„Liebe StudentInnen : es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß…“

Thus begins the most famous German poem celebrating autumn –Herbsttag, by Rainer Maria Rilke. Admittedly, the original version does not start with „liebe StudentInnen” but rather with „Herr: es ist Zeit…,” as the poet addresses the Lord. I choose to address you, my dear students, as it is time for us to meet again in the classroom and devote a few hours per week to this language and this literature which we so adore.

The fall semester promises to be exciting in the German section. We welcome a new language assistant from Germany, Katharina, whom I have yet to meet as I am writing this. We do not doubt that her presence in our section will be enlightening and educational. It is always a thrill, for Sophie and myself, to work with these German assistants who come here to share their knowledge of Germany and their experience of daily life in their Heimat. Whereas Sophie and I are Germanists, these assistants study various disciplines back home and can thus offer us a different perspective on German culture. You will get to meet Katharina soon, both in and out of the lab as she will organize extra-curricular activities, as assistants always do. Stay tuned for her schedule of activities. One thing is for sure: the Kaffee und Kuchen, which was a huge success last year with Caner, will make a most welcome comeback!

This fall, Sophie will be teaching a 300-level East German cinema course in English, a course which should not be missed! By means of movies which belong to Germany’s cinematographic canon, you will discover a whole world, that of East Germany. The Berlin Wall did fall more than twenty years ago (before most of you were born… geez, I am not getting any younger, eh?), but those forty years during which Germany was divided obviously shaped contemporary German identity. To this day, Germans still talk about die Mauer im Kopf, the wall that is still present in their mind. Not only are the movies which will be shown in this course great movies but Sophie’s knowledge and passion for her subject will make this a memorable course, for sure.(Please note that this course may count for credits for your German program even if it is given in English – ask Sophie about the modalities.)

The fall semester will also be exciting because it will involve a little excursion. The plan is still tentative so all that I will say about it for now is that it involves Highway 10, the above-mentioned Berlin Wall, Franz Kafka and an ape. Intrigued? You will know more in the coming weeks…

Fun, fun, fun. Yes, we will have fun this semester and not just around coffee and cake or learning about East German movies or riding on Highway 10, we will also have fun in German language classes! Yes, yes, I promise – we will have fun in spite of all the grammar and the learning by heart! I am looking forward to teaching GERMAN 101, which will welcome over thirty students new to the language. I have been teaching for over ten years now and it is still a pleasure to see puzzled faces as I introduce the accusative… not that I don’t see puzzled faces in GERMAN 201 as well, when I teach two-way prepositions, for example! Third-year students, you know how it goes, right? „Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch… Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch.“ Ach, the joys of teaching German!

It just occurred to me that Herbsttag, the poem by Rilke mentioned above, is an excellent poem to read in class as we learn two-way prepositions. May I quote it in full? You will see that the “awful German language,” as Mark Twain called it, transforms into the “sublime German language” in the hands of Rilke… You may not be able to understand all of it just yet but do admire its music – its syntactical structures! its punctuation! its consonants! Oh, how I long to see you in class and share my love of consonants with you!

Herbsttag by Rainer Maria Rilke

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

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