The Bastei: one of Germany’s most Instagrammable places

If you’re looking for a place with jaw-dropping views, add The Bastei to your bucket list. This rock formation stands 636 feet above the Elbe River in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, southeast of Dresden.

What makes this majestic rock formation even more spectacular is a wooden bridge that connects several of these rocks together. Visitors have been walking across the bridge since it was constructed in 1824 (and replaced by a sandstone version in 1851).

From the 12th to the 15th century, a fortress known as the Felsenburg Neurathen stood by the rock formations. This fortress, however, was burned down by an opposing army in 1484 and there is little left of it to see.

In 1801, tour guide Carl Heinrich Nicolai perfectly described the rock formation from one of its lookout points:

“What depth of feeling it pours into the soul! You can stand here for a long time without being finished with it (…) it is so difficult to tear yourself away from this spot.”

The rock formations have impressed so many people that The Bastei was even the location for Germany’s very first landscape photographs, taken by photographer Hermann Krone in 1853.

The Bastei continues to draw in photographers, as it has done for many years!

 

Word of the Week: Lebenskunst

Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst! Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art. You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible.

Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would be an example of Lebenskunst.

But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.

A Survival Guide To Recycling in Germany

One of the most immediate culture shocks of traveling to Germany, especially if you grew up in the United States, is Germany’s seeming obsession with recycling. Whereas in the U.S. you are lucky if you can locate a recycling bin in public areas like parks or street corners, you’ll have the opposite problem in Germany, where you’ll find a sometimes confusing plethora of multi-colored bins. If you have been in this situation, looking around desperately to strangers or waiting to see what items other drop in each bin, we feel you. YOU are not alone. Even Germans sometimes question which bin is appropriate for which items.

Due to this common culture shock and the often harsh punishment one receives for a wrong move, we thought we’d give you the lowdown on German recycling.

image

Step 1: Prevent creating waste in the first place

Germany has created and continues to develop a culture of minimal waste. This is true for projects big and small: here are a few examples of major reducers of waste.

Bag fee: Germany combats the environmental threat of excessive plastic bag-use by adding a small fee onto bags at stores. Even though it’s small, the fee has further motivated people to bring their own reusable bags or carts to stores. Some stores now don’t offer plastic bags at all–opting instead to offer paper bags for those who need them.

Lack of excess packaging: Say tschüss to those individually wrapped fruit packages or items wrapped individually in plastic, then wrapped collectively in plastic.

image

Quality over quantity: According to a 2016 report by Germany Trade and Invest, Germans are well researched and particular consumers. They are much more risk averse and likely to return items that don’t meet their expectations. This makes things like quality labels or reviews really important and generally lends towards a population that has fewer, but higher quality possessions that don’t need constant replacement.

Step 2: Pfand

Imagine if, for every bottle–plastic or glass, you bought, you had to pay extra for it. The deal in Germany is that you pay more initially but then receive that surcharge back when you give the bottles back for recycling. So, just like when you weekly take the garbage out in the States, in Germany it is a regular habit to return your bin of recycling to super markets where you will find a machine like this:

image

This machine scans the bar code of your items, and prints a receipt for you to redeem at the register. Basically, if you don’t recycle your eligible items for Pfand, you are losing money.

As a tourist, you have potentially experienced Pfand in a different way. At Christmas markets, stands will charge you extra for the mug that hot drinks are served in. You can choose to keep the mug as a memento, or to return it for Pfand.

You may have also been asked for your empty bottle in public by someone collecting them to return. This is potentially convenient for you, earns them a little money by returning them AND it is good for the earth. Triple whammy! There are even entire non-profits that fund themselves by collecting Pfand at events or concerts.

Step 3: Choose your bin

This part sounds really uncomplicated from an American perspective. Trash or recycling…right?

After giving back bottles for Pfand, Germans sort trash typically by paper, plastic, bio/organic, glass, and other. Though details are dependent on town or region, a general breakdown goes like this:

image

Paper= blue bins. This bin is for cardboard, newspapers, magazines, waste paper, paper bags, etc, etc.

Plastic = Yellow bins. This is for plastic such as body wash, shampoo, sunscreen, laundry detergent, and juice bottles

Glass= Glass is sorted by color. There are different slots for depositing green, brown and clear glass. In this bin you should be putting any kind of jars (mustard, jam, yogurt, etc), oil bottles, wine bottles or the like.

Bio (organic) = green bins. This is for food waste like egg shells, banana peel, or scraps of food you didn’t eat.

Other = black bins. You choose your size and you’re charged accordingly. They send you a sticker each year to show that you’ve paid for it. Residual waste is garbage that neither includes pollutants nor reusable components. For example ash, dust bag, cigarette ends, rubber, toiletries, and diapers are thrown into the black bin.

Step 4: Enjoy a cleaner earth!

Though the effect of one person caring about the environment is small, the collective effort of a nation makes a dent. Germany leads the European nations in recycling, with around 70 percent of the waste the country generates successfully recovered and reused each year.

image

Recycling is only one part of Germany’s environmental efforts. Find more about national and local environmental initiatives here: http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/07-Econ-Energy-Innovation/01-Energy-Climate-Env/Energy-Climate-Env.html

Rennpappe: the “racing cardboard” of East Germany

If you’re familiar with East German cars, you probably know that they’re not the best quality. But that’s probably an understatement: they were so bad, in fact, that Germans began referring to them as Rennpappe, which means “racing cardboard”.

The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to race/run”) and Pappe (“cardboard”). The term mockingly refers to the cheaply-produced Trabant cars – an East German automobile made of inexpensive materials.
The Trabant (also referred to as a Trabi) featured a two-stroke engine and was constructed using Duroplast – a hard plastic consisting of recycled materials. Since the vehicle was built using recycled waste, there was a widely-held misconception that it was made of cardboard, and over time, East Germans referred to the Trabi as a Rennpappe.

©dpa / picture alliance

Between 1957 and 1991, the German Democratic Republic produced 3.7 million Trabis. Due to its poor economy and lack of materials, however, the wait time for the four-passenger vehicle was 14 years.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, many East Germans drove to the West in their Trabants. But many soon realized they would rather have a second-hand western car than a new Trabi, since western cars were more efficient, produced less pollution and were overall better quality. As a result, the Rennpappen were often given away for free, abandoned, or in some cases sold for 1 Deutsche Mark (DM). The Trabant factory, located in Saxony, was shut down in 1991 due to low demand.

©dpa / picture alliance

Over time, however, the Trabant became a symbol of East Germany, and its value began to increase. Having a Rennpappe today is special: they are viewed as antique collector’s items, and often put on display during German festivals, parties and events. And although they are more frequently called Trabis, Germans who used to own one back in the day might still refer to them as their Rennpappe.

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Schenkelklopfer

You may have heard of the word Sparwitz, which describes a joke that isn’t funny. Now, let’s look at a word that describes a joke with a bit more humor: 

A Schenkelklopfer is a simple, corny but effective joke that evokes serious laughter. The direct translation is “thigh slapper” but in English, the term “knee slapper” is a more commonly used equivalent. The German word Schenkel means “thigh” and Klopf means “to knock” (or in this case, slap). This type of joke is so funny that it may have listeners slapping their knees while laughing. It’s not clear why certain jokes prompt listeners to slap their upper legs while laughing. Think back: have you ever laughed so hard that you slapped your thigh or knee? It’s common – both in German and American culture.

Unlike a Sparwitz, which usually evokes little to no reaction, a Schenkelklopfer is so funny that it promps belly- aching laughter. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sparwitz

We all know someone who tries to make jokes that no one laughs at. Some people are notoriously good at telling jokes that aren’t funny (or that no one comprehends). It would be ironic to call their attempts “jokes” in the first place, so Germans have a better word for them: Sparwitze

A Sparwitz is a joke that isn’t funny or doesn’t make sense. In English, this is sometimes called an “anti-joke”. It could be a random phrase that doesn’t have much purpose and will leave people raising their eyebrows in confusion. Should they laugh? Maybe they’ll force a chuckle or maybe they’ll stare at the person telling the Sparwitz with a blank expression. The term Sparwitz comes from the words sparen (“to save”) and Witz (“joke”). It’s a joke where the jokester saves his humor for himself, leaving you with something less than funny. 

Here’s a few Sparwitze examples: 

Have you ever seen a Schnitzel run through the woods? No? Well, that’s how fast they are!

What do you call a cookie under a tree? A shady cookie! 

Two mushrooms are walking in the woods. One says “hi”, the other one says “ahhh, but mushrooms can’t speak!” 

These Sparwitze are neither funny, nor do they make much sense. Sometimes, however, the randomness of the anti-joke may cause some unexpected laughter. Some comedians even try to provoke laughter through use of Sparwitze. In English, this is referred to as anti-humor and their stand-ups are known as alternative comedy. As you can imagine, getting an audience to laugh at a Sparwitz is much more difficult than getting them to laugh at a good old joke! 

But in general, if someone is telling you some German Sparwitze that they perceive as jokes, tell them to spare you of that. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

10 famous German composers that made musical history

Are you in need of some new (or old) music to listen to while teleworking? Do you need some relaxing classical music for a slow summer car ride? We’ve got you covered!

Many of the world’s greatest musical geniuses called Germany their home. From Bach to Beethoven, these composers moved the world with their works.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Born in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He is celebrated for his Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor and a number of other instrumental masterpieces.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Born in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist in the period between the Classical and Romantic eras. He spent his childhood in Germany, where he was taught by his father – Johann van Beethoven and later by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At the age of 21, he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he began studying under Joseph Haydn. Some of his most influential works include Symphony No. 5 and 9, Piano Sonata No. 29, Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto No. 4.

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

One of the leading musicians of the Romantic period is Johannes Brahms, a virtuoso pianist who was born in Hamburg before spending his adult years in Vienna, Austria, where he composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ and voice and chorus. He is sometimes grouped together with Bach and Beethoven as one of the “Three B’s”. Brahms is best known for his four symphonies and his Violin Concerto.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor in the Romantic period. Some of his most famous works include the overture and music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio Elijah, The Hebrides, the Violin Concerto and his String Octet.

George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in former Brandenburg-Prussia. He was a Baroque composer who spent his early years in Germany and his later years in Britain. Some of his greatest compositions include Messiah, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Richard Georg Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss was born in Munich and grew up to become a talented German Romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of his early success came from his tone poems. One of his famous works – inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – was called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Another famous was is Don Juan.

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

Born in Leipzig, Richard Wagner grew up to become one of Germany’s most famous composers. Although he had many talents, he is best known for his operas. Some of his major works include The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, Lohegrin, Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal and The Ring of the Nibelung.

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Born in Zwickau, Robert Schumann became a widely regarded German composer of the Romantic era. He initially studied law but left that field for a career as a virtuoso pianist. However, a hand injury left him unable to fulfill that career, and Schumann turned his focus to composing.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767)

Born in Magdeburg, Georg Philipp Telemann was a German composer of the late Baroque period. During his youth, he rebelled against his family’s wishes in order to study music. He is almost completely self taught. His most famous pieces were his church compositions ranging from small cantatas to larger works for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Hans Zimmer (1957 – )

One modern-day German composer is Hans Zimmer. Born in Frankfurt, Zimmer has composed scores for more than 150 different films. Some of his most famous works include scores for The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Intersteller, Gladiator, Crimson Tide, Inception, Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy. Of course, his works are quite different from those of Beethoven – but we still love them!

Of course, there are many more composers we could add to this list! Who would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy 

Word of the Week: Riechkolben


Do you know someone who has a nose like Pinocchio? Or maybe a nose that reminds you of Rudolph? Germans would call such noses a Riechkolben!

The term comes from the words riechen (“to smell”) and Kolben (which best translates to “conk” – a colloquial term for nose). A Riechkolben defines a very large or swollen nose – one that catches your attention. Perhaps someone with a Riechkolben is suffering from a cold and has a red and oversized nose, perhaps someone got hit in the face, or perhaps someone just has a naturally large nose. Whatever the reason, you’re more likely to describe that large object on their face as a Riechkolben than a Nase (“nose”). 

It’s probably not the nicest way to refer to someone’s nose. After all, who wants to be acknowledged for having a Rudolph-sized nose on their face? 

But it is not always an insult in German. The term Riechkolben is also a medical one: it is a synonym for the olfactory bulb, a neural structure that is involved in creating a sense of smell. The olfactory bulb is located at the bottom of the brain – not the nose. So in this regard, the Riechkolben has nothing to do with the size of one’s nose and simply describes a part of the human anatomy. 

Most Germans, however, will use it to describe what they see. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Musikantenknochen

When you accidentally smash your inner elbow into a table or a door, you might scream in pain because the impact affected your Musikantenknochen – your so-called “musician’s bone”. But what exactly is that? 

In English, you might have heard the term “funny bone” used to describe a sensitive location in your arm. In German, this is called your Musikantenknochen, which comes from the words Musik (“music”) and Knochen (“bone”). It describes the part of your arm that is especially sensitive when you hit it against a hard surface. But what does this have to do with music? 

Well, the term can be deceiving because your Musikatentenknochen has nothing to do with music and it is not even a bone! In reality, it is the ulnar nerve – a nerve that runs along the ulna bone and is the largest unprotected nerve in your body (meaning it is just under the surface of your skin). That means it is highly sensitive and prone to injury. Some describe the feeling of hitting your Musikantenknochen against a hard surface as a sensation similar to a small electric shock. That’s sure to cause some people to cry out in pain.

It is unclear why Germans call this nerve the “musician’s bone”, but some believe it has to do with the perceived vibrations that arise when impacting the area. Others say it has to do with the cries people make when they hurt their Musikantenknochen

But one thing’s for sure: most of us are not going to sing to the sound of that music! If we hurt our Musikantenknochen, it’s best not to talk to us until we come back to our senses. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

German vs. American Universities

Though you can’t avoid the reading or the due dates, studying at a German university can differ in some significant ways from the United States. The obvious differences are that courses are, generally, conducted in German. But there a few less obvious things to consider when trying to study full time abroad.

Basically free

Probably the “least best kept secret” about German schools are their low cost. In 2015, all 16 German states had officially gotten rid of tuition fees. There is still a small fee to cover administration and other costs per semester and often housing is paid for separately from the university, but generally it is very cheap compared to the tuition costs at American schools.

Public vs. private universities

Since public universities in Germany are free, it makes them that much more competitive. Want to be a doctor? You better have almost perfect grades and Abitur score (university qualifying exam) to even be admitted. Though private universities are still high quality, most students would choose no tuition over even the low tuition of a private school.

Young, Woman, Girl, Lady, Female, Work, Working, Study

Forget the rankings

Sure, lists ranking German schools are out there, but any German would tell you that it basically makes no difference if you go to one public university vs. the other. All public universities are thought to give you an equal quality education.

Degrees are different lengths

Gone away are the automatic four year degrees. Instead, many bachelor programs are just three years. Dual programs to receive both a bachelors and master’s degree are very popular and often four years long.

Laptop, Woman, Education, Study, Young, Computer

One big exam or paper rather than smaller assignments

There is relatively little hand holding at German universities. You don’t get points just for attending, or for small daily assignments. Rather, typically, your entire grade depends on one or two exams or papers and going to lectures is not mandatory.

Students don’t always start college right after high school

In the United States, the percentage of students who defer admissions for a year or more remains very small—generally 1% or less of an admitted class, according to PBS. In Germany, many students take time off after graduating from high school and travel for a year (or two or three). In fact, the tradition of setting out on travel for several years after completing an apprenticeship as a craftsman dates back to medieval times!

People, Girls, Women, Students, Friends, Talking