Pictures from a Competition – Germany: Memories of a Nation

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The Institute is delighted to make available selection of images, taken by ©Pablo Allison, of the prize-giving that rounded off the ‘Dinggedicht’ competition organised by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the IMLR. The challenge – to ‘re-sculpt’ an object of their choice from the 'Germany: Memories of a Nation' exhibition at the British Museum – resulted in over 180 entries, a heart-warming result given that half the submissions were from schoolchildren, and that a substantial number were written in German, or in a mixture of German and English.

The jury, whose members included the writer Annett Gröschner, Professor Karen Leeder (Oxford), Professor Martin Swales, FBA (London) and Dr Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR), were deeply impressed by the variety, insight and creativity of the poems submitted. The sheer quality of the poems and intensity of the writers’ engagement with German culture, history and language exceeded all expectations – a sure sign that the interest in the German language and culture, especially among learners at schools and at university level, is alive and well.

Huge thanks go to the DAAD, the British Museum, and the German Embassy for making this competition and the prize-giving ceremony possible, as well as to the Goethe Institute, the DAAD, the British Museum, King’s College Cambridge, Magdalene College Cambridge, and the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle for generously providing the valuable and imaginative prizes: entries to lectures and concerts, guided tours to exhibitions, book prizes, subscriptions to magazines and summer language courses in Germany!

These images can only provide a glimpse of the occasion on 12 December, which celebrated the winners and runners-up.  Some prize-winners were present to receive their awards and a range of the winning poems were read out. Lady Aldington, Chair of the Friends of Germanic Studies at the IMLR, presented the prizes in style, donning a ‘dirndl’ and declaring herself a ‘missing object’ from the museum’s exhibition. The photos also give an impression of the second event, co-hosted by the IMLR and the British Museum, that evening: in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery, Martin Swales, Emeritus Professor at UCL and Honorary Senior Fellow at the IMLR, gave a masterful lecture illustrating the extent to which writers’ engagement with objects can focus and symbolise human relationships with the world and the human condition itself. His evocation of the drum tumbling out of the hands of the dying Kattrin from Brecht’s Mother Courage (a sound that saved a town but killed the drummer herself), had the large audience collectively holding their breaths.

Following on from the lecture, Annett Gröschner, writer, curator, historian,  poet - and guardian of the cultural memory of Berlin – presented a text she had written specifically for the occasion. She focused on a very Prussian object: a ‘Durchsteckschlüssel’, a house key which can only be retrieved if the user pushes it through the door and locks up from the inside. Characterising the key and its owner in her typical mix of poetic and authentic Berlin sounds, she added a new dimension to the story of objects representing what it means to be German. 

One of the prize-winners with Lady Aldington; Godela Weiss-Sussex and the 'Durchsteckschlüssel' Annett Gröschner; Martin Swales.

Clockwise from top left: One of the prize-winners with Lady Aldington; Godela Weiss-Sussex and the 'Durchsteckschlüssel' Annett Gröschner; Martin Swales.
© Pablo Allison, London 2014

For the list of prize-winners, please see

Jury members: René Koglbauer (Newcastle) and Liz Black (Leeds) [school entries]; Silke Mentchen (Cambridge) and Martin Swales (London) [undergraduates]; Annett Gröschner (Berlin) and Karen Leeder (Oxford) [Others]; Cecile Reese (DAAD) and Godela Weiss-Sussex [Overall].