I recently read, for the first time, a short novella by Theodor Storm called Immensee. What a beautiful little story. Like many of Storm’s stories (and many stories by other 19th-century authors), Immensee begins and ends with a frame narrative. In this frame narrative, we see a lonely old man return to his room at the end of the day and sink deep into thought. The bulk of the story, then, is made up of his remembrances–the story of his youthful, tragic love affair with the lovely Elisbeth–until, at the end, we return to the old man sitting alone in his room. This novella might be a bit of a challenge for a beginner because the language is old and somewhat formal, but the short length makes up for that. It is certainly a wonderfully sad, romantic story and is written with grace and beauty. I didn’t quite cry at the end, but I came close!
You can read the story here: http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/3486/1
How one goes about being polite differs from culture to culture. This little website gives some of the basics in a nice format.
The other day at lunch, a colleague in the Political Science department told me about this article on the BBC website. It’s a fascinating look at how languages change over time. (It was only after the 6th or 7th century A.D. that German and English acquired separate identities; Indo-European is their common ancestor.)
An article in Scientific American reports on a study of how grammatical gender affects our perception of objects. In languages like German or Spanish that have a gender associated with each noun, objects are perceived differently depending on what the gender is. So if Germans consistently refer to the moon with the masculine definite article (“der Mond”), they eventually come to see the moon itself as having male characteristics, more than Spanish-speakers do, for example, for whom the moon is grammatically feminine. I think this is fascinating! The article goes on to say that we assign gender to all kinds of things–even numbers.
In my quest to find good read-alouds online, I stumbled across this site. It’s similar to the vorleser.net I found a few weeks ago, but it seems to have a lot more German literature. Again, it’s great because you can read and listen to the text at the same time–great for language learners. I’ve been listening to Theodor Fontane’s Frau Jenny Treibel.
Erich Kästner (1899-1974) was an author of books for children and for adults. You may know his Konferenz der Tiere or Emil und die Detektive or Das doppelte Lottchen—the model for the movie The Parent Trap! Als ich ein kleiner Junge war is pitched to kids, but it’s a lovely read for anyone. My favorite section is an especially poignant passage about the destruction of Dresden, Kästner’s home town, in World War II.
I’ve been looking for sources for audio books in German, and I came across the vorleser.net site this week. So far I’ve listened to a fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff (Kalif Storch) and a novelle by Wilhelm Raabe, Else von der Tanne. It’s nice to be able to listen to someone reading the stories out loud, and they seem to have a good selection of classics.
I did a lot of reading this summer in German, primarily books from our Free Reading Collection in the German House that I hadn’t read yet. My favorite author of the bunch was Otfried Preussler, and my favorite of his Der kleine Wassermann. There’s no exciting plot here, just a series of adventures by the fascinating little Wassermann. It’s adorable, and Preussler’s creativity and well-crafted writing style really stand out.
I just found this great blog post on the German character esszet. The most recent spelling reform changed the rules for when to use the esszet without taking it away entirely. Although the little character makes our lives more complicated, I’m glad they kept it, because it’s such a unique feature of German–and it’s kind of beautiful, as this blog post will show you!
This narrative by Swiss author Adalbert Stifter (published in 1853) is a lovely little Christmas story about two children lost in the mountains. The plot isn’t earth-shattering–it’s basically a rescue story–but the descriptive language and the detailed structure of the sentences and paragraphs Stifter creates make this book an absolute knock-out. If you’re a fan of Christmas, you should definitely read at least the first few pages, in which Stifter gives a beautiful description of the Christmas traditions in the small village where the children live.
You can read the whole thing here at the Projekt Gutenberg site: