Asking Candid Questions at the Germany-American International Women’s Club
I was doing research for an article about the history of Americans living in Germany when I came across the German American and International Women’s Club.
During and after World War II in Germany, Germans and Americans were advised not to socialize or interact. In the late fifties, it was becoming clear that this rule was ruining local German communities.
In 1956, eight wives of American officers stationed in Munich decided to buck military regulations and make contact with local German women. They created the German American and International Women’s Club. Their goal was, and continues to be, to deepen the cross-cultural relationships between Germans and Americans while promoting tolerance by providing opportunities for cultural exchange. There are now dozens of Women’s Clubs across Germany.
Having moved to Kaiserslautern just a few weeks prior, I knew this was something I wanted to get involved in. The first event I attended was the opening of an art gallery in town. The women were immediately open and welcoming and made me feel completely at ease. Towards the end of the event, a German woman named Cecila pulled me aside.
She told me that she was very happy that I had joined the group. Active American membership had dropped and she was in need of a co-chair for the monthly English conversation group. Over the past year, it had disintegrated without interested Americans to lead the group. I told her I would love to help.
Since then, we have hosted four conversation groups together. The format is very informal. We send out a mass email to the entire club, meet at a local restaurant for drinks, and everyone comes prepared with topics to discuss in English.
My role is to correct their pronunciation and grammar. It’s a great way for German women to speak English in a non-threatening yet educational environment. At first, I was a little intimidated about joining the group, as it’s really not second nature for me to correct the way people speak.
But they assured me this is what they want. They want to speak English correctly and this is for a number of reasons. Some have children they want to speak to without giving them bad habits. Others have American tenants moving into their rentals. Some work at jobs with Americans or have American customers they want to be able to speak to. One woman was taught British English growing up, and wants to improve her pronunciation so that she can speak on par with her nephew who lives in New York City.
It is really admirable that these women want to improve their English–especially since many Americans living in Germany are not proactively learning German.
Besides being a space for strengthening one’s grammar and pronunciation, at its core, the group is about having conversations. It’s a place where Americans and Germans can come together and honestly speak to one another no matter how taboo the topic. The goal is to foster understanding between the two cultures that live side by side. This is my favorite part about the group because I can feel comfortable asking questions like:
What do Germans really think of Americans?
What was it like when the wall came down?