Word of the Week: Eselsbrücke

Do you have a hard time remembering information, whether you’re studying for a biology test or trying to remember an address? Do you have a method to help you? 

In German, a trick that helps you retain information is called an Eselsbrücke – which literally translates to “donkey bridge.” A close (but less humorous) English equivalent would be “mnemonic device”. But why call a mnemonic device a “donkey bridge”? Everyone knows that donkeys aren’t the most intelligent of creatures. 

Donkeys are stubborn and hate going through water, since they have a hard time estimating its depth. As a result, they are very careful – and prefer staying on dry land. Back in the day – when donkeys were used to transport heavy loads over long distances – people built little bridges for them to cross over streams and rivers (spoiled, right?). These bridges were a short cut to a destination – just like an Eselsbrücke is a short cut to your memory! 

© dpa / picture alliance

Today, an Eselsbrücke refers to those catchy phrases or other mnemonic devices you might use to trigger your memory. You probably remember ROY G. BIV – the acronymn used to remember the spectrum of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) Or maybe you dictated the phrase “My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies” to remember the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) – back when Pluto was considered a planet, that is.

Whatever your method, whatever your style, just remember that an Eselsbrücke is the tool you are using to retain that information. And who knows, maybe you’ll need your own Eselsbrücke to remember this word!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Wittenberg: A personal tour through Luther Country

In this week’s virtual travel series, Konstantin Tesch from the German Embassy tells us about his great-grandparents’ home, Wittenberg. This picturesque city along the River Elbe is one you don’t want to miss – especially if you love history!

The city of Wittenberg has a special meaning for me, as it is my second home. Although I was born and grew up in Berlin, during the holidays I visited my great-grandparents who lived near the city of Wittenberg almost every year. My great-grandmother still lives there today and she will be 97 this year!

An aerial view of Wittenberg. © dpa / picture alliance

Wittenberg is located in eastern Saxony-Anhalt, on the banks of the River Elbe. The first thing you can see from the distance is the time-honored castle church, at the gates of which Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) is said to have posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, with which he initiated the Reformations. The division of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant churches began in Wittenberg.

For this reason, October 31st is also called Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in Germany and is a public holiday in most federal states.

Martin Luther also lived and worked in Wittenberg. Even today you can visit the so-called Luther House, where the reformer is said to have been enlightened by the Reformation change. His closest ally and co-founder of the Reformation Philipp Melanchthon (1497 – 1560) also lived in Wittenberg and his house (in a reconstructed form) can  be visited today, too. Luther an Melanchthon are buried side by side in the castle church and there are two large statues of Luther and Melanchthon on the market square in Wittenberg.

The Lutherhaus. © dpa / picture alliance

The painters Lucas Cranach Elder (1472 – 1553) and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515 – 1586) lived in Wittenberg at about the same time as Luther and Melanchthon. Both were important Renaissance painters. The so-called Cranach-Hof houses the premises of their old studio. Cranach the Younger is buried in the town church of Wittenberg, which is also clearly visible from afar with its double towers.

The so-called Luther wedding (Luthers Hochzeit) takes place every summer. The Luther wedding is a big city festival in honor of the wedding of Martin Luther with his wife Katharina von Bora in 1525. At the Luther wedding, people dress up in medieval costumes and frolic in the medieval flair of the historic city center. Everywhere there are stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs in the medieval style. Everyone is waiting for the big parade, where representatives of all the surrounding villages and their associations gather and disguise themselves as Lutheran people to walk through the two main streets of the city.

The annual Luther Wedding celebration. © dpa / picture alliance

In the past years I have visited the city again and again. My family tree can be traced back to the 17th century and many of my ancestors lived in the villages around Wittenberg. The city is not only a historical gem, but for me it is also a place of family and wonderful memories.

By Konstantin Tesch, German Embassy

10 reasons I love Bonn

In this week’s virtual travel series, German diplomat Niels von Redecker shares 10 reasons why he loves his hometown Bonn. From architecture to history to culture and natural beauty, this city on the Rhine is one that everyone should experience at least once!

Sweet childhood memories

Like the smell of licorice on the hockey playgrounds in Dottendorf, a southern part of town, right opposite of the original Haribo factory.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rheinufer

An endless promenade along both sides of the river Rhine – perfect for hour-long runs, skates or bike rides.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rhine in flames

Year by year, this is the biggest event on the Middle Rhine – spectacular bonfires, reflections and echoes!

© dpa / picture alliance

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Memories of a family trip to Coburg leads to broader connections

In our latest travel series, German Embassy diplomats and staff share experiences and information about their German hometowns. Today, Eva Santorini shares her memory of her visit to Coburg, Germany.

As my thoughts turn to my interests – travel and history – during these twilight zone COVID-19 days, I recall family trips to Europe to visit relatives. Transatlantic travel at the time was more complicated and expensive than it is now, so I met my grandparents only a few times and instead became a prolific letter writer at a young age. After World War II, my mother’s parents had resettled in a small scenic German town called Coburg in Oberfranken in northern Bavaria, a town first mentioned in historical records in 1054.

I was thrilled to meet my Oma und Opa for the first time when I was six years old, and the memories of that trip will remain with me forever. The small town sported small tidy streets of cobblestone radiating from the Marktplatz where small shops and cafes beckoned to visitors. My favorite memories are of the Coburger Würstchen, a long thin sausage whose delicious smoked flavor I can almost conjure up now, even after being a years-long vegetarian, and the small store under my grandparents’ apartment where we bought sweets.

The “Veste Coburg,” first mentioned in a document from 1225, dominates the town and is accessible on a long winding path that leads to its imposing entrance. Another sight I recall was the statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (formal name: Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, 1819–1861) who married Queen Victoria in 1840.

The Veste Coburg is one of the most well-preserved medieval fortresses in Germany.

Now fast forward: that little girl grew up to become interested in world history. Join me in making the leap from seeing the statue of Prince Albert in Coburg and forging that personal but profound connection to the larger historical picture and the larger-than-life figures of World War I.

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria found comfort in her large family which by then included 42 grandchildren. It is from these descendants that we learn of interesting and extremely convoluted relationships which had resulted from the intermarriage within Europe’s royal houses.

Three grandchildren of the royal couple became European rulers. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and the former German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – later known as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, were first cousins. It was so much more troubling, then, that as the sound of the war machine grew louder in 1914, these cousins found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict.

Queen Victoria surrounded by family on her 75th birthday in 1894. Seated, second row (l to r): Kaiser Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria, Kaiserin Friedrich. Standing behind them: the future Tsar Nicholas II and his future wife, the Kaiser’s cousin, Princess Alix von Hessen.

Just before the “guns of August” sparked the beginning of the Great War, it is said that Tsar Nicholas implored his cousin, King George V for protection and requested exile in Great Britain. Sadly no protection was granted and the rest is, truly, history.

The visits to Coburg to see my grandparents left me with many vivid and happy memories. But they also fostered a curiosity that reaches far beyond those innocent childhood memories. Perhaps you have been fortunate to make a strong family connection during a visit to Germany. What are your memories? What struck you?

By Eva Santorini, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Blumenpracht

If you visit a small town in Germany in the spring or summer, we’re sure you’ll see at least one beautiful Blumenpracht on someone’s balcony. That’s because Germans love to show off their flower displays! 

The term Blumenpracht comes from the words Blume (“flower”) and Pracht (“splendor” / “glory” / “magnificence”). Blumenpracht describes a glorious display of flowers – one that has any nature lover turning their heads in awe. Blumenpracht is more than just a few flowers in a pot; it’s a very serious display of flowers that goes beyond what your average person would have at home. This type of flower display requires lots of attention and care. 

But Blumenpracht is not necessarily found in someone’s home or garden. It can also be found in public spaces – like a park or botanical garden. If it makes you whip out your camera or stop in awe, then you’re surely looking at a magnificent Blumenpracht.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The history of April Fool’s Day in Germany

Where did April Fool’s originate?

April Fool’s is a tradition celebrated widely in both the US and Germany. Although it is unclear exactly how and why this day of jokes originated, there is plenty of evidence that Germans (along with other Europeans) were already playing tricks on each other back in the Middle Ages!

Long before the Internet, Germans were celebrating April 1 the old-fashioned way. On April 1, 1530, a meeting was allegedly scheduled for lawmakers in Augsburg, who were told that they were gathering to unify the state’s coinage. When people heard of the meeting, they began trading their currency to make a profit from the change. However, the meeting never took place, the law was not enacted, and everyone who showed up – as well as those who traded their currency – were mocked as fools.

April Fool’s pranks continued over the years in Germany, and newspaper publishers soon jumped on the bandwagon. According to legend, one German newspaper published an April Fool’s article in 1774, claiming that it was possible to breed chickens in different colors by painting the coop that the hen lived in. A newspaper article from April 1, 1789 claimed that hail the size of pigeon eggs had fallen in Berlin. On April 1, 1923, a Berlin newspaper reported that Egyptian mummies had been found in the city’s underground railway station.

As technology developed, so did April Fool’s pranks. On April 1, 1926, German magazine Echo Continental announced the development of a new triple-decker bus for the city of Berlin, complete with an edited picture that served as “proof” of the development. Although this year is not a time for pranking, we still wanted to share the history with you so you can start thinking about how you will prank your coworkers in 2021.

Word of the Week: Nervensäge

Is there someone who irritates you to the point of insanity? Does it feel like this person is sawing through your nerves every time they speak? In German, you would call them a Nervensäge

A fusion of the words Nerven (“nerves”) and Säge (“saw”), the term describes someone who annoys, bothers or irritates you persistently – in a figurative sense, someone who cuts through your nerves. This might be a child who asks constant questions when you are busy, a coworker who won’t stop talking when you’re trying to work or a mother-in-law who questions you about every detail of your life. 

The English phrase “getting on someone’s nerves” is closely related, but there is no equivalent for the German word Nervensäge, other than “nuisance” or “pain in the neck.” 

Some people have more delicate nerves than others — making them more vulnerable to the effects of a Nervensäge. Others have a higher tolerance, and are only affected if a Nervensäge persistently pushes them to their breaking point. 

A good – but rather dramatic – example of a Nervensäge is portrayed in the 1996 comedy film “The Cable Guy” (in German: Cable Guy – Die Nervensäge). In the film, a lonely cable guy named Chip tries desperately to befriend one of his customers, Steven. At first, all goes well and the two seem to be forming a normal friendship. But after a few days, Chip begins to bombard his new friend with voice messages (at one point, 10 in a row) and “runs into” him everywhere he goes. At this point, the cable guy has become a true Nervensäge that clings onto his new friend. He ultimately escalates to violence and stalking – which goes beyond the levels of a traditional Nervensäge – but throughout much of the show, Chip is a good example of someone who really knows how to “saw” through someone’s nerves. 

You probably won’t meet anyone like the cable guy, but we are sure you’ve been around a Nervensäge – someone who just knows how to push your buttons. If not, then props to you for being so tolerant!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Purzelbaum

The German word Purzelbaum sounds like some sort of strange tree. After all, the German word for tree is Baum. But this term actually describes an acrobatic move often practiced by kids – the so-called somersault. 

When you were a kid, you probably remember practicing your somersaults in the backyard. Rolling around may have been fun for your. In German, these are called Purzelbäume (singular: Purzelbaum). It’s a colloquial term primarily used by kids and their parents – after all, adults generally don’t roll into a somersault very often or have a need to describe this. The term comes from the words Purzel (to stumble or fall ungracefully) and aufbäumen (to rear up). The word thus describes the motions of falling and getting up at the same time – sort of like you do when you roll into a somersault. 

© dpa / picture alliance

A Purzelbaum can be executed for fun or by mistake – like in an accident. If, for example, you’re downhill skiing and lose control of your skis, you might fall straight into a Purzelbaum. If you’re lucky, you’ll escape unharmed. Similarly, competitive athletes (such as soccer players) may roll into a somersault if they trip over someone or something. Let’s hope your Purzelbäume have all been intentional!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

5 secret German castles you probably never heard of

Germany is known for its many majestic castles and palaces. But even those who don’t go out of their way to visit one may stumble across the ruins of a medieval castle: Germany has over 20,000 castles, some of which are well-known attractions and others that lay isolated in ruins in the countryside.

The most famous castle is, of course, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was built in the Bavarian hillside in the late 1800s. Walt Disney’s castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, and the site is known worldwide for its magical appearance. It is Germany’s most-visited castle, bringing in over 1.3 million tourists per year.

But Germany also has plenty of smaller, lesser-known castles and palaces that are hidden throughout all of its 16 states. Although this is not a time for travel, we wanted to give you a visual tour of some of these hidden places. Here are just a few:

1) Hohenbaden Old Castle, Baden-Württemberg

Hidden in the Black Forest encircling Baden-Baden is the Hohenbaden Old Castle, which has origins dating back to the 12th century. This castle fell into disuse and was destroyed by a fire in the 16th century, but its ruins make it an attractive destination in the Black Forest today.

2) Werdenfels Castle, Bavaria

The ruins of Werdenfels Castle are located in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria. Little is known about this castle’s origins, but it was most likely built in the 12th or 13th century. It served as an administrative and judicial center for some time, but by the 17th century it was deteriorating. The ruins were privately bought in 1822 and restoration of the castle began in 1986. Today, visitors can hike up a nature trail to see the castle ruins for themselves.

3) Castle Neuleiningen, Rhineland-Palatinate

The Castle Neuleiningen is a castle ruin that was built on the edge of the Palatinate Forest and destroyed by the French in 1690 during the War of the Palatine Succession. Today, the castle is sometimes used for open-air concerts and festivals. The observation tower has spectacular views of the Upper Rhine Valley.

4) Lichtenstein Castle, Baden-Württemberg

The Lichtenstein Castle was built relatively recently; it was constructed in the 1840s by German patriot Wilhelm Hauff who was inspired by the historical novel and fairy-tale Lichtenstein, which takes place in a majestic castle. Although the region had been home to many castles, most of these were in ruins by the 19th century, so Hauff commissioned the construction of a new one. The Lichtenstein Castle was damaged during World War II, but has since been restored and is open to the public for tours. This castle is not well-known among international tourists.

5) Schloss Drachenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia

Some castles are historic ruins; others are modern residences. Schloss Drachenburg is more of the latter; this majestic palace was built as a private residence in the 1880s. It stands on a hill on the Rhine near the city of Bonn. Baron Stephan von Sarter, a wealthy broker and banker, had originally planned to live in the castle but ultimately moved to Paris, where he lived out the rest of his days.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Meet Moritz Hütgen, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) German Participant of the Month for November 2019

Starting his exchange year in Missouri by becoming captain of his high school soccer team was easy for Moritz Hütgen. His can-do attitude has led to a dynamic “second life” as a CBYX participant. Following his Participant of the Month profile last November, we wanted to check in to see what’s been happening since Thanksgiving.

Congratulations, Moritz, on being named the CBYX German Participant of the Month in November 2019. What have been some of the highlights of your CBYX experience since last November?

Thank you so much for your congratulations. I’m spending a great time here in the United States and I experienced a lot in this relatively short time. With my host family and friends I had a lot of fun and according to that, I have a lot of highlights to talk about. A great experience for me has been Thanksgiving. I never participated in this national holiday because it‘s not a big deal in my home country, Germany. The food was delicious and it was great to come together with family and friends. Another highlight for me personally was Christmas. It was great to experience traditions of my host family and also to include some of my traditions in my host family’s Christmas this year. 

It’s truly impressive you became captain of your high school soccer team just weeks after arriving! How did you manage that? And how does youth soccer culture compare in Germany and the United States?

It was a great privilege for me to become captain of my high school soccer team. I‘ve been captain in some of my former soccer clubs in Germany as well and I was very happy to lead my team here in the U.S. Soccer culture in my opinion is very similar all over the world. You just need a ball, some people and it doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak. Soccer brings people together to interact with each other and to have a fun time. It was a great opportunity for me as well to find friends and to make connections in the beginning of my exchange year.

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