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Customer Spotlight: Ines in Maryland

Ines is the mother of 2 small children, a daughter 3 years old and a son 5 years old. She works as a home care provider for parents who want to surround their children with German language, food and traditions, substitutes at the German Preschool (Washington, D.C.) and is a German teacher at the German Language School (Washington, D.C.).

Ines tries to expose her kids to German language and culture in a variety of ways. Her family follows the OPOL method – one parent one language where one parent speaks German to the kids and the other speaks English. At this time, her daughter answers in German, while her son answers mostly in English.

Ines creates opportunities for her family to be in situations that exposes them to more German.  She and her family are involved in their local German community. She helped start a German playgroup which has lead to new friendships for both the kids and the parents. Ines teaches at the local German language Saturday School and invites families from there to meet up. They organize dinners out (KlatschAbend) and meet on Sundays for German family time at a local playground. (Find out more about the German community in Maryland on their Facebook page – Deutsche in Germantown and Maryland).

We asked Ines to answer a few questions for us about her family.

Why do you want your child to speak German?

Well, I am German! Secondly, my family in Germany does not speak English. I need my kids to be able to speak to Oma and all our family members. And besides…how super cool and amazing is it to be bilingual and have it easier to learn even more languages later?

Do you actively “teach” German?

Yes, I do! We have German workbooks and my kids get to “work” in them every morning before they go to school. I work at the German Language School and also created my own little “Kinderstunde” here for Parks and Rec in Maryland and for the City of Gaithersburg. I teach children from 11 months to 6. Right now it is just perfect because that is the age range of my children. Whatever I teach in my unit I get to practice on my own kids… so I will see what is super effective and what is challenging.

My children listen, sing and dance to German movement songs in the car, Skype with my mom, sister and friends in Germany. They get to watch YouTube movies in German, and of course we read German books every day.

What is your biggest challenge in teaching your child German?

My biggest challenge is to speak German to my children all the time. I often start speaking in English and when I hear myself I switch into German because I remember…”I need to speak in German otherwise they will not.”

What is your goal for your child to speak in German?

My goal for my children to speak in German right now is that we can go to Germany and be with our family and my children will be just able to speak and understand their grandparents, family members and have fun in preschool there.

What is your favorite German language book, CD or DVD?

Mmm…my kids love to listen to the audiobooks about “Kokosnuss”. (Kokosnuss is a curious, friendly little dragon. He and his friends star in a variety of picture books,easy reader books, audio books and in their movie coming out December 2014. kleine Raupe Nimmersatt

My favorite books are by Eric Carle, but I really like Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt.

Do you have any helpful hints for parents raising bilingual children?

Surround yourself with friends of that particular language. Use all the media out there…we use for example and we read, read, read German books and magazines. Find a class you can take together with your child to learn the language in a fun and interactive, hands-on way.





Ahoi Mateys!

Grün, blau, rot - wir bauen ein Piratenboot!Shiver me timbers! International Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19 – are you ready?

For your littlest pirate, check out “Grün, blau, rot – wir bauen ein Piratenboot!“. A mischievous little raven, Socke, convinces his animal friends to build a pirate ship. They learn colors while gathering items for their ship, including rote Kiste and gelbes Tischtuch.

Is your pirate learning to read? “Lesestart mit der Maus – Indianer und Indianer und PiratenPiraten” is a fun workbook with 4 short stories about Indians and Pirates. Learn fun facts and improve reading fluency while enjoying the stories and puzzles.

Kapten KnitterbartFor a great read-aloud or easy reader level, Cornelia Funke’s “Käpten Knitterbart” is rollicking good fun. In the first story, Käpten Knitterbart and his band of pirates are outwitted by Molly, a feisty girl they kidnapped…just wait until her Mama comes to get her!

Auf der Jagd nach dem goldene SchlüsselFor pirates of all ages, “Auf der Jagd nach dem goldene Schlüssel” CD brings your favorite Playmobil figures to life, including Captain Barbarossa. Playmobil issued this CD to celebrate 40 years of Playmobil fun, and highlights several Playmobil themes like the Wild West and Knight”s Castles .

tiptoi Entdecke die PiratenExpand your tiptoi library with the book “Entdecke die Piraten”, available by special ordered. Detailed illustrations and fun facts make this an extra exciting book to explore with your tiptoi, check out the Leseprobe and you’ll be sold on this great book.

Want to talk like a German pirate? Check out the vocabulary listed in  “How to Talk like a German Pirate” from the pirates who help found International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

To learn more about the most famous German pirate, Klaus Störtebeker, visit Planet-Wissen for a good overview. Much of his life is shrouded in myth and mystery.

