Mohamed Esa is a Palestinian and an Israeli citizen who went to Germany to study medicine, but got hooked on German language and culture.
He considers Goethe an equal to Shakespeare and the Black Forest a magical place.
The Western Maryland College professor presided over festivities yesterday that brought 450 high school and middle school students to the campus to celebrate German-American Day.
Students from Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties and Washingtonlearned about Goethe and the Holocaust.
They also lunched on bratwurst and German chocolate cake, viewed slides of Vienna, did some folk dancing and built a model of the Berlin Wall in workshops scattered among a half-dozen campus buildings.
"The idea is to get people interested in German culture and excited about their ancestry if they're German," Esa said.
Esa, who teaches German in Western Maryland's Foreign Languages Department, said about 57 million Americans share German ancestry. But he said that German-American Day has been unappreciated since then-President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first one in 1987.
Many people are unaware of Germany's contributions to the arts, literature and sciences, he said, and many German-Americans are reluctant to discuss their ancestry.
"There's a big taboo about German culture in this country. It's incredible," Esa said.
John K. Aymold Jr., president of the 800-member German Society of Maryland, agreed.
Aymold, who attended yesterday's events, and Esa blamed Germany's role in 20th-century events for the tendency to shun the country's culture.
"Two world wars will do that to you," Aymold said.
But German pride was evident yesterday at Western Maryland, which has celebrated German-American Day for five years.
At Alumni Hall, about 20 students painted posters used to adorn the 12-foot-high cardboard model of the Berlin Wall erected on the auditorium stage.
The students -- bused in for the festivities by German teachers throughout the Baltimore area -- said they chose the language as an elective because they either appreciate the culture, hope to travel to Germany or are of German ancestry.
"I'd go back there in a heartbeat," said Eileen Nagel, a sophomore at Aberdeen High School.
Nagel, a self-described Army brat, was born in Germany, lived there until age 8 and visited the country with her mother about two years ago.
She has a chunk of the Berlin Wall at home and said that as a country, Germany is vastly underrated.
"There's a lot more to do over there, and if you're my age and you're just hanging out, you're not automatically assumed to be a criminal," said Nagel, 16.
Esa said the student-built wall is designed to be taken apart and transported for display at area high schools and other locations.
It will be displayed at the German Society's annual dinner, scheduled for Nov. 9 at Zion Lutheran Church at City Hall Plaza in Baltimore, Aymold said.
Esa said that high school German teachers in Harford and Howard counties are trying to arrange to have it displayed at their schools.
Pub Date: 10/13/99