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Using music to teach German and jump obstacles in Israel

On the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations, DW Akademie's "Diary of a Band" team went to Israel for the Goethe Institute's "German(y) Day" and to tour the country. It was a special experience.

Video shoot in Jaffa: EINSHOCH6 together with Israeli singer Yael Izkovich. Photo: Friederike Rohmann/DW Akademie

Video shoot in Jaffa: EINSHOCH6 together with Israeli singer Yael Izkovich.

It's Friday afternoon in Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv directly on the coast. Brilliant sunshine streams over a landscape of whitewashed houses perched next to a vivid blue sea. The thermometer reads 30 degrees. In the midst of it all, nine musicians from Germany are singing, dancing and rapping. At first glance it looks like people goofing around on holiday, but actually, this is hard, sweaty work. Everyone here is involved in shooting a video for the "Diary of a Band" (Bandtagebuch) project, part of DW Akademie's German-language course offering. Today, there's a special guest on the set: Israeli singer Yael Izkovich, who is supporting the nine members of the Munich-based band "EINSHOCH6" ("one to the power of six") in both Hebrew and Arabic. It's German-Israeli cultural exchange in action.

"Now everybody, practice your lines one more time before we go back to the beginning! Give it all you've got!" yells project leader Shirin Kasraeian, who's standing behind the camera and keeping everything under control.

Directing the action - that's what Kasraeian does even when she's not directing a video shoot. She and EINSHOCH6 created the "Dairy of a Band" concept together in 2011. Since then she's been in charge of this musical project for learning German, one of DW Akademie's educational programs. It's a free online format for learning German made up of more than 50 videos in which the band invites German learners into their musical lives and takes them on a tour of Germany, all to improve learners' command of the language. Using the online program as a springboard, the creators of Diary of a Band have also been touring offline – in real life – since 2013. Working with local partners, they've so far held workshops and concerts in over fifteen countries. Now there's another goal on the horizon for the "Dairy of a Band Tour": Israel.

German's growing popularity

Diary of a Band on tour – concert at German(y) Day in Haifa. Photo: Friederike Rohmann/DW Akademie

Diary of a Band on tour – concert at German(y) Day in Haifa.

While the tour has already been to several countries, visiting Israel is something special – especially as it involves German musicians promoting Germany and the German language. A central question for the band and DW Akademie was how to inspire enthusiasm for German among young Israelis, many of whom continue to associate German with Nazi-era atrocities. "While we were preparing for Israel, we were very conscious of the difficult history we share," says Jakob Haas, cellist for EINSHOCH6. At the same time, they expected people in Israel to be very open. "And I think we're all surprised at how at home we feel and what a positive reception our band has received," he adds.

"We're at a point where we can look ahead to a future where German will become increasingly popular," explains Jörg Klinner, head of the language department of the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv and ‎the institute's deputy director. "That doesn't mean the past will be forgotten, but our focus when it comes to learning German in Israel is very clearly future-oriented." He feels that there's the potential right now to accomplish a great deal, which is why he and his colleagues organized the "German(y) Day" in Haifa, a city about an hour north of Tel Aviv. Similar events were also held in Eilat and Be'er Sheva.

Jumping language barriers

Diary of a Band on tour – concert at German(y) Day in Haifa. Photo: Friederike Rohmann/DW Akademie

Diary of a Band on tour – concert at German(y) Day in Haifa.

Klinner and his team put together a very diverse program, including German cinema, improvisational theatre and celebrity cooking with Tom Franz, the Cologne native who won Israel's version of the TV cooking competition Masterchef.

On German(y) Day, students, teachers and others interested in the German language mingle and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. There are Israelis and, surprisingly, a lot of Germans. All of them are looking forward to the day's highlight, EINSHOCH6 in concert. And the band knows how to put on a show. They warm up the crowd, which soon begins singing, dancing and just having an overall good time. "The people participate, whether they can speak German or not. Music jumps all language barriers," says Kasraeian. Besides creating a fantastic atmosphere, the music also stimulates curiosity about the German language. The Diary of a Band concept works.

"You have to remember that we're in a country that has a lot of negative associations with Germany. So it's all the more gratifying that the feedback we get from the visitors is so positive," says Klinner.

Rita Lanczet, who teaches German at a high school in Haifa and has come to German(y) Day, also says that she's observed a slow but steady increase in interest for the German language. "When I started teaching German in Israel over 20 years ago, few people could understand why anyone would want to learn the language. There were times when I got a lot of criticism for my work," she says. In the meantime, however, a lot has changed. Today, there's little hostility towards German, especially as Berlin has become such a trendy destination for young people. That's why it's an excellent time for DW Akademie's Diary of a Band to be on tour.

Teachers who rap

The people behind Diary of a Band: EINSHOCH6 and project head Shirin Kasraeian with guest singer Yael Izkovich/ Photo: Friederike Rohmann/DW Akademie

The people behind Diary of a Band: EINSHOCH6 and project head Shirin Kasraeian with guest singer Yael Izkovich

The next day, the Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv hosts a workshop for German teachers. In addition to giving concerts, an important part of every EINSHOCH6 tour is to connect directly with local teachers and students. Rita Lanczet is there, too. "I want to pick up new ideas for my lessons, so I can inspire more students to learn German!" she says.

Shirin Kasraeian and members of the band demonstrate how much fun German can be, even in the context of language lessons. "At the end of the day we have a bunch of singing, rapping teachers, totally excited about their next German class," Kasraeian says, visibly delighted. Working with teachers is an important part of this unique language-learning concept, which is all about motivation through fun and music. Teachers play a vital role in that, and are crucial to the success of "Diary of a Band".

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