Internationale Deutscholympiade Winning the Gold in German

In front of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin – the participants of the Internationalen Deutscholympiade 2016
In front of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin – the participants of the Internationalen Deutscholympiade 2016 | © Martin Christopher Welker

Yesterday, the fifth Internationale Deutscholympiade (International German Olympics) took off in Berlin. 125 young German learners from more than 60 countries are competing to find out who among them is the very best. But the focus is not so much on competition as on cultural dialogue.

“The Internationale Deutscholympiade reflects many of the objectives of the work of the Goethe-Institut,” says Johannes Ebert, secretary-general of the Goethe-Institut. “Here, the German language becomes the basis for mutual understanding among different cultures. The young German learners who travel to the competition from more than 60 countries are curious about Germany, about Berlin, but also about what the other pupils will tell them about their lives and their culture.”

The Internationale Deutscholympiade has taken place every two years since 2008. The competition, which emerged from national German Olympics in the countries of Central Europe and evolved into Olympic Games on the initiative of the International Association of Teachers of German, gathers the most talented German learners from around the world. Each country may enter two participants between the ages of 14 and 19 who are chosen in the national preliminaries.

After German Olympics in Dresden, Frankfurt and Hamburg, the participants are now meeting at the newly opened youth hostel at Ostkreuz from 17 to 30 July. It is both the Olympic Village and the venue of the competition.

Fairness in Linguistic Sport

The Internationale Deutscholympiade is held at the language levels A2, B1 and B2 and comprises three disciplines. Competitors must form international teams to develop a presentation in the form of a play, a short film or a PowerPoint presentation. An international jury will award not only bronze, silver and gold medals for their merits in the linguistic sport but also honours the teens’ team spirit and fairness. The young people are accompanied by German teachers who have distinguished themselves in particularly innovative lessons and who employ, for example, scenic plays, film techniques or visual art in living language teaching.

Nietzsche, Einstein, Currywurst

The motivations of the young Olympians to learn German are as varied as their origins. “I’m learning German because I just like the language; it’s musical and beautiful,” says 15-year-old Alice from France, “That’s why it makes me sad when people say that German is aggressive.” 18-year-old John from Egypt professes that he likes “the writing style of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche” very much and he is also interested “in particular in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.” Like many young people from all over the world, Pratham, a 14-year-old from India, is setting his hopes in the job prospects that learning German offers, saying, “I’m taking German in order to pursue my future studies in Germany. I want to be an engineer.”

The images of Germany that the participants bring to Berlin are often still very clichéd. From Finland, 16-year-old Astrid counts them off: “I think that football, sauerkraut, sausage and Oktoberfest are typically German.” Others who have been to Germany, for example on exchange programmes, and who have remained in contact with their exchange partners on Facebook, have more specific images in mind. They associate Germany with, say, the music by rapper Cro or with Sprudelwasser.

Jahrmarkt der Kulturen

Jahrmarkt der Kulturen or “fair of cultures” has been held since 2014. Here, the teens introduce themselves with a brief performance and design booths with typical products from their homelands (on the terrace of the Deutsche Technikmuseum, 22 July).

Lejla, 17, from Bosnia and Herzegovina wants to convey to others that “Bosnia is not only marked by the effects of war. We even have a Nobel Prize winner, Ivo Andric.” Silvio, an 18-year-old from Estonia, wants to present “the advanced Internet networking system” of his homeland, noting, “Estonia is referred to internationally as the e-state.” 17-year-old Cyndi from Belgium quotes the motto of her home, which could just as well stand for the Internationale Deutscholympiade: “L’union fait la force” or “unity is strength.”

By Patrick Wildermann