In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting 10 influential Germans of African descent who impacted the world or are making a difference in their communities. Who would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!
Stephanie Jones is a German football manager best known for managing the German women’s national team. She also played for the women’s national team between 1993 and 2007, helping Germany win the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, as well as three European Championships. In 2019, Jones was among the first female soccer players to be inducted into Germany’s Hall of Fame in Dortmund.
We all know the 1993 song “What is Love”by Haddaway. But not everyone knows that this hit single was created by Trinidadian-born German musician and vocalist Nestor Alexander Haddaway, who moved to Cologne in 1987. Today, he splits his time between Cologne and Kitzbühl, Austria.
Isaac Bonga is an NBA basketball player from Germany who currently plays for the Washington Wizards. Before becoming an NBA player, Bonga had a successful basketball career in Germany, where he played with Skyliners Frankfurt of the Basketball Bundesliga. Bonga also represents the senior German national team in international competitions.
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!
Are you passionate about skiing or snowboarding? Well, so are Germans! In fact, Germany has more skiers than any other country in Europe, with more than 14.6 million Germans partaking in the sport.
But where did this winter sport originate?
Archeological research suggests that ski-like objects date back to 6000 BC, used primarily as tools to cross frozen wetlands and marshes in the wintertime. But recreational skiing is a much more recent activity.
In the 1700s, the Norwegian army held competitions where soldiers would learn how to shoot while skiing. Those races were the precursors to skiing as an Olympic sport. And it didn’t take long for it to spread through Europe. Downhill skiing gained popularity in the 1800s and in 1924, the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix, France and featured cross-country skiing.
In 1936, downhill skiing was included for the first time in the Winter Olympics, held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Soon thereafter, people began constructing chair lifts and ski resorts, which caused recreational skiing to grow in popularity – especially in the 1950s and 60s.
Today, Germany has about 700 ski resorts, 1,384 ski lifts and 864 miles of slopes, making it a perfect wintertime destination for ski lovers. Many of these lie in the mountainous state of Bavaria. One popular ski town 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.
But other regions of Germany – including the Ore Mountains in Saxony – also have their share of winter sports destinations.
Looking for a place to do some winter sports in Germany? We’ve got you covered!
1.Bobsled and Skeleton in Kleinstadt
Okay, if this video doesn’t terrify you, I don’t know what will. If you happen to be in NRW, you can visit the Winterberg bobsled track, the “Bobbahn”. The truly brave can even take a ride down the 5,250 foot track at 60 miles an hour.
2.Skiing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen
There are plenty of runs to choose from in Garmisch. One day isn’t enough to explore everything wintery Bavaria has to offer!
Christmas is just two weeks 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 35 years, the town has been receiving letters to Father Christmas.
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 15.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!