02 February 2006

A Wreath of Herring Tails and Potatoes

The Prussian government appointed [Julius Maximilian] Schottky as a professor of German language and literature at the gymnasium [in Poznan], believing that he would be able to kindle the interest of the restive student body. But his curriculum fell flat in an institution dominated by Polish sympathies, and his lack of pedagogical skill led to chaos in the classroom. [Marceli] Motty was enrolled at the gymnasium at the time and recalls in his memoirs how his fellow students would chatter among themselves, run from bench to bench, and hide behind the furnace while Schottky tried to teach. On one occasion the professor entered a classroom full of uncharacteristically silent students, only to discover that they had placed upon his lectern a herring ringed with potatoes, along with a note that read: "Out of herring tails and potatoes is Schottky's laurel wreath composed." Schottky lasted there just two years....

More typical of Poznan's German intelligentsia in the early nineteenth century was another professor at the local gymnasium, Michael Stotz. Stotz was first hired in 1814 to teach history, geography, and Latin. He served as director of the institution from the 1820s to 1842. Stotz never earned a reputation as a serious scholar or pedagogue. He published little, and, according to Marceli Motty's memoir, when he taught, "the greater part of the hour normally would pass in light banter about the news, recent events inside and outside of school, and historical anecdotes." Despite his shortcomings, Stotz was beloved by his students, Germans and Poles alike. His popularity rested in large part on his appreciation of the region's cultural diversity and his ability to navigate with ease between the German and Polish spheres. In marked contrast to the nationalist focus of Schottky's scholarship, Stotz was, in Motty's words, "utterly indifferent to matters concerning nationality and politics." Although he spoke German at home and socialized mainly with Germans, Stotz was equally at home among the city's Polish majority, leading Motty to conclude that Stotz was "a Pole in spirit and instinct." Like many long-term German residents of the Poznan area, Stotz was a product of the region's cultural blending. In fact, his students used to joke that he would begin every lecture with the phrase: "We Poles, we Germans...."
SOURCE: Religion and the Rise of Nationalism: A Profile of an East-Central European City, by Robert E. Alvis (Syracuse U. Press, 2005), pp. 73, 74

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