Stammtisch: More than just a Beer with Strangers

Hi I’m Roberta, a fourth year French, German and Russian student, returning from my year (ish) abroad in Erfurt and Moscow.  This year I will be undertaking the role of Treasurer for the Linguist Magazine. As an avid networker, I am eager to get involved with such a cultural and international community in Birmingham, especially after my participation in the ‘Internationaler Stammtisch’ in Erfurt. 

Before going to Germany, I was excited to immerse myself into the German culture by attending a traditional Stammtisch. For those who don’t know, Stammtisch is essentially a group of people that meet in a bar (I was lucky enough to attend one at the Town Hall!), who drink (normally beer), talk and often eat together. Like most German words, Stammtisch is a compound noun. The prefix ‘Stamm’ has a plethora of meanings, such as a point of origin, a trunk (as in, tree trunk) and tribe/clan- whereas ‘Tisch’ simply means table. Stammtisch was originally reserved for the higher classes of people such as the Mayor, Doctors and Merchants as it was a place for informal political and philosophical discussions. Over time, however, Stammtisch has become an accessible event for all- whether you’re staying for a single drink or even if you intend on staying for the duration.

With this in mind, I was extremely excited to be attending my first Stammtisch- luckily there was one monthly in Erfurt, meaning that this opportunity was literally on my doorstep – especially given that Erfurt is one of the smallest capital cities in Germany! I was also working in a small company during my time in Germany, which meant that it was difficult to find friends. Upon arrival at the Stammtisch, I found out that it was an ‘international’ Stammtisch. Being the keen polyglot that I am, I couldn’t wait to speak all four of my languages- what a year abroad triumph that would be! At this Stammtisch, I befriended an elderly German lady, a young Iranian couple, a Russian man and also a Columbian lady. As I was so new to Erfurt, this group of people took me under their wing for my first few months, showing me new places in my region and also introducing me to the ‘Tandem’ scheme run by the Universität Erfurt. Progressively, more and more students also attended the Stammtisch once the University courses had resumed from summer.

Thanks to the Internationaler Stammtisch, I was not only able to improve my spoken German, but also meet a variety of different people from different places. The beauty of Stammtisch is that you can talk about everything and anything- it’s amazing how many questions foreign people have for Brits! Even though it was initially daunting to be surrounded by so many German speakers, it was fascinating and invaluable to have the experience of being able to do so.

The final takeaway from this is that you can’t underestimate the power of immersion on your year abroad. Take every opportunity to further your connections and language skills- the beer was a plus too!

Roberta Wright

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