Word of the Week: Weichei

A “Weichei” (soft egg) has nothing to do with eating breakfast in Germany and everything to do with insulting a (usually) male individual by suggesting he really should “man up” about something or other, lest he run the risk of mockery for his wimpy ways.

This expression, like many jocular insults, is often used in jest of course. But it can be deployed to suggest someone is really being a “wimp” – either as a general character trait or within the context of a certain situation.

Yet another German compound noun, it is comprised of the words “weich” (soft) and “Ei” (egg), to literally mean “soft egg,” but actually mean “wimp.” It is thereby a synonym of sorts for “Feigling” (coward).

Another similar expression that boils down to mean just about the same thing is “Warmduscher”, which literally means “hot showerer.” This expression is used to connote someone who is a “wimp” because he (again, this usually applies exclusively to guys!) takes hot showers.

So if you are a guy and happen to be in Germany and hear someone call you a “Weichei” or a “Warmduscher”, you may want to ask why you have been branded a “wimp” by somebody.

“Waschlappen” (wash cloth) and “Memme” – a reference (like Mamme, or mammory) to female breasts – are also similar to “Weichei” in that they may be used as to describe a “wet rag” or “womanly” type of “wimpy” or “sissy” guy.

A “Weichei”, however has nothing to do with the soft-boiled eggs Germans enjoy during breakfast.

This is not the kind of Weichei we’re talking about.

Word of the Week: Leseratte

Do you read every night? Are you obsessed with your book collection? Do you feel like there’s something missing whenever you’re without the pages of your favorite author? Germans would likely call you a Leseratte!

In German, lesen means “to read” and Ratte means “rat” — yes, the kind you might find in the subway tunnel… or the pet store. So directly translated, Leseratte means “reading rat”.

But don’t feel insulted.

The word Ratte is often used to define someone who loves something very much. A Leseratte is a person who loves picking up a good book. Meanwhile, a Wasserratte is a person who loves being in the water (Wasser means “water”) and a Landratte is someone who is afraid to set foot on a boat and would rather spend his or her life on land.

But unlike a “book worm” (in German: Bücherwurm) who lives with his nose between the pages (and doesn’t get out very much!), a Leseratte simply loves to read. The closest English equivalent would be an “avid reader”.

The colloquial term originated in the late 19th century and has been used ever since. Rats were considered voracious creatures and people who “devoured” books without end were thus compared to rats. Although the presence of the word “rat” may give the word a slightly negative connotation, a Leseratte describes someone who possesses a love of books — which is in no way negative. So crack those books and keep on reading, you Leseratte!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Schlaumeier

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A “Schlaumeier” is someone who is clever or cunning. Given that this expression is deployed more often than not in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, it is best to be on your guard if someone calls you a “Schlaumeier.”

In German, “schlau” means clever, whereas “Meier” is a common surname, like “Smith” in English. Back in the Middle Ages, a “Meier” was someone who administered the property of a noble or ecclesiastical landowner. They often worked on a “Meierhof” or “Meiergut” (farm or estate). Later, as regular folk acquired more property rights, a “Meier” was also an independent sharecropper or farmer. Similarly, a “Meierei” was a “Pachtgut” (leasehold) farm or a dairy, which is also known as a “Molkerei.

Somehow over the centuries the expression “Schlaumeier” evolved to mean a clever, cunning or crafty person. Somebody who believes they are particularly clever may, in this vein, be jokingly branded a “Schlaumeier.”

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Synonyms for “Schlaumeier” include “Schlauberger,” “Schlaufuchs” (clever fox), and “Schlaukopf” (clever head). More critical synonyms might be “Angeber” (show-off), “Besserwisser” (know-it-all), “Intelligenzbestie” (intelligence ‘beast’) or – more colloquially – “Klugscheißer,” “Klugschnacker” or “Klugschwätzer” – all variations of what could essentially be defined as a kind of “know-it-all” teller of tall tales.

So “Schlaumeier” is usually a verbal imposter: This would-be compliment might more often than not be laced with a facetious undertone. Yet this expression is usually issued as a missive from one person to another in jest. So if someone exclaims in a teasing tone “Hey, du Schlaumeier du!” (Hey, you Schlaumeier you!), it could be interpreted as an exasperated or mocking term of endearment, especially when accompanied by a friendly pat on the back and a hearty chuckle.

A fun and oft-used related phrase in German is “Vereinsmeier” (Club-Meier). It pertains to Germans’ penchant for joining all sorts of clubs, such as athlectic clubs, gardening clubs or chess clubs. Germans like to get together in such clubs or associations (Vereine). Someone who, however, might be considerd to be too involved in too many such clubs, or take his or her involvement in such clubs just a tad too seriously, is often mockingly or derisively described as a “Vereinsmeier.”

Both “Schlaumeier” and “Vereinsmeier” are masculine nouns that are hardly ever used in a feminine form. Variations of the surname Meier, incidentally, include Maier, Mair, Mayer, Mayr, Meyer and Meyr.

Word of the Week: Dampfplauderer

You know that friend of yours who just won’t stop talking? That person you can never get off the phone, or the person who goes on and on with pointless stories? Germans have a name for someone like this: a Dampfplauderer! A Dampfplauderer is a person who has always has something to say, but never says anything of substance. This sort of person likes to hear him or herself talk. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re often stuck listening to a Dampfplauderer, pretending to be interested while contemplating how to end the conversation. The English translation for the word Dampfplauderer is “chatterbox” – and that’s a pretty good translation. The word chatterbox, after all, is usually associated with someone that has a lot of idle chatter, but says very few meaningful things. Listening to a Dampfplauderer, you might start wondering what the point of their story is, only to realize there is no point. The term consists of the words Dampf, which means “steam”, and plauder, which means “chat”. So a literal translation could be “steam chatter” – someone whose words come out like steam – lacking real substance.

Whether it’s a friend who likes to talk or someone who speaks too much in meetings, I’m sure we have all got a Dampfplauderer in our lives!

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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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