To acquire wisdom, one must observe

German grammar and baking combine in new course

When learning a new language, some of the hardest skills to master are that of pronunciation and perfecting grammar. Professor Sabine von Mering (GER) has created a new course for the Spring 2019 semester titled “GER 102B: Küche, kochen, Kuchen–gucken; Advanced Grammar, Pronunciation, and Baking in Cultural Context,” combining difficult language concepts with baking!

Von Mering has been teaching at Brandeis for 20 years, but this is the first time she has incorporated baking into her courses. The German department holds coffee hours (Kaffeestunden) every other week where students can practice conversation in German and usually someone—von Mering, a different faculty member or student—bakes a cake or other type of dessert for the group to share. “My colleagues and the students came up with the idea that I should teach the students how to make the cakes,” said von Mering.

Held Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:30 p.m.-4:50 p.m., the class is taught in German and has a prerequisite of GER 30 or the equivalent. The course was designed in response to student demand. It is great for those looking to review and refine their grammar and pronunciation skills and also to refresh anything they may need help with in the language, including heritage speakers who speak German at home but have never studied German grammar. It is also great for students who have taken all of the required German language classes but would like to continue their education in the subject.

If you also have an interest in baking German cakes, this is the perfect class for you. Every other week, the class will meet in the kitchen of the Skyline Residence Hall for experiential baking sessions, where students will learn how to bake some of the most popular German cakes, including Vanillekipferl, Käsekuchen, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and six different versions of dough (Teig).

The course will also investigate the cultural history of German baking, cooking and food with emphasis on how various cuisines have been integrated into modern multicultural Germany. These topics will be explored through German food films, as well as films and songs “dealing with critical aspects of today’s food industry, including food waste, animal agriculture and the politicization of food in right-wing populism,” according to the syllabus.

“We’ll also talk about sustainability issues, because that’s something I’m very interested in with respect to food, and we’ll talk a lot about the ways in which different cultures have formed German food culture, especially now where Germany has become a lot more diverse so there’s a lot of different foods that have become a part of the German cuisine…and the growth of the organic industry,” said von Mering.

“I was moved to create this [course] because we heard last year how many students are not happy and lonely on campus, and I think having a course where you bake and eat together and improve your German language skills can really sort of help us get to know each other better and create community,” said von Mering. “I honestly wanted this to be a fun course, but in class we’re going to be dealing with grammar and working hard on our pronunciation, so it’s a little bit of everything.”

“I’ve always liked baking, I used to bake with my mom and grandmothers at home, I come from a very big family, and we never bought food, we always made all our food ourselves,” said von Mering. Most of the recipes used in the course are adapted from family recipes and classic German recipes. “Just dealing with grams will be a challenge for some students already, and dealing with a scale rather than a cup measure, there are certain things that people just don’t do here,” explained von Mering.

In addition to GER 102B, von Mering will be teaching HWL 7: Your Brain on Carbon, a teaching module discussing climate change and carbon reductions and GER 110A: Goethe und seine Zeit, a class introducing students to the literary periods of the enlightenment through the work of Goethe.

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