German vs. American Universities

Though you can’t avoid the reading or the due dates, studying at a German university can differ in some significant ways from the United States. The obvious differences are that courses are, generally, conducted in German. But there a few less obvious things to consider when trying to study full time abroad.

Basically free

Probably the “least best kept secret” about German schools are their low cost. In 2015, all 16 German states had officially gotten rid of tuition fees. There is still a small fee to cover administration and other costs per semester and often housing is paid for separately from the university, but generally it is very cheap compared to the tuition costs at American schools.

Public vs. private universities

Since public universities in Germany are free, it makes them that much more competitive. Want to be a doctor? You better have almost perfect grades and Abitur score (university qualifying exam) to even be admitted. Though private universities are still high quality, most students would choose no tuition over even the low tuition of a private school.

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Forget the rankings

Sure, lists ranking German schools are out there, but any German would tell you that it basically makes no difference if you go to one public university vs. the other. All public universities are thought to give you an equal quality education.

Degrees are different lengths

Gone away are the automatic four year degrees. Instead, many bachelor programs are just three years. Dual programs to receive both a bachelors and master’s degree are very popular and often four years long.

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One big exam or paper rather than smaller assignments

There is relatively little hand holding at German universities. You don’t get points just for attending, or for small daily assignments. Rather, typically, your entire grade depends on one or two exams or papers and going to lectures is not mandatory.

Students don’t always start college right after high school

In the United States, the percentage of students who defer admissions for a year or more remains very small—generally 1% or less of an admitted class, according to PBS. In Germany, many students take time off after graduating from high school and travel for a year (or two or three). In fact, the tradition of setting out on travel for several years after completing an apprenticeship as a craftsman dates back to medieval times!

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Gemütlichkeit: how Germans find coziness while home alone.

The German word Gemütlichkeit describes coziness and belonging. Here are tips to find this feeling while home alone.

Over the coming weeks and months, millions of people will face the same challenge: defy your social instincts and stay inside your home. It’s a dark irony that the most social thing to do is to be antisocial.

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Hunkering down at home will prove a challenge. We’ll tire of our streaming service queue, our noisy neighbors, the monotony of the same setting and lack of outdoor time.

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So how do we cope? While we’ll all be figuring this out together, a quick glance into German culture and vocabulary may hold a cozy little secret to surviving at home. It’s called Gemütlichkeit.

What is Gemütlichkeit?

The German word Gemütlichkeit has found its way into English. Gemütlichkeit or “coziness” describes a feeling, something like a well-heated, nicely furnished room with a fireplace on a rainy day and a good book. It also connotes a strong notion of belonging, a sense of well-being or simply the lack of hecticness and uneasiness.

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One could say that the term is also multi-layered, in the sense that it can be applied on a public as well as on a private scale. Very open and crowded places, like an evening spent at the Christmas Market, can be just as gemütlich or cozy as the silent comfort of one’s own living room. But of course our focus for today is the latter.

Here’s an example from pop culture that we’re sure you’ll recognize:

“Look for the bare necessities

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

Old Mother Nature’s recipes

That brings the bare necessities of life.”  – © Disney

Many people are familiar with this song from the famous 1967 Walt Disney movie “The Jungle Book”.

“Bare Necessities” was translated into German as “Probier’s mal mit Gemütlichkeit,” which roughly means “Just try it with coziness”. However, the accuracy of this translation is debatable. “Bare necessities” translates to Lebensnotwendigeiten in German and does not exactly have the same connotation with respect to the imperatives in life. But it shows how varied and vague the definition of the term Gemütlichkeit actually is.

Queen Victoria is said to have been the first English native to use the term in the form of the adjective gemütlich. If her idea correlated more closely with Balu the Bear’s or with the association of an eased Sunday at home remains unknown, but we know that Gemütlichkeit can actually be found anywhere. And that is a very “cozy” thing to keep in mind.

‘Coziness’ and lack of ‘worries and strife’ are rather antithetical to our current circumstances. How can we capture a little Gemütlichkeit in our life? Our goal for today will be to discover ways we can bring Gemütlichkeit into our homes. And we’re in luck. The Germans have a few ways of capturing that feeling of warmth and relaxation.

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Here are just a few German methods to find that sweet sweet feeling of Gemütlichkeit!

Floral & Funa

Germans love gardening. And even for those who don’t have a proper outdoor garden, balcony gardens are a common sight. At times like these, adding some flowers to your home or balcony may bring you some joy. Here are just a few photos of some awesome German balcony gardens.

