October 2005 issue

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German diversity

Germany offers a range of different study experiences in towns and cities that each have their own unique attributes and selling points. Jane Vernon Smith tours Germany: the heart of Europe.

Sharing borders with nine other countries, Germany has the advantage of being within easy reach for European language students. With 13 international airports (including three located in its capital, Berlin) it is also easily accessible for long-haul visitors.

Germany is characterised by great natural diversity. Mountains, coastal areas, forests, rivers and lakes all contribute to the variety of landscape to be found across its 357,000 square kilometres. And students choosing to study German in Germany will be able to take advantage of good public transport links to sample many of its varying aspects.

A good starting point is Frankfurt. Most famous as home to the European Central Bank and as a centre for trade fairs, Frankfurt is well known as Germany';s business capital. Situated in the heart of the country and boasting the second-largest airport in Europe, with cheap flights from many cities around the world, it is also a popular destination for many leisure travellers.

Although the city has a serious business image, it also has a lighter side. "People work hard and party hard," notes Mattheus Wollert, Director of did deutsch-institut';s Frankfurt school. "No wonder that the skyscraper of the European Central Bank houses one of the fanciest clubs in its grand entrance hall." Furthermore, with the city';s high intercultural awareness, you can see a mix of "international business people partying right next to independent funky club cats," he adds.

Attracting business people from around the world, Frankfurt loves being a great host, says Wollert, and, when it comes to evening activities, the choice is extensive. "One of the fanciest treats," he notes, "would definitely be an evening dinner at the famous Städel museum. At this restaurant you will be ushered to a table decorated by chandeliers and flowers. Jazz music will pick up as famous paintings are projected on to the old interior walls."

For those who cannot run to this sort of expense, there are less costly delights to sample. "Sooner or later, preferably on a warm summer night, you will have to try the most local of local drinks, called Ebbelwoi, a powerful form of cider," says Wollert. "How about enjoying a tall glass… on the lawn [by] the Main River, watching the sun set behind the skyscrapers?"

Approximately 80 kilometres to the south of Frankfurt, the old university town of Heidelberg offers an experience that is in profound contrast to the modern business hub. Situated on the banks of the River Neckar, with its elegant, stone bridges, Heidelberg is "a sanctuary of German romanticism", according to Karl-Heinz Wieland of F&U Academy, a language school located in the heart of the town. Its picturesque, ruined castle of red sandstone is a top attraction for visitors, who also appreciate the numerous celebrations and feasts, which are to be experienced each weekend.

These give rise to "[immense quantities] of wine…running through the thirsty throats of old and young people of every age, sex and race – and amongst them the over 50,000 students excel, without any doubt," says Wieland.

However, Heidelberg is not just a monument to the past. It is also "a stronghold of modern science," according to Wieland. Home to several multinational companies and international research institutes, Heidelberg has a strong international flavour. "Visitors are pleased," he notes, "by the multinational character of the people here and [in] the cosy bar districts on the river banks."

The national capital, Berlin, situated to the northeast of the country, is another popular destination for students. As Ute Arnold of did deutsch-institut';s Berlin school explains, "Berlin attracts the younger crowd [which] is more into partying, shopping or relaxing – simply having fun – because Berlin is a very young metropolis". Sixteen years on from the historic reunification of the East and West sectors of this city, it is still emerging and developing – "definitely not mainstream, but rather, experimental and exciting". Bars and clubs are open late and, says Arnold, "when people in other big cities go home at night, Berliners dress up and start to go out".

The city also offers a host of cultural attractions. Indeed, Berlin boasts more than 150 museums, four opera houses, many theatres and concert houses and a thriving jazz scene. Students at did deutsch will find themselves within a short distance of the main sights, including the famous Brandenburg Gate, the boulevard Unter den Linden and world famous museums such as the Pergamon. International bars, restaurants, clubs, galleries and fashion stores are all to be found close at hand. Meanwhile, an efficient public transport system, including buses, trams and an underground network, can take them to attractions like the Olympic stadium and the Charlottenburg Castle, or further afield on day trips to the Baltic coast.

Located to the south of the country, the Bavaria region also has much to offer, with ancient traditions, castles, wine-growing regions and the Black Forest among the attractions on offer. Founded 2,000 years ago by the Roman Emperor Augustus, Augsburg in Bavarian Swabia has the distinction of being one of the oldest cities in Germany, and many small creeks rushing between houses and under streets give the city a distinct character.

In keeping with the city';s history, Augsburger Deuschkurse is housed in "a stylish Art Nouveau building" right in the centre, according to the school';s Managing Director, Sabine Steinacher, while fellow language school, Augsburger SprachAkademie, is located in a 19th-century building constructed by the well known local architect, Karl Gollwitzer. Each summer, comments Steinacher, the past is brought to life once more, when the Historische Bürgerfest transforms the city with medieval costumes, music, theatre and demonstrations of arts and crafts.

Augsburg also offers students the more modern pleasures of a large pedestrianised shopping area, with many pavement cafés, a thriving nightlife, and, notes Steinacher, the added bonus of a very low crime rate.

Just a short hop away, Munich is one of the best known cities in Bavaria and the country, and is probably most famous for its beer festival, the Oktoberfest, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. They sample the many different local brews and enjoy the spectacle of the locals dressing up in traditional dirndl and lederhosen. However, as Michael Aulbach of Munich';s did deutsch-institut points out, this is just one face of the coin. Munich has something to offer everyone, from castles, churches and museums, to its brand-new, high-tech football stadium, the Allianz-Arena.

Like Augsburg, the city is also a convenient base for exploring the rest of Bavaria. Excursions arranged by Inlingua include the historic towns of Rothenburg and Dachau, as well as the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle. Augsburger SprachAkademie puts the emphasis on the area';s natural beauty, offering activities that include canoeing, free-rafting, skiing and snowboarding, and torch hiking.

"Coming to Munich means falling in love with the city, the people and the whole atmosphere," enthuses Inlingua';s Isabel Heckelmann.

For Aulbach, it is also the easy-going lifestyle that goes hand-in-hand with the beauty of the Englischer Garten, the picturesque buildings and "incredibly lovely surroundings" that contribute to its particular charm. "Munich is," he concludes, "Germany at its best."

Agent viewpoint

"Most of the students choose Munich, Berlin, Cologne and Heidelberg, but Munich is the most popular [city]. This is because by studying in Munich, students can visit Neuschwanstein [castle], go close to the Alps and even see Salzburg in Austria. It';s cool when you can visit two countries even during a short stay. As for me, first of all I visited the Olympic stadium. Everybody who is keen on football and [the] Olympic games should go there and see."
Valerie Sorokina, Efes, Russia

"We send an average of 40-to-50 students per year to Germany and the feedback is generally good or excellent. We have a fair amount of repeat business due to the excellent quality of accommodation, families and residences, and the overall friendliness of the German people. Most German cities have a vibrant pedestrian town centre, excellent transportation and are very safe. The cost of living [in Germany] is lower than… in [other] countries such as Italy or France. For some students, German beer is an added bonus… it';s cheap and flows fairly freely."
Alain Bertholet, Langues Vivantes, Belgium

"[Our students] want to learn German in the country where it is spoken natively, as this is the best way to learn any language. They also choose Germany as it is a country which has something to offer everybody – from quiet towns, to bustling cities as well as its splendid countryside, forests and lakes."
Victoria Jones, Language Courses Abroad, UK

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