Das Mädchen schleppte sich… to the Oxford German Olympiad

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).

Prizes 2017Another 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.

Illustration from the 1903 edition of Ludwig Richter’s collection of fairytales

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.

Sofia Justham Bello


A record-breaking Oxford German Olympiad!

Judging of the Oxford German Olympiad 2017 has now been completed and all those who took part will soon be informed of their result. It’s been a particularly exciting year for the Oxford German Network team because this year’s Olympiad has proved to be the biggest ever!

Pennsylvania_German_Sticker.svg2017 marks the 5th anniversary of what has become the biggest event in OGN’s calendar. The Oxford German Olympiad is an annual themed competition for learners of German aged between 9 years and 18 years old and living in the UK. The tasks are designed to challenge learners of all levels to get creative with their German language skills and expand their knowledge of the culture, history and literature of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This year the theme was Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany.

In its first year in 2013 – when the theme was ‘Grimm Tales’ – 496 pupils aged between 11 and 18 years old took part. In 2016 (Deutscher Humor – Nichts zum Lachen?) saw 350 young German learners aged 9 to 18 years old compete to show off their German language skills and cultural knowledge. This year, nearly 550 entries were submitted by over 750 pupils aged between 9 and 18 years old from 97 schools in every part of the United Kingdom – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were all represented. That includes nearly 50 schools that entered pupils for the very first time, making 2017 definitely the biggest year of the Olympiad in all respects!

The Olympiad tasks are judged by a hard-working team of German experts from the Oxford German Network team (past and present) and members of the Oxford University German Sub-faculty, who take a break from reading undergraduate essays every year to read… German posters, brochures, fairystories, interviews and imagined dialogues, rewritten literary classics, comic strips, and watch sketches, raps, songs and animations. The variety is almost endless!

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Judging is completed in several stages and the ultimate decision over the winning entries is presided over by the Chair of the Judging Committee – in previous years this has been the professors who have been the Taylor Chair of German and the Chair of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics. This year, Professor Henrike Lähnemann once again took up the helm of the Judging Committee.

The competition is too large for the judges to be able to give individual feedback on entries and every year judging proves to be a tough task, but this year the committee were particularly impressed by the creativity of the entries. As one judge said, “what I found most striking was how evident it was when pupils were having fun”, commenting that in the tasks they had judged “it was great to see a very wide range of entries”, while another member of the Judging Committee admired the “really playful responses” to the set tasks and noted that several had showed strong evidence of considerable background research. All the judges noted that – in addition to sticking to the rubric of the competition tasks – the entries that did particularly well and most impressed them were those that showed reflectivity, linguistic accuracy and ambition, and creative thinking with language and with the format of the task, whether that was storytelling, interviewing, creating a comic strip or writing an essay.

OGE-logo-land-ounSo the Oxford German Network Team and the Olympiad Judging Committee hope you – whether student or teacher – enjoyed taking part in the Oxford German Olympiad this year as much we all did reading and watching all your entries. Warm congratulations to all the winners, runners up, and everyone who participated!

Now… keep your eyes peeled for announcements about the Oxford German Olympiad 2018!


Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany

The Oxford German Network recently launched its annual national competition: the Oxford German Olympiad 2017! Now in its fifth year, this year’s theme is ‘Deutsch(e) jenseits von Deutschland – German(s) beyond Germany’. The OGN Team put their heads together to suggest some of the questions and topics you might like to think about when you enter the competition…

A Pennsylvania Dutch badge design

Peoples have always migrated and taken their languages and stories with them. Moreover, languages and cultures are almost never confined to one geographical area or one nation. Of course, the English language provides a good example of this – but so does German! German and German dialects are spoken not just by those living in Germany, but also in Austria, Switzerland… and parts of the USA, and German culture has found its way into all sorts of unexpected places. So this year, the Oxford German Olympiad explores German peoples, language and culture beyond the borders of Germany. There’s a lot out there to provide food for thought!

Historically, Germany didn’t even come into existence until 1871 and Austria didn’t exist as a defined republican state until 1919. They’re both very young in terms of ‘nation states’. So what does that mean for what we might consider ‘German’? Would travelling back in time open up a world in which all of ‘German’ existed only ‘beyond Germany’?

A shop sign in Liechtenstein. In Swiss German ‘Hoi’ means ‘Hi’ – ‘Hoi zäme’ is for greeting more than one person.

Like English, German is the official language in more than one country. Do people in Austria speak ‘German’ or ‘Austrian’? And what about Switzerland? Officially divided into German, French and Italian speaking areas – the German you’ll encounter here is again very different and even varies with each Kanton! Did you know that German is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg?

Like Britain, France, Spain or Portugal, Germany became a colonial power, but only in the late nineteenth century under Kaiser Wilhelm II. It was a latecomer seeking a “place in the sun” – “einen Platz an der Sonne”. There are still traces of that heritage, e.g. in Africa, where the German Empire settled colonies in areas that are now parts of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ghana, and other modern African countries.

Can you think of any famous German migrants in the UK? You could start with looking into the ancestors of the Royal Family or the ancient Rothschild financial dynasty… A wave of migration to other parts of the world was caused by National Socialism in the 1930s and early 1940s, but Germans also moved across Europe and across oceans for religious and economic reasons from the sixteenth century onwards. Religious reforming communities, like the Mennonites and the Amish, which have Dutch and Swiss origins in the sixteenth century and still maintain some of their linguistic heritage (e.g. ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’) to this day, can be found in parts of the USA, South America and elsewhere.

People migrate for many reasons: they may follow a friend or partner, work for an international company, seek an education abroad or just want to try living somewhere else. How many people in the UK do you know who originate from a German-speaking country?

Of course, texts also migrate – above all through translation – and can be adopted and adapted by other cultures. Think of the international cultural influence of Goethe’s Faust or the many well-known fairytales collected, adapted and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the nineteenth century. Pick a piece of German you find interesting – a song, a poem, a news article or part of a story – and try translating it. It’s fun! You’ll find words that are almost the same, and words that are challenging. Are any untranslatable?

Rumpelstiltskin ‘spinning’ a tale, from an edition of Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm, translated by Lucy Crane and illustrated by Walter Crane, 1886.

You’ll find lots more inspiration and interesting ideas on the Oxford German Network’s competition pages, as well as all the competition tasks and guidelines. The deadline for entries is 12 noon, Friday 17 March 2017 (note that submission is online only). If you have any queries you can email the OGN Coordinators at ogn@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk.

German is like a mushroom…

This is a guest post by our PhD researcher, OGP coordinator Heike Bruton, who is investigating motivation for German learning.  You’ll know her as the author of our ‘Joining up German teaching in the UK’ newsletters, top tips, events and resources from the world of German teaching (to sign up for the newsletter click here; to see past newsletter editions click here).

German is like a mushroommushroom (2)

The year is 1994.  In a comprehensive school on the outskirts of London, a newly qualified German teacher takes up her first job.  She’s brimming with plans and enthusiasm, and she’s looking forward to her many questions being answered.  How do students in this country feel about learning German?  What makes some people here just take to all things German, and what’s the best way to share the love?

That teacher is me.  Two decades later I’ve taught countless numbers of students in a wide range of set-ups, and my questions haven’t really been answered, in fact, I’ve got even more now.  People will usually be quick to tell you why German just doesn’t seem to be popular any more: at school level because of its competition with ‘easier’, ‘more useful’ or ‘more fun’ languages, and for the wider picture due to negative media coverage, overshadowed by the sinister past and/or fearmongering around EU issues.  But is this really true?  One way to find out would be to study press representations of German, and to talk to the people who deal with this every day: students, German teachers, and head teachers.  And this is why twenty-odd years after my NQT year I find myself walking the corridors of my very first school again, this time as a student myself, on a mission to get to grips with this slippery thing that’s a major part of me: German in the UK.

Memories flood back.  The Language office is now shared with the PE department, but apart from that, things seem the same.  A pile of orange exercise books on a desk, decorated in yellow, black, red, blue and white: a happy melange of French, German and Spanish flags. Back in the day, at this same school I had asked a student to please explain the red, black and white motif he’d taken care great care over on his ‘Heft’ cover. He looked at me as if I was stupid.  “It’s the German flag, Miss!”  Only it wasn’t.  It was a swastika.  There was work to do here, and I did my best to help do it.  What I’d really like to know is: has anything changed?

mushroom (2)
Deutsch ist wie ein Pilz. Oder ein Champignon. Oder doch ein Schwammerl?

If German was a food, it would be toast.  Or a mushroom, or a chocolate orange, or a beer-flavoured sausage with a chilli centre and a peeling black outer plastic bit. I was floored by some of the learners’ answers.  At a closer look, it all makes sense: German is like toast because “it isn’t the most fancy food but is always dependable and goes well with many other things”.  Of course! The metaphor tasks on my questionnaire seem to be helpful for drawing learners’ conceptualisations of German.  Now all I need to do is evaluate all of this and bring it together with what teachers and head teachers say, and of course with the wider press discourse around German, done.

If you suspect there’s a bit more to it, you’d be right.  But, in a nutshell, that’s it… or should that be a coconut shell…, because my questionnaires say German is like a coconut… I’m getting carried away, so time for a break now, but just one more, for the road: “German is like a pineapple”.  If nothing else, German has gone exotic, and to that, let’s raise a pina colada.  Prost!


Curious why German might be like mushroom?! To find out, and to learn about what motivated key stage 3 learners to choose German for GCSE, watch this short video.

Would you and your school like to be involved in Heike’s study? Contact Heike by email.

You can find out more about Heike’s project and follow her PhD journey on her blog, Germanintheuk.com.




The Future of German Studies

On the occasion of the inauguration of Prof. Henrike Lähnemann as Chair in Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at Oxford University, a round table discussion on “The Future of German Studies” was held on Friday, 22 January 2016. OGN’s coordinator, Nicola, gives her thoughts here…

Arriving for an event about “The Future of German Studies” I was curious as to what awaited me. This title suggested a whole series of questions: “What is the future of German Studies?”; “How do we make German Studies fit for the future?” or even the more provocative “Is there a future for German Studies?”

The panel was chaired by Prof. Ritchie Robertson (Taylor Chair of German Studies) and featured OGN’s Director Prof. Katrin Kohl, alongside Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer (University of Freiburg), Dr Wilhelm Krull (VolkswagenStiftung), Dr Dorothea Rüland (DAAD) and Dr Carsten Dose (FRIAS). It was part of a series of events to mark the Inaugural Lecture of Henrike Lähnemann, Chair in Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at Oxford University. More on these other exciting events in a future post…

Given the credentials of the panel it will come as no surprise, though perhaps still something of a relief, to hear that all of them believe there is a future for German Studies. As to the question of what this future may look like, two broad themes emerged: intercultural learning and exchange, and interdisciplinarity. In a globalised world there is a role for the humanities in helping us to better understand and integrate different cultures, and within the academic sphere there is much to be gained from a transfer of academic cultures through initiatives such as summer schools or joint degree programmes hosted by, for example, German and British universities. Many of the speakers noted that German Studies is by nature interdisciplinary – perhaps explaining why it can prove such a hard term to pin down! – and suggested too that more can be done to strengthen links with other fields and to better articulate these in existing projects.

But for me the future of German Studies is perhaps to do more with the who than the what. This is arguably where the Oxford German Network fits in. Prof. Kohl summed up a key part of OGN’s mission as providing a “dimension to German that goes far beyond what it is in schools”. Generating enthusiasm for German now – whether language and literature or Lebkuchen and Laugenbrezel – is fundamental to the future of German Studies. A former teacher who shared her experiences during the Q&A section summed this up by saying that for German teachers “getting pupils to Germany equals job done” – whether visiting a Christmas market, eating Currywurst or crossing Checkpoint Charlie – pupils are excited and enthralled by what they discover when they are given the chance to really experience German culture.

My reflections on the event, and this topic as a whole, can be summed up in just one word: ‘youth’. A youthful spirit and open-minded approach will ensure that German Studies is fit for the future, and young voices, able not only to speak German but to see the world through someone else’s eyes, are in themselves the future.

                                                                                                                                                Nicola, OGN Coordinator

In der Weihnachtsbäckerei… mit OGN!

German traditions have influenced how we celebrate Christmas in the UK, from the appearance of Christmas trees in English homes in the nineteenth century, to the Christmas markets which have been popping up in towns across the country over the last few years. Even tinsel comes from Nuremberg (in German it’s called Lametta)! What better time, then, than Christmas, to celebrate German culture in English schools?

On 1st December 2015, the Oxford German Network held its annual Weihnachtsplätzchenbackwettbewerb, or Christmas biscuit baking competition. Around thirty pupils from Years 7-9, representing five schools, came to the event – and some schools even held bake-offs ahead of time to select attendees. A local primary school also held a similar event, in which fifty Year 6 pupils baked and decorated German Christmas biscuits at school. For the OGN event, each pupil baked their own biscuits in advance, and three OGN judges (including two of the three OGN Student Ambassadors who had come to help with this very serious task) then had the near-impossible task of choosing between a host of marvellous entries, and awarding prizes on the basis of appearance, taste, and originality. From an impressive Lebkuchenhaus (gingerbread house) to a beautiful three-dimensional Christmas tree, and from Zimtsterne (cinnamon biscuits) to Kringel (ring-shaped biscuits), almost all varieties of festive German biscuits were represented. You can see some of the entries – including some of the winners below!

Seasonal baking was not the whole story, though. The participants made further use of their creative skills by making German Christmas decorations in order to decorate the OGN tree. They then formed teams and took part in a quiz – the theme, of course, was Christmas in Germany! And then it was time for prize-giving. The (by now rather full-up) biscuit judges awarded their prizes first, followed by prizes for the best tree decorations. These awards took the form of large Schokonikoläuse (chocolate Santas). After all, St Nicholas’s Day was coming up at the weekend, and as German-speakers know, those who have been well-behaved during the year will find their shoe filled with sweets on the morning of 6th December!

The Oxford German Network is grateful to all the staff and pupils who took part so enthusiastically, and wishes all the participants Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches neues Jahr!

Mary, OGN Student Ambassador

Think German: you already speak it

People often ask me “Do you think in German?” – a way perhaps to gauge how ‘fluent’ I really am. The Think German Network offers a new answer to this question. Its slogan is: think german: you already speak it. If this seems unlikely let me try to convince you, with the help of a very eminent supporter of all things German.

At the recent launch of the Think German Network, held in the Locarno Room at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London, the Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor opened by sharing some of the ways in which we all already think and speak German. He mentioned some everyday words and phrases which are, in fact, originally German. My personal favourites include: Schadenfreude; Doppelgänger; Wanderlust. Of course, over time every learner of German also encounters many intriguing words which have no real English counterpart: Kaffeeklatsch and Gemütlichkeit for starters.  Perhaps as you read this others are coming to mind…

OGN at TGN Launch Nov 2015
Members of the Oxford German Network at the Think German Network launch

Other speakers at the event included Dr Peter Ammon, German Ambassador to London, and Professor Katrin Kohl, Director of the Oxford German Network. Guests were then given a whistle-stop tour of the nine German Networks across the UK, and some of their recent successes and upcoming events. Oxford was represented by the OGN Coordinators and members of the Faculty (pictured), and the event provided a very grand forum to meet other guests ranging from Ambassadors and Attachés to representatives of German industry and cultural institutions.

With the launch of the Think German Network a new web portal is now live… Do take a look! And remember, think german: you already speak it.

                                                                                                         Nicola, OGN Coordinator

Hallo, Guten Tag und Grüß Gott!

Hi there!

Welcome to the Oxford German Network blog! We’re Zoë and Imran, and we’re both first year students of German in Oxford. In this blog we and other Student Ambassadors for the Oxford German Network are looking forward to sharing some of our enthusiasm for the German language and culture as well as communicating with people who are interested in German, particularly prospective German students, in a relaxed and informal way. Hopefully we can give you an insight into what it’s like to study German at university, get stuck in to German, Austrian and Swiss culture, and encourage you to develop your Germanic interests.

About Zoë

I started learning German in Year 7 – I remember my favourite lessons were those when our teacher brought in German food for us: Lebkuchen, Stollen, that kind of thing. Then, in Year 10, I went on a German exchange, which was so much fun. There was even more food – Dampfnudeln, Marmorkuchen and the incredible Eierlikör – and we visited some beautiful towns – Heidelberg, Speyer, Karlsruhe… I knew that I definitely wanted to visit Germany again in the future, but it was only when I was in Sixth Form that I considered doing German at degree level. And here I am! So far the course has been challenging, but I am so glad that I chose German – I have learnt so much already, from studying plays such as Georg Kaiser’s ‘Von morgens bis mitternachts’, to films, to medieval German literature (in our most recent medieval class we had Glühwein, which was pretty exciting). Of particular interest to me is the way in which the style of writing has changed over time, and also how you can learn a lot about contemporary society from the literature of the past and present.

About Imran

On top of a general interest in language learning, I chose to study German because of the huge range of fields that a degree in German covers – so far this year we’ve already covered a vast array of topics, from film to medieval studies. It’s been brilliant to discuss all sorts of things in tutorials – politics, gender, spiritual regeneration… The list goes on! This term we’ve been focusing on four German plays for our tutorials and as the main basis for our translations from German into English. There are aspects of all four of the plays that you might miss the first time round, but which you really start to notice when re-reading and focusing on individual extracts of each work. Through studying the plays I’ve really come to appreciate theatre a lot more, and especially the immense amount of thought behind each work; you really do come to realise the extreme intelligence behind writing. Once more, it is the versatility of the literature that has appealed to me. Literature can be studied in its own right and as a fantastic source for other aspects of study, such as the portrayal of past societies, which has been particularly striking to me.

Thanks for reading, and we’re looking forward to telling you more about our experiences of studying and of our involvement with Oxford German Network events as the year goes on!

Imran and Zoë