Word of the Week: Spargelzeit

It’s white asparagus time! Well, in Germany it is. In fact, this time of year is so significant to Germans that it even has it’s own name: Spargelzeit!

The word Spargel means asparagus and Zeit means time. The term Spargelzeit refers to the time of year when white asparagus is harvested in Germany (some call it Spargelsaison – “asparagus season”). For Germans, it’s a special time of year: after all, they can’t always get fresh white asparagus in the supermarkets! White asparagus grows underground with no exposure to sunlight, thus keeping it from turning green. It’s a healthy food that’s rich in nutrients and low in calories, making it an especially good choice for those who are health conscious. Most German regions have soil rich enough to grow white asparagus, but Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony grow more asparagus than other states and take pride in this fact. The city of Schwetzingen, located in Baden-Württemberg, calls itself the “Asparagus Capital of the World” and even hosts an annual Spargelfest (asparagus festival). To be fair, though, there’s many regions that host a springtime Spargelfest.

In Germany, asparagus lovers often use the white stalks to prepare a traditional meal that consists of asparagus, hollandaise sauce, Black Forest Ham and boiled potatoes. There are countless other recipes whose prime ingredient is white asparagus, and Germans only have a short time to try them all out: the Spargelzeit is typically over by mid-June. So if you’re in Germany in the springtime, make sure to see what the hype is about and order a dish that contains white asparagus – you won’t regret it (unless you hate vegetables)! 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Gewohnheitstier

Are you a creature of habit? Do you wake up at the same time every day, eat the same meal every morning, take the same route to work – and like it that way? If so, Germans would call you a Gewohnheitstier

The word Gewohnheit roughly translates to “habit” and Tier means “animal”. A Gewohnheitstier is someone that’s a so-called “habit animal” that lives the same routine every day, by choice. This type of person hates change and strives to maintain a certain lifestyle. 

A typical Gewohnheitstier might, for example, have their alarm set for 7 a.m. every morning, leave their home by 7:45, pick up a coffee on the way and arrive at the office at 8:30 sharp. After work, the Gewohnheitstier might choose to take an afternoon walk along the same route that he or she always takes. The Gewohnheitstier may then watch their favorite nightly news channel, read exactly 30 pages in a book and hit the sack at the same time every night. Sound like anyone you know? 

For a Gewohnheitstier, this sort of lifestyle is enjoyable. But lack of flexibility might make certain situations difficult, such as travel or any change in one’s environment. If the grocery store runs out of their favorite breakfast ingredients or they are taking a trip to another country, then the Gewohnheitstier is forced to break their routine.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Eselsbrücke

Do you have a hard time remembering information, whether you’re studying for a biology test or trying to remember an address? Do you have a method to help you? 

In German, a trick that helps you retain information is called an Eselsbrücke – which literally translates to “donkey bridge.” A close (but less humorous) English equivalent would be “mnemonic device”. But why call a mnemonic device a “donkey bridge”? Everyone knows that donkeys aren’t the most intelligent of creatures. 

Donkeys are stubborn and hate going through water, since they have a hard time estimating its depth. As a result, they are very careful – and prefer staying on dry land. Back in the day – when donkeys were used to transport heavy loads over long distances – people built little bridges for them to cross over streams and rivers (spoiled, right?). These bridges were a short cut to a destination – just like an Eselsbrücke is a short cut to your memory! 

© dpa / picture alliance

Today, an Eselsbrücke refers to those catchy phrases or other mnemonic devices you might use to trigger your memory. You probably remember ROY G. BIV – the acronymn used to remember the spectrum of colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.) Or maybe you dictated the phrase “My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies” to remember the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) – back when Pluto was considered a planet, that is.

Whatever your method, whatever your style, just remember that an Eselsbrücke is the tool you are using to retain that information. And who knows, maybe you’ll need your own Eselsbrücke to remember this word!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Wittenberg: A personal tour through Luther Country

In this week’s virtual travel series, Konstantin Tesch from the German Embassy tells us about his great-grandparents’ home, Wittenberg. This picturesque city along the River Elbe is one you don’t want to miss – especially if you love history!

The city of Wittenberg has a special meaning for me, as it is my second home. Although I was born and grew up in Berlin, during the holidays I visited my great-grandparents who lived near the city of Wittenberg almost every year. My great-grandmother still lives there today and she will be 97 this year!

An aerial view of Wittenberg. © dpa / picture alliance

Wittenberg is located in eastern Saxony-Anhalt, on the banks of the River Elbe. The first thing you can see from the distance is the time-honored castle church, at the gates of which Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) is said to have posted his 95 theses on October 31, 1517, with which he initiated the Reformations. The division of Christianity into Catholic and Protestant churches began in Wittenberg.

For this reason, October 31st is also called Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in Germany and is a public holiday in most federal states.

Martin Luther also lived and worked in Wittenberg. Even today you can visit the so-called Luther House, where the reformer is said to have been enlightened by the Reformation change. His closest ally and co-founder of the Reformation Philipp Melanchthon (1497 – 1560) also lived in Wittenberg and his house (in a reconstructed form) can  be visited today, too. Luther an Melanchthon are buried side by side in the castle church and there are two large statues of Luther and Melanchthon on the market square in Wittenberg.

The Lutherhaus. © dpa / picture alliance

The painters Lucas Cranach Elder (1472 – 1553) and his son Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515 – 1586) lived in Wittenberg at about the same time as Luther and Melanchthon. Both were important Renaissance painters. The so-called Cranach-Hof houses the premises of their old studio. Cranach the Younger is buried in the town church of Wittenberg, which is also clearly visible from afar with its double towers.

The so-called Luther wedding (Luthers Hochzeit) takes place every summer. The Luther wedding is a big city festival in honor of the wedding of Martin Luther with his wife Katharina von Bora in 1525. At the Luther wedding, people dress up in medieval costumes and frolic in the medieval flair of the historic city center. Everywhere there are stalls with handicrafts and souvenirs in the medieval style. Everyone is waiting for the big parade, where representatives of all the surrounding villages and their associations gather and disguise themselves as Lutheran people to walk through the two main streets of the city.

The annual Luther Wedding celebration. © dpa / picture alliance

In the past years I have visited the city again and again. My family tree can be traced back to the 17th century and many of my ancestors lived in the villages around Wittenberg. The city is not only a historical gem, but for me it is also a place of family and wonderful memories.

By Konstantin Tesch, German Embassy

10 reasons I love Bonn

In this week’s virtual travel series, German diplomat Niels von Redecker shares 10 reasons why he loves his hometown Bonn. From architecture to history to culture and natural beauty, this city on the Rhine is one that everyone should experience at least once!

Sweet childhood memories

Like the smell of licorice on the hockey playgrounds in Dottendorf, a southern part of town, right opposite of the original Haribo factory.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rheinufer

An endless promenade along both sides of the river Rhine – perfect for hour-long runs, skates or bike rides.

© dpa / picture alliance

Rhine in flames

Year by year, this is the biggest event on the Middle Rhine – spectacular bonfires, reflections and echoes!

© dpa / picture alliance

Continue reading “10 reasons I love Bonn”

Memories of a family trip to Coburg leads to broader connections

In our latest travel series, German Embassy diplomats and staff share experiences and information about their German hometowns. Today, Eva Santorini shares her memory of her visit to Coburg, Germany.

As my thoughts turn to my interests – travel and history – during these twilight zone COVID-19 days, I recall family trips to Europe to visit relatives. Transatlantic travel at the time was more complicated and expensive than it is now, so I met my grandparents only a few times and instead became a prolific letter writer at a young age. After World War II, my mother’s parents had resettled in a small scenic German town called Coburg in Oberfranken in northern Bavaria, a town first mentioned in historical records in 1054.

I was thrilled to meet my Oma und Opa for the first time when I was six years old, and the memories of that trip will remain with me forever. The small town sported small tidy streets of cobblestone radiating from the Marktplatz where small shops and cafes beckoned to visitors. My favorite memories are of the Coburger Würstchen, a long thin sausage whose delicious smoked flavor I can almost conjure up now, even after being a years-long vegetarian, and the small store under my grandparents’ apartment where we bought sweets.

The “Veste Coburg,” first mentioned in a document from 1225, dominates the town and is accessible on a long winding path that leads to its imposing entrance. Another sight I recall was the statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (formal name: Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, 1819–1861) who married Queen Victoria in 1840.

The Veste Coburg is one of the most well-preserved medieval fortresses in Germany.

Now fast forward: that little girl grew up to become interested in world history. Join me in making the leap from seeing the statue of Prince Albert in Coburg and forging that personal but profound connection to the larger historical picture and the larger-than-life figures of World War I.

After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria found comfort in her large family which by then included 42 grandchildren. It is from these descendants that we learn of interesting and extremely convoluted relationships which had resulted from the intermarriage within Europe’s royal houses.

Three grandchildren of the royal couple became European rulers. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and the former German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – later known as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, were first cousins. It was so much more troubling, then, that as the sound of the war machine grew louder in 1914, these cousins found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict.

Queen Victoria surrounded by family on her 75th birthday in 1894. Seated, second row (l to r): Kaiser Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria, Kaiserin Friedrich. Standing behind them: the future Tsar Nicholas II and his future wife, the Kaiser’s cousin, Princess Alix von Hessen.

Just before the “guns of August” sparked the beginning of the Great War, it is said that Tsar Nicholas implored his cousin, King George V for protection and requested exile in Great Britain. Sadly no protection was granted and the rest is, truly, history.

The visits to Coburg to see my grandparents left me with many vivid and happy memories. But they also fostered a curiosity that reaches far beyond those innocent childhood memories. Perhaps you have been fortunate to make a strong family connection during a visit to Germany. What are your memories? What struck you?

By Eva Santorini, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Blumenpracht

If you visit a small town in Germany in the spring or summer, we’re sure you’ll see at least one beautiful Blumenpracht on someone’s balcony. That’s because Germans love to show off their flower displays! 

The term Blumenpracht comes from the words Blume (“flower”) and Pracht (“splendor” / “glory” / “magnificence”). Blumenpracht describes a glorious display of flowers – one that has any nature lover turning their heads in awe. Blumenpracht is more than just a few flowers in a pot; it’s a very serious display of flowers that goes beyond what your average person would have at home. This type of flower display requires lots of attention and care. 

But Blumenpracht is not necessarily found in someone’s home or garden. It can also be found in public spaces – like a park or botanical garden. If it makes you whip out your camera or stop in awe, then you’re surely looking at a magnificent Blumenpracht.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

The history of April Fool’s Day in Germany

Where did April Fool’s originate?

April Fool’s is a tradition celebrated widely in both the US and Germany. Although it is unclear exactly how and why this day of jokes originated, there is plenty of evidence that Germans (along with other Europeans) were already playing tricks on each other back in the Middle Ages!

Long before the Internet, Germans were celebrating April 1 the old-fashioned way. On April 1, 1530, a meeting was allegedly scheduled for lawmakers in Augsburg, who were told that they were gathering to unify the state’s coinage. When people heard of the meeting, they began trading their currency to make a profit from the change. However, the meeting never took place, the law was not enacted, and everyone who showed up – as well as those who traded their currency – were mocked as fools.

April Fool’s pranks continued over the years in Germany, and newspaper publishers soon jumped on the bandwagon. According to legend, one German newspaper published an April Fool’s article in 1774, claiming that it was possible to breed chickens in different colors by painting the coop that the hen lived in. A newspaper article from April 1, 1789 claimed that hail the size of pigeon eggs had fallen in Berlin. On April 1, 1923, a Berlin newspaper reported that Egyptian mummies had been found in the city’s underground railway station.

As technology developed, so did April Fool’s pranks. On April 1, 1926, German magazine Echo Continental announced the development of a new triple-decker bus for the city of Berlin, complete with an edited picture that served as “proof” of the development. Although this year is not a time for pranking, we still wanted to share the history with you so you can start thinking about how you will prank your coworkers in 2021.

Word of the Week: Nervensäge

Is there someone who irritates you to the point of insanity? Does it feel like this person is sawing through your nerves every time they speak? In German, you would call them a Nervensäge

A fusion of the words Nerven (“nerves”) and Säge (“saw”), the term describes someone who annoys, bothers or irritates you persistently – in a figurative sense, someone who cuts through your nerves. This might be a child who asks constant questions when you are busy, a coworker who won’t stop talking when you’re trying to work or a mother-in-law who questions you about every detail of your life. 

The English phrase “getting on someone’s nerves” is closely related, but there is no equivalent for the German word Nervensäge, other than “nuisance” or “pain in the neck.” 

Some people have more delicate nerves than others — making them more vulnerable to the effects of a Nervensäge. Others have a higher tolerance, and are only affected if a Nervensäge persistently pushes them to their breaking point. 

A good – but rather dramatic – example of a Nervensäge is portrayed in the 1996 comedy film “The Cable Guy” (in German: Cable Guy – Die Nervensäge). In the film, a lonely cable guy named Chip tries desperately to befriend one of his customers, Steven. At first, all goes well and the two seem to be forming a normal friendship. But after a few days, Chip begins to bombard his new friend with voice messages (at one point, 10 in a row) and “runs into” him everywhere he goes. At this point, the cable guy has become a true Nervensäge that clings onto his new friend. He ultimately escalates to violence and stalking – which goes beyond the levels of a traditional Nervensäge – but throughout much of the show, Chip is a good example of someone who really knows how to “saw” through someone’s nerves. 

You probably won’t meet anyone like the cable guy, but we are sure you’ve been around a Nervensäge – someone who just knows how to push your buttons. If not, then props to you for being so tolerant!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Gemütlichkeit: how Germans find coziness while home alone.

The German word Gemütlichkeit describes coziness and belonging. Here are tips to find this feeling while home alone.

Over the coming weeks and months, millions of people will face the same challenge: defy your social instincts and stay inside your home. It’s a dark irony that the most social thing to do is to be antisocial.

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Hunkering down at home will prove a challenge. We’ll tire of our streaming service queue, our noisy neighbors, the monotony of the same setting and lack of outdoor time.

Window View, Sitting, Indoors, Girl, Woman, Female

So how do we cope? While we’ll all be figuring this out together, a quick glance into German culture and vocabulary may hold a cozy little secret to surviving at home. It’s called Gemütlichkeit.

What is Gemütlichkeit?

The German word Gemütlichkeit has found its way into English. Gemütlichkeit or “coziness” describes a feeling, something like a well-heated, nicely furnished room with a fireplace on a rainy day and a good book. It also connotes a strong notion of belonging, a sense of well-being or simply the lack of hecticness and uneasiness.

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One could say that the term is also multi-layered, in the sense that it can be applied on a public as well as on a private scale. Very open and crowded places, like an evening spent at the Christmas Market, can be just as gemütlich or cozy as the silent comfort of one’s own living room. But of course our focus for today is the latter.

Here’s an example from pop culture that we’re sure you’ll recognize:

“Look for the bare necessities

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

Old Mother Nature’s recipes

That brings the bare necessities of life.”  – © Disney

Many people are familiar with this song from the famous 1967 Walt Disney movie “The Jungle Book”.

“Bare Necessities” was translated into German as “Probier’s mal mit Gemütlichkeit,” which roughly means “Just try it with coziness”. However, the accuracy of this translation is debatable. “Bare necessities” translates to Lebensnotwendigeiten in German and does not exactly have the same connotation with respect to the imperatives in life. But it shows how varied and vague the definition of the term Gemütlichkeit actually is.

Queen Victoria is said to have been the first English native to use the term in the form of the adjective gemütlich. If her idea correlated more closely with Balu the Bear’s or with the association of an eased Sunday at home remains unknown, but we know that Gemütlichkeit can actually be found anywhere. And that is a very “cozy” thing to keep in mind.

‘Coziness’ and lack of ‘worries and strife’ are rather antithetical to our current circumstances. How can we capture a little Gemütlichkeit in our life? Our goal for today will be to discover ways we can bring Gemütlichkeit into our homes. And we’re in luck. The Germans have a few ways of capturing that feeling of warmth and relaxation.

Tea, Cup, Rest, Calm, Afternoon, Beverage, Mug, Morning

Here are just a few German methods to find that sweet sweet feeling of Gemütlichkeit!

Floral & Funa

Germans love gardening. And even for those who don’t have a proper outdoor garden, balcony gardens are a common sight. At times like these, adding some flowers to your home or balcony may bring you some joy. Here are just a few photos of some awesome German balcony gardens.

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Why plants? Research shows us that gardeners and plant parents are happier than the rest. Much like care for a child or pet, taking care of others can make us more content with ourselves. In times when closeness and affection are scarce, we can pass on good vibes to our green friends.

Home, House, Interior, Design, Living, Bedroom, Side

Do you have a balcony garden or indoor plants? If not, all hope isn’t lost. Plants can be ordered online through many retailers. More likely, however, and out of respect for delivery workers, you might ask your neighbors for so-called ‘cuttings’ from common plants that you can grow yourself. To maintain social distancing, they could leave them outside your door or their own for pickup and disinfection.

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There are many herbs that can grow very well from cuttings. Here’s a list.

Have a Digital Kaffeeklatsch (Coffee Chat)!
© 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. In times like ours, this won’t detail won’t be possible.

© dpa / picture-alliance

But we can still do it over a video chat service, like Facebook Messenger, Skype, WhatsApp, or Google Hangouts! Schedule a digital date with a few of your friends, brew a cup of coffee or tea, grab a few cookies or a slice of cake, and enjoy their company over the internet!

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. So bust out that fancy tablecloth for your digital Kaffeeklatsch, and get to baking!

Some people compare the Kaffeeklatsch to the British version of five o’clock tea, but there are quite a few differences. For one, a Kaffeeklatsch is less frequent and more likely to occur on a weekend when people have more time on their hands. A Kaffeeklatsch is also more likely to include a group of women who gather for gossip, while afternoon tea is more inclusive.

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The origins of the Kaffeeklatsch have been traced to around 1900, when German housewives gathered at each others’ homes to drink coffee and chat. Over time, the ritual became deeply ingrained in German culture, and soon spread to neighboring countries. If you grew up in a household in Germany, Austria, Finland or Luxembourg, there’s a good chance that the Kaffeeklatsch might have been a part of your weekend activities.

The Kaffeeklatsch is a wonderful German tradition sure to bring a little Gemütlichkeit into your life!

Be a Bücherwurm!


75% of Americans say they read a book in the last year, and 61% of Germans say they read regularly. What better time than now to do more reading than ever! Grab a book you’ve been setting aside for another time, and dig in!

Kindle, Ereader, Tablet, E-Reader, Ebook, E-Book, Adult

The German word Bücherwurm translates to Bookworm. And just like in English, it denotes someone who loves books, reading, and maybe even writing.

Books and book culture is deeply ingrained in German culture. Famous authors and thinkers such as Goethe, Humboldt, Kant, Hegel, and Mann have inspired generations to turn to the next page, or grab a pen and paper themselves.

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Don’t have many books at home? It’s easier than ever to become an avid reader. For copyright-free literature, see Project Gutenberg. Their top 100 Ebooks list should keep you busy.

If you’re after something more modern, use a local library card to access OverDrive, an app that lets you check out Ebooks from your local library for easy reading on a Kindle or similar device.

 

Maybe even grab a German book while you’re at it. Each year, German books are translated and published in English. Many are awarded the “German Book Prize” by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association. Here are the winners from 2019.

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What’s your favorite German Buch (book)?

 

Give in to your Wanderlust (if you’re allowed)

Sometimes you just have to go outside. In these difficult times, it’s not always possible. But if you’re able to go out in a safe way that keeps you distanced from others, give in a little to your desire to “wander”.

Germans are obsessed with hiking in the great outdoors. The German word “wandern” means to hike or to roam, a purposeful version of the English word “wander”. When Germans crave exploration on foot, they’re said to have Wanderlust.

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Some of the most brilliant minds of history would invigorate their brains with a daily walk, maybe even a jog. For maintaining a healthy weight, mind, body, spirit, and inspiring a bit of Gemütlichkeit, we couldn’t recommend anything better!

If you can’t go out physically, take a digital walk! Here an example from YouTube:

But again, please be safe and follow instructions from your local authorities!

 

Play a Brettspiel (Board Game)!

Board games can be a great way to bring your whole family together, and leave the digital world behind. If you’re quarantined alone, many popular board games can be found online.

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Germans have a particular affinity for board games. As it turns out, German board game aficionados have helped fuel the explosion in popularity of board games in the US. Read more on that in The Atlantic:The Invasion of the German Board Games.

Games like Settlers of Catan have brought groups together for countless hours of fun (and yes, admittedly a little stress too). So put on some relaxing music, grab a glass of wine, and settle in for a game with your family at the table, or with friends online.

Board Game, Settlers Of Catan, Game, Cards, Dice, Play

 

 

Bringing it all together.

We hope we’ve inspired a few ideas to spark Gemütlichkeit in your life. If you have other ideas, share them with us @GermanyInUSA on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Coffee, Winter, Warmth, Cozy, Cup, Drink, Hot, Warm

 

By William Fox
German Embassy