Sea shanties would add the right atmosphere for your pirate adventure, so we recommend listening to Santiano on YouTube. “Frei wie der Wind” has a lovely video set on a wooden sailing ship. Amazingly they competed to be the  Germany’s 2014 artist for Eurovision Song Fest – who knew sea shanties were so popular?! They made it to the second round of nationwide voting with “Wir werden niemals untergehen“,  before eventually losing to Unheilig and Elaiza. Elaiza went on to represent Germany with her song, “Is it Right“.  Santiano sings an interesting mix of songs in German and English.

Once everything is shipshape, and your library is ready, sail on! Ahoi mateys!


Wort des Tages

das Kugelgürteltier – Armadillo (das Maskottchen der WM2014 in Brasilien)


Bastelecke - Schwartz Rot Gelb

We have World Cup fever as we root for Team Deutschland. We are traveling in Europe so team colors decorate everything and all the soccer matches are televised everywhere. We even watched part of one of the German games at a Rasthof on the Autobahn! Now we are at our vacation hotel and I saw the cutest craft to decorate for Weltmeisterschaft Fieber!

Paintbrush (it is easier if you have a paintbrush for each color)
Poster paint – black, red and yellow

Option 1:  Paint a hand black, press on paper, wash and repaint with red, wash, repeat with yellow. Make a flag pattern.

Option 2: Paint the hand with 3 broad stripes of black, red, and yellow. Press. Repeat in a random pattern, in stripes, make a flower shape with the heel of the hand in the center, or make a heart shape with the heel of one handprint pressed over the heel of the previous print.

This is a great way to reinforce colors and other vocabulary!


Summer Hours

Whoo Hoo! It’s summertime and the kids are out of school! We will be spending more time with our families, and less time inside near the phone or computer. So please, if you need to reach us….send an e-mail! Even easier is to use the “Contact Us” page on our website.


Internationaler Tag des Kinderbuchs (April 2)

April 2 is International Children’s Book Day or “Internationaler Tag des Kinderbuchs”. It’s sponsored by IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People), a non-profit organization “committed to bringing books and children together”.  The overarching IBBY group and it’s local national groups use this day to promote reading and inspire a love of reading in children. So pick your favorite book and go read with your child!

IBBY also presents the Hans Christian Andersen Award, a biennial award “given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature”. Nominations come from over 70 countries, and are winnowed down to five finalists in the two categories. In 2014, two of the five author finalists were from German speaking lands:  Mirjam Pressler (Germany) and Renate Welsh (Austria). Rotraut Susanne Berner of Germany was one of the five finalists for the illustrators award. She has a very distinctive style, very simple with clear lines and bright colors, which appeals to me. Check out her website for a short Karlchen video and Bastelvorlage under “Extras”. While these wonderful artists did not win the overall prize in 2014, just making the short list is a major recognition of their great contribution to children’s literature worldwide.

Previous Hans Christian Andersen winners have included authors Jürg Schubiger (Switzerland, 2008), Christine Nöstlinger (Austria, 1984), James Krüss (Germany, 1968) and Erich Kästner (Germany, 1960). Other well-know winning authors include Astrid Lindgren (Sweden, 1958) and Scott O’Dell (USA, 1972). Winning illustrators include Jutta Bauer (Germany, 2010), Wolf Erlbruch (Germany, 2006), Klaus Ensikat (Germany, 1996), Jörg Müller (Switzerland, 1994), Lisbeth Zwerger (Austria, 1990), and Alois Carigiet (Switzerland, 1996). Other famous illustrators who won this prize include Maurice Sendak (USA, 1970) and Tomi Ungerer (France, 1998).

The German section of IBBY (Arbeitskreis für Jugendliteratur) administers the annual Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Award) for picture books, children’s books, young adult books and non-fiction books. The prize announcements occur in October at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Picture book nominations  for 2014 include:

  • Überall Linien by Jimi Lee
  • Herman und Rosie by Gus Gordon
  • Krümel und Pfefferminz by Delphine Bournay
  • Akim rennt by Claude K. Dubois
  • Das literarische Kaleidoskop by Regine Kehn
  • Die Konferenz der Vögel by Peter Sis

Contact us if you would like more information about these fabulous authors and illustrators.


Closed for a few days

Alphabet Garten will be closed for approximately 10 days while we transition inventory. We will not be shipping items, but you can still order magazine subscriptions and special orders. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, and watch our Facebook page for updates.


