German American Day – Celebrate 336 Years of German American History

By Sabrina Völz

Pho­to cred­it: “Herr und Frau” by Phil Davis NY

Although the Unit­ed States has great­ly impact­ed pol­i­tics and pop­u­lar cul­ture around the world, it should not be for­got­ten that Ger­man immi­grants have also influ­enced Amer­i­can cul­ture since the found­ing of Ger­man­town, now part of Philadel­phia, 336 years ago. Octo­ber 6, 1683, marks the first Ger­man set­tle­ment in North Amer­i­ca. Instead of cel­e­brat­ing the pop­u­lar hol­i­days famil­iar to most stu­dents, such as Hal­loween or Christ­mas, per­haps it is now more than ever impor­tant to remem­ber the close ties between our two nations. I have put togeth­er a few ideas for a les­son on Ger­man Amer­i­can Day.

If your cur­ricu­lum is tight, per­haps you might just intro­duce a few fun facts in the form of a quiz. As a warm up, ask stu­dents if they are famil­iar with any Ger­man cul­ture in the Unit­ed States. Then give them the attached quiz. After­wards have stu­dents briefly research the facts they are not famil­iar with and then report back to the class.

Although there are a num­ber of inter­est­ing video clips that might be used to com­ple­ment the quiz, the 2017 Super Bowl com­mer­cial, “Born the Hard Way,” is my cur­rent favorite. It cel­e­brates the con­tri­bu­tion of one Ger­man immigrant.

To work on media aware­ness, after show­ing the com­mer­cial twice, have the class dis­cuss the fol­low­ing ques­tions in a think, pair, share format:

  1. How did the com­mer­cial make you feel? Does the com­mer­cial appeal pri­mar­i­ly to emo­tion, log­ic, cred­i­bil­i­ty, or character?
  2. What sto­ry does the com­mer­cial tell? Describe the storyline.
  3. How are view­ers’ atten­tion drawn to par­tic­u­lar images? How are par­tic­u­lar visu­al ele­ments used as sym­bols or metaphors?
  4. How does sound or music con­tribute to the message?
  5. What exact­ly is the com­mer­cial sell­ing? Just a prod­uct or some­thing else? Explain.
  6. What do you know about Super Bowl com­mer­cials? Why do you think this ad was shown to that par­tic­u­lar audience?

If time allows, take some of the one- to two-page entries on famous Ger­man Amer­i­cans from Alexan­der Emmerich’s pop­u­lar his­to­ry book, Die Geschichte der Deutschen in Ameri­ka von 1680 bis zur Gegen­wart (Köln: Fack­el­träger, 2010) and have pairs of stu­dents turn the infor­ma­tion from those pages into a role­play which they per­form for the class. If stu­dents do not speak Ger­man, there are also web­sites in Eng­lish that can pro­vide sim­i­lar infor­ma­tion. In this activ­i­ty, stu­dents use their medi­a­tion and cre­ative writ­ing skills to tell the sto­ries of peo­ple, such as John Jacob Astor (the first Amer­i­can mil­lion­aire), Hen­ry John Heinz (the mak­er of Heinz Ketchup), Thomas Nast (the famous polit­i­cal car­toon­ist who pop­u­lar­ized the dol­lar sign and the sym­bols of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can Par­ties), Johann August Röbling (the civ­il engi­neer who designed and built the Brook­lyn Bridge), and Mar­garethe Mey­er-Schurz (the founder of Amer­i­can kinder­garten). In a lat­er step, the infor­ma­tion can be trans­ferred to a poster which can be hung in the class­rooms or in areas around school.

In any event, enjoy Ger­man Amer­i­can Day 2019! I know I will.

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