Category Archives: German Studies Events

Articulation of a Mosaic: The Western PA German Day Competition at Washington & Jefferson College

(You can download the complete article as a pdf by clicking here.)

Each spring, the relatively small campus of Washington & Jefferson College is host to nearly 500 middle and high students, there for the day to compete in academic competitions in German. The campus of 1500, smaller than many area high schools, is noticeably busier, louder, and best of all more lively on this date each year. Although such a complex event can be a daunting task, the benefits to the German program, the college, and the community allow programs to showcase the importance of German, sustain momentum, and articulate the connection between high school language programs and college preparation.  This essay will focus on three areas of benefit for holding such a large scale event: giving back to the community, public relations for secondary and post-secondary German programs, and providing connections to the relevance for serious study of the German speaking world.


Town-gown relations continue to be a priority on many campuses in the U.S. The fact that the campus serves as an academic center to the community should not be forgotten and should be exploited whenever possible. Using the campus for community related academic events is a great way to bring large numbers of people to campus and expose them to the academic culture of the university. Therefore, it is in both a community service and a service to the institution when the campus donates its space and facilities to host such events. It is also one of the main factors that makes holding a large event like this financially possible. Annually, Washington & Jefferson College provides the space and supporting personnel free of charge to the area’s educational community. The college works with facilities management, the dining service, security, the Theatre program, and the modern languages department to leverage the existing personnel necessary to make such an event happen.  Students volunteer their time in preparation and the good will of the campus to have hundreds of students roaming the grounds for the day are fundamental aspects to hosting such an event.

Three Prizes – Many More Rewards: The “Freedom without Walls” Speech Competition at Georgetown University

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on events that make German Studies more visible on campus and for the community. If your novelty event caused a PR roar, please share your idea: email

By Astrid Weigert

(You can download this article as a pdf here.)

“And the first prize goes to…,” these celebratory words were the final fanfare for the speech competition project at the Department of German at Georgetown University, which a month earlier had been part of a week-long set of activities commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. An animated group of about 60 attendees, among them undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, cheered the 3 winners, and watched excerpts of their winning speeches on Youtube, all the while enjoying German Christmas pastries and hot cider.  What ended so joyously during our holiday party on December 9, 2009, had been set in motion almost a year earlier when my Department, like many others, received a letter of invitation from the German Information Center (GIC) to participate in the “Freedom without Walls” student project week.

The letter of invitation had outlined a number of potential projects that could be part of such a “Freedom without Walls” campus week. We settled on the following: building a replica of the Berlin Wall, a public lecture by German author Peter Schneider and a second one by Prof. Michael Lützeler on Peter Schneider’s oeuvre, a “Berlin Club Night” for the students, a photo exhibit, a film series, and finally, the speech competition in which students would reflect on the significance of the historic event.

Given my Department’s emphasis on curricular cohesion and on teaching all classes in German, it was clear that we wanted GU students to present their speeches only in German (and not in English as the GIC letter had suggested). Our first challenge, therefore, was how to prepare our students in terms of content and language to give a rather complex speech in German on a political-historical topic. The speech competition subcommittee, consisting of our curriculum coordinator Dr. Marianna Ryshina-Pankova, Ph.D. candidate Rebecca Weidner, and myself, quickly identified an existing instructional unit on the fall of the Wall in our 3rd year course as the best point of departure. A closer look at the materials used in this unit, however, revealed that they were focused exclusively on the years 1989-1990 and reflected only the events and issues of that particular time period. Clearly, if we wanted our students to speak meaningfully about the significance of the events 20 years later, we would need to redesign the unit and include materials ideally up to 2009.