Marian Anderson inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a world famous African American singer who made history on both sides of the Atlantic with her opera and spirituals. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to Salzburg and Munich, her voice inspired thousands of people with every show. But in order to perform, the American contralto had to face segregation and racial prejudice, both at home and abroad. Her determination to sing – despite opposition and countless hurdles – turned her into a civil rights icon. Some even called her the “voice of the 20th  century“.

Although Anderson grew up in Philadelphia and had a successful music career in the United States, she also spent a significant amount of time in Europe. In the early 1930s, Anderson spent time studying and touring various European countries, including Finland, Sweden, Russia, England and Austria.

In 1935, after a successful performance in Vienna, Austria, Anderson was asked to perform a charity concert at the Salzburg Cathedral as part of the Salzburg Festival. This annual festival drew some of the most talented artists of the time. However, there was growing Nazi sentiment in Austria at this time and festival authorities banned Anderson’s performance. But rather than letting this keep her away, Anderson worked with organizers to hold her very own concert in Salzburg, separate from the official festival. Held at the Mozarteum, her unofficial concert stunned the audience, which grew continuously larger as word of her performance spread through town. A few days later, Anderson performed once more in the Alps. Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini told her she had a “voice head once in a hundred years.”

Despite her talents, Anderson continued to face hurdles in a segregated America. In 1939, Anderson was back in the US and preparing for an Easter Sunday concert in Washington, D.C at the invitation of Howard University. Because of her international reputation, organizers expected the crowd to be enormous. They applied to use Constitution Hall as the concert venue, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. However, “[DAR] refused to allow her use of the hall because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR,” said Anderson biographer Allan Keiler. So instead, Anderson’s historic concert was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the held of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt, drawing a crowd of 75,000 people and making history. Millions of people also tuned in on the radio. Anderson later admitted to being nervous with a crowd size that large, saying, “I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now.”

Marian Anderson performs at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. ©dpa
A crowd gathers on the National Mall to hear Marian Anderson sing on Easter morning. ©dpa

Although the concert at the Lincoln Memorial was one of Anderson’s most well-known performances, her popularity only continued to grow and she found herself performing all over the world – including Germany.

A few years after the end of the Second World War, Anderson returned to Europe and continued to perform. The concerts she held in Berlin and Munich in 1950 were some of the “most gratifying”, according to her biography. And the German people were blown away by her talents. After her concerts, The Neue Zeitung wrote “…in critical places one is surprised by a wonderfully accomplished phrase or even a single tone in which her soul seems to open. From such moments the whole song achieves a new illumination.”

Marian Anderson performs at a university in Munich, Germany on June 6, 1950. ©dpa

Throughout her career, Anderson became an important figure in the Civil Rights era. She became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the Department of State. She sang at the 1957 inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. She participated in the Civil Rights movement and found herself at the steps of the Lincoln once again when she performed at the 1963 March on Washington. She also won numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Marian Anderson was an inspiration to millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic.

This blog is part of our larger series for Black History Month. During Black History Month, we are not only highlighting Germans of African descent (see our blog here), but also black Americans who have inspired Germans across the Atlantic, and across the years.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geborgenheit

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The German word Geborgenheit is difficult to translate, but it encompasses a range of feelings that make it a powerful word. A translation dictionary might describe Geborgenheit as “feelings of security”, but that does not do the word justice. Geborgenheit is the sum of warmth, protection, security, trust, love, peace, closeness and comfort. Imagine all of those feelings described in one word – that’s Geborgenheit!

Perhaps the best way to understand Geborgenheit is through examples. Someone might describe Geborgenheit as the feeling he gets when he visits his grandmother and she brings out his favorite dish from childhood. Another person might describe Geborgenheit as the feelings he or she gets when returning to their old bedroom in their parents’ house. It could be the feeling you get at a fireplace beside your lover, or the feeling you get when you are under your blanket on a cold night. Basically, Geborgenheit can be the result of any situation where you feel secure, content and protected.

