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

A message from our Ambassador

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One week after the events at the US Capitol, Ambassador Haber shares this message with you, our American friends:

“It’s a difficult moment for the US, but I want to offer you some optimism.

You probably know the Reichstag building. It often evokes a dark chapter in Germany’s history. And not just the distant past; there was a near-storming by the far-right last August.

Nonetheless, it is a place of pride: the location of the Bundestag, the heart of German Democracy.

It is a representation of the idea that with dedicated citizens and steadfast allies, we can live out our values- always imperfectly, but with ‘a more perfect union’ in mind.”

-German Ambassador Emily Haber

Word of the Week: gute Vorsätze

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At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, many of us transform suddenly from inebriated revelers to neurotic dieters as we make shedding those extra holiday pounds one of our primary resolutions for the New Year.

As if wiping our individual slates clean, dismissing all the missteps we may have taken or things we did not get done over the course of the past 12 months, we decide that THIS is the year to finally, for instance, shed those extra 20 pounds, get our finances in order, or spend more time with friends and family.

In German, such New Year’s resolutions are known as “gute Vorsätze fürs neue Jahr”. And “to make resolutions” is simply to engage in “(gute) Vorsätze fassen.”

As a stand-alone noun, “Vorsätze” (plural) can be translated, depending on the context, as intents, intentions or resolutions.

Prefacing this with “gute” (good) is generally the preferred expression at the beginning of the year, to express how we have “good intentions/resolutions” for the New Year. And adding the verb “fassen” (grab/seize/grasp, as

well as comprehend/realize, among other possible meanings/usages) rounds out the expression “gute Vorsätze fassen.”

The expression “mit typischen Neujahrsvorsätzen” meanwhile means “with typical New Year’s resolutions.”

As in the United States, this is a common practice in Germany, where lists of New Year’s resolutions, or “gute Vorsätze,” are not uncommon.

Word of the Week: Winterdienst

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If you live in a cold place, there’s a good chance you might get some snow this winter! And if you do, you might stay at home until the Winterdienst clears the roads!

Literally translated, the word Winterdienst means “winter service.” It’s a broad term that can be used to describe any person or service employed to clear the mess created by winter weather conditions, whether it’s snow, ice or freezing rain! The Winterdienst could refer to a snow-plowing service, winter road maintenance, snow and ice control, snow plowing or sanding. If you see people salting the roads, it’s the Winterdienst. If you see someone driving a snowplow, it’s also the Winterdienst!

In English, we don’t have a single word that describes all of these services. It’s a practical – and commonly used – word that you will hear in Germany when the snow begins to pile up. Where is the Winterdienst? Hopefully the Winterdienst will be working overnight to make it safe for you to drive the next morning!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Lebkuchen

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You’ve probably had it – or know what it is; Lebkuchen is a German delicacy commonly found at German-style Christmas markets, as well as other festivals and events. But do you know the origins of the word Lebkuchen? They can be traced back hundreds of years!

As you may know, Lebkuchen is a German treat that is similar to gingerbread. At Christmas markets, it often takes on a heart-shaped form and is topped with icing that spells out messages of joy. The treats can vary in shape and flavor; some are round, some are spicy and others are sweet.

The origins of the holiday delicacy can be traced to ancient times; the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans believed that honey had magical healing powers, so they created a “honey cake” similar to what we now know as Lebkuchen. Some people wore these honey cakes around their neck as a sort of protection against evil. Honey cake has even been found in the tombs of pharaohs who died 4,000 years ago!

But the German-style Lebkuchen we know today first arose in the 13th century. German monks in Ulm and Nuremberg had heard about the healing powers of the magical honey cakes, so they brought the delicacies into the monasteries. Although the origins of the word Lebkuchen itself remain unclear, it is suspected that it comes from the Latin word libum (Fladen, or “flat bread”) or the German word Laib (loaf).

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And while some Germans refer to it as Lebkuchen, others call the delicacy Pfefferkuchen (“pepper cake”), since many types of spices can be added to the cake (and all spices used to be referred to as types of Pfeffer).

In some regions of Germany, it has also been referred to as Lebenskuchen (“cake for life”), Magenbrot (“bread for the stomach”), Labekuchen or Leckkuchen. In most cases, the words either describe the supposed healing properties of the delicacy or use a more general description of its ingredients or appearance.

But one thing is clear: Lebkuchen has become an important part of German culture. Whether you’re at Oktoberfest or a Christmas market (during normal, non-pandemic times), you’re bound to find rows of Lebkuchen hearts and stars lining the booths of vendors. So when you bring your friends and family a souvenir from Germany, don’t tell them it’s gingerbread; refer to it as Lebkuchen!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Krimskrams

Do you have a house full of junk? Are your drawers overflowing with knickknacks? Then you have a lot of Krimskrams in your home!

The German word Krimskrams means “junk”, “miscellaneous objects” or “odds and ends”. It refers to all those random and useless objects you have collected over the years. Maybe you have a lot of useless souvenirs, keychains, magnets, old calendars and other items that serve you no purpose and simply collect dust. But for some reason, you find it difficult to part ways with these items. It might be time to organize or throw away your Krimskrams!

The term comes primarily from the word Kram, which means “stuff” or “junk”. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century; it is believed that the term came from the old German phrase krimmeln und wimmeln (“to crawl”) and Kram (“junk”) – as in, your place could be crawling or overwhelmed with useless junk.

In today’s language, Krims does not have a meaning – but it makes the word Krimskrams more snappy and memorable (similar to the English word “knickknack”, where “knick” does not mean anything).

Germans are known for their cleanliness and order, and Krimskrams only makes their lives more cluttered. We’re sure that you’ll feel better about your home and office space if you clear out some of that Krimskrams!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Gießkannenprinzip

Germans have an uncanny ability to produce unique terms to describe every possible circumstance. One such word is Gießkannenprinzip, which describes exactly what it sounds like!

Literally translated, the term means “watering can principle”, and it describes the principle of giving everyone an equal share of something. Watering cans often have many holes in the cap where the water pours out, allowing for the equal distribution of water on a plant. The “watering can principle” therefore describes situations where a person or an organization distributes something (often money) equally among others.

Let’s look at two examples:

If a company pays all of its employees the same salary – regardless of performance – that company is operating by the Gießkannenprinzip. Even if one employee works harder and longer than the rest, while another employee sleeps at their desk, their pay stubs will always be equal.

As another example, a parent may have two children – a 7-year-old and a 16-year-old. That parent gives both children $5 in allowance every week, even though the 16-year-old has more expenses than the 7-year-old.

In some cases, the Gießkannenprinzip can be beneficial if a person or organization strives to treat everyone equally. But in other instances, it is not always fair or practical. If you’re reading the news in Germany, you may find articles using the word Gießkannenprinzip to describe an organizations flawed economic principles or a political party’s perspectives.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Tatendrang

Have you ever leapt out of bed on a particular morning flooded with the uncontrollable urge to get something done, such as hit the gym, clean up your home, or finally start writing that novel you’ve already mapped out in your mind? Then you were gripped by a sense of “Tatendrang.”

Germans are often defined in international organizations, when experts suggest how to work with folks from all over the world, as “task oriented people.” Such generic cultural cliches may not, of course, apply in each and every individual case. (Some German teenagers, for instance, may exhibit the same lack of “Tatendrang” when their parents suggest they clean up their rooms as many of their similarly cheeky and rebellious counterparts all over the world.)

So “Tatendrang” – which literally means “action urge” – describes that feeling you have when you just can’t wait to start getting stuff done. Another in a long and proud line of awesome German compound nouns, it is based on the words “Tat” (action, deed, task) and “Drang” (urge). (This is not to be confused, however, with “Tatort” (Scene of the Crime), which just happens to be the most popular and longest-running detective series on German television.)

Clearly the opposite early morning urge (rising early is another classic German cultural trait) to “Tatendrang” would be the desire to hit the snooze button and sleep in. People who do not like mornings in Germany are, moreover, known as “Morgenmuffel” (morning curmudgeons, morning grumpus) – and they are definitely a minority in a nation of “task oriented” early risers.

Chemnitz named the European Capital of Culture for 2025

Residents of Chemnitz celebrate the nomination of Chemnitz as the European Capital of Culture 2025. © Jan Woitas / dpa

A European selection jury has named the German city of Chemnitz the European Capital of Culture for 2025. The Saxonian city beat four other German cities on the shortlist: Hannover, Hildesheim, Magdeburg and Nuremberg.

The European Capitals of Culture initiative highlights and celebrates the diversity of European culture. It also brings international awareness to cities that receive these awards, often boosting tourism and bringing new life into a city’s culture. The initiative began in 1985, bringing more than 50 European cities into the spotlight thus far. The nomination of Chemnitz marks the third time that a German city has received the title; Weimar was a Capital of Culture in 1999 and Essen received the nomination in 2009.

To understand what makes Chemnitz unique, let’s take a look at a few fun facts about Saxony’s third-largest city:

1. Chemnitz is a city of contrast, a city where tradition meets modernity. Downtown Chemnitz features Bauhaus-style architecture, examples of New Objectivity and traditional structures such as the Rathaus.

2. Chemnitz’s town hall is a major attraction – and it consists of two parts. The Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) was built in the 15th century and gives visitors a glimpse into the city’s past. The New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) was built in the early 20th century in the Art Nouveau style.

3. Chemnitz is an art lovers’ paradise: From the Chemnitz Art Collections to the Gunzenhauser Museum, visitors can enjoy seeing collections of classical modernism.

4. In 1953, the East German government named the city Karl-Marx-Stadt and built a 23-foot tall bust of Karl Marx. Chemnitz was renamed after German reunification. The Marx statue remains one of the city’s major tourist attractions.

5. The city received its name from the River Chemnitz, which has a total length of 47 miles. The name Chemnitz means “stony brook”.

6. Chemnitz is just a short drive away from bountiful nature. The city lies at the foot of the Ore Mountains, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This mountain range is a great place for hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities.

Learn more about Chemnitz in this Deutsche Welle video below:

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy