocre spy doesn’t survive a handover, a pair of bumbling policemen investigate – to not much avail, what else – a dangerously smart American beauty muscles in on the act, a fake psychiatrist tries to get to the bottom of Carl’s subconscious, a small-town crook and his henchmen get involved in the odd bit of kidnap, torture and blackmail. The hunt is on for a man called Cetrois, who may or may not exist, and a mysterious centrifuge makes an appearance, or it might be an espresso machine, who knows.  More important seems to be a mine – this could mean a number of things, a bomb, a pit, a cartridge for a pen, … a cartridge for a pen?!

Yes – now let’s talk language, and translation.  The characters in Sand are supposed to be speaking French, and thanks to Pushkin Press and translator Tim Mohr, we can now read it in English.  Think ‘Allo ‘Allo.  Tim Mohr, writer, translator, former Berlin Club DJ, and lucky owner of the coolest mini-bio ever, constructs an achingly immediate desert world by locating the English prose somewhere between 70s nostalgia and the contemporary.  In German and French, ‘mine’ can mean the inside of a pen, and Carl’s knowledge of this means that he’s a step closer to solving the puzzle, but is it close enough to see it through?  You decide for yourself, but really, that’s not the point.  He tried, he really did.  And in the end, that’s what matters.


written by Wolfgang Herrndorf (Rowohlt Verlag, 2011)

translated from German by Tim Mohr

published by Pushkin Press (2017)


Heike Krüsemann is currently completing her PhD thesis on representations of Germanness in UK discourses. Her Quirky Guide to Oxford will be published by Marco Polo in German and English in 2018.

Heike’s 30 second video review of Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Tschick

Heike’s blog German in the UK

Twitter: @HeikeKruesemann


Aachen Cathedral (and associated thoughts)

To Be A Pylgryme

Two weeks ago I moved to Berlin with my husband. We are planning to be here until August, while I work on a project part-funded by the DAAD, during which time I will be a postdoctoral researcher at the Großbritannien-Zentrum, part of the Humboldt University. We decided to drive from Oxford to Berlin, stopping in Aachen, and ticking off a medievalist bucket list item: Aachen Cathedral. Not all of the photographs in this post are mine, but their attributions should be clear.

Our hotel was over a mile from the town centre and we decided to take advantage of a relatively warm (for April in northern Europe) evening by walking in. This had the added advantage of not having to take our bike rack off the car, or get the car out of the hotel’s Tiefgarage. About halfway there, as we stopped at a traffic light, we realised that a…

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Life after German Studies – Teil 3!

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.

20170404_182728 (2)Sarah Sheppard

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.


20170404_182728 (2).jpgIvo Brook

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!

More Life after a German degree…

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.  


20170329_115314Sarah-Jane Legge

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.

Alex R.

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!
20170329_115314After 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!

Life after a German degree…

Thinking about studying German at university?  Already a Germanist and wondering where your degree might take you?  We caught up with some recent graduates who all studied German, and asked them about their memories of the subject, what they are doing now and how their German degree has helped them in their career so far.  

Laura Probodziak

Since graduating from Oxford with a first class degree in German, I have been extremely grateful to have put the traumatic experience of final exams and the often last minute panic of essay submission firmly behind me. However, since then I have been teaching German – with some French – at various secondary schools in London, and so it has been me inflicting deadlines and assessments on students, which has been an interesting turning of tables! I use German every day in my job as a teacher, which I love. I often find myself referring to the Middle High German (medieval) manifestations of various words or digressing into the cultural heritage of certain idioms: knowledge I gathered during the course of my degree. I even find myself promoting the very course I undertook, bringing students on open days and sharing my experience of Oxford with them. I have also helped with writing personal statements and interview practice – something I never thought I would revisit. Eventually, I hope to return to the world of academia and undertake further German studies, and I have Oxford and the German faculty to thank for piquing my interest, but until then I am and will be reminded every day how useful my degree is to my job and what I can offer the next generation of undergraduates.


