PA Germans: Warwick-Altötting exchange going strong since 1989

By on April 19, 2017
These German students, enjoying a day in Lititz Springs Park with their hosts, are wrapping up their visit here this week. The exchange between Warwick High School and König-Karlmann Gymnasium in Altötting started in 1989. (Left to right) Laura Merwald, Alexis Sheely, Theresa Schwarz, Tamina Hantschmann, Lauren Sabol, and Abbi Clauser. Photo by Laura Knowles

Lauren Sabol and Theresa Schwarz are sisters.

Not blood sisters, but two girls with a special bond.

Sabol is a Warwick High School junior who spent three weeks in Altötting, Germany, last summer. She lived with the Schwarz family and went to school at König-Karlmann Gymnasium, the school Schwarz regularly attends.

Now Schwarz and 26 other German students are spending three weeks with host families in Lititz, and Sabol and Schwarz are reunited as sisters from across the ocean.

“I really do feel like Lauren is my sister. We will always be friends,” says Schwarz.

“I have a little brother here in Lititz, and I always wanted to have a sister. Now I do,” Sabol adds.

Since the German students arrived in the United States March 31, they have been on a whirlwind adventure discovering American life. Some have traveled to New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Others have taken in the natural beauty of the Maryland ocean, Chesapeake Bay boating, and even Niagara Falls in New York.

They are all a part of the 2017 German American Partnership Program Exchange, known to most of them as GAPP. Their bond across the sea has created just the opposite of a “gap.” They now have friends the same age who they think of as family.

They have spent time with their families, eaten family dinners, gone to school and even celebrated Easter together with their Lititz families.

Here in Lititz, the German students have made many discoveries. They had heard of the Amish and were fascinated to see people in horse-drawn buggies who came from Germany many years ago and still cling to their traditions.

“I knew there would be Amish here in Lancaster County,” says Laura Merwald, 17, who was impressed with the lush green countryside of Pennsylvania Dutch country, which is really German. “It does look very much like Bavaria, where I am from, with all the farms.”

Schwarz made another important discovery. Peanut butter. She loves the stuff.

“We don’t have peanut butter in Germany. The closest we have is Nutella (which is a chocolate and hazelnut spread). I have been enjoying peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter cups,” she says, adding that she has a suggestion for her Christmas gift from Lauren. “Peanut butter.”

Merwald loves walking through downtown Lititz, with all of its shops and restaurants, with her Lititz “sister” Alexis Sheely. Merwald has become quite fond of ice cream cones at Greco’s and burgers at JoBoy’s. While she is not obsessed with peanut butter, she has noticed that Lititz has a sweet tooth.

“There are lots of candy shops in Lititz and sweet desserts. I am not used to that,” says Merwald, who has visited Wilbur Chocolate, Candy*ology, Cafe Chocolate, Sugar Whipped bakery, Dosie Dough bakery and the brand new Sweet Legacy sweet shop.

She has a point.

Tamina Hantschmann of Germany agrees. She has been staying with her “sister” Abbi Clauser and family in Lititz. She observed that Lititz has some sweet treats like chocolate covered pretzels and fudge. She has also noticed that living in America is a bit roomier than Germany.

“In Germany houses are closer together and don’t have as many rooms. There aren’t big yards like here in America,” she says. “Even in town there is more room to walk around.”

Clauser enjoyed her visit to Altötting last summer when she stayed with Hantschmann’s family. In Germany, she discovered doner, a local sandwich made with bread, lamb and a special sauce. She also observed that the Germans seem to be ahead of the U.S. when it comes to recycling. Empty bottles were deposited into machines that crushed them into recyclable material and even gave back a few coins.

Sabol was taken with a cool ice cream treat known as “spaghetti” ice cream in Germany. It is extruded to look like fine strands of spaghetti and topped with sauce.

The German students noted that classes were a little different at their schools, to which the Lititz students agreed. In Germany, students have different classes each day, much like college students. At Warwick High School, students have the same daily schedule.

The 27 German students and their two teachers who are in town now are continuing a 28-year-old tradition between WHS and König-Karlmann Gymnasium. Last summer, the German exchange students hosted their Warwick partners in their town, and now the American students are returning the favor.

“This program provides an opportunity for Warwick students to apply and grow in their linguistic and cultural understanding of German,” says Warwick High School German teacher Wendy Andrews. “They live with a host family, attend school, give presentations in German on American life and culture, see some famous cultural and historical points of interest, and most importantly, form lifelong friendships with their host families.”

The German students do the same thing when they’re here in Lititz, and Andrews thinks the exchange is helpful to students on both sides because it gives them the chance to break down cultural stereotypes and immerse themselves in the language and culture.

While the German students speak English very well, having studied English since they were children, the Lititz students benefit greatly from the experience.

Recently 26 WHS students in German II, III, and IV classes volunteered to participate in the National German Exam, sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of German. Several students scored in the top 10, 20, and 30 percent of those throughout the country who took the exam.

Two weeks ago, the German and American students held an international soccer match under the lights on the WHS turf field with representatives of the German and American sides of the 2017 GAPP Exchange, as well as members of the WHS soccer teams. The Germans won 5-1.

The exchange students also participated in team building activities, including a breakout game to decipher codes and open locks with teacher Shelly Chmil and seven teams of students.

Warwick High School German student Autumn Kready was the winner of the 2017 Berlin Airlift Memorial Fund competition, which challenged students to create a T-shirt design to reflect the spirit of the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, when the friendship between Germany and America helped save the lives of many citizens of West Berlin.

The slogan on the back of Kready’s winning design sums up the partnership between the two schools, with the words “True Friendship Knows No Distance.”

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature reporter and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes reader feedback and story tips at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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