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Learning German through rock music

By Susanna Capelouto, CNN Radio
updated 1:54 PM EST, Thu November 10, 2011
The German band Madsen is out to prove that their native language is cool.
The German band Madsen is out to prove that their native language is cool.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • German rock band Madsen is touring the States
  • The group is helping promote the German language
  • The German government is sponsoring the band's tour

(CNN) -- Move aside oom-pah bands.

The new Germany has no space for your lederhosen-clad image. And forget that dark German music scene promulgated by metal industrial bands like Rammstein. Here comes Madsen, a four-piece indie rock band with heart and high-energy live shows. They are one of the most popular new bands in Germany, with several top 10 hits.

Madsen is made up of brothers Sebastian, Johannes and Sascha Madsen and their friend Nico Maurer. They are touring the United States to promote the German language and their audience is mostly high school and college students like 10th grader Maya Dudley of Chamblee, Georgia. She saw the band in Athens on a field trip with her German class.

"Most of their songs sound like anything you would hear on the radio here," she says.

Their sound has been compared to Green Day and the band members claim Nirvana as one of their influences. Their lyrics are smart, fun and distinctly German.

"Our English isn't very good," said Madsen's lead singer, Sebastian Madsen, in his first interview in English. While he only has a slight accent, he's not ready to translate into English any of their more popular tunes like "Du schreibst Geschichte" (You Write History) or "Mein Herz bleibt hier (My Heart Stays Here)".

"It's more interesting to sing German in America, because it's a challenge for the people here," he says.

That's why the entire tour is sponsored by the German government, the European Recovery Program and others interested in promoting Germany's culture and language, such as the Goethe Institute.

"In the U.S., many German programs have been cut down," says the Goethe Institute's Bjoern Technau. German language education is being pushed out by other languages, like Mandarin Chinese, according to a 2009 survey by the Center of Applied Linguistics.

"We try to keep German on the screen, so to speak." Technau says.

The 12-city Madsen tour is supposed to help.

The band has been playing mostly in school auditoriums in the daytime. The audiences are American students who dance and sing along in perfect German. That's because they have studied the lyrics in class. The Goethe Institute developed lesson plans for German teachers around the band's songs.

"Mad about German -- Mad about Madsen" is the tag line for the U.S. tour. Besides getting kids interested in the language, Madsen wants to push out German music stereotypes one American auditorium at a time.

"German music still has the reputation of being somewhat dark," says Sebastian Madsen. "We want to counter this cliché and surprise our audiences."

One big surprise is that Madsen's live shows are just as energetic in a school auditorium as they are at a huge Berlin music festival.

"It doesn't matter if there are 10 people or 10,000, we always want to give a good show for everybody. That's very important to us," says drummer Sascha Madsen.

The last date on Madsen's U.S. concert tour will be November 18 in Denver.

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