Annual German Quiz at Aston University

Like every year, Aston University and the University of Birmingham are once again hosting a German Quiz night where students – and staff! – from both institutions can test their knowledge of all things German-speaking. This year, the event is hosted at Aston campus and the winners will be awarded fantastic prizes from our sponsors.

PDF - German Pub Quiz Poster 2015

Germany at the British Museum

The British Museum is hosting the exhibition Germany: memories of a nation from 16 October 2014 to 25 January 2015. This exciting new collection will use objects intrinsically linked to German history to examine the past 600 years in the context of the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.

Accompanying the exhibition is a 30-part BBC Radio 4 series written and presented by Neil MacGregor which started yesterday, Monday 29 September 2014. Series producer Paul Kobrak has written a blog post about his experience of putting together the series. Click here to read his post.

Poetry-Writing Competition in conjunction with ‘Germany – Memories of a Nation’ Exhibition

placardEach of the iconic objects in the exhibition “Germany – Memories of a Nation” opening at the British Museum this autumn tells a story. The competition organised by the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR) in conjunction with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) invites secondary school students, undergraduates and members of the public to bring these stories to life by writing a ‘Dinggedicht’, or poem based on one of the exhibits.

Poems of not more than 250 words may be written in English or German, and will be judged on originality, insight and presentation. Prizes range from scholarships for a summer language course in Germany to a guided tour through the exhibition on the German artist Kurt Schwitters (Merzbarn Wall) at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle.

The closing date for receipt of entries is 14 November 2014. The winning entries in each category will be celebrated in a reading at the British Museum on 12 December 2014.

More about the ‘Dinggedicht’

Competition Website (terms and conditions, enter the competition)

For further information, contact Cecile Reese at the DAAD.

Adventures of German a placement student

Our placement student Marcus is currently working as a British Council teaching assistant in Regensburg, Germany, and has been blogging about his experiences in the southern wilds of Germany for the past year. His latest post lists “50 things we’ve learned about the Germans” and covers a wide range of topics, from bikes to yoghurt, from Glühwein to Lederhosen. Here’s a taste of his post, to read more, simply follow the link at the bottom:

50 things we’ve learnt about the Germans

So after spending over 9 months here in Germany we feel qualified to share a few observations that we’ve made about Germans. Whilst Germany is really very similar to England, there are lots of cultural differences that struck us as noteworthy. We managed to narrow these differences down to 50 observations and below are a list of things we have noticed during our time here – things that we find good, bad, maybe just strange. We (Lois and I) hope you enjoy this post. (Obviously this post shouldn’t be taken too seriously and is a light hearted look at certain parts of German society and different behaviours. Some of these observations are sweeping generalisations and unfair stereotypes and we understand this – please don’t be offended!)

1.       Germans love ‘kaffee und kuchen’

‘Kaffee und kuchen’ or ‘Coffee and cake’ is an important part of the day for many Germans. No matter what day of the week, if you walk past a German café you are sure to see some people enjoying this traditional German pastime. Moreover, it is often the case that people enjoy ‘kaffee und kuchen’ several times a week, if not every day! We’re aware coffee and cake is also popular in the UK, but here you can’t walk down a high-street without passing several signs advertising this popular German afternoon affair. (We’ve come to understand why this is so popular – German cake is delicious!)

To find out more, click here!

“Changing Germany”: Film Season at Birmingham International Film Society

In February, Birmingham’s International Film Society is teaming up with the Goethe-Institut to show a short season of  recent films from Germany. Following the theme “Changing Germany”, the films have been chosen for their various perspectives on contemporary Germany and the country’s social and political changes.

The season kicks off on Tuesday, 5 February, with two films about migration. They will be introduced by Leila Mukhida from the University of Birmingham and Dr Claudia Gremler, Lecturer in German here at Aston. The screenings will take place at the Library Theatre in Paradise Forum (map). For students, tickets are £3.50 per film or £6 for the double bill.

 The first film is Feo Aladag’s directorial debut “Die Fremde” (“When We Leave”), a powerful portrayal of a young woman’s struggle to lead a self-determined life. Having grown up in Germany, Umay now lives in her native Turkey with her abusive husband. When she decides to leave him and returns with her young son to her parents’ house in  Berlin, she fails to foresee the dramatic consequences of her actions.

Starring Sibel Kekilli, who rose to fame in 2004 with Fatih Akin’s highly appraised “Gegen die Wand” (“Head-On”), another Turkish-German drama that dealt with the challenges of interculturalism, “Die Fremde” was very well received. It won numerous international awards for its candid depiction of the private dimensions of cultural conflict  and the effects of male control over women’s lives.

The second film for the evening will be Hans Christian Schmid’s “Lichter” (“Distant Lights”). Schmid is known to British audiences for hard-hitting dramas that often focus on characters in crisis.

In 2006, his remarkable film “Requiem” told the true story of a devout Catholic student in the German province, who attempts to combat her epilepsy with exorcism and suffers fatal consequences. Three years later, Schmid embarked on an international co-production, “Storm”, which explored the legacy of the Yugoslav wars.

“Lichter”‘s sobering subject matter is in line with many of Schmid’s other works. The film is set in the border region between Germany and Poland, in the years before Poland joined the EU. Inspired by Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts”, the film combines a multitude of characters and many different episodes to offer a fascinating yet sad portrayal of life in a region which is shaped by struggle and disillusion. In the film we encounter a group of economic migrants from Eastern Europe, attempting  to cross the border into Germany. But it’s not easy to escape police control and whom do you turn to when you are stranded in a foreign country? Schmid carefully dissects his characters’ naive hopes and dreams and demonstrates the misleading allure of life elsewhere.

Two more films will be shown on 27 February. They deal with the role of memory and remembrance in contemporary Germany. We will bring you more details nearer the time, so watch this space!

 

“Wetten, dass…” returns to German TV screens with a bang – but would it be better to let it die quietly?

Last night saw the return of Germany’s longest running and most successful entertainment TV programme “Wetten, dass”, which can be loosely translated as “I bet you”. True to the Ronseal system of German programming, “Wetten, dass” does exactly what it says on the tin, inviting members of the public to suggest crazy and – in some cases physically dangerous – bets. If accepted, contestants get to demonstrate their skills in front of a live studio audience and of millions of German, Austrian and Swiss viewers at home.

To spice up this simple format, contestants are allocated a celebrity who has to complete an often embarrassing “truth or dare”-type task if the bet is lost. This integration of high-calibre guests into the show is the real secret of its success – this and the immense popularity of Thomas Gottschalk who hosted the show for decades until resigning last year, after a contestant was badly injured on stage.

With Gottschalk now focusing on his remaining sources of income, such as fronting the German advertising campaign for Haribo sweets,  it remains to be seen if his successor, former talk show host Markus Lanz, will be as successful in attracting big names to the show. Over the decades, “Wetten, dass” presented not only homegrown talent such as Boris Becker, Karl Lagerfeld or Til Schweiger.  The show was also the most effective arena for international stars to reach Europe’s largest audience, the German speaking public.

Particularly musicians used the programme to advertise their latest records. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Robbie Williams, Cliff Richard, and many more, all appeared several times on “Wetten, dass”, despite being treated to the weird experience of trying to communicate with the host and the audience through an interpreter and consequently  having trouble following the strange goings-on and politically incorrect jokes made by the host.

Luckily for his international guests, Gottschalk’s entertainment value rested to some extent on his flamboyant dress sense, his readiness to drop his trousers on stage if needed – for example to prove that he was wearing the same underwear as folk singer Patrick Lindner – and on his ability to transcend the language barriers separating him from his female guests by a universally intellible and embarrassingly male chauvinist flirting technique.

A whole generation of Germans, a generation also dubbed “Generation Golf“, after the popular Volkswagen car which was first built in the early 1970s, grew up watching “Wetten, dass” on a regular basis and continued to tune in even as more and more channels became available and German TV offered a wider variety of programmes.

Last night, “Wetten, dass” was as big a national event as it had ever been. Millions were watching and in no time #wettendass was trending globally on Twitter – much to the confusion of the largely English tweeting online community. But was the show worth watching? German left-wing newspaper taz seems to disagree. They were quick to list Lanz’s many faux pas and insensitive comments, directed towards German-Turkish comedian Bülent Ceylan in particular.

But what about the show’s entertainment potential and freak quota? Well, in keeping with the “Wetten, dass” traditon, yesterday’s bets included a woman claiming that she was able to distinguish dog breeds by touching their fur. Viewers must have felt reminded of the time when the team behind Germany’s biggest satirical magazine Titanic (similar to Britain’s Private Eye) infiltrated the show and staged a hoax involving a man who had put in a bet saying that he could distinguish the shades of coloured pencils by licking their tips.

The show remains an easy target for satire and derision. But the big question mark currently hovering over the future of  “Wetten, dass” is whether Lanz can successfully replace the sometimes offensive but always charmingly eccentric Gottschalk – others have failed before him. It is also unclear if the “hidden attractions” of the programme will continue to outlast the tired looking main premise of the show, which has long run its course and cannot easily compete with more innovative formats such as “Schlag den Raab.” This week’s edition of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT argues that German TV is better than its poor reputation, but judging by the many scathing comments on Twitter, “Wetten, dass” will need to work hard to improve if it wants to remain the flagship of Germany’s public channel ZDF and defend its position as the incarnation of the nation’s favourite Saturday night entertainment.

Ruling German Coalition Considers Granting Equal Tax Rights to Same-Sex Partnerships

As one of the first countries worldwide, Germany introduced gay civil partnerships (“eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften”) in 2001, granting same-sex couples similar rights to their married heterosexual counterparts. The new legislation meant that same-sex life-partners could no longer not be considered next of kin. They are now entitled to receive information about their partner in an emergency and can no longer be turned away from their hospital bedside. Being “verpartnert”, to use the neologism which was quickly coined, also makes it easier for gays and lesbians to leave their estate to their partner when they die.

Picture taken from http://www.siegessaeule.de

But two big differences still remain, making the so-called “Homo-Ehe” (gay marriage) not quite a “real” marriage, with exactly the same rights and advantages that heterosexual married couples enjoy.

First of all, homosexual couples, despite being allowed to raise children, biological or adopted, do not have the right to adopt as couples. Equal parenting rights are not granted to both partners.

Second of all, civilly partnered couples do not enjoy to a special tax break referred to as “Ehegatten-Splitting”. Currently, married couples – irrespective of whether they have children – can save taxes by declaring a joint income and applying for a low tax code for the higher earning partner (usually the husband). This rule has long been at the centre of heated debate but it has so far resisted all attempts at having it abolished. Now, an initiative supported by politicians from both the Christian Democrats (CDU, Angela Merkel’s party) and their junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP), has been launched to give homosexual couples access to Ehegatten-Splitting. Supporters include Family Minister Kristina Schröder (CDU) and Vice Chancellor and Leader of the FDP Philipp Rösler. Unsurprisingly, critics have commented on the bad timing of raising this in the middle of the holiday season. However, one major opponent, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), has already found time away from the beach to voice his strong disapproval and reject the initiative.

Opponents of equal rights for same-sex couples usually refer to a clause in the German constitutional law, the “Grundgesetz”, which guarantees special support and protection for families. However, the definition of what constitutes a family is an evolving concept, and conservative critics may soon find that by challenging the right of same-sex couples to gain access to the same privileges that heterosexual marriages enjoy, they are clinging to an outdated and fundamentally discriminatory idea.

Click here to read a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and here for a Deutschlandlandfunk commentary.