Travel Tuesday: Flower Island

On the south shore of Lake Überlinger near Konstanz is a place commonly known as “Flower Island”. As the name implies, the 45 hectar island of Mainau is covered in colorful flowers as far as the eye can see, making it an attractive destinations for summertime travelers.

The small island is notable for its many parks and gardens – particularly its roses. The island is home to about 30,000 rose bushes consisting of 1,200 varieties and 20,000 dahlias of 250 varieties. The Italian Rose Garden alone has more than 500 varieties of roses!

It even has an arboretum with 500 species of trees and a greenhouse with a tropical climate and hundreds of free-flying butterflies. The gardens are also home to a peacock enclosure and a petting zoo with ponies and goats.

The island originally belonged to the Order of Teutonic Knights, but it was purchased by the Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden in 1853. Frederick I used the palace on the island as his summer residence. Over the years, ownership of the island changed hands many times. In 1932, under the ownership of Prince Wilhelm, Duke of Södermanland, the island was gifted to the prince’s only child, Lennart Bernadotte, who started a foundation that continues to manage the island today.

Today, the island is open daily to visitors. Travelers who come to the island can relax among a sea of flowers, view the baroque Mainau castle and enjoy views of Lake Überlinger and Lake Constance.

CBYX student Alexander Locher says he gained “broader worldview”

Alexander Locher is participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), a student exchange program jointly sponsored by the US Congress and the German Bundestag.

Name: Alexander Locher

Grade: 10th

Hometown: Düsseldorf, Germany

Current location: Albuquerque, New Mexico / Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School

What motivated you to apply to the CBYX program?

After my teacher told me about the CBYX program, I was really excited. So I asked my parents what they think about the idea and even they liked it. For me personally I wanted to experience a new culture and a new environment and I wanted to get to know new people!

What reaction did you receive from friends and family when you decided to join CBYX?

My parents were really sad that I decided to join CBYX, but at the same time really supportive because they wanted me to have this experience. My friends nevertheless were really shocked about my decision, but after a couple of days they became very supportive too.

What was your first impression of the US? What was your first day like?

I was just impressed. Everything was new to me – even the little things excited me. However, I had an awesome first day because my host family made it really easy for me to integrate and they were really friendly and patient.

What was your first impression of your new American school?

I really liked my school. It is a relatively small school, so I wasn’t shocked by the size or anything. But I was really happy how people cared about me when I first arrived at my school and how easy it was to fit in!

In your opinion, what are some of the major differences between living in the US and living in Germany?

Everything in the US is big! It shocked me at the first moment, but after the first impression you get used to it and see the advantage of it!

What has been your favorite moment living in the US?

That is a hard question. I think I had several great moments in the US, but my favorite one was Christmas. The whole Christmas season was just amazing and it was great experience to celebrate in a new culture and with my host family!

What has been your biggest challenge about living in the US?

I think the culture shock. In the first days I struggled a little bit with the different cultures. But after the first week I got used to it!

How has CBYX helped you in your life?

CBYX really helped me in my life. Experiencing a new culture benefited my life in many ways – it gave me a broader worldview. Furthermore, the exchange changed my personality – I became more independent and open-minded.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about applying to CBYX?

Don’t be afraid of doing it. It is an experience that you can only gain once in your life. And even if you are afraid of leaving your family and friends at home, you will be supported as much as at home in the US by your host family and your American friends!

Word of the Week: Sauwetter

Look outside, what do you see? If it’s gray, rainy or cold, you’re experiencing what Germans would call Sauwetter – a term for lousy weather! Directly translated, however, Sauwetter means “pig weather”.

Cloudy with a chance of… pigs?

Not exactly.

When it rains, the earth becomes soft and mud beings to form. Pigs feel most comfortable in the mud – so a rainy day is ideal for them. On sunny days, pigs would much rather lie in the shade. Some say that the word Sauwetter was a term first used by hunters in German; since wild pigs are most active when it rains, the best times to hunt them is on a rainy day. As a result, such days were called Sauwetter (“pig weather”) days.

But the term Sau is used in front of other German words too. Animal names are often used as prefixes in the German language, giving those words the traits of the animal. In some parts of Germany, placing the term Sau in front of another word makes it more extreme and emphasizes its unpleasantness (pigs were often viewed as unpleasant and dirty). Two more examples are Saukalt (extremely cold) and Sauarbeit (dirty work).

Today, the word Sauwetter is used to describe any sort of unfortunate weather occasion, including rain, sleet, wet snow, extreme cold, flooding or extreme heat. Basically, any weather that is unpleasant or inconvenient may be referenced that way – whether or not there are pigs in the area.
Unfortunately for Germans, Sauwetter is not uncommon in Germany. And unfortunately for us at the Embassy, it’s not uncommon in Washington either. We’re in the midst of a very rainy week that we hope will end soon!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

View from the Canoe – Wasserwandern in Germany

Wasserwandern is the German term for touring by water, traveling by canoe or a kayak along the designated waterways of multiple connected lakes or rivers. Rest areas, campgrounds and even restaurants are sometimes scattered along the route.

Known as the “land of a thousand lakes,” the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s many lakes are connected in vast networks. Formed tens of thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, these lakes are now home to a number of endangered species. As a result, the use of motor boats is not allowed in many of these lakes, which are now havens for kayakers and canoeists.

Gliding through the peaceful waters of the Müritz National Park in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, one can experience nature up close and personal. Buoys mark the paths along which the kayaks and canoes may travel, and stopping is only allowed at designated rest areas to preserve the fragile ecosystems along the shores. Nevertheless, bird watching from this vantage point is a breeze. One may be lucky enough to see a Fischadler (osprey) or the colorful Eisvogel (kingfisher), which have found a home in the clean waters of the Müritz National Park.

© dpa / picture alliance

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Word of the Week: Nabelschau

The German word Nabelschau means “navel-gazing” or “staring at your navel”. But in this case, it doesn’t refer to anyone else’s belly button – just your own.

In a literal sense, Nabelschau means looking at your own navel for a long period of time. But most people probably don’t do that. In the German language, the term has a negative connotation and refers to self-absorbed pursuits, self-centeredness or excessive contemplation of oneself. The Nabelschau is a narcissistic activity – one that distracts from the things that are truly important in life.

The word is a paronym of the Greek word omphalaskepsis (“navel-gazing”) – a form of self-contemplation often practiced as an aid to meditation. But while omphalaskepsis is a positive practice that allows you to connect with yourself, the Nabelschau is usually not – at least, not in colloquial German.

If someone accuses you of exhibiting a Nabelschau, that person probably thinks of you as self-absorbed. Don’t take it as a compliment.

Word of the Week: Studentenfutter

If you’re craving a healthy snack, what do you go for? Studentenfutter, perhaps? The German word Studentenfutter means “students’ feed”, but describes what we typically refer to as trail mix. And it has an interesting story dating back to the 1600s.

The word Studenten means “students” and Futter means “feed”, but students aren’t the only ones to eat this delicious, healthy snack, which usually consists of raisins, nuts and dried fruit. Back in the 17th century, however, students were more likely to consume trail mix than regular Germans – and here’s why:

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Intern Q&A: Lukas Hoffmann

This week, we are introducing one of our interns at the German Embassy. Our Q&A with Lukas sheds light on his experience as a German in the US – and the Embassy!

Name:  Lukas David Hoffmann

Where you’re from:  I am from the heart of the Ruhr area, which everyone from the Ruhr area claims to be from. The area, often referred to as “Revier”, is historically known as an industrial location, especially for coal and steel. Supposedly the air is thin, but people are self-confident and down-to-earth. As a result of structural change, much of the former industry has given way to an industrial culture.

Where and what you’re studying:  I studied law in Hamburg and Rome. Internships have taken me to Frankfurt and Brussels, among other places. Meanwhile I am completing my legal traineeship in Düsseldorf, which has led me to the colorful Rhineland.

What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?

From an academic point of view, the research on mobile work forms in the USA was certainly exciting: home office, telework, telecommuting and more. Overall, however, the visit to the many think tank events was the most instructive. Most of the events I personally went to were related to Russia, so that one learned a lot about the country and its people, which certainly provided a better understanding. Most of the time there was also an opportunity to talk to other participants, which often resulted in a closer exchange.

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?

Washington is even more international than I imagined it to be. In this city you really get everything you know from all over the world, if you are only willing to spend money on it. The city’s restaurant scene offers a great variety of international cuisine, too.

What do you miss about Germany?

The constantly bad, but predictable weather. Seriously, the weather in Washington is so changeable that you would have to take a whole wardrobe with you to cope with any type of weather.

What has been your biggest lesson learnt during your internship?

Law does not always have to be hard, but can also be very “soft”. International law as one of the (legal) foundations of diplomacy deals with the most important questions of human coexistence in this world. At the same time, no legal matter may be as dependent on the interpretation of the individual who seeks to apply.

What has been your biggest challenge living here?

Trying not to gain too much weight and not to spend too much money. Unfortunately, the prices for many healthy and fresh foods are very high, so these two challenges are not always easy to balance out.

Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?

In the short term, I will return to Düsseldorf to complete another station of my legal traineeship in an international law firm. In the long term, I definitely want to work in an international environment as well.


Travel Tuesday: 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.

© dpa / picture alliance

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:

© dpa / picture alliance

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 book your 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!

And 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!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Katzenwäsche

You overslept and don’t have time for a shower – what do you do? In Germany, a Katzenwäsche would be your solution!

The German word Katze means “cat” and Wäsche means “washings” (or “laundry”, depending on the context). Literally translated, it describes a cat’s daily process of licking itself clean.

But in the human context, a “cat wash” is a quick clean-up that is not entirely sufficient. It is often used for children who do not take a bath every day – but can also be applied to adults in a hurry. If you don’t have time for a shower, you might wash yourself in the bathroom sink – a procedure that would be considered a Katzenwäsche. A typical Katzenwäsche does not use much water and does not get you very clean. It typically just involves washing your face, brushing your teeth or applying deodorant – and often even less! You might be more presentable, but you still won’t match up to the days that you fit in a shower.

The use of the word evolved from its literal translation of a “cat wash”. Cats are generally afraid of water and spend about two to three hours licking themselves clean every day. Their tongues are covered in papillae, which are coarse, hair-like growths that are used for self-grooming. But unlike the prolonged Katzenwäsche by your furry friend, a human Katzenwäsche is much quicker and much less efficient.

Unless you’re in a hurry, you’re better off taking a shower!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Intern Q&A: Maria

Name: Maria

Where you’re from: I´m currently studying in Leipzig

Where and what you’re studying: Law

What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?

I was responsible for replying to all electronic and written inquiries from American citizens. It was great to read how many people from all over the US are curious about Germany and interested in learning German! I had fun answering questions I sometimes never even thought of myself, like “What is the most famous dog breed in Germany?” or “What is the most widespread insect in German forests?”

What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?

I’m a big fan of the European Union and I believe in the values and goals the EU stands for. But I understand that some countries and people in the EU don’t feel that way – one current example for this is the Brexit. The rise of right-wing parties all over Europe (Germany is not an exception), the lack of mutual support during the refugee crisis as well as continuous criticism of European frameworks has to be a wake-up call for national and European politicians. We have to start asking ourselves difficult questions and be prepared to hear new answers. The EU has to be a living organism whose working processes are adapting to the needs of its members. I know, this sounds utopic. But just because you already have a system it doesn´t mean you shouldn´t look for ways to improve it. The European Union is designed to be a platform of communication and peace on the European continent. These goals are worth the effort.

What are some cultural impressions you gained of the United States?

The United States is too big and too diverse to talk about general cultural impressions. But in Washington I gained the impression that culture is everywhere. I spent most of my spare time at the free museums, at the National Mall or at concerts in the Kennedy Center. And if I got tired of all the “institutionalized” culture, I just kept walking around the city. Every part of Washington is unique and worth exploring. Sometimes I couldn’t believe that I’m still in the same city.

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?

I was really surprised about how easy it is to find your way around town. As street names are either successive letters or numbers, I never felt lost. You cannot compare that with Germany, where every single street has a name – and where I’m constantly lost.

What do you miss about Germany?

A fast and efficient public transportation system. In Germany I’m used to just taking a bus or a subway to any place around town. Here I couldn’t really rely on that as much. I got the impression that there was not as much attention paid to enable people without car to move around the city.

What has been your biggest challenge living here?

I have lived in the United States before, so the culture shock was kept in bounds. One completely unserious “challenge” I found myself confronted with on a regular basis was the size of dimes and nickels. Why is a nickel bigger that a dime although it has less value? This led to some embarrassing moments at cash registers. Thankfully everybody was really patient with me and ensured me that this is a problem foreigners are frequently struggling with.

Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?

I’m going back to Leipzig to continue my preparation for the bar exam in August.