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The underground movement fighting for the German language

Natürlich — A group of theology students and staff are attempting to create awareness about why the German language is important for their subject. And they are using unconventional methods in the underground movement ‘Deutsch, bitte'.

Something new is happening at the Faculty of Theology. It sounds like something from the Second World War: An underground movement has been set up. This movement, however, is not a fight against, but a fight in favour of things German.

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The ‘Deutsch, bitte’ initiative was started in the autumn of 2017.

The movement has a Facebook group, where you can follow the initiative and register for events, ‘Deutsch, bitte – på det Teologiske Fakultet’.


It all started during an election party at Vor Frue Plads on 24th September last year. The German elections were over, but a small group of students and staff at the Faculty of Theology discussed something that they believed was vital to their subject: The German language.

A loss to people’s general education

The discussion was about how little knowledge there is of the German language among students of theology.

“The neural pathways between Danish and German theology have been weakened through a number of years. And this constitutes a loss to people’s general education,” says Morten Bangsgaard, a theology student and one of the founders of the underground movement.

The German language used to be obligatory to get by in theology (and on many other university programmes), but the importance of the language has been on the wane for years. Today the vast majority of the German texts are read in English translation.

“We simply had to do something about this,” explains Morten Bangsgaard.

Deutsch, bitte

But what do you do? You start an underground movement. And so, the ‘Deutsch, bitte’ movement came into being.

It is difficult to know how many people are in the movement. Morten Bangsgaard says, grinning, that the underground movement’s first anniversary was celebrated at “an unknown location in the Nørrebro district.”

"The neural pathways between Danish and German theology have been weakened through a number of years now. And this constitutes a loss to people’s general education.
Morten Bangsgaard, theology student and co-founder of "Deutsch, bitte"

But they do, after all, have a Facebook page, so it is not all underground.

The movement has already gained a foothold at the Faculty of Theology. They have joined forces with the study board and organised a theme day called ‘Wie bitte? German in theology’, and the University Post was present.

The theme day consists in a number of presentations which, within the various disciplines of theology, investigates Germany and the German language’s significance for the subject. Cold Riesling wine is subsequently served before it moves on to a German classic: Oktoberfest.

Alles klar?

The theme day takes place in the Kierkegaard auditorium on South Campus (KUA). When the University Post turns up a quarter of an hour beforehand on the theme day in front of the auditorium, the first students and employees have started to turn up. And they speak a bit of German. To each other and with a smile on their lips. “Wie gehts?”, “Alles klar?”

I ask three students from Theology, why they have turned up today, and why they believe that German is important for their subject. They discuss between themselves a bit, and come up with this response:

“Some of the subject’s most important sources are in German. Luther wrote in German, and the Reformation took place in Germany. We learn a bit of Greek, Latin and Hebrew, but not German. It is a huge loss not to read the subject’s core sources in the language in which they are written,” says one of them.

The joy of German theology

The purpose of the underground movement is therefore not something that someone just conjured up out of nothing. They express a dissatisfaction with their study programme. A dissatisfaction that has assembled a total of 40 people on a Friday afternoon to discuss the German language’s impact on Danish theology.

It is the chairman of the Board of Studies, Iben Damgaard, who opens the theme day with a welcoming speech. She explains that it is the movement that has led to the theme day having the theme that it has.

If you do not understand the German tradition that theology is a part of, you simply do not understand Danish theology. Then you don’t get to be a skilled theologian

Morten Bangsgaard, theology student and co-founder of “Deutsch, bitte”

Here, on the 50th anniversary of the 1968 student rebellion, it is important to listen to the students’ democratic impulses,” she says from the Kierkegaard auditorium’s lectern. It is important to listen to underground movements.

For the theme day, Johanne Stubbe T. Kristensen, Associate Professor at the Department of Systematic Theology, speaks on “The Joy of German Theology’. This sounds like a bit of a challenge. But when she gets going it is actually quite convincing.

She cites the first line of a three-volume work (in German of course!): “The word ‘theology’ is in itself ambiguous.”
And then exclaims: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic!”. The assembly laughs.

Almost all her power points are in German, with German quotes, which she translates until she encounters a strange word: ‘Sichzuvorkommens.’

“This is absolutely fantastic!” she exclaims again and continues: “How would you translate it? “You probably can’t really.”

It may well be that German is actually a pleasure. But there is a lot of other stuff out there that is a pleasure too. And this does not need to be a part of theology. So why is it so important that the German language again becomes a part of theology?

Morten Bangsgaard from the Faculty of Theology is convinced:

“If you do not understand the German tradition that theology is a part of, you simply do not understand Danish theology. Then you don’t get to be a skilled theologian.”

And this may ultimately mean that the trained theologians are not aware of the theology which is the basis of the Danish Lutheran Church. An understanding of the German, is also an understanding of the Danish. And this is not insignificant, as four out of five theologians are employed in the Danish Lutheran Church, says Morten Bangsgaard.

Support from management

Normally, an underground movement is something that meets resistance. But according to Morten Bangsgaard, the underground movement of theology does not seem to meet resistance – quite the contrary:

“It is as if we are cycling with a tailwind. This applies to both lecturers and students. It is almost like redemption to again be able to say the word ‘German’ in theology. This has been hidden for many years.”

What about management?

“Management is happy and continues to contribute to the underground movement. It’s not a resistance movement, but an underground movement. There is full support from both the Dean and the Associate Dean. ”

And the “Deutsch, bitte” movement can already brag about several results. The movement has organised a German course at the beginning of this semester and created a German homework café, as several lecturers have already started to include original German texts in the year’s syllabus. And there are plans for several events, Morten Bangsgaard assures us.

The reunification of German and Danish

The main purpose of the “Deutsch, bitte” initiative is to strengthen students’ German skills. But another purpose is to increase awareness about why German is so important to theology. And, not least, to counter the loss in general education that the lack of awareness of German at university is an expression of.

But how does your underground movement reach out beyond theology?

“It does so especially within the humanities, but a lawyer must also be able to work in the huge German market. Germany is our largest trading partner, so there needs to be lawyers who can think, speak and write in German. Now that we have a South Campus with three different faculties, the German language might be a way to bring the different students closer together.”

In 2019, the underground movement is planning a study trip to Berlin or Erfurt. In 2020 they plan a study trip to South Schleswig in connection with the 100th anniversary of the reunification of Southern Jutland and Denmark.

“The reunification anniversary is also an example of how close our own history is entwined with the German one,” says Morten Bangsgaard.

And this is perhaps what the purpose of the movement is today: To reunite the German and the Danish. With whatever means are necessary. As Morten Bangsgaard concludes, before the next presentation is about to start in the Kierkegaard Auditorium:

“Theology strengthens the German, but the German also strengthens the theology.”