German Classic: Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig

Readers familiar with the blog may be aware that the Oxford German Network normally runs a German Classic Prize for sixth formers. While the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that the prize can’t run this year, they have come up with a great alternative way to engage with another Classic piece of German literature. If you study German and are currently in Year 12/ Lower Sixth, this is an awesome opportunity to immerse yourself in a German text and get some feedback from an Oxford academic. Read on to find out more…

A German Classic: Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig

Participation Guidelines for Sixth-Formers

We are delighted to announce the launch of the 2020 edition of ‘A German Classic’. Although we are unfortunately unable to run it as a competition this year, we would still like to invite you to read with us Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig (1912) – one of the most famous novellas in German literature and a masterpiece of European modernism. In his inimitably elegant and sumptuous style, Mann tells a transgressive story of Gustav von Aschenbach, an aging German writer, who falls in love with Tadzio, a teenage boy from Poland, during a holiday in Venice in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Often hailed as a break-through work for the queer community, Der Tod in Venedig might resonate differently now, in the era of the #metoo movement and the coronavirus pandemic.

You can sign up for free to receive a physical copy of the German original and an English translation of Mann’s novella, watch a specially recorded lecture that will guide you through the text, and have the opportunity to get feedback on your written commentary on a passage from Der Tod in Venedig from an Oxford academic. While logistic challenges this year mean that we are unable to compile extensive study materials and conduct our usual essay competition, we hope that you will want to join us for an exploration of ‘A German Classic’ in this adapted format.

‘A German Classic’ was launched in 2017 thanks to a generous donation by Jonathan Gaisman, QC. It is designed to celebrate a different literary classic each year and encourage in-depth study by creating a wide range of resources that open up different perspectives on the concerns at the heart of the work. The links to interviews and discussions, articles and performances remain available on our website to inspire ongoing interest in these works beyond the year of the competition. So far, we have featured Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust (in 2017), Freidrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart (in 2018), and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (in 2019).


Participants must fulfil the following requirements as of September 2020:

  • be beginning their final year of full-time study at a secondary school in the UK (upper-sixth form, Year 13 or S6 in Scotland);
  • be between the ages of 16 and 18;
  • hold a GCSE, IGCSE or equivalent qualification in German offered in the UK;
  • be resident in the United Kingdom.

Participants are not, however, expected to have prior experience of studying German literature.


All interested students should email the German Classic Coordinator, Dr Karolina Watroba (, as soon as possible. We will be accepting new participants until the end of July. Students will receive free of charge:

  • Physical copies of the German text of Der Tod in Venedig and an English translation. Shipping will be administered by the Blackwell’s online bookshop. Students will need to provide an address in the UK to which they would like the books shipped, by which they consent to having their address passed on to Blackwell’s. Shipping may take up to a few weeks. Editions received may vary as they will depend on the availability of stock. Since we depend on the availability of stock, which is currently subject to potential disruption, we cannot unfortunately guarantee shipping: orders will be placed on a first come, first served basis.
  • Access to a specially recorded, hour-long, university-style online lecture. The lecture will introduce Thomas Mann’s life and work, guide students through Der Tod in Venedig, and discuss additional resources on the text that are freely available online.
  • A choice of three short commentary passages from Der Tod in Venedig alongside a guide on how to write a good commentary. Students will be encouraged to write and submit their commentaries (c. 1500 words) by email by 1 September 2020. All students who submit a commentary by this date will receive individual written feedback on their work by 1 October 2020. The feedback will not include any ranking or mark. It will be designed purely as informal academic comment on the piece of work submitted.

We would like to ask all students who request access to these materials to let us know the name and type of their school (non-selective state-maintained; selective state-maintained; non-selective independent; selective independent; other) so we can monitor whether we are reaching a diverse range of schools around the country.

French Flash Fiction Competition 2020 – Results!

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

The French Flash Fiction Competition launched in December and ran until the end of March. During that time, we received more than four hundred entries across the two age categories. A huge well done to every who submitted a story to us – we were blown away by the imagination and linguistic inventiveness on display. We’re pleased to announce the winners today, and we’ll be featuring some of the runners up, highly commended, and commended stories on this blog in the coming weeks.

In the Years 7-11 category the winner is Yohann Godinho, in Year 10, and the runners up are Dexter Speed, in Year 8, and Ben Whiting in Year 10. The judges highly commended eleven entries: Davina Balakumar, Year 9; Georgia Clarke, Year 10; Isaac Timms, Year 9; Jamilya Bertram, Year 11; Joanna Kazantzidi, Year 7; Katy Marsh, Year 11; Megan Beach, Year 11; Ruby Watts, Year 10; Toby Greenwood, Year 8; Tom Clapham, Year 10; and Yuvraj Kambo, Year 9. A further eleven entries were commended: Aiden Politiek, Year 10; Carla Lubin, Year 7; Clémence Buffelard, Year 9; Hannah Uddin, Year 9; Harriet Preston, Year 9; Jonathan Stockill, Year 7; Kairav Singh, Year 9; Lara Hardy-Smith, Year 11; Riya Mistry, Year 9; Ryan Kwarteng, Year 7; and Silvia Rossi, Year 10.

The judges said: “In the younger age category we were absolutely spoilt for choice. So many of the stories demonstrated narrative flair and ingenuity, from the intertextual tales that offered a new take on familiar stories to the historical narratives, from quiet reflections on the state of the world to hard-hitting insights into the climate crisis. In the end, the winning story was one which married a refreshing stylistic simplicity with a moving sense of comfort and reassurance, perfectly encapsulating the current moment.”

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Zoe Prokopiou, in Year 12, and the runner up is Ella Hartley, in Year 12. Highly commended are: Allegra Stirling, Year 12; Bethan Mapes, Year 13; Blessing Verrall, Year 12; Emily Bell, Year 12; Harriet Townhill, Year 12; Ketsia-Patience Kasongo, Year 13; Lily Bamber, Year 12; and Nikita Jain, Year 13.

The judge said: “There were so many outstanding flash fiction entries in our Years 12-13 category this year. It was a pleasure to read them, and a real challenge to pick the best. I was very heartened by the amazing creativity and enthusiasm to express yourselves in a second language, conjuring up vivid feelings, colourful characters and sometimes whole worlds in just a few lines of text. In picking the winners I’ve paid more attention to the imagination on show than the strict grammatical accuracy, although the quality of French was very high throughout. I’ve also leaned a little more towards those entries that somehow managed in that tiny space to tell a whole story over those that were a little more like an essay or character portrait. And in choosing the overall winner, I was definitely influenced a bit by the fact that it managed to bring a tear to my eye in only ninety-four words. You’ll see why.”

Congratulations to all the winners, runners up, highly commended and commended entrants! The selection process was a tough one because so many of the stories we received had merit: we would like to underline the fact that writing a short story in another language is far from easy and that everyone who entered deserves to feel proud of their efforts.

Here are the two winning stories, and more entries will be featured over the weeks and months ahead…

Yohann’s story:

Je me suis réveillé. Je suis descendu les escaliers et ouvrit le frigo. Le frigo était vide. Je n’avais plus de lait ! Je suis parti de ma maison. Le soleil se a leva doucement au-dessus de l’horizon. Les trottoirs étaient déjà chauds, de prélasser à ses rayons. La brise tranquille a fait tiède. L’herbe a émis son parfum fraîchement coupé. Les arbres ont bruissé pendant que leurs résidents ailés se ont bavardé. C’était tous les signes d’espoir, qu’aujourd’hui serait un jour meilleur, plein de lait somptueux. Je suis entré dans le magasin. J’ai vu le lait.

Zoe’s story:

Elle a fermé la porte derrière elle et elle a respiré profondément. L’air frais a coulé dans ses poumons pour la première fois depuis un certain temps. Le ciel était bleu clair, peint avec des nuages blancs, et le soleil brillait. En commençant à marcher, elle a remarqué que le manque de gens dans la rue et le silence auxquels elle s’était habituée, avaient été remplacés par un nouveau bruit. Les trottoirs étaient pleins de gens qui souriaient. Elle pouvait sentir le soulagement commun de chaque personne que le monde revenait à la normale.

Spanish Flash Fiction Results 2020

Late last year we launched our annual Spanish Flash Fiction Competition, which closed in March. The competition was open to students in Years 7 to 13, who were tasked with writing a short story of no more than 100 words in Spanish. We had a terrific response, with entries coming in from across the UK and beyond, and in total we had nearly four hundred submissions.

The judges commented on how difficult the selection process was, given the high standard of so many of the stories submitted. We would like to thank everyone who entered the competition and say well done to you all for your hard work and creativity in writing a piece of fiction in a different language – it’s no easy feat and you should be proud of yourselves!

We are pleased to say we are now in a position to announce the winning entries. So, without further ado, here are the winners of the 2020 Spanish Flash Fiction contest …

In the Years 7-11 category, the winner is Haneen Ali in Year 11. The runners up were Honor Reynolds in Year 11 and Alec Muller in Year 9. The judges also highly commended Maia Delin in Year 7, and Elizabeth Brawn in Year 9, and they commended Flora Moayed and Martha Pearce, both in Year 10.

In the Years 12-13 category, the winner is Caspar Pullen-Freilich in Year 12. The runners up were Nina Goodland in Year 12 and Hugo Brady in Year 12. The judges also highly commended Siena Cheli in Year 12, and Antonia Veary in Year 12, and they commended Luca Lombardo in Year 13 and Martha Wells in Year 12.

¡ Felicidades! You’ll be receiving your certificates in the post soon.

And if anyone is curious to read the winning entries, here are the top stories from each category. Some of the other stories will be featured on this blog in the months to come.

Haneen’s story:

La sustancia roja espesa goteaba de mi cuchillo. Acababa de hacer la sopa de tomate. Una mezcla confeccionada con cuidado, me hicieron falta sangre, sudor y lágrimas para perfeccionarla- pero al fin y al cabo, valió la pena. Antes el tono pálido de fresas verdes, ahora brillaba al rojo vivo, como sangre saliendo a borbotones de una herida recién cortada. Su olor, ligeramente dulce, un poco salado, me recordaba a la última brisa suave de la playa; el último soplo antes de que se murió el verano.
Borré la sustancia roja espesa de mi cuchillo, satisfecho con mi creación.

Image by Security from Pixabay

Caspar’s story:

El Hallazgo

1529.  Caminamos incansablemente por el laberinto de cedros y helechos salpicados de ranas punta de flecha. Las copas de los árboles se estremecían por la disonancia de los monos aulladores que oscilaban de liana en liana. Los quetzales enjoyados despegaron de la copa de los cedros como si fuesen guerreros mayas en fuga. Su plumaje verde esmeralda relució en el sol veteado. Atravesamos un barranco casi asfixiado por el peso de la hojarasca y poco después, atisbamos el contorno de una conurbación imponente de ciudadelas estucadas y estelas jeroglíficas. Delirantes y deslumbrados nos preguntamos: “¿Será esto un espejismo?”

Huge congratulations to all the winners, and many thanks to everyone who entered the competition. If you’re also interested in the French competition, keep an eye on this blog for the results in the next couple of weeks…

An Overview of Modern Languages at Oxford

Last Saturday would have been our main open day for Medieval and Modern Languages at Oxford. It’s an event we normally look forward to delivering because it’s an exciting chance to meet lots of prospective students and share with them our passion for studying languages and cultures, as well as introducing them to what it’s like to be a student at Oxford. We’re sad not to have been able to host that open day this year but the happy news is that we are creating some online content to replicate what we would have said, had the event gone ahead as planned.

First up, our Co-Director of Outreach and Schools Liaison Officer for French, Dr Simon Kemp, has recorded an overview of Modern Languages at Oxford: the different courses that are available, what they entail, and why Oxford is unique.

If you were thinking about coming along to the May open day, or to the open days in July (which have also, unfortunately, been cancelled), do check out the presentation below. We would also recommend checking out the video introduction to the course here. We’ll be posting more open day material on here in the coming weeks and we sincerely hope to meet you one day!