Help me find a German Pensioner for a Pen-pal!
May 3, 2015 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I need some help finding older Germans who would like to be old-fashioned pen-pals. I need to practice my superpowers!

I need to find out how I can get an older German pen-pal to practice my German script.

They will need to be pretty old, because almost no one learns Kurrent and/or Sütterlin anymore.

Does anyone have any ideas or leads? My German isn't very good (vocabulary is passable; grammar all over the place unless I'm really careful), but I am really good at reading/writing the scripts. This would be a good way to practice both things.

Backstory: Through a series of events in my childhood I learned how to read and write Kurrent but the German I grew up around is some weird mix of German, Swiss German, English, Yiddish, and whatever else melted into the pot.

I've found being around genealogists, librarians, and archivists that no one can read the old script and I am always translating it. Even if I don't know the vocabulary, I can read what the word is. People treat it like a superpower! It's like I'm reading undecipherable runes to them!

I'm going to be having a writing workshop on it later this Summer to show other people how to write it, but I'd really like to practice more German communication and it seems like the WWII generation is the last to have learned it. This seems like a great and fun match.
posted by Tchad to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could get in touch with an aged care facility for German residents in an English-speaking country (eg. this facility in Melbourne, Australia. Though hopefully there is something closer to you!), so that you can write the letters in a mixture of English and German as needed. Otherwise I have no idea how you could manage to have a successful pen pal relationship when your German is limited.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:17 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Postcrossing has lots of members from Germany, and some are old/retired and might have the knowledge you seek. After you get 5 sent postcards under your belt, you can browse user profiles and set up communication with whoever you want. You might also enjoy the random aspect you get there.
posted by ackptui at 6:55 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think in order to find an elderly German pen pal you have to improve your German and you have to get to know some actual Germans.

If your German is good enough that other people can easily read and comprehend what you've written, then you have a much better chance of building a correspondence with a stranger. I know a couple of elderly Germans who would love to get regular mail, probably even from someone they'd never met, but I can't imagine them being terribly thrilled at getting regular letters that they had to struggle to understand (and if your vocabulary is limited and your grammar is all over the place, then they probably will struggle). So if you improve your German, you increase your chances of making this work with a complete stranger.

If you get to know some Germans though (look around and find out if there's a Stammtisch/German conversation group in your city as a start), and you get to be friends, then they might know of someone who would be interested in meeting you and after you've gotten to know each other a bit, then you could write each other letters. Once people know you and like you, then they are much more forgiving of grammar and spelling errors. But they still need to be able to understand what the heck you're writing.

In conclusion: you've probably got to improve your German (alone or in classes or conversation groups) before expecting anyone to want to be your pen pal.
posted by colfax at 10:33 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am German, in my thirties, and I can read these scripts but I could never be asked to even try to write in them. My mother had kept some really old books my grandmother had owned as a child and she read them to us. I was intrigued by the font so I learned to read it as a child.

Both my grandmothers would have still had to learn Suetterlin at school. I remember seeing my great grandmother write out and sign cheques and I was struck by how neat and school teacher like perfect her writing was. When I remarked on this I was told that she had to relearn to write as an adult when people started to use Latin font and that's why her writing was so neat. But she'd be 119 now, even my grandmothers would be in their 90s and they have all been gone a long time. So the people who had to learn these scripts as a matter of course are getting very hard to find.

But if you want to read it there is nothing to stop you from sourcing text to read. If you don't understand enough German for that to appeal your German is not good enough to correspond with a pen pal.

There is also nothing to stop you from writing in these scripts. In fact there is nothing to stop you from using them in English. It would probably be easier to find geeks who'd enjoy corresponding with you in English using a strange font than to find 85+ year old Germans who'd be able to and willing to correspond with a random stranger who doesn't speak German well.

Joining a German conversation group and/or reading German news online for example or any text really, would help you to improve your German and reading in particular would help you with grammar.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:46 PM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I Know several people my age (50) here in Austria who read and write it. It is not quite that extinct. However, i agree if your German is not up to it why not write in english?
Try Posting your request at in Land und Leute or quasselzimmer. You might find someone there who knows both kurrent and english.

Apologies for terrible Typos doing this on autocorrecting i pad
posted by 15L06 at 3:57 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you like I can post it for you there, send me memail. I am not volunteering as I lack the time.
posted by 15L06 at 2:28 AM on May 4, 2015

Response by poster: I want to thank you all for your input. I really appreciate it. It has given me some things to think about and a couple of leads. I've been using a lot lately, thanks for the reminder that they have a message/chat function. I forgot about that.

I think I was a little too vague and undersold my ability to communicate in German. I can definitely write pen-pal type stuff: Ask how their day was, talk about the weather, tell them about my daily life, ask them about their lives, &c. I read German well enough (Bild and Süddeutsche Zeitung) with the help of a dictionary app and text with Mom and a friend or two in very limited German, so it is there, but shaky/timid/embarrassing/shameful when it comes to verbal communication and more complicated things. I won't be writing letters disseminating the finer points of Schiller or Heidegger, but I will be able to write and understand short letters.

At the risk of being in GMOB territory: I understand that I could just use the letters and write in English; I am really surprised I didn't think of that in middle and high school when it would have come in handy for notes and super-secret teenage screeds against the Algebra teacher. But what I am trying to do here is a little more personal.

I am just old enough to have had a number of American Germans around me who came from a world that was entirely snuffed out by the politics of the 20th century. I'm part of what remains of that world. They used German in their daily lives and were part of German communities in the States that were this odd mix of German and American. It wasn't the regular assimilationist immigrant mentality. Their lives were lived in both German and English - it was part of life for them regardless of how long they or their families had been in the States. Now, the ones who are left (my family members among them) only have memories of what was and what is has been reduced to a kind of cartoon shorthand - bierstubes, lederhosen, and the annual German heritage festival at the Germannia Männerchor.

I know I'm not going to resurrect Kurrent as a viable script or reestablish newspapers printed in Fraktur in the Ohio River valley, but I thought it would be sweet to engage an older person or two with short notes written in the script they first learned and practice my German in the meantime. It would be really special to me to keep part of that culture/identity alive. It just seemed like a win/win and would make my Grandparents proud that I was using something they weren't allowed to because of politics.

Thanks again for all of your input, advice, and direction. It is what makes this place special.
posted by Tchad at 7:14 AM on May 4, 2015

Tchad--sent you an email, but I have a friend whose husband writes Kurrent/Sütterlin, speaks Enaglish & German and is willing to help out. Shoot me a memail or email and I'll put you in touch, if you'd like.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:16 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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