Word of the Week: Sitzriese

Have you ever been to a movie theater and found yourself seated behind the tallest person in the room? This person’s head was probably blocking your view, leaving you frustrated throughout the film. In German, there’s a special word for this kind of person: Sitzriese (“seated giant”)!

The word Sitzriese comes from sitzen (“to sit) and Riese (“giant”). It defines a person who looks deceptively tall while sitting down. A Sitzriese typically has a long waist and short legs, making them appear tall while seated and short while standing up.

On the contrary, the German word Sitzzwerg (“seated dwarf”) refers to the opposite – someone who appears short while sitting, but tall while standing up.

We’re all different shapes and sizes, and you can be sure that the Germans have a nickname for everyone! But if you’re at a concert, movie theater or a performance, you better hope that you end up behind the Sitzzwerg, since the Sitzriese will block your view!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Stolpersteine: Stumbling Into History

Scattered throughout Europe, planted in the streets and sidewalks of cities whose past is not forgotten, commemorative brass plaques eternalize the lives that were lost in the great tragedy of the 20th century. Called the Stolpersteine (in English: “stumbling stones”), the shiny bronze plaques commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime in more than 1,100 locations in 21 countries.

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More than 67,000 of these stones are solidly rooted across cities in Europe, including 916 places in Germany alone, where large strides have been taken to memorialize Jewish life, history and culture. Each Stolperstein commemorates a victim of the Holocaust at that person’s last known address. The plaque includes the victim’s name, date of birth, deportation date and death date, if known. In Berlin, more than 5,000 Stolpersteine have been carefully implanted in the city’s sidewalks and streets, serving as a constant reminder of the many valuable lives lost tragically during the Holocaust.

But unlike many museums, the stones specifically pay tribute to individuals – names that can too often be forgotten when focusing on the sheer number of victims the Holocaust accounts for. Standing before a stumbling stone in a vibrant neighborhood in Berlin, the world comes to a stand-still as the engraved name of a single individual triggers an empathetic reflection of the life that might have been lived on that very street.

Multiple stumbling stones are often found on the same street, marking former locations of deportation. They therefore put into question what has often been said by many Germans – namely that they didn’t know what happened to their next-door neighbors who suddenly vanished.

The Stolpersteine are a project initiated by German artist Gunter Demnig, who strives to bring back the names of the millions of Jews, gays, Gypsies, and politically or otherwise persecuted victims who were either killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 or driven to commit suicide.

“A person is only forgotten when his or her name is forgotten,” Demnig frequently says, citing the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud. Frequently, it’s family members of Holocaust victims who sponsor a stone in memory of a loved one. Sometimes, residents purchase a stone in honor of a victim who once lived in their building. And on other occasions, people sponsor stones simply to promote the project and help preserve the memory of those who suffered – without having any particular ties to an individual. Whenever someone chooses to sponsor a stone, Demnig visits that location personally to install it and say a few words about the meaning of his work.

The Stolpersteine are embedded securely into the ground, so “stumbling” over them is meant in a figurative sense: by spotting these tiny memorials, people stumble over them with their hearts and minds, stopping in their tracks to read the inscriptions and bring someone back to life. Even though each stone takes up only a few inches of space, all 67,000 Stolpersteine dispersed throughout the continent together make up the largest Holocaust memorial in the world.

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Travel Tuesday: Partnach Gorge

The Parnachklamm (“Partnach Gorge”) consists of rock strata formed 240 million years ago. © dpa / picture-alliance

In the mountains of the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the Partnach Gorge – a natural monument filled with waterfalls, rapids, caves and beautiful water basins.

The 2,303 ft long gorge is incised by a mountain stream and visitors can walk through it year-round.

The hike along the Partnach Gorge goes partially through mountainous caves. © dpa / picture-alliance

The sedimentary rock strata of the gorge (called Muschelkalk in German) was formed 240 million years ago – back when the region was still a shallow sea. Traces of the burrowing and feeding of marine animals can still be seen on the strata. The gorge itself was formed many millions of years ago when the Partnach stream cut into the rocks, creating  a river that flows through the mountains and forms the gorge.

Back in the 18th century, local Germans used the gorge to transport firewood to nearby towns on a raft. This, however, was quite dangerous, due to the strong current of the Partnach Gorge.

Today, however, the gorge is more of a tourist attraction than a method of firewood transportation. There is a small entrance fee in the summer months.

The Partnach Gorge is filled with icicles in the winter months. © dpa / picture-alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Germany: Home to more than 20,000 castles

Many travelers who come to Germany choose to visit the country’s many majestic castles and palaces. But even those who don’t go out of their way to visit one may stumble across the ruins of a medieval castle: Germany has over 20,000 castles, some of which are well-known tourist attractions and others that lay isolated in the countryside.

