German department hosts “Kulturevents” to give students a taste of Germany


Students enjoyed various traditional dishes at the German- Austrian Dinner. Photo by Catherine McKean, ‘24.

Catherine McKean, Arts & Life Editor

On Sept. 28, Washington and Lee’s German department hosted its annual German-Austrian Dinner at Grace Episcopal Church. This year’s fall dinner was the first of its kind since 2019 due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 era. 

Faculty and students were eager to come together to celebrate the renewal of this Kulturevent, German for “culture event,” with almost 50 students signing up to not only enjoy the food, but cook and clean up as well.

Among the food cooked by students was bratwurst, goulash, a leek soup, Spätzle (a type of egg noodle with a dumpling-like texture) and Knödel (a boiled dumpling, usually eaten with soup). Students also prepared the Austrian Kaiserschmarrn, which is described as a scrambled pancake, for dessert.

Along with the German students and faculty, several other members of the W&L and larger Lexington community showed up to lend a hand and get to know the culture better. Attendees included Revered Tuck Bowerfind, who allowed the department to host their dinner in his church after the three-year hiatus, professors of various subjects, and many friends of students.

“We’ve done this dinner for at least ten years before the pandemic came in and put a pause on us,” said professor Roger Crockett. “This used to be a joint Washington and Lee and Virginia Military Institute event until they dropped German as a subject. But despite all the changes, we’re glad to be back.”

Crockett worked the stoves and ovens of the kitchen, directing students on how to make the dishes.

“The students are amazing and so eager to be involved, which we’re very thankful for. We put a lot on the table this year, and everything got eaten,” he said. 

“My favorite thing that we made today was the goulash,” Crockett added. “I love the goulash, and definitely used it as the centerpiece of this whole dinner.”

Many of the students have either lived in or visited Germany at some point in their lives, so authenticity of flavor and experience was a goal many had in mind. And it was a goal that was reached, according to Austrian native and German teaching assistant Michael Dietmaier. 

“It warms my heart to be able to eat some richtiges Essen (real food) again,” Dietmaier said at the dinner. “It feels just like home.”

As a teaching assistant, Dietmaier is responsible for leading German conversations to supplement students’ learning while also organizing Kulturevents like the “Kaffee Klatsch” (coffee chat) that highlight different aspects of the German experience.

Because attending Kulturevents is an important part of the learning process, students in German classes must go to at least three as part of their grade. 

The German Club, a student organization sponsored by the department, works with the faculty to plan and host a number of the Kulturevents for their fellow students, the first of which was a Washington and Lee version of the very popular Oktoberfest.

In Germany, Oktoberfest is a two-week long festival based in Munich where people go to dance, drink and eat. The event is known across the world and has over 6 million attendees every year, so the German Club’s officers were eager to bring a taste of that experience to Lexington.

On Oct. 7, Washington and Lee’s first ever Oktoberfest was held in Upper Third Year, attracting many students with a German playlist curated by Jowita Chotkiewicz, ‘23, and food such as fresh-grilled authentic Bratwurst, Obatzda (a traditional cheese spread), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) and Kartoffelpuffer (a potato dish similar to latkes).

“I felt very acclimated to German culture,” said Blake Ramsey, ‘23, who attended the event. “It’s important that cultures outside of the Anglo-American experience are represented as they can sometimes be lost. Bratwurst is also always yummy.”

Hosting an event for the very first time does not come without its hiccups, as the officers found while getting ready, but the effort is always worth it.

“The alarms did go off while one of the officers was frying potatoes which caused the fire department to show up,” Ramsey said with a laugh. “But the spirit of everyone was still there and we all had a great time.”

The German Department and Club will continue to host Kulturevents for the rest of the term, and they encourage students interested in studying the language or learning the culture to contact @wludeutscherklub on Instagram or visit the department’s website.