Word of the Week: Narrenruf

We’re in the midst of carnival season in Germany, so it’s only fitting that our Word of the Week is something that will come in handy during these festive days!

Our Word of the Week is Narrenruf, which means “fool’s shout”.

© dpa / picture-alliance

A Narrenruf is whatever revelers shout to each other on the streets during a carnival celebration. It is a call used to greet each other in the midst of the partying and festivities. In this way, you greet others celebrating carnival and acknowledge your mutual excitement.

Each carnival-celebrating region has its own unique Narrenruf. In Cologne, you’ll most likely hear people shouting Kölle Alaaf (“long live Cologne!”).

In other parts of Germany, including Düsseldorf and Mainz, you may here people shouting Helau!

In Berlin, you may hear Hajo! Other common Narrenrufe are Ahoi! (Bavaria and northern Germany), Ho Narro! (Konstanz) and Schelle-schelle-schellau! (Allgäu).

Make sure you know the proper Narrenruf for that region before shouting it out!

The word Narr is the medieval German word for fool. In 18th century writings, the term was often written as Narro. Its origins, however, are not known. The word Ruf simply means “call” or “shout” (as nouns). The Narrenruf has a huge cultural value for carnival in Germany. Everyone who celebrates knows and uses one. It is simply part of the tradition.

So next time you’re celebrating carnival with Germany, find out what the Narrenruf is in your area and use it to greet others during the festivities!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Habseligkeiten

The German word Habseligkeiten is a beautiful one. Literally translated, it means “belongings”, but it also means so much more! It comes from the words haben (“to have”) and Seligkeit (a state of bliss, happiness or salvation). 

In 2004, the Goethe Institute held a competition for the most beautiful German word. The winner? Habseligkeiten (in the plural form). But why is a word that defines “belongings” so beautiful? It’s best explained in the words of German Doris Kalka, the woman who submitted the word for the competition. 

“The word doesn’t signify ownership or wealth of a person. However, it does refer to his possessions and does it in a friendly and compassionate way. Typical for those with these kinds of possessions would be a six-year-old child who empties his pockets to take joy in what he has collected,” Kalka, who is a secretary at the University of Tübingen, wrote in her submission. “Or the word can be seen from a more pitiful side. It can express the few belongings that someone who has lost his home has and how he has to transport them to whatever shelter available.” 

So Habseligkeiten means more than any old items you have laying around or the items you order on Amazon. It refers to items to which there is emotion attached. A pretty stone that you’ve been carrying for months in your pocket or the diary that you write in every night are both Habseligkeiten. If you were forced to leave your home and could only take one backpack of stuff with you, what would you take? Those items are probably your Habseligkeiten.

By Nicole Glass, 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!

Word of the Week: Hinterland

Do you live in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere? Somewhere far away from big cities and other people? Germans would say that you live in the Hinterland!

The German word Hinterland translates to “the land behind”. Generally, it is the inland region of a country. The closest English translation is “backcountry”.

But in German, it can be used in two ways. In some contexts, the word describes land that is behind the shore, a city or a port. The Hinterland of a port is the region that it serves for imports and exports.

But more commonly, the word is used to describe any part of a country that is remote and underdeveloped with few people – a place that we might refer to as “the middle of nowhere”. Think the Mojave Desert. Or a small town in Arizona. Or that little cabin in the woods that’s miles away from people.

These days, the word Hinterland is not only used in German, but it has also been incorporated into English, Spanish and French! After all, it is a useful word – every country has its remote regions! So what’s your ideal day trip: a visit to the city or one to the Hinterland?

For more German-language tips, tricks and information, follow our Facebook page “do Deutsch”: www.Facebook.com/DoDeutsch

Word of the Week: Verschlimmbessern

We’ve all encountered situations where we try to make something better, but only make it worse. And in German, there’s a word for that: verschlimmbessern

The term verschlimmbessern is colloquial, and it is a fusion of verschlimmern (“to make something worse”) and verbessern (“to make something better”). Thus, verschlimmbessern means making something worse while intending to make it better. 

Man having headache.

The term is used in the past tense to describe a situation. For example, a company may have updated their iPhone app to add more features, but the update may have made it more confusing for users to navigate. This would be an example of verschlimmbessern, since the update actually made the product worse.

The term is often used in the context of legal situations. If, for example, the government passes a new law with good intentions, but it’s not very popular with the public, the public might accuse government officials of making it worse. This would be a Verschlimmbesserung (and in this case, the term is a noun.) Despite our good intentions, there will always be times where we or someone else makes a situation worse. Let’s always hope for a Verbesserung instead of a Verschlimmbesserung!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Milchmädchenrechnung

A Milchmädchenrechnung (literally “a milk maid’s account”) is a naive calculation. In English, we might say it is the result of counting the chickens before they’ve hatched. 

Let’s say you’re entering a writing contest where the cash prize is $100. You’re confident that you will win, so you start fantasizing how you will spend the money before you’ve received the prize. Those fantasies are a Milchmädchenrechnung – a naive calculation – since there is no guarantee you will even win the contest. 

German politicians involved in a campaign sometimes use the word Milchmädchenrechnung to describe their’s opponents promises, thereby claiming that those promises cannot be fulfilled because of unforeseen costs. It might, for example, be a Milchmädchenrechnung to blindly promise a pay increase of 50 percent, since employers might not be able to afford those costs in the first place. 

The origin of the term Milchmädchenrechnung comes from a well-known fable that has been around since the 14th century and gained lasting popularity from its inclusion in La Fontaine’s Fables. In the story, a young farmer’s wife carries a jug of milk to the marketplace, which she plans to sell. During her trip, she fantasizes about how she will spend the money. While distracted by her own thoughts, she spills the milk and says farewell to her dreams.

The lesson? Don’t spend your money (metaphorically) before you have it! A Milchmädchenrechnung won’t get you anything.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Schrottwichteln

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.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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

 

 

Word of the Week: Eigenbrötler

We all know someone who hates teamwork, avoids other people and willingly spends a lot of time alone. You might call someone like this antisocial or introverted. But in German, you would call this person an Eigenbrötler.

Eigenbrötler is a noun that comes from the words eigen (ones “own”) and Brot (“bread”). Basically, this describes someone who eats his or her own bread. But there’s more to it.

The German word Eigenbrötler is a very old word that first arose in the 16th and 17th centuries. Back then, the term was used to identify a person who kept to him or herself in a care- or retirement home. Instead of participating in community meals, an Eigenbrötler would pay to eat his or her “own bread” (meals) all alone. An Eigenbrötler often also paid extra to have his or her own furniture, room and other necessities. Overall, an Eigenbrötler did his own thing, separate from all the other residents in the home.

Today, Germans use this word to describe any type of person who keeps to him or herself. An Eigenbrötler is absolutely not a team player and tries to avoid participating in group activities. Usually, he or she has some peculiar habits or traits and spends more time alone than with others. We all know someone like this – right?

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kobold

© Wikimedia Commons

With Halloween just around the corner, Americans are excitedly gathering for haunted hayrides, telling scary stories around campfires, and searching for frightening costumes. At this time of year, it’s common to hear stories about the chupacabra, Bigfoot, and the headless horseman.

Mythological creatures exist throughout the world, but let’s take a look at one that has existed in German folklore for centuries. A popular supernatural creature is the Kobold, a mischievous household spirit that is usually invisible, but will occasionally materialize, taking the form of a human, an animal, or an object. An ill-tempered Kobold might, for example, take the form of a feather, descend onto the nose of a sleeping homeowner, and trigger a sneeze.

Most images of a Kobold depict small, human-like figures often dressed like peasants. But there are many types of Kobolds. Some are friendly spirits that live in one’s home, taking care of chores and playing malicious tricks if they feel upset, neglected or insulted. Others live underground, haunting old mines. Some reside on ships, accompanying sailors as they navigate the open seas (this type of Kobold is called a Klaubautermann).

The origin of the Kobold and its etymology remains shrouded in mystery, but this mythical creature is believed to have emerged from Pagan customs many centuries ago.

There are numerous other legendary German creatures that are closely related to the original Kobold, such as the Heinzelmännchen (house gnomes). But while the Heinzelmännchen are good-natured creatures that tend to the house, Kobolds also have a darker side to them, often wreaking havoc. In some cases, the damage Kobolds inflict might resemble that imposed by a poltergeist.

© dpa / picture-alliance