Sheldonian Cake
The Sheldonian Theatre – where most Oxford students graduate – in cake form!


Studying languages (French and German) at university gave me the confidence to live and work abroad. This in itself opened new doors for me and through meeting people from all over Germany and Europe I was able to set myself up as a freelance translator and learn all sorts of vital skills in the process. In the past six months my working life has changed quite dramatically as I recently took on a position in data management, but oddly enough I still use my German regularly as some of our main customers work in Cologne. Studying a language opens doors all over the world; the tricky thing is choosing where you want to go next!


Where did your German studies take you professionally and personally? Tell us about it in the comments below!

“Achtig! Morgestraich! Vorwärts, marsch!”

OGN’s ‘Correspondent in Stuttgart’ took a trip across the border earlier in the month – to Switzerland, where she experienced a popular pre-Lent tradition with a contemporary edge…

Das, was ihr in der Schule gelernt habt, ist falsch. Grundlegend falsch. Das Jahr hat nicht vier Jahreszeiten; nein, es hat fünf. Das heißt, wenn du in einem deutschsprachigen Land wohnst: denn dort ist die fünfte Jahreszeit der Karneval. Oder Fasching. Oder Fastnacht. Oder Fasnet – je nach Region wird er unterschiedlich genannt.

Traditionsgemäß beginnt diese ‘Jahreszeit’ am 11. November – also der 11.11. – um 11:11 Uhr. Dann wird die normale Ordnung der Gesellschaft aufgehoben. Das Ganze mündet gut drei Monate später in einer Woche voller sehr ausgelassener Feierlichkeiten, zweifellos der Höhepunkt der vorösterlichen Veranstaltungen. Am Aschermittwoch ist diese Narrenzeit vorbei und die Gesellschaft widmet sich der viel ernsteren Fastenzeit. Die Woche davor aber konzentriert sich einerseits auf die witzigen und satirischen Narrensitzungen der Karnevalsgesellschaften (die z.T. auch im Fernsehen übertragen werden), aber ganz besonders auf die Umzüge!

Es gibt viel zu sehen: von den uniformierten Blechmusikkapellen, Prinzen-Garden und Tanzmariechen des rheinländischen Raums bis zu den maskierten Narren und Fantasiefiguren der ‘Narrensprünge‘ (=Umzüge) des schwäbisch-alemannischen Raums – letztere verteilen nicht nur Süßigkeiten unter den Kindern im Publikum, sondern ‘entführen’ auch willkürlich Schaulustige und nehmen sie eine Weile lange im Umzug mit. Jede Region hat sogar seinen ganz einzigartigen ‘Narrenruf’, der zwischen dem Publikum und den vorbeigehenden Narren und Karnevalsgesellschaften hin und her gerufen wird. Die bekanntesten sind ‘Alaaf’ und ‘Helau’ (aber es gibt viiiiiele andere; eine Liste findet ihr hier auf Wikipedia.

Das Twitter-Konto der Lautsprecherdurchsagen der Deutschen Bahn zeigt, dass auch DB während der fünften Jahreszeit Spaß versteht.

Da ich in einer mittlerweile sehr entfernten Vergangenheit – und nur für sehr kurze Zeit – selber Tanzmariechen war, dachte ich, ich kenne mich so ziemlich aus mit der Karnevalszeit; und, dass mit Anfang der Fastenzeit der Fasching für ein Jahr vorbei wäre. Aber zu früh gefreut! Basel, in der Schweiz, macht es etwas anders. Dort findet die sogenannte ‘Fasnacht’ eine Woche später als überall sonst statt – daher wird es manchmal auch die ‘Bauernfasnacht’ genannt – und es geht los am Montag nach Aschermittwoch mit dem ‘Morgestraich’ (=Morgenstreich), der ‘die drey scheenste Dääg’ (=die drei schönsten Tage) des Jahres einleitet. Das muss man einfach erleben, sagten mir so einige!

Na, davon hatte ich noch nie etwas gehört – was ist denn eigentlich ein Morgestraich?! Ich ließ es mir von einem Freund, der nah an der Schweizer Grenze wohnt, erklären: Es ist der erste Fasnachtsumzug (genannt ‘Cortège’) in Basel und auch damit beginnt die Umkehrung der üblichen Regelungen der städtischen Ordnung. Das wird dadurch symbolisiert, dass das Cortège der ‘Cliquen’ (=Karnevalsgruppen) in kompletter Dunkelheit stattfindet: um Punkt 4 Uhr in der Frühe werden alle Lichter in der Stadt ausgeschaltet. Auch kein fotografieren mit Blitz ist erlaubt. Sollte z.B. ein Geschäft ein Licht versehentlich angelassen haben, wird es ausgemacht… mit lauteren oder “weniger lauteren” Mitteln! Die Cliquen tragen charakteristischen Kostümen und große Masken (=’Larven’), die zu ihren ausgewählten Themen (=’Sujets’) passen, und spielen Musik auf Trommeln und Piccolo Flöten. Weitere Cliquenzugehörige tragen große (und zuweilen auch kleine) beleuchtete Laternen mit handgemalten, aktuell-satirischen Sujets. Da die Cliquen keiner festgelegten Route durch die Stadt folgen, kommt es oftmals zu ‘Staus’ in den Straßen, wenn verschiedene Cliquen aufeinander treffen, mit ihrer jeweiligen Musik konkurrieren – eine ohrenbetäubende Kakophonie! – und vor allem aneinander vorbei wollen.

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Dieses Spektakel wollte ich unbedingt sehen (oder besser gesagt: hören), also machte ich mit einem Freund ab, dass wir mitten in der Nacht zusammen von Freiburg nach Basel zum Morgestraich fahren würden. Wir hatten aber nicht damit gerechnet, dass die Deutsche Bahn dieses Jahr den üblichen Sonderzug nach Basel gestrichen hat, und dass es keine andere Reisemöglichkeit zu solch früher Stunde geben würde. Etwas enttäuscht entschieden wir uns daher erst bei Tageslicht nach Basel zu reisen und dann den großen Cortège am Nachmittag zu besuchen.

Es hat sich dennoch gelohnt – trotz des miesen Wetters! Ein nicht enden wollender Strom von Cliquen, mit sowohl sehr jungen als auch recht alten Teilnehmern, partizipierten am Cortège; und alle waren mit fantasiereichen, bunten Kostümen und umhüllenden Larven verkleidet. Jede Clique hatte einen Anführer in überdimensionalem Kostüm, der die Geschwindigkeit kontrollierte und die, äh, ‘Musik’ dirigiert hat – eine kunterbunte Mischung aus traditionellen Flöte/Trommel Melodien, internationalen Chart Hits, deutschen Schlagern, Volksliedern und Militärmärschen. Nie ist das bekannte Lied ‘The Sound of Silence’ von Simon & Garfunkel mit so viel Ironie gespielt worden…

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Die Sujets der Cliquen umfassten die unterschiedlichsten Themen – leider sind weder meine baseldeutsch Fähigkeiten noch meine Kenntnisse über lokale Politik so ausgeprägt, dass ich alle Sprüche und Texte, die auf die riesigen, buntbemalten, grabsteinförmigen Laternen gemalt waren, verstehen konnte. Aus den Kostümen und Larven war allerdings leicht herauszulesen, dass einige Fragen der globalen Politik immer wieder satirisch aufgegriffen wurden: z.B. der Brexit und die Folgen der US-Wahlen waren besonders beliebte Sujets – wir haben Donald Trump-Doppelgänger, die Queen und Boris Johnson mehrmals erblickt… Ein besonderes Lob in Sachen Brexit-Verspottung gilt der Clique, die sich als ‘Shaun das Schaf’-Charaktere verkleidet hatte, samt ‘Farmer’-Anführer mit seinem Kumpan Bitzer (Shaun das Schaf ist wohl auch hier eine beliebte Fernsehsendung für Kinder). Andere Sujets behandelten Billigimporte aus Asien und China, Atomwaffen, Genderpolitik und LGBTQ-Fragen, Fernsehkrimis, und vieles mehr. Hier muss ich hinzufügen, dass einige Kostüme definitiv nicht politisch korrekt waren (jedenfalls aus den Augen einer Britin gesehen…!); auch wenn man mit dem Gedanken ‘andere Länder, andere Sitten’ so manches wegsteckt, gab es einige Momente, wo der berüchtigte Schweizer Kulturkonservatismus sich etwas unschön erblicken ließ.

Basel 2017 Mimosa
Eine Clique wirft Gemüse und Mimosa den Schaulustigen zu.

Alles in allem gab es in diesen paar Stunden des Cortège viele Denkanstöße. Naja, und Weiteres haben wir auch an dem Tag dazu gelernt… Es ist fast unmöglich in Basel an diesem Tag einen warmen, trockenen und ungestörten Ort zu finden, wo man etwas zu Essen bekommen kann. Die traditionelle Mehlsuppe wollen wahrscheinlich die wenigsten Leute tatsächlich essen. Und das natürlich bei schweizerischen Preisen, die fast doppelt so hoch wie die deutschen Preise sind.

Hier für Video klicken – zwei Cliquen spielen ihre Guggenmusik und marschieren aneinander vorbei!

Wenn ihr also nächstes Jahr vorhabt, zum Basler Morgestraich zu fahren – was ich tatsächlich nur empfehlen kann! – dann bringt euer eigenes Picknick und Thermosflaschen mit (und solide wasserdichten Kleidung!), oder seid bereit viel Geld für Essen auszugeben. Es sei denn, ihr plant euch an Fruchtbonbons und Karamellen satt zu essen!

Basel Morgestraich 2017 Süßigkeiten.jpgDoch vielleicht habt ihr auch Glück und fahrt mit fast allem, das ihr für ein Abendessen braucht, nach Hause! Denn während die meisten Umzüge anderswo nur Süßigkeiten und Konfetti werfen, schleudern die Basler Cliquen zusätzlich Orangen, Kartoffeln, Zwiebeln, Karotten und Rettiche in die Menschenmengen. Und – für die Damen – gelbe Rosen und Mimosen Sträuße…
Tja, und da das Ganze immer zur selben Zeit nach Aschermittwoch stattfindet, könnt ihr schon jetzt vorplanen und die Daten der Basler Fasnacht in euren Kalender eintragen: 2018 – 19. Februar; 2019 – 11. März; 2020 – 2. März.

Madeleine Brook, Stuttgart

Photos of Basel 2017 by Madeleine Brook & Harald T.

Wo liegt eigentlich ‘Nimmdillzirkus’? – It must be the OGN Kneipenquiz…

The annual OGN Kneipenquiz has been and gone at Radley College, and the event on 7th February 2017, saw a few tweaks to the usual format (no choruses of ‘Yes, Miss Sophie’ this year!) – as one of the German teachers at Radley writes below. Have a go at designing your own German ‘Kneipenquiz’ – can you beat your teacher’s German knowledge? If you need some ideas, take a look at the OGN website.

Just before half term, Radley’s Germanists played host to a number of students from Oxfordshire schools who came to participate in the annual Kneipenquiz down in the JCR.

Kneipenquiz 2017 2.JPG
Los geht’s! Die Studierenden brechen das Eis…

We kicked off with the traditional speed dating ice breaker where we spoke to someone from a different school in German for 1 minute before moving on to chatting to someone else. This was a great way to practise a bit of German and get to know each other better. Moreover, it helped us find people who we might want to be on our team for the quiz.

The quiz this year was slightly different in that the three boys in Form 6.2 studying German provided three of the rounds of questions. A few of these questions in particular undid the usually unbeatable teacher’s team and although they scored highly it might be worth brushing up on their pop culture a bit in order to avoid embarrassment next year! The retranslation of London tube stops from the literal German back into the English was an especially interesting and indeed challenging round, which surely helped the team led by Jack Folkestone and containing Radley’s very own native speaker, Dan Kirchlechner, to storm to an impressive, though controversial victory.

