Word of the Week: Lebenskunst

Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst!

Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art.

You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible. Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would
be an example of Lebenskunst.

But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.

Word of the Week: Brotzeit

Let’s say you’re hiking on a Saturday afternoon. It’s 3 p.m. and your stomach is growling. It’s too late for lunch and too early for dinner, but you and your buddies have packed sandwiches that you’re about to eat. In Bavaria – Germany’s southernmost state – you would refer to this meal as Brotzeit.

Brotzeit is a sort of “meal-between-meals”. Directly translated, it means “bread time” – and although bread is often eaten at Brotzeit, that’s not always the case. In the US, it might be referred to as a snack. But it’s more than just a bag of chips or a granola bar: Brotzeit usually refers to something more substantive, like several slices of bread, cheese and meat. For the most part, Brotzeit is a cold meal – one that does not require much preparation and one that can easily be packed for the road.

Most commonly, Brotzeit is consumed between lunch and dinner. Hikers, skiers, athletes, travelers and other adventurers might take an afternoon break from their activities for Brotzeit. If you have kids who get hungry frequently, you might sit them down for Brotzeit in the afternoon.

The word is also used in Bavarian beer gardens, where Brotzeit might refer to both the meal and accompanying drinks.

But if you’re taking a Brotzeit break, make sure your portions are reasonable: after all, you’ll still want to save room for dinner!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Peterwagen

In Germany, you might recognize a cop car by the large green or blue stripe that stretches around the vehicle. It might seem like a police car is called a Streifenwagen (“stripe-car”) because of this, but it’s a misleading term. Cars were called Streifenwagen even back when they had only a single color and no stripe. The German word Streife, in this context, means “patrol”. But in Hamburg, police cars go by a different name: Peterwagen, which means “Peter-car”.

But who is Peter?

After World War II, the city of Hamburg was under control of the British Forces Germany. In 1946, the British administration decided that Hamburg would be equipped with new radio patrol cars. These cars contained radios that allowed police officers to communicate with one another – a new type of technology for the police force. These cars were therefore called Radiowagen (“radio cars”).

As the story goes, the German word Peterwagen arose from an encounter between a German government worker and a British officer in 1946. The officer did not understand the word Radiowagen, so the German explained, “Radiowagen – it’s like a patrol car!” Due to the government worker’s German accent, the British officer did not understand him correctly, and asked him to spell out “patrol car.” The German man explained that it starts with “P – like Peter”, and the British officer wrote Peterwagen in his documents. Ever since, Hamburg residents have used the word Peterwagen to describe a Radiowagen.

Although many Germans might know what a Peterwagen is, this term is used primarily in Hamburg. In other places, a police car is usually referred to as a Funkstreifenwagen or Streifenwagen.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Naschkatze

Do you crave ice cream, chocolate, cookies and anything with sugar? Do you have an overpowering sweet tooth that leaves you fantasizing about dessert? If so, Germans would call you a Naschkatze!

Directly translated, the word Naschkatze means “gnash cat” or “nibble cat” and it describes someone who just can’t get enough sweets, whether it’s candy or baked goods. Naschen describes the act of always nibbling on something; in this context – sweets. If you’re a Naschkatze, chances are that you eat candy throughout the day and always have dessert after dinner. The word choice is ironic, since cats do not consume sugar, and would much prefer a roasted chicken. But a “gnash cat”, however, will always reach for the sweets.

The word Naschkatze is often used to refer to kids, since they are often on the hunt for something sweet. And if you know a Naschkatze, bribery is easy: just bring chocolate into the picture.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Schnapsidee

In German, there’s a special word for a really bad idea: Schnapsidee. Directly translated, this word means “booze idea” – and it describes a plan of action that’s so bad that you must have been drunk when you dreamed it up!

The German word Schnaps is a term for clear spirits, but it is often used to refer to alcohol in general. When someone is under the influence of alcohol, they are more likely to come up with crazy ideas that Germans call Schnapsideen. Getting a ridiculous tattoo might be considered a Schnapsidee – especially if you do it impulsively after a few drinks.

But you don’t have to be drunk to have a Schnapsidee. Germans use the term to refer to any outrageous or unrealistic ideas, regardless of your sobriety status. Buying a horse for your backyard is probably a Schnapsidee (unless you live on a farm). For most, base jumping would also be a Schnapsidee – as would be rappelling off the side of a cliff. The term, however, is relative: for some, anything out of the ordinary would be a Schnapsidee, while for the more adventurous, only few things would be an outrageous “booze idea”.

What’s your idea of a Schnapsidee? Having children? Skydiving? Moving to Africa? Let us know in the comments!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Reisefieber

Do you have travel plans? Are you giddy and anxious just thinking about your upcoming trip? Then you may have fallen ill with Reisefieber!

Literally translated, Reisefieber means “travel fever” – but it’s not the type of sickness that keeps you in bed. Reisefieber describes the feelings of excitement, combined with anxiety and nervousness, that you have in anticipation of a trip. You may have spent weeks daydreaming about your trip to the Caribbean. But the night before, anxiety creeps in as you try to fit everything you need into a small suitcase. You’re worried you might have forgotten something. Your palms are sweaty, you develop a mild headache and your stomach is rumbling. Perhaps you’re engaged in a frantic search for your passport or you’re worried that you won’t wake up in time for your early-morning flight.

It might be difficult to keep calm or fall asleep the night before. You’re struck with Reisefieber, and there’s nothing that can cure it – except, perhaps, taking long deep breaths and calming yourself down. But once you’re lying on the beach a few hours later, your “travel fever” will subside, leaving nothing but bliss in its place.

If you are traveling this summer, beware: Reisefieber could show up without much notice and disrupt a good night’s sleep. But no need to worry: your “travel nerves” will go away soon enough.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kopfkino

Does your imagination run wild? Do you think up detailed stories in your head? Maybe you’ve got a Kopfkino entertaining you all day long!

The German word Kopf means “head” and Kino means “movie theater”. Kopfkino therefore describes a cinema in your head. But unlike scheduled movies at your local theater, a Kopfkino can start playing anytime, whether you’re at the office, in the classroom or in the middle of a dull conversation.

Sometimes having your own built-in movie theater can be useful. If you’re on a long train ride, for example, having a wild imagination helps pass the time. But if you’re having trouble concentration on an important task, then your Kopfkino may do more harm than good – even if your daydreams are pleasant!

Perhaps you have a one-hour deadline to finish a task at the office. All of a sudden, your Kopfkino starts playing and you suddenly find yourself laying at the beach, a warm breeze blowing through your hair as the man or woman of your dreams approaches you. Palm trees sway above your head and the worries of daily life disappear – until the movie starts playing and you realize you’re still at your desk!

But not every Kopfkino is pleasant. If you’re highly anxious or worried, you might have worst-case scenarios play out in your head. If you have an active Kopfkino, let’s hope it prefers romantic comedies over horror films! And make sure you know where the pause button is.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Katzensprung

Let’s say you’re lost in Berlin and searching for the nearest metro station. You ask a German where to go, and he tells you the station is just a Katzensprung away. What does that mean? It means you are close!

The word Katze means “cat” and Sprung means “jump” or “leap”. A Katzensprung therefore means “a cat’s leap”. Germans use it the same way an American would use the phrase “a stone’s throw” to indicate how close a place is.

But it is, of course, an exaggeration. Without running, the average house cat can jump to a height of about five feet or more. But something that is a Katzensprung away is probably further than a few feet. That nearby metro station, for example, could be on the next block over, which might be a good one-minute walk.

If you live in the heart of a city, you might be a Katzensprung away from a convenience store or a bus stop. It’s usually a good thing when the places you need to go are a “cat’s leap” away from you.

Germans have been using the word Katzensprung since the 16th century. And although the phrase “stone’s throw” also exists in German (Steinwurf), using the word Katzensprung will spice up your vocabulary!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sitzriese

Have you ever been to a movie theater and found yourself seated behind the tallest person in the room? This person’s head was probably blocking your view, leaving you frustrated throughout the film. In German, there’s a special word for this kind of person: Sitzriese (“seated giant”)!

The word Sitzriese comes from sitzen (“to sit) and Riese (“giant”). It defines a person who looks deceptively tall while sitting down. A Sitzriese typically has a long waist and short legs, making them appear tall while seated and short while standing up.

On the contrary, the German word Sitzzwerg (“seated dwarf”) refers to the opposite – someone who appears short while sitting, but tall while standing up.

We’re all different shapes and sizes, and you can be sure that the Germans have a nickname for everyone! But if you’re at a concert, movie theater or a performance, you better hope that you end up behind the Sitzzwerg, since the Sitzriese will block your view!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Strohwitwe

If someone calls themselves a Strohwitwe, they’re probably feeling lonely. A “straw widow” is someone who has been temporarily left alone by her partner.

The word Stroh means “straw” and Witwe means “widow”, but fortunately this type of widowhood does not last forever – so don’t offer your condolences just yet! A Strohwitwe has been left to sleep alone in her shared bed for an undefined period of time. Back in the Middle Ages, Germans still slept on beds made of straw, which is where the analogy most likely comes from.

© dpa / picture alliance

Throughout German literary history, “straw” has often been used as a reference to a bed. A Strohbraut (“straw bride”), for example, was the term for a bride whose groom was not her first bed-partner. And in Goethe’s Faust, there is a passage that reads, Er geht stracks in die Welt hinein / Und lässt mich auf dem Stroh allein (“he goes straight into the world, and leaves me alone on the straw”).

There could be many reasons that someone calls herself a Strohwitwe: her partner might be traveling for several weeks or too busy to come home one night. And there is also a male equivalent: Strohwitwer – a man whose partner or wife has left him alone. In American English, the closest equivalent would be “grass widow” or “grass widower”.

But if you’re a Strohwitwe or Strohwitwer in this day and age, look on the bright side: you may be sleeping alone, but at least you’re not sleeping on a bed of straw!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy