A RESTAURANT in Munich is crowded with young, well-dressed Germans. The door opens and a slight, dark-skinned man enters, then moves from table to table, smilingly offering a bouquet of pink roses for sale. The Germans glance at the swarthy face and look away again, half-consciously registering ``ausl"ander,'' foreigner. The influx into Munich of guest workers and refugees from third-world countries adds a definite international element to the Bavarian capital. The Sinhalese rose seller, the Turkish cleaning woman, and the Latino street musician are an integral part of Munich and many other larger German cities today. Yet familiar as they are, they often remain wordless as shadows. They live alongside their hosts, but rarely mix with them. Even years after their immigration, most speak little German.
But some progress has been made. An exhibit of artwork by ``Ausl"ander,'' shown during August and September in Munich's Gasteig Arts Center, illustrated the communication achieved in the past four years by ``The Museum Workshop for Foreigners,'' an experiment in cultural orientation for newcomers. The program was conceived to supplement German language courses in Munich's special education program for foreigners, which also offers practical courses such as typing and computer skills.
``Learning a language often means getting a feeling for the culture of the foreign country,'' explains Ulla von Gemmingen, an art teacher who led the project. ``The starting point is in the comparison of one's own culture with the foreign one, picking up one tradition of one's own country and finding corresponding traditions in the new country.''
Visits to carefully chosen exhibits in museums helped give participants clues to similarities between cultures. They inspired discussions, storytelling, and creative activities such as painting, writing, theater, and song and dance. Refugees, guest workers, and their families were introduced, for example, to Munich's city museum, an imposing building to any newcomer.
Ms. von Gemmingen recalls a Turkish woman's delight when she put a Bavarian printing stamp from the museum into the woman's hand. ``She showed how she would use it to print a design on cloth. I told her the right words and phrases so she could explain about it in German. Then she asked where the stamp came from. She was amazed to learn that Bavarian and Turkish handicrafts have something in common.''
A group of Yugoslavian and Turkish guest workers visited the textile department of Munich's enormous technology museum. A display of pre-industrial weaving techniques struck a responsive chord with almost all of them, as a number of guest workers come from places where hand weaving is still practiced in many households. A usually silent Turkish housewife proudly demonstrated the use of a spindle. Soon the students began swapping stories and memories from home. ``We sit here like it used to be at my grandmother's house,'' said one of them.
The museum workshop also tested the theory that artistic activity can help in learning a language. Cued by objects seen in museums, participants sang, painted, wrote, and organized video and theater projects, using visual and physical means of expression as a bridge to verbal communication.
``The students are anything but inhibited,'' says von Gemmingen. ``Song and dance are much more integrated in their cultures. It's unbelievable how lyrical and sensitive they can be.''
Critics of the workshop point out that lyricism and sensitivity are not necessarily qualities that will help foreigners battle their way through the bureaucracy involved in obtaining a residence or work permit, the crucial steps to legal acceptance in German society. Evaluations of the program by museum officials, specialists on ``Ausl"ander'' affairs, and members of the ministry of education and science - which financed the workshop - will decide if the experiment has been effective enough to continue funding.
Von Gemmingen defends the program, saying that the ability to communicate emotions is important in gaining a sense of well-being when speaking a new language. ``Purely functional or practical language is somewhat inhuman. Some important means of expression are personal rather than purpose-oriented,'' she says. ``Expressions of emotion are usually lacking in textbooks. I have never found a German grammar book with a chapter about love.''