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.

City, Man, Person, Solo, Window, Alone, Thinking, Relax

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.

Window View, Sitting, Indoors, Girl, Woman, Female

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.

Tea, Cup, Rest, Calm, Afternoon, Beverage, Mug, Morning

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.

Home, House, Interior, Design, Living, Bedroom, Side

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.

Arugula, Seedlings, Plant, Plants, Young, Leaflet

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.

Technology, Tablet, Digital Tablet, Computer, Device

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!

Kindle, Ereader, Tablet, E-Reader, Ebook, E-Book, Adult

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.

Game, Board, Catan, Leisure, Entertainment, Strategy

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.

Board Game, Settlers Of Catan, Game, Cards, Dice, Play

 

 

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.

Coffee, Winter, Warmth, Cozy, Cup, Drink, Hot, Warm

 

By William Fox
German Embassy

 

Word of the Week: Popometer

When you’re shopping for a new car, what do you rely on most as your deciding factor? Some people may rely on ratings, reviews or research, but most of us make the decision based on how the car feels when we test-drive it.

Similarly, people employed to test cars rely most often on their Popometer when writing about, recommending or rating a vehicle. Race-car drivers, in particular, use this measurement more than others.

The German word Popometer comes from Popo (a colloquial word for your buttocks) and Meter (a measuring stick). A Popometer is a word that describes someone’s rear end as a measuring device. When someone sit down in a new car, motorcycle or even on a bobsled or a bicycle, they get a feel for the vehicle – a measurement of comfort taken by their buttocks. When a professional reviewer or race car driver tests a vehicle, the results of his or her Popometer are very important, since it measures the level of comfort someone may experience in that vehicle for years to come.

Although the term is often used in automobile magazines or by people who review vehicles, it is perhaps most commonly used by race car drivers in Germany. The closest English translation is “seat-of-the-pants feel”.

Even if a car has high ratings and good reviews, you will probably not want to buy it if a reviewer’s Popometer gives it a low score. So make sure to find out what the Popometer says about it, since those results are ultimately the most important!

Meet Jakob Backes, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for December 2019

Having recently been named the December 2019 CBYX German Participant of the Month by the U.S. Department of State (click here to read profile), we wanted to learn more about Jakob Backes’ experience in Brooklyn, MI. Placed by YFU and hosted by the Shay family, Jakob currently attends Napoleon High School.
How did you first learn about CBYX/PPP? What motivated you to apply?

Last summer, I went on an exchange to Beijing, China, for two weeks with the scholarship program Culture Connections China. Just these two weeks amazed me so much that I wanted more. I loved not just being a tourist, but living in a host family, and getting involved in the actual culture. So, I researched other opportunities to go abroad, whereby I learned about the CBYX program. I applied for not only the CBYX program, but also an exchange year in Paraguay. After I was accepted for both programs, the scholarship, political, historical and social aspects of the CBYX made it an easy choice for me to go to the USA.

What was it like to join the football team at Napoleon High School? How did you learn to play the game? What were the greatest challenges, and most rewarding moments?

Football is a sport I always wanted to play. However, in Germany the closest football club is over than an hour car ride away. So, I took the chance to join our high school´s football team here, and it was the greatest experience that I could ever imagine. We practiced three hours every day, and the competition was big. I guess due to 15 years of playing soccer in Germany, I was athletic enough to make it onto the Varsity team, and the individual football skills came through hard practice. After a few games I was even able to establish myself as a starting wide receiver. The greatest challenge was to keep going in the first weeks without getting much game time. But it paid off. I was given the senior award for hard work and positive attitude. Through football, I found new friends, became a part of the American sport culture, and found a sport that I definitely want to continue in Germany, no matter how far I have to drive for it.

Continue reading “Meet Jakob Backes, the German Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) Participant of the Month for December 2019”

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

Word of the Week: Republikflucht

When East Germans escaped over the inner German border during the Cold War, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) described their actions as Republikflucht, which means “desertion from the republic“ or “flight from the republic.” Additionally, the word Republikflüchtlinge describes “deserters from the republic.”

When used by GDR authorities to speak of deserters, the word had a negative connotation, associating them with a crime against the state. The word closely resembles the more generalized Fahnenflucht, which literally means “desertion from the flag” and in this case refers to military desertion. The word Republikflucht therefore invoked similar feelings of betrayal against the state, and specifically referred to escape from the GDR.

Millions of Germans fled the east during the post-war period before the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 – and even after its erection, several thousand others managed to escape. Some even obtained permits to visit the west, never to return again. Many who attempted Republikflucht, however, were shot at the border. Tens of thousands of others were imprisoned for up to eight years for their attempts.

The GDR publicly condemned the actions of Republikflüchtlinge, and in 1955 outlined the seriousness of such a crime in a booklet published by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

A woman is pulled out of a tunnel through which she escaped from East Berlin to the West on October 5, 1964. In total, 57 people escaped through this tunnel German Missions in the United States Welcome to Germany.info before it was discovered by East German border guards.

“Leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity,” the booklet says. “…Workers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the imperialists and militarists.”

Today, the word Republikflucht is one of many unique words associated with the GDR, and is often used to describe the many escape attempts from the communist regime. If you are reading German history related to the fall of the wall, this is a term you will surely come across – a term that partially defines the way we remember the effects of the Cold War.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

This map shows every single Oktoberfest in Minnesota… (we could find)

It’s that time of the year again! Oktoberfest in Munich kicks off ever so soon!

That means soon the beer tap will be broken and cries of “O’ Zapft is” will ring in the festival and celebration. Beers will be poured, songs will be sung, dances will be…danced.

Picture this: thousands of people, dozens of huge tents, a ferris wheel and some carousels – This world-renowned folk festival is held annually in Bavaria and attracts more than six million people from around the world in search of German beer, music, and food. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds.

But until Munich Oktoberfest arrives, we’re on the hunt for other Oktoberfests around the USA. And since we’ve spent our weekend at St. Paul Oktoberfest in Minnesota, we thought we’d track down every single Oktoberfest in Minnesota that we could find. Our source for the map is Funtober’s article: “OKTOBERFEST IN MINNESOTA”.

Here are the towns and cities with Oktoberfest. Some even more than one!

Pierz, MN

St. Paul, MN

Stillwater, MN

Longville, MN

Minneapolis, MN

East Grand Forks, MN

Grand Forks, MN

Delano, MN

Grand Marais, MN

Shakopee, MN

New Ulm, MN

Gull Lake, MN

Pelican Rapids, MN

Deerwood, MN

What did we miss? What state should we do next?
@GermanyinUSA

By William Fox, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geisterbahnhof

Have you ever been on a metro train that passed through an empty station?
The word Geisterbahnhof means “ghost train station” – and as its translation implies, it signifies an empty or out-of-service station that gives off a ghostly vibe. This word originated during the Cold War, when so-called “ghost stations” arose in Berlin’s public transportation system. Today, however, the word may also be used to refer to any desolate train station, regardless of its location.

When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the transportation system in Berlin was drastically affected. Parts of Berlin’s metro system (called the U-Bahn) were in the East and others were in the West, leading to a divided railway system. Many lines ran through both parts, and in most cases, they were split to create individual lines. In these instances, trains would stop at the border and turn around. But some Western lines – specifically the U6 and the U8 – ran through small portions of East Berlin. These lines took Western commuters from one part of West Berlin to another, but not without going through the desolate Eastern stations that became known as Geisterbahnhöfe.

These ghostly out-of-service stations were heavily guarded by East German police. Barbed wire fences and an electrically charged third rail ensured that no East Germans would escape into the railway system. Trains slowed down as they traveled through these stations, but they did not stop. Looking out the U-Bahn windows at the dimly-lit platforms, commuters often had an eerie vibe. Over time, each of these desolate stations were referred to as a Geisterbahnhof. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, these stations reopened and have since been modernized – but the word is still used.

The entrance to an U-Bahn station in East Germany. ©dpa / picture alliance

Today, the term Geisterbahnhof describes any and all disused train stations. From New York to Hamburg to Moscow, many of the world’s metro systems have stations that are out of service – either temporarily or permanently. Looking out at the empty platforms as your train passes through one, the hairs on the back of your neck might stand on end as you imagine the ghosts of a station that has been shut down.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Berlin opens highly awaited bridge to Museum Island

If you’ve ever been to Berlin, you know that the city is filled with art, monuments and interesting buildings. The city is rich with history; in fact, Berlin is home to 170 different museums, which is more than you could ever see in just one trip!

And for art and history buffs, a new building has just opened: the James Simon Gallery. Located on the fringe of the Museum Island along the Spree River, the gallery will serve as the central visitor center between the Neues Museum and Museum Island, orienting and directing visitors to the island. But the gallery is not just an assembly space; it also features an auditorium and a changing exhibition space, giving visitors plenty to do and see between its own walls.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening ceremony of the gallery on Friday, stating that the building complements the existing museums on the island – a “universal museum of human history.”
The building was designed by British architect David Chipperfield and is named after James Simon (1851-1932), a German-Jewish art collector who has contributed many items to Museum Island, including the Nefertiti bust.

If you’re in Berlin this summer, you’re right in time to see this long-anticipated building, which is now open to the public!

©dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy