Celebrating Weihnachten

February 13, 2012

Germany Field Study

Students gather outside the Semperoper opera house located near the Elbe River in the historic center of Dresden, Germany. Photo by Elizabeth Mess '12.

The scent of roasted chestnuts and the twinkle of glass ornaments are enough to draw anyone into the German Christmas markets. But as several Rollins students discovered on a recent Germany field study, there is so much more to the Christkindlmarkts than gourmet delicacies and trinkets. The markets found in towns across the country have an endless array of tradition and culture just waiting to be discovered.

With a history that dates back to the Middle Ages, the markets attract millions of visitors each year to feast on festive fare and shop for holiday ware at hundreds of stalls operated by local craftsmen and purveyors.

It’s a delightful experience Associate Professor of Modern Languages Nancy Decker thinks is made even more delicious when shared with a group of German language students. For the past four years, Decker has led a popular December field study designed to give students the chance to explore holiday markets both in big cities like Berlin and in smaller, culturally unique towns, like Quedlinburg and Wartburg.

This past December, Decker accompanied 11 students, a handful from her RCC class, on the Cornering the Christmas Markets field study, a ten-day journey through five different German towns and cities. “Each of the places we visited had their own take on the tradition,” explained Decker, who does not require students in her RCC course, German: The Fast Track, to attend the field study but she strongly encourages it. “I wanted the students to explore the culture and the history. The hope is that many of the things they have heard about in class will suddenly come alive for them during this trip.”

In the days leading up to the holiday season, students sipped cider and tasted traditional candies. They got a jump-start on their own holiday shopping while selecting from the many candles, leather goods, ornaments, book covers and wooden carvings available at the markets. They played in the snow, watched the strolling musicians, and participated in tours.

Each day, students were asked to work in pairs to photograph the things they saw throughout the day. “The assignment was to capture not just the beautiful things but also the shocking,” said Decker. “I wanted them to think critically.” Students then shared their images along with the German words and phrases they learned throughout the day at daily meetings.

“I really enjoyed the photography component because we were asked to take pictures of things you wouldn’t normally photograph when you’re a tourist,” said Allen Kupetz ’15. “In Leitzig, there is a famous church where Bach was the cantor. Someone took a picture of the inside and it sparked such a great conversation about German cathedrals and how they knew how to create good acoustics.”

Maria Primera Darwich ’15 felt that the field study brought her RCC to life. “It made it so much easier to learn the language and for the language to stick,” Darwich shared. “It was amazing to be able to see the things in person that we had learned about in class.”

It turns out the field study had exactly the impact on Darwich that Professor Decker had hoped it would: “I am now so much more motivated to learn German after going on this trip,” said Darwich, who now thinks she’ll make German her minor as she pursues pre med.

By Kristen Manieri

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