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German Studies
6084 Dartmouth Hall, Room 333
Hanover, New Hampshire
Telephone: (603) 646-2408
Fax: (603) 646-1474
Chair: Ellis Shookman
Administrator: Wadeane Kunz

Why Study German?

"I found my smattering of German very useful here; indeed, I don't know how I should be able to get on without it." 
-Jonathan Harker on his way to Transylvania in Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1897

Stack of Books

Within a liberal arts setting, the importance of German is indisputable. German-speakers occupy a prominent place on any list of the world's greatest artists and thinkers, while almost every academic discipline has a strong German tradition, in many cases one that largely defines the field. In fact, the modern university itself, with its combination of teaching and research, is a German invention. Dartmouth's library holdings reflect this tradition: after English, more of them are in German than in any other language. Germany justifiably presents itself as "The Land of Ideas," as this video illustrates.

German contributions to the sciences are the easiest to document. In The Discoveries (Pantheon, 2005), Alan Lightman's list of the 22 greatest scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century includes eight that were made exclusively by Germans, while two more had Austrian or German collaborators. Nobel Prize awards give another kind of indication. Scientists from the three major German-speaking countries have won 37 Nobel Prizes in Physics (most recently in 2007), 39 in Chemistry (in 2014), 31 in Medicine (2013), and one in Economics. Many Nobel laureates from other countries received their training at German universities; 47 of them had fellowships from the Humboldt Foundation, including the three winners of the 2011 prize for medicine. Seven German and Austrian individuals have also received the Peace Prize - and while the 2012 Prize went to the EU as a whole, few people would dispute that Germany has played a disproportionately large role in the success of that institution.

Germany, Switzerland, and Austria are all famous for the quality of their universities, and Germany enrolls the third-highest number of international students in the world — in 2014, there were 301,350. It is also 1st in the amount of financial support it offers them. In the 2012 QS Ranking of "The Best Student Cities in the World," German-speaking cities dominate the category of "Quality of Living" for students, with the first five places going to Vienna, Zurich, Munich, Sidney, and Berlin. The accompanying commentary states that "Berlin can stake a credible claim to being one of the coolest cities in the world. During the past decade its cultural scene has flourished, turning it into a major centre of design, fashion, music and art to rival New York and London. More so than those cities however, Berlin is still easily affordable on a student budget, while also being enough of a global financial centre to appeal to those whose outlook is of a more corporate nature. Comfortably the most affordable city in the top ten…."

German inventiveness is also legendary. Perhaps Gutenberg's innovation of printing with movable type is the greatest German invention, but here are just a few of the others:1

Alcohol thermometer, 1709 Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
Bicycle, 1817 Karl von Drais
Electric light bulb, 1854 Heinrich Göbel
Telephone, 1861 Philipp Reis
Dynamo, 1866 Werner Siemens
Refrigerator (using liquid ammonia), 1876    Carl von Linde
4-cycle internal combustion engine, 1876

Nikolaus August Otto

Electric streetcars, 1881 Werner Siemens
Motorcycle, 1885 Gottlieb Daimler
Automobile, 1886 Carl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler
Diesel engine, 1890 Rudolf Diesel
Glider (aircraft), 1894 Otto Lilienthal
X-ray, 1895 Wihlem Conrad Röntgen
Aspirin, 1897 Felix Hoffmann
Spark plugs, 1902 Robert Bosch
Thermos bottle, 1903 Reinhold Burger
Tape recorder, 1928 Fritze Pfleumer
Television, 1930 Manfred von Ardenne
Helicopter, 1936 Heinrich Focke
Jet engine, 1939 Hans von Ohain
Programmable computer, 1941 Konrad Zuse
Bar scanner, 1963 Rudolf Hell
Chip card, 1969 Jürgen Dethloff, Helmut Gröttrup
Fuel cells, 1994 Christian Friedrich Schönbein
MP3, 1995 Karlheinz Brandenberg

This kind of creativity continues. According to the GE Innovation Barometer 2014, a study undertaken by General Electric, Germany is the second-most innovative country in the world (the U.S. is first, Japan third).

German-speakers are equally prominent in the arts. Twelve German, Austrian, or Swiss-German writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the most recent being Herta Müller in 2009, Elfriede Jelinek in 2004, and Günter Grass in 1999. Germany and Austria are of course also famous for their great music - Anthony Tomassini's recent ranking in the New York Times of the ten greatest composers in history has six Germans and Austrians, with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert holding down the first four positions, followed by Brahms (#7) and Wagner (#9). But the two countries have also again become centers for the visual arts, including film. According to the magazine Capital, the two living artists whose works are most sought after by the world's museums and collectors are Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, followed in fourth place by Rosemarie Trockel and in seventh by Georg Baselitz. Between 2002 and 2009, Nirgendwo in Afrika ("Nowhere in Africa"), Das Leben der anderen ("The Lives of Others"), and Die Fälscher ("The Counterfeiters") won Academy Awards as the best foreign pictures, while Sophie Scholl, Untergang ("Downfall"), Revanche, The Baader Meinhof Complex, and Das weiße Band ("The White Ribbon" - which earned a Golden Globe) were also nominated. In 2005, Newsweek called Gegen die Wand ("Head On") the best film of the year (and in the same issue claimed that Germany was the best of all countries in which to be a creative artist of any kind). In 2012, the Frankfurt-based company, Pixomondo, created the Oscar-winning special effects for Martin Scorsese's film, Hugo. That same year, two German films were nominated for Oscars: Wim Wenders's Pina and Max Zähle's Raju.

Kuppel While these academic and artistic perspectives hold the most relevance for liberal arts studies, practical considerations are also unavoidable, and many students choose a foreign language with an eye to their professional futures. Here, too, the study of German offers some real advantages.

"German is the most widely spoken native language in Europe. On the one hand, this is because of Germany's size, which with around 82 million inhabitants is the most populous country in the EU. On the other hand, German is also an official language in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein as well as in Italy's South Tyrol. In addition, German plays a role as a recognized minority language in Denmark, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Approximately 55 million Europeans speak German as a foreign language. In Hungary, German is increasingly popular with students and is number one among foreign languages. Around the world German is the third most taught foreign language and after English the second most popular in Europe and Japan." 2 

In 2015, a survey by the Federal Foreign Office determined that 15.4 million people around the world were formally learning German as a foreign language, with 9.4 million students in Europe and growing numbers in Brazil, China, and India. 

language bonus chart

As reported in the Economist, the MIT economist Albert Saiz calculated that the average lifetime earnings bonus for an American college graduate who learns German is $128,000 (for French: $77K, for Spanish: $51K).

A variety of international surveys confirm that Germany is one of the world's most admired countries, whether viewed from the perspectives of economics, quality of life, scientific achievement, culture, tourism, or ethical values. In 2013 it again led the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll as the world's most popular country, a position it has held since 2008, except when it came in a close second in 2012. The 2014 survey by the Danish-based Anholt-Gfk Nations Brand Index, which conducted over 20 thousand interviews in 20 countries, also found that Germany is the most popular country of all. And as Mercer Consulting's 2011 Quality of Living Survey determined, many of the world's most livable cities are German-speaking: among the top 10, Vienna is 1st, Zurich 2nd, Munich 4th, Düsseldorf 6th, Frankfurt 7th, Bern 9th. Other German cities also do well: Hamburg (16) Berlin (17), Nuremberg (24), and Stuttgart (28) rank above Paris [34], London [39], Barcelona [44], and New York [47].

The German-speaking countries' economic significance is even greater. Germany, with a population of just over 82 million, boasts the world's fourth-largest national economy, while German-speaking Switzerland and Austria, whose per capita GDPs rank third and fourth in the EU, are also significant. The 2014 edition of the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report ranks Switzerland 1st among the most competitive countries, with Germany 5th (Singapore is 2nd, the U.S. 3rd, Finland 4th). The Bloomberg business report for 2014 also ranked Germany 5th among the best current places to do business, while the UN Conference on Trade and Development's World Investment Prospects Survey (2012-2014), placed it 3rd. In 2013, foreign investment in Germany totaled 23.4 billion euros, with the U.S leading the way. In ranking Germany so high, the WEF Competitiveness Report considered, among other factors,  market size, innovation, infrastructure, and training. In this last category, German is particularly outstanding. As the Wall Street Journal (6/14/2012) reports, U.S. companies and state governments are increasingly turning to German companies for help in training skilled factory workers.

In the area of world trade, Germany's significance is greater than just its GDP would indicate. From 2003-8 it was the world's largest exporter. It is now second to China, even though its exports continue to grow dramatically, and it has the world's highest balance of payments surplus. At the same time, Germany is the second-biggest donor of aid to developing countries.4 Germans are #1 in the world when it comes to travel — 40 million Germans spent 24.2 billion euros on travel to other countries in fiscal 2012 - and Germany itself is a major tourist destination. Between January and May 2012, international visitors accounted for 23.8 million overnight stays in German hotels, and in 2010 Berlin passed Rome in the number of foreign visitors. Austria and Switzerland are of course also popular destinations. In its list of the 44 "most compelling travel destinations" in the world for 2009, the New York Times put Berlin at #4, Vienna #8, and Cologne #30 (1/11/2009).


In addition to its exports, Germany invests heavily all around the world. In 2001, Volkswagen plants in China supplied over half of all the automobiles sold there, and Audi has just opened a major manufacturing facility in India. Similarly significant investments can be found in many other parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. The more than 700 German companies with operations in Mexico, for example, account for 5% of that country's GDP. 

Despite its global reach, Germany maintains an especially strong economic relationship with the United States. German investment in the U.S. is over a trillion euros, while the U.S. total in Germany is a trillion dollars. Each country's companies, through their subsidiaries, employ around 800,000 people in the other's work force. Between 2014-18, Volkswagen will be investing $900 million in its Tennessee assembly plant, while BMW is putting $1 billion into its South Carolina facility. In the first 6 months of 2015, German exports to the U.S. totaled 55.8 billion euros; U.S. exports to Germany during the same period amounted to 29.4 billion. Massachusetts exported $1.72 billion in goods and services to Germany in 2013, more than to any other country except Canada.

Mid-size businesses traditionally form the backbone of the German economy — according to the Institut für Mittelstandforschung (IfM), 95.1 percent of all German companies are family-owned businesses that account for 45.1 percent of all business volume. Yet of the world's 50 largest companies, nine are German: BASF, BMW, Daimler, Deutsche Post, Deutsche Telekom, E.ON, Metro, Siemens, and Volkswagen. HochTief is the world's leading international construction firm, and the Deutsche Bank one of its biggest financial institutions. In terms of money spent on research and development, Daimler and Siemens rank third and fourth in the world, while Volkswagen, Bayer, Hoechst, Bosch, BASF, Boehringer/Ingelheim, Deutsche Telekom, and Mannesman also occupy places among the first 90 (International Herald-Tribune, 26 Feb. 2000).

Germany's automobile, engineering, chemical, pharmaceutical, and high-end appliance firms are well known, as is its leadership in design, but the country's information enterprises are also significant. Bertelsmann is the world's largest publisher, and the German book-publishing industry as a whole ranks third in the world (behind England and China), traditionally producing over a third more new titles each year than does the United States (see The Bowker Annual). In fact, 10% of all the world's books are printed in German. Germany is also among the leaders in computing. SAP is the world's largest business software company and the world's third-largest independent software provider. A 1999 study by McKinsey found that the Munich area's 1,800 computer firms, with over 100,000 employees, formed the world's fourth largest concentration of hardware and software producers (after Silicon Valley, Boston, and London). Munich is also home to 115 biotech companies, while Dresden hosts 765 semiconductor firms. On the internet, German is one of the most-frequently used languages, and '.de' is the world's most widely-used country-specific domain.

In 2014, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Germany the most energy-efficient country in the world, and it is also a leader in the development of alternative energy. Approximately half of all photovoltaic cells and a third of all windmills are produced in Germany, while a single firm, Voith in Heidesheim, provides a third of the world's hydroelectric installations. Renewable energy accounts for 25% of Germany's electricity. By March 2009 Germany had already met its 2012 Kyoto Treaty obligations for reduced greenhouse gas emissions, three years ahead of time. It is on target to raise the share of renewables in electricity production to 35% by 2020.

Even in the world of sport, German-speakers figure prominently. Germany is consistently one of the most successful countries in the Summer Olympics, and Switzerland, given its size, also does remarkably well. In the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, Germany was the top medal winner; in 2010 it was second, and in 2014 sixth (Switzerland was seventh and Austria ninth). Athletes from all the German-speaking countries traditionally dominate alpine skiing to the extent that German is the sport's primary language. The U.S. Ski Team has traditionally sent its members to Dartmouth's ALPS Program to learn German.

In soccer Germany has few rivals. Its 2014 World Cup victory represents the team's most recent success, but throughout Cup history it has shown a unique consistency. Germany has won the title four times (tied with Italy and one behind Brazil), reaching the finals eight times and the semi-finals 13 (both more than any other squad). It has also scored the highest total number of goals (223), and seven of the 14 top all-time scorers have been German, including #1 (Miroslav Klose) and #3 (Gerd Müller). The women's team has been similarly successful, reaching the finals three times and winning them twice, in 2003 and 2011. In fact, Germany is the only country whose men and women have both won the World Cup. There has been similar success in the European Cup. The men are tied with Spain for the total number of victories (three) and have reached the finals more than any other country. And things look good for the future: the U19 team won the 2014 European Cup. The women's record is even more impressive: they have won the eight of the 11 European competitions, including the last six in a row. As with the World Cup, Germany is unique in having both its men and women win the European title. Comparable results extend to the club level. In 2013, Bayern Munich won the Champions League's European Cup for men for the fifth time (its tenth time in the finals) by defeating another German club, Borossia Dortmund (Hamburg and Dortmund won in 1983 and 1997, and Frankfurt, Mönchengladbach, and Leverkusen are previous finalists). German women's clubs (Frankfurt, Potsdam, Duisburg, and Wolfsburg) have been especially dominant in the UEFA Cup, winning eight of the 13 competitions.

Tennis, swimming, rowing, golf, track, basketball, boxing, riding, handball, field hockey, ice hockey, ice-skating, fencing, auto racing, and now even baseball are just some of the other major sports at which Germans excel. German-speaking Switzerland has also produced some of the world's top tennis players, including Martina Hingis and Roger Federer.

Given all of these areas of accomplishment, it is clear that a knowledge of German grants access not just to rich literary, philosophical, and artistic traditions but also to many other kinds of contemporary cultural, economic, political, and scientific developments.

The Dartmouth Department of German Studies consequently offers a curriculum that appeals to a wide range of interests. Dartmouth German majors have pursued careers in business, engineering, finance, law, journalism, government service, medicine, and the sciences, as well as in art, literature, philosophy, music, and film. Even non-majors have discovered that their knowledge of German complements such fields as architecture, economics, government, history, engineering, and computer science (see "Majoring or Minoring in German"). Over 150 Dartmouth alumni live and work in the German-speaking countries. But no matter what their future careers, students find that German Studies, as part of a liberal education, can enrich their professional and personal lives.


Potsdamer Platz

1 This list of inventions was assembled by Die Welt
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2  According to
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3 For the preceeding, see the comparative economic review from The German Information Center and the report of February 16, 2001, from For an updating of general facts about Germany, see the Center's Fact Page, as well as For facts about the other German-speaking countries, see
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4 It is also worth noting that Germany's wealth is distributed relatively equitably among its population. When post-tax transfers were factored in, Germany's relative poverty rate in 2000 was 2.4%, while Switzerland's was 4.3% - the United States' rate was 11.7% (See The New York Review of Books, March 23, 2000, p. 21). In 2004, in the average large German company, the CEO's compensation was 11 times that of the average worker; in the U.S., the ratio was 531 to 1 (The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2004).
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Last Updated: 8/28/15