German and German Studies

In the St. Olaf German Department, we are committed to offering students a critical, socially engaged, interdisciplinary and inclusive German Studies to meet global challenges. At every course level, language learning and cultural understanding support and reinforce one another. Beyond acquiring vocabulary and mastering grammar, German courses allow students to explore topics from fairy tales to film, from everyday life to international politics, and from confronting the past to building a more sustainable future.

Studying German at St. Olaf is both fun and enriching. Our small class sizes allow students to get to know their classmates closely as they learn to converse in German with each other, with professors, and with the native speakers we welcome to campus each year. Using language skills to explore the German-speaking world of yesterday and today, students will learn to make connections among diverse texts, including poetry and film, literature, news media, political discussions, as well as music, art, and architecture. Students will encounter social, cultural, artistic, political, and economic phenomena that have shaped German-speaking communities over time and that continue to influence their evolution today.

In addition to a diverse range of courses in German that treat language and culture together, the German Department offers courses in English on cultural topics like fairy tales and folklore, film and other media and artforms. Both majors and non-majors are welcome in our courses. 

Beyond the classroom, students may also participate in the weekly German conversation table (Stammtisch), semester film series, German choir, and events organized by the German Honor Society Delta Phi Alpha, and activities hosted at Deutsches Haus, an honor house where St. Olaf students live together in a German community with an exchange student from the University of Konstanz.

Overview of the Major

In courses for the German major, students gain an understanding of German-speaking cultures past and present while building intercultural competence, developing analytical and communication skills, and refining their oral and written German. Students need not be German majors to take level II and level III courses.

Level II courses are divided into three sequences:

  • GERM 231 and GERM 232 are topically organized, content-based courses, with lexical and grammatical work integrated into the study and discussion of a wide range of cultural perspectives through diverse written texts and visual media. GERM 231 focuses on questions of identity and belonging in relation to nation, memory, cultural diversity, and migration in Germany. In GERM 232, students explore the evolving significance of past events, movements, and figures for the wider German-speaking world;
  • 250-level courses prepare students to engage in informed conversations at a high level of discourse about core cultural narratives of the German-speaking world. GERM 251 focuses on the interaction of history and memory for the construction of narratives. Students analyze literary and filmic narratives as they develop advanced writing skills. GERM 252 explores contemporary issues in a global context through the study of numerous short texts and filmic works; projects include oral presentations in a variety of genres and registers.
  • 270-level courses introduce students to various ways of knowing: critical historiography, media literacy, and socially engaged scholarship. Students continue to refine their German language skills through tasks that emphasize reading against the grain and speaking to an audience beyond the classroom. Student products include web projects, research blogs, research presentations, community engagement projects, and interviews.

Level III courses are capstone seminars which require in-depth engagement with phenomena and discourses of German-speaking cultures, past and present. Students engage in original research that is presented publicly. Language work focuses on writing and speaking in a scholarly register. 

Intended Learning Outcomes for the Major

Overview of the Concentration

The German studies concentration provides students the opportunity to explore the cultures of German-speaking countries from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students combine coursework in the German language with a selection of courses with appropriate cultural content in consultation with the program director. Students are encouraged to participate in study abroad programs in Germany.  Two courses from a study abroad program may count toward the concentration.  One course may be taken S/U.

Intended Learning Outcomes for the Concentration


In the Spring Semester of 2023, the German Department faculty voted to discontinue the awarding of distinction in the German department. This decision was the culmination of conversations over several years–conversations that acquired greater urgency as the department began a more rigorous and wide-ranging discussion of equity, inclusion, and antiracism during the 2020-2021 academic year. In making this decision, the German Department joined several other St. Olaf departments and programs that have made the same decision in recent years. The department also joined a number of other departments and programs that have not offered distinction for many years.

Special Programs

Study Abroad

The German Department offers two regular opportunities to study in Germany for students who have completed GERM 232 or above; one need not be a German major to study abroad on one of these programs. Students can study at the University of Mainz for the fall semester plus January term, for the spring semester, or for a full year. Students can study at the University of Konstanz for the spring semester or for a full year. In addition to intensive language study and immersion, these programs offer upper-level coursework in a full array of university disciplines. For more information see the Smith Center for Global Engagement.

Both programs begin with an intensive pre-semester language and orientation course. During this time, students choose university courses they will take during the regular university semester. Upon successful completion of the fall plus January term program at the University of Mainz, students normally receive 4 credits on the St. Olaf transcript. Upon successful completion of the spring program at the University of Konstanz, students normally receive up to 4 credits on the St. Olaf transcript. For both programs, one of the St. Olaf credits may be the pre-semester language course. Students may receive up to 2 credits from a semester study abroad toward the St. Olaf German major, provided those courses are taught in German. Students may receive 2 credits toward a German studies concentration; one of those courses must be taught in German, the other may be taught in English. With pre-approval from the German study abroad advisor, credits taken abroad may be counted toward OLE Core curriculum attributes or as electives. Students wishing to apply credits to another major must get pre-approval from the appropriate department chair.

Upon successful completion of an approved full-year program of study in Germany, a student normally receives up to 9 credits on the St. Olaf transcript. Up to 4 credits may be counted toward the St. Olaf German major, provided those courses are taught in German. Students may receive 2 credits toward a German studies concentration; one of those courses must be taught in German, the other may be taught in English. With pre-approval from the German study abroad advisor, credits may be counted toward OLE Core curriculum or as electives. Students wishing to apply credits to another major must get pre-approval from the appropriate department chair.

Students should know that specific courses may not be offered during their time at the target university and discuss this possibility with their academic advisor and major department chair. Grades earned for all courses taken abroad are recorded on the St. Olaf transcript but are not calculated into the Grade Point Average. However, should a student decide to apply for professional or graduate school after graduation, that institution may recalculate the Grade Point Average to include grades earned abroad.

Courses in English 

German courses in English translation (GERM 247GERM 249, and GERM 263), which examine key aspects of the histories and cultures of German-speaking societies, carry OLE Core curriculum attributes and are open to majors and non-majors alike. These courses require no previous knowledge of German. Some courses in the German Department and in other departments at St. Olaf are offered with a German Languages Across the Curriculum component. Both the German major and the German Studies concentration allow for a limited portion of the course requirements to be in English.

German House

German majors, German Studies concentrators, and students motivated to be part of an immersive German-speaking living community may apply to live in Deutsches Haus, a co-educational Honor House. Each year a native German-speaking student is selected from the University of Konstanz to live in Deutsches Haus to speak German and organize cultural events with the other house residents.

Recommendations for Graduate Study

St. Olaf's German Education program has been discontinued. Students interested in obtaining a K-12 German teaching license are encouraged to complete an undergraduate major in German and then apply to a graduate program that offers a Master's degree combined with teaching certification in German.

Students planning on graduate study in German should major in German and take additional courses relevant to graduate studies in the field. An academic plan will be designed in close discussion with the student’s academic advisor. In recent years, St. Olaf German majors have been accepted for graduate study at the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Wisconsin.