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Why plants? Research shows us that gardeners and plant parents are happier than the rest. Much like care for a child or pet, taking care of others can make us more content with ourselves. In times when closeness and affection are scarce, we can pass on good vibes to our green friends.

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Do you have a balcony garden or indoor plants? If not, all hope isn’t lost. Plants can be ordered online through many retailers. More likely, however, and out of respect for delivery workers, you might ask your neighbors for so-called ‘cuttings’ from common plants that you can grow yourself. To maintain social distancing, they could leave them outside your door or their own for pickup and disinfection.

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There are many herbs that can grow very well from cuttings. Here’s a list.

Have a Digital Kaffeeklatsch (Coffee Chat)!
© dpa / picture-alliance

You probably know that Germans love gathering for Kaffee und Kuchen (“coffee and cake”), traditionally in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. But did you know there’s a name for this type of social gathering? Germans call their afternoon coffee-and-cake sessions a Kaffeeklatsch (“coffee gossip”).

Like the name implies, a Kaffeeklatsch presents the opportunity for coffee (or tea) and conversation. It can be held in someone’s house, at the office or even at a cafe. Traditionally, however, a Kaffeeklatsch is held in someone’s home – often on Sundays. In times like ours, this won’t detail won’t be possible.

© dpa / picture-alliance

But we can still do it over a video chat service, like Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, or Google Hangouts! Schedule a digital date with a few of your friends, brew a cup of coffee or tea, grab a few cookies or a slice of cake, and enjoy their company over the internet!

Many Germans use Kaffee und Kuchen as an opportunity to invite friends or family to catch up. And they’ll sometimes make quite an event out of it, bringing out a pretty tablecloth and their best tableware. In addition to coffee, Germans will usually serve some sort of pastry, whether it’s homemade cheesecake or something sweet from the bakery. So bust out that fancy tablecloth for your digital Kaffeeklatsch, and get to baking!

Some people compare the Kaffeeklatsch to the British version of five o’clock tea, but there are quite a few differences. For one, a Kaffeeklatsch is less frequent and more likely to occur on a weekend when people have more time on their hands. A Kaffeeklatsch is also more likely to include a group of women who gather for gossip, while afternoon tea is more inclusive.

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The origins of the Kaffeeklatsch have been traced to around 1900, when German housewives gathered at each others’ homes to drink coffee and chat. Over time, the ritual became deeply ingrained in German culture, and soon spread to neighboring countries. If you grew up in a household in Germany, Austria, Finland or Luxembourg, there’s a good chance that the Kaffeeklatsch might have been a part of your weekend activities.

The Kaffeeklatsch is a wonderful German tradition sure to bring a little Gemütlichkeit into your life!

Be a Bücherwurm!


75% of Americans say they read a book in the last year, and 61% of Germans say they read regularly. What better time than now to do more reading than ever! Grab a book you’ve been setting aside for another time, and dig in!

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The German word Bücherwurm translates to Bookworm. And just like in English, it denotes someone who loves books, reading, and maybe even writing.

Books and book culture is deeply ingrained in German culture. Famous authors and thinkers such as Goethe, Humboldt, Kant, Hegel, and Mann have inspired generations to turn to the next page, or grab a pen and paper themselves.

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Don’t have many books at home? It’s easier than ever to become an avid reader. For copyright-free literature, see Project Gutenberg. Their top 100 Ebooks list should keep you busy.

If you’re after something more modern, use a local library card to access OverDrive, an app that lets you check out Ebooks from your local library for easy reading on a Kindle or similar device.

 

Maybe even grab a German book while you’re at it. Each year, German books are translated and published in English. Many are awarded the “German Book Prize” by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Here are the winners from 2019.

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What’s your favorite German Buch (book)?

 

Give in to your Wanderlust (if you’re allowed)

Sometimes you just have to go outside. In these difficult times, it’s not always possible. But if you’re able to go out in a safe way that keeps you distanced from others, give in a little to your desire to “wander”.

Germans are obsessed with hiking in the great outdoors. The German word “wandern” means to hike or to roam, a purposeful version of the English word “wander”. When Germans crave exploration on foot, they’re said to have Wanderlust.

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Some of the most brilliant minds of history would invigorate their brains with a daily walk, maybe even a jog. For maintaining a healthy weight, mind, body, spirit, and inspiring a bit of Gemütlichkeit, we couldn’t recommend anything better!

If you can’t go out physically, take a digital walk! Here an example from YouTube:

But again, please be safe and follow instructions from your local authorities!

