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Students translate Nordmeer artifacts

April 12, 2011
Crystal Nelson - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ALPENA - Alpena Community College students are going to new depths to help Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Students in Cathy Kappius' second semester German class are working to translate artifacts from the Nordmeer, the German freighter that ran aground in 1966.

Every Tuesday for the past two months, Auri Garant, Tom Issacs, Rene Kendziorski, David Verville and Jeffrey Moses have been meeting at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to translate the sanctuary's collection of nearly 200 artifacts. Volunteer Chuck Wiesen estimates the students already have translated more than 50 artifacts for the marine sanctuary. Radio messages, crew ID information, technical manuals and log book entries are just a few of the artifacts the students have translated so far.

According to Kappius, many of the artifacts the class is translating are lists of data, logs and minute-to-minute accounts of the unloading and loading procedures - down to the crews' one-hour lunch breaks.

Article Photos

News Photo by Crystal Nelson
Alpena Community College students Auri Garant and Tom Issacs work together to translate writing on a bottle of beer that was taken from the Nordmeer, a German freighter that ran aground in 1966, at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center on Tuesday. Students in Cathy Kappius’ second semester German class are translating artifacts from the shipwreck to enhance the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s collection.

"The students are going above and beyond, doing extra research, trying to find extra information. So we're not just translating the text but we're trying to find out any additional information that we can to explain things," she said, adding it's kind of like detective work.

It's the detective work that Kendziorski likes most about the class's project.

"You start looking for one thing and then you'll find it points you to something else," she said. "You're finding out a lot about the people on the ship and their lives and how the ship operated."

Issacs finds being able to bring history to life rewarding, and Garant said digging up history is fun. For Moses, who attends the college's Huron Shores campus, it's a chance to interact with the students he usually sees in the HUSH campus ITV room. It's also an opportunity for him to participate in something unique.

"Not many other German classes have this opportunity, so this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," he said.

The connection for the class's project came from Wiesen who knows Kappius from his days at ACC. When Wiesen found out Kappius was teaching full-time, he contacted Mark Curtis, ACC vice president of academic and student affairs, with the offer for students to help the marine sanctuary enhance its collection of artifacts. The most important thing was the experience had to meet the course's requirements.

Kappius was able to bring balance to the second semester German class by translating artifacts at the marine sanctuary on Tuesdays and spending time learning German in the classroom on Thursdays. She said the project at the marine sanctuary is supplementing what the students are learning in the classroom.

"We're finding grammar rules that we've been learning, vocabulary that we've been learning, verbs that we've been learning; we're seeing that in real life, in action here so they're able to recognize these things," she said.

She said one of the next challenges is going to make contact with some of the crewmembers. Kappius said Germans typically aren't as mobile as Americans, and she is going to try using a German search engine on the Internet to try to track the crew members down and get some firsthand information from them.

Kappius and State Maritime Archeologist Wayne Lusardi are hoping the project will inspire people to continue to bring artifacts from the Nordmeer forward. Lusardi can be contacted at 356-8805 ext. 11 or by stopping by the Maritime Heritage Center located at 500 W. Fletcher Street.

Crystal Nelson can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5693.



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