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Judges cuckoo over Courtland clock

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Like any endeavor the Courtland High School German Club undertakes, the 2013 National Gingerbread Competition was entered with the intention of winning.

And even though this was the first year the club competed on a national stage, the student-built gingerbread house—an entirely edible reproduction of a Black Forest cuckoo clock—took the teen-division blue ribbon and $750 in prize money at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C.

Since the competition in November, the gingerbread clock has made its way to New York City to be viewed by a larger audience and was featured on the Hallmark Channel’s “Better Show.” Dec. 20

The clock took two months to build, as well as “heart, soul and a little child labor,” said German Club member and senior Bryce Hall.

The Courtland German Club won the local gingerbread contest at George Washington’s Ferry Farm last year with a gingerbread German open-air theater inspired by the 200th anniversary of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

There, viewers prompted them to take their gingerbread molding skills and try for a larger prize.

Even though the club swept the national contest, construction wasn’t all smooth sailing. Club president Sara Vaughn said an errant fondant ball crumbled a wall at one point, and the roof had to be taken off because they accidentally left a jar of molasses inside.

And when club sponsor and Courtland German teacher Bettina Hoeninger transported the house 432 miles to North Carolina, one of the towers collapsed. Luckily, she said, the Grove Park Inn had a space designated for repairs upon arrival.

Working on the house with Sara and Bryce were sophomores Leslie Bates and Alia Stutzman, junior Kyle Jones and senior Christine Almassy. They worked nearly every day after school and during German class. Hoeninger said their constant work left her classroom “sticky for six weeks.”

The sculpture features windows made of melted cough drops that work and make the inside visible. The interior shows the inner workings of the clock and a fondant engineer holding a wrench to make repairs.

It also sports eight fondant people modeled after members of the German club surrounding the house and small touches, such as an elaborately decorated eight-layer cake that stands at just an eighth of an inch.

The club modeled the house after the 2011 cuckoo clock of the year, which was manufactured in the south of Germany.

Alia said whenever they can, she and the other club members like to use specific German regions as inspiration.

Hoeninger said unlike other competitors, the Courtland house was made from all edible ingredients. Most of the others used gingerbread that was a dessert in name only.

The club also used real chocolate, which set them apart. The other entrants used fondant and gum paste only in construction.

“It’s an example of superior German engineering,” Kyle said.

The German club is Courtland’s largest and most active club, with 72 members.

Each year the club hosts a popular Oktoberfest. They also compete in, and generally win, dance competitions and the school’s homecoming banner competition.

They also sell gingerbread houses for charity. Last year the club sold 50 houses.

For Hoeninger, who is from Kaiserslautern in the south of Germany, her six years teaching at Courtland have presented a new, more creative challenge.

“I taught German in Germany and, there, teaching means business,” she said. “Here it is more fun. I came here to find out I have a talent [for gingerbread].”

The club, and its year-round activities, do more than just bond its members, who have their own German-speaking clique at Courtland.

When Sara and Bryce graduate in the spring, they plan on taking the skills they learned in German club into the next stage of their lives.

Bryce wants to join the foreign service and said he’ll use German abroad.

And Sara, who wants to be an art therapist, said her knowledge of German art, as well as being creative with gingerbread, will help in her career.

“And in five years,” Sarah said, “we’ve talked about getting together again to enter a gingerbread house on our own.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976



Find out more about the German club and their winning gingerbread house at