The temperatures are rising, the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. It’s time to put away those heavy winter coats and bring out the shorts! With the change of the seasons comes substantial housework, which Germans call Frühjahrsputz (spring cleaning)!
Directly translated, Frühjahrsputz means “early-year-cleaning”. It refers to a time in the spring when Germans clean their homes and yards, putting away winter clothes and winter equipment. A Frühjahrsputz is much more thorough than a regular cleaning spree and also involves a lot of reorganizing. Americans use the term “spring cleaning” just as Germans use the word Frühjahrsputz! But the origin of the concept of spring cleaning is neither German nor American.
Some researchers trace the concept to an ancient Jewish practice of cleansing the home ahead of the Passover feast. Similarly, the Catholic Church conducts a thorough cleaning of the church alter before Good Friday. Today, many Germans do their spring cleaning in the days leading up to Easter. But of course, a Frühjahrsputz can be conducted at any time in the spring. So open your windows, dust your furniture and let the sun shine into your spotless home!
It’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday – too early to drink? Not necessarily! There’s even a German word for early-morning drinking: Frühschoppen!
The term is a fusion of the words früh (“early”) and Shoppen (a classic German word for a glass that holds a quarter or half a liter of wine or beer). In Germany and Austria, the term is often used to describe a very traditional brunch that often consists of – or includes – white sausage, pretzels and (*drum roll*) beer! In the most traditional sense, a Frühschoppen takes place in a tavern on a Sunday morning, bringing together a group of regulars who like to discuss life and politics. Often, a band is present to play Volksmusik (traditional music). The most famous example of Frühschoppen would be the early-morning beer gatherings that take place at Oktoberfest, complete with pretzels and live music.
However, the term is also used more loosely to describe any instances where people gather to drink in the morning – regardless of whether it’s a Sunday or a Wednesday. A Frühschoppen does not necessarily have to have food or music at all. Simply having a beer before lunch can be considered Frühschoppen. In some regions of Germany, people gather at a pub after church – something that is considered Frühschoppen. But regardless of where it is, as long as it’s in the early hours, your drinking can be considered a Frühschoppen. Cheers to learning a new word!
Does your heart feel like it’s going to jump out of your chest? Maybe it’s a health-related heart palpitation – or maybe it’s just Liebeskummer.
The German word Liebeskummer means “love sickness”. It consists of Liebe (“love”) and Kummer (“grief”), and it’s more difficult to cure than the common cold! Although you might not be sick with a fever, Liebeskummer can keep you in bed just the same. Liebeskummer is a state of mind that strikes people whose love life is troubling: maybe they’re going through a breakup, fighting with their partner or unsuccessfully pursuing someone. Whatever the case, now they’re grieving over their love life – and only time can cure their ailment.
The word Liebeskummer – as well as variations such as Liebeskrankheit (“love illness”) – have existed in German literature and art for centuries. In the works of Goethe and Werther, Liebeskummer often ends in tragedy. But it doesn’t have to: if you’re currently plagued with the symptoms of Liebeskummer, know that time will always cure it – if you allow yourself to take it.
And in the meantime, make sure to avoid falling victim to Kummerspeck (“weight gain from grief”), since that may add even more to your plate.
Are you wearing red pants, a blue shirt and green socks? If so, we’re sure you stand out – and you’re definitely farbenfroh today!
The German word farbenfroh means “color happy”. It is an adjective used to describe someone or something with many colors. Someone’s outfit is farbenfroh if they are wearing many different colors – or even just one bright color that catches people’s attention. An apartment can be described as farbenfroh if its decorations are colorful or if the walls are painted in different colors. Even a program of events can be described as farbenfroh if it includes a diverse program (in English, we would call this a “colorful event”).
Most of the time, farbenfroh is used in a positive context (because after all, who doesn’t like colors?). But if you notice your coworker proudly wearing a bright orange dress that makes her look a little ridiculous, you can simply call her farbenfroh (which is more of a fact and in this context and neither an insult nor a compliment).
Although you can be farbenfroh at any time of the year, it might brighten up a rainy, cloudy or cold day if you add a little bit of Farbe to your life!
Let’s pretend your coworker surprised you with your favorite Starbucks drink during work. How do you feel about her? Most likely, she is now on your good side. Germans might even say you now have a Stein im Brett with her (literally translated: a “stone in the board”).
In German, if someone has a Stein im Brett with you, it means that person now has your sympathy. In other words, that person did something to win you over. But to understand where this phrase came from, we will have to take a close look at the origins of this strange German saying.
If you’re learning German, you’ve probably noticed that Germans have a word to describe almost anything. There are, for example, many different words for “fear”, depending on what type of fear you are referring to.
There’s Todesangst (“fear of death”), Höhenangst (“fear of heights”), Prüfungsangst (“fear of taking tests”), Flugangst (“fear of flying”), Trennungsangst (“fear of being separated”) and Höllenangst (literally “fear of going to hell”, but in context it refers to a deep-seated fear), among others.
One word that many of you might relate to is Zukunftsangst (“fear of the future”). This word describes the fear that follows you (particularly in your younger years) as you try to do well in school and succeed at your internships and in your career. When the course of your future is uncertain, you might develop a Zukunftsangst that haunts you throughout your daily life. Will you be able to get a job after college? Will you be able to afford a place of your own? Will you get that promotion? Will you ever find a husband – or wife? The fear of not getting those things may always be lurking in your mind. For some, this Zukunftsangst may motivate them to work even harder. For others, this fear may be a hindrance.
If you’re secure with the course of your life, you probably don’t have any sort of Zukunftsangst. But no one is fearless, and we’re almost certain that there’s a German word to describe whatever fears you may have!
Gernegroß. This German word sounds like it would be simple to define – but it’s not. Although it translates to “wanting to be big”, it has nothing to do with one’s height, weight or physical appearance.
Gernegroß is a noun defining a person who sees himself in a better light than others do – someone who likes to brag, show off or act more experienced than they are. There is no English translation, but the words “wannabe” and the colloquial term “whippersnapper” (an overconfident or presumptious young and inexperienced person) come close. Unlike a young whippersnapper, however, a Gernegroß can be any age.
Being called a Gernegroß is not positive. If someone calls you a Gernegroß, they are probably annoyed by how you are acting. It may be time to stop bragging and gain a more humble spirit.
You know that friend of yours who just won’t stop talking? That person you can never get off the phone, or the person who goes on and on with pointless stories? Germans have a name for someone like this: a Dampfplauderer!
A Dampfplauderer is a person who has always has something to say, but never says anything of substance. This sort of person likes to hear him or herself talk. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we’re often stuck listening to a Dampfplauderer, pretending to care while contemplating how to end the conversation. The English translation for the word Dampfplauderer is “chatterbox” – and that’s a pretty good translation. The word chatterbox, after all, is usually associated with someone that has a lot of idle chatter, but says very few meaningful things. Listening to a Dampfplauderer, you might start wondering what the point of their story is, only to realize there is no point.
The term consists of the words Dampf, which means “steam”, and plauder, which means “chat”. So a literal translation could be “steam chatter” – someone whose words come out like steam – lacking real substance.
Whether it’s a friend who likes to talk or a colleague who speaks too much in meetings, I’m sure we have all got a Dampfplauderer in our lives!
If you’ve ever been to a party that had nothing going on, you might want to call it tote Hose.
The German word tote Hose is a slang term that originated in the 1980s. Literally translated, tote Hose means “dead trousers”, but it has nothing to do with your pants. The phrase tote Hose is used to describe something that is boring, uneventful or dull – like a bad party or event.
Although it sounds like it should be used as a noun, tote Hose is mostly used in place of an adjective. You might tell your friend, “Gosh, last night’s party was so tote Hose – I only lasted an hour before I ditched my friends to go somewhere else.”
There is no English equivalent for tote Hose; you must simply imagine a phrase that describes an extremely boring or uneventful situation. The phrase remains highly popular among youth in Germany today. There is even a German rock band that named themselves Die Toten Hosen.
So next time you’re bored at a party, feel free to describe it as tote Hose to impress your German friends with your cool new slang. Just don’t tell the host that – or you may never get another invite!
If you’re American, you’ve probably heard of “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. In Germany, however, we have what’s called Schrottwichteln, which basically means “the exchange of crap”.
The holiday season is all about gift exchanges. Even if you’re giving away junk – it’s the thought that counts, right? In German schools, workplaces and social circles, people often organize a so-called Schrottwichteln. The word Schrott means “crap”, “garbage” or “junk”. Wichteln is the organized exchange of gifts during the holiday season. So people who participate in Schrottwichteln essentially give each other things they don’t want themselves – like that ugly Christmas sweater they received from their grandmother or an overly fancy candleholder for which they have no use. Often times, they will regift an item or contribute a gag gift. It is not
uncommon for these gifts to be wrapped up in newspaper, rather than gift wrap – anything to make it look more like junk.
When people organize a Schrottwichteln, they will often set a limit on the value of the item – perhaps 5, 10, 15 or 20 Euros. Participants usually have a few days to decide on a gift – and will often search for the ugliest, funniest or most useless possible item they can think of. Sometimes Schrottwichteln organizers will choose a “winner” – a gift that is the most worthless of all.
Those who participate in Schrottwichteln parties do so for the holiday spirit and the humor associated with it. And if the gift they receive is perfectly useless, they may regift it the following Christmas at another Schrottwichteln party.