Thursday, November 7, 2013

Austrian Art Series: Klimt

One of my goals for this year is to incorporate more art exploration and discussion into my lessons. After having spent a week in Vienna this summer, I am more motivated and slightly more knowledgeable than ever before, so it's time to take the plunge.

Halloween winked then waved at me and became my starting line. Ready, set, ...Klimt! Gustav Klimt for Halloween! I still remember that first afternoon in Vienna this summer. Exhausted from almost 24 hours of travel, I was determined to go out into the city and do something, anything. Since my hotel wasn't too far from the Museumsquartier, I eventually landed at the Leopold Museum, which I basically knew nothing about. Truly, I think it's better to travel with out too much knowledge or expectations for your destination, otherwise it just leads to general disappointment. (Exhibit A: the Mona Lisa.)

The Leopold, it turns out, was originally a private collection and currently houses around 5,000 pieces of Austrian art. It was a perfect viewing experience for me, since focusing on Austrian culture and history was the point of my trip anyway. None of those dusty Dutch masters or fuzzy French Impressionists getting in my way at the Leopold!

And then I saw it. I didn't know at the time how I would use it, but use it I would. And, I did. On Halloween. Gustav Klimt's Tod und Leben (Death and Life).
Vienna, 2013
Here's my lesson for German 1 on a 96 minute block:
  1. Hook: Johann Sebastian Bach Tocatto and Fugue in D Minor as students enter classroom
  2. Reading activity: sentences from podcast on Halloween that introduce the topic and the idea that Halloween is not a German holiday in any way
  3. Speaking activity: Möchtest du Bonbons?
  4. Vocabulary/listening activity: Halloween-y words matching and then bingo. Students draw the pictures and then listen for the German words
  5. Writing activity: write three sentences of your own using Halloween words
  6. Culture activity: Halloween-themed art piece
  • I introduced the artist in simple German sentences.
  • We viewed the art piece and I used new vocabulary in conjunction with the piece (Gemälde, Kunstmuseum, Maler, Sensenmann, Tod, Leben)
  • Then we simply just discussed in English their impressions of the piece and compared it to Klimt's Der Kuss
I was surprised by how well the lesson went. Having not really used art to teach before, I was surprised to see how little the students know about art. I'm not an art teacher, nor an artist, so I don't have any ground to stand on at all, but is art history/appreciation left aside in fine arts curriculum? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know that as I continue to have lessons about Austrian art throughout the year, I'm going to have to build a framework for my students for understanding a bit about art movements and styles.

If you can recommend any supportive level-appropriate sources for art history, please let me know. If you have any experience teaching art in your non-art class, please share! I would like to know what works and what doesn't.

In allowing culture to drive more of my lessons, I am discovering that the language instruction is much more of a joy. I hope that the students feel it, too.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The sky's the limit

Austrian sky, 2013
"I teach science to 6th graders. Our project took us to Costa Rica to study its eco-systems. I walked through a rainforest that before I had only read about in books. I climbed a volcano, stood on its edge peering down into its crater, and wept. This experience had expanded my knowledge as a teacher and a learner and provides an intense amount of joy to my students."
"The people in the country I visited were so open, friendly, and generous to me. I was amazed how they lived their lives so deeply with seemingly so little to my American eyes. It has truly caused me to reevaluate my priorities." 
"I should have dreamed bigger with this grant! There is so much out there in the world to learn about and experience that I can bring back to my classroom."
"I teach a class that contains students from the highest of the high ability and the lowest of the low. And yet inexplicably when I relate to them stories from my experiences this summer and show them photos or books that I personally collected during this experience, it draws them together. It levels the playing field in a way that I can't explain. It makes the learning real for them."
"We left for our conference as a team. We came back a family. Our team now collaborates together consistently and intentionally."
All of these statements* I heard today at my post-fellowship meeting for the Fund for Teachers grant that made this whole blog and my summer experience possible. I was so inspired by each of the stories and reflections both personal and professional from each of the educators present at the meeting. My wish is for every teacher at my school to have an opportunity like I had: to imagine a journey and then to be given the resources and support to go on that adventure.

The Fund for Teachers grant was finally a professional development experience that had and continues to have a DEEP impact on my work every single day. I encourage every single K-12 educator out there, who picks up pencils off the hallway floor to save for later, has a scrap paper box for all sheets of paper that have a portion or corner that can possibly be reused, and sees all free sandwiches as good sandwiches, to embrace the gift that is a Fund for Teachers grant.

Conjure up your dream professional development proposal! How about a Latin language immersion experience by the sea? Or would you rather a Science by the Sea cruise? Is there a summer conference you've always wanted to attend? Most likely, you will create a project proposal that will give you growth opportunities that you hadn't even imagined would happen. I could go on and on listing possibilities. The 531 Fund for Teachers fellows from 2013 have 531 great ideas, if you would like to see some.

Begin the application process now. January 30, 2014 is the deadline. Close your eyes. Imagine your learning bliss. The sky's the limit.

Feel free to contact me here through my blog if you have questions. Good luck!

*I paraphrased and recalled these sentiments as best as I could.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Learning through poetry

Sometimes you simply cannot predict the impact or reaction that your students will have to a lesson. Sometimes lessons fizzle and flop over dead. Sometimes they soar, lifting everyone up creating a memory that sticks. This tiny lesson about numbers and Austrian poetry did just that.

The poem is called "12! ein Zahlengedicht" by Gerhard Rühm. Rühm is an Austrian-born poet of the late 20th century. I experienced his poetry during a seminar session about music and lyrics while in Innsbruck, Austria. Rühm's poem was buried in a huge list of musical selections and lyrical works that we heard and read as a group. "12!" jumped off the page as something exactly perfect for use in beginner level German class.

So, a few weeks ago after we worked through learning the numbers up through 100, I introduced Herr Rühm to my students with three simple sentences in German. Then, we listened to Rühm himself reading his poem. The students were totally sucked in. It was so unexpected for them. We had an awesome discussion about the poem after. The students still bring it up.

You're just going to have to read and/or listen to the poem yourself to know what I am talking about. Enjoy!

Photos courtesy of Dr. Michael Shaughnessy, Collage created by author, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Franz Schubert was from Austria and more

After completing my Fund for Teachers grant experience this summer, my brain felt stuffed with experiences and knowledge, but then once the dust settled and all of the chocolate was gone, I began to feel like that old saying, "The more you learn, the more you realize there is that you don't know." The more that I look back on all that I learned this summer about Austrian culture and history, the more I feel like I have so much more to discover.

And then, to top it all off, it seems like things about Austria just keep falling into my lap like ripe, perfect apples off of a tree. Here's the story of the most recent one.

A couple of weeks ago, a former Latin student of mine was visiting me and mentioned that she was learning how to sing a song in German in her choir class. I asked her how it was going, and she said that the choir and the choir teacher were feeling frustrated, because no one in the group knew how to pronounce any of the German words.

Collaboration between disciplines!
       Exposure to German culture and German class to students not already enrolled in German!
             Grow the program!
                  Chance for my students to work at the top level of Bloom's Taxonomy by teaching what they were currently learning!

So, I contacted the choir teacher, who was thrilled to hear that we wanted to help out, and two days later my German 1 class in their 4th week of German was teaching the choir students how to pronounce the German words in Franz Schubert's Sanctus from the German Mass in G.

To prepare for this collaboration, I also did a little reading myself on Franz Schubert. has a pretty good write-up on him. Turns out that ol' Franzie was Austrian by birth and lived most of his life there. He's buried at the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna. (I'm slapping myself for not visiting the Zentralfriedhof while I was in Vienna this summer. I guess you can't do it all.) I also learned that Schubert died at the age of 32. Wow! So young and so accomplished and full of genius!

I presented this to the students as part of the introduction to the collaborative lesson. Also, interesting to read were all of things that Schubert did not succeed at. I am pondering the idea that when we present famous figures in class, we do tend to gloss them up a bit. Maybe the students need to see the successes and the failures of the historical figures that we read and discuss. I'm definitely going to work on that.

Music was a significant piece to my experience with Austrian culture this summer. While in Innsbruck, I was able to attend a free outdoor concert, and it was extremely inspiring. I won't forget relaxing back into the recognizable classics and then being catapulted forward into new, innovative pieces that challenged my perceptions about orchestral music. (see: Melodies floating the summer air)

As an added bonus, the choir teacher is going to look into doing a holiday lesson with my German 1 using some German songs like: O Tannenbaum, Stille Nacht, etc. If you have any suggestions for music/songs that we could easily use, please let me know!

So, thanks to my student who came to her teacher for help, which challenged me to turn my students into teachers for the day, while at the same time, I became a student again learning more about one of Austria's most famous composers.
Mozart garden in Vienna, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Implementation round 3: Cordoba!

F.U.S.S.B.A.L.L. = soccer
1978. Defending World Cup champions, the West Germans, faced up against the Austrian National soccer team.  At home, the German team had shelves creaking and bending under the weight of so many trophies: 1st place in 1954, 4th place in 1958, 2nd place in 1966, and 3rd place in 1970. The Austrian team, on the other hand, had 1 third place win in 1954, and that's pretty much it. The odds were not in their favor to be sure.
But in spite all of that, deep in the heart of Argentina in a city called Cordoba, Austria toppled the West German soccer powerhouse 3 to 2.

Drei Deutschlandfans halten vier Zetteln mit den Aufschriften "Ihr habt", "Cordoba", "und sonst" und "nichts"Apparently, the Germans and the Austrians are STILL talking about it. Given the history of the 20th century, my students are often intrigued by the idea of rivalry, competition, or contention between the D-A-CH countries. It wasn't until I sat in on the lecture during my summer seminar given to us about immigration in Austria, that I gained any insight into this cultural perspective. It all comes down to one thing: sports.

Since I was finishing up a chapter about hobbies and sports, I thought that I could work in a small bit about this rivalry between Austria and Germany. I shared the story with the students about the 1978 game. We looked at vocabulary like das Wunder von Cordoba, die Schande von Cordoba, immer, schlagen, and Mannschaft. And to ensure that I was presenting a balanced view on the story, I showed this image of current t-shirt, so that we could include Switzerland in the discussion.

Interestingly, t-shirts provide excellent authentic text for beginning to intermediate language learners. They are short, sweet, often funny, and intensely contextualized.

A few days following this lesson, a student came up to me after class and shared that while playing on a German server for an online game the previous night, he got into a discussion with a German with whom he was playing, who was a fervent soccer fan. My student ribbed him with his knowledge of the loss at Cordoba. The German guy was less than thrilled and threatened to kick him out of the game that night! I'm sure he was joking, but my German 1 student had this proud sparkle in his eye that he had that little piece of cultural knowledge tucked up his sleeve. I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear as he shared his encounter. This is proof positive to me that teaching culture matters, and I'm not going to put it on the sidelines any longer.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Kaffee 2

Based on the outstanding popularity of the previous post's topic, I decided to write a follow-up. First, let me show my gratitude to all who shared ideas for creating a lesson about Viennese Kaffeehäuser. Second, let me pass those suggestions on to you.

From R. in Illinois: a video in German from the Deutsche Welle series "Euromaxx" available through YouTube. The language is at a more advanced level, but I think that since it is only 4 minutes long and very contextualized with imagery, you could use it for beginners with the right kind of comprehension questions or simply as authentic material for interest.

From K. in Minnesota: an article from the magazine Spiegel Online called "Die Bohne der Erkenntnis." It is pretty long to use in toto, but I think that sections of it would work in my classroom. I especially liked the introduction section, which, in my opinion, gives a very GERMAN perspective on the coffee experience, which I think I could use to contrast with the Austrian point-of-view of coffee consumption. I also really liked the historical bits and current statistics, which I think you could easily use with students at all levels. Wait, I think I'm envisioning a math/German lesson...

From G. in Iowa: a promotional video in English from Viking Cruises about Café Demel. It's a little shiny and makes my wallet cringe, but at the same time it shows the luxurious angle of the Kaffeehaus, especially all those cakes and sweets, which take my breath away.

From my own Internet trolling: some quotes from German-speakers about coffee. I love words and quips and poems (and apparently the word "and") in the classroom, because they provide authentic language at an accessible amount for beginning language learners.

Kaffee dehydriert den Körper nicht. Ich wäre sonst schon Staub.“ - Franz Kafka
(Coffee does not dehydrate the body. I would already be dust.)

Für mich ist es am schönsten im Kaffeehaus. Man ist nicht zu Haus und doch nicht an der frischen Luft.“ - Peter Altenberg
(For me, it is nicest in a coffeehouse. You're not at home, nor out in the fresh air.)

I have to say I disagree with Herr Altenberg. When I visited the Café Sperl on several occasions while in Vienna, I enjoyed sitting outside the café the most. Granted, it was July.

I'm still looking for Kaffeehaus ideas. Keep sending them my way!
My POV, Vienna 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kaffee im Café

Day Two in Vienna at the famous Café Sperl, 2013
It is very intriguing to me how memories are so deeply embedded in our senses.
The crispy, crunchy delicate layers of strudel pastry echoed by layers upon layers of apple slices.
The dark smell of roasted espresso with wisps of sweetness hovering above from heavy whipped cream foam.
I will contain myself from describing the perfection of flavors as they waltzed across my palate.

I returned to this café several times during my stay in Vienna. It started to become MY café. It was near my seminar house. It had free Wi-Fi. The sun seemed to always be shining when I was there, which made for perfect sitting in the dappled shade of the nearby trees. Have I mentioned the strudel?

The entire cultural tradition of visiting your local Kaffeehaus is one that I can definitely get my head around. I love that you can sit as long as you want and only have to order one lone cup of joe. Apparently, this tradition stems from the Industrial Age, when living space was such a precious commodity that the only way urbanites could have space to themselves was to sit in a café.

I learned several things about Viennese café culture while in Austria this summer. First off, I had to completely relearn how to say the word for coffee. Now as a language teacher, this was very frustrating for me. Here's a short history of how I learned languages. In high school, I started with Latin (no speaking required!). Senior year, I started French, where I learned to say "Un ca FE, s'il vous plait." Then, when I started learning German in college, I had to learn to say "Ein KAF fee, bitte." Which in the long run means that when in Germany you drink "KAF fee" at a "ca FE". However, when you're in Austria, you say, "kaf FEEEEEEE"! Just when I thought I had my brain rewired to say "coffee" correctly, Austria has to go and change things. (At, you can click to hear the different pronunciations for Kaffee).

Second, I learned that I am unable to read German. I thought that I had read Faust in graduate school, but apparently that is like a Dr. Seuss book in comparison to deciphering an Austrian coffee menu.
menu from the Café Sperl, 2013
Mocca? (Like hot chocolate?) Franziskaner? (I thought that was a beer.) "A small brown one? A large brown one?" (I thought all coffee was brown!) These drinks are named for people and places and vehicles (Fiaker)! It's like some kind of secret code. Can I please just have a cappuccino? Does anyone here speak Italian, maybe? In case you're curious, in the photo at the top, I ordered an Einspänner after some careful Internet research.

Austrian coffeehouse culture is so world-famous that it has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage along with 48 coffeehouses in Vienna. It's right up there with the tango from Argentina and Chinese calligraphy. Austria is very proud of its cultural identity. Some people are so protective of it, they even use it as a reason to discriminate against other groups. Turkey has been trying since 1987 to become a member of the EU with no success. One politically-minded group in Austria called SOS Mitmensch created this advertisement that touches on this point of contention.
shared by Hannes Schweiger in his presentation on diversity
For my readers who don't read German, it says, "Entrance into the EU by Turkey threatens our cultural identity." The irony here is that coffee came from Turkish culture to Vienna in the 17th century. So, exactly how "Austrian" is the whole coffee thing anyway? Regardless, they have developed it and nurtured it into a unique experience not to be missed.

I'd like to leave you with a poem that I hope to someday use with my German students, because I think that it conveys well the Austrian attitude towards their beloved coffee institution. One of our seminar leaders performed it for us one late hazy afternoon as we made our way to the royal rose gardens.
Kaffeehaus by Peter Altenberg (1910)
Du hast Sorgen, sei es diese, sei es jene - ins Kaffeehaus!
Sie kann, aus irgendeinem, wenn auch noch so plausiblen Grunde, nicht zu dir kommen - ins Kaffeehaus!
Du hast zerrissene Stiefel - Kaffeehaus!
Du hast 400 Kronen Gehalt und gibst 500 aus - Kaffeehaus!
Du bist korrekt sparsam und gönnst dir nichts - Kaffeehaus!
Du stehst innerlich vor dem Selbstmord - Kaffeehaus!
Du hasst und verachtest die Menschen und kannst sie dennoch nicht missen - Kaffeehaus!
Man kredidiert dir nichts mehr - Kaffeehaus!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Implementation: round 2

I am happy and proud to report another successful integration of Austrian culture into my classroom.

At the end of the introductory unit during German 1, I do a small lesson about the German flag and how it got its design. We watch a 6 minute video podcast from Die Sendung mit der Maus called "Deutschlandflagge." We discuss what we see, hear, and what we can glean from the episode about the development of Germany's national flag. It's good. The students react positively. They freak out hearing 6 minutes of native level German, but it's lots of fun anyway.

This year, I took it to the next level by increasing the presentation to include an activity about the Austrian flag (very briefly) and Austria's coat of arms (das Wappen). It's a lesson from one of the pages out of "Das Österreich Quiz" book. We talked about how nations represent their identity through imagery. We researched German words: Adler, Hammer, Sichel, Kette, Bürgertum, Bauernschaft, Arbeiterschaft, Kraft, Monarchie, Sozialismus, and Freiheit. We discussed which ones are symbolized on Austria's coat of arms. We examined some tongue-in-cheek drawings that other people have made using the Austrian coat of arms and talked about the perspectives that the artist was presenting while depicting Austria: Skination, Trinknation, and Grünnation. Not too shabby for week 3 of German 1.

Then came the best part.

The students developed and designed their own versions of a Wappen for their birth state or country. Using a blank outline drawing of the Austrian coat of arms, they had to draw three symbols for their birthplace and come up with a name "----staat" for their state that reflects how they see it. It was a solid discussion about cultural identity and modern history.

Here are a few examples of my students' work:

At the end, I squeezed in three minutes about Switzerland's flag. I'm already envisioning my next Fund for Teachers grant proposal: Delving into Swiss life and culture. Bern...Luzern...Basel...Geneva...more mountains!

If you would like a copy of the blank outline drawing of the Austrian Wappen, please just leave me a message with your email and a little bit about who you are and where you teach.

I'm feeling really good about my focus this year on D-A-CH countries. It feels so much more balanced and content-rich. Next up, soccer rivalries!

**6/6/2014: Thanks to Frau Leonard for the shout-out on her blog and recording her experiences with using this lesson!**

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An unexpected result

When I first heard about the Fund for Teachers grant, I instantly began to imagine ways that I could utilize those kind of resources. I did some research and before I knew it, I was writing this intense grant proposal to attend a two-week long seminar in Austria. While preparing myself for the grant-writing process, I read and reread the materials provided. I found the mission statement of Fund for Teachers to be very helpful.
"Fund for Teachers enriches the personal and professional growth of teachers by recognizing and supporting them as they identify and pursue opportunities around the globe that will have the greatest impact on their practice, the academic lives of their students and on their school communities."
Professional growth is something that I actively pursue. I have attended many professional development workshops, seminars, and conferences. I always gain insight on my profession as a world language teacher and increased creative flow of ideas and best practices for when I return to the classroom and greater school community.

But this time it was different. For the first time in a long time, I expanded on a personal level. The previous school year had been a particularly challenging one. I experienced many changes and conflicts from big to small. By the time May rolled to an end, I was wiped. Really and truly squeezed dry. I felt thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

Then, in June with an awesome colleague of mine, I took a group of students to Europe for ten days. It was great. We had lots of fun and several times along the journey, I even think the kids were gently surprised by how much they had learned.

Bavarian dancing lessons, Munich 2013
After the trip with students, I came home for a few days and then was off again. During the seminar time, I was completely immersed in Austrian culture and life. As we traveled from city to city, I learned so much about Austrian...


symbol of the Hapsburg Empire, Vienna, 2013
Recreated portion of the Beethovenfries, The Secession, 2013
Schnitzel with a tart berry sauce, Innsbruck, 2013
Vienna, 2013
Ethnic food market in Vienna, 2013
Garden at Castle Eggenberg, Graz, 2013
...language, music, economics, politics, and the list goes on and on. My brain and my bookshelves are now crammed with information, images, artifacts, and experiences that I am incorporating into lessons and activities for my students. Did I mention how great it was?

I literally ended my grant trip on a mountaintop!
I don't know if it can get any better than that.

And then reality set in. My initial work days began with meetings and never-ending lists of emails and syllabi and unit plans and unpacking of boxes and ordering of books and supplies and ....and ..... and.....

And then something whispered inside of me, "Even though you aren't physically there on the mountaintop, you can still be on the mountaintop. Peaceful, blissful, stress-free and ready to tackle whatever bumps come on your road."

So, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Fund for Teachers, for giving me my mountaintop, my coffeehouse, my orchestra concert, my gardens, my Klimt, my castles, and....and....and....

When the going gets tough, the tough go to their mountaintop.
Garden in Innsbruck, 2013


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Implementing my summer experience: round 1

Well, I was about to leave for home, but with the torrential downpour we are experiencing right now, I think that I'll stay at school a bit longer...

I am happy to report that this past Tuesday on Day Two of school I was able to implement my first Austria-centered lesson. I used one of the resource books that was given to us at the seminar called "Das neue Österreich Quiz" (The New Austria Quiz).

front cover of the resource book
It was suggested to us that rather than starting off a language class with your typical "Hello, my name is...., I live in ..." stuff, we could use culture as a vehicle to teach language instead.

This lit up a gigantic light bulb in my head! The students naturally expect conversational basics at the beginning of a language course, but why not present instead them with the chance to participate right away with what they really love anyway? Most of my students tell me that it's the CULTURE of a particular country that interests them the most when they choose a language to study.

Why hadn't I thought of this before? Well, I suppose like many teachers, my tendency is to teach like I was taught, to present content in the order in which I experienced it myself. It requires a certain level of intentionality to do something different, to deviate from the norm. Innovation, experimentation, and creation all are a lot of work, let's be honest! The great thing is that when it works, when it clicks during a class, it is the most rewarding thing. I strive all the time to do the unexpected, when I am teaching language. Creating a bit of mystery and suspense in a class is always a successful tactic.

Using this lesson about preconceived notions regarding Austria, we were able to weave together language, history (both modern and old), ethnic diversity and cultural products. My students, on only their second day of German class, learned the words Monarchie, Moschee, Mozartkugel, Skifahren, and Kaffeehaus. It was a great activity, and I am already looking forward to next week's lesson that presents a method for examining Austrian perspectives on their national identity. Stay posted!
Mozartkugel (Austrian chocolate confection)

Friday, August 16, 2013

lingua austria

Student question #7:  What makes Austria different and unique compared to other European nations?

There were times when I was in Austria, when I felt like speaking German was not necessarily so helpful to me. One night in Innsbruck, for example, we were treated to a live performance by Lydia Hermann, local musician and songwriter.

(My video of her singing did not record so well, but this one is much better.)

Lydia sings not in German, not in Austrian German, but rather in her own Mundart or dialect known as Steierisch. Just sitting and listening is a stretch for me. Having the lyrics in front of me helps. It is so elegant the way she tells her stories, once you figure them out.

And here is a story of Austria. In 1282, the first Hapsburg prince came to be in charge of things in this part of the world. His descendants then continued to reign for the next 600 plus years! It wasn't until the end of World War I in 1918 that the empire was dissolved. While the monarchy held the lands of the Austria-Hungarian Empire together in a unified block, the people, however, hailed from many different ethnic backgrounds.

In Austria, the official language is German, but there are several other languages spoken by its people still today: Turkish, Serbian, Croatian, Romany, Slovakian, Slovenian, Czech, Hungarian, Kurdish, and Bosnian, just to name a few. In Vienna, the capital of Austria, over half of the students in schools speak a language other than German as a native language. Over half (53.8%, 2011-12)! To give you some perspective on this densely packed Schmelztiegel, Austria is roughly the size of South Carolina, but due to its topography, is only actually inhabited in about half of that space.

See all that white space running through Austria? That's basically all mountain goats and sweet little Alpine flora.

Innsbruck mountain area, 2013
Austria is (to an American) a tiny place with an incredible variety of voices. Language diversity is recognized and valued. I would even say, treasured.
In the school in which I teach, an average student gets 10 months of foreign language instruction during an academic year. If we're lucky, an above average student will stick around for another 10 months the following year, and then that's more or less das Ende. In Austria, students begin learning a foreign language in the first grade and continue on until they graduate. (Source: Austrian Federal Ministry of Teaching, Art and Culture). Do the math. That equals 11 YEARS of foreign language study, or 120 months compared with our 10 maybe 20.

Lucky for me and a sprinkling of other school districts across the nation, elementary schools are beginning to hear the call of foreign language education. Support your school's foreign language programs. We need every voice we can get.

Austria is unique from other speaking countries in part because of its intense ethnic diversity. It's been a melting pot for centuries. Austria officially is a German-speaking country, and at the same time a nation of polyglots and people proud of their diverse heritage.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Hare With Amber Eyes

Frau Boynton's Book Review
The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance
by Edmund de Waal
Vintage Books, 2010

A few days into my time in Austria, I realized with regret that I had neglected to pack a book to read for those moments when I needed a diversion for my mind away from my task at hand of speaking German and exploring Austria. My brain needs easy stuff sometimes to take a break from all the work it is normally doing: a magazine to flip, a movie to watch, and when I'm in German-speaking 24/7 mode, a book in English to read. It's kind of like hiding Snickers bars under your bed, when you're supposed to be dieting, but if I don't get brief opportunities to read in my own language now and then, I burn out and get grumpy. So to keep the world a more peaceful place, I made my way that afternoon to the Morawa bookstore near St. Stephan's cathedral.

In my experience, bookstores in mainland Europe have limited and somewhat eclectic English-language selections, but I was ready for the challenge. Besides, it offers me the choice to pick up a book that I might normally have passed over for something more familiar. Desperate times often call for desperate measures. Red pill, blue pill.

So, there I was on the second floor skimming titles when this bunny rabbit waved to me from the cover of this book!

my copy, 2010
Mental checklist when I am book-shopping:
  1. author? Unknown
  2. title? It's about wealthy rabbits? Like Watership Down or something?
  3. Biography award? I don't really read biographies as a general rule. They're too focused on the individual, kinda like blogs. Eh-hem.
  4. (flip book over for back cover synopsis) Japanese art carvings...inheritance...from Odessa (embarrassed to say I didn't know where that is) to Tokyo...trace the journey, blah blah generic buzzwords here...
Well, it's this or a Jennifer Weiner paperback about high-heel shoes. Off to the Kassa I go with the bunny leading the way.

"...,als plötzlich ein weißes Kaninchen mit rothen Augen dicht an ihr vorbeirannte." (German version of Alice in Wonderland)
"...,when suddenly a white rabbit with red eyes ran right by her.

Or in my case, amber eyes.

I knew within the first few pages that I was hooked to this book. In just the preface of the book, de Waal orchestrates his words and phrasing in such a way that you feel a melody begin to rise that carries you along to the last page. This book isn't a genealogical report. It isn't a history lesson. It is a story of his family and a reflection on his connections to his physical inheritance, the netsuke collection, and his psychological/emotional inheritance, his understanding of his identity in relationship to his family history.

On page 9 of my copy, de Waal is describing a conversation that he is having with his uncle Iggy trying to get him to talk about his early life in Vienna,
"Actually, he resumes, after a pause, Papa always said that he'd put me up for his club when I was old enough. It met on Thursdays somewhere near the Opera, with all of his friends, his Jewish friends. He came back so cheerful on Thursdays. The Wiener Club. I always wanted to go there with him, but he never took me. I left for Paris and the New York, you see, and then there was the war. I miss that. I missed that."
That section I read over and over. As a German teacher, I have encountered many narratives and reflections on the European experience as a result of World War II. Reading this novel gave me a fresh perspective not only in a poetic way, but also because it tells an Austrian story.

The Vienna section of the book is, however, only one part of the story. The novel begins in Paris and talks about art, lots and lots of art. I read about so many paintings, painters, sculptures, architectural styles and art movements, I feel like I now have an minor in art history or something. What was amazing to me was that while reading this book I was simultaneously experiencing art masters on a daily basis. I visited and enjoyed many art museums while in Austria, but you don't have to go into an art museum to enjoy art in Austria. The buildings are like art pieces. There are sculptures in parks and in plazas and scattered all around the place really.

University building in Vienna, 2013

Detail of a war memorial in Vienna, 2013
Otto Wagner apartment house, 2013
It was a happy coincidence that I read The Hare With Amber Eyes during my Austria travels. I couldn't have asked for a better find. For a former French major turned German major with Japanese minor, reading about a family whose lives played out in Paris, Vienna, and Tokyo made me wonder if de Waal had written his book just for me when I needed it most.

"Don't mistake coincidence for fate," Mr. Eko so wisely once said.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Via Austria

Student question #6: What are some of their {Austrian} cultural habits?
Answer: Austrians see their past deeply connected with their future.

During my freshman year of college, I began learning German with Herr (Dr.) Ronald Warner. Having spent five years already as a Latin scholar, as we were named by our Latin teacher in high school, I was ready to tackle German grammar systems and to cope with the challenge of acquiring a new set of vocabulary. When it came to culture and history, I soaked it all up, too. Currently, the more that I read and witness in regards to European and Austrian history and culture, the more I realize that understanding ancient Roman history and culture makes it all that much more connected in my mind.

While in Austria this summer, I saw Latin words and Roman images everywhere I went: buildings, monuments, works of art, etc. Why do Austrians bother to utilize so many Latin statements in their cities and towns? Why do they choose to employ so many Roman-themed images and stories? Why is it all still so meaningful to them?

I. Being surrounded by Roman/Greek heroes improves your looks.

Mural from the Spanischer Saal at Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria, 2013
While renovating Castle Ambras in the 16th century, Archduke Ferdinand II integrated a 43 meter long ballroom. When it came time for the artistic design of the hall, he chose to include along with the 27 portraits of Tyrolean princes all twelve labors of Hercules. If you came to an event here, you would be mightily impressed and you might even begin to associate the archduke with heroic deeds he never personally accomplished. Regardless, the message is: Hercules had godlike powers, and so do I. Maybe I should rethink my poster choices for my classroom walls this fall...

II. Latin lasts forever!
Latin text from one section of the Plague Column on the Graben in Vienna, 2013
If you would like to say something to the world and want it to be read forever, compose your sentiment in Latin! In Vienna just steps away from St. Stephan's cathedral stands the Pestsäule (plague column). In 1679, the emperor, while running as fast as he could out of the city, promised to God to erect this monument, if he would rescue the city and himself from a plague that was ravaging its residents. A bit over 300 years later, one can still palpably feel the emperor's anxiety about what had happened in his hometown with his words, "I devote most subserviently this monument, just a small eternal token, is all."

III. Latin is where all the cool kids hide their secret messages.
Base of a column in Graz, 2013

Underneath the Goldenes Dachl in Innsbruck, 2013
Take a close look at those two pictures. What do you see? Notice how some of the letters are larger than the others? Why those letters, do you think? Let's list them out:
  • V M I I V D I I I I I V I I L V
  • V D I C I V V L M V
Now they look familiar! Roman numerals, which are actually letters. These are examples of cryptograms. The creator of these inscriptions used the words of the text to imbed an important number. That's what I call multi-purposing!

Bonus question for the nerds in the audience: what dates are represented with each cryptogram shown here?

So many centuries later, we still think about the Romans, imagine ourselves in their myths, and use their language, because in spite of all of its awkwardness and challenges, it works. It communicates. It makes itself understood. It unchangeably defies change. To know myself, I have to know where I have been.
This one's for you, Mr. Tannas. Maximas gratias tibi ago


Monday, July 22, 2013

Words that end in "L"

In the Austrian variation of the German language, the way in which one creates a diminutive form is to add an "L" to the end of the word. Think Hänsel and Gretel, for example. Hänsel is "little Hans" and Gretel is "little Margarete." How cute, you're thinking to yourself right now. During my stay in Austria this summer, I encountered many "L"-words that left a lasting impression on my mind.

Question for my loyal readers (all five of you): Which of the following "L" words would you most like to try?
Please post your responses in the comment section below.

KrautfleckerL = little flecks of noodle with cabbage
This dish I had on my last evening in Vienna in a suburb called Nussdorf. It was part of a larger buffet that we ate outside at a Heurige. This version was served with bacon, as well. It's on the upper right-hand corner of my plate. I'm definitely going to recreate this one at home and offer it on list of possible dishes that my students can make for their Austrian cuisine project.

Krautfleckerl mit Speck in Nussdorf, 2013
BrettL(jause) = rustic spread served on a little board between mealtimes
Now this diminutive form is used quite ironically, since this spread that we were offered was anything but little. One evening in Graz, the group was treated to a true Steirisches Buffet. Graz is located in the Austrian state of Steiermark. All of the offerings on the buffet were specialties of the Steiermark, from the Käferbohnensalat (beetle bean salad, don't worry, no beetles included!) to the Kürbiskernölaufstrich (pumpkin seed oil spread) to the cured meats and mountain cheeses. I was barely able to stop myself from eating myself into a Violet Beauregarde stupor.

Steirisches Buffet in Graz, 2013

EierschwammerLgulasch mit ServiettenknödeL = chanterelle mushroom goulash with "napkin" dumplings
The Ottoburg restaurant in Innsbruck is located in one of the oldest buildings in Innsbruck. It dates back to 1180 to be exact. Their cuisine is an elegant blend of the traditional and the 21st century. I ordered this lunch special and was not disappointed. Knödel is the Austrian word for dumpling and derives its meaning from the idea of a "little knot." The "napkin" dumpling that I ate at the Ottoburg was actually slices from a larger loaf-shaped dumpling. Eierschwammerl is the name for the mushroom and actually describes what the mushroom looks like "little egg-colored sponges."

Serviettenknödel in Innsbruck, 2013
Eierschwammerl at the farmer's market in Salzburg, 2013
At the Schlossberg restaurant in Graz, I had a SemmelknödeL (bread dumpling), which looks more like what you would picture as a dumpling, self-contained little universes of starchy flavor.

Pork tenderloin with Semmelknödel in Graz, 2013
The MarillenknödeL that we made during our cooking lesson in Graz are little round knots of dough filled with whole apricots. I must say, I'm pretty proud of how they turned out. Additionally, the other two foods on this plate include Mohnnudeln (poppy seed noodles) and PowidltascherL (little plum pockets).

The fruits of our labor cooking with Lukas in Graz, 2013
Lukas Mayerhofer, master pastry chef
Student question #5: What kind of food do they {Austrians} eat?
Well, students, let's start with the foods that end in "L" and then go from there: 
SpinatstrudeL, MozartkugeL, RotkohL, ErdapfeL, SchnitzeL, NockerL, SchmankerL...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

etwas Süßes (something sweet)

Student question #4: Can you "cake" in Austria?

There is something visceral about connecting to people through food. I have found that my students consistently have a sincere interest in experiencing the cuisine of the culture that they are learning about. Students beg for it. Colleagues angle for it. Parents anxiously wait for it. "When are we going to have a food day?" they scream!

I used to feel put off by this question, because I felt that the students were just using food as an excuse to have a day free from grammar, reading, writing, and listening, you know, THINKING! However, upon reflection, I think that my students do want to experience the culture that they are learning about in a tangible, authentic way, and food is an easy vehicle for that. It does not require us to buy expensive, unreliable airline tickets or to pack suitcases with too many pairs of socks and not enough toothpaste. All we need is a recipe, a little money for a trip to the grocery, and the courage to put it all together into a dish that we can share with others. 

Spending 18 days in Austria gave me the opportunity to select and taste many different dishes than I had had before in Germany. Austrian food during the summer months is a celebration of seasonal fruits. Apricots, cherries, plums, blueberries, lemons, and apples all were stars of the show. So, to answer my students' question from above: Yes, you can kuchen in Austria, and you can strudel, and you can parfait, and you can eis, and you can scheiterhaufen, and you can mousse, and you can knödel, and that's just the beginning.

Desserts from my 18 days in Austria, 2013
Pictured from left to right:
row 1
  • selection of Kuchen at the terrace café at the top of the Hafelekar summit
  • Scheiterhaufen mit Vanillesauce at Café Diglas in Vienna
  • Eis put together in the shape of a flower from the Amorino Café in Graz
  • Schokoladenmousse at lunch at the seminar house in Innsbruck
  • selection of Strudel at the terrace café at the top of the Hafelekar summit
  • the Schlossberg restaurant's take on a Schwarzwälderkirschparfait
  • a Nussschnecke from the Marché market at the airport
  • Strauben from our "Steirisches Buffet" in Graz at the convent house
row 2
  •  Mohnnudeln, Marillenknödel, and Powidltscherl that we made ourselves at our cooking demo
  • selection of Torten at the Stiftskeller at the monastery in Admont
  • Heidelbeerenkuchen at the seminar house in Innsbruck
  • Kirschmarmorkuchen at the Stiftskeller in Admont
  • Zitronenmousse at the seminar house in Innsbruck
  • Eis (Kirsch & Stracciatella) from the famous Zanoni & Zanoni Café in Vienna
  • an entire tray full of Scheiterhaufen at Café Diglas in Vienna
  • Apfelstrudel at Café Sperl in Vienna