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Most languages (including English, French and Russian) do not have a word for this expression. However, adequate translations of Geborgenheit do exist in Dutch and Afrikaans. And Germans are particularly fond of this term: in 2004, the Deutscher Sprachrat (German Language Council) and the Goethe Institute selected Geborgenheit as the second most beautiful word in the German language. A beautiful word for a beautiful feeling!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Frederick Douglass inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

Frederick Douglass inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

Frederick Douglass fled slavery in 1833, and went on to become one of the most important figures in American History. As a notable abolitionist, he advised, lobbied, criticized, and befriended president Abraham Lincoln. To this day, his thoughts on the merits of the US Constitution and founding ideals, such as those found in his famous speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” continue to influence and challenge thinkers.

After the Civil War, he held high office in the District of Columbia and the US Federal Government, always advocating for equality for all Americans, regardless of race or gender.

Americans weren’t the only to notice the ideas and dynamism of this self-made man. Ottilie Assing, German feminist, journalist and abolitionist, befriended Douglass in 1856 after reading his autobiographical work, “My Bondage and My Freedom,”. As a German of Jewish decent, Assing found herself interested in the parallels in the struggle against discrimination in the United States, in which Douglass played a major role.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who touched the lives of billions of people around the globe. Someone that every child learns about in school. As a leader of the American Civil Rights movement, he organized peaceful protests that led to the end of legal segregation in the United States.

But even in Germany, Dr. King’s words impacted countless people.

In September 1964 – one year after his historic “I Have a Dream” speech– Dr. King was invited to Berlin to attend a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had recently been assassinated. At the time, Berlin was newly divided with the foundations of the Wall having been built only three years earlier.

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Dr. King accepted the invitation from West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt. And on September 13, 1964, Dr. King addressed an audience of 20,000 Germans at the Waldbühne stadium in West Berlin.

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” he told the crowd. “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

Part of the Berlin Wall in its early stages. ©dpa

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9 Germans of African descent who changed the world

In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 9 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Steffi Jones

Steffi Jones is inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame. © dpa / picture alliance

Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.

Haddaway

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We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.

Isaac Bonga

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Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.

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Word of the Week: Morgenmuffel

Are you a grouch in the morning? Do you glare at everyone who tries to speak to you before noon? Well, my friend, that makes you a Morgenmuffel (“morning grouch”)!

This German word describes those who struggle to wake up in the mornings. If you – or someone you know wanders the earth like a zombie before their first cup of coffee, they’re probably a Morgenmuffel. These “morning grouches” are often in a bad mood and usually avoid early-morning conversations. They may, however, be much cheerier and productive at night — the type of people that Americans would call “night owls.” But in English, there is no equivalent for the word Morgenmuffel.

The German word Muffel (“grouch”) has been around for at least several hundred years, and its etymology is quite interesting. The Duden, a dictionary of the German language, traces it back to the Dutch word moppen, which morphed into the Low German mopen and ultimately, Mops (a type of dog known in English as a “pug”). The verb muffeln (“to chew with a full mouth”) and muffig (“damp, moldy”) are also related. A German dictionary from the year 1793 describes a Muffel as both a creature with low-hanging lips (most often, a dog) and as an ill-tempered person who hangs his head low and has a grim expression (much like such a dog).

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Look at a picture of a pug. Does that remind you of a grouch? To some, the resemblence was uncanny – and today, the word Muffel is applied to anyone who is in a bad mood. You can be a Sportmuffel (someone who is disinterested in sports), a Krawattenmuffel (someone who becomes a grouch when he has to wear a tie), a Lesemuffel (someone who hates to read), or a Trinkgeldmuffel (someone who begrudges the idea of tipping at a restaurant). The list goes on and on: in German, you can be a Muffel at just about any occasion!

But the most common Muffel is of course the Morgenmuffel. Chances are, you either are one or you know one. So grab that cup of coffee and lift your head up a little higher. It might be early, but things aren’t so bad!

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

John Lewis Inspired Germans | #BlackHistoryMonth

John Lewis inspired Germans, and he inspired our team at the German Embassy. Here’s how.

During the civil rights movement John Lewis stood for human dignity and rights, even at great personal risk. As part of SNCC, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, he participated in sit-ins at lunch counters, a series of peaceful protests against racial segregation at restaurants and eateries. He helped organize, and was beaten and arrested during the “Freedom Rides”, in protest of segregation during travel. As Chairman of SNCC, he organized the 1963 March on Washington alongside Dr. King and other leaders.

