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.

Travel Tuesday: Pfaueninsel (“Peacock Island”)

Near southwest Berlin in the River Havel is a strange little island known as the Pfaueninsel (“Peacock Island”). As the name implies, this island is in fact home to a flock of wild peacocks – and these birds have been here for centuries!

© dpa / picture alliance

If you visit the island today, you’ll find yourself surrounded by greenery, abandoned buildings, peacocks and even an old castle.

To understand why, let’s take a look at the island’s history.

The 243 acre island was used for the first time in the 17th century, when William I of Brandenburg established a rabbit farm on the land. As a result, the island was called Kaninchenwerder (“Rabbit Island”).

© dpa / picture alliance

In 1793, Prussian king Frederick William II decided to use the island to build a castle for himself and his favorite mistress. This was primarily used as a summer residence.

The king’s successor and son, Frederick William III, had other ideas for the island. He turned it into a farm with grottos and aviaries and had exotic animals brought to the island, including alligators, kangaroos, buffalos, chameleons, monkeys, wolves, bears and (of course) peacocks. Over 900 animals of 100 species were brought to live on the island. The king then opened this exotic zoo up to the public.

Many people flocked to the island to see the exotic creatures, leading to overcrowding and chaos. Those responsible for the animals had to find a solution – the island simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate all those visitors.

In 1842, the animals were transferred to a location in Berlin (minus a few peacocks), which opened its gates in 1844. This became known as the “Berlin Zoo” and was the first zoo of its kind in Germany.

Meanwhile, the island went through a series of transitions and uses. Today, however, it remains home to free-ranging peacocks and exotic birds and is a designated nature reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Frederick William II’s castle still stands on the island, and visitors can take a ferry over to see it.

Word of the Week: Kehrwoche

Germans have a reputation for being clean, and here’s something that backs up the stereotype: Kehrwoche. The German word Kehrwoche means “sweep week” and refers to the time period in which a resident of an apartment building is assigned to clean the common areas.

If you live in a German apartment building, you might wake up one day and find a sign on your door reading Kehrwoche. The sign indicates that it’s your turn to clean the building. It’s no fun, but every resident has to do it at one point or another. For the duration that the sign hangs outside your door, you are responsible for sweeping the stairways and taking care of the sidewalk at the entrance. Sometimes that even means raking leaves or shoveling snow.

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Sven Marx Cycles Around the World

For the many of us here who bike to work, even a half hour ride can wind us enough to consider purchasing an E-bike. So when we found out we’d be visited by a German cyclist who is making his way around the WORLD, we stood in awe and had a plethora of questions ready to throw at him.

DCM Boris Ruge with cyclist Sven Marx outside of the German Embassy.

Who is this mystery cycling? His name is Sven Marx and he is someone to follow—we suggest on social media rather than on a bike. About ten years ago, Sven found out he had a 1 cm large tumor of the brain stem. After having it partially removed, he was left with double vision which throws of his balance. Within the same span of time, he was also diagnosed with skin cancer. Obviously, both balance and exposure to the sun are major parts of being on a bicycle. Sven promised himself, however, that if he survived to his 50th birthday with two life-threatening diagnoses, he would hit the road on a trip around the world.

Since rolling out on April 23rd, 2017, he has visited 5 continents, 41 countries, stopped in 27 capitals, and cycled over 43,500 miles! He even made a stop to visit the pope! He often sleeps in a tent overnight and carries everything on his bike—clothes, food, equipment, everything. His bike, in fact, weighs a whopping 132 pounds.

Sven consumes at least 10 chocolate bars a day to intake enough calories.

He said he can’t keep count of his calories intake when he is riding so many miles per day but that his diet consists of a lot of sugar and salt to keep his body energized—including “at least ten chocolate bars a day”.

Sven’s mission is to use his trip to raise awareness for and start a conversation about reducing barriers for those with disabilities. Under the motto “Inclusion Requires Action” he hopes his cycling the world will showcase that disabilities should not hold anyone back from reaching for their dreams and that anything is possible if we ensure access for everyone.
During his stop at the German Embassy, Sven shared a hot coffee with our Deputy Chief of Mission Boris Ruge and took a well-deserved break inside to explain his mission and experiences. He told us that the most important aspect to completing such a long journey by bike is staying calm and avoiding allowing your heart to race. So in the end it was the diplomats who were out of breath– with excitement, compared to the heroic cyclist!

Follow Sven’s journey on his blog (in German) at sven-globetrotter.com.

By Claire MacFarlane, German Embassy

German scientist Joachim Hecker brings experiments to American schools

For the next few weeks, German scientist Joachim Hecker is in the US, where he is visiting schools and conducting entertaining science experiments with high school kids.

Before beginning his roadtrip, Hecker sat down with us at the German Embassy and showed us a few of his favorite experiments — including a trick to burn money without actually damaging the bill!

Watch the interview with Joachim Hecker:

Watch the money-burning experiment only:

Intern Q&A: Adele Kirschner

Name: Adele Juliane Kirschner

Where you’re from: Stuttgart, Germany

Where and what you’re studying: I studied law in Heidelberg and Geneva (CH). I am currently clerking at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt (The clerkship is a requirement for German law school graduates to take the bar exam).

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

Working in the legal and consular department I was sometimes tasked with following current developments in US (legal) politics and law, such as reporting on new laws or Supreme Court decisions etc. In connection with this I went to see a hearing at the US Supreme Court. It was not only fascinating to see these venerable and eminent judges at work, what captivated me the most was the how the lawyers were constantly interrupted and questioned, requiring them to instantly respond, often not being able to complete their argument. You could see some very brilliant minds at work and a very fascinating “battle” indeed! There is not so much action in court proceedings at home.

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

I think Germany has to balance between being aware that it needs to raise its voice with regard to current developments in the EU as well as with regard to its (EU) future direction, while on the other hand trying not to act in a way that is perceived as too dominant by other countries. I thinks it’s important to side with allies and like-minded countries in this case and try to push for a common agenda in appreciation of the values on which the EU is based – such as e.g. with France.

What are some impressions you gained of the United States?

Generally speaking I would say it’s much easier to start a conversation with a stranger in the US than at home. People are very open and often curious to learn about where you are form when they hear a foreign language.

Diversity it another thing that strikes me and I mean this in every sense, starting from the diverse cultural backgrounds of its people, over the diverse landscapes to the diversity, of rather variety, of choices you are offered in your everyday life – starting at the supermarket which e.g. offers over 200 different kinds of beers (note I am saying this as a German!) and types of cheddar cheeses (albeit the choice of cheese type is then again not quite as diverse)! I always take quite a while for my groceries 😉

People take the car a lot – often even short distances people will take the car instead of walking. That’s something I am not so used to – even though I’d say DC might be a little different in that respect, think of M-Street in Georgetown or some busy areas down-town, but I hardly ever see children walking to school for example.

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

The weather, I was expecting a much milder climate and was hoping to escape the long German winter! Also it’s crazy how you can enjoy an ice cream and summery temperature as well as a pot of tea on a snow-day all in one week!

What do you miss about Germany?

Bäckereien – German bakeries or rather their bread, riding around town with my bike and of course my friends and family!

What has been your biggest lesson learned during your internship?

I wouldn’t call it a lesson in this sense, but I must say that I gained a deep respect for the US-Constitution or rather the political system as a whole which has been in place all these years. Of course it has needed amendments and is interpreted differently at times, but it has nevertheless created a framework for stable and prosperous democracy, that has persisted and will surely survive many a crisis to come. Not many countries can look back at such a long history of successful democratic governance!

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

I will return back to Frankfurt and start with the next chapter of my clerkship, where I will be working at an international-law firm for a few months.