‘Wo liegt Nimmdillzirkus?’ The ‘Geography Round’ of the Kneipenquiz takes on the London Underground…

An enormous amount of thanks should go to both Frau Piller and Quizmaster Cresswell for organising the event, writing the quiz and providing some delicious German-themed snacks for the evening.


Schach ist wie die Liebe – Allein macht es weniger Spaß

The Gotha Lovers, ca. 1480, by the Master of the Housebook

Around much of Europe – and certainly in the English-speaking world – today is a day on which people, especially lovers, demonstrate their affection for each other by giving each other gifts: often flowers, chocolates or sweets and cards. Yet in the German-speaking countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated nearly as much as in the USA or the UK – it’s a much more muted affair, at least in the commercial sense, with less ‘in your face’ advertising.

In the Anglophone world, Valentine’s Day has been associated with matters of the heart since the 14th century and the practice of sending handwritten Valentine’s notes turned to the exchange of mass-produced cards sometime in the 19th century. But in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the profane and commercial aspects of the day didn’t really take off until after the Second World War, when many British and especially American soldiers were stationed there and introduced the practice of giving a card and roses or chocolates. In 1950, the first Valentinsball (‘Valentine’s Day Ball’) was held in Nuremberg – and similar balls have been held all over Germany ever since. Stefan Zweig‘s comment that ‘Schach ist wie die Liebe – Allein macht es weniger Spaß’ (Chess is like love – it’s less fun alone) certainly seems to hold a grain of truth, at least for the love part.

French may be the classic choice, but German is the language of love as well, or at least of talking about love! And if any day calls for some poetry, then it’s Valentine’s Day. So we asked around: what’s your favourite love poem in German and why is it good (or bad)? Here are three poems that were offered by our contributors – have a go at reading them and see what they say. But the important question is really: Was ist Dein Lieblingsliebesgedicht auf Deutsch?


Ist Lieb ein Feuer / und kann das Eisen schmiegen /
bin ich voll Feuer / und voller Liebespein /
wovon mag doch der Liebsten Herze sein?
wann’s eisern wär’ / so würd’ es mir erliegen /
wann’s gülden wär’ / so würd’ ich’s können biegen
durch meine Glut; soll’s aber fleischern sein /
so schließ ich fort: Es ist ein fleischern Stein:
doch kann mich nicht ein Stein / wie sie / betrügen.
Ist’s dann wie Frost / wie kalter Schnee und Eis /
wie presst sie dann aus mir den Liebesschweiß?
Mich deucht: Ihr Herz ist wie die Lorbeerblätter /
die nicht berührt ein starker Donnerkeil /
sie / sie verlacht / Cupido / deine Pfeil;
und ist befreit vor deinem Donnerwetter.

Carl_Spitzweg_Der abgefangene Liebesbrief.jpg
Carl Spitzweg, Der abgefangene Liebesbrief , ca. 1860

This sonnet is by Sibylle Schwarz, a teenage poet of the 17th century (she died when she was 17!) – she was a poetry prodigy. I particularly like this poem because Schwarz plays with the then current fashion for petrarchic motifs and characteristics in love poetry; she examines these very motifs in a petrarchic way and finds them all wanting. All fail to really express what love is – and in the end, the female object of the lyric voice’s desire is triumphantly untouched by love anyway and certainly by the poetry. So the girl, quite contrary to the way things ought to go in the 17th century, is not ensnared and trapped by Cupid.

Madeleine, Stuttgart

Die zwei blauen Augen
von meinem Schatz,
Die haben mich in die
weite Welt geschickt.
Da mußt ich Abschied nehmen vom allerliebsten Platz!
O Augen blau,
warum habt ihr mich angeblickt?
Nun hab’ ich ewig Leid und Grämen!

Doomed lovers Faust and Gretchen. Peter von Cornelius, Faust offers his arm to Gretchen, ca. 1811

Ich bin ausgegangen
in stiller Nacht
wohl über die dunkle Heide.
Hat mir niemand Ade gesagt
Mein Gesell’ war Lieb und Leide!

Auf der Straße stand ein Lindenbaum,
Da hab’ ich zum ersten Mal
im Schlaf geruht!
Unter dem Lindenbaum,
Der hat seine Blüten
über mich geschneit,
Da wußt’ ich nicht, wie das Leben tut,
War alles, alles wieder gut!
Alles! Alles, Lieb und Leid
Und Welt und Traum!

Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (known in English as Songs of a Wayfarer) is a cycle of four songs composed around 1884. It’s a rather macabre and slightly sardonic reflection on the theme of lost or rejected love, after Mahler‘s own unhappy love affair. In fact, it’s a bit of an anti-love song and perhaps shows that Mahler was a better composer than he was a poet (but maybe that’s also why I like it!).

Alex, London

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Liebespaar (Der Kuss), 1930

Wie furchtbar auch die Flamme war,
In der man einst zusammenbrannte,
Am Ende bleibt ein wenig Glut.
Auch uns geschieht das Altbekannte.

Daß es nicht Asche ist, die letzte Spur von Feuer,
Zeigt unser Tagwerk. Und wie teuer
Die kleine Wärme ist, hab ich erfahren
In diesem schlimmsten Jahr
Von allen meinen Jahren.
Wenn wieder so ein Winter wird
Und auf mich so ein Schnee fällt,
Rettet nur diese Wärme mich
Vom Tod. Was hält
Mich sonst? Von unserer Liebe bleibt: daß
Wir uns hatten. Kein Gras
Wird auf uns sein, kein Stein,
Solange diese Glut glimmt.

Solange Glut ist,
Kann auch Feuer sein …

My favourite German love poem is Liebe (Love) by Eva Strittmatter, a very modern writer who died recently, in 2011. I adore her ability to put all the various kinds of love that can be experienced within a lifetime into a deceptively simple narrative. This doesn’t diminish it at all but allows her to play with all love’s ambivalences.

Susanne, Oxford

Teddy Bear Austausch – A German Exchange with a difference!

At the Oxford German Network we work not only with secondary schools, but also with primary schools where German is taught.  One of our local schools has been making great use of some of the fantastic opportunities that the UK-German Connection provides for younger learners and their teachers.  The UK-German Connection is an organisation “dedicated to increasing contacts and understanding between young people in the UK and Germany”.  Why not take a look at their voyage kids website, aimed at primary pupils, or the voyage for older pupils.  But first, a tale of teddy bears and teacher travels…

SS Philip and James’ School, Oxford (often called Phil and Jim’s for short) has been developing a link with Brakenhoffschule, a primary school in Westerstede, near Bremen in northern Germany.

The link was made possible through projects organised by the UK-German Connection. The first of these was the ‘host a teacher’ initiative. Earlier in the year a teacher from Brakenhoffschule spent two weeks at Phil and Jim’s, helping with German teaching and finding out about the school. This was a fantastic opportunity for the school and of course the German teacher was able to take back a lot of new experiences to share with their own pupils. Since the visit the two schools have kept in contact and children in Year 5 have written penpal letters.

Alex, the German bear (left), meets the new resident bears at Phil and Jim’s

Recently the children in Year 3 had a very special visitor from Berlin, again as part of a UK-German Connection project. His name is Alex … and he is a Teddybear! His visit was part of the Bears Project, and involved Ben, an English Teddybear, visiting Phil and Jim’s partner school in Germany.  On the ‘Bears’ webpage you can find out lots more about how to participate, and see all of the British and German schools that the bears have already visited! It’s safe to safe to say that Ben received a very warm welcome in Germany, and the Brakenhoffschule pupils even prepared some welcome signs before his arrival – his visit is currently highlighted on the school’s homepage! (Scroll midway down…)

All the children and both teachers agreed that the visits were a big success, with the bears teaching the children more about their language and culture. The bears even have their own blog on the Voyage kids website!

Nicola Deboys, Oxford German Network