The benefits of learning German in 2019

We’re two weeks into a new year – a time of resolutions and planning. Why don’t you make learning German one of your intentions?

About 130 million people worldwide consider German their native or second language. It is the most widely spoken native language in the European Union, the third most widely taught foreign language in the US and the EU, and the third most widely used language on websites. It is the official or most widely spoken language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and several other regions such as South Tyrol. Plus, one tenth of all books worldwide are being published in German. It is no secret that learning German makes you more employable (while also allowing you to read the works of Kant and Hegel in their native language – another plus!).

For many, learning German might seem like a daunting task. After all, Duden states that there are 23 million words in the German language. But an average German speaker only uses 12,000 to 16,000 words in his or her everyday life, which makes learning German a little more manageable! And even with a small vocabulary you can create bigger, longer words. For those of you who know a little bit of German already, we’re sure you know what we mean! German words are like chemical elements: you can combine several of them to make something entirely new!

Germans are also the single largest ethnic group in the US (with almost 50 million Americans claiming German ancestry), and 1.38 million people in the US speak German, according to the US Census. A 2015 study also found that interest in German is growing at a particularly high rate in China, India in Brazil, and that 15.4 million people worldwide are currently learning German.

At GermanyinUSA.com, we regularly post a German Word of the Week to share fun, interesting or unusual German words with our readers, and also provide information to help you learn German wherever you may be. We invite you to take a look at our latest words and feel free to suggest others in the comments!

Word of the Week archive

Garmisch-Partenkirchen: The Aspen of Germany

Aspen, Colorado and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany have many traits in common: both are picturesque towns built against the backdrop of some of the world’s most beautiful mountains, attracting hikers, explorers, and winter sports enthusiasts who seek an escape from city life. Although Aspen has multiple sister cities across the world, its partnership with Garmisch-Partenkirchen dates back to September 23, 1966 — the first of its sister cities.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen is located in Bavaria, near the Austrian border and close to Germany’s tallest mountain at 9,718 feet tall — the Zugspitze. Thanks to its proximity to the Alps it is one of Germany’s major resort towns, but it also has a turbulent past.

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For many centuries, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were separate towns. The original Roman road passed through Partenkirchen and was first mentioned in history in the year A.D. 15. From the 13th century until the early 19th century, the prince-bishops of Freising ruled the region, and governed from the nearby Werdenfels Castle. Like much of Europe, during the 16th century the towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen were subject to hardships including the bubonic plague outbreaks and witch hunts. Those accused of witchcraft were tried and burned at the stake at the Werdenfels Castle. In the 17th century, the castle was seen as a place of terror, and was abandoned. Today, only ruins remain.

During Adolf Hitler’s ruling in the early 20th century, the region was chosen as the site for the 1936 Winter Olympics. In preparation for the games, Hitler decided to unify the two towns, calling the new city Garmisch-Partenkirchen. After World War II, the town was used as a recreational center for the U.S. military. Some long-term residents still consider themselves loyal to either Garmisch or Partenkirchen and refuse to recognize the name change.

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Winter Sports in Germany

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Skiing and Snowboarding

For those who enjoy skiing and snowboarding, Germany has a number of renowed resorts, many of which lie in the mountainous state of Bavaria. While the neighboring countries of Austria and Switzerland are well-known for their Alpine ski resorts, Germany too has destinations that transform themselves into a winter paradise. One of the most popular Alpine ski resort towns 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.

Recommended ski destinations in Germany:

  • Garmisch-Partenkirchen / Zugspitze
  • Oberstdorf (Fellsdorf/Kleinwalserthal)
  • Schwarzwald (Black Forest)
  • Willingen-Upland
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A night on the Zugspitze: travelers camp out in an igloo village

The summit of the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain. © dpa / picture-alliance

As a thick blanket of snow covers the icy mountains of Bavaria, some adventurous travelers choose to spend a night on Germany’s tallest mountain – the Zugspitze. But rather than sit by a fireplace in a cozy hotel, these travelers spend the evening curled up in a sleeping bag, protected only by the icy walls of a man-made igloo.

Situated atop the Zugspitze, the Igloo Village is open from December 28 until about mid-April, depending on the weather. Travelers can rent an igloo to spend a starry night on Germany’s peak, which would otherwise be impossible, since there are no traditional hotels atop the mountain.

© Iglu-Dorf GmbH

Those who rent a room in an igloo are provided with thick sleeping bags, food and drink and the option to participate in activities such as evening hikes and snowshoeing. Depending on the igloo they choose to stay in,
visitors can also enjoy the evening in a private jacuzzi or a sauna, or simply cozy up in candle-lit rooms.

The Iglu-Dorf GmbH is responsible for building seven igloo villages across Europe. The Zugspitze is their only location in Germany, but the company also has snowy igloo hotels in Andorra and the Swiss regions of Davos- Klosters, Engelberg-Titlis, Gstaad and Zermatt.

An igloo village in front of the famous Matterhorn mountain in Zermatt, Switzerland.

Each location is decorated with snowy art in line with a specific theme. This season, the Zugspitze’s igloo village is decorated with sculptures that remind visitors of ancient Rome.

The idea to build the igloo hotels came from Adrian Günter, who always sought to be the first one on the mountains in order to obtain photos of sunrises and take his snowboard down untouched slopes.

“I want to be the first one on the mountain in the morning to enjoy the ambient [setting] and go downhill with my snowboard,” was his guiding principle, according to the Iglu-Dorf website.

To make his dream an achievable reality, Günter and his friends built several igloos at a ski resort in Switzerland and spent the night in their structures, which allowed them to be the first ones on the mountain the next morning.

Other winter sport adventurers soon asked Günter for permission to sleep in his igloos, which sparked the idea to start an igloo hotel company. Now, since building its very first igloos in the winter of 1995/1996, the company has hosted tens of thousands of overnight visitors in igloo villages across Europe.

But building these villages is no easy task: the traditional procedure was long and laborious, so Günter invented a method that would speed up the process. To build the igloos, inflatable balloons are covered with snow, thereby forming their basic shapes. Still, the company claims that it takes an average of 2,700 hours to build all of its structures in a village (there are up to 20 igloos per village).

For those eager to camp atop Germany’s tallest mountain, make sure to dress warm: Temperatures in the igloos are typically freezing, and the gondala that takes visitors down the mountain stops running at night. None of the igloo hotels have showers, so most visitors only stay for one night.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The history of German Christmas markets

If you’ve ever been to Germany in December, you are likely familiar with the Christmas markets that decorate almost every city. Christmas markets can be found in many countries today, but they originated in the German-speaking part of the Roman Empire and remain a big part of German culture today.

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German Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages, when townspeople held winter markets as an opportunity to stock up on food and supplies to get them through the colder months. These open-air markets were usually only open for a day or a few days – just enough time to allow people to buy what they needed. A famous example of this is Vienna’s Dezembermarkt (“December market”), which was first held between 1294 and 1296 and sold goods for the winter.

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Over time, the wintertime markets began to evolve. Craftsmen began to set up stands selling products such as toys and woodcarvings, which people bought as gifts for Christmas and New Year’s. It is believed that some of the oldest Christmas markets were first held in Dresden in 1434, in Bautzen in 1384, in Frankfurt in 1393 and in Munich in 1310, although some of these may have had more of a resemblance to wintertime markets. The Protestant Reformation also had an impact on the markets. When the markets first came into being, they were often associated with Saint Nicholas (Munich’s first market was called the Nikolausdult). After the Protestant Reformation, the markets gradually became associated with the Christkindl (“Christ child”) instead – and in 1805 Munich changed the name of its market to the Christkindlmarkt. Parents started to tell their children that the Christkindl would deliver gifts on Christmas. As time passed, all of Germany’s winter markets evolved into Christmas markets.

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Today, there are so many Christmas markets in Germany that it is almost impossible not to stumble upon one if you’re there during the Advent season. And even the United States has countless Christmas markets of its own. If you haven’t already, take a look at our list of German-style Christmas markets in the US!

The Legend of Saint Nicholas

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“Ho, ho, ho, have you all been good?” The old man with a long white beard, a bishop’s miter, and a thick red cape stands with his finger raised before  the excited children, his eyes moving from one beaming face to the next.

“Yes!” they all shout in unison, impatiently eyeing the heavy brown sack that Saint Nicholas has carried in from the cold night over his shoulder. What could it possibly hold? Toys, books, or even candy? “Well, that’s good to hear!” Nicholas declares and opens his big golden book, from which he reads the names of the children and presents each of them with a small gift from his sack. They politely thank him, offer homemade cookies to
their peculiar guest, and recite small poems. Finally, they accompany him to the door, where he trots off with a jolly “ho, ho, ho,” disappearing into the dark on his way to the next house.

