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.

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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.

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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!

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Germany’s most frightening lake: the Schrecksee

High up in the German Alps is a lake so eerie that it’s known as the Schrecksee (“fright lake”).  With an elevation of 5,949 feet, the Schrecksee is Germany’s highest alpine lake – and it’s often covered in fog.

While some might consider it spooky, others would call it beautiful: the Schrecksee has a mystical feel to it.

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Located in the Swabian region of Allgäu, the natural lake lies in the Alps — but getting there is no easy feat. Hiking up to the Schrecksee takes about seven to eight hours round-trip, on average. The views, however, are worth the effort: the Austrian border is located only about 1,000 feet away and hikers can peer over to Germany’s neighbor from the Schrecksee.

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Those wanting to cool off can swim in the lake — but with temperatures around 55 degrees in the summer, few find the desire to do so.

Today, the Schrecksee remains a lesser-known travel destination in Germany, perhaps due to the difficulty in reaching it. But for those with a sense of adventure and motivation for a long hike, the Schrecksee is well worth the journey! And it’s also a great place to practice social distancing. Just make sure to start your hike early enough to make it back down before sunset.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Can you fit through the world’s narrowest street?

Where is the world’s narrowest street?

Some might guess Venice. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the narrowest street is located in the town of Reutlingen, Germany.

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The Spreuerhofstraße is located between two closely linked buildings. This street is on average 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) wide, and just 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) wide at its narrowest point.

Although some may be inclined to call this an alleyway, the people of Reutlingen insist that it is in fact a street, since it is located on municipal land.

Let’s take a look at how this passageway became an official street:

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In 1727, the city was being reconstructed after a massive city-wide fire destroyed many parts of Reutlingen. In 1820, an administrator in the city’s town hall decided to elevate this gap between two houses into a street. It is wide enough for the average person to walk through, which is one of the prerequisites for the classification of a street. For a long time, Spreuerhofstraße did not receive much attention. But once the Guinness Book of World Records gave the street its title in 2007, tourists started flocking to Reutlingen to see it. But before you start planning a future trip, keep in mind that this street is not particularly long or attractive and we would only recommend going there if you are in the area already! It is also not a great place to practice social distancing, considering how little room there is in the alleyway.

Only time will tell how long this street will remain; one of the 18th century houses is already leaning into it, making it even smaller. It may soon be too small to be considered a street at all!

© Nicole Glass

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Fruchtfleisch

With summer around the corner, many of us are drinking more smoothies and fruit juice than usual. From fresh-squeezed orange juice to strawberry smoothies, there’s plenty of options to energize yourself on a hot day! But here’s a question for you: with Fruchtfleisch or without?

Some of us love it, some of us don’t. Fruchtfleisch comes from the words Frucht (“fruit”) and Fleisch (“meat”). But this type of “meat” is one that our vegetarians can comfortably consume. Fruchtfleisch means the “meat of the fruit” – basically, the internal part of a fruit (the part that most people eat). Fruchtfleisch can refer to the inside of the fruit or it can refer to pulp (since pulp is made up of a fruit’s “meat”). Some people prefer their juice with Fruchtfleisch, while others buy it without it.

When you peel an orange, the inside of the orange is called its Fruchtfleisch. Similarly, when you drink orange juice with pulp, you would refer to the pulp as Fruchtfleisch.

The Fruchtfleisch has more vitamins than the juice alone. Plus, it has fiber! So make sure to eat your “meat”!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Liegewiese

What do Germans do in the summer? Some travel, some hike, some swim – and others simply lounge on a Liegewiese.

The German word Liegewiese has no English equivalent. It comes from liegen (“to lie down”) and Wiese (“field”). Directly translated, Liegewiese means “lying-down-field”. It defines a place that Germans like to go when they want to relax – a grassy field.

A Liegewiese is simply just a lawn – often next to a swimming area – where people go to sunbathe. It’s essentially not more than a large patch of grass, but this grassy area is unique because it attracts sunbathers. If you visit an outdoor swimming pool in Germany in the summertime, you’ll probably notice a large area next to it where people lounge on their beach-towels in the grass. Some may have umbrellas and chairs; others lie on just a towel. Clearly Germans appreciate the simple pleasures of life; a Liegewiese has few features to it aside from mowed grass.

A Liegewiese is a great alternative for sunbathers who have no access to a beach. And at times like these, finding yourself an isolated grassy patch may be a great way to catch some rays.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Spargelzeit

It’s white asparagus time! Well, in Germany it is. In fact, this time of year is so significant to Germans that it even has it’s own name: Spargelzeit!

The word Spargel means asparagus and Zeit means time. The term Spargelzeit refers to the time of year when white asparagus is harvested in Germany (some call it Spargelsaison – “asparagus season”). For Germans, it’s a special time of year: after all, they can’t always get fresh white asparagus in the supermarkets! White asparagus grows underground with no exposure to sunlight, thus keeping it from turning green. It’s a healthy food that’s rich in nutrients and low in calories, making it an especially good choice for those who are health conscious. Most German regions have soil rich enough to grow white asparagus, but Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony grow more asparagus than other states and take pride in this fact. The city of Schwetzingen, located in Baden-Württemberg, calls itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World” and even hosts an annual Spargelfest (asparagus festival). To be fair, though, there’s many regions that host a springtime Spargelfest.

In Germany, asparagus lovers often use the white stalks to prepare a traditional meal that consists of asparagus, hollandaise sauce, Black Forest Ham and boiled potatoes. There are countless other recipes whose prime ingredient is white asparagus, and Germans only have a short time to try them all out: the Spargelzeit is typically over by mid-June. So if you’re in Germany in the springtime, make sure to see what the hype is about and order a dish that contains white asparagus – you won’t regret it (unless you hate vegetables)! 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Gewohnheitstier

Are you a creature of habit? Do you wake up at the same time every day, eat the same meal every morning, take the same route to work – and like it that way? If so, Germans would call you a Gewohnheitstier

The word Gewohnheit roughly translates to “habit” and Tier means “animal”. A Gewohnheitstier is someone that’s a so-called “habit animal” that lives the same routine every day, by choice. This type of person hates change and strives to maintain a certain lifestyle. 

A typical Gewohnheitstier might, for example, have their alarm set for 7 a.m. every morning, leave their home by 7:45, pick up a coffee on the way and arrive at the office at 8:30 sharp. After work, the Gewohnheitstier might choose to take an afternoon walk along the same route that he or she always takes. The Gewohnheitstier may then watch their favorite nightly news channel, read exactly 30 pages in a book and hit the sack at the same time every night. Sound like anyone you know? 

For a Gewohnheitstier, this sort of lifestyle is enjoyable. But lack of flexibility might make certain situations difficult, such as travel or any change in one’s environment. If the grocery store runs out of their favorite breakfast ingredients or they are taking a trip to another country, then the Gewohnheitstier is forced to break their routine.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Eselsbrücke

Do you have a hard time remembering information, whether you’re studying for a biology test or trying to remember an address? Do you have a method to help you? 

In German, a trick that helps you retain information is called an Eselsbrücke – which literally translates to “donkey bridge.” A close (but less humorous) English equivalent would be “mnemonic device”. But why call a mnemonic device a “donkey bridge”? Everyone knows that donkeys aren’t the most intelligent of creatures. 

Donkeys are stubborn and hate going through water, since they have a hard time estimating its depth. As a result, they are very careful – and prefer staying on dry land. Back in the day – when donkeys were used to transport heavy loads over long distances – people built little bridges for them to cross over streams and rivers (spoiled, right?). These bridges were a short cut to a destination – just like an Eselsbrücke is a short cut to your memory! 

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Today, an Eselsbrücke refers to those catchy phrases or other mnemonic devices you might use to trigger your memory. You probably remember ROY G. BIV – the acronymn used to remember the spectrum of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) Or maybe you dictated the phrase “My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies” to remember the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) – back when Pluto was considered a planet, that is.

Whatever your method, whatever your style, just remember that an Eselsbrücke is the tool you are using to retain that information. And who knows, maybe you’ll need your own Eselsbrücke to remember this word!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy