Bridging the Gap with Germany during the Pandemic

By Iris Bork-Goldfield, Adj. Professor of German Studies

In March 2020, students were told to return from their study abroad programs, and we faculty were asked not to leave the U.S. Four of our students had just arrived at our Smith program in Hamburg, Germany, when they received that unwelcome message to pack again and return home. In the summer, I learned that our exchange student from Freiburg would not be coming to Wesleyan because of COVID.  This meant that I would be without a teaching assistant from Germany in 2020/21. I contacted Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, my Alma Mater. I had graduated from LMU in German as a Foreign Language (Deutsch als Fremdsprache= DaF) and knew that students were required to do a teaching internship as part of their studies. I had done mine in China, but why not offer an online internship in the U.S., and why not at Wesleyan? I contacted the internship coordinator at the DaF Institut in Munich and sent her a description of our teaching internship, asking if she would announce it to their students.

Already a week later, I had the first response, followed quickly by several others. I interviewed several candidates via Zoom, explaining that they would be responsible for individual Oral Practice sessions (OPS) of 10-15 minutes each, with my Beginning German students. I kept the sessions short as no funding was available. The TAs were only to speak German and reinforce what my students had learned in my classes the week before. The three German tutors and I met once per week, usually on Fridays, to discuss what I had taught and share ideas about how to best practice the material, mainly vocabulary, grammar, and German culture. Later we also discussed what worked and what didn’t. One Wesleyan student, a native German speaker, who is currently attending classes from her hometown, Vienna, also joined us as a TA. She enrolled in a tutorial with me and will receive .5 credit for her work this semester. The students from Munich received an evaluation and an internship certificate from me which Munich University accepts as part of their studies. In early September 2020, my students had to sign up for an OPS and met with their German TA once a week, always at the same time.

My students’ evaluations showed how much they enjoyed these meetings with a student from Germany/Austria. Their only regret was that the sessions were so short. All four TAs agreed to continue working with my students and me this semester, and we agreed that they would meet with two students at a time and extend their sessions to 20-30 minutes each.

Another project bridging the “ocean” is the Tandem project, initiated by the Baden-Württemberg (BW) exchange program, which is administered by the University of Connecticut. They invite students from participating U.S. universities to sign up for a tandem partner from one of the universities in Baden-Württemberg. German students who study English at Heidelberg, Tübingen, Freiburg, Stuttgart, and Konstanz now meet with American students who study German at the intermediate or advanced level in Connecticut. They are meeting 11 times this semester for about 60-90 minutes per session via WebEx, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Topics that should be covered are, for example:

  1. Everyday life as a student: What does a typical day in their life as a German/American student look like? What are the similarities and differences? What are current topics among students in Germany/the United States that are being discussed?
  2. Academics:  How and when do students select the courses they are planning to take? Which platforms are being used for online instruction and administrative purposes (access to transcripts and grades, course registration, etc.)? Do students need to register for exams? If so, how do they do that?
  3. Baden-Württemberg vs. Connecticut: What are features specific to the region/city/state? What needs to be on every student’s bucket list for BW and CT?

The goal is to practice the language of the host country and divide the meeting time between German and English. Depending on the student’s level of fluency and familiarity with the other language, they may not need to correct each other’s vocabulary or pronunciation very much but should still pay attention to these details.

Students are expected to keep a journal and use the following questions as guidelines for their entries after each meeting with their Tandem partner:

  1. What topics did you talk about?
  2. Which was the dominant language during your conversation?
  3. What did you take away from this meeting?
  4. What did you learn about your host country, state, city, and /or university?

Three of our Wesleyan students signed up and now have a Tandem partner. Just as UConn awards credits to their students, we offer a half-credit group tutorial for our Wesleyan students.

Needless to say, these online meetings do not substitute for in-person meetings and study abroad, but they are a bridge to a world, and to people, that we currently cannot visit in person.

Published in Wes and the World Newsletter (03-04-21)




WesGerman Podcast- 4th episode

The fourth episode of the WesGerman podcast is out!


1:54   – Musik mit Anna Tjeltveit (Wolf Biermann)
9:14   – Politik mit Jenna Lacey (German Parliament)
15:56 – Kunst mit Yasemin Schmitt
20:46 – Gespräch mit Hannah Landel (Eric Goldscheider)

Herr Goldscheider’s translation project:

Also, if you haven’t yet, subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts or Spotify – that way you’ll be the first to know when another episode comes out!

Get in touch at!

Contributions to Transatlantic Conversation on Jewish Identity

In the past fall semester, Wesleyan students in the First Year Seminar “Holocaust Remembrance in Germany: The Third Generation” participated in a pilot exchange with the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Made possible by the Departments of German Studies and Jewish Studies and the initiative “Meet a Jew”, these virtual meetings constituted the first of a series of transatlantic connections.

Working on theories of trauma and memory, this FYS focused especially on Jewish life in Germany today. Literary representations and academic texts made visible themes of identity, memory culture, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and xenophobia. A personal note was sounded in the meetings with young members of the Jewish community in Germany. Not only did these visits allow for contextualization of course material, they also covered more in-depth and personal accounts. Dima, one of the German participants reflected that “I have rarely met such an open group. All questions were deep and touched everything from impacts of migration, to denominational distinctions, through to LGBTQI acceptance. This shows how much farther the US is in respect of the normality of Jewish Life than we are in Germany.”

FYS courses at Wesleyan are specifically designed to introduce students to academic writing, reasoning, and arguing, as well as the tools to successfully work at the university level. This initiative added unreserved questions, open discussion, and personal connection to the rigorous academic schedule of the course. Students could reenvisage their paper topics and discuss real-world aspects of their textual analyses. The FYS “Holocaust Remembrance and Jewish Identity in Germany,” part of the FYS Summer 2021 program, will bring these exchanges to a new level. Students will have the chance to not only engage in class discussions but also in regular small group discussions.

Written by Thorsten Wilhelm, published in Wes and the World Newsletter (03-04-21)

Check out the Summer Course program for further information or contact Prof. Thorsten Wilhelm.

New WesGerman Podcast


2:30 – Musik mit Anna Tjeltveit

Bettina Blohm in her studio in Berlin

12:05 – Politik mit Anna Tjeltveit
18:00 – Kunstgespräch mit Yasemin Schmitt (Malerin Bettina Blohm)

40:25 – Gespräch mit Hannah Landel (Eric Goldscheider)

Music throughout is Octopus Ensemble’s June 2012 production of Haydn’s “The Seasons: Winter”

Many thanks to AATG for featuring us in their magazine, Aktuelles!

Erik Grimmer-Solem, Learning Empire: Globalization and German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919

The German Studies department would like to congratulate Erik Grimmer-Solem, (Professor of History and affiliated with German Studies) on his latest publication, Learning Empire: Globalization and the German Quest for World Status, 1875-1919 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). His book–as he tells his readers–“seeks to reshape our understanding of Imperial Germany’s history by reconstructing the complex overseas entanglements of Germans in North and South America, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, Russia, and Ottoman Turkey”

Learning Empire has been widely reviewed in the US, Great Britain, Australia, and Germany. Dirk Bonker (Duke University) calls it an “impressive book” in which “Erik Grimmer-Solem offers a new narrative of the German Empire’s expansionist discourse and pursuit of global power from the 1870s through the 1910s” [German Studies Review, Volume 43, Number 2, May 2020, pp. 405-407]. Edward Ross Dickinson (University of California, Davis) calls Erik’s work “a remarkable undertaking, a hybrid work that is at once an ambitious and sustained synthesis of the massive scholarly literature on German imperial policy (Weltpolitik) and a study, founded on extensive archival research, of the role in shaping that policy of a small network of academic economists interested in the emerging capitalist world economy (Weltwirtschaft) [Journal of World History, December 2020, pp. 820-822]. Matthew P. Fitzpatrick (Flinders University, South Australia) calls the book a “landmark work of scholarship.” Erik “persuasively demonstrates that imperialism in the German Kaiserreich was not the product of the dominance of atavistic feudal remnants, but rather was an expression of the social, geopolitical and economic understanding of the globalizing middle classes of Germany. Beyond this, however, he also demonstrates that Germany’s liberal Weltpolitik was matched and eventually eclipsed by the expression of similar globalizing impulses in other nations, including the United States and Britain” [German History, Oxford University press, pre-publication book review]. And Gerhard Wegner (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) ends his positive review with: “Learning Empire bietet dem Leser eine höchst anregende Darstellung des Imperalismus aus der Perspektive zeitgenössischer Nationalökonomen” (January 18, 2021).


And available at Olin Libray




WesGerman Podcast

This is the inaugural episode of the WesGerman podcast.

  • Musik mit Anna Tjeltveit
  • Politik mit Jenna Lacey
  • Kunst mit Yasemin Schmitt
  • Gespräch mit Hannah Landel
  • Conclusion and Credits

Many, many thanks to Pablo Puente for the original music throughout.

To subscribe to this podcast, copy and paste the URL into the podcast app of your choice. If you have comments or suggestions please contact the podcast producers at

Elizabeth Lauffer ’07 in Conversation with Lea Singer

On Wednesday, October 7, 2020 Elisabeth Lauffer ’07 participated in a Zoom discussion,   sponsored by East End Books Ptown, with Lea Singer, the author of Der Klavierschüler –  The Piano Student, which Elisabeth recently translated for New Vessel Press. Singer’s novel draws its inspiration from love letters written by the piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz to his first pupil, Nico Kaufmann. which Singer discovered in a Swiss archive. In 2014 Elisabeth received the Gutekunst Prize for young translators from the Goethe-Institut. Her senior honors thesis at Wesleyan was a translation of Wladimir Kaminer’s Die Reise nach Trulala. Descriptions of her other translations can be found at

Dalia Grinfeld: “Openly Jewish and Queer in Germany: A Possible Path?”

Dalia Grinfeld, Assistant Director of European Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Berlin, Germany, will host a talk and Q&A about  “Openly Jewish and Queer in Germany: A Possible Path?”

Based in Berlin, Ms. Grinfeld manages ADL’s programs in Europe and supports European Jewish communities in their advocacy efforts. Earlier, she worked as a Policy Advisor for the Council Presidency of the European Union. She is actively involved in women’s rights and health issues, LGBTQI inclusion and innovative democracy. Her academic background is in Political Science and Jewish Studies, which she studied at the University of Heidelberg, Buenos Aires and Herzliya.

To REGISTER please click HERE

We will sent out the Zoom link a day prior to the event to all who have registered on the above link.

For more information, please contact Iris Bork-Goldfield or Thorsten Wilhelm.

This event is sponsored by the German Embassy in Washington D.C. and the German Studies department.

Thorsten Wilhelm, Holocaust Narratives : Trauma, Memory and Identity Across Generations

This semester, Thorsten Wilhelm, Visiting Professor of German Studies, teaches the Freshmen Seminar, Holocaust Remembrance in Germany: The Third Generation. The German Studies Department congratulates Professor Wilhelm on his recently released book. Holocaust Narratives : Trauma, Memory and Identity Across Generations was published in August 2020 by the Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

The publisher states that Professor Wilhelm analyzes “individual multi-generational frameworks of Holocaust trauma to answer one essential question: How do these narratives change to not only transmit the trauma of the Holocaust – and in the process add meaning to what is inherently an event that annihilates meaning – but also construct the trauma as a connector to a past that needs to be continued in the present?”

Professor Emeritus Murray Baumgarten, University of California, Santa Cruz and Founding Director of The Dickens Project comments, “a major achievement, bringing subtle analysis of Holocaust trauma to bear on the narratives that construct the collective discourse of its meanings. Wilhelm’s fine analysis helps us understand the continuing impact of the Shoah on ‘the memories of the future’ generated by second and third generation witnesses.”

The book is now available online at Olin Library.



Krishna Winston’s Linden Tree Plaque

On August 20th, at long last, the plaque that was to accompany Krishna’s Linden Tree was installed. We thank Elizabeth Raccio, Assistant Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations, who helped organize this work.

Originally, we had envisioned a festive reception with many colleagues, friends, and alumni to witness this event and to celebrate Krishna’s retirement. But the party has to wait.  Luckily, Krishna is still very active on campus, be it directing the Wasch Center or supervising tutorials, theses, and senior projects focused on German literature or on translation, and more.

The plaque was donated by the College of the Environment and the German Studies Department.