Grab a kaffee (coffee) and order a slice of kuchen (cake). If it’s Friday, it’s time for Kaffeeklatsch.
Kaffeeklatsch—or coffee talk—is essentially the German equivalent to England’s teatime; it’s a daily break in the day to drop what you’re doing and gather with friends for a jolt of caffeine. Es ist wunderbar!
A hardy crew of German enthusiasts has capped off the workweek together with Kaffeeklatsch for the past 12 years. When summer sunshine beckons, they’ll still meet to speak German. When feet of snow block the roads, they meet then, too. At this point, nothing will keep this dedicated crew from their weekly Kaffeeklatsch. They haven’t missed a single Friday in 12 years. Why stop now?
The German side of Anchorage
The German community is surprisingly strong in Anchorage. Several local companies operate in German; according to Visit Anchorage, German is the second most common language spoken by tourists in the city. The local REI even has a German-speaking associate. Several hundred kids in Anchorage even grow up learning German at Rilke Schule, a K-8 immersion school. Then, there’s the impressive output of UAA’s German program. So far, 16 UAA graduates have earned federal grants to teach and work in Germany—senior Oliver Petraitis is next in line, as he becomes UAA’s eighth Fulbright recipient to Germany this summer.
The Kaffeeklatsch in Anchorage is a product of German Culture Club, a student group at UAA that hosts German events throughout the community. Club activities include annual programs for Anchorage high school students and cultural events on campus. Their signature event, though, is Kaffeeklatsch.
“One constant [of the club] is our Kaffeeklatsch that we have done every Friday with no excuses,” explained Dr. Natasa Masanovic—club advisor and chair of the languages department. Natasa introduced the weekly meeting to her German students shortly after she arrived at UAA in 2003. The group’s impressive 12-year stretch is largely the result of her persistence.
Like any new club, Kaffeeklatsch took time to gain momentum. “I have been there some days by myself because no one would show up,” Natasa said of the early days. Now, though, over two dozen people regularly crowd into Kaffeeklatsch, huddling over mugs on any given Friday. “I am surprised myself,” she admitted of the gradual growth. “Sometimes we have to pull all the chairs and all the tables, so it’s been going very well.”
Senior Jordan Norquist—and 2015 Student Diversity Award recipient—is the current club president. She describes the club as “essential” for both language acquisition and community building. “In the classroom you don’t have that opportunity to just chat about everyday things. So it’s applied practice of one’s German speaking skills and it’s that practice that helps cement the vocabulary in one’s head,” she said.
Although she’s a full-time student with a full-time job, Jordan always carves out time for German. “If it’s something that’s important to you, you’ll make time for it,” she acknowledged.
Coffee of the world
For the first 11 years, the club met—fittingly—at Café Europa. When that Midtown coffee shop closed last year, they found another option that matched their criteria—near campus and on a bus route. Since last summer, Kaffeeklatsch has met at Café del Mundo on Benson Blvd. every Friday starting at 4 p.m.
A typical meeting kicks off with an hour of low-key German conversation. At 5 p.m., they’ll discuss upcoming club events and Jordan will debut her pre-planned activity for the week. Sometimes it’s an informal language game, other times it’s a brief presentation on German holidays, culture or cuisine—like, for example, the German roots of gummibärchen (gummy bears).
After Jordan’s activity, club members shift back into conversation mode until they’re forced out the door. “Basically, we go there at 4 p.m. and leave at ten after 7, when they ask us to please leave the place because they have to lock [the doors],” Natasa noted.
Coffee and conversation
On a recent Friday, the table filled with German majors and minors, and a host of folks from around Anchorage. Steaming coffee mugs surrounded the German cookbooks and flashcards spread out on the table. Jordan even brought in German chocolates from Alaska Sausage and Seafood (a local company founded by a pair of German immigrants). Seated in the center of the ever-expanding table, she handed out flashcards with the day’s activity as side conversations broke off left and right.
“It’s a super great community and it’s a good opportunity to practice speaking,” said German minor Walter “Z” Zimmerman. “We have regular people that come every week, so we build a relationship and we can talk about more things than just small talk. You can have in-depth conversations in German about what’s going on.”
Most club members keep coming back to keep their conversational skills sharp. “You can go online and get the German news or watch some of the German TV shows, but it’s not the same,” said UAA history professor Kurt Johnson, who teaches classes on modern German history.
The community of UAA’s Kaffeeklatsch even transcends international borders. UAA librarian Christie Ericson has participated in Kaffeeklatsch for years and will be meeting up with current Fulbright Scholar Angelica Remaley, B.A. ’13, in Dresden this summer. Christie majored in German and Spanish at UAF and instilled her son with the same love of German. In a couple months, he’ll graduate from high school with four years of German under his belt. They plan to enjoy a Kaffeeklatsch or two on their travels through the old country.
Prost! to Kaffeeklatsch
Want to get involved? Just show up. Kaffeeklatsch is a community-wide club, and it attracts all types. “Anybody who is interested in the German language and culture is invited,” Natasa said. You don’t need to speak German. You don’t even need to buy a coffee (though it certainly adds to the cozy sense of community).
You can catch Kaffeeklatsch every Friday at Café del Mundo, starting at 4 p.m. and ending whenever club members are ushered out the door.
Here’s to the next 12 years.
Text verfasst von J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement