Home away from Heidelberg


Students hangout outside of the Max Kade German House in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday, September 12, 2013. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Anyssa Roberts

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From the road, 212 E. Maxwell St. looks like any other house. But for a group of German Studies and exchange students, it is as close to Germany as it gets in Lexington.

Max Kade German House and Cultural Center was created to serve the interests of UK’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

“What makes this house special is it is an almost entirely German-speaking house,” said Jeff Rogers,  associate professor of German Studies.

According to a Max Kade House brochure, the renovated and expanded Victorian house was built in 1904 and became a part of UK with support from the Lexington community and a grant from the Max Kade Foundation of New York. Through the foundation, several German houses were built at universities across the U.S.

In the front room of the house in Lexington hangs a photo of founder Max Kade, a German immigrant who worked to further German-American relations.

There are several study areas and a dining area in the house where residents convene. Like any UK residence hall, the house has a resident adviser, Rogers said.

A mix of UK students from Germany and the U.S. take residence in the house’s eight rooms.

According to the brochure, to get a room, students must “commit themselves to maintaining a German-speaking environment.” In other words, they must be relatively fluent in the German language.

Currently, two exchange students from Germany live in the house, and the rest are American students studying German language and culture.

One exchange student, Stephan Meroth, 22, is living in the house while on a one year exchange program from his university in Heidelberg, Germany.

This is Meroth’s fourth trip to the U.S. and his second time in Kentucky.

“English is the only other language besides German I speak well enough, so I wanted to go somewhere where I could use my language ability besides England,” Meroth said.

In Germany, students begin learning English at a young age because it is considered a business language, he said.

Pop culture also had an influence on Meroth’s decision to come to the U.S.  Movies like “American Pie” and “Taken” “have pictures of cheerleaders and parties and the way Americans talk and act,” Meroth said.

Since coming to the U.S., Meroth said Kentucky has lived up to most of his expectations.

“The football games and parties here are very similar to the ones on TV,” he said.

Traveling with a mix of German exchange students and American students, Meroth has made several observations about the differences between American and German culture.

The first was that, in America, he finds the people are more open to meeting others than in Germany.

“People are quicker to make friends and call someone your friend. It is good, but I think it makes the people here more superficial,” Meroth said.

In Germany, he said, the relationships are a lot stronger since they take longer to form.

Meroth also notices differences in transportation.

“Maybe 10 percent of students have a car in Germany and it’s the opposite here. Maybe 10 percent of people here don’t have cars,” Meroth said.

Meroth said people have been receptive to him and his friends in other German exchange programs in social settings.

He also identified one big difference between drinking laws in America and drinking laws in Germany.

In Germany the drinking age for beer and wine is 16 years old, while in the U.S. one has to be 21 years old to drink any alcoholic beverage, he said.

Meroth said living in the U.S. is different because in Germany, people can drink in the park and even bring a drink to class without a word from a professor or police officer.

Because many German students have more experience drinking, Meroth said they know their limits and don’t get as intoxicated.

He said that many teenagers in Germany start drinking with their parents, so they can be introduced to alcohol in a safe environment.

“Out here people start drinking with just their friends or people who won’t take as good care of them if something happened,” Meroth said.

Despite the cultural difference, drinking is not allowed in the Kade house, as they must abide by UK rules.

Dietary differences between America and Germany are apparent as well, Meroth said.

“The bread in Germany makes a sound like a crunch when you bite it,” he said. “Bite into (American bread), and you won’t hear anything.”

People also eat out a lot more in America, Meroth said. In Germany, it is expensive to eat out, so it’s cheaper to stay in and cook.

Meroth said his housemates are like his family in the Kade house.

“You always have someone to talk to,” he said.

Meroth studies law in Germany and economics at UK. He is taking courses in accounting, economics, geography in Japan, and American history.

He said during his time here, he wants to succeed in his classes, but do a lot of traveling as well.

Meroth went to Chicago for the first time and has plans to go to Miami, Fla. for the Thanksgiving holiday. He also hopes to visit New York City and Seattle when he gets the chance.

Although Meroth plans to travel the country, the German House will continue to serve as his home away from home.