24 April 2008

The Things I Have to Teach

There are only four weeks left with my German 2 class. Tomorrow is Culture Day: our weekly examination of German history.

We have really enjoyed Culture Days this semester. We began the year with Napoleon and the destruction of the First Reich in 1806. March found us in World War I, and I worked hard to show the German side of things--and the horrors that all nations went through in that great war.

Of course April has been World War II month. The kids have been really interested as we have charted the rise of Hitler and the devastation of the end of the war. I was helped by three movies that I watched with the class: Europa, Europa, Downfall, and As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me.

Now I find myself in a dilemma. It's time for the Cold War. When one is studying German history, that means introducing East Germany. But there is no East Germany, just as there is no Soviet Union.

I find East Germany incredibly difficult to explain to these kids. It loomed so large: our opponents in the Olympics (back then they were the steroid-laced cheaters, now it's the USA), our mortal enemies. The Berlin Wall seemed 100 feet high in my imagination.

Now it doesn't exist. It fell years before these kids were even born.

What is an East Germany?

I have tried film. I rented The Lives of Others, an oscar-winning German film that follows a Stasi spy who ends up protecting a couple under surveillance. It's a great film, but it isn't appropriate for kids--a little too drawn-out, methinks.

I think I'm going to play a spy game. I'll show a video about Checkpoint Charlie. Then we will play a game: three kids will want to escape to the West, three kids will be "normal" East Germans who support the Socialist State to varying degrees, three kids will be Stasi agents. At the end of the game we will see who has figured out each other.

Do you have any other ideas? I'm teaching a foreign language, so this should be second nature. But I could teach the planet, Venus, about as easily as East Germany!


novamute said...

You might consider showing Goodbye Lenin


JD said...

"Goodbye Lenin" is a good movie, and I'm planning to show it to the class. However if kids don't know what the DDR was, they will completely miss out on most of the comedy in that film.

The Spy vs. Spy was tremendously popular.

I wrote up a list of eight profiles (using the names of DDR honchos). There were three Stasi agents, two people wanting to escape to the West, and three who were neutral.

After getting their identities, it was fascinating how quickly each student found a secret corner of the room to look at their ID (the Stasi agents had red cards that they could use to turn in suspects). Then we went through several activities: we listened to Das Lied der Deutschen (yes, it was West Germany's anthem, but still); then we listened to a German dance; then I took them outside and gave a speech praising Socialism and denouncing the United States; finally we went to the library for some conspiracy time.

They got it, and they had fun, too. We will do it one more time this week. I'm planning to show them the hilarious 80s comedy "Top Secret," which is set in East Germany. Then I will finish up the Cold War with "Goodbye Lenin."