Word of the Week: Habseligkeiten

The German word Habseligkeiten is a beautiful one. Literally translated, it means “belongings”, but it also means so much more! It comes from the words haben (“to have”) and Seligkeit (a state of bliss, happiness or salvation). 

In 2004, the Goethe Institute held a competition for the most beautiful German word. The winner? Habseligkeiten (in the plural form). But why is a word that defines “belongings” so beautiful? It’s best explained in the words of German Doris Kalka, the woman who submitted the word for the competition. 

“The word doesn’t signify ownership or wealth of a person. However, it does refer to his possessions and does it in a friendly and compassionate way. Typical for those with these kinds of possessions would be a six-year-old child who empties his pockets to take joy in what he has collected,” Kalka, who is a secretary at the University of Tübingen, wrote in her submission. “Or the word can be seen from a more pitiful side. It can express the few belongings that someone who has lost his home has and how he has to transport them to whatever shelter available.” 

So Habseligkeiten means more than any old items you have laying around or the items you order on Amazon. It refers to items to which there is emotion attached. A pretty stone that you’ve been carrying for months in your pocket or the diary that you write in every night are both Habseligkeiten. If you were forced to leave your home and could only take one backpack of stuff with you, what would you take? Those items are probably your Habseligkeiten.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The history of skiing in Germany

Are you passionate about skiing or snowboarding? Well, so are Germans! In fact, Germany has more skiers than any other country in Europe, with more than 14.6 million Germans partaking in the sport.

But where did this winter sport originate?

Archeological research suggests that ski-like objects date back to 6000 BC, used primarily as tools to cross frozen wetlands and marshes in the wintertime. But recreational skiing is a much more recent activity.

In the 1700s, the Norwegian army held competitions where soldiers would learn how to shoot while skiing. Those races were the precursors to skiing as an Olympic sport. And it didn’t take long for it to spread through Europe. Downhill skiing gained popularity in the 1800s and in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France and featured cross-country skiing.

©dpa / picture alliance

In 1936, downhill skiing was included for the first time in the Winter Olympics, held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Soon thereafter, people began constructing chair lifts and ski resorts, which caused recreational skiing to grow in popularity – especially in the 1950s and 60s.

Today, Germany has about 700 ski resorts, 1,384 ski lifts and 864 miles of slopes, making it a perfect wintertime destination for ski lovers. Many of these lie in the mountainous state of Bavaria. One popular ski town is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which lies near Germany’s tallest mountain, the Zugspitze (elevation: 9,718 ft). The Rhön Mountains feature gentler slopes ideal for beginners, while the picturesque Black Forest has about 200 ski lifts that allow winter sports enthusiasts to experience a change of scenery.

While Bavaria contains the biggest ski resort, the Black Forest contains the oldest: Germany’s first ski tow was built in the Black Forest, and Germany’s oldest ski club was formed there in 1985.

But other regions of Germany – including the Ore Mountains in Saxony – also have their share of winter sports destinations.

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Popometer

When you’re shopping for a new car, what do you rely on most as your deciding factor? Some people may rely on ratings, reviews or research, but most of us make the decision based on how the car feels when we test-drive it.

Similarly, people employed to test cars rely most often on their Popometer when writing about, recommending or rating a vehicle. Race-car drivers, in particular, use this measurement more than others.

The German word Popometer comes from Popo (a colloquial word for your buttocks) and Meter (a measuring stick). A Popometer is a word that describes someone’s rear end as a measuring device. When someone sit down in a new car, motorcycle or even on a bobsled or a bicycle, they get a feel for the vehicle – a measurement of comfort taken by their buttocks. When a professional reviewer or race car driver tests a vehicle, the results of his or her Popometer are very important, since it measures the level of comfort someone may experience in that vehicle for years to come.

Although the term is often used in automobile magazines or by people who review vehicles, it is perhaps most commonly used by race car drivers in Germany. The closest English translation is “seat-of-the-pants feel”.

Even if a car has high ratings and good reviews, you will probably not want to buy it if a reviewer’s Popometer gives it a low score. So make sure to find out what the Popometer says about it, since those results are ultimately the most important!

Meet Paulina Heuss, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for January 2020

From “strangers” to friends in Philadelphia, and beyond: Being welcomed into the home of Eagles fans for Thanksgiving dinner was just one highlight of Paulina Heuss’s CBYX year so far. In our interview we wanted to know more about this encounter (described in her Participant of the Month profile), but also the broader cultural experiences of the custom tailor in the community of Endicott, NY and throughout the United States.

How did you find out about CBYX/PPP, and how did you decide to apply?

During my apprenticeship as a custom tailor my boss received information about the CBYX/PPP. She knew that I was interested in going abroad after my apprenticeship and told me about the program. I did some research on the CBYX and was immediately convinced that this is the perfect program for me and applied.

Could you tell us a little more about your training as a tailor in Germany, and how your professional background relates to what you’ve experienced in the United States? How do the systems differ in regards to training, qualifications, and other standards of the field?

