Beyond words: Instagrammer teaches German through a creative lens | Arts | DW | 27.09.2017
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Beyond words: Instagrammer teaches German through a creative lens

A photographer who runs the @basicgermanwords Instagram account, Martin Widenka knows how many words a picture is worth. His refined images promote German language learning with an artistic eye, as he tells DW.

When it comes to Instagram, Frankfurt-based photographer and social media expert, Martin Widenka, has a way with words – German ones, that is.

His account, @basicgermanwords, takes a basic concept and runs with the idea so well that Widenka now has an audience of near 18,000 followers. In each post, one German word or phrase is contained within an artfully composed photo that plays with architecture, colors and diverse fonts; undeniably, each image draws the viewer's attention into the world of German linguistics.

Creating a community

The idea for the Instagram account was born when Widenka and his American girlfriend were walking through Mannheim one "beautiful summer day" and discovered a multi-story car park from the 1980s with the German word Parkhaus "written in huge letters on the entrance."  

"I took a picture, edited it in black and white and instantly uploaded it," he said. "At that time I was always interested in creating unique hashtags." #basicgermanwords seemed to fit the bill, a nice play on German words that are anything but basic.

Screenshot Instagram basicgermanwords (Instagram/juhu.dith/basicgermanwords)

A @basicgermanwords post featuring the word Freiheit (Freedom) on a wall, backdropped by a plane in a blue sky

Widenka initially photographed and posted all the images, but he now considers submissions from contributors who tag their photos with #basicgermanwords. It's one of the many reasons he feels his account has gained such a loyal following.

"#basicgermanwords is a real community hashtag," he says. "Everybody can contribute. Every city has its own charm, its own stories, and its own names. #basicgermanwords brings them all together and brings people to explore their environment more consciously."

Widenka adds that the idea is not only to capture German words in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. "The goal is to catch German influences all over the world. It is great to see that there are photogenic German words in New York City, Uruguay and even Taiwan."

Amateur and professional photographers still have to adhere to Widenka's criteria. He won't accept just any photo tagged with #basicgermanwords, and closely considers lighting and composition. "But I have to admit, photos from foreign countries always have a special advantage," he says.

The language of art

From beginners to advanced German language learners, #basicgermanwords offers inspiration to a gamut of people interested in Teutonic jargon. In this way, Widenka presents a wide range of German words in different settings.

The goal as ever is to offer some vital perspective. "Often you see words, and you don't know their origin. With the #basicgermanwords approach, people are way more conscious about the words that surround them," says Widenka.

 Basic German Words Stadt für alle (Martin Widenka)

Stadt für Alle literally means a city for everyone

Moreover, learning vocabulary via innovative and interesting images makes it easier to master a difficult language like German. "To learn a new language can be quite a challenge," says Widenka. "If you have fun photos where you can learn a little bit day-by-day, it makes it easier to consider diving into a new language."

Easier said than done. Mark Twain perfectly surmised the daunting task of gaining German linguistic proficiency when he wrote: "Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German."

Widenka feels that this is sometimes a misconception. "It's umständlich (laborious). The German language's vocabulary and pronunciation are difficult indeed, but often these large words are simply the combination of smaller words that are easy to reproduce," he says.

On that note, the Instagrammer would like to see words like Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaft (legal protection insurance company) photographed for @basicgermanwords.

The remaining challenge will be to present the word in an eye-catching photographic context, and thus to reveal its hidden beauty.

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