The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

The student news site of Bellaire High School

Three Penny Press

‘Inspiring a German community’

Bellaire wins big at annual language competition
Hamza Demirovic
Bellaire students fielded a puppet show team that ultimately advanced to state. Here, senior Hamza Demirovic plays a puppet interested in buying a Mercedes.

The largest German contest in the nation.

Nearly 500 students.

A second-place sweepstakes victory.

Veteran teacher Michael Rossow led students from all levels of German to top five finishes in 40 of their 52 events at the annual Houstonfest on Feb. 3, earning 24 students the chance to compete at the state level on Feb. 24.

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Students from 20 schools in Southeastern Texas participated in Houstonfest’s 44th anniversary for a day of competition, culture, currywurst and community.

Students signed up for event time slots starting at 7:30 a.m. Since they only have five hours to do as many events as possible, it was non-stop action, with the extra motivation of trying to beat Bellaire’s rival Kingwood.

“The best non-academically related part was probably the parts in between rounds when everyone was scrambling to prepare and chit chatting about their events,” junior Winston Montgomery said. “It was incredibly chaotic going from round to round, but there were some great moments in the chaos.”

Those 15 minutes before events also allowed senior Charlotte Clague to connect with German students from other schools and take in the German culture on display.

“I really love meeting new people,” Clague said. “Whilst waiting for my poetry memory competition, I was able to meet a group of students from Tomball [High School] who were honestly so friendly and outgoing. Aside from that, it’s really cool just witnessing the talent. There were beautifully crafted gingerbread houses, and spaceships, interesting poems and prose pieces, the list really goes on.”

Houstonfest offers 88 events, including written tests, cultural competitions, three dancing styles, gingerbread decorating and Pass Auf!, a team-based, fast-paced German trivia game that pits school versus school.

“The most exciting part of the competition was probably the final round of Pass Auf,” Montgomery said. “Both teams [Heights and Bellaire] were really competitive, and the tension was there the whole round.”

Junior Andrei Perepelitsa was also on the varsity Pass Auf! team that placed second overall.

Senior Pranav Praveen and junior Andrei Perepelitsa return from acting in their Skit 4. They ultimately won second place and advanced to state for their student-written play. (Hamza Demirovic)

“You never really know which way Pass Auf! will swing,” Perepelitsa said. “There’s always a chance to win, so it was tense.”

While Perepelitsa, Montgomery and others were answering trivia questions such as, “Name this luxury hotel chain started in New York run by the Astor family (Waldorf-Astoria),” junior Margot Martin awaited judges’ critiques for her team’s gingerbread house, which advanced to state.

“I was surprised to get fourth place for the gingerbread house,” Martin said. “My favorite quote from the critique sheet was definitely at the end when they said, ‘Don’t give up.’ It was encouraging.”

As the events wound down, students in the auditorium watched the German-Czech polka band Das ist Lustig, which performs at over 150 locations across the Southern U.S. There, they played both modern and traditional music, including Swiss tunes on the 12-foot-long alphorn.

At Houstonfest, German dancers from across the Houston area combine their talents. Here, they perform the traditional German jumping and clapping dance, the Schuhplattler. (Hamza Demirovic)

“It was also amusing to see how a bunch of high school kids were so ready to participate in ‘uncool’ or ‘childish’ things like … singing along to songs that the band Das Ist Lustig performed,” senior Gillian Donovan said. “There was really no judgment in the room, and everyone felt welcome to join in on the fun.”

The electric performance culminated in a 100-person chicken dance and a 300-person conga line.

“My favorite moment at Houstonfest was definitely when I forced the other German students to do the chicken dance,” Martin said. “Because I had been forced to do it my first year, it was just really fun to continue the tradition with other German students.”

The polka band, Berliner food truck and native German judges are the little things that help make Houstonfest an immersive experience while still maintaining inclusion and diversity, according to senior Pranav Praveen.

“Every time I come there, it’s a different batch of students from every corner of the world … I think the inclusivity of Houstonfest really boils down to anybody [being able to] to pick up German, practice it, and perform it in a way that not only can you win an award, but you can [also] actually be conversational with people and make connections with them,” Praveen said. “That inclusivity is not something you get everywhere, especially in a language program where you’re already sidelined from speaking a language you don’t speak [at home].”

And with the rapidly declining Texas Deutsch population, events like Houstonfest preserve this 1800s cultural blend.

“Even though German has many historical and cultural roots in Texas, before attending Houstonfest and Statefest this year and last year, I didn’t realize that there were so many German learners in Texas because it’s still a language that I almost never hear outside of German class,” Donovan said.

Soon, though, the snippets of German between friends old and new died down, and the glockenspiel rang out its last bright notes. This was the moment the students had all been waiting for: the awards.

German teacher Michael Rossow looks on with pride at his students preparing for competitions. (Hamza Demirovic)

“The awards ceremony is always my favorite … not just because you get awards, but we get to see that there’s actually a huge community of people who really enjoy speaking German and actively want to come to competitions and be part of this community,” Praveen said.

Winners were announced from fifth to first for each event, heightening that inter-school competition between Bellaire and Kingwood. There was disappointment for some, surprise for others, but tension for all.

“There were lots of kids in the program who seemed shocked during the awards ceremony when their names were called, and that was probably the best part of the experience,” Montgomery said.

Bellaire’s second-place in sweepstakes was their best showing in five years despite only having 32 competitors, compared to Kingwood’s nearly a hundred.

“Even though we aren’t the largest German program out there, even though we’re just one of multiple languages out there [offered at Bellaire], it’s clear to me that Bellaire still focuses a lot on the effort they put into their language programs,” Praveen said.

Bellaire’s success at Houstonfest is not always recognized at the school, though.

“Houstonfest is kind of overlooked in the grand scheme of Bellaire events,” Praveen said. “But it requires the same amount of work that you would expect from any other competition. For us to be able to speak German in the way the level of competition intends us to speak, we need to be training for multiple years on end.”

Now, Houstonfest competitors train for the Texas State German Contest on Feb. 24, where they will face competitors from two other regional contests: Winterfest in Dallas and Sprachfest near San Antonio.

“As for preparation, I’m definitely going to … call my Oma [grandmother] in Beckingen and just talk to her on the phone because I think that’s such a great way to speak freely, which I think extemporaneous speaking is,” said Clague.

This will be Montgomery’s first Statefest but not his last.

“I regret not going in ninth and 10th grade,” Montgomery said. “The language and culture still feel so alive in Texas because of events like this.”

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