Getting personal with Vince Ebert, German science comedian in New York

Though well-known in Germany, where he hosts a prime-time TV show about science and pens a column “Überm Teich” for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, Americans are usually perplexed when they hear that Vince Ebert is a “German science comedian.” Is there really such a thing?! Yes, there is, and as living proof Vince is currently spending a year in the Big Apple, testing his material in the land of “limitless possibilities” and some of his comedic heroes, such as Dave Chappelle. As he enjoys the American Way of Life, Vince is also gathering inspiration for a forthcoming book and new comedy show to launch in Germany in fall 2020. Until then, catch Vince in one of his U.S. shows and tell your friends it’s true: the German science comedian DOES exist—and, empirically speaking, he’s a hoot!

Why did you choose to spend your non-midlife-crisis in America?

In Germany I’ve been on stage for over 20 years now. After such a long time, even the most exciting profession becomes a kind of routine. So I said to my wife: “Let’s move to New York for one year. I need a new challenge!” And being funny in a foreign language is definitely a huge challenge. Fortunately, my wife was enthusiastic about my plan because she loves New York as much as I do.

What is it like being a German in New York City? Do you have some favorite “German haunts” there?

We actually try to avoid the typical German meeting places because we both want to dive more into the “real” New York life. Of course, we are not able to hide our heritage. As soon as New Yorkers realize the German accent, they are thrilled. And then they are all telling a story about their brother-in-law who knows a colleague who is married to a woman who has a roommate who is in a relationship with a guy from Düsseldorf.

Have you had the chance to travel around the country outside NYC? Any memorable experiences?

I can highly recommend the Catskills! Recently we spent a few days in Phoenicia to enjoy the foliage. At a hiking tour we even ran into a black bear. When we enthusiastically told our host lady about our encounter, she replied somewhat bored: “Yay…I´m so glad you got to see one. But to tell you the truth they are as exciting around here as squirrels in Washington Square Park.”

What is the comedy scene like in New York? How does it compare to Germany?

The number of comedians in NYC is incredible. And of course, this is reflected in the high level of quality. Since many comedians usually play short sets of about 10 or 15 minutes, their material is very dense. Every 20 seconds there’s a joke. At first this was very unusual for me because German comedians are performing longer sets of about 90 minutes plus. Longer stories, fewer jokes. Sometimes even no jokes at all.

Which U.S.-American comics do you admire? Why?

I’m a big fan of Dave Chappelle. He’s super funny without being shallow. Under the surface there’s an utterly humanitarian political message and at the same token he has the courage to be completely politically incorrect.

If you are adding humor to science, is there a science to humor? Does your process for developing material follow a disciplined regimen, or does the humor “find you” at unexpected moments?

For a German science guy American engineering is quite a challenge. To flush my toilet, you need the sensitivity of a watchmaker and my shower has two default settings: heat stroke and frost bite. Recently I asked my landlord: Don’t you have a regulator to adjust the room temperature? And he said: “Of course. We call it window.” And by the way: what is so great about inches, feet, miles, ounces and pounds? How did they get to the moon with such a mess?

What inspiration have you found in the U.S. that you will take back to Germany?

American comedians are not afraid to tell personal stories. For me this is a great inspiration. So far, my German shows were more like funny TED Talks. But the next show will be definitely more personal.

Interview by Jacob Comenetz, German Embassy

“We celebrated an event that we had thought would not occur in our lifetimes”

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are gathering stories from both Germans and Americans who lived through that time. This week’s feature is a story by John Parisi, who was deeply moved by the events that transpired in 1989.

When the news of the opening of the Berlin Wall was first reported on the evening of November 9, 1989, I was attending a German language class in downtown Washington, DC.  Upon arriving home, my wife told me the news. We celebrated an event that we had thought would not occur in our lifetimes, and we thought about people we had encountered in the East and recalled how the wall had influenced our lives, going back to its beginning.

On August 13, 1961, my family awoke to the news that barbed wire had been strung in Berlin, cordoning off the East from the West.  Shortly thereafter, my father was recalled to active duty as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Fifth Army. I vividly recall seeing on television U.S. and Soviet Union tanks facing each other at the sector border and fearing that a war would occur.  Thankfully, it didn’t.

On the last weekend of September, 1969, I arrived in Germany for my Auslandsstudium during my Junior Year at Kalamazoo College.  I lived with a family in Münster (with whom I am still in contact, now in the fourth generation). On that first Sunday, I accompanied them to the polling place in their neighborhood where they cast their votes in the Bundestagwahl.  The voting official gave me a copy of the Stimmzettel which I still have. That evening, we watched the election returns and I learned that they were SPD voters in the very “Schwarz” Münsterland, and they welcomed the replacement of Kurt Georg Kiesinger by Willy Brandt.

The next month, my classmates and I went to Berlin.  We were taken to a platform near the Wall on which we could see into the Eastern sector.  I remember seeing children playing in the street and thinking that, in their memory, the wall had always been there.  Along Bernauer Strasse, the facades of the houses served as the “wall” at that time. During our visit, we met with an official at the Berlin Senat who told us very frankly that West Berlin was a dying city; the wall not only kept the easterners out, it also squeezed the lifeblood of the West.  

Courtesy of John Parisi

Twelve years passed – I finished college, taught school, went to law school, married Anne Broker (who also went to Münster to study in 1972), and got a job in the U.S. Congress in Washington – before I was able to return to Germany.  During part of our three week visit in October 1982 (soon after Helmut Kohl became Chancellor), my wife and I travelled along the B 27, from the Rhön to Goslar. Along the way, we drove very close to the inner-German border and marveled at the expense that the Eastern regime undertook to construct and maintain the barrier.

In early 1988, the Robert Bosch Foundation offered me a Fellowship to work in Germany for nine months.  My wife and I accepted and came to live in Bonn where I worked first at the Federal Economics Ministry and then for the Federation of German Industry (then located in Köln-Bayenthal).  On January 9, 1989, my wife gave birth to our first child, Elizabeth, at Johanniter Krankenhaus in Bonn.  The next month, Erich Honecker declared that the Berlin Wall would stand for another 50 years.  When we visited Berlin on Easter weekend of 1989 and stood on the platform looking into East Berlin, we felt certain that the wall would not come down in our lifetimes; but, we hoped that it might fall in Elizabeth’s.  Eight months later it did.  But, that was not the end of our “wall” story.

Courtesy of John Parisi

In April 2001, my wife and I and our two daughters accompanied the Congressional Study Group on Germany to its annual meeting with its Bundestag counterparts.  The meetings were held on Usedom and in Berlin; I served as rapporteur. While in Berlin, we took our daughters to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum; they still have vivid memories of that visit.

Then in June 2001, our family traveled to Ireland.  In Belfast, we took a tour of the Shankhill and Falls Road neighborhoods, seeing firsthand the effects of the “Troubles.”  At the so-called “Peace Wall,” that divides the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast, our daughter Elizabeth asked, “Why do you take us to such depressing places?”  I replied that we should visit places like Berlin and Belfast and learn the lessons that those places have to teach us.

On June 17, 2018 – the 65th anniversary of the workers uprising in East Berlin – Anne and I visited Mödlareuth, a tiny village divided by a creek that has been the border between Thuringia and Bavaria since 1810.  At the end of World War II, that was the border between the American and Soviet Sectors. After the wall was erected in Berlin, Mödlareuth became known as ‘little Berlin.’ The village has a “Grenzmuseum” that is worth diversion from the A9 or A72 north of Hof.  It serves as another reminder of how many places, large and small, were immensely impacted by the wall.

In his June 1963 speech in Berlin, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, quoted then-Mayor Willy Brandt’s description of the Berlin Wall as “an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity.”  Sadly, the wall stood for another 26 years.  This year’s 30th anniversary of the opening of the wall is a time both to look back and to look forward:  back to reflect on the pain the wall caused as well as the courage of those who strove peacefully to bring it down, and forward to consider the lessons the wall has to teach us today and for the future.     

By John Parisi

Did you know these everyday objects were invented in Germany?

Inventors from around the world are converging on Nürnberg from Oct. 31 to Nov. 1 to present their inventions at Germany‘s annual trade fair for ideas and inventions (the Ideen-Erfindungen-Neuheiten-Austellung, also known as iENA). The fair is the largest of its kind; since it was first held in 1948, more than 300,000 inventions were presented to the public – including inline skates, wheeled suitcases and folding bicycles. Inventors from all over the world are expected to display over 800 inventions.

In light of this fair, let’s take a look at some inventions that you may not have known are German!

©dpa / picture alliance

Aspirin

Many of us depend on aspirin to cure us of our pains. But few may know that aspirin was invented by a German chemist, Felix Hoffman. The Swabian-born chemist initially developed the drug for his aligning father, but got a patent for it in 1899.

©dpa / picture alliance

Contact Lenses

German ophthalmologist Dr. Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick invented the first contact lens in 1887, which he created from heavy brown glass. And no – the first contact lenses were not comfortable to wear, and they could only be worn for a few short hours at a time!

©dpa / picture alliance

Coffee filter

The coffee filter was invented by a housewife from Dresden named Melitta Bentz. Using blotting paper from her children’s school books, she removed coffee grounds from her brew, making it less bitter and smoother. She was granted a patent in 1908 and sold 1,200 coffee filters at the 1909 Leipzig Fair.

©dpa / picture alliance

Jeans

German-American businessman Levi Strauss and his partner Jacob Davis patented the first pair of blue jeans in 1873. Back then, they were considered workwear and worn primarily cowboys and miners. Today, they are quite the fashion statement!

Other popular German inventions are mayonnaise, x-ray machines, the printing press, the accordion, hole punchers, ring binders and the petri dish. Let’s see what new inventions Germans have at this weekend’s iENA fair in Nürnberg!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Frankenstein Castle: One of Germany’s spookiest places

With Halloween just around the corner, let’s take a look at one of Germany’s creepiest places: Frankenstein Castle.

Frankenstein Castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the city of Darmstadt. It was constructed sometime before the year 1250 by Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg, who founded the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein. Over the coming centuries, the castle was home to various different families and witnessed several territorial conflicts. In 1673, Johann Conrad Dippel – who later became an alchemist – was born in the castle. The structure fell into ruins in the 18th century and was restored in the mid-19th century.

The most famous story is, of course, that of the alchemist who worked in the castle in the 17th century. He was known to experiment with strange potions. He supposedly created an animal oil (which he named “Dippel’s Oil”) that was a so-called “elixir of life”. There are also rumors that the man studied anatomy and conducted experiements on cadavers, some of which he dug up himself from graves. There is no evidence that proves that any of this happened, but local people believe the legends are true.

Continue reading “Frankenstein Castle: One of Germany’s spookiest places”

These 6 celebrities speak German! (Video evidence)

If you’ve ever mentioned to a friend that you’re trying to learn ein bisschen Deutsch, you’ll immediately be confronted with platitudes about how difficult the long words are, or how tough it is to remember all the grammar. In the worst case scenario, they’ll put on a harsh accent and yell out “Schmetterling!” (“butterfly!”).

But learning German can be something for everyone. With enough practice, anyone can become at least a little conversational. As inspiration, here’s a list of celebrities that can speak German, some more fluently than others, of course.

Because the skill-level is so variable, we thought it would be fun to go from least to most fluent. No judgements here! We realize short clips might not be the best demonstration of one’s language abilities.

#5 Chris Pratt

Pratt, star of Parks and Rec and Guardians of the Galaxy, learned some German in high school. In this clip he appears to struggle with anything beyond the most basic questions. However, he is able to engage in a basic conversation in a noisy environment, something a lot of people aspire to. Take a look:

#4 Gene Simmons

Gene, lead singer of Kiss, claims to speak a bit of German, Hebrew, and Japanese. In this clip he demonstrates an impressive ability to understand what the interviewer is asking of him, even if he fails to respond in a grammatically correct way. Still, a little broken German is German nonetheless. You be the judge:

#3 Christopher Lee

Christopher, Saruman in Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku in Star Wars, sang some in German, as well as did some filming. Though he seems a bit annoyed by the German interviewer in this clip, he does seem fully capable of understanding what’s being asked, and of responding to the questions, even if only briefly. Check it out:

#2 Leonardo DiCaprio

Leo needs no introduction. As he explains in this clip, his grandmother was from Germany and taught his some important phrases. Though quite halting, there’s certainly a little skill!

#1 Sandra Bullock

Holy cow! Golden Globe Winner Sandra Bullock speaks German at an incredible level. Her singing coach was German, as well as one of her grandfathers. No need to explain too much as her abilities are made abundantly clear by listening to her speak. In this clip, watch her literally forget her award acceptance speech at a ceremony, but then recover by giving the speech without notes:

So that’s the list…But wait, there’s one more!

Honorable Mention: Tina Fey

It’s not totally clear if Fey, known for SNL and 30 Rock, actually speaks German, or if she simply learned enough in school to pronounce it properly. What we can say is that anytime a German phrase leaves her mouth, it’s absolutely hilarious. Enjoy!

30 Rock: Liz’s high school level German

Tina Fey German Study Abroad

30 Rock Liz Lemon Singing German Luftballons

30 Rock- Liz Lemon Yelling in German


By William Fox, German Embassy

These maps show the most popular German dog breeds in all 50 states

“You ain’t nothing but a hound dog” sang Elvis. For any German listening, it was slightly redundant. That’s because the word “hound” has its origin in the German word “Hund”, which means “dog”.

So…

“You ain’t nothing but a hound dog”
sounds a lot like,

“You ain’t nothing but a dog dog”

But shared German-American dog culture goes far deeper than redundancy in Elvis lyrics! There are nearly 90 million dogs in the United States, and a good number of them have German origins. The Boxer, the Pomeranian, the German Shepherd, the Dachshund, and many more breeds come across the Atlantic from Deutschland.

The American Kennel Club publishes a yearly list of the most popular dog breeds nation-wide, and Labrador and Golden Retrievers (neither a German breed) always top that list. 

In 2018, the faithful German Shepherd ranked as the second most popular dog breed in the whole country! Not bad!

However, these data points from the AKC don’t provide us with breed popularity in each state, and don’t provide rankings for us to make a lovely map.

So which German breeds are the most popular in each state in the nation?

To find out, we took Google Trends data from the last 12 months. The percentage of search traffic for German breeds was then accounted for on a state-by-state basis. Then, we made several maps!

* It’s important to note that the drawback of these maps is that they account for search traffic and not ownership.They represent interest in a breed, not the number of dogs in a state. *

Continue reading “These maps show the most popular German dog breeds in all 50 states”

Amazon forest fires: Germany stands ready to help

You might have heard about the massive wildfires that are burning in the Amazon rainforest at the present moment. The Amazon generates more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and 10% of the world’s known biodiversity. It is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”, so when it is threatened, it becomes an international issue. Leaders around the world have expressed their concern about the fires, and on Friday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that Germany is ready to help.

“When the rainforest burns for weeks on end, then we cannot remain indifferent,” Minister Maas said. “We cannot allow fires to destroy the green lungs of the world. Protecting the unique natural heritage of the Amazon rainforest is an international task that concerns us all. Germany stands ready to offer help and support for tackling the fires.”

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Berlin has a museum dedicated to currywurst. We’re not joking.

© dpa / picture-alliance

If you’ve ever been to Germany, you surely know about Germans’ love for currywurst!

In fact, Germans love currywurst so much that they even have a museum dedicated to it.

The Currywurst Museum, located in downtown Berlin, is dedicated to the popular sausage dish, presenting everything from the history of the currywurst to its presence in film, TV and music. The interactive museum also features exhibits such as spice sniffing stations, a sausage sofa, ketchup-bottle-shaped audio stations and virtual currywurst-making stations.

Located right near Checkpoint Charlie, the Currywurst Museum is an unusual and entertaining addition to any Berlin trip – especially with kids!

But how did this strange museum come into being?

© dpa / picture-alliance

The museum opened its doors in August 2009 – 60 years after the invention of the currywurst. This popular German sausage was created by Berlin resident Herta Heuwer in 1949. Back then, Germany was suffering the aftermath of World War II and there was a shortage of food. So Heuwer experimented: she got a hold of some ketchup and curry powder from British soldiers and added these ingredients to a traditional German Bratwurst. She then began to sell this newly invented currywurst at a stand near Checkpoint Charlie. Her creation was a hit, and she eventually reached a point where she was selling up to 10,000 currywurst sausages a week.

The founder of the Currywurst Museum, Martin Loewer, realized how important this food item became in Germany and created the museum to acknowledge its impact. The museum currently receives about 350,000 visitors per year.

© dpa / picture-alliance
© dpa / picture-alliance

This map shows the German-born German population in the USA in 1870

*Before the actually blog post, it should be stated from the outset that we are dealing with raw numbers here, not percentages* Ok, let’s get into it!

All yee German-born, step right up and be gezählt (counted)!

The practice of taking a head-count of the population of a nation dates back to ancient Egypt. It helps governments know if they’re growing, shrinking, where to send government services (or soldiers 😮 ), and it’s just kind of nifty information to have!

The US follows this tradition. The very first US census of 1790 occurred while the ink was still drying on the US Constitution. President Washington was a year into his first term, and Congress wanted to make sure they knew “the aggregate amount of each description of persons”. While it was a highly imperfect system, it started a practice that has lasted through the life of the nation.

One such census occurred in 1870. Well, it actually went all the way in 1871, but that’s not such a critical detail! As you can see in the old map below, the Census Bureau had a particular interest in the presence of an ever-increasing segment of the population: Germans!

© Wikimedia Commons

A few German immigrants made it over for the Jamestown colony, and the largest and earliest German settlers went to Pennsylvania. The number of Germans really picked up in the 19th century, exceeding any other group. And that can be seen on our map today, which shows the raw number of German-born people in each state, according to the 9th Census in 1870.

Here’s a table of the data from the census, and below it, our map. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to follow us @GermanyinUSA for more content about the links between Germany and the USA!

By William Fox, German Embassy

Why did the GDR build the Berlin Wall?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an important date in German history. But while this year’s focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let’s not forget how everything began.

During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.

GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn’t long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.

Continue reading “Why did the GDR build the Berlin Wall?”