Really Immersed in Using German Language

The Wabash guys got a fun break during the week learning to make authentic German pretzels.

The Wabash guys got a fun break during the week learning to make authentic German pretzels.

Erich Lange ‘19 – As we begin the second week of our trip, I have finally grown accustomed to the fact that I am actually in Germany.  I am no longer in a classroom in Crawfordsville  speaking German with nineteen and twenty year olds. For the first time ever, it has become necessary for my classmates and me to utilize our acquired German language skills in nearly every daily interaction — from purchasing a Döner Kebap at the corner store to asking a local resident for directions. Over the past two days of our immersion trip, our capabilities have continued to grow.

Students at the former site of the Tübingen synagogue.

Students at the former site of the Tübingen synagogue.

Unlike in the United States, the Monday after Pentecost is a holiday in Germany, thus we did not have “Unterricht”, or class, for the day. Instead, we worked on group projects on a topic of our choice. My group, in particular, did research on youth culture in Germany (specifically Tübingen). With the topics of our project spanning from music to politics to sports to modern slang, the best way for us to acquire the information needed for our project was to interview German students studying at the university in Tübingen. These interviews required us to not only use our German, but carry on a conversation regarding some pressing issues of the day — all in a foreign language.

Yet, immersion learning is about more than just the classroom. That’s why Monday afternoon, Professor Tucker took us on a tour of the city with the specific theme of Jewish life in Tübingen. Of course, when talking about Jewish history in Europe, the Holocaust is unavoidable. After visiting a memorial dedicated to the Jews of Tübingen, we walked a little over a mile into what seemed to be a normal, residential neighborhood. However, if you stopped to look at the sidewalk, you could see small, metal plates embedded in the pavement. The brass plates are placed at the home of Jewish families and people who were deported in the Holocaust. On the brass plate is the name of who lived there, the year they were born, when they were deported, the camp(s) they were at, and if they were liberated or killed in the concentration camps. The moment of clarity for me was when I saw the plate of Ruth Marx, an eight-year-old girl shot and killed alongside her mother outside a concentration camp.  Until then, the Holocaust had always been something distant and in the past. It was not until that moment in which I stood at the door of that little girl’s home, in the street in which she played, that I fully understood the Holocaust’s magnitude and depth.

Wabash men learning the art of pretzel making!

Wabash men learning the art of pretzel making!

On Tuesday, class resumed in the morning. Former TA Elena Mezger never fails to make the class fun and enjoyable. In the afternoon, the students and faculty participated in a pretzel-making workshop at the “Gehr” bakery. There, we not only learned how to make authentic German pretzels, but also learned the history of pretzels and how they are tied in with the history of southern Germany.

After the workshop, we had our third meeting with our Tandem partners. These meetings are a time for us to casually sit down with a German student and practice our German in a conversational sitting. This was perhaps the most fun evening thus far, as we are finally settling into using German on a regular basis, and could truly interact with the Tandem partners on more than just a superficial level. Yet, perhaps even more important than practicing German with our Tandem partners is the cultural awareness that the Tandem meetings give us — teaching us understanding and acceptance.

This experience over the past ten days has truly been extraordinary, and I could not imagine having an experience like this were it not for the incredible opportunities Wabash offers. Immersion learning allow students to not only further develop their skills learned in the classroom, but learn the necessity of cultural acceptance and understanding, and what it truly means to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.

Weekend Excursions in Germany

David Mason ’18 – We began our weekend with a trip to Stuttgart on Saturday. About an hour north of Tübingen, Stuttgart is a bustling city with more foot traffic and geographical spread. Once we made our way through the city, we visited the Staatsgalerie art museum with its massive displays of both historic and modern art.

We had approximately an hour and a half to view whatever interested us, with a small assignment attached. Professor Tucker asked us to describe, in German, two works of art that particularly interested us. This was a great exercise in applying the German that I’ve been preparing since I began studying the language my freshman year at Wabash. We had to describe the work’s appearance from the viewer’s perspective, a task that is not all that common unless you regularly study art. Describing visual art in words is already difficult, but doing it in another language is even more challenging.

Over the weekend, students had the chance to visit a Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Over the weekend, students had the chance to visit a Mercedes-Benz Museum.

While viewing the art was visually compelling, it was also a fun challenge to attempt to read and understand the complex summaries of the different exhibits in the German language. The gallery offered translations in English as well, but I enjoyed trying to see what information I was able to glean in German before checking the English. It’s always helpful and informative to see examples of how one says certain phrases in German. Reading difficult things like that improves your attentiveness and focus when reading; in other words, it is great for comprehension.

