German Culture Center continues to support local teachers while enlivening St. Louis culture

German teacher workshop

The German Culture Center hosted a virtual workshop, led by German language consultant Anja Schmitt, for more than two dozen teachers across the St. Louis region. (Screenshot from Saturday’s workshop)

It’s hard to imagine many high school teachers getting excited about the prospect of spending their Saturday morning on another Zoom conference after filling their weeks delivering most or all of their lessons virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there they were – more than two dozen high school German teachers from across the St. Louis region and beyond – logging on before 9 a.m., many with coffee in hand. They appeared eager to hear from presenter Anja Schmitt during a workshop hosted by the University of Missouri–St. Louis German Culture Center in conjunction with the Missouri chapter of the American Association of Teachers of German.

Schmitt, a language consultant connected to the Goethe-Institut in Chicago, was leading the three-hour workshop from Germany. Her lecture and associated breakout activities were intended to help teachers design hybrid and blended learning for their students, and she provided them with examples of lessons they could take back to their classrooms.

“In a way, I felt bad for the teachers because they probably are spending every day Zooming, but clearly they loved Anja Schmitt,” said Larry Marsh, the coordinator of the GCC. “She’s just terrific.”

Marsh has been coordinating these types of events for the past 20 years in his role at the center, which is a unit of UMSL Global. The GCC has been a valuable resource for area German teachers as well as the German American community and the general public, providing information and events about German language, life and culture.

The center was established in 1999 after the closing of St. Louis’ Goethe-Institut by the German government. Then-Chancellor Blanche Touhill and Joel Glassman, then the director of International Studies and Programs, worked at the urging of Professor Inge Goessl to rescue much of the materials contained in the Institut’s former home in the Central West End.

“Had they not done that, the number of books and video tapes and all kinds of educational materials – that would have all probably gone in a dumpster somewhere,” Marsh said.

Marsh was nearing the end of 35 years as a high school teacher in the Ferguson-Florissant School District when he saw a job listing seeking a coordinator for the new center. He had taught history, not German, but he spoke the language and figured the position could be a nice bridge between the classroom and retirement, so he decided to apply.

He’s still on the job 20 years later.

“I like it very much because I still have a lot of contact with students,” Marsh said. “It was nice to be able to use my German. I have a master’s in German literature but had really only occasionally taught a German class or two in high school when they needed my help. So it was nice to be able to return to the language.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed probably most about it is simply the number of people I’ve met in the German American community. I’ve become very active in that community, and it is a large one in St. Louis.”

The German Culture Center has served the community by luring art exhibits and other cultural events, including performances by orchestras, smaller ensembles and soloists, to the St. Louis area. The list of events includes everything from a show by the Meininger Puppet Theatre to performances by the Salzburg Chamber Ensemble and the Hudson Shad quintet singing songs from 1920s and ’30s German performers Comedian Harmonists. There have also been art exhibits like “Ikonen einer Grenzanlage” – translated “Icons of a Border Facility” – and lectures, including one by German-born animator Jacob Frey, whose credits include “Zootopia,” “Moana” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Marsh organized an event last November to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – complete with a performance by contemporary dance company MADCO.

Marsh has always tried to provide educational opportunities associated with those events so that area teachers can bring their students.

“It’s unique for our German students to get a chance to do some of those things,” said Kim Hotze, an UMSL alumna with a bachelor’s in German and a master’s in education who has spent 29 years teaching in the Rockwood Summit School District. “French and Spanish teachers have lots and lots of things available to them.”

Over the years, Hotze also has been a regular at the fall workshops, always held in person before Saturday’s.

“The people that he finds are very high quality, and they give us stuff that we can turn around and use in class,” she said. “It’s a nice way to get to see some German colleagues throughout this area, throughout the state. Some people travel a couple hours for the workshops, so we all try to go anytime that we can.”

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