Friends and Conversation - in German
They go by various names—German Language Circle, Teestunde, German Happy Hour, Die Gruppe, Stammtisch—but they all have one thing in common: practicing and enjoying German in an informal setting. German conversational groups meet in private homes or local restaurants in places as diverse as Seattle, London, Berlin, or Sydney. Such groups may meet once a week, every two weeks, or monthly. (Weekly is best!) Most have at least one group coordinator or moderator, who also may be the founder. Many have been around for years, while others are more fleeting, fading away for a lack of leadership or lost members. But there are success stories like Seattle's "Stammtisch."
In Germany, a Stammtisch is a table reserved for regular customers at a restaurant or pub. It is usually designated by a metal "Stammtisch" sign standing at the center of the table. Seattle's "Stammtisch" began modestly decades ago, but now has 20-30 regulars and a membership of over 150—a mix of bilingual Germans, university students, foreign nationals, and Americans who want to improve their German conversational skills. According to Paul Reed Smith, one of the Seattle Stammtisch's co-founders and coordinators, he first got involved with the local Stammtisch in the fall of 1993. "I was going back to the University of Washington to study business German. I had been to other Stammtisches in Seattle, but they never seemed to keep meeting. The Seattle Stammtisch was small, with only four to six people at a meeting, but it met every week. I was their computer guy, so I started the Seattle Stammtisch email list and started making postings to the German groups on USENET. We've grown a lot since then."
The history of Seattle's German conversation group goes back at least a couple of decades. Its origins are now a bit foggy, but its real start seems to have been back in the early 1990s when the group met at a variety of Seattle hangouts in the university district. Finally, the Stammtischler found a regular location in a back room at the European Restaurant and Pastry Shop (whose owner was Chinese and whose cook was Mexican). Sitting around the table, then as now, was a mix of foreign and U.S. university students, professors, and others of all ages and walks of life whose only common interest was a love of the German language. These 20 or so people gathered every Tuesday from 6:00 to 10:00 pm for the Stammtisch at the European, where they found the proper atmosphere for food, drink, and conversation. Coffee was just as popular as beer, the menu was "European," and the place wasn't too noisy for conversation.
Homeless in Seattle
But in the summer of 2002, the group was suddenly faced with a crisis. After meeting faithfully every Tuesday at the European for over ten years, the restaurant's owners announced they were closing temporarily for renovations. The Stammtisch was about to lose its longtime home. Someone suggested another restaurant down the street on University Way. The Continental Restaurant turned out to be a pleasant new home, with free parking, a friendly staff, and good food at reasonable prices. The Stammtisch's temporary new home at the Continental turned out to be permanent when, much to the group's dismay, a new sign went up at their former location: "University Teriyaki"!
Since then the Seattle Stammtisch has found the Continental to be an even better meeting spot than the old one. It also meets the important criteria that Paul recommends for any similar conversation group: (1) a central location that's easy to reach, (2) a full-service restaurant that's not too noisy, but allows the group to get noisy at times, and (3) a restaurant owner/manager who's flexible, doesn't expect a minimum order from each person, and understands that you're bringing in regular business.
Nowadays the Stammtisch shares the Continental with several other language conversation groups. On Tuesdays they can hear Czech being spoken at the nearby Czech Table. On Wednesdays the Échange Français fills the Continental with the sounds of French. Thursday nights feature the Spanish Tertulia, and Mondays there's even an ESL English table for the Seattle International Club.
The Seattle Stammtisch has also offered at least one field trip as part of its activities (but not on a Tuesday, when the Stammtisch meets!). Other German conversation groups also organize outtings to local German events, a German movie, or art exhibits. The Stammtisch in Chicago has sponsored Ausflüge to German movies, wine tastings, a Garten-Party, and art exhibits. The Chicago group meets Saturdays at the Third Coast near the corner of Chicago's Goethe (!) and Dearborn Streets.
But not everyone is lucky enough to live where there is already an established German conversation group...
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