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Word of the Week: Pappenheimer

Have you ever heard of a town called “Pappenheim”? Probably not … and frankly why should you? With its 4,030 residents, its castle ruin and its picturesque location in Bavaria south of Nuremberg, Pappenheim is just one of many beautiful and atmospheric small towns in Germany. However, somehow Pappenheim cannot be that ordinary. Why else would there be the popular word Pappenheimer in German. Most often, the expression “ich kenne meine Pappenheimer” is used, which means something like “I know my cardboard homies” or “I know my peers”.

Interestingly, this expression dates way back to the Thirty Years’ War. One of the cavalry units that fought against Sweden was led by Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim. Since his unit was widely known for being courageous, brave and loyal, Graf zu Pappenheim used the expression “ich kenne meine Pappenheimer” to emphasize his trust in his troops. The expression was then picked up by famous German writer Friedrich Schiller in his drama “Wallensteins Tod” (Wallenstein’s death), which is the third part of his Wallenstein trilogy. At one point in the drama, Wallenstein, who was the chief commander of the imperial troops in the Thirty Years’ War, acknowledges the loyalty of Graf zu Pappenheims’ cavalry unit by saying “Daran erkenn’ ich meine Pappenheimer” (That’s why I know my peers). Thus, Pappenheimer was a very positive expression at that time.

Nowadays that cavalry units are slightly outdated, the meaning of Pappenheimer has also changed. When you call somebody a Pappenheimer then you know his weaknesses and guilty pleasures very well as well as what you have to expect of him or what he got up to. Thus, on the one hand the expression is slightly derogatory. On the other hand, a Pappenheimer is someone who makes mistakes but because he actually has a good heart you can’t really be mad at him. Pappenheimer has hence also an ironic and nice touch.

Imagine for example you have kids who, after playing soccer in the backyard, come to tell you with guilty looka that for some unknown reason (of course it was not them…) two flower vases are broken. Then you might say with a knowing smile “Ich kenne meine Pappenheimer“.

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