Diverse origins

Such a visit is not at all unusual in Germany in the pre-Christmas season, for every year on December 6 Saint Nicholas is remembered and celebrated in this way. Like many traditions handed down over the centuries, it is unclear what is true and what has been added over time to the legend of Saint Nicholas.

Continue reading “The Legend of Saint Nicholas”

Marking the Advent season

Celebrating Advent is an important part of Christmas in Germany. For Christians of both Protestant and Roman Catholic, it is a time of quiet contemplation that begins four Sundays before Christmas Eve.

Advent calendars

This German invention became a custom at the turn of the 20th century and has since advanced to worldwide popularity.

Advent calendars in Germany have 24 small windows or doors that open to reveal a picture, candy or other small gift. Needless to say, it is a favorite with children because it helps them pass the long waiting time until December 24th, called Heiligabend in Germany. That is the evening on which presents are shared in Germany.

Many families put great effort into crafting their own special calendars. Also a seemingly endless variety of calendars can be found in stores—from simple cardboard panels hiding chocolate to elaborate three dimensional structures containing toys.

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Advent wreaths

An Advent wreath—often made of evergreen branches and usually decorated with four candles—is one of the most popular symbols of the season. On the four Sundays in Advent families often gather to light the candles and to sing carols and read Christmas stories together. The evergreen wreath has its roots in the northern city of Hamburg, where in 1839 a wreath was hung in the prayer hall of the Rauhes Haus charity. This arrangement made of pine branches found favor in the homes of Protestant families, particularly those living in northern Germany. In the 1920s, though, Roman Catholics began to adopt the custom too.

Originally decorated with 24 candles, one for each day of Advent, the number has long been reduced to four, symbolizing the four Sundays before Christmas.

Make sure you follow us on social media @germanyinusa for a fun Advent giveaway starting this Sunday!

How the German town Himmelpfort is bringing Christmas joy to kids around the world

Christmas is just over a month away, which means you should start writing your letters to Santa soon! Where should you send them? Well, some people send their letters to the North Pole. And others send them to Himmelpfort.

The tiny German village of Himmelpfort is located 60 miles north of Berlin. Although it has a population of only 500, it has one of the busiest post offices in Germany (relative to its population, at least). For the last 34 years, the town has been receiving letters to Father Christmas.

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This year, the Himmelpfort post office has already received more than 12,000 letters to Santa. Hundreds of thousands of letters come in every holiday season – so this is just the beginning. Father Christmas and his 20 volunteers in Himmelpfort promise to personally answer every letter that arrives before December 16.

But why are these letters arriving in Himmelpfort in the first place?

It all began in 1984, when a few children mistakenly sent their Christmas wish lists to Himmelpfort. The translation of the village’s name is “Heaven’s Gate”, and they kids assumed that this is where Father Christmas lives. When the local postwoman saw the letters, she decided to send back a reply “from Santa”. Once the children received a response, more children excitedly started to send letters to Himmelpfort, starting a trend that continues to this day.

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Today, the Deutsche Post (the German Post Office) sets up an official Christmas Post Office in Himmelpfort for two months each year, bringing in volunteers to answer letters from children in 16 different languages. If you or your children would like a response from Santa, don’t send a letter to the North Pole – send it to Himmelpfort instead!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The history of Black Friday shopping – in Germany!

It’s Friday! We’re guessing many of our American friends are off work today. You may be reading this while standing in line at a shopping mall because after all, it’s Black Friday and there’s plenty of deals to steal!

But while Thanksgiving is an American holiday, Black Friday is slowly becoming a global phenomenon – and Germans are among those who are participating.

Black Friday is – and always has been – a consumer’s holiday. The Friday after Thanksgiving has always marked the start of the holiday shopping season. But the term “Black Friday” first came to use in a different context: in the 1950s, American factory works used the term because so many of their coworkers called in sick on the day after Thanksgiving. In the 1960s, Philadelphia police were struggling to deal with traffic jams, large crowds and shoplifters on that Friday, also bringing the word “Black Friday” into use. The term was used in a negative context in both of these instances.

Continue reading “The history of Black Friday shopping – in Germany!”

These everyday items were invented by Germans!

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Inventors from around the world are converging on Nürnberg from November 1 to 4 to present their inventions at Germany’s 70th 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 44 countries are expected to display their ideas.

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

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.

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Continue reading “These everyday items were invented by Germans!”