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German Club provides glimpses into another culture

The German Club students sang at the St. Croix County Health Center this fall for an Oktoberfest celebration. (From left) Tyler Miller, James Geiger, Cullen Scott (SCC HS student), Herr Scott, Karlee Martinez, Natalie Spurrell, Myah Olson, Maura Laesser, MacKenzie Anderson and John Spaeth (SCC HS student). (Submitted photo)

St. Croix Central Middle School German Club students learned about German Christmas customs while eating authentic German food at the Winzerstube in Hudson on Saturday, Dec. 14.

According to German teacher Tim Scott, the menu included such choices as Jaegerschnitzel, a pan-fried pork cutlet with mushroom sauce; Hungarian goulasche; and currywurst, a bratwurst sliced thinly with a curry sauce.

Scott has taught the required elective German classes at the middle school for two years. He taught high school German for four years in the 1980s.

“I believe in foreign language learning,” Scott said. “I believe it’s fundamental and important. I believe Americans are behind in languages. In Germany, they begin learning English in the third grade.”

Scott said seventh-graders are required to take a trimester of German; eighth-graders have to take it for a quarter.

German Club events

The German Club has had a busy fall. They sang German songs for the Oktoberfest celebration at the St. Croix County Health Center in September. They attended an Oktoberfest celebration at Lincoln Middle School in La Crosse in October. They watched the Holocaust drama <I>The Boy in the Striped Pajamas<I> at a movie night.

A major highlight, Scott said, was a lecture given by Holocaust survivor, human rights activist and author Gerda Weissmann Klein at UW-Eau Claire on Dec. 1.

Klein, author of the memoir <I>All but My Life<I>, is the sole survivor of her family, Scott said. She survived the Nazi labor camps and the Death March when the Soviets were advancing on German troops in 1945.

Scott said “what gets him every time” is hearing how her best friend, Ilse, died in her arms in a rain-soaked meadow during the Death March and how she met her husband, Kurt Klein, when he liberated her from an abandoned bicycle factory when “she was 68 pounds, hadn’t had a bath in three years and had white hair.”

Klein’s husband was a lieutenant with the 5th Infantry division in the U.S. Army.

Scott said students seemed emotionally affected by her presentation as well. He said student Zeke Orme got up in front of 500 people, walked to a microphone and asked Klein if she ever got her childhood back. Her answer was no, that emotionally she felt 17-years-old when she was liberated, but her body felt much, much older.

“Before her best friend died, she made Gerda promise to live at least another week,” Scott said. “Gerda said back then a week seemed like an impossible eternity.”

The club plans to sing German carols at the SCCHC at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 30. Students also interview residents about their past and visit with them. Scott said they go after Christmas because once the holiday festivities die down, residents appreciate company more than ever.

German Christmas customs

Scott said many German families still use real candles on their Christmas trees because there is more room between the branches than what Americans are used to.

“German trees are much more sparse and less dense than ours,” Scott said.

Scott also said Christmas Eve is traditionally a bigger day for Germans than Christmas Day. Parents decorate the main room of the home with the tree, which is kept off-limits to the kids until an unveiling, Scott said. The family eats a large meal and the kids make a game of trying to sneak a peek at the main room’s decorations, while the parents try to keep them out.

Scott also spoke of the Christmas markets (Christkindlemarkts), which are popular throughout Germany in December during the weeks of Advent. He said the old town squares are filled with booths roasting chestnuts and sausages, selling gingerbread, handmade ornaments, other Christmas crafts and glühwein, a hot, traditional Christmas beverage made with red wine, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star aniseed, citrus, sugar and vanilla.

“It’s a wonderful atmosphere at those things,” Scott said. “The colors, the things hanging for sale, they’re a feast for the senses.”

The most famous and original Christmas market is in Nuremberg, Scott said. He has heard that it’s overrun with people. That market has nearly 2 million visitors a year and more than 200 stalls.

Scott said he visited the Munich Christmas market four years ago, which is a more historical market geared toward how things were in the Middle Ages. People can buy meats on a stick and purchase handcrafted items that were sold during Medieval times, Scott said.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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