Word of the Week: Kaffeeklatsch

© 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. 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.

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Eggs and bunnies symbolize renewal and joy

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Something odd happens throughout Germany on Easter Sunday. Whether in apartments, houses or gardens, excited children run around, pushing the furniture aside, lifting the cushions and looking under trees and bushes outdoors.

Why? Easter is the time at which German children look in the most obscure corners for brightly colored Easter eggs that have been hidden the night before by the Easter Bunny.

But why is it a bunny that brings the eggs at this annual festival?

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Intern Q&A: Anja Hornbostel

Name: Anja Kristina Hornbostel

Where you’re from: A small village near Hanover in the north of Germany.

Where and what you’re studying: At the moment, I am a legal trainee at the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg. Before I started my legal training, I studied law at the University of Osnabrück, Germany, and at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?

During my time in the cultural department, I enjoyed following US education politics and I was able to attend some events that covered this. One event I will definitely remember was titled “A Conversation on Education in America”, hosted by the news platform Axios. Three US governors were interviewed on this topic. When I signed up for it, the starting time was set to 8 a.m. However, on the morning of the event, the organizers decided to send around a message saying the start time was to be changed to 7:45 am! I have rarely been to a talk starting that early, but the discussion was absolutely worth it. Another project I enjoyed was the visit of the German a-Capella group “Vocaldente”, which held a concert at the Embassy and a workshop at the German school in Potomac. It was wonderful to see how the musicians encouraged the kids to try and use their little singing voices confidently.

What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?

Germany has an important role as a member state of the European Union. As one of the founding member countries, it bears a particular responsibility for the future of the EU. I am very thankful that I could grow up in this comparatively peaceful part of the world and I think that the EU is a key factor to a lot of my life’s quality. For instance, I am more than happy to be able to call my friends in The Hague for very little money or to visit my friends in Antwerp without having to stop at any border.
When Britain decided to leave the union, when populists continuously gain more and more votes and when threats from terrorists try to create fear among people, we have to remember how lucky we are to be a part of such a bigger idea, despite one or the other legitimate point of criticism. The rich cultural diversity that we have among all EU member states is something that amazes me again and again. Germany should work hard to stabilize and deepen the bonds that were created by this union and also to persuade people that might be in doubt about the strong advantages the EU has.

What are some impressions you gained of the United States?

Right at the beginning of my stay I got a very positive impression of how helpful people are in the U.S.: I rented a room from a (usually very active) 78-year old lady. Sadly, just before I arrived, she had an accident and broke her arm and wrist very badly. During my first week we had so many people visiting from the neighborhood, dropping off food for her and fixing things around the house that she hardly had time to worry about her condition. I have never seen such a caring community before. By now, she is almost fully recovered, which is probably because of the good care she got from her family, friends and neighbors. Furthermore, I was impressed by all the facts I learned during my conversations with Uber and Lyft drivers. They have such different backgrounds and every time I am ordering a car I am curious who will drive me this time and what his or her story is.

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?

The weather. One day it was freezing cold, around -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit). The next day the temperatures were as high as on a summer day back at home in Hamburg and we were able to sit on the banks of the Potomac in T-shirts. That was more than confusing. Also on a more professional level, the very political vibe in D.C. surprised me. I did expect the city to be political, but I never experienced a place where political opinions were discussed so openly even in small talk. That is something I had to get used to at first, but it also led to a lot of interesting conversations that I would not want to have missed. Maybe I will take some of the vibe back with me to Germany and “spice up” some of my conversations there a little bit…

What do you miss about Germany?

Spending an afternoon with my family and friends in one of my favorite coffee spots in Hamburg and to cycle to work every morning with my Dutch Bike.

What has been your biggest lesson learned during your internship?

It was very impressive to see how many different means of diplomacy there are. Apart from the communication among diplomats, so many important messages are also sent through cultural and other rather informal events, for example. It basically already starts by just being – and staying – curious about other cultures and by looking for meaningful dialogues with one another.

Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?

I will go back to Germany to finish my legal traineeship. After that, I will see what the future holds for me…

Travel Tuesday: Forest Spiral

© DPA / picture-alliance

If you’re traveling through Darmstadt, make sure to stop by the Waldspirale (“Forest Spiral”) – a building so unusual that it will stop you in your tracks.

This residential building was designed by the famous Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He is best known for the colorful Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, but he actually has many other famous buildings – including the Waldspirale in Germany.

© DPA / picture-alliance

If you look at any of his buildings, you’ll notice their curvy shapes and unconventional designs; Hundertwasser was always fascinated by spirals and referred to straight lines as “godless and immoral” and “without thought or feeling”. The artist strove to bring beauty to the world and he even refused payment for his design of the Hundertwasserhaus, claiming that the beauty of the building was worth the investment to “prevent something ugly from going up in its place.”

If you look at the Hunderwasserhaus and the Waldspirale, you’ll notice similarities. The 12-story “Forest Spiral” apartment complex has a green roof, a tower in the shape of an onion dome and colorful walls. There are no straight lines or edges. The building has more than 1,000 windows in different shapes and sizes and no two windows are the same!

The Waldspirale is one of Hundertwasserhaus’ newer designs. It was completed in 2000 – the year that the artist passed away.

Although this is a residential building that is not open to the public, it is still worth seeing from the outside!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

This week marked the first day of spring. In light of this, let’s examine the word Frühjahrsmüdigkeit.

When spring arrives, not everyone is struck purely with joy and vitality. Some are just the opposite, developing a fatigue that Germans call Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (“spring tiredness”).

In German, the word Frühjahr means “early year” and Müdigkeit means tiredness. Thus, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is usually attributed to weariness, laziness and lethargy in the springtime — generally between mid-March to mid-April.

Do you find yourself staring at the flowering tree outside your window, unable to concentrate on your work? Has it become more difficult to wake up early? Do you get headaches more often than usual? Do you spend weekends on the couch rather than outdoors? Then you might be suffering from Frühjahrsmüdigkeit.

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Intern Q&A: Jana Hofmann

This week, we are introducing one of our interns in the press department. Our Q&A with Jana sheds light on her experience as a German in the US – and the Embassy!

Name: Jana Hofmann

Where you’re from: I’m from Menden, a town in the Sauerland, a region in Germany famous for winter sports.

Where and what you’re studying: I’m doing my master’s in Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Marburg.

What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?

I am so thankful for the many doors the Embassy opened for me: I was able to visit the White House, participate in an intern exchange with our co-workers from New York at the United Nations, and was included in media briefings with Ambassador Wittig. Every other week, I had the morning shift, starting at 5 AM, and did a press screening. As a news junkie, I enjoyed reading the papers and working on our daily press report . One highlight during my internship was the visit of our Minister of Economics, Peter Altmaier. I was allowed to cover his meetings for our social media channels and shadow the press secretary’s work.

German Embassy intern Jana spent many early mornings compiling the daily press report.

What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?

Growing up in a peaceful and united Europe, I can’t imagine Germany without the EU. I can travel through most of Europe without passing “real” borders and even pay with the same currency. I am thankful for all of the benefits my generation has because of the EU. That is why I am worried about the rise of extremism and populism in Germany and in Europe. I think my generation needs to stand up for the EU and speak up against populism and hate. The U.S. is our most important ally and we should strengthen the German-American friendship.

Besides, I have met so many Americans who have either served or lived in Germany. Our personal ties are tight, and we shouldn’t forget that the Germans and Americans are close on the personal and business level, while discussing and solving political differences.

What are some impressions you gained of the United States?

I am always happy to go back to the U.S. for a visit because people are so friendly and easy to talk to. I love that everyone greets you with a smile and starts small talk. Every time I visit, I realize again that this country is too big to explore in one trip or to understand from one experience. There are still so many places to visit!

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?

How much the city has changed in just four years! I studied here for one semester during my bachelor’s and really fell in love with D.C. — the cute neighborhoods in Georgetown, the “I am in a movie”-feeling while walking past the White House, Capitol, and the monuments. When I first got here, it was sometimes hard to find restaurants and cafés that were not part of a chain. Now, there are so many up and coming neighborhoods.

I am, however, worried about the change of the city’s vibe. Everyday life has become even more politicized, if that is possible in one of the world’s most vibrant political cities. At least it’s more visible, and yet it has a positive flip side: people are standing up for their values and discussing what policies work best for the US and the world as a whole.

What do you miss about Germany?

“Kaffee & Kuchen”

My family and friends, and my boyfriend. I think you can get most German products in the US, and technology makes it easy to stay in touch, but I miss having a typical German “Kaffeetrinken” (drinking coffee) with homemade cake or cookies with my loved ones.

But I wouldn’t mind having my D.C. roommate’s chocolate cake when I’m back home!

What has been your biggest lesson learnt during your internship?

Ask questions – and, to quote a former professor of mine: “Do what makes your veins throb!” For me, the Embassy is more than a fancy building; it’s the people working here that make German foreign politics move forward, and everyone is doing his or her part, everyone has a story to tell. I loved learning more about a diplomat’s life and I am thankful my co-workers always made sure to take time to answer all my questions. I was also able to get to know people from the other departments and talk to them about their work. There are so many different people at the Embassy and when you talk to them, you can hear that they love their jobs. You can learn so much from those conversations, and many people are happy to give you advice – may it be on what to do and see in D.C. or helping you figure out what could be your next career step. You just have to ask.

Where do you plan to go or what do you plan to do after your internship?

I’ll be staying in D.C. for two more weeks to do some sightseeing and visit the Shenandoah National Park. I feel like I’ve had enough snow and cold for one winter, so I’m really happy that I’ll end my stay in the U.S. with a trip to Florida.

German Embassy intern Jana spent many early mornings compiling the daily press report.

Travel Tuesday: Vischering Castle

Castle Vischering by Michael Guenther on 500px.com


If visiting a moated castle is on your to-do list, then Vischering Castle is the place for you. This German castle takes you on a trip back to medieval times.

The Vischering Castle was built in 1271 and stands in present-day Lüdinghausen, North Rhine-Westphalia – an area saturated with castles. Germans call it a Wasserschloss (“water castle”) because it is surrounded by water for protection.

The castle is a product of a family feud between Bischop Gerhard von der Mark and the Von Ludinghausen family. In the 13th century, the bishop constructed it to compete with the other family’s castle, which was located nearby. Family feuds were common in those days, but they did not always lead to magnificent castles!

The horseshoe-shaped castle was built for defense and still contains its drawbridge, courtyard, strategic gateways and defensive wall. Although it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1521 and partially damaged during World War II, it was rebuilt and continues to stand open to visitors today.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

German exchange student Alexander Willers describes living in the US as a CBYX student

Alexander Wills is participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), a student exchange program jointly sponsored by the US Congress and the German Bundestag. Name: Alexander Willers

Grade: 12th in the United States, 10th in Germany

Hometown: Hamburg, Germany.

Current location: I am living with my host family in Flint, Michigan.

What motivated you to apply to the CBYX program?

The CBYX program is an amazing opportunity to learn more about the culture of the United States and to meet new friends. The program allowed me to not only understand the culture and way of life in the US but to get in touch with interesting people from politics. I truly feel that within the program I can contribute to the understanding between Americans and Germans.

What reaction did you receive from friends and family when you decided to join CBYX?

We were all happy and sad at the same time. I was very proud and happy that I could join the program but I also felt sad because I was going to leave my family and friends soon for a full year. My family and my friends were also proud to hear that I have been elected for the CBYX program. Everybody is excited to learn about my experiences once I am back in Germany.

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Word of the Week: Dreikäsehoch

What do you call a tiny little kid in German? A Dreikäsehoch! Literally translated, this colloquial German word means “three-cheeses-tall,” but has little to do with cheese and instead defines a child (usually a boy) that we would refer to in English as a “tiny tot.”

A Dreikäsehoch usually refers to a curious and intelligent child who is too small to do much, but tries to act like a “big shot.” If, for example, an ambitious five-year-old tells his parent that he wants to run in a marathon, the parent might respond, “but you are a Dreikäsehoch” – thereby indicating that the child is too little (only three cheeses tall!) to do so.

But why does this colloquial term refer to cheese, of all things?

Throughout history, cheese has always been an important resource. The Greeks considered it a delicacy, using it as a sacrifice for the Gods. The Romans considered it an important part of their diet, carrying slabs of cheese with them as they roamed through Europe. Cheese quickly gained popularity across Europe in the Middle Ages, and people soon knew what to expect when they obtained a wheel, which were usually about the same size and weight, according to WDR.

As a result, cheese become a standard measuring device in homes across Europe. In French, the word caisse refers to both boxes and cheese, and both were used as measuring devices. Similarly in Germany, large wheels of cheese were used as measuring units.

Thus, the word Dreikäsehoch originated in 18th century Northern Germany, referring to little boys no taller than three stacked wheels of cheese.

However, this mildly humorous reference was chosen as the third-most endangered beloved German word in 2007, and is slowly falling out of use in common language.

But perhaps you can help bring this 18th century word back into conversation. Next time you see a tiny tot trying to engage in activities he is too small for, you can remind him that’s he’s still only a little Dreikäsehoch.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy


Intern Q&A: Henri Dörr

This week, we are introducing one of our interns at the German Embassy. Our Q&A with Henri sheds light on his experience as a German in the US – and the Embassy!

Name: Henri Dörr

Where you’re from: I´m from Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, a small city in Bavaria half an hour north of Munich.

Where and what you’re studying: I´m just finishing my undergraduate studies in European Studies Major at the University of Passau.

What is one project or activity you enjoyed at the Embassy?

I had the great opportunity to take part in and report on the State of the Net-Conference, an annual summit of experts and politicians, where current and future developments in the field of internet policy were being discussed., e.g. blockchain, 5G and net-neutrality.

What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it?

The Brexit and the rise of Euro-skeptical parties throughout Europe is and will continue to be one of the biggest challenges. Germany has to take a leading role here and protect, defend and foster the values and achievements of the European Union together with the other remaining 26 member-states.

What are some impressions you gained of the United States?

Without a car it’s quite hard to get around. In the bigger cities you can always find a public transportation system, but if you want get a little bit outside the bigger towns, a car is definitely necessary. Apart from that, I got to know Americans as being very polite, open and interested in Germany. They are always open for a quick chat and it´s much easier to start a conversation here.

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington?

There are so many things to do and see here and most of them are for free. (The Smithsonian, National Archives, Library of Congress, Arlington Cemetery, Memorials, etc.) People in Germany are more focused on New York, Florida, and the West Coast and see Washington mainly as the seat of the US government and not as a cultural hub with so many amazing museums and places to see.

What do you miss about Germany?

I miss the public transportation system, which is more tightly knit and a bit more reliable in Germany.

What has been your biggest lesson learned during your internship?

If you’re in Washington, even as an intern, you need your own business cards. At every event I attended I was handed several and experienced surprise and sometimes even irritation when not being able to hand one of mine back.

Where do you plan to go after your internship?

After my internship, I have two weeks left here in DC, which I will use to visit the museums at the National Mall that are still missing on my list and make a short trip to Philadelphia. After that I will return to Germany to apply for a master’s degree in the field of political science.