Reflections on Our Experiences in Marburg

Wabash students in their morning language class

Cole Chapman ‘16 – Our time in Marburg is coming to a close, as Friday is the last full day before we leave. The past two weeks have been an experience and an adventure for all of us. From that first step off of the plane, 4,400 miles from home, to our increasingly comfortable knowledge of the city, a lot has happened. That first day was exhilarating yet terrifying. Being in a country where everyone speaks a language you’re still trying to grasp can be a real shock. We rose to the challenge, though, found our feet and fought through, just like we always do. I have become, I now notice, more confident using German around town.

Two students working on an assignment get some help from Almut, a former German language intern at Wabash.

The language school, or “Sprachschule” as we call it, has expanded our vocabulary and our knowledge of Marburg and Germany. School was early, school was long, but school was also helpful. Whether we were learning about “Kneipen” in Marburg or “Kraniche” in flight, we absorbed all we could.

The rest of the time here has been divided between group activities and independent exploration. The activities we did together with Dr. Redding and Dr. Tucker gave us structured learning about the history and culture of such an old city. They also gave us the opportunity to visit interesting cultural and historical sites in other cities such as Frankfurt and Kassel. A large part of our learning experience also came from the exploring and searching that we all ended up doing, either alone or in small groups. We met new people, saw new sites, and experienced a country that was different from anything we had encountered before.

All in all, it has been an amazing and unforgettable immersion trip. We had fun, had some laughs, and learned a lot about a country, a culture, and a language we hold dear. This closing experience for German 202 has encompassed everything we learned back at Wabash and has put that learning in a new light. It’s one thing to need accurate German on a homework assignment, but it’s something quite different to need good German on the bus, on the street, or in the café. All in all, it’s a been a great time, and now home is just around the corner. Tschüss!

Learning About Jewish History in Marburg

David Lawhorn ’15 – Waking up at 6 AM is no easy task for a college student, but having a host family that provides a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and wonderful bread sure makes it easier. After eating my hearty breakfast, I was off to the Sprachschule, or language school. After an intensive couple hours of language instruction, I was excited to go out with Dr. Tucker and Dr. Redding. Also, we had a surprise visit from our former German Language Lab instructor, Maria.

German Professor Greg Redding points out traces of history along the street in Marburg.

First, we visited a Holocaust memorial that was close to our language school. It’s something that we’ve walked past many times, but it’s easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for. It consists of golden stones with the names of Holocaust victims, but these stones are laid in the sidewalk like any other cobble stone. They’re placed in front of the houses where Jews once lived in Marburg. They’re known as “Stolpersteine,” stumbling blocks or stumbling stones, and they are supposed to be a reminder to the younger generations of the people who lived in Marburg and were murdered during the Holocaust. I found these stones intriguing as they contained not only the names of the victims, but also their year of birth and some stones listed the date they were murdered.

After observing these stones, we moved on to a much larger memorial across the street. It was in remembrance of a synagogue that was destroyed in 1938. The memorial sits on a street full of other buildings, and is almost like a scar in the tissue of the city. Where the synagogue once stood, there is now a large, open plot of land with beautiful grass and a bench for people to pause on and reflect. Next to the memorial is a small bronze statue of what the synagogue looked like before the malicious attacks. Our group talked about the moral ramifications of the Holocaust for quite some time while visiting this memorial.

Afterwards, we showed Maria around Marburg and took her to see the Elisabethkirche. Walking uphill has gotten much easier after 10 days, but there is still no way I could live here! She really enjoyed the city and we enjoyed catching up with her. We only have a few days left in Marburg, but we plan to make the most of them!

German Students Make Two Excursions

An old square in central Frankfurt, Germany

Darren Cochran ’16 – On Saturday morning, we took the train south from Marburg to Frankfurt, where we visited the Goethe House and Museum. It was very interesting, because Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was an amazing German writer, artist, and intellectual. The museum showcased numerous pieces of art depicting Goethe and his time, as well as quite a lot of information.

German Professor Brian Tucker talking about the Goethe Haus.

The style of the paintings was just entrancing, bright, and vibrant. After going through the museum, we moved on to Goethe’s childhood home. It is four stories tall with several important rooms on each story. The first thing you see when walking into the house is the exquisite staircase made of sandstone; the first few stairs are the original sandstone steps, the very same ones Goethe and his family walked on.  Throughout the house were the family’s personal belongings, my favorite being a beautiful grandfather clock that told the time, date, phases of the moon, and even the zodiac year. We also got to see the table and lectern at which Goethe wrote several of his most famous works.

Our next stop was the Frankfurt Cathedral, a famous cathedral where the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire were elected. The cathedral was very large, but I was disappointed not to be able to see it as it had been before the bombings during World War II. Even rebuilt, though, it was beautiful. It was built in a Gothic style, with the high ceilings, pointed arches, and ribbed vaults that this style is known for.

On Sunday, we traveled in the opposite direction, north to Kassel. I was very excited for this excursion, knowing we would be learning about the Brothers Grimm. After studying law in Marburg, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm spent some of their most productive years in Kassel. The Brothers Grimm have always fascinated me, and almost every child today has grown up on the fairy tales they collected. The first stop was an exhibit that was all about the Brothers Grimm and their accomplishments, as well as how much they have influenced modern culture.

It started with an exhibit that showed the history of the brothers and contained books, journals, portraits, and possessions that were either of historical value or important to them. After that, we went through a very fun and interactive showcase of the two brothers’ work in literature, linguistics, and philology. There was one part that played videos showing the influence the fairy tales still have on contemporary culture. Another showed one of the brothers’ other great achievements, their dictionary of the German language. The volumes filled an entire wall with word after word. It is amazing how much they did in one lifetime.

After the exhibit, we went to a museum that showcased the fairy tales the Brothers Grimm collected. It was a really fun exhibit. For the most famous fairy tales, we got to see many different artistic depictions of the same story. I even learned of some new ones that I need to read.

Saturday and Sunday have definitely been my favorite part of the trip so far. Getting to see all of these amazing buildings and pieces in the museums, as well as learning more about both Goethe and the Brothers Grimm was just amazing.

Castle History Impresses Mull ’16

Wabash students explore the fortifications around Marburg’s castle

Jacob Mull ’16 – On Wednesday the 8th, we took a tour of the old castle that overlooks Marburg. The reddish-brown sandstone castle sits high above all the other parts of town. You’re almost always looking up at it, wherever you go, so we had been walking in its shadow for several days before we got the chance to explore it ourselves. For military and history buffs like me, this tour was a real highlight. Besides being a humble abode for various lords over the years, the castle also serves as a living history to the evolution of warfare in Europe. It has several fortifications that throughout its history have been modified to better defend it form the various weapons and tactics that were being developed.

The castle was built in 1228 and followed the standard format of the period with a commanding view of the area and steep narrow paths of advance for enemy forces. (Believe me, after climbing stairs for at least half an hour to get up there, I truly understand the tactical obstacle that steep, narrow paths present.) After the introduction of artillery into European warfare, it became necessary to renovate the castle’s defenses. This led to the construction of the so-called Witches Tower in 1500. The Witches Tower served two roles: first, it was an artillery bastion to aid in defending the castle, and second, it was as place for accused “witches” to be held.

After we finished our tour of the Witches Tower, we proceeded to walk along the old ramparts and bulwarks of the castle where the cannons were placed overlooking the old city. We then headed underground, through the cave-live tunnels that run beneath the fortifications. The castle’s fortifications, even in their current impressive state, are still nowhere near the glory they would have been in their prime. Several of the older fortifications made obsolete by improved weapons were destroyed by Napoleon’s army in 1807. The outer walls which once stood 15 meters now stand a mere 1.5 meters tall. These factors aside, the castle is still an incredibly defensible position and would prove a challenge for even a modern army to occupy or take from a determined defending force.

These military fortifications were for me probably the most fascinating part of the tour, but the castle is significant for other reasons as well. For example, in 1529, it was the site of the Marburg Colloquy, a meeting between Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli that attempted to resolve some of the disputed points in Protestant theology.

German from the Classroom to the Cookout

Wabash men with German college students

Seth Gunderman ’16 – Tuesday was our second day of class at the “Sprachschule”. We learned more about Marburg, its famous people and its history, but we also learned where to find an umbrella. This was essential information because of the pouring rain that occurred most of the day. The intensive language course has been a great success so far.  We have learned a lot about German culture and the city of Marburg.

After class and lunch, we met up with Professor Tucker, who went over the features of Gothic architecture using the St. Elisabeth Church as a model. He also reviewed with us ways to make small talk and get to know someone in German. These exercises in small talk were to prepare us for the day’s highlight — an evening barbeque party with students from the University of Marburg. This meant that after a couple of days getting adjusted to using German and hearing it all around us, we were really put to the test.  It was a great event and a fun evening. We had the opportunity to meet and speak with German college students and get a sense of what student life is really like in Germany.

Once the rain let up, we walked out to a student living unit, where we cooked out together, got to know each other, and talked about life. Many of the conversations were about school and the differences between America and Germany. I talked to a student named Darius most of the time, and I was able to conduct the conversation in German. I found out that Darius is an English major, that he’s from Bonn (the former capitol of West Germany), and that he loves American girls.I also learned that he aspires, when he graduates, to become a German-to-English translator. After a while, Darius wanted me to speak some English with him, and when I did, I was quite impressed. His English (like that of most other young, educated Germans) is very good.

My goal now is to keep studying German and to improve until I can impress native speakers the way he impressed me. Later that night, many of the German students decided to continue the evening and joined us at a local watering hole where we were able to hang out some more and build good connections. Overall, the night was a great experience for all the Wabash students and we were able to make new friends in Germany.

First Days in Marburg Intense, Exciting

Kurt Miller ’16 – We arrived safely in Marburg Germany the morning of May 5th to find beautiful weather and welcoming host families awaiting us. The group, all near a comatose state of sleep deprivation due to jet lag, eagerly took a step into a new country many had never visited before. Dr. Tucker and Dr. Redding guided us to the “Sprachschule,” or language school, where we learned more about the itinerary and the host families we’d be staying with.

After meeting and discussing the day’s plans, we embarked into Marburg and our immersion trip began. Our first order of business was meeting with our host families and dropping off our luggage. Some Wabash students are staying within easy walking distance of the language school. Others had their host families pick them up with a car. My host ‘mom,’ Ms. Suarez, a Cuban immigrant and artist who speaks little English, quickly welcomed me into her home, showed me my room for the next two weeks, and offered me a bicycle for my own personal use. Her son, a 16-year-old trilingual student, is the only other person in the house with knowledge of English. Although it is only the second day, my host family’s hospitality got the trip off to a great start, and I look forward to getting to know them better.

On Monday morning, we began our first lesson at the “Sprachschule”. Starting at 8:15, we received a lesson from Herr Mueller, who reviewed with us the geography of Germany and the history of Marburg. The entire lesson was in German and while I sometimes struggled to keep up, I already can tell my proficiency in German is greatly increasing. After language class, we had some time on our own to find lunch and then our group met up with Professors Tucker and Redding at the major church in the city, the Elisabethkirche or St. Elisabeth Church, built by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. We learned that the Elisabethkirche was the first purely Gothic church built in Germany.

From there, we went to a nearby chapel erected in 1270 and still standing! It was a beautiful old site of pilgrimage with graves dating back to the early Middle Ages all around it. We then moved on to tour the city and discovered that scenes from The Brothers Grimm fairy tales are placed all around the city for people to find. We ended our introductory tour of the city at the Marktplatz, or market square, in the heart of historic Marburg. After that, we had some free time and we eagerly explored the city further on our own. All of us are looking forward to a good night’s sleep and are happy the trip started off so well!