Amazon forest fires: Germany stands ready to help

You might have heard about the massive wildfires that are burning in the Amazon rainforest at the present moment. The Amazon generates more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. It is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”, so when it is threatened, it becomes an international issue. Leaders around the world have expressed their concern about the fires, and on Friday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that Germany is ready to help.

“When the rainforest burns for weeks on end, then we cannot remain indifferent,” Minister Maas said. “We cannot allow fires to destroy the green lungs of the world. Protecting the unique natural heritage of the Amazon rainforest is an international task that concerns us all. Germany stands ready to offer help and support for tackling the fires.”

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Rennpappe: the “running 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 “running cardboard”.

The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to 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.

©dpa / picture alliance

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.

©dpa / picture alliance

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.

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Berlin has a museum dedicated to currywurst. We’re not joking.

© dpa / picture-alliance

If you’ve ever been to Germany, you surely know about Germans’ love for currywurst!

In fact, Germans love currywurst so much that they even have a museum dedicated to it.

The Currywurst Museum, located in downtown Berlin, is dedicated to the popular sausage dish, presenting everything from the history of the currywurst to its presence in film, TV and music. The interactive museum also features exhibits such as spice sniffing stations, a sausage sofa, ketchup-bottle-shaped audio stations and virtual currywurst-making stations.

Located right near Checkpoint Charlie, the Currywurst Museum is an unusual and entertaining addition to any Berlin trip – especially with kids!

But how did this strange museum come into being?

© dpa / picture-alliance

The museum opened its doors in August 2009 – 60 years after the invention of the currywurst. This popular German sausage was created by Berlin resident Herta Heuwer in 1949. Back then, Germany was suffering the aftermath of World War II and there was a shortage of food. So Heuwer experimented: she got a hold of some ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers and added these ingredients to a traditional German Bratwurst. She then began to sell this newly invented currywurst at a stand near Checkpoint Charlie. Her creation was a hit, and she eventually reached a point where she was selling up to 10,000 currywurst sausages a week.

The founder of the Currywurst Museum, Martin Loewer, realized how important this food item became in Germany and created the museum to acknowledge its impact. The museum currently receives about 350,000 visitors per year.

© dpa / picture-alliance
© dpa / picture-alliance

This map shows the German-born German population in the USA in 1870

*Before the actually blog post, it should be stated from the outset that we are dealing with raw numbers here, not percentages* Ok, let’s get into it!

All yee German-born, step right up and be gezählt (counted)!

The practice of taking a head-count of the population of a nation dates back to ancient Egypt. It helps governments know if they’re growing, shrinking, where to send government services (or soldiers 😮 ), and it’s just kind of nifty information to have!

The US follows this tradition. The very first US census of 1790 occurred while the ink was still drying on the US Constitution. President Washington was a year into his first term, and Congress wanted to make sure they knew “the aggregate amount of each description of persons”. While it was a highly imperfect system, it started a practice that has lasted through the life of the nation.

One such census occurred in 1870. Well, it actually went all the way in 1871, but that’s not such a critical detail! As you can see in the old map below, the Census Bureau had a particular interest in the presence of an ever-increasing segment of the population: Germans!

© Wikimedia Commons

A few German immigrants made it over for the Jamestown colony, and the largest and earliest German settlers went to Pennsylvania. The number of Germans really picked up in the 19th century, exceeding any other group. And that can be seen on our map today, which shows the raw number of German-born people in each state, according to the 9th Census in 1870.

Here’s a table of the data from the census, and below it, our map. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to follow us @GermanyinUSA for more content about the links between Germany and the USA!

By William Fox, German Embassy

Why did the GDR build the Berlin Wall?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an important date in German history. But while this year’s focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let’s not forget how everything began.

During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.

GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn’t long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.

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German “Mauerspechte” responsible for Berlin Wall souvenirs

If you’ve ever traveled to Germany, there’s a good chance you’ve seen tiny pieces of the Berlin Wall for sale at a souvenir shop. But the wall is gone – so where did these colorful pieces come from?

After the East German border was opened up nearly 30 years ago, countless people made their way to the wall, equipped with pickaxes and sledgehammers. They tirelessly chipped away at the wall. Their motivations varied, but in general such a person was called a Mauerspecht.

In German, Mauer means wall and Specht means woodpecker. A Mauerspecht, therefore, refers to a person who chips away at a wall (specifically, the Berlin Wall, since the word arose in this context and had never been used before). The closest English equivalent would be the word “stonepecker.”

©dpa / picture alliance

After the border was opened, many Germans flocked to the wall, eager to help break apart the object that blocked their freedom for so long. To many, chipping at the wall was an emotional act in which they gained power over a restrictive barrier that was now a symbol of their triumph. Previously, this concrete structure was representative of the political system that confined and controlled the people in the GDR through fear, which made it even more satisfying for the wall’s former victims to break it apart themselves.

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A German guide to complaining about the weather

Complaining about the weather is an international art form, one at which the Germans excel. But when done incorrectly, one can sound like an awkward outsider.

“Oh man, it’s raining cats and dogs!” said no real person ever. Say that in an actual English-speaking place and heads will tilt.

“Man, this weather sucks so bad!” said a real person at some point. Say that in an actual English-speaking place and heads will nod in agreement!

The same goes for German. Sure, you could say, “Das Wetter ist nicht schön” (“The weather is not nice”), but that’s boring! Finding a playful cynical phrase to describe the crappy weather is the perfect way to fit right in. It’s camaraderie built over a shared experience of wet socks and/or icy windshields.

So how can we express our distaste of yet another cloudy, muggy, rainy, snow-filled, hot, humid, garbage-weather day? Here are 11 words and phrases to help you out:

1. “Was für ein Wetter!” (direct translation: “What weather!” meaning: “Isn’t this weather bad?”)

2. “So ein Sauwetter!” (“Such lousy weather!”)

3. “So ein Mistwetter” (“Such crappy weather”)

4. “Es regnet wie aus Eimern!” (“It’s raining buckets!”)

Here’s a fancy one:

5. “Bei dem Wetter schicht man keinen Hund vor die Tür!” (“This weather’s so bad you wouldn’t even put your dog out!”)

6. “Es ist saukalt!” (“It is sooo cold!”). “Sau” serves to replace “so” in slang. Together with the word “kalt” it means “so cold”

7. “Schmuddelwetter. Schmuddelwetter.” (“Nasty weather. Foul Weather”) *nasty, foul, and dreary all seem to work as translations here.

Here are a couple bonus words that can help you to describe those in-between weather conditions:

8. “Schneematsch”  (Literally: “snow mud”. Alternatively “slush”)
It refers to that brown, dirty slush that you find on the streets in the days after it has snowed.

9. “Nieselregen” (“drizzle”) Nieselregen is the German word for drizzle, or a very light rain.

Here’s one with a little more optimism:

10. “Morgengrau gibt Himmelblau” (Literally: “Morning grey gives way to a blue sky”, alternatively “Dawn brings a blue sky”)

While Germans have many colorful ways to be grumpy about the weather, it’s all a part of persevering and coping. Therefore, we wanted to leave you with one last expression to help you get through that rough, rainy, rancid day. It’s a bit of German practicality and wisdom:

11. “Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur die falsche Kleidung.”
(“There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothes”)

By William Fox, German Embassy

A German surprise: First Graders look forward to their Schultüten

A girl carries her Schultüte in the year 1905. ©dpa / picture alliance

For many Americans and their families, it’s back-to-school season! For some parents, this means back-to-school shopping for supplies, clothes and other needs for their children. In Germany, however, First Graders get a special treat on their first day of school: a Schultüte (“school cone”)!

A Schultüte is colorful and elaborately decorated cone that is given to German students on their first day of first grade. A typical “school cone” is prepared by a students’ parents and filled to the brim with goodies such as small school supplies (like pens, pencil cases, erasers, etc.) , toys and candy. These bundles of gifts evoke excitement in students during one of the most important days of their childhood – the day that school begins. As kids make their way to their new classrooms, they proudly carry their Schultüten with them. Receiving a Schultüte is often a highlight of a First Grader’s childhood. Many Germans eagerly reflect back on their first day of first grade, picturing their “school cones” and remembering the excitement that these gifts brought them.

This German tradition originated in the early 1800s in the cities of Jena, Dresden and Leipzig. Back then, parents brought the Schultüten directly to the schools, where they were hung on a so-called Schultütenbaum (“school cone tree”) in the classroom. When the tree was “ripe” with school cones, it meant that students were ready to begin first grade. On the first day of school, students were instructed to pick the cone with their name on it. To their surprise, the cones were usually filled with edible treats such as pretzels and candy.

Naturally, the tradition spread and evolved over time. Today, students often receive their Schultüten before they leave their homes to go to school – and their cones are often filled with school supplies, rather than candy. Even Austria and the Czech Republic have adopted this fun back-to-school tradition. So while American kids are often busy back-to-school shopping with their parents, German kids will receive a lot of these items in their cones!

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geisterbahnhof

Have you ever been on a metro train that passed through an empty station?
The word Geisterbahnhof means “ghost train station” – and as its translation implies, it signifies an empty or out-of-service station that gives off a ghostly vibe. This word originated during the Cold War, when so-called “ghost stations” arose in Berlin’s public transportation system. Today, however, the word may also be used to refer to any desolate train station, regardless of its location.

When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the transportation system in Berlin was drastically affected. Parts of Berlin’s metro system (called the U-Bahn) were in the East and others were in the West, leading to a divided railway system. Many lines ran through both parts, and in most cases, they were split to create individual lines. In these instances, trains would stop at the border and turn around. But some Western lines – specifically the U6 and the U8 – ran through small portions of East Berlin. These lines took Western commuters from one part of West Berlin to another, but not without going through the desolate Eastern stations that became known as Geisterbahnhöfe.

These ghostly out-of-service stations were heavily guarded by East German police. Barbed wire fences and an electrically charged third rail ensured that no East Germans would escape into the railway system. Trains slowed down as they traveled through these stations, but they did not stop. Looking out the U-Bahn windows at the dimly-lit platforms, commuters often had an eerie vibe. Over time, each of these desolate stations were referred to as a Geisterbahnhof. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, these stations reopened and have since been modernized – but the word is still used.

The entrance to an U-Bahn station in East Germany. ©dpa / picture alliance

Today, the term Geisterbahnhof describes any and all disused train stations. From New York to Hamburg to Moscow, many of the world’s metro systems have stations that are out of service – either temporarily or permanently. Looking out at the empty platforms as your train passes through one, the hairs on the back of your neck might stand on end as you imagine the ghosts of a station that has been shut down.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

This map shows you every single German island we could find. What did we miss?

When you think of Germany, you probably think of the typical stuff like beer, lederhosen, the Berlin Wall, trains, etc. But after looking at this map, you should also think of ocean islands!

It’s weird, isn’t it? We usually associate a smattering of near-coast islands with nations like Greece, Italy, or Japan. But Germany has its fair share as well! Have a look:

  1. Borkum
  2. Kachelotplate
  3. Memmert
  4. Juist
  5. Norderney
  6. Baltrum
  7. Langeoog
  8. Spiekeroog
  9. Insel Lütje Hörn
  10. Wangerooge
  11. Langlütjen II
  12. Minsener Oog
  13. Mellum
  14. Heligoland & Helgoland-Düne
  15. Nigerhörn
  16. Neuwerk
  17. Trischen
  18. Südfall
  19. Nordstrandischmoor
  20. Hooge
  21. Gröde
  22. Oland
  23. Föhr
  24. Sylt
  25. Norddorf
  26. Nordmarsch-Langeneß
  27. Japsand (sand)
  28. Norderoogsand (sand)
  29. Hallig Süderoog
  30. Pellworm 
  31. Fehmarn
  32. Walfisch
  33. Insel Poel
  34. Insel Langenwerder
  35. Ummanz
  36. Großer Werder
  37. Bock
  38. Hiddensee
  39. Greifswalder Oie
  40. Ruden
  41. Usedom (Eastern half is Poland)
  42. Insel Vilm
  43. Rügen

Continue reading “This map shows you every single German island we could find. What did we miss?”