Why Study German? Beyond Beer, Brats and BMWs:
Within a liberal arts setting, the importance of German is indisputable. German-speakers occupy a prominent place on any list of the world's greatest artists and thinkers, while almost every academic discipline has a strong German tradition, in many cases one that largely defines the field.
German contributions to the sciences are the easiest to document. Nobel Prize awards give another kind of indication. Scientists from the three major German-speaking countries have won 37 Nobel Prizes in Physics (most recently in 2007), 38 in Chemistry (also in 2007), 30 in Medicine (2008), and one in Economics. Many Nobel laureates from other countries received their training at German universities, 47 of whom had fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation (including the three winners of the 2011 prize for medicine). Seven Germans and Austrians have also received the Peace Prize.
German inventiveness is also legendary. Perhaps Gutenberg's innovation of printing with movable type is the greatest German invention, but here are just a few of the others:
|Bicycle, 1817||Karl von Drais|
|Electric light bulb, 1854||Heinrich Göbel|
|Telephone, 1861||Philipp Reis|
|Refrigerator (using liquid ammonia), 1876||Carl von Linde|
|4-cycle internal combustion engine, 1876||Nikolaus August Otto|
|Automobile, 1885||Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler|
|X-ray, 1895||Wihlem Conrad Röntgen|
|Aspirin, 1897||Felix Hoffmann|
|Television, 1930||Manfred von Ardenne|
|Jet engine, 1939||Hans von Ohain|
|Binary computer, 1941||Konrad Zuse|
|Bar scanner, 1963||Rudolf Hell|
|Chip card, 1969||Jürgen Dethloff, Helmut Gröttrup|
|Fuel cells, 1994||Christian Friedrich Schönbein|
|MP3, 1995||Karlheinz Brandenberg|
This kind of creativity continues. In 2005, for example, Germany successfully registered 23,800 new patents, more than any other country except the U.S. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, four of the world's ten most innovative companies are German.
German-speakers are equally prominent in the arts. Twelve German, Austrian, or Swiss-German writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most recent being Herta Müller in 2009, Elfriede Jelinek in 2004, and Günter Grass in 1999. Germany and Austria are of course famous for both their great literature and music - Anthony Tomassini's recent ranking in the New York Times of the ten greatest composers in history has six Germans and Austrians, with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert holding down the first four positions, followed by Brahms (#7) and Wagner (#9). Between 2002 and 2009, Nirgendwo in Afrika ("Nowhere in Africa"), Das Leben der anderen ("The Lives of Others"), and Die Fälscher ("The Counterfeiters") won Academy Awards as the best foreign pictures, while Sophie Scholl, Untergang ("Downfall"), Revanche, The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Das weiße Band ("The White Ribbon" - which earned a Golden Globe) were also nominated. In 2012, the Frankfurt-based company, Pixomondo, created the Oscar-winning special effects for Martin Scorsese's film, Hugo. That same year, two German films were nominated for Oscars: Wim Wenders's Pina and Max Zähle's Raju.
While these academic and artistic perspectives hold the most relevance for liberal arts studies, practical considerations are also unavoidable and many students choose a language focused on their future careers:
"German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. On the one hand, this is because of Germany's size, which with around 83 million inhabitants is the most populous country in the EU. On the other hand, German is also an official language in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein as well as in Italy's South Tyrol. In addition, German plays a role as a recognized minority language in Denmark, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Approximately 55 million Europeans speak German as a foreign language. In Hungary, German is increasingly popular with students and is number one among foreign languages. Around the world German is the third most taught foreign language and after English the second most popular in Europe and Japan."
The German-speaking countries' economic significance is even greater. Germany, with a population of just over 83 million, boasts the world's fourth-largest national economy, one less affected than most by the recent downturn. When, in 2009, Newsweek placed Chancellor Angela Merkel eighth on its list of the world's 50 most powerful people (and the top woman), it pointed out that she "has resources few of her peers can match in this crisis. Germany's slow-and-steady economy may have seemed boring in the global boom years, but now Merkel's country looks like a rare island of stability. Government budgets are balanced. There's no housing or credit bubble, and the savings rate puts America to shame (11 percent versus near zero last year)."
The economies of German-speaking Switzerland and Austria are also substantial, and their per capita GDPs rank third and fourth in the EU. Especially Austria has benefited from the opening up of Eastern Europe.
In the area of world trade, Germany's significance is greater than just its GDP would indicate. From 2003-8 it was the world's largest exporter. It is now second to China, even though its exports continue to grow dramatically. In travel Germans are #1 in the world: in 2007 they spent $91 billion on visits to other countries. That same year, Germany ranked #7 as a tourist destination, and in 2010 Berlin had more foreign visitors than did Rome. Around two million Americans visit Germany each year.
In addition to its exports, Germany invests heavily all around the world. Despite its global reach, Germany maintains an especially strong economic relationship with the United States. This association is partly defined by trade: in 2003 the exchange of goods and services between the two countries reached $96.8 billion. "More than 3,000 German subsidiaries and their branches are operating successfully in the US, where German companies have created some 780,000 jobs.... The top 50 German companies in the US have created 500,000 jobs with a total annual turnover of $270 billion. Germany, meanwhile, is the location in Europe with the strongest concentration of American investors, accounting for some 130 billion euros in investment and 800,000 related jobs." The recent merger between the Deutsche Boerse and the New York Stock Exchange, with the German exchange holding the majority position, underscores this interdependence.
Germany's automobile, engineering, chemical, pharmaceutical, and high-end appliance firms are well known, as is its leadership in design, but the country's information enterprises are also significant. Bertelsmann is the world's largest publisher, and the German book-publishing industry as a whole ranks third in the world (behind England and China), traditionally producing over a third more new titles each year than does the United States (see The Bowker Annual). Germany is also among the leaders in computing. SAP is the world's largest business software company and the world's third-largest independent software provider. A 1999 study by McKinsey found that the Munich area's 1,800 computer firms, with over 100,000 employees, formed the world's fourth largest concentration of hardware and software producers (after Silicon Valley, Boston, and London). Munich is also home to 115 biotech companies, while Dresden hosts 765 semiconductor firms. On the internet, German is one of the most-frequently used languages, and '.de' is the world's most widely-used country-specific domain.
Germany is also the world's 2nd leader in the development of alternative energy. Approximately half of all photovoltaic cells and a third of all windmills are produced in Germany, while a single firm, Voith in Heidesheim, provides a third of the world's hydroelectric installations. Renewable energy accounts for 14.2% of Germany's electricity and 6.6% of its heating. By March 2009 Germany had already met its 2012 Kyoto Treaty obligations for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, three years ahead of time. And in 2012, Germany reached another goal, using 20% sustainable energy for the entire nation.
Thus it becomes clear that a knowledge of German grants access not only to rich literary, philosophical, and artistic traditions but also to many other kinds of contemporary cultural, economic, political, and scientific developments.
The Woodinville High School German Program consequently offers a curriculum that appeals to a wide range of interests. Woodinville High School students of German have pursued careers after high school in business, engineering, finance, law, journalism, government service, medicine, and the sciences, as well as in art, literature, philosophy, music, and film. Several students have chosen to spend summers abroad as well as an entire academic year in a German high school. But no matter what their future careers or interests, students find that German, as part of a liberal education, can enrich their professional and personal lives.