Tag Archives: Germany

Celebrating the Solstice

My dear friend “D” entertains annually on the Winter solstice. The party includes many people who don’t know one another, because they come from different parts of D’s life. My original connection was the playgroup that supported D and I though our children’s preschool years. Those kids are over age 30 now, and most of the playgroup mothers are now grandparents.

Not satisfied with food and drink and general conversation (all wonderful!), D always organizes some kind of “sharing”. This year, her topic was simply inspired. IMMIGRATION has been all over the news and dominates many conversations.

We were offered a chance to discuss our family histories, and share about holiday customs that came from our forebears! Seriously, we could have talked all night. There were 16 of us. Do the math. Thirty two parents, sixty four grandparents, and on it goes! Each life is a story.

What did I learn? The most common country of origin for South Jersey families is Italy! (Had you asked me, I might have suggested Germany, but that’s just my neighborhood.) Those with Italian roots reported large families and many variations on the “Feast of Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve.

Next most common was the Irish/German/Miscellaneous cohort. I belong there – German mother, Irish father, maybe some English blood.

Many people like me report data gaps. Family members were adopted (often informally), and their backgrounds remain unknown. Going back only four generations, my family tree includes two adoptions.

Two people reported Native American ancestry. Each could name a tribe, but neither holds tribal membership. Only two in our group reported on ancestors from before 1776, and no one reported membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution).

Some of us discussed genealogy and/or genetic testing. One woman hired a specialized tour guide to help her find family records along the Rhine in Germany! Several people had done or planned to use commercially available genetic testing.

I spoke early in the discussion, and managed to be brief, but things continued to occur to me. Did anyone else know how to make the German treat called “elephant ears”? Did anyone speak a language that was NOT lost during immigration? Each of my grandmothers said she had forgotten her first language, but my German grandmother remembered a little vocabulary and snatches of song. My mother studied German in high school, and I learned it in college. Gaelic, regrettably, has been lost to us.

The Christmas season is a wonderful time for these types of reflection! Thanks, D, for a great evening.

Letter to my High School French teacher

Dear Dr. Schacht,

Barbara K (with whom I have maintained a lifelong friendship) has encouraged me to write to you about our time at Hall High and your role in our education. I am happy to do so!

Marian G remembers our culinary adventures (did you eat periwinkles?). I remember our singing! You rendered La Marseillaise with great conviction. I can still sing at least one drinking song. I remember the realization that French is pronounced a little bit differently when sung.

Studying French always seemed somewhat peripheral to me in high school. I knew from early on that I was headed for training in the sciences. The value of language training became evident to me gradually, as I traveled and struggled to understand the world around me.

I regret that I never had the opportunity to become fluent in spoken French. Did you know I dropped out of our French class in senior year because of a health problem? Infected tonsils! But we had already covered lots of ground, and I value what I learned.

My next language was German, required for Chemistry majors at Michigan State University, where I earned my undergraduate degree. Despite studying German for only just over a year, I became more proficient than I was with French, because I spent a long summer holiday in Germany in 1971. I traveled with IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience, a United Nations program. IAESTE arranged jobs for students. I worked at the Institut fur Kernforschung in Berlin, in the company of a dozen or so other foreign students. German was our first common language, English second, then French, then handwaving… It was a wonderful summer, and came at a time when my American campus (located not so far from Kent State in Ohio) was riven with political stress.

I also count Dutch in my linguistic toolbox. I learned it word-for-word from German. I also spent an IAESTE summer in the Netherlands, at the Technical University of Eindhoven.

Berlin and Eindhoven will always be special to me.

I’ve spent most of my career at a small public college in southern New Jersey, now (grandiosely?) titled Stockton University. I taught Environmental Chemistry and Pollution Management. Applied chemistry and engineering are my strengths. Recently, I’ve worked in Facilities Management, specializing in “green” design and energy management.

Stockton University lists “global awareness” as a pillar of its education, but does not require students to study a language. Harrumph!

I have two sons, now ages 26 and 32. My older son got excellent training in Spanish during high school, completing an Advanced Placement class. His college of choice was St. John’s in Maryland, the “Great Books” college, where everyone studies two years each of Greek and French. After college, he traveled to Argentina.

I regret to say that my younger son learned only rudimentary French and Spanish. But he aspires to travel.

I have not yet read your books of which Barbara gave me copies. I plan to do so. Almost everything I read is “reviewed” in my blog (AMG Reading Journal at http://www.amgreader.wordpress.com) which I invite you to visit.

I want to thank you for being part of the good educational experience I had at Hall High. I wish you good health.

Sincerely, Alice G

Hall High School, class of 1967


“Gutenberg’s Apprentice: A Novel” by Alix Christie

I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction, and it’s nice to take a break from merrie olde England. This novel takes place in Germany, during the mid fifteenth century. The protagonist is Peter Shoeffer, an orphan who faced a harsh life in rural poverty until being adopted by a distant relative.

Shoeffer was apprenticed to Johannes Gutenberg, who is generally credited with inventing movable type. This technological revolution is often identified as the beginning of “modern civilization”.

Printing was as surprising and destabilizing as the emergence of the internet. Before that time, all books were the work of scribes, and the church had a monopoly on their services.

Christie’s book emphasizes the aesthetic aspects of printing.

Gutenberg is portrayed as a wild man – unpredictable, demanding, sometimes unscrupulous, and certainly a genius.

Christie provides lots of detail and atmosphere, as well as some romance. I hope this impressive first novel is followed by others.