Deutsche Sprach Klub heads to Sleepy Eye for 101-year-old member

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt German Club members (L to R) Angela Jahr, Klaus Jahr, Henk Exoo, Linda Meidl, Roy Joel and George Glotzbach stand behind 101-year-old Veronica Johanneck. Johanneck’s grandparents were fluent in German and she remembers some of the language, but admitted the club members were more knowledgeable about speaking the language. The meeting in Sleepy Eye allowed her to hear the language again.

SLEEPY EYE — The German Language Club (Deutsche Sprach Klub) of New Ulm held a special meeting at Divine Providence in Sleepy Eye Sunday afternoon. The meeting allowed German speakers from the Sleepy Eye area to practice speaking the language, especially 101-year-old Veronica Johanneck.

Language Professor Henk Exoo opened the latest meeting with a rendition of the song “An die Freude” which translate to “Ode to Joy.”

This month’s meeting was attended by Johanneck. Johanneck is a 101-year-old resident of Divine Providence. She will turn 102 next month. Johanneck was born and lived most her life in Wabasso, Minnesota but she has memories of her grandparents speaking German. Johanneck said she is unable to speak the language herself, but she understand some of the words. This is a common story among many third generation Germans.

Founding Club member Roy Joel said the group was formed because many third and fourth generation American Germans are losing the language. A few language enthusiasts came together to converse in German. The group started small but soon grew. On average there are 20 members in attendance at each meeting.

Sunday’s meeting did feature three members born in Germany. For Linda Meidl and Angela and Klaus Jahr, German is their first language. They learned to speak English after immigrating to America. Meidl moved to the United States 50 years ago from Irmenach, Germany. The Jahrs moved from the Berlin area 16 years ago.

The language is difficult to pick up even for the children of immigrants. Meidl said her son cannot speak German.

Another obstacle in learning the German language is dialect. The most common dialect spoken by club members in the German-Bohemian dialect, but there are countless variations.

“There are about four different dialects spoken in the club,” George Glotzbach said.

Glotzbach describe his dialect as the basic version of the language heard on radio and T.V. but pronunciation varies from region to region.

“Some of these dialects are vanishing as we get more homogenized,” Glotzbach said. It is one of the reasons the German Language Club continues to thrive. By speaking the language the group is able to preserve it.

The German Club meets on either the second or third Sunday of each month. Typically the group meets at the German-Bohemian Society (GBHS) Library at 1200 S. Broadway.