The most famous castle is, of course, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was built in the Bavarian hillside in the late 1800s. Walt Disney’s castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, and the site is known worldwide for its magical appearance. It is Germany’s most-visited castle, bringing in over 1.3 million tourists per year.

Another well-known castle is the Burg Eltz, which looks as if it came straight out of a fairytale. This magical medieval castle lies on a hill near the River Rhine. It has belonged to the same family for over 800 years. Near Frankfurt, Frankenstein’s Castle may attract those are fascinated by scary stories. The fortress was once the home to mad scientists John Konrad Dippel, who was known to conduct freaky experiments on corpses. Some believe that the author of the Frankenstein story was inspired by his work.

Further south, the picturesque Heidelberg Castle overlooks the town below it, making you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. The romantic ruins of the castle loom over the town, attracting many artists, poets and writers seeking inspiration.

The famous Hohenzollern Castle, located on a mountain in the Swabian Alps, is currently celebrating a milestone: this year marks 165 years since construction began and 150 years since its completion.

“This castle was built to show the unification of the German peoples after the revolution in 1848 – 1849. But it was never the home for the Prince of Prussia. It was not built as a residence but rather as a cultural memorial. Today it is protected by the German memorial protection,” Anja Hoppe, manager of Hohenzollern Castle, told CCTV.

These are among the most well-known castles in Germany, but there are plenty more hidden and nameless castles that you’ve probably never heard about. So if you’re considering a trip to Germany, make sure to put a few castle visits on your to-do list.

Word of the Week: Strohwitwe

If someone calls themselves a Strohwitwe, they’re probably feeling lonely. A “straw widow” is someone who has been temporarily left alone by her partner.

The word Stroh means “straw” and Witwe means “widow”, but fortunately this type of widowhood does not last forever – so don’t offer your condolences just yet! A Strohwitwe has been left to sleep alone in her shared bed for an undefined period of time. Back in the Middle Ages, Germans still slept on beds made of straw, which is where the analogy most likely comes from.

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Throughout German literary history, “straw” has often been used as a reference to a bed. A Strohbraut (“straw bride”), for example, was the term for a bride whose groom was not her first bed-partner. And in Goethe’s Faust, there is a passage that reads, Er geht stracks in die Welt hinein / Und lässt mich auf dem Stroh allein (“he goes straight into the world, and leaves me alone on the straw”).

There could be many reasons that someone calls herself a Strohwitwe: her partner might be traveling for several weeks or too busy to come home one night. And there is also a male equivalent: Strohwitwer – a man whose partner or wife has left him alone. In American English, the closest equivalent would be “grass widow” or “grass widower”.

But if you’re a Strohwitwe or Strohwitwer in this day and age, look on the bright side: you may be sleeping alone, but at least you’re not sleeping on a bed of straw!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: the Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes

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Many people know Germany for its quaint villages and Bavarian mountains, but the country is also home to many deep caverns shrouded in mystery. One such place is the Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes, which are colorful caves in Thuringia. So colorful, in fact, that the Guiness Book of World Records once named them the “most colorful cave grottoes in the world.”

In the 16th century, the caverns were used as an alum shale mine. Back then, alum was used in medicinal products, to tan animal hides and as a food preservative, among other uses. According to legend, some of the miners at work had an encounter with a beautiful fairy, who vanished as they approached her in the mines. This is how the grottoes received their name.

The caverns were mined for their alum shale for centuries, but more effective chemical compounds were developed over time and the grottoes were closed in 1850 and largely forgotten about. The caverns were rediscovered by explorers in 1910, who were amazed at the beautiful mineral deposits that has accumulated in the years that it was abandoned. The mineral deposits created interesting formations in shades of beige, red, brown and grey and these formations were reflected in the underground pools of water below them. The caverns were opened up for sightseeing in 1914 and are a popular tourist destination today.

Israelis in Berlin: Jewish life thrives in modern Germany

Jewish life is back in Berlin – but much different than in the metropolitan Golden Twenties. Over the last decade, Berlin has become one of the most desirable destinations among Israelis who choose to live abroad. In 2006, an estimated 3,000 Israelis lived in the German capital. Since then, Hebrew language and Israeli culture – hardly known and of little visibility back then – have increasingly contributed to Berlin’s international, multi-faceted face. In 2012, the Israeli Embassy in Berlin estimated the number of Israeli residents between 10,000 and 15,000. An exact figure is not available, since many Israeli Berliners hold a European passport.

For years, primarily Jewish students have decided to study in modern Germany’s capital. Today, an increasing number of Israeli families and young professionals are moving to the vibrant metropolis. A wide network of communication and exchange on living as an Israeli in Berlin has evolved. Social media, including blogs, Facebook groups and contact lists in the Jewish community help new arrivals feel at home.

