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From Germany to Georgetown

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    Herbert Genzmer moved his family from Spain to spend two years teaching at Southwestern.

German students benefit from a visiting professor who is a noted author

Students taking introductory German classes at Southwestern this year will have an usual opportunity – the chance to learn German from a German native who also happens to be the co-author of their textbook.

Herbert Genzmer is returning to Southwestern for a second year of teaching as a visiting professor. He was originally hired in fall 2010 while German Professor Erika Berroth taught classes in Southwestern’s London Semester program. Since her replacement would be the main German professor for that semester, she needed someone with training and experience teaching language, literature and culture at all levels in the program.

At the same time, Genzmer was looking for a job in the United States because he wanted his children to learn English and experience living here for at least a year. The year went so well that Genzmer was offered a contract for another year.

“It has been a real success story,” Berroth said. “We have a real-life writer in residence teaching all levels of German classes.”

Genzmer studied linguistics, art history and English in Berlin and Düsseldorf before completing a Ph.D. in German linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to coming to Georgetown, he taught German at Roviri i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain. He also has taught at UC Berkeley and the Goethe Institute in Singapore.

Genzmer has written numerous books, short stories and literary translations. Among the books he has authored is Kontakte, the textbook used at Southwestern in recent years for Beginning German. He also has written travel books and two books about Salvador Dali. In his fiction, Genzmer explores borderline situations ­– people who find themselves outside of their normal grid who have to deal with new and changing situations. “In that sense, I have been writing a lot about the figure of the artist,” he explained. “I believe artists, by the very essence of their existence, their work and dedication, are exploring new and ever changing situations in every instance. That fascinates me.”

Genzmer has received several prizes and grants for his work.

“To have a visiting professor with his background and credentials is really a win-win,” Berroth said. “And the students love him.”

Genzmer said he enjoys watching students go through the process of learning a new language.

“I love that moment when the stuff you do in class goes beyond the mere learning of the language, when finally certain aspects fall into place and when cross-references open up new dimensions and perspectives and when minds start to spark,” he said.

Genzmer had never been to Texas before, so moving to Georgetown was an adventure − one that he has been pleased with.

“The first year at Southwestern was a surprising and satisfying experience,” Genzmer said. “At Berkeley everything was very anonymous in every respect, whereas here I found a completely different atmosphere: cordial, friendly, open and very generous. I found a sense of community at Southwestern.”

Genzmer relocated his wife and two children, Ada and Max, to Georgetown from their home in Spain. “Outside the university, the most exciting thing to watch was how my two children, 8 and 12, moved into the new culture and the new language and how they acquired a tremendous cultural and linguistic proficiency with the speed of lightning,” Genzmer said. “We are ready for more and are very much looking forward to the second year at Southwestern.”

Genzmer said he and his family enjoy living in Georgetown and they have played an active role in the community. He has coached his son’s soccer team and plays tennis with colleagues at Southwestern.

−Kristen McLaughlin