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the joys of Wikipedia and Goethe

Posted by: msunada | November 5, 2007 Comments Off on the joys of Wikipedia and Goethe |

Wikipedia often gets the short shrift in the college environment because it’s not an acceptable scholarly source. However for our purposes Wikipedia.org is actually a great resource. First, it’s published in dozens of languages, including German, so try exploring some random pages to practice your language skills. It’s especially helpful to learn vocabulary on specialized topics. Although the same page in German and English is not often a direct translation, try opening windows of each for comparison. To start out with, try topics such as “Harry Potter und die Heiligtümer des Todes” or the German-language entry for Salem.
Second, the Wikipedia article on German language (here in English, here in German) is very interesting! You can learn about the history of the German language, the spelling reform of 1996, dialects such as Swiss German, and good overviews of grammar, pronunciation, English cognates, and some very indirect cognates. For example, I learned that the German word Knabe (boy) is related to the Old English knave, and fahren is related to fare (as in fare-thee-well, or he fared badly).
Next, how about some German literature? Try http://www.brindin.com/pwpger.htm, link here. It has a ton of great entries. At the top of the page you find links to the entire text of several virtual with both the original German and translated English text. Try “Liars be Dammned”, a play by Franz Grillparzer, “Torquato Tasso” by Goethe, or “William Tell” by Friedrich von Schiller.
As you scroll down the page you will find links to poetry and text by many different German authors. They include an enormous amount of material by Goethe, the text to the opera “Die Zauberfloete” by Mozart, and poems by Friedrich Nietzsche. Unfortunately the website’s design is not great, but don’t let it stop you from enjoying the wealth of literature it contains.
And for your enjoyment, here is a poem from this site, authored by Guenter Grass and translated by Michael Hamburger:
Günter Grass
Wenn sich im Sommer bei östlichem Wind
Septemberstaub rührt und in verspäteter Zeitung
die Kommentare Mystisches streifen,
wenn sich die Mächte umbetten wollen
und zur Kontrolle neue Geräte
öffentlich zeugen dürfen,
wenn um den Fussball Urlauber zelten
und der Nationen verspielter Blick
grosse Entscheidungen spiegelt,
wenn Zahlenkolonnen den Schlaf erzwingen
und durch die Träume getarnter Feind
atmet, auf Ellbogen robbt,
wenn in Gesprächen immer das gleiche Wort
aufgespart in der Hinterhand bleibt
und ein Zündhölzlein Mittel zum Schreck wird,
wenn sich beim Schwimmen in Rückenlage
himmelwärts nur der Himmel türmt,
suchen die Ängstlichen rasch das Ufer,
liegt plötzliche Angst in der Luft.
tr. Michael Hamburger
When in summer in an easterly wind
September dust whirls and in the belated paper
editorials are almost mystical,
when the powers want to change beds
and are allowed to beget openly
new instruments for control,
when around footballs holiday-makers camp
and the playful glance of the nations
mirrors weighty decisions,
when columns of figures put one to sleep
and through dreams a camouflaged enemy
breathes, and crawls nearer,
when in conversations always the same word
is backhandedly held in reserve
and a match can strike terror,
when from the backstroke position in swimming
skyward only the sky seems to tower,
frightened people hurry back to the shore,
a sudden fright hangs in the air.

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