I started the apprenticeship as a custom tailor shortly after my graduation. Part of this training is four workdays and 1 1/2 days at a trade school. I worked at a small bridal and evening couture shop, where my boss taught me how to manufacture bridal and evening gowns and also casual clothes for women from scratch. From what I’ve experienced, this kind of craftsmanship is more appreciated in Germany than in the US. Here, in most smaller towns and cities one barely finds a custom tailor. Mostly people are looking for someone who makes adjustments from already finished clothes. Spending time in New York City showed me that this is the place to go if you are interested in fashion. In this city with headquarters of many big fashion brands, craftsmanship and a practical oriented training like I have gone through in Germany, is highly appreciated. 

In the US there are several programs at colleges that open up a way into the fashion world. Since I am living in a small community I found a good way to expand my knowledge within the fashion industry and still be able to use what I’ve learned about fabrics and materials during my apprenticeship. Working for a small and local boutique in Binghamton, NY I find myself learning more and more about the business side of the fashion field.

What does community service mean to you as part of your CBYX experience? Any favorite moments so far?

As part of my CBYX experience community service means very much to me, since it enables me to participate in so many different ways in my community. Working with little kids, teaching them German and sewing was probably my favorite experience so far. Seeing how interested they were in another language, made teaching it so much easier. Although all of my volunteer experiences have brought so much joy and fun! No matter if working at local events, with kids, at the food pantry, everyone is so thankful and open-hearted, which makes this so special!

Could you tell us a bit about your trip to Niagara Falls with the International Student Organization? Have you had the chance to travel to other regions of the USA?

The Niagara Falls are about 4 hours away from my hometown Binghamton, which made this a one day trip. Visiting the Falls was amazing. When we took a boat to the bottom of the Falls, I knew that this is a unique experience! It also was a nice way of getting to know other members of the International Club. 

As I am very interested in the American culture and the whole country, I am trying to explore many other regions and places. Since Upstate New York has much of incredible nature to offer, when I am going on a trip outside that area, I try to visit bigger cities, such as Chicago or LA. Of course I make it to New York City relatively often, since it is not too far away and this city has so much to explore.  

At the Thanksgiving dinner with Eagles fans, you talked about German and American sports and cultural prejudices. Could you tell us a bit more about this, how the discussion developed, whether you reached any conclusions?

As a foreign exchange student, cultural prejudices are definitely part of the experience. Being able to set them aside or sometimes even finding some truth to it, is what makes an exchange special. During the conversation with our neighbors from the Eagles game, we obviously talked a lot about American football and what meaning it has for many people. For great athletes sport is often a way of getting into a college or a university, regardless of how much money you have. Talking about popular sports in Germany, we also realized that ‘handball’ has a totally different meaning in the US. What here often is being played at the schoolyard just for fun, in Germany is considered a competitive sport with a big audience. Talking about those similarities and differences made us notice that sports in the end brings people together, no matter which country it is played in.

What do you hope to take with you from your CBYX year, and how do you think it will shape your life?

So far the CBYX year taught me so much, I never really thought about before the year. Especially the experience of dealing with unexpected situations, which will be so valuable for my future as well. I am sure many of the skills I learn during this year, I will appreciate even more throughout my life when I am looking back to experiences I had here. This year has and will shape my life especially in a way of cultural exchange and the importance of a community. But most importantly, I am already thankful for the people I met, the places I saw and all the memories that’ve been made.

By Jacob Comenetz, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Hinterland

Do you live in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere? Somewhere far away from big cities and other people? Germans would say that you live in the Hinterland!

The German word Hinterland translates to “the land behind”. Generally, it is the inland region of a country. The closest English translation is “backcountry”.

But in German, it can be used in two ways. In some contexts, the word describes land that is behind the shore, a city or a port. The Hinterland of a port is the region that it serves for imports and exports.

But more commonly, the word is used to describe any part of a country that is remote and underdeveloped with few people – a place that we might refer to as “the middle of nowhere”. Think the Mojave Desert. Or a small town in Arizona. Or that little cabin in the woods that’s miles away from people.

These days, the word Hinterland is not only used in German, but it has also been incorporated into English, Spanish and French! After all, it is a useful word – every country has its remote regions! So what’s your ideal day trip: a visit to the city or one to the Hinterland?

For more German-language tips, tricks and information, follow our Facebook page “do Deutsch”: www.Facebook.com/DoDeutsch

Word of the Week: Verschlimmbessern

We’ve all encountered situations where we try to make something better, but only make it worse. And in German, there’s a word for that: verschlimmbessern

The term verschlimmbessern is colloquial, and it is a fusion of verschlimmern (“to make something worse”) and verbessern (“to make something better”). Thus, verschlimmbessern means making something worse while intending to make it better. 

Man having headache.

The term is used in the past tense to describe a situation. For example, a company may have updated their iPhone app to add more features, but the update may have made it more confusing for users to navigate. This would be an example of verschlimmbessern, since the update actually made the product worse.

The term is often used in the context of legal situations. If, for example, the government passes a new law with good intentions, but it’s not very popular with the public, the public might accuse government officials of making it worse. This would be a Verschlimmbesserung (and in this case, the term is a noun.) Despite our good intentions, there will always be times where we or someone else makes a situation worse. Let’s always hope for a Verbesserung instead of a Verschlimmbesserung!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Milchmädchenrechnung

A Milchmädchenrechnung (literally “a milk maid’s account”) is a naive calculation. In English, we might say it is the result of counting the chickens before they’ve hatched. 

Let’s say you’re entering a writing contest where the cash prize is $100. You’re confident that you will win, so you start fantasizing how you will spend the money before you’ve received the prize. Those fantasies are a Milchmädchenrechnung – a naive calculation – since there is no guarantee you will even win the contest. 

German politicians involved in a campaign sometimes use the word Milchmädchenrechnung to describe their’s opponents promises, thereby claiming that those promises cannot be fulfilled because of unforeseen costs. It might, for example, be a Milchmädchenrechnung to blindly promise a pay increase of 50 percent, since employers might not be able to afford those costs in the first place. 

The origin of the term Milchmädchenrechnung comes from a well-known fable that has been around since the 14th century and gained lasting popularity from its inclusion in La Fontaine’s Fables. In the story, a young farmer’s wife carries a jug of milk to the marketplace, which she plans to sell. During her trip, she fantasizes about how she will spend the money. While distracted by her own thoughts, she spills the milk and says farewell to her dreams.

The lesson? Don’t spend your money (metaphorically) before you have it! A Milchmädchenrechnung won’t get you anything.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

10 magical places for winter sports in Germany

Looking for a place to do some winter sports in Germany? We’ve got you covered!

1. Bobsled and Skeleton in Kleinstadt

Okay, if this video doesn’t terrify you, I don’t know what will. If you happen to be in NRW, you can visit the Winterberg bobsled track, the “Bobbahn”. The truly brave can even take a ride down the 5,250 foot track at 60 miles an hour.

No thanks.

2. Skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

There are plenty of runs to choose from in Garmisch. One day isn’t enough to explore everything wintery Bavaria has to offer!

© dpa / picture-alliance

Continue reading “10 magical places for winter sports in Germany”

Meet Jakob Backes, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for December 2019

Having recently been named the December 2019 CBYX German Participant of the Month by the U.S. Department of State (click here to read profile), we wanted to learn more about Jakob Backes’ experience in Brooklyn, MI. Placed by YFU and hosted by the Shay family, Jakob currently attends Napoleon High School.
How did you first learn about CBYX/PPP? What motivated you to apply?

Last summer, I went on an exchange to Beijing, China, for two weeks with the scholarship program Culture Connections China. Just these two weeks amazed me so much that I wanted more. I loved not just being a tourist, but living in a host family, and getting involved in the actual culture. So, I researched other opportunities to go abroad, whereby I learned about the CBYX program. I applied for not only the CBYX program, but also an exchange year in Paraguay. After I was accepted for both programs, the scholarship, political, historical and social aspects of the CBYX made it an easy choice for me to go to the USA.

What was it like to join the football team at Napoleon High School? How did you learn to play the game? What were the greatest challenges, and most rewarding moments?

Football is a sport I always wanted to play. However, in Germany the closest football club is over than an hour car ride away. So, I took the chance to join our high school´s football team here, and it was the greatest experience that I could ever imagine. We practiced three hours every day, and the competition was big. I guess due to 15 years of playing soccer in Germany, I was athletic enough to make it onto the Varsity team, and the individual football skills came through hard practice. After a few games I was even able to establish myself as a starting wide receiver. The greatest challenge was to keep going in the first weeks without getting much game time. But it paid off. I was given the senior award for hard work and positive attitude. Through football, I found new friends, became a part of the American sport culture, and found a sport that I definitely want to continue in Germany, no matter how far I have to drive for it.

Continue reading “Meet Jakob Backes, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for December 2019”

Word of the Week: Schrottwichteln

If you’re American, you’ve probably heard of “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. In Germany, however, we have what’s called Schrottwichteln, which basically means “the exchange of crap”.

The holiday season is all about gift exchanges. Even if you’re giving away junk – it’s the thought that counts, right? In German schools, workplaces and social circles, people often organize a so-called Schrottwichteln. The word Schrott means “crap”, “garbage” or “junk”. Wichteln is the organized exchange of gifts during the holiday season. So people who participate in Schrottwichteln essentially give each other things they don’t want themselves – like that ugly Christmas sweater they received from their grandmother or an overly fancy candleholder for which they have no use. Often times, they will regift an item or contribute a gag gift. It is not
uncommon for these gifts to be wrapped up in newspaper, rather than gift wrap – anything to make it look more like junk.

When people organize a Schrottwichteln, they will often set a limit on the value of the item – perhaps 5, 10, 15 or 20 Euros. Participants usually have a few days to decide on a gift – and will often search for the ugliest, funniest or most useless possible item they can think of. Sometimes Schrottwichteln organizers will choose a “winner” – a gift that is the most worthless of all.

Those who participate in Schrottwichteln parties do so for the holiday spirit and the humor associated with it. And if the gift they receive is perfectly useless, they may regift it the following Christmas at another
Schrottwichteln party.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy