Travel Tuesday: Blautopf in Blaubeuren

In the Swabian Mountains in southern Germany is a spring so blue that it attracts countless visitors. Known as the Blautopf (“blue pot”), this strange mountainous spring forms the drain for the Blau (River Blue) cave system. What makes this spring particularly strange and unique is its deep blue color – a result of the physical properties of the nanoscale limestone present in the water.

According to scientists, that is.

Legends tell a different story.

One local myth claims that someone pours a vat of ink into the Blautopf every day to maintain its color. Another strange myth claims that it is impossible to measure the Blautopf’s depth since a water nix steals the leaden sounding line (a thin rope with a plummet) every time it is submerged. There is even a story about the Schöne Lau, a beautiful mermaid trapped in the Blautopf. Today, a life-size statue of the mermaid stands near the Blautopf.

Experienced cave divers are known to explore the Blautopf and its underground corridors (which are many miles long with enormous chambers). This, however, is restricted to well-trained divers, since it is dangerous and has led to fatalities in the past. But for most people, viewing the Blautopf from the outside is satisfying enough! The majestic blue color makes for spectacular photos year-round.

Word of the Week: Erbsenzähler

Germans have a very specific word that describes someone who is nitpicky, obsessed with details and a control freak: an Erbsenzähler. In German, the word Erbsen means “peas” and Zähler means counter — as in, someone who is keeping a numerical record. Thus, an Erbsenzähler literally describes someone who counts peas — you know, the kind of peas you might find on your dinner plate.

So how did a “pea counter” become the term for a nitpicky individual?

According to a story that has been passed down for over a century, the term originated in the year 1847, when a German publisher was visiting the Milan Cathedral.

Spiral staircase

Karl Baedeker (1801-1859), founder of a tourism guidebook company called Baedeker, was known for being very precise, careful and calculated. When he was climbing the stairs of the Milan Cathedral one day, German Shakespearen scholar Gisbert von Vincke witnessed one of Baedeker’s most peculiar actions: after every twenty stairs, the book publisher would reach into his right trouser pocket, take out a dried pea and place it in his left trouser pocket. After reaching the top of the cathedral, Baedeker could determine the number of stairs he climbed by checking to see how many peas he had in his left pocket and multiplying them by 20.

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Intern Q&A: Christina-Theresia Ernst

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

Name: Christina-Theresia Ernst

Where you’re from: I’m from Schuby, Schleswig-Holstein. Not a place one would know, but we have our own Autobahnausfahrt (highway exit).

Where and what you’re studying: I’m doing my MA European Studies in Flensburg, which is close to the Danish Border.

Why did you apply to intern at the German Embassy? Well, I have to start to decide what I want to do as a career soon and the German Foreign Office is a realistic prospect for me. Also I have been around the business all my life and wanted to experience it for myself in order to decide if it’s something for me.

What is your favorite project or experience at the German Embassy so far? The amount of knowledge and information I get to experience is amazing! The work the think tanks do is very crucial and I am impressed by the importance it gets in the embassy‘s work. I am able to attend panel discussions and speeches on a weekly basis on topics that cover all corners of the world. An interesting event was the visit of the Russian presidential candidate Sobchak. It’s not every day you are able to see a candidate like that speak in person. With the knowledge I have gained on the political environment in Russia I was able to listen more critically and understand the implications.

What do you think is one of Germany’s main foreign policy challenges and what should Germany do about it? First of all, we need to form a government. I think only then can we see what Germany has to prioritize. It is worrying to me what is happening across Europe with the rise in more extreme political opinions, but if the younger generations remain aware of the danger it poses I think it will turn out okay.

What has been your biggest surprise with regard to living in Washington? The interaction between Democrats and Republicans. I think the media hypes up conflicting views, whereas everyday people are able to talk to each other and work together.

What are some impressions you have of the United States? Busy! People always have something to do and somewhere to go. It’s hard to recognize the beauty of your surroundings when you’re in a hurry.

What is your favorite part about living in the United States? The food (of which there is such an abundance) and the people! The heart and passion in society is something unique to experience. No movie or show can ever transmit that.

What do you miss about Germany? The quietness! I come from a small town; I am not really used to the constant noise of planes, sirens and cars.

What has been your biggest lesson learned during your internship? Without the insight and information given by the embassies and consulates around the world, the government would have a very difficult job of forming foreign policy. The importance of what is done here on a day to day basis isn’t really recognized by people at home, I think.

Where do you plan to go after your internship? Well, I have to finish my last semester and master thesis until August, so Flensburg it is. And to be honest I am still not quite sure where this year is going to take me.

Travel Tuesday: The Devil’s Bridge

Germany is filled with creