As the take-up of German as a foreign language declines among teenagers, UK-German Youth Links aims to improve contact between young Britons and Germans outside the classroom and break down cultural barriers.
Set up as a collaboration between the German Foreign Office Education Exchange Service, the British Foreign Office and the British Council, it brings together various initiatives, including a sixth-form essay competition, summer courses, scholarships to Germany, a translation competition, and information on how to take part in Young Trends, an Anglo-German youth seminar promoting face-to-face intercultural discussion.
"We found that young people appreciate being asked for their view and like being able to contribute to something," said Ute Paetzig, the project director at the British Council.
A larger, more ambitious multilateral seminar on identity, citizenship and culture brings together young people from different European countries and is extremely successful in changing perceptions.
"I joined because I was intrigued by the subject of the seminar: breaking down stereotypes," says Michael Searle, a former sixth former at Matthew Humberstone school in Cleethorpes. "It was a fantastic experience. Unlike an exchange, we were thrown in at the deep end with discussions and activities and really got to know the Germans. It changed my views."
The multilateral seminar involving some 46 young people takes place in July in the German border town of Aachen. Participants will design a campaign to boost interest in each other's cultures and reach a wider youth audience.
UK-German Youth Links brings information on opportunities in Germany under one portal (see below). Unlike other websites, aimed mainly at teachers and heads, it is aimed at young people.
"We do the main editing and run the technical side but we want young people to develop the website," says Ms Paetzig. "The aim is to be a first port of call for UK-German youth and the opportunities available."
Meanwhile Global Gateway, a huge website linking schools internationally, is setting up country-specific sites so that schools overseas can have their own gateway to the partner-finding facility at the British Council.
Neil Shaw of the British Council says the German site will help extend school links beyond language learning to history, geography, citizenship and other subjects. It will provide a languages classwork tool , eLanguages. On this part of the Global Gateway site teachers can upload resources in 17 specific languages for other teachers to share. The German version of eLanguages is now operational.