Austin College recently received a grant from the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. to participate in its cultural awareness program, “Campus Weeks.” The program is an annual week of collegiate bridge-building between the U.S. and Germany that just concluded.
Participating colleges and universities are provided with a theme each year. This year’s theme, in recognition of the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, addresses Martin Luther’s impact on German history, culture and language.
The opportunity to address the cultural impact of such a timely figure in history was met with zeal by the college’s German department.
“As a German program, we wanted to present Martin Luther primarily as an important multifaceted historical German figure who was not flawless, a man who — with his 95 theses — meant to spark an academic discussion, but caused a historic and theological upheaval that changed the Western world fundamentally,” Ruth Cape, associate professor of German and Campus Weeks event coordinator, said. “Luther’s contribution to the development of the German language was significant. He wrote the first complete Bible in German that appeared in 1534 and was the first German translation to make a major media impact.”
Luther’s impact on culture as well as the church was aided by the invention of the Gutenberg press in the mid 15th century. To further explore cultural aspects of Luther’s life and work, students undertook several creative activities for Campus Weeks.
Using a life sized plastic replica of Luther, students “interviewed” him in their German classes. A student would stand beside the model, and speaking for Luther, they answered questions from their classmates. All interviews were conducted in the German language.
The life-sized replica also made a visit to a student-crafted replica of the Berlin Wall.
“Every few years, students of the Austin College German Club build a ‘Berlin Wall’ out of cardboard boxes, and they invite other students to decorate it with spray paint in remembrance of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” Cape said. “This year, they also had the idea to invite Martin Luther in an attempt to straddle different time periods.”
Smaller replicas of Luther were provided as well for a photo contest. The students photographed the models in a variety of settings on campus and affixed creative captions to their work. First through fifth places were awarded for the best photos and captions.
“There was a total of 20 entries,” Cape said. “Members from the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and from the Art Department judged the images and their captions.”
A baking contest of German desserts was conducted with the treats featured at Kaffee und Kuchen, a gathering for coffee and tea hosted at the Jordan Family Language House. Recognition for the first six places went to the top bakers.
“Contestants were asked to prepare a German style cake,” Cape said. “An independent jury of five people tasted and judged the cakes in the categories authenticity, appearance, flavor and texture.”
A parade on campus was also held featuring paper lanterns crafted by the students. Their creations replicated colorful lanterns that are especially popular with German children during St. Martin’s Day parades, honoring St. Martin or Tours on November 11.
“For the basic shape, we will use black cardboard paper and then use colored transparency paper to cover the cut-out shapes,” Cape said. “A candle is placed into the lantern and the lantern is attached to a small wooden dowel with a thin wire.”
The first time the German Program of Austin College applied was in 2012. The college’s initial application was approved and funded, with additional years that have followed.
“We were chosen with about 40 other colleges and universities nationwide,” Cape said. “Since then, we have regularly been invited to submit a proposal and have conducted numerous successful Campus Weeks.”
The program has been touted for its lasting impact on the college community and its appreciation of German culture and language.
“Campus Weeks contributes to building community and the development of cultural awareness in our college community. Activities always address students, faculty, and staff alike,” Cape said. “In addition, one should not underestimate the role language plays in world peace. Learning a foreign language and being able to communicate in it, even in a limited way, helps build bridges and contributes to world peace, since by speaking a person’s language we validate a person and his/her culture.”