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The Hebrew city magazine Spitz aims to bridge the gap between Israelis and Germans. For Tal Alon, who founded the magazine after moving with her family from Tel Aviv to Berlin in 2009, it is most important to create understanding on both sides for cultural diversity and Berlin’s many faces. Another communal platform for exchange and networking is the non-profit initiative “Habait”, founded by Nirit Bialer in 2011, which organizes various events ranging from theater performances in former industrial sites to the Tel Aviv Beach Party at the River Spree. The events are open to the public and seek to create a relaxed atmosphere of dialogue about Israeli culture between people living in Berlin.

But the question remains: Why Berlin?

In a ranking of European hot spots, the city was rated one of the most affordable cities, since rents and costs of living are relatively low. At the same time the German economy is dynamic, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs. Some districts – like Kreuzberg – are home to a vibrant art scene and serve as a platform for a creative crowd. Many Israeli artists and writers come to Berlin to dive into this atmosphere. Making a living as an artist appears to be easier there than elsewhere. All in all, Berlin is an easy-going and relaxed metropolis where living is less affected by security concerns than in busy Tel Aviv.

For young Israelis, Berlin is a life far from home, family and expectations they would otherwise be confronted with. Some may enjoy greater personal freedom in Berlin and a chance to pursue their own way of life.

Whether for a few days, a year or several decades, staying in Berlin means that every day is an encounter with people and cultures. Berlin is both creative and down to earth; a melting pot where people relax and innovative minds can pursue their hopes and dreams.

Word of the Week: Butterfahrt

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The German word Butterfahrt might sound strange at first. Literally translated, it means “butter ride” and might evoke images of smooth sailing. This word, however, defines a quick trip into duty-free waters to buy cheap goods – including, of course, butter.

A Butterfahrt takes place on a so-called Butterschiff (“butter ship”), which is basically just a regular ship that takes its passengers out beyond the German customs zone. Once outside of Germany, passengers are able to purchase certain goods and products for a lower price than they would be able to at home. The term Butterfahrt received its name because Germans frequently traveled to Denmark to purchase butter for a lower price. Other common items on a Butterfahrt include tobacco, alcohol and perfume.

The cost of a Butterfahrt is usually low or free, which has sometimes encouraged people to take advantage of the overseas trips, even if they didn’t plan to buy any products. It could certainly be used as a means to travel to a neighboring country for a very low price. Some “butter rides” have also included leisure activities in their program. In some cases, the trips even took place on buses, rather than boats.

The duty-free shopping trips generally took place from the years 1953 to 1999. Laws of the European Union have restricted such trips, but there have been a few exceptions: between 2002 and 2004, Butterfahrt trips took place between Germany and the Czech Republic, which didn’t join the EU until May 2004.

Today, Germans more commonly go on a Kaffeefahrt (“coffee ride”), which is based on the same concept. Passengers board a ship, where they are provided free coffee and cake (or lunch), while vendors sell their items on board. The so-called “coffee rides” tend to attract retirees who enjoy the complimentary food and drinks during the trip.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Travel Tuesday: Naumburg Cathedral

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The picturesque Naumburg Cathedral in eastern Germany is an 800-year-old cultural landmark that is famous for its Romanesque and Gothic architecture. This week, UNESCO designated the Naumburg Cathedral as a World Heritage site.

The Naumburg Cathedral is a masterpiece of human creativity,” Maria Böhmer, President of the German UNESCO Commission, told Deutsche Welle. “It is in line with the cathedrals of Amiens in France, Modena in Italy and Burgos in Spain.”

The cathedral is famous for the works of the Naumburg Master, a German architect and sculptor who combined architecture, statues and glass paintings in the building. His identity is unknown, but his artwork brings visitors from near and far alike.

One of the most famous pieces of art in the Naumburg Cathedral is the statue of St. Elisabeth of Thurinigia, who is considered one of the most important woman of the Middle Ages for her devotion to and sacrifice for the sick and the poor.

Continue reading “Travel Tuesday: Naumburg Cathedral”

Tourism in Germany is on the rise

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Germany.

Are you traveling to Germany this summer? Tourism is booming! The Federal Statistical Office released new data showing that incoming tourism in Germany increased by 4.8 percent from January to April (compared to the same period in 2017). There were 23.1 million recorded international overnight stays in German hotels during that time!

“One million additional nights in four months – this is further proof of the successful positioning of Germany as a travel destination,” said Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman of the Board of the German National Tourist Board (GNTB). The European market continues to grow by 3.6 percent and “the Asian and American markets continue to grow at a rate of 6.5 and 8.2 percent respectively.”

The GNTB report states that the United States continues to be the most important source of tourism in Germany. From January through April, 5 percent more Americans visited Germany than during that time in the previous year.

In a separate survey, the GNTB asked visitors to name their favorite destinations in Germany. Last year’s top 10 sights were the Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg (the world’s largest model railway exhibition), Europa-Park, Neuschwanstein Castle, Lake Constance, Old Town of

, Dresden’s old quarter, the Heidelberg Castle, Phantasialand, the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich and the Moselle Valley.