Herr Martin Portrait - 2012 (Oct) scan0002

The city of Boerne sits in the heart of the Texas German Belt, only a short distance from San Antonio, where there is still ample evidence of the German cultural heritage that helped to establish this area.  It was a great stroke of good fortune that I, a German-American dual citizen, ended up teaching German Language in Boerne ISD.

My passion for the German language and culture stems from the fact that I spent most of my formative years in the city of Berlin, where my parents were deeply involved in the historical, artistic, and political elements of German society.  I attended the bilingual German-American John F. Kennedy School in Berlin.

It was with a heavy heart (during my two-year stint at a California high school) that I realized how little is taught about German culture and history elsewhere.  A major highlight of my life was singing with my father’s well known Berlin Boys Choir at the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, preserved. Photo via CIA World Factbook.
A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall. Photo via CIA World Factbook.

As an adult, it has become both my passion and profession to teach the German language to my students, and to include cultural history beyond World War II without ignoring the war.  This includes introducing students to historical and contemporary artists, musicians, and prominent figures.  I also encourage them to explore the local heritage and German influences through projects and presentations.

As a former professional musician, I perform annually at our talent show with my German students singing (and playing) a German song. Last year it was “Du hast” from the Berlin Metal Band Rammstein. This year I am planning to do “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco and include many of my students in Band, Orchestra and Choir. One of the largest surprises to many first-year students in my class is that the sporting-event favorite “The Chicken Dance” is actually a German (Swiss) song called “Der Ententantz” (The Duck Dance).  The moves were made to emulate the quacking and waddling of a duck, but the title somehow morphed when crossing the English Channel and later the Atlantic.

Ludwig Boerne (1786 - 1837) was a German-Jewish political writer and satirist. German colonist named the town Boerne, about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, in honor of him, though he had never actually visited the town.
Ludwig Boerne (1786 – 1837) was a German-Jewish political writer and satirist. German colonist named the town Boerne, about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, in honor of him, though he had never actually visited the town.

Boerne ISD has been very supportive in maintaining German as a language option.  While I have a traditional German textbook as a reference, we use the Total Physical Response (TPR) method as our main curriculum.  This method begins instruction through giving verbal directions that the students must physically respond to.  Eventually, they move into comical skits that the students read and act out in front of the class and more formal reading selections.

While we still have traditional quizzes and tests, it makes the classroom experience a more engaging one. Students have commented how easy learning the language seems.  This year, my enrollment nearly doubled, and while my classes are large, it proves there is great interest in taking German.

This area of Texas boasts many towns, organizations and activities that promote, commemorate, and honor the contributions of German immigrants.  The city of New Braunfels hosts Wurstfest (Sausage Fest) every year with local performing groups and bands with a German flair.  My students have been fortunate enough to attend the “Student Day” as a field trip over the past few years, and the students always comment that the music and food create such an inviting atmosphere.

Wurstfest promotional ad.
Wurstfest promotional ad.

We also participate in a regional event called the “Sprachfest,” (Language Fest) a German competition among high schools from all over Central and South Texas.  Events include the performance of songs or poems, posters, self-made videos, and research papers.  The past two years, my students have been awarded trophies, and have been highlighted in the Boerne Star, the local newspaper.

It is this sort of personal attention that has made being a teacher in such a small, yet great district so rewarding.

2013 Sprachfest Winners. Photo courtesy of the Boerne Star.
2013 Sprachfest Winners. Photo courtesy of the Boerne Star.

Being a dual-citizen from birth, my own children are eligible for dual-citizenship – which we established this year.  My wife, Melinda, also a teacher, and I split the language duties.  She speaks only English to the kids, and I speak only German.  This has worked out very well, and we have been very consistent, but the kids were missing interaction with peers who speak the same language.  Last year, we found an option through the German Texan Heritage Society.  Housed in Austin, they offer programming, classes, and socials at the (former) Austin German School building.

The society has satellite campuses in surrounding cities that offer activities and Saturday school for younger children.  The San Antonio satellite is at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown San Antonio, serving children from ages 3-12 on Saturday mornings.  The program is new, and is offered to all levels of German students.  Both of my children attend, and their skills have improved immensely from speaking with their peers.  I also joined their ranks last year as the 9-12 year old teacher.

My children crawling on the Berlin Bear statue in Hemisfair Park. Photo courtesy of the Martin Family.
My children crawling on the Berlin Bear statue in Hemisfair Park. Photo courtesy of the Martin Family.

The San Antonio area has such a rich history greatly influenced by German settlers, and every year, my family and I discover more German activities and events in the surrounding cities I can share with visitors and students. In fact, I enjoy taking my children to see the Berlin Bear statue in Hemisfair Park.

Robert Martin, a Berlin, Germany native, is passionate about German culture, language and history. A recent UTSA graduate with a BA in German, he currently works as a high school teacher in Boerne, TX.  When not working, he spends his time coming up with exciting excursions to share with his kids, playing heavy metal guitar, and watching the occasional horror movie. 

Related Stories:

Why San Antonio Should Retie the Knot with Germany: Part One & Part Two

St. Patrick’s Day: More Than Green Beer and Shamrocks in San Antonio

San Antonio’s Big Bet on Public Art: Hemisfair Park and the San Antonio River

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org