Ronnie Posthauer ’15, a German major and Wabash track runner, met us at the gallery to hang out and see the exhibits with us. Ronnie has spent most of the last year working as an Au-pair in Dortmund, Germany. Naturally, he has been speaking German almost the entire time. Since graduation (the last time I actually talked to him was probably still when the spring semester of 2015 was at full-speed), his German has improved to what I would consider Native level. This means two different things: He sounded like a German when he spoke German, but he also sounded like a German when he spoke English. This was extremely puzzling initially, as Ronnie (despite the German-sounding last name) is quite American, at least according to the last time I heard him speak. He said that other people had pointed it out but that he doesn’t really notice. I’m glad I got to run into Ronnie and see the progress he’s made with his German, as it was proof that I too can achieve such a level of fluency. I heard recently in Germany that you know you’re an “insider” when people stop complimenting you on how well you speak the native tongue. Such must be the case for Ronnie.

After the gallery, and then after lunch, we all trekked to Mercedes-Benz Museum. An architectural wonder, the museum was massive and featured a downward-spiraling eight-story chronological telling of the development and history of Mercedes-Benz from the late 19th century to the present time. Each level had car displays and plenty to read and learn about the technological advancements of the company. I particularly enjoyed, as at the gallery, attempting to decipher the German-language exhibits before reading about each presentation in English. I noticed an inconsistency between the German and the English displays: The German displays completely used the present-tense while the English used the past-tense. For example, the German version would say that in 1912, the Titanic sinks. But the English version says that the Titanic sank in 1912. This is pretty much an irrelevant inconsistency, but is interesting to know for students of either language. If there’s one important thing to know from this, it’s that the translations are not literal and are edited to flow the best according to each language’s patterns and forms.

Both excursions within Stuttgart were great ways to view and learn about interesting topics that are relevant to the real world while also doing my best to follow along when reading German texts. By the time we were finished, everybody was exhausted. We quickly grabbed some dinner (for me, a Doener box with Rice) before many of us crashed. I stayed up a little later, but had no interest in going out. I have the sneaking suspicion that we are kept so busy on this immersion trip to prevent us from becoming too rambunctious and doing things that could get us into trouble. Even if that’s not the primary intention, it is certainly the effect. I say this only to emphasize that we are both staying busy and out of trouble, which may or may not be of interest to those who are reading these blogs.

Professor of history Sabrina Thomas explains the Roman settlements in southern Germany.

Professor of history Sabrina Thomas explains the Roman settlements in southern Germany.

On Sunday, we went on a shorter excursion to Rottenburg, which is both closer to Tubingen and much smaller than Stuttgart. I had no idea what we were going to learn in Rottenburg, but that only made things more interesting. A quaint and small town, Rottenburg am Neckar sits atop a former outpost of the Roman empire. Archaeologists found a museum’s worth of artifacts, ranging from currency to large structures to dining utensils. Unlike the prior attractions, everything at the Sumelocenna museum was in German. This posed a greater challenge, removing the crutch of my native tongue and allowing me to try my best to decipher the meaning of each exhibit. There was a lot to read and take in, and plenty that interested me. Before exploring the museum, we watched a short film about the ancient civilization. To say that this video was a great exercise in listening comprehension would be an understatement. One can say that this entire trip is one giant reading and listening comprehension exercise.

Once we finished visiting this museum, we had a brief lunch break. A bakery had earlier caught my eye, so I and two others went back to that bakery. I both love and fear those times where there is absolutely no other means of clarification besides asking the native speaker of German to repeat their sentence. It is utterly terrifying but also a confidence booster after the fact. One comes across many accents and speeds of speech, so that it seems like a huge feat simply to get through a meal in a different town.

After lunch, we briefly visited the cathedral, which was a gorgeous structure in the middle of town. There was a solid mix of people visiting the church (probably mostly our group, looking back) and people actually performing prayers. This reminded me that travelling to new places is not simply some big museum experience of viewing old objects used by people who have no present connection to us. Rather, I felt that I was in a real place where people still carry on with their ordinary lives. I get a weird feeling whenever people visit my historic hometown as tourists. It’s a weird feeling, witnessing other people see your home as something out of the ordinary. I’m sure that’s similar to how the residents of Rottenburg am Neckar feel when tourists like us stumble through their streets on a quiet Sunday, speaking English and pointing at everything.

The weekend exploring other towns outside of Tubingen was highly informative and definitely gave me more perspective on the southwestern region of the country. A key part of the immersion experience is attempting to step off the diving board into the deep-end of the new language, which is exactly what I got to experience, even if for a few hours. Thus, I would say that the weekend component of our immersion trip was successful. I definitely wish to return to Stuttgart to see the TV Tower, among other things. However, this was a great exposure to other parts of Germany

Meeting Alum In Germany a Highlight

George Go ’18 – Over the past few days, we’ve continued our excursions in Germany. This included visiting the Bebenhausen Monastery and the Schloss Museum, as well as having the privilege of learning about Germany’s political system from Wabash alumnus Dr. Jared Sonnicksen ’01, who is currently a post-doc at the University of Darmstadt.

Students in the interior garden of the Bebenhausen Monastery

Students in the interior garden of the Bebenhausen Monastery

On Wednesday morning, the group took a hike to visit the Bebenhausen Monastery. Although the trek up there a decent ways away, I think that I can speak for the majority of our group about how jaw-dropping the scenery of Bebenhausen was once we first arrived. Once we made our way down, we stopped and explored the monastery. An interesting fact about the monastery was that it was originally Roman Catholic and then reformed into Protestantism. The monastery showed this to us when we took a closer look at the building’s unique architecture.

The next morning we were greeted by Sonnicksen. After Wabash, he received a Fulbright to continue his studies at the University of Bonn with the help of a scholarship. He then taught English for 3 years, and struggled a little bit with the culture shift between Germany and America. Sonnicksen discussed how different the political system in Germany is compared to the United States. He talked, for example, about the Gewaltenteilung, or separation of powers. This included their parliamentary system being broken up into the Bundestag and the Bundesrat.

Dr. Jared Sonnicksen '01 explains the German political system.

Dr. Jared Sonnicksen ’01 explains the German political system.

Later that evening, we took an excursion to the Schloss Museum of “Alte Kulturen,” or old cultures. In this museum, they have ancient artifacts dating back to around 40,000 years ago. These cover the time of the ice age and the cognitive revolution in human development, and they represent some of the earliest art objects every discovered. We were able to see first-hand ancient figurines of various animals carved out of Mammoth ivory and then discovered tens of thousands of years later in caves outside of Tübingen. The museum also included pieces of ancient culture from areas such as Greece, Italy, and Egypt. We saw things such as ancient ceramic art, swords and armor, and sarcophaguses throughout the museum. Towards the end of the museum, we got to see sculptures of Roman and Greek figures including the goddess Athena to famous war heroes such as Alexander the Great. Although it has only been the first few days of our trip, it is easy to say that we have seen a lot of interesting things thus far.

Settling in to Germany Immersion

Harrison Schafer ‘17 – Though we have been in Tübingen for just two days, I’ve noticed significant differences not only from Wabash, but also other German cities.

Professor of German Brian Tucker, at left, with students.

Professor of German Brian Tucker, at left, with students.

Elena Mezger, a former Wabash language TA, and her brother Pablo welcomed us to their town with open arms, as well as with gifts of chocolate & pretzels. Our group immediately embraced the city.  These first few days have involved quite a few hours of exploring the city. Our first stop was fittingly the building in which we would be learning on weekday mornings: the Neue Aula. This lovely building houses classrooms for science and law, but it will be hosting our intensive German class for a few weeks.

Unfortunately for the students studying here, they do not have the luxury of rolling out of bed and strolling right into Econ 101, all within five minutes; their university is strung throughout the town. Not too terribly long after our first stop, we ventured over to the Neckar, the major river, which cuts through the German city. While passing over the river, the group stopped to enjoy the quintessential picture of Tübingen and its slice of the Neckar. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves strolling through the Neckar Island, enjoying the calm waters surrounding lovely scenes of Tübingen’s greenery.

We were soon greeted by a daunting figure. Before us sat a large monument to Friedrich Silcher, a renowned nineteenth-century composer of “Volksmusik.” However, the artist did not sit alone. The group saw an odd juxtaposition of this German composer, fused with images of German soldiers. We learned that the Nazis in Tübingen erected this memorial in 1940. Utilizing Silcher’s music for the people, they sought to rally its citizens around passion for the war effort. As we wondered why such a statue would still stand today, Dr. Tucker and Dr. Thomas proceeded to explain; perhaps the German people chose to keep a reminder of the Second World War, creating a dual memorial: the statue itself, along with an informative sign to explain and contextualize the statue’s memorial function during the Third Reich.

Neue Aula, at the  University of Tübingen, where students are taking German classes. Photos by Mark Elrod '99.

Neue Aula, at the University of Tübingen, where students are taking German classes. Photos by Mark Elrod ’99.

We then broke into discussion; the group could not fully sympathize with the idea of keeping a memorial with such negative associations standing. Americans pride themselves on their patriotism, top to bottom. Surely, Americans would never keep a similar statue up, especially with the recent controversies surrounding Confederate flags. Fortunately for us, Pablo and Elena provided shared anecdotes about their German upbringing and about how Germany today still works to come to terms with its dark past: the frequent attention to the War throughout their education, the lack of German nationalism, etc. They talked about the new generation of Germans who are trying to balance the guilt of German history with a sense of pride for the role Germany plays in Europe today.

As mentioned earlier, Tübingen is a college town. Students breathe life into this city; with some 30,000 students, the students of the university compose a third of Tübingen’s population. Whether you eat at an Ethiopian restaurant or a cozy cafe, you cannot avoid the German students. As I walked through the university’s Mensa (their Sparks, or student cafeteria), faces both young and old soon were enjoying the day’s meal. That typical lunch hour looked ludicrously similar to our Midnight Munch with a sea of students coming together at common tables and breaking bread. Fortunately, we get to play pretend for a few weeks and “attend” this prestigious university.

With Elena as our hometown guide, we look to hone our German skills and perhaps fool a student or two into thinking we actually do study in Tübingen. Though we may be a tad more eager than our German counterparts in the Neue Aula, we have already tallied an effective three hours in the classroom, and I definitely look forward to more as I observe my progression over my two year stint studying in the German program.