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As a congressman from Georgia’s 5th District, which includes Atlanta, Representative Lewis brought his passion for civil rights, racial and social justice to the United States Congress. For over three decades, he treated his colleagues and staff with respect while advocating for his constituents. Even in his final opinion piece, published the day of his death in the New York Times, he called on Americans to stand up for justice through “good trouble, necessary trouble”.

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His final message to Americans: “Together, you can redeem the soul of our nation,” did not go unnoticed outside the USA. Nightly news broadcasts and leaders from around the world repeated his words, spoke to his influence, lauded his life dedicated to justice, with malice towards none. As the world paused, so too did many Germans.

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Word of the Week: Honigkuchenpferd

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If you’ve got a big dorky grin across your face, a German might tell you that you’re grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – a “honey-cake-horse.” Basically, a horse-shaped honey cake. But why the strange comparison?

Well, even Germans aren’t quite sure where the expression came from, but they use it frequently. A close English equivalent would be “to grin like a Cheshire cat”, since the striped purple cat from Alice in Wonderland is known for its excessively large smile.

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A Honigkuchenpferd, on the other hand, is a Lebkuchen (gingerbread) horse that usually has a big grin painted onto its face with icing (these are often found on fairgrounds and marketplaces). But rather than describe the pastry, Germans more often use the term to describe a person with a grin so big that it lights up the room.

A teenager who just had his or her first date might be grinning like a Honigkuchenpferd – or someone who just got a promotion at work. Whatever the reason, their smile is unusually large – almost as large as the smile on a horse-shaped honey cake.

There are multiple other ways to make the comparison as well: someone can laugh like a horse-shaped honey cake (lachen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) or radiate like a horse-shaped honey cake (strahlen wie ein Honigkuchenpferd) – you get the picture.

So next time you see your German-speaking friend, colleague or family member smiling from ear to ear, you may want to tease them about it and call them a Honigkuchenpferd!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany

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This year, we are commemorating 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. Throughout 2021, we will look at Jewish history, culture and traditions dating back to the 4th century in the region now known as Germany.⁠

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Evidence of Jewish life in Germany can be traced back to the year 321, when the Cologne City Council issued a written edict permitting Jews to join the Council.

But archeologists have found many other traces of Jewish life and history in Germany, including the remnants of an 11th century synagogue in Cologne.

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The archeological site of these remnants – which was part of a complete medieval Jewish quarter – is now being used to build a museum that is scheduled to open in 2024. Cologne has applied to have the quarter listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.⁠

From Augsburg to Trier, evidence of Jewish early Jewish life exists in many different German cities. ⁠

Andrei Kovacs, managing director of the anniversary year, told Deutsche Welle that he wants to “make Jewish life visible”, which is particularly important at a time of rising anti-Semitism. ⁠

“Anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism are probably over 1,700 years old,” he said. “But we also want to show what Jews have contributed to society in those years. There are many great initiatives today to create conversations between Jewish and non-Jewish people in our society.”⁠

“We want to counter the often difficult and tragic past with something positive,” he added.⁠

The yearlong celebration of Jewish life will include performances, theater and food tasting events, but online alternatives will be set up in the case of additional or continued lockdowns.⁠

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sehnsucht

The German language is filled with words that do not exist in English. One such word is Sehnsucht, which is difficult to translate accurately. Sehnsucht is a deep emotional state; it describes an intense longing, craving, yearning or “intensely missing” something or someone. English translations do not do this term justice; it is a much more emotionally charged word in German.

Someone can possess Sehnsucht for a faraway place – a deep yearning to be somewhere else, one that consumes your thoughts. Someone could also have Sehnsucht for another person; two lovers separated by distance may possess this sort of craving for each other. Someone could also have Sehnsucht for a different life – one that occupies their dreams while their reality is mediocre.

The term comes from the words das Sehnen (“yearning”) and das Siechtum (“a lingering illness”). The yearning described by Sehnsucht is, in some regards, like an illness, because it is all-consuming and will not go away easily. What do you have Sehnsucht for? Your star-crossed lover? A life in Hawaii? Your childhood? Or the future of your dreams?

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy