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.
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.
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