Word of the Week: Lebenskunst

Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst! Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art. You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible.

Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would be an example of Lebenskunst.

But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Frühlingsbote

How can you tell that spring is around the corner? For some, it’s the weather forecast. But for others, it’s the Frühlingsbote.

The German word Frühlingsbote means “herald of spring” or “harbinger of spring”. It consists of the words Frühling (“spring”) and Bote (“herald”/”harbinger”) and it refers to a person or thing that signals the approach of spring. A few examples of Frühlingsboten would be birds chirping at sunrise, flower buds emerging on the trees, restaurants opening their outdoor patios and clothing stores displaying shorts sandals in the store windows. A prime example of a Frühlingsbote is also the blooming of the cherry blossom trees (which exist both in the US and Germany). The cherry blossom trees typically bloom before other species, signaling that spring is right around the corner. After the Yoshino trees bloom, other trees will soon follow. Before long, you’ll be walking out in shorts, tees and sunglasses as you soak up the rays.

The Frühlingsbote marks the start of a new season. Which means Biergartenwetter is soon to follow.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Handy

If you have German friends, you may have heard them talking about their Handy. Although this device is in fact a handy accessory, it has a very different meaning in German than in English. In German, the word Handy means “mobile phone” or “cell phone”. Many Germans seem to believe that this word comes from the English language, but – as you know – Americans do not use this word to describe their cell phones. Although it sounds exactly like the English word handy (which means “convenient”), it is probably not related to the English adjective (although Handys are, of course, convenient to have). The origins of the German word Handy are unclear and there are various speculations on how the word arose. Some believe that it came from the word Handfunktelefon (an early German word for a handheld mobile phone). Others believe the word originates from the Motorola HT 220 Handie Talkie – a type of walkie-talkie that was introduced during World War II.

But regardless of its origins, the term Handy is so commonly used today that most Germans won’t call their cell phones anything else. Words such as Mobiltelefon are way too old-fashioned.

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Kater

If you’ve ever drank too much in one night, you’re surely familiar with the headaches and nausea that plague you the next morning. In English, we call this a “hangover”. In German, however, it is called a Kater.

The word Kater has two meanings in German, and they’re completely different from each other. Most of you might know the word by its first definition (a “male cat”). But in another context, Kater also means “hangover”. While one Kater is cute and furry, the other Kater makes you want to scream in agony. When you have an alcohol-induced Kater, you probably want to stay in bed and wait for the headaches and feelings of nausea to go away.

It is not clear how the word for a male cat became used to describe a hangover, but some say it evolved from the Greek word Katarrh (which was also used in German), which describes a type of unspecific respiratory illness with mucus build-up. Of course, the symptoms of a hangover have completely different symptoms, but this is the closest word that many people believe this type of Kater could have evolved from. In context: Ich habe einen Kater. “I have a hangover.” German Missions in the United States Welcome to Germany.info By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Abschiedsschmerz

Few things are more painful than saying goodbye to someone you care about. In German, there’s a word for this
type of pain: Abschiedsschmerz.
The term comes from the words Abschied (“farewell”) and Schmerz (“pain”) and it defines the pain associated
with parting ways from someone you like, love or care about. Here at the German Embassy, some of us
experience Abschiedsschmerz when a beloved coworker moves away. At an Embassy, many diplomats and
staff come and go every summer. Although it is often sad to see people leave, true Abschiedsschmerz only
arises when you part ways with someone who’s very close to you. Sometimes, working with someone for three
years will create a bond that ends in Abschiedsschmerz when it’s time for one person to leave.
Of course, Abschiedsschmerz is more likely to arise between family members and loved ones. Saying goodbye
to someone who has been with you for many years is often much harder. Parents often feel this type of pain
when their children move away to go to college or obtain a job halfway around the world. Lovers may feel the
pain of saying goodybe when one of them leaves for a long trip. Abschiedsschmerz can be particularly bad when
you’re dropping someone off at the airport, saying your final goodbye and watching them go through security. In
just a few minutes, that person is out of your sight and the pain of their absence starts to sink in.
Abschiedsschmerz can also arise at goodbye parties or if you’re simply seeing someone for the last time.
One thing that may help curb your Abschiedsschmerz is to perceive the Abschied as more of a “see you later”
than a “goodbye.” Fortunately for those in the diplomatic service, there are plenty of “see you laters”, since job
postings can bring former colleagues together again in the future.
By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Dampfplauderer

You know that friend of yours who just won’t stop talking? That person you can never get off the phone, or the person who goes on and on with pointless stories? Germans have a name for someone like this: a Dampfplauderer! A Dampfplauderer is a person who has always has something to say, but never says anything of substance. This sort of person likes to hear him or herself talk. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re often stuck listening to a Dampfplauderer, pretending to care while contemplating how to end the conversation. The English translation for the word Dampfplauderer is “chatterbox” – and that’s a pretty good translation. The word chatterbox, after all, is usually associated with someone that has a lot of idle chatter, but says very few meaningful things. Listening to a Dampfplauderer, you might start wondering what the point of their story is, only to realize there is no point. The term consists of the words Dampf, which means “steam”, and plauder, which means “chat”. So a literal translation could be “steam chatter” – someone whose words come out like steam – lacking real substance.

Whether it’s a friend who likes to talk or a colleague who speaks too much in meetings, I’m sure we have all got a Dampfplauderer in our lives!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Dachlawine

East Coast residents, watch out! With every blizzard comes the danger of many Dachlawinen! If you brave the cold and head out into the snow, watch your head as you pass beneath the roofs of buildings; they could drop a Dachlawine on your head! The German word Dachlawine is unique and particularly useful when it snows. There is no English translation. The word Dach means “roof” and Lawine means “avalanche”, so this word describes a so-called “roof avalanche”. In other words – the large amounts of snow that could slide off of a roof and endanger pedestrians (like a miniature avalanche).

In some cases, a Dachlawine may be small and simply drop some ice cold snow down your neck. But in other cases, it can be quite large and even dangerous. Dachlawinen have the potential to hurt pedestrians and German Missions in the United States Welcome to Germany.info damage cars. It all depends on how much snow has fallen, how heavy it is and how much is falling off the roof. In Germany, you may see cautionary signs warning pedestrians of possible Dachlawinen. But some home and business owners take the initiative to prevent Dachlawinen altogether, installing Schneefanggitter (“snow catching gratings” or “snow fences”) at the edge of their roofs. But watch out – a Dachlawine can always take you by surprise!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Guten Rutsch

On New Year’s Eve, like people all over the world, Germans wish each other a Happy New Year (Frohes Neues Jahr).

But they also like to proclaim “Guten Rutsch!”

While the direct translation of this popular end-of-year saying would, indeed, be something along the lines of “good slide”, it is actually most likely derived from entirely different origins steeped in Jewish tradition.

Many linguists claim that this traditional New Year’s Eve expression in German has nothing to do with “sliding” (rutschen) into the New Year, even though most Germans now understand it that way.

It is actually the “corruption” of a phrase adopted from Jews wishing each other a “Guten Rosh” – the word “rosh” in Hebrew means “head” or “beginning,” hence the beginning of a new year.

The expression could thus have come into German via the Yiddish for “a good beginning” – as in “Rosh Hashanah,” the Jewish New Year.

And that would make it just one of many German (and English) expressions that come from Yiddish.

Word of the Week: Weihnachtspyramide

Everyone has heard of the Christmas tree and its historic German roots before it caught on as a widespread holiday tradition in Victorian Era Britain and North America.

A visit to most German homes, as well as Christmas markets, will however also reveal another item that is quite popular during the holiday season in Germany: a “Weihnachtpyramide,” or Christmas pyramid.

Despite its namesake, the Christmas pyramid has nothing in common with those unusual stone structures dating back to Ancient Egypt. From the smallest versions set up in private apartments and family homes across Germany to giant ‘pyramids’ that tower above people sipping mulled wine (Glühwein), dining on potato pancakes (Kartoffelpfannkuchen), shopping for gifts (Geschenke), Christmas decorations (Weihnachtsschmuck), Stollen or other tasty treats in bustling Christmas markets, most “Weihnachtspyramiden” are made out of wood.

They are akin to multi-level ‘carousels’ depicting Christmas-related motifs such as angels and manger scenes. Some also portray secular motifs such as mountain people and forests. Typically made of wood, they tend to include several multi-sided platforms with a long pole in the middle serving as an axle. Traditionally, it spins thanks to candles that heat up the air under a propeller at the top of the carousel.

Watching them spin round and round is truly festive and even relaxing amid all the holiday hubbub. And some of the biggest ones should be sought out at German Christmas markets given that they sometimes house entire mulled wine stands – no trip to a German Christmas market is complete without a glass of piping hot, spicy “Glühwein.”

Word of the Week: Zukunftsmusik

The expression “Zukunftsmusik” was spawned by media mockery.

A figure of speech comprised of the two nouns “Zukunft” (future) and “Musik” (music), it was invented in the 19th century by a Cologne-based publisher to poke fun at composer Richard Wagner’s works as, well, “future music.”

But today this expression is no longer merely a form of mockery. It is simply used to describe a project, or an event, or anything, really, that just might – but won’t necessarily – happen in the distant future.

Germans might hence say about, for instance, zero-calorie butter, a debt-free eurozone, or pigs that fly: “Aber das ist doch alles noch Zukunftsmusik!” (But that is all just music of the future!)

So “Zukunftsmusik” is used in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, to be sure, although it can also be used in a more serious manner, such as to describe the hopes and dreams of people. For instance if a little girl dreams of becoming a prima ballerina when she grows up or a little boy dreams of becoming a fireman, their parents might then very well say that this is all still just “Zukunftsmusik.”

Similarly, if someone envisions their future as getting married, running for political office, or publishing a novel, they might call that “Zukunftsmusik” with an air of optimism and hope for achieving some goal or personal milestone which may or may not be on the cards for them in the future.