Word of the Week: “Ossi” & “Wessi”

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, generalized nicknames arose to distinguish people who lived on either side of the border. Those in the west were informally referred to as Wessis (“from the West”) and those in the east were called Ossis (in German, Ost means “east”).

Depending on the context in which they were used, these nicknames were occasionally perceived to be offensive. On some occasions, however, they were used simply to distinguish between the Easterners and the Westerners, without any harm intended. But often, their use was based on common stereotypes assigned to Germans from either side of the wall.

“Did you see what that Wessi is wearing?!” one might, for example, have heard on the street during a divided Germany – or shortly after its reunification.

Wessis were often stereotyped as capitalistic, arrogant and rich, while Ossis were often stereotyped as paranoid, poor and socialistic. Even after German reunification, stereotypes continued to live on for many years – and to some extent still exist today, even if there is little truth behind them. Ossi Wessi jokes were common in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and can occasionally still be heard among those who grew up in Cold War Germany.

But regardless of the negative characteristics often assigned to Ossis and Wessis, the nicknames became deeply integrated into German culture before, during and after reunification. Additionally, nicknames such as Besserwessi (“better-knowing-Wessi” or, in other words, “know-it-all”) and Jammer-Ossi (“whining easterner”) also sprung up from these terms.

The distinguishing nicknames demonstrate how deeply Germany was divided not just geographically, but also culturally, and how Germans perceived each other at the time.

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The year 2019 marks the 30th anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which means Germany has been one nation for three decades. While there are still some who label themselves – or others – as Ossis and Wessis, it is an increasingly rarer distinction as Germans gather in celebration of the achievements they have made as one nation.

But as you read about the fall of the wall and Germany’s reunification, it’s likely you’ll come across the words Ossi and Wessi. Just make sure not to label anyone with them!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Biergartenwetter

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It is no secret that Germans have some of the best beer. The country also has plenty of beer gardens. On a beautiful, sunny afternoon, these beer gardens are often filled with people. After all, most of these locales are outside (thus the term beer “garden”). Beer gardens are emptier when it rains, although some brave souls may choose to sit under the umbrellas. If you’re in the mood for a beer and good company, you may find yourself wishing for Biergartenwetter. Biergartenwetter is the German word for “beer garden weather”, and it describes the most favorable weather conditions to enjoy a day at the beer garden.

Biergartenwetter is usually sunny and warm (but not too hot). Imagine a 70 degree day with plenty of sunshine and perhaps an occasional passing cloud: the perfect beer garden weather!

But even if you have no plans to visit a beer garden, you can still use the term Biergartenwetter to describe the beautiful weather. In Germany, even weather channels will sometimes talk about Biergartenwetter in the forecast. When you step outside and feel the rays on your shoulders, you may be tempted to go meet your friends at a Biergarten – even if you’re just having a soda (or a snack). Better yet: pack a picnic basket with bread, radish, cheese and sausage to take with you and just buy an Apfelschorle at the Biergarten, as many Germans do. Because after all, who wouldn’t want to soak up the sun with friends at a Biergarten?

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Ostalgie

The year 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – a monumental day in German history. But despite Germany’s reunification, some Germans still exhibit Ostalgie – a deep yearning for the East German way of life.

The word Ostalgie is a hybrid of the words Ost (“east”) and Nostalgie (“nostalgia”). Thus, the word literally means nostalgia for the east. Germans who grew up in the socialist system of the east sometimes feel nostalgic for certain aspects that disappeared after reunification, ranging from staple food items no longer on store shelves to the workplace under a socialist government.

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Germans exhibiting Ostalgie often retain images of their East German childhood about which they have fond memories. Popular items that may instigate feelings of Ostalgie include Spreewaldgurken (gherkins from the Spree forest), Rot-Weiss toothpaste, chicken-shaped plastic egg cups, the Sandmännchen (“sand man”) television show, Trabant cars and traffic lights depicting the famous East German Ampelmännchen.

While some Germans feel Ostalgie in relation to East German products, others sometimes miss the sense of community they felt when the borders were closed. They occasionally also complain about poverty in the west, claiming that while they lacked freedom to travel beyond the GDR, everyone had a job.

The things that trigger Ostalgie, however can vary. Likewise, the feelings of Ostalgie can range from missing the products associated with someone’s childhood to a deep yearning for the socialist system of government. Feelings of Ostalgie, however, are sometimes criticized for downplaying or even glorifying the negative aspects of the East German socialist government, which can easily become overshadowed with the positive memories from ones past.

Over the years, the word has even been used more broadly to describe the nostalgia for life under the socialist system felt by anyone from the communist countries of Eastern Europe (such as the Soviet Union and Poland). But most commonly, the word describes the longing felt by East Germans that miss certain aspects of their lives behind the wall.

In Berlin, the Ampelmann store chain has profited from the feelings of Ostalgie, selling products that contain the famous image of the Ampelmann. But throughout Germany, you might be able to find remnants or reminders of East Germany. To you, they might mean very little. But to former East German residents, they might trigger feelings of Ostalgie.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Stacheldrahtsonntag

The events of August 13, 1961 brought a new word into the German language: Stacheldrahtsonntag, which means “Barbed Wire Sunday”.
If you’re familiar with German history, it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out the meaning of this word. Stacheldrahtsonntag was the day that GDR authorities began sealing off the border between East and West German using barbed wire and other barriers that which were quickly replaced by a wall. The day became so significant that it was referred to without the date. Everyone knew about “August 13” or, in other words, “Barbed Wire Sunday.”

Between 1945 and 1961, around 2.7 million people fled East Germany for the West, which was about 15 percent of the GDR’s population. To stop the mass emigration, GDR authorities hastily closed the border on the night of August 12 – and they didn’t wait long before sealing it with physical barriers. The use of barbed wire was quick and efficient, keeping people from crossing the border until a system of metal and concrete walls reinforced it a few weeks later. Nearly 17 million people were trapped inside the GDR on August 13, and 533,000 East German troops and police were employed to make sure no one escaped.

Families were separated, East German residents were unable to go to their jobs in the West and some of those along the border even lost their homes. As barbed wire further separated the two Germanys, August 13 quickly became known as Stacheldrahtsonntag.

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As the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, Stacheldrahtsonntag is a word you might hear in conversation – especially among those who lived through that fateful day.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Rennpappe: the “racing cardboard” of East Germany

If you’re familiar with East German cars, you probably know that they’re not the best quality. But that’s probably an understatement: they were so bad, in fact, that Germans began referring to them as Rennpappe, which means “racing cardboard”.

The colloquial term Rennpappe comes from rennen (“to race/run”) and Pappe (“cardboard”). The term mockingly refers to the cheaply-produced Trabant cars – an East German automobile made of inexpensive materials.
The Trabant (also referred to as a Trabi) featured a two-stroke engine and was constructed using Duroplast – a hard plastic consisting of recycled materials. Since the vehicle was built using recycled waste, there was a widely-held misconception that it was made of cardboard, and over time, East Germans referred to the Trabi as a Rennpappe.

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Between 1957 and 1991, the German Democratic Republic produced 3.7 million Trabis. Due to its poor economy and lack of materials, however, the wait time for the four-passenger vehicle was 14 years.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, many East Germans drove to the West in their Trabants. But many soon realized they would rather have a second-hand western car than a new Trabi, since western cars were more efficient, produced less pollution and were overall better quality. As a result, the Rennpappen were often given away for free, abandoned, or in some cases sold for 1 Deutsche Mark (DM). The Trabant factory, located in Saxony, was shut down in 1991 due to low demand.

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Over time, however, the Trabant became a symbol of East Germany, and its value began to increase. Having a Rennpappe today is special: they are viewed as antique collector’s items, and often put on display during German festivals, parties and events. And although they are more frequently called Trabis, Germans who used to own one back in the day might still refer to them as their Rennpappe.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

German “Mauerspechte” responsible for Berlin Wall souvenirs

If you’ve ever traveled to Germany, there’s a good chance you’ve seen tiny pieces of the Berlin Wall for sale at a souvenir shop. But the wall is gone – so where did these colorful pieces come from?

After the East German border was opened up nearly 30 years ago, countless people made their way to the wall, equipped with pickaxes and sledgehammers. They tirelessly chipped away at the wall. Their motivations varied, but in general such a person was called a Mauerspecht.

In German, Mauer means wall and Specht means woodpecker. A Mauerspecht, therefore, refers to a person who chips away at a wall (specifically, the Berlin Wall, since the word arose in this context and had never been used before). The closest English equivalent would be the word “stonepecker.”

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After the border was opened, many Germans flocked to the wall, eager to help break apart the object that blocked their freedom for so long. To many, chipping at the wall was an emotional act in which they gained power over a restrictive barrier that was now a symbol of their triumph. Previously, this concrete structure was representative of the political system that confined and controlled the people in the GDR through fear, which made it even more satisfying for the wall’s former victims to break it apart themselves.

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A German guide to complaining about the weather

Complaining about the weather is an international art form, one at which the Germans excel. But when done incorrectly, one can sound like an awkward outsider.

“Oh man, it’s raining cats and dogs!” said no real person ever. Say that in an actual English-speaking place and heads will tilt.

“Man, this weather sucks so bad!” said a real person at some point. Say that in an actual English-speaking place and heads will nod in agreement!

The same goes for German. Sure, you could say, “Das Wetter ist nicht schön” (“The weather is not nice”), but that’s boring! Finding a playful cynical phrase to describe the crappy weather is the perfect way to fit right in. It’s camaraderie built over a shared experience of wet socks and/or icy windshields.

So how can we express our distaste of yet another cloudy, muggy, rainy, snow-filled, hot, humid, garbage-weather day? Here are 11 words and phrases to help you out:

1. “Was für ein Wetter!” (direct translation: “What weather!” meaning: “Isn’t this weather bad?”)

2. “So ein Sauwetter!” (“Such lousy weather!”)

3. “So ein Mistwetter” (“Such crappy weather”)

4. “Es regnet wie aus Eimern!” (“It’s raining buckets!”)

Here’s a fancy one:

5. “Bei dem Wetter schicht man keinen Hund vor die Tür!” (“This weather’s so bad you wouldn’t even put your dog out!”)

6. “Es ist saukalt!” (“It is sooo cold!”). “Sau” serves to replace “so” in slang. Together with the word “kalt” it means “so cold”

7. “Schmuddelwetter. Schmuddelwetter.” (“Nasty weather. Foul Weather”) *nasty, foul, and dreary all seem to work as translations here.

Here are a couple bonus words that can help you to describe those in-between weather conditions:

8. “Schneematsch”  (Literally: “snow mud”. Alternatively “slush”)
It refers to that brown, dirty slush that you find on the streets in the days after it has snowed.

9. “Nieselregen” (“drizzle”) Nieselregen is the German word for drizzle, or a very light rain.

Here’s one with a little more optimism:

10. “Morgengrau gibt Himmelblau” (Literally: “Morning grey gives way to a blue sky”, alternatively “Dawn brings a blue sky”)

While Germans have many colorful ways to be grumpy about the weather, it’s all a part of persevering and coping. Therefore, we wanted to leave you with one last expression to help you get through that rough, rainy, rancid day. It’s a bit of German practicality and wisdom:

11. “Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur die falsche Kleidung.”
(“There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothes”)

By William Fox, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Dreckspatz

If you have kids, there’s a good chance they’re sometimes a Dreckspatz – especially if they love playing in the mud. The German word Dreckspatz is a fusion of the words Dreck (“dirt”) and Spatz (“sparrow”), and describes a person who gets him-or-herself dirty easily.

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Sparrow birds bathe themselves in dust or sand to clean their feathers – thus, people who do the same are known as Dreckspätze in Germany.

Someone who constantly drops food on his lap might be called a Dreckspatz – especially if this person struggles to clean himself up afterwards, and walks through life with stains on his shirt. But more commonly, a Dreckspatz is used to describe a child — perhaps because children are more likely to get themselves dirty.

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If you’re a parent, you’ve probably cringed after seeing the grass stains on your child’s brand new dress pants or chocolate on that white shirt. Maybe your child likes to jump into puddles or play in the mud. Either way, it can be frustrating to scrub stains out of your kid’s clothes on a daily basis.

Du bist so ein Dreckspatz! (“You are such a Dreckspatz!”) is what an angry or frustrated parent might say after their child builds a mud pie or wears his dinner instead of eating it. But it’s not a serious insult – a parent might roll their eyes lovingly while calling their child that.

A similar German word is Schmutzfink. The word Schmutz is a close synonym for Dreck – both words mean dirt or filth (but Dreck is also used to describe soil). Additionally, the word Fink describes a finch – another bird species that often bathes in dirt.

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But ultimately, while it’s normal for children to be called a Dreckspatz or Schmutzfink, you probably don’t want that reputation. So make sure to keep those stains off your shirt to avoid the name-calling.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Hitzkopf

It may be hot outside, but the word Hitzkopf has little to do with outside temperature. Instead, it refers to a person whose blood may be boiling a little bit too often – someone who’s angry all the time. Does that ring any bells?

The word Hitze means “heat” and Kopf means “head”, so the term translates to “hothead” – someone who easily gets angry and tends to act out. This person’s body temperature may rise when they get angry and you may want to tell them to cool down. A Hitzkopf may be someone with a short temper – someone who lashes out at others or makes nasty comments when he or she is upset. Most likely, that’s not someone you want to be around, because small things could cause them to lash out at you for no reason.

The term exists both in English and German. While Elizabethan English had the words “hot-brain” (1600 AD) and “hothead”, Germans were using the word Hitzkopf. This indicates that for hundreds of years, heat has been associated with bad tempers throughout Europe.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Filmriss

Can’t remember what happened last night? Then you’re suffering from a Filmriss!

The German word Filmriss is a gap in your memory. Directly translated, Filmriss means “film tear”, and the word originated from the days when film projectors were used to play movies. Before the arrival of modern technology, moviegoers occasionally dealt with a Filmriss – an instance where a tear in a role of film temporarily stopped the movie. As you can imagine, this could get quite frustrating if it occurred during a suspenseful scene of the movie! Luckily, today’s digital technology prevents such inconveniences from interrupting a movie.

Over the years, however, the meaning of the word Filmriss has grown, and it now describes instances where your memory has gone black. Perhaps you can’t remember what you did while drinking too much, or maybe your memory is just bad in general. Luckily for you, digital technology has made it easy for others to take photos and videos of your behavior, allowing you to get a glimpse of what happened during your Filmriss!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy