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Why Learn German

Beyond Bier, Bratwurst and BMW:
Reasons to Learn German (at Whitman)

Academic: The study of German will open up whole worlds of intellectual, creative, artistic and musical possibilities. Most graduate schools require a second, or even a third, language, and German is one of the most useful. There are lots of grant opportunities to study at German institutions, regardless of your area of study. To learn about what's out there for German speakers, talk to the German Studies Department and the Career and Community Engagement Center.

At Whitman, the Encounters course features many German authors and philosophers, including Kant, Marx, Kafka and Nietzsche. In general, German will be a particularly helpful language for any of your academic endeavors at Whitman College.

Here are some of the important figures and ideas that you can study if you know German:

  • Philosophy - Marx, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Adorno, Hegel
  • Music - Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner, Strauss
  • Literature - Goethe, Schiller, Thomas Mann, Kafka, Hesse, the Brothers Grimm, Christa Wolf. (Nine of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature have written in German.)
  • Psychology - Freud, Jung
  • Science - Einstein, Kepler, Planck. (Native German speakers have won 21 Nobel Prizes in Physics, 30 in Chemistry and 25 in Medicine.)
  • Art - Duerer, Friedrich, Beuys, Nolde, Kirchner, Kokoschka, Klimt
  • History - German history is compelling, whether you are interested in the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, World War II (the Holocaust, the rise of the Nazi Party) or even the history of sexuality.

Heritage: Many people learn German to get in touch with their roots.

  • In 2000, 15.2 percent of Americans reported having German ancestry, the largest single heritage group
  • German immigrants' influence on American culture can be seen through family names, traditions such as the Christmas tree, food such as the hot dog and hamburger and products such as Levi jeans, ketchup and Hershey's chocolate
  • How many of these German words have you used in conversation?
    • Angst, beer garden, Bratwurst, Dachshund, Delicatessen, Ersatz, Frankfurter, Gesundheit, kaput, Kindergarten, Kitsch, Kraut, Lager, Muesli, Pils, Poltergeist, Pretzel, Pumpernickel, Sauerkraut, Schadenfreude, Schnapps, Spiel, Strudel, uber, verboten, Wanderlust, Zeitgeist, Zeppelin, and many more...


  • Germany's economy is the fourth largest in the world and the largest in the European Union
  • Between 2003 and 2008, Germany was the largest export nation in the world, ahead of the U.S.
  • Switzerland has one of the highest standards of living in the world
  • International German companies include well-known businesses such as BMW, Daimler, Siemens, Lufthansa, SAP, Bosch, Infineon and BASF
  • German companies provide 700,000 jobs in the U.S.
  • Forbes 2000 ranking included 12 companies in the top 100 from German-speaking countries, such as UBS (#11), Daimler (#21), Nestle (#32), Siemens (#35), Volkswagen (#71) and others
  • The brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht from Germany are the third richest people in the world, behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
  • Even though many Germans speak English, as former German chancellor Willy Brandt once said: "If I'm selling to you, I speak your language. If I'm buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen."

Personal Development

  • As Karl der Grosse (also known as Charlemagne) once said, "To have another language is to possess a second soul."
  • Knowing the language of the country or community you are in immediately grants you a much deeper understanding of the people and culture around you, and you'll notice that those people are more willing to open up to you, much more so than they would be to any tourist or visitor.

Politics and the European Union

  • More people in Europe speak German as their native language than any other, and it is an official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.
  • Seven Germans have been recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Germany has a remarkable tradition of environmentalism. It was the birthplace of the Green Party and the first country in the world in which the Green Party had real political power.
  • German is the second most popular foreign language taught in Europe and Japan and the third most popular foreign language taught worldwide.
  • Travel - Germans spend more money on tourism than anyone else. In addition to the many other foreign countries they visit, the U.S. is also popular. More than half a million Germans visit Florida each year.


  • Germany had the highest number of total medals in the 1998 Olympics and the second highest total number of medals in the 1996 Olympics. Throughout Summer Olympic history, Germany has held its own.
  • In the 2006 Winter Olympics, Germany won the most gold (11) and silver (12) medals than any other country, as well as the most total (29). Austria came in third with 23 total medals, and Switzerland in eighth, with 14 medals. For the Winter Olympics, Germany has won many times in terms of medals, and has at least had a spot in the top 3 since 1972.
  • Germany has reached the finals in the World Cup more times than any other country, and is second only to Brazil in the number of times it has won.
  • German athletes :)
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