A German-American Christmas: Then and Now (Part 2))

After sharing her childhood memories in Part 1 of “A German-American Christmas: Then and Now”, Eleanor O. reminisces about her family’s current holiday traditions. She is passing on her love of German traditions, culture and language to her granddaughters, extended family, and friends. 

I met Elke through another Kindergarten parent. I had a five year old and a three year old, she had a four year old and spoke English with just a hint of an accent. Someone said she was from Romania. I knew nothing about Romania. We talked about kids. Shortly before Christmas, she invited us to join with a “few” friends to celebrate Christmas Eve. That sounded like a nice idea.

I will never forget walking into the festivities at Elke and Jeffrey’s that first time. There were about 30 people! The dining room table was covered from edge to edge with far more traditional German food than I had ever seen in one place. There was Fleischsalat and Herringsalat, potato salad like I remembered it, smoked salmon, shrimp with dill, great heaps of vegetable salads, great pumpernickel. Where did she find the Brötchen? But first there were “The Spoons”.

As soon as we arrived and gave up our coats we were all handed fairly large round pewter spoons. We stood around Elke and Jeffrey holding our spoons very level. Into each one a generous amount of very strong Schnapps was poured. The two of them recited a call and response poem in Platt Deutsch which none of us (including the two of them) understood. It ended with the toast, “Prosit!” then we all shout: “Prosit!” and toss back the Schnapps. The more faint-hearted among us shudder a bit. It is strong stuff. From then on we have a rollicking good time. As each group of guests arrives, they repeat the spoons. Some of us join in a second time. Some of us politely decline, because. . . 

There was a huge selection of things to drink but we did not get past the Feuerzangenbowle. In the early years, Jeffrey was a bit shaky at getting the thing lit but now, 35 years later, he is quite the expert. On every surface and end table, there were beautiful trays of cookies. Marching all along the plate molding of the dining room and the hallway were beautiful hand-painted cookies each one at least 10-12 inches tall.  There were noblemen in fancy Renaissance dress and ladies perched on horses with elegant saddles and bridles trimmed in frosting pearls and curlicues.

 In the living room was a huge tree decorated entirely with hand painted cookies, tiny apples, sugar ornaments, candy canes, foil covered goodies. and real candles! At a certain point the lights were dimmed, we all gathered around the tree and began singing carols. The children were each given a long match and sent forward to light the candles. The littlest ones were lifted up to light the candles near the top of the tree.

We started the singing with “Oh, Tannenbaum”. Those of us who remembered, sang it in German. We closed with “Stille Nacht”. For many years the children were sent upstairs to prepare a play. It was usually a take-off on St. George and the Dragon with corny elements of “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” mixed in. Some years the children prepared little musical presentations on the piano or played recorder duets. But the mummers plays lasted the longest until most of the children were in high school. The plays were finished off one year with a series of couplets in doggerel rhyme that said with a flourish that they hoped we enjoyed the show because it would never be presented again.

On the way out the door, each child was handed one of those giant cookies. The children  are grown but still come home for Christmas whenever they can. They bring their fiancées, spouses and children. Other than that the guest list hasn’t changed much. But modern children have bedtimes. They lead very busy little lives and do not have time to prepare a “piece” or learn a song. But once a year we all still experience the festivity and the solemnity that is Heiligenbend.

© 2013 Eleanor Oliver  (Used by permission)


Lasst uns Froh und Munter sein -- Nikolaus traditions

Wach aufOn the night of December 5th, we’ll clean up our shoes and place them outside the front door, along with a plate of treats including carrots for his donkey.

We’ll cuddle up on the couch in front of the fireplace, drink Kinderpunsch and Glühwein, listen to Adventslieder, and read stories about Sankt Nikolaus. We’ll chat about gift giving, how it’s not about the recognition, but giving something of yourself and choosing a gift that really suits the other person.

On December 6th morning, the kids jump out of bed early, rushing to be the first to open the door. Did he come? Ja, der Sankt Nikolaus war da! The shoes are filled with chocolate coins, nuts and an orange. A small wrapped gift sits next to each shoe. And there are carrot pieces spread down the driveway - oh, that messy donkey!

The tradition of Sankt Nikolaus has been a part of our family for years. It’s a tradition that Thea’s family (Americans of German heritage) carried on, with yearly visits from St. Nicholas and Schwarz Peter. Erik’s family tradition (Mutti is from the Bodensee) was the Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht or the Krampus. When we lived in Amsterdam, we adopted Sinterklaas and Zwaarte Piet.

Das ist der heilige NikolausOur Nikolaus may be dressed as a Catholic bishop with a mitra and staff, he may ride a white horse or walk beside a donkey, or he may be a tall, skinny man in a long simple hooded robe. Whatever his form, he brings with him tradition, family memories, and love.

May the blessings from the Nikolaus visit your home too!


A German-American Christmas: Then and Now (Part 1)

One of our favorite things about Alphabet Garten is that we get to know our wonderful customers like Eleanor O, who shares her love of German traditions, culture and language with her granddaughters, extended family, and friends. Eleanor graciously shares her Christmas memories from the 1940s in the first of a 2 part series “A German-American Christmas: Then and Now”. 

Christmas in my family began before Thanksgiving. Most of the family get-togethers  around holidays like Easter, and Christmas were at our house but Thanksgiving, that  wonderful American idea of a holiday was dispatched to my Aunt’s house because our kitchen was already taken over by baking. My mother had the skill and the patience to  make a dozen varieties of cookies that everyone waited for year after year. We started  with the Springerle, they had to “cure”, to soften a bit. There were Spekulatius, Ausstecherle, Vanillkipferl, Pfeffernüsse, Zimtstern that had to have their meringue-like  glaze painted on with the tip of a paring knife, Anise Tröpfchen and her specialty, Spitzbuben made with almond paste that she bought in five pound tins from a German baker nearby. Over the years she added American cookies to her repertoire, Lemon Dream Bars, Pecan Toffee Bars, Double Chocolate Fudge Bars and, of course she made chocolate chips for me.

Most of these cookies would get divided amongst paper plates with a poinsettia motif,  wrapped in white tissue, tied with red & green crinkle-tie ribbon and brought to neighbors and friends. But there were still enough left to last until February, at least. Since this was the United States the exchange of cookies would yield babkas, and other kinds of Christmas breads, bottles of home-made wine, often made from cherries, and all manner of sweet crunchy things, deep-fried and dusted with heaps of sugar.

If we had any other chore on the week of Thanksgiving, it was finding greens to make an Advent wreath. Not as easy as it is today because the Christmas season did not start in the stores and flower shops until the Thanksgiving leftovers had been put away. We used red candles back then.

All this preparation led to a crescendo of excitement that culminated in Christmas Eve. Like every other little child in the Sunday school I had to memorize a “piece”. Dressed in my new Christmas dress, with neatly braided hair, new ribbons tied at the ends and brand new patent leather Mary Janes, I took my turn to recite my piece before the whole congregation. The church was always packed on Christmas Eve. The youngest went first and it always ended with a reenactment of the first Christmas. Eventually I graduated to the pageant. My greatest role was the Angel who appeared to the shepherds. I was allowed to undo my long braids and wear my hair loose. I was squirreled away in the pulpit and had to remain there–quietly–throughout the entire evening. On cue I jumped up in the pulpit and shouted “Fear not! For I have brought you glad tidings of great joy. . .” Even my parents, who knew I was supposed to appear at some point were startled. Fortunately none of the elderly parishioners suffered a heart attack. I retired after that.

After the service Santa Claus arrived and gave each child a box shaped like a house, made of old Christmas cards and laced together with red yarn.This was a specialty of the Ladies Aid Society. They must have produced hundreds and hundreds of them over the years. One side of the roof lifted up and inside was one tangerine, and a nice assortment of hard candies, nuts and a few chocolates and caramels wrapped in foil. Eventually we figured out who in the congregation played Santa. The Christkind did not figure into this tradition. After all, one never saw the Christkind. It came while you were away in the evening visiting Oma or going to church. When you came home, It had been there. The Christmas tree that we had trimmed on the fourth Sunday in Advent was now sheltering a pile of presents.

We would come home from the Christmas Eve service to discover that Santa Claus hadn’t forgotten. As always he came to our house early because he had so many stops to make. Pity the poor children that had to go to bed and wait until the next morning! The Christkind, it was explained, was busy in Germany and it was difficult because there was a war going on and the people were very poor. I was lucky to be in America I was told, and I should remember the little German children in my prayers–which I did.

Christmas Eve was always finished off with a huge midnight “lunch”. The Pieçe de Resistance was my mother’s Brat Herring, fried a week earlier in the cellar so as not to smell up the whole house and carefully pickled. All the dishes were cold, the salads and the cold cuts and the great German breads and Brötchen that we drove across town to buy just for this meal.

No rest for the weary, we had to be up the next morning for another church service but it was anticlimactic. Sure, we wore little bits and pieces of stuff we had received for Christmas but the festiveness and and the anticipation of Heiligenabend was over. On the way home from church, we always visited the same friends and dropped off plates of cookies.

Copyright 2013 Eleanor O., Used by permission.