 

Play a Brettspiel (Board Game)!

Board games can be a great way to bring your whole family together, and leave the digital world behind. If you’re quarantined alone, many popular board games can be found online.

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Germans have a particular affinity for board games. As it turns out, German board game aficionados have helped fuel the explosion in popularity of board games in the US. Read more on that in The Atlantic:The Invasion of the German Board Games.

Games like Settlers of Catan have brought groups together for countless hours of fun (and yes, admittedly a little stress too). So put on some relaxing music, grab a glass of wine, and settle in for a game with your family at the table, or with friends online.

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Bringing it all together.

We hope we’ve inspired a few ideas to spark Gemütlichkeit in your life. If you have other ideas, share them with us @GermanyInUSA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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By William Fox
German Embassy

 

7 facts most Americans don’t know about Berlin – How many do you know?

Juten Tach! (“Guten Tag!”)

Are you an expert on Berlin? Think you know everything there is to know about Germany’s capital city? A large portion of Berlin’s population are transplants from other regions of Germany and other nations, so there’s a lot of competition for knowing all there is to know about this dynamic, bustling city.

Because so many Americans already know so much about Berlin, we decided to compile a list of almost unknown facts, or things so obscure they might not be known by even Americans who’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Berlin. The goal here is to challenge even the most ardent fan. How many of these facts do you already know? Count them up, and we’ll rate your score at the end!

As they say in Berlin, “Ran an die Buletten!” (“Let’s go!”)

We’ll get you started with an easy one…

1. Did you know Berlin has an aquarium with an elevator?

The DomAquarée in Berlin is the “largest free standing cylindrical aquarium in the world”.

With thousands of fish and unique flora and fauna, a ride through its middle is a must!

The 82 ft tall AquaDom at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Berlin is home to nearly 2,600 fish of 56 different species. About  264,172 gallons of water fill the cylindrical tank in the hotel lobby.

The aquarium was constructed in 2004 at a cost of 13 million Euros. And upkeep is not cheap: back when the tank had only 1,500 fish, they required 18 lbs of fish food per day – and this number has surely risen.

In order to get a better 360 view of the fish in the AquaDom, visitors can take a transparent elevator up through the inside of the tank!

Ok, that one was pretty easy. Let’s turn up the heat!

Continue reading “7 facts most Americans don’t know about Berlin – How many do you know?”

Word of the Week: Partnerstadt

Have you ever strolled around your city center, only to find a street, town square, or even public transportation seemingly honoring another city? Are there regular cultural festivals based on another city’s traditions? Have there been major new business partnerships or even disaster relief efforts with a particular city? Your city may just have a Partnerstadt, translating literally to “partner city” and also known as a “sister city.” 

So what does a Partnerstadt partnership mean? Based on an agreement by two city governments in different countries, sister cities can originate based on shared size, industry, heritage, or other similarities. Many city partnerships were first created after WWII, facilitated by Dwight D. Eisenhower’s founding of Sister Cities International in 1956. Sister cities foster person-to-person diplomacy and help to address global challenges on the local level. The forms of Partnerstadt collaboration can vary widely based on the cities’ needs, with examples including youth exchanges, art exhibitions, joint business ventures, exchanging strategies on climate resilience, shared historical remembrance, and more.

The first sister city partnership was between Paderborn, Germany and Le Mans, France in 836.

A current day charming 30 year-old sister-city pairing is between Berkeley, California and Jena, Germany! See below:

One of the best sister-city pairs is Houston, Texas and Leipzig, Germany! After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a student from Leipzig proposed the pairing with Houston, Leipzig’s first in the Western Hemisphere!

Currently, Germany has roughly 5,000 Partnerstädte, with more than 100 U.S.-German partnerships sustained by Sister Cities International. Some recent U.S.-German city collaborations include Maifest in St. Charles, a regional event on U.S.-German business relations, Fort Worth and Trier collaborating on a new beer, and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester visiting its sister city Houston after performing at the closing event for Wunderbar Together in Boston.

Next time you see a sign or initiative indicating you may have a Partnerstadt, we invite you to learn more about your city’s cultural ties – either through your city’s website or the website of your local Sister Cities International organization.

This blog post forms part of Sister Cities International’s partnership with Wunderbar Together, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, implemented by the Goethe-Institut, and supported by the Federation of German Industries (BDI). To learn more about this partnership, please visit Sister Cities’ Wunderbar Together webpage here. To learn more about Wunderbar Together, please visit their website here.

 

By Alexandra Hoenscheid, Sister Cities International

 

 

No Cowboys or Princesses! Why German Halloween costumes are ‘spooky only’

American Halloween and German Halloween are very different!


In the US you would expect to see all sorts of costumes- cowboy, skeleton, princess, witch, movie characters, etc. Halloween is not just a spooky holiday, but a fun one for the whole family. It’s expected that children and adults alike embrace the fantastical aspects of the day as an opportunity to dress up as they see fit. There’s a lot of flexibility. Heck, people even dress up their dachshunds as hot dogs!

Not so in Germany. If you go out on Halloween in Germany, you’ll likely only see seriously spooky costumes: zombies, ghosts, witches, werewolves, murderers etc. All the “fun” costumes mysteriously disappear. There are no gag costumes or couple costumes, no astronauts or politicians, few superheroes and jedi- only creepers and jeepers. This even holds true with school children, who might come to school dressed in black, stereotypical halloween costumes. What gives?


Halloween is only a recent celebration in Germany. It coincides relatively closely with Carnival, which also includes costumes, and until 25 years ago, this was sufficient for Germans itching to dress up in a costume.

But retail pressures have brought the holiday across the Atlantic. Big sales on clothes and candy make shops prosper, and consumers keep spending. Halloween has slowly gained prominence across Europe, even though it’s mainly celebrated in the US.

However, a couple parts of the holiday have been lost in the transition across the ocean. Trick or Treating hasn’t really caught on yet, though “Süß oder saueres!” is a rough German equivalent. And important for our inquiry: the idea of costumes outside of the stereotypes haven’t caught on yet either. Germans have seen Halloween in American movies and TV for decades, and have recognized the stereotypical spooky costumes as the only possible. That’s why German Halloween is dominated by werewolves, ghosts, witches, and axe-wielding murderers!


Things continue to change. Maybe this year you’ll see a different mix. But don’t be surprised if you see a 6 year-old with a knife dressed as Jason. It’s just how things are!

American pilot shot down in WWII makes emotional return to German town

A remarkable story of German-American friendship recently took place in the small town of Gerolzhofen between Frankfurt and Nürnberg. A former American pilot who was shot down over Germany and taken in war captivity is visiting the place where he almost lost his life for the first time in 76 years.

Roland Martin was a pilot of the “Iron Maiden” on October 14, 1943 as part of America’s second major attack on a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. As the youngest pilot of the US Air Force at that time, his plane and those of other pilots were shot down shortly before his 20th birthday. Six pilots had already left the plane with parachutes; the rest had to face an emergency landing. Due to the high losses, this day went down in US history as the “Black Thursday”. Although all 10 crew members survived the emergency landing, Martin was picked up by German ground troops after two weeks on the run. As a prisoner of war he remained in a prison camp at the Baltic Sea until the end of the war. The fact that today, despite this history, he came back to the scene of the events shows how much German-American relations have developed in times of peace.

Norbert Vollmann

This history of enmity between Germany and the USA has found a moving and happy end, which we owe also to the Americans, who committed themselves to a peaceful reconstruction of Germany after the war.

Roland was visibly touched by his visit to the launch site, especially by the frankness of the Germans. It shows that friendships can nevertheless emerge from death, suffering and destruction in war. “Today we meet as friends” summarizes Gerolzhofen’s mayor Thorsten Wozniak. When Roland received the honor to write down a few words in the Golden Book of the City of Gerolzhofen, the 95-year-old was in tears. 

Norbert Vollmann

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. There are many sad stories to remember, but also rays of hope, just like the connection between Roland Martin and Germany that shows that over time enemies can become friends. We look back on decades of support from America and are grateful that we live together in friendship and peace today.

original story by Norbert Vollmann
English adaptation by Kimberly Klebolte

10 things you should know before going to Berlin

Berlin, Berlin…What can we say about you? To explain it to Americans is to say it is a mix of New York and Washington. It is both a haven for policy wonks and government interns, but also stays up all night and attracts those searching to live an alternative lifestyle. So before you go, here’s what you should know about Germany’s capital.

Carnival of cultures

By any standard, Berlin is an international city. Its population, albeit ever transient, is made up of 13% people of a non-German background. In fact, Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey! Much like New York, Berlin’s collection of cultures is reflected in their food offerings—with Turkish, Japanese, and Greek food as commonly found as traditionally German restaurants.

Berlin wasn’t always the capital

Bonn was the capital of West Germany previous to the fall of the wall. Berlin became the official capital of a reunified Germany in 1990.

Continue reading “10 things you should know before going to Berlin”