The temperatures are rising, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. It’s time to put away those heavy winter coats and bring out the shorts! With the change of the seasons comes substantial housework, which Germans call Frühjahrsputz (spring cleaning)!
Directly translated, Frühjahrsputz means “early-year-cleaning”. It refers to a time in the spring when Germans clean their homes and yards, putting away winter clothes and winter equipment. A Frühjahrsputz is much more thorough than a regular cleaning spree and also involves a lot of reorganizing. Americans use the term “spring cleaning” just as Germans use the word Frühjahrsputz! But the origin of the concept of spring cleaning is neither German nor American.
Some researchers trace the concept to an ancient Jewish practice of cleansing the home ahead of the Passover feast. Similarly, the Catholic Church conducts a thorough cleaning of the church alter before Good Friday. Today, many Germans do their spring cleaning in the days leading up to Easter. But of course, a Frühjahrsputz can be conducted at any time in the spring. So open your windows, dust your furniture and let the sun shine into your spotless home!
Lucia Schulz was born in 1894 in Prague. As a young woman, she studied philosophy and art history at the University of Prague, but then turned her focus on publishing, working as an editor in German publishing houses. In 1920 she met a Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin whom she married a year later.
While her husband took over the preliminary course from Josef Albers at the Bauhaus in 1923, Ms. Moholy became her husband’s darkroom technician and collaborator, exploring new techniques such as photogram, the process of exposing light-sensitive paper with objects laid upon it. She used a new focus, referred to as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which employed a straightforward frontality. She took many photographs of the school exterior and interior and social events which were extensively used to advertise the school in brochures, posters and magazine articles.
Even as a young girl, Adelgunde Stölzl carried her sketchbook everywhere. On long hikes in the mountains around her hometown of Munich, she sketched landscapes and farmers with their livestock. The young artist would continue that discipline throughout her life, and her accompanying writings served as a valuable insight into her creative mind. She continued her love of the arts as a young woman at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts), where she studied decorative and glass painting, ceramics, and art history. Even as a nurse during World War I, she filled the pages of her journals while serving on the Italian and French fronts.
Upon her return from the war, Gunta Stölzl, as she was then known, decided to apply to the Bauhaus, whose non-traditional ideals of openness and exploration she found intriguing. However, she soon realized that women were not welcome in all classes and often relegated to what was considered “women’s art:” weaving. There, she had soon mastered the fundamentals of weaving and began teaching other students, enjoying intense collaboration with others. Students sometimes supplemented learning weaving and dyeing techniques outside the school but were motivated by the open and fruitful dialogue of the Bauhaus setting.
It’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday – too early to drink? Not necessarily! There’s even a German word for early-morning drinking: Frühschoppen!
The term is a fusion of the words früh (“early”) and Shoppen (a classic German word for a glass that holds a quarter or half a liter of wine or beer). In Germany and Austria, the term is often used to describe a very traditional brunch that often consists of – or includes – white sausage, pretzels and (*drum roll*) beer! In the most traditional sense, a Frühschoppen takes place in a tavern on a Sunday morning, bringing together a group of regulars who like to discuss life and politics. Often, a band is present to play Volksmusik (traditional music). The most famous example of Frühschoppen would be the early-morning beer gatherings that take place at Oktoberfest, complete with pretzels and live music.
However, the term is also used more loosely to describe any instances where people gather to drink in the morning – regardless of whether it’s a Sunday or a Wednesday. A Frühschoppen does not necessarily have to have food or music at all. Simply having a beer before lunch can be considered Frühschoppen. In some regions of Germany, people gather at a pub after church – something that is considered Frühschoppen. But regardless of where it is, as long as it’s in the early hours, your drinking can be considered a Frühschoppen. Cheers to learning a new word!
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.
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.
Germany is celebrating its so-called Fünfte Jahreszeit (“Fifth Season”), which is a reference to Carnival! The Fifth Season officially began on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., but in actuality, Carnival’s events take place during one week in February with highlights including Fat Thursday and Rose Monday.
On February 28, Germans celebrated Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday), which marks the last Thursday before Lent. In the Rhineland – which is where Carnival is celebrated most intensely – work often ends before noon and people wear costumes out on the streets and in local bars.
But men who wear ties on Weiberfastnacht need to be prepared: one of Germany’s unique Carnival traditions is that women cut off men’s ties with scissors on Fat Thursday, leaving them with nothing but a stump. After all, Weiberfastnacht means “women’s carnival night”, and this ritual allows them to symbolically strip men of their statuses. Even at the German Embassy in Washington, some of our colleagues had to say goodbye to their ties on Thursday.
But the biggest celebration of Carnival takes place on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) – a day marked with large parades and street parties. An estimated 1.5 million people watch the Rosenmontag parade in Cologne each year.
Although Rose Monday celebrations take place in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium, the region with the heaviest celebrations is the Rhineland, particularly in the major cities along the Rhine. The southern part of the Rhineland, however, has its own unique tradition called “Fastnacht”, which comes with its own unique customs. Wherever you may be in the Rhineland, we’re sure you’ll have fun during Carnival season!
In honor of Women’s History Month, we are launching a series introducing influential women of the Bauhaus movement – a movement that is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Elevating Craft to Art
“Being creative is not so much the desire to do something as the listening to that which wants to be done: the dictation of the materials.” – Anni Albers
On its 100th anniversary, you may hear much of the Bauhaus, the iconic German art school which had its beginning in Dessau, Germany in 1919 under the leadership of Walter Gropius and which bridged the gap between fine and applied art. You might have read of the Gesamtkunstwerk concept (complete work of art) which the school embraced. You may be familiar with the international artists who taught alongside German artists: Wassily Kandinsky (Russian), Paul Klee (Swiss), Lyonel Feininger (American) and others. You might know that after its dissolution in 1933, some of the Bauhaus staff emigrated elsewhere: Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer continued their work in Chicago; Walter Gropius taught at Harvard; and Bauhaus-trained Jewish students designed apartments for the “White City” in Tel Aviv.
What you may not have heard of are the women of the Bauhaus.
Although the Bauhaus “welcomed any person of good repute, without regard to age or sex,” women were excluded from some disciplines. Disappointed that she could not enroll in the school’s stained glass class after fulfilling her core coursework, Annelise Else Frieda Fleischmann enrolled in the weaving class which was open to female students. She quickly mastered the technical aspects of weaving, pushed the traditional boundaries, and began experimenting with traditional and non-traditional methods and materials. Her innate curiosity of traditional and newly-developed materials allowed her to break free from accepted norms and pushed her creativity into new directions. Drawings and designs from those years often show randomly-placed color shapes inspired by the artist’s visits to the opera.
“There were so few chances to execute a stained glass window…So the only thing that was open to me was the weaving workshop. And I thought that was rather sissy…once I got started I got rather intrigued with the possibilities there.” – Anni Albers in a 1968 interview with Sevim Fesci, Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art.
The young student married Josef Albers, who had risen to Junior Master at the school, in 1925 and took over the weaving department in 1931 after the departure of its head, Gunta Stölzl. In her new position, she taught weaving and design and continued to experiment with geometric designs and non-traditional materials such as horsehair, jute, paper, metallic thread, artificial silk, and cellophane.
In 1929, Anni Albers accepted a unique challenge when she was asked to correct the inadequate acoustics of the Bauhaus auditorium. She studied the properties of materials traditionally used for sound suppression such as velvet and experimented with new kinds of synthetic fibers. By attaching light-reflective cellophane to sound-absorbing cotton and chenille on the back, she won acclaim for her innovative and effective solution which could be mass-produced and which furthered innovation in theater design.
Some kids are sweet, some kids are annoying and others might be called a Lausbub! This German word describes little rascals who are always up to no good.
The German word Laus means “louse” and Bub means “boy” – a combination of words that seems fitting for the term’s definition. A Lausbub is usually a young boy who is brash, naughty, up to no good and loves playing pranks. The closest English translations would be “rascal”, “scamp” or “scallywag”. You can never trust a Lausbub, because you can never be quite sure what sort of mischievous activities he is planning!
Adults often use the term to describe a little rascal in a loving way. Occasionally an adult might also be called a Lausbub – but that probably suggests he is acting childish.
The term Lausbub is most often used in southern Germany. Synonyms include Lausejunge, Bengel, Lümmel, Lauser, Rotzbub and Rotzjunge.
You might have heard the stereotype: Germans have no sense of humor. A 2007 survey of 30,000 people ranked Germany as the country with the worst sense of humor. We are not amused!
But perhaps German humor is simply misunderstood. Many German words – especially compound word constructions – are lost in translation, simply because there is no equivalent in other languages. Our “Word of the Week” series should help you understand words as complex as Backpfeifengesicht (“a face in need of slapping”), Honigkuchenpferd (“honey cake horse”) and Kabelsalat (“cable salad”). The more you understand Germany’s strangest and most unusual words, the more humor you will find in the language!
British comedian Stewart Lee agrees. In an op-ed he wrote for The Guardian, he said it took him a while to understand German humor – but once he did, he couldn’t stop laughing. Much of English-language humor, he said, stems from words that have double or triple meanings, thereby creating humor that thrives on confusion. Since the German language has so many compound words and specificity, “it provides fully functional clarity”.
As a result, Lee writes, the German “sense of humor is built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context.”
“I looked back over the time I had spent in Hannover and suddenly found situations that had seemed inexplicable, even offensive at the time, hilarious in retrospect. On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. ‘You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,’ one of them said. ‘That is because you bombed them all.’ At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor.”
But despite the differences between English and German humor, there are plenty of German stand-up comedians, some of which perform their acts in English! Notable German comedians include classics Loriot and Karl Valentin and modern comedians Dieter Nuhr, Anke Engelke, Eckart von Hirschhausen, Oliver Welke and Tom Gerhardt.
Do you ever look at someone and feel like punching them in the face? Well, Germans have a unique word for that face: a Backpfeifengesicht — a face that’s badly in need of a fist.
This is one of those strange words that’s uniquely German with no English equivalent. The word Backpfeife means “punch/slap” (on the cheek/face) and Gesicht means “face”. The word Backpfeifengesicht therefore means something along the lines of “a face that’s begging to be slapped” – or punched. Or hurt. You get the picture.
We’re sure you know someone with a Backpfeifengesicht – someone you just can’t get through to without a good punch or a slap. Maybe it’s your mortal enemy. Maybe it’s someone with a stupid grin that you’d like to wipe off that face. Maybe it’s a person who tells insulting jokes that make others cry. Or maybe it’s someone whose face you just can’t stand, for whatever reason. To you, that face is is need of a fist – and you’re thinking about giving it one.
A well-known German punk band, Die Ärzte, titled one of their songs “Backpfeifengesicht”. The lyrics revolve around a person who has a stupid look on his face – a look that nauseates the songwriter.