Like the tourist trail, which stretches from Frankfurt to Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castles, German has delighted, inspired, surprised – and occasionally shocked – the intrepid students at Brentwood who have embarked upon it.
From Snow White to strudels, Beethoven to bierfests, Einstein to the Economic Miracle - the German world is an endlessly rich and varied one.
Mark Twain famously wrote an essay titled 'The Awful German Language' although his main motivation for doing so was comic mischief. Indeed, beguiled by it, he spent years admiring and acquiring its intricacies. As our students invariably attest: German is not difficult, just different. Its structure has an elegance and logic which appeals to the scientist, yet it also holds the ability to conjure up wonderful images to inspire creativity. What other language would call a light bulb a Glühbirne ('glowing pear') or nitrogen Stickstoff ('choky stuff')? The fact is, German is very akin to English - which derives from it - and our examination results at all levels indicate that pupils cope very well indeed with its challenges.
At Brentwood, however, German does not just mean learning the language. It fosters an understanding and appreciation of the people, turbulent history, landscapes and genius which lie behind it. In the Rhineland, we follow in Beethoven’s footsteps and explore the myths and legends behind the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm; the School’s longest-running exchange takes us to baroque jewel of Bamberg and also to walled, medieval Nuremberg where the post-war trials of leading Nazis still echo; in Berlin, we thrill at one of the most vibrant and creative cities of the modern world but encounter at every turn reminders of the great political tensions - fascism versus democracy and then democracy versus communism - which became so prominent there.
It is no surprise that such a rich culture and multi-dimensional language offers intriguing insight to all students, no matter what their interests might be. We invite you to join us in studying German; you are sure to find a road which will fascinate, delight and amaze you, too.
Having checked into our four-star accommodation and unfazed by the early start, we explored the middle of a city with three centres: the western one, the eastern one and the central one. Every time I go there, parts are unrecognisable, reflecting changing values. The statue of the founders of communism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, no longer has pride of place on the Marx-Engels Forum, but is instead hidden beneath trees and by recycling bins round the corner. Even the 'Truemmerfrauen', a monument to the women who helped rebuild the city after the war, are obscured, as new commercial premises emerge between the Lutheran church and the Red Town Hall.
Our first museum in the city - which boasts the best in the world - is devoted to life in Russian-controlled East Germany. Life there was often drab, stultifying and constrained by the perpetual menace of the secret police, the Stasi. But, once initial euphoria at the fall of the Wall was replaced by angst over the concomitants of capitalism, unemployment and commercial rents, attitudes changed. Lamenting that you can’t eat freedom, old Easterners developed a nostalgia for the certainties of the former system. The museum is a shrine to those comforts. The cream-coloured Trabant car, for which you had to wait twenty years, but which has no suspension and can only manage 50 mph, has pride of place, alongside vitrines housing naturist beach scenes and a compact mock-up worker’s apartment. Just a little less compact, indeed, than the Stasi cell which abuts it.
Skirting the imposing cathedral, we then made our way to the beautiful neo-classical heart of Berlin, designed by Schenkel. Most notable is the Berlin State opera facing the prestigious Humboldt University. By the opera, though, is a square where the Nazis burnt books of any writer ideologically opposed to them; in effect, any free-thinking western author. A plaque there bears the poet, Heine’s, chilling prophesy: “Where you start by burning books, you end by burning people.” The square is overlooked by the statue of Frederick the Great, Germany’s greatest King but who has a typically schizophrenic legacy. A celebrated composer for the flute, champion of enlightened philosopher, Voltaire, and bringer of religious tolerance to the continent, he too had a darker side. He revelled in military combat, leading the army himself and seizing territory in a prelude to Germany’s monstrous militarisation and annexations in the twentieth century. Hitler had a portrait of him in his room in the bunker. In the street named after him, Friedrichstrasse, Mercedes showrooms and other commercial opulence attest to Germany’s new - economic - dominance of Europe.