Students get a taste of the joys of German

The Baltimore Sun

It was a celebration of Mozart and marzipan, Freud and folk dances, bratwurst and Black Forest cake.

The only thing missing at McDaniel College's German-American Day? Beer.

But considering the audience - hundreds of middle and high school students from Carroll and beyond - that was probably a good thing.

Now in its 13th year, the event centers on German language and culture. It was started by McDaniel professor Mohamed Esa, who chairs the college's foreign language department.

Esa organized the first German-American Day in 1995, after a conference about the future of German language teaching in Maryland, he said. His idea was to build a bridge between high school and college that might encourage more students to study the language.

"German language, it used to be one of the biggest languages taught in the United States," Esa said. With the rise of Spanish and waning interest over the years, it has slipped to No. 3 among foreign languages studied, after French, he said.

German-American Day has developed quite a following, he said, growing from six schools to the more than 20 that attended last week.

Students from Carroll, Frederick, Harford and Howard counties with a penchant for Deutsch descended upon the campus, filling the air and the pews and side aisles of Baker Memorial Chapel with their chatter. Many held T-shirts that read, "Ich spreche Deutsch. Und du?"("I speak German. And you?")

"Guten morgen, allerseits," Esa said to the crowd.

"Guten morgen," they echoed.

The students were later greeted by Carroll County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, who alluded to his German ancestry.

"We owe it to ourselves to understand our heritage and the heritage of others," Ecker said. "When we do that, then we get to ... appreciate them."

With that goal in mind, the students dispersed for workshops - conducted by McDaniel professors and guests from such places as the German and Liechtenstein embassies - on such subjects as Freud and psychoanalysis, German anti-Hitler resistance and the Holocaust, and Austrian and Swiss folk dances.

Many developed a more sensory appreciation during lessons on decorating gingerbread hearts, making cheese and creating sculptures out of the confection called marzipan.

"How many of you have ever had marzipan?" asked Andrea Shalal-Esa, who was about to share her recipe for the sweet she said she has craved since leaving Germany as a child.

A number of students raised their hands.

"It's like a sweet almond taste," one student said.

Shalal-Esa said, her recipe called for almonds, sugar, a touch of rose water and almond extract. She went on to explain how trade during the Crusades brought almonds, which typically grows in warmer climates, to colder Germany.

"Marzipan is sort of like Play-Doh," Shalal-Esa said, alluding to the various shapes the confection can be formed into, including the Gl?cksschwein, or lucky pig, that she held up as an example. But it is better, she said, "because you can eat it."

Each student received a round lump of the marzipan Shalal-Esa had made to design their sculptures. With the help of cocoa, food coloring, M&Ms; and Sno-Caps, they shaped the unadorned sweet into a bowls, fruits or a snack.

As they worked, groups took turns stepping up to Shalal-Esa's table, laden with the ingredients and a food processor, to watch her make more marzipan.

At one table, Century High School sophomore Brandon Wheeler was intent on placing thin marzipan laces atop a marzipan shoe.

Kyle Owens, a senior at Harford County's C. Milton Wright High School, had just scrapped his sculpture of horror-film character Jason to start anew, molding his portion into a hot dog and bun with a ribbon of ketchup on top.

Both teens said they decided to study German to do something different.

"Everybody takes Spanish," said Brandon, 15. "It's kind of fun to learn a new language."

Kyle said he tried Spanish for a time, then moved on to Latin for a year and found the latter boring. German seemed to be a good fit.

Joe Christopher, a junior at South Carroll High, took a very different approach to his artwork. Having added a liberal amount of Sno-Caps and M&Ms; to the sugary mass, he nibbled away and seemed to enjoy his first encounter with the almondy sweetness.

"It tastes pretty good," he said.

Besides diversifying their palates, the day helped students see others studying German, Esa said, letting them know they aren't alone.

He said he hopes they will be encouraged to study abroad and make friends with people in other countries.

"If they have an open mind after they leave, for other cultures, I have done my job," he said.

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