Gaelic culture enjoys an unlikely renaissance - among the Germans

GERMAN students with an appetite for Scottish culture and language are helping to swell the numbers of people learning Gaelic.

Germans now account for the biggest overseas uptake of courses at Sabhal Mr Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, and have boosted numbers at summer schools such as Celas in South Uist.

This year there are three German students on full-time courses at the college. Next year there will be three learning full-time, three on distance learning courses and another 11 on short courses.

The growing connection between the two countries features in a BBC Alba documentary - Na Gaidheileamailtich (The German Gaels), to be screened next week.

Lecturer Michael Klevenhaus became interested in Gaelic as a child when he heard a radio programme about it dying out. He studied at Sabhal Mr Ostaig and within a few years was fluent.

He now teaches about 70 students a year at the Department of Celtic Studies at the University of Bonn and has written a Gaelic-to-German phrasebook.

He said: "The links are being re-established with Scotland. There are students who start learning at the University of Bonn and then move to Sabhal Mr Ostaig or one of Scotland's Universities."

Miri MacInnes, from Celas, said: "Germans have been attending since the beginning. They are interested in the songs which gets them interested in the language."

Rena Gertz, now a fluent Gaelic speaker, attends Celas each year. She said: "Germans are not allowed to be proud of their heritage so they seek another culture somewhere else.

"If you are German and you are proud to be a German you will be called a Nazi. We can't say that we are proud, but the Scots and Irish can. Because music and poetry are alive here, they are alive for the young people."

The programme, produced by MacTV, also features Andreas Wolf, originally from East Berlin and now living near Oban.

He works for the BBC and recently won the Highlands and Islands Gaelic journalist of the year. He is also a Gaelic teacher.

"German culture is in decline to some extent whereas the culture in general is still alive in Scotland especially with the Gaels", he said.

"I think (Germans] are probably the largest group of people outside Scotland who are learning Gaelic. I think we can now be known as German Gaels."

Dr Donald William Stewart, from Edinburgh University, has been studying the Celtic-German connection.

He said: "Something went far wrong in the 20th century when the Nazis, and the communists after them, had a hold on the German people's culture.

"That to some extent explains why so many Germans from the 1960s onwards had an interest in Celtic culture and music.

"In every university in Scotland you will get at least one German student every year.They come here to learn the language, sometimes surpassing the Scots."

A spokesowman for Sabhal Mr Ostaig said: "Germans tend to be exceptional students who continue to live and work in Scotland and remain very committed to the language."