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German Studies

Kohlberg Hall

Department Overview

The German Studies Section offers courses ranging from intensive elementary German to the age of Goethe, from the urban modernity of Vienna and Berlin to German Cinema and contemporary popular culture.

German is spoken in three countries with diverse cultural, political, and economic traditions: The Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is also the mother tongue of significant minorities in neighboring countries. Among Europeans, in fact, the approximately 98 million native speakers of German greatly outnumber those of English, French, Italian (58-60 million each), or Spanish (36 million). In business, diplomacy, and tourism, German ranks second to English in Western Europe, and in Eastern Europe it holds first place. Knowledge of German grants access not only to rich literary, philosophical, and artistic traditions but also to many other kinds of contemporary cultural, economic, political, and scientific developments. German at Swarthmore therefore offers a curriculum that reflects these wide-ranging interests. Students also have the opportunity to apply for membership in the German Honors Society (Delta Phi Alpha) and for financial support for study and research abroad as well as for immersive language study.

The core faculty and staff of German Studies at Swarthmore personally and professionally contribute to the inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary nature of German Studies. Hansjakob Werlen, a native of Switzerland, has published on 19th-century writers Kleist and Herder as well as on the works of Canetti. His scholarship has intersected with Bryn Mawr colleague Azade Seyhan's focus on minority literatures in Switzerland and Germany for co-taught classes on diasporic writing. Sunka Simon, hailing from the North-German Hamburg, has published on Elfriede Jelinek, German film, and popular culture. She is working on a book on concepts of regionalism and globalization in German television. Christopher Schnader, Pennsylvania-born and a Berlin transplant, earned his Ph.D. with a dissertation on friendship in 18th-century Germany. He enlivens German conversation courses with his knowledge of contemporary German socio-political and cultural events.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate
Ständige Vertretung Restaurant
Ständige Vertretung Restaurant
Remnants of the Berlin Wall
Remnants of the Berlin Wall
Brandenburg Gate
Art Installation at the Brandenburg Gate
Reichstag Building
Reichstag Building
Brandenburg Gate
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Antje Rávic Strubel, renowned author, visits Swarthmore

On Friday, November 2nd, 2018 the Swarthmore College German Department hosted esteemed German author Antje Ravic Strubel, who read from one of her novels and led a discussion during a German Studies seminar.  Strubel, who has won numerous awards for her writing, has never shied away from provocative topics that are deemed taboo by society, telling stories that explore the interwoven complexities of love, identity, sexuality, and memory.  Some of her most notable works include Unter Schnee (Under Snow), In den Wäldern des menschlichen Herzens (In Forests of the human Heart), and the book she brought to discuss during the seminar - Sturz der Tage in die Nacht (Days plunge into Night).

In addition to the usual seminar participants (GMST 100), the discussion was also attended by members of the German program as well as other interested faculty members.  Strubel was introduced by Prof. Ute Bettray, Strubel’s host at Lafayette College, where the author is a Max Kade resident this semester. Strubel read various passages from her book in both English and German.  In the conversation that followed, Strubel answered questions and added insights to her work.  She discussed shifting perspectives of the characters, writing style, and motifs.  It became clear that authenticity is of the utmost importance to Strubel.  No characters are simply stereotypes; even a Stasi agent is a fully fleshed out character.  Additionally, the characters act and speak in an authentic manner, always doing things that make sense in the story’s world.  This authenticity assists in providing tangible weight to the novel’s taboo topic, in this case - incest; due to the perspectival and temporal shifts, the reader comes to understand, if not to excuse, the main characters’ incestuous relationship on both a real and symbolic level - signifying the complicated relationship between the two Germanies (East and West).  In this same vein, Strubel explained how an authentic tone is equally as important.  In fact, “Tone” functions in multiple ways in her story; the reader can think of the tone of the ever-shifting narrative voice, the tone of different languages (Swedish and German), the different discourses of characters interacting with each other (child-parent, former Stasi agent and subordinate, women and men, residents and tourists, academics and workers).  Whose voice is more dominant - “gibt den Ton an?” - when the Stasi agent’s last name is Ton?  Strubel’s use of authentic tonality is vital to understanding Sturz der Tage in die Nacht.

Sam Gardner ‘19

German Activities

The German Language Table is held at Sharples Dining Hall, room 208, every Friday at 12:30 p.m. Enjoy relaxed and informal German conversation while you have your lunch.

Filmabende and Spielabende (Siedler von Catan, German Monopoly and Tabu, etc.)(monthly)

Oktoberfest (Fall)

Grillfeier (Spring)

Excursions to Philadelphia, New York and the Pennsylvania Dutch country

Contact Christopher Schnader to be added to our mailing list.

Students and faculty at the German language table

Language Center

The Language Center provides resources to enhance the study of foreign language, literature, and culture at Swarthmore College. Students have access to audio/video materials required for foreign language classes. The lab's resources include 12 Macbook Pros, 8 iMacs, an extensive library of foreign films, video cameras, and audio recorders. The space is a unique, adaptable, multimedia-friendly place to study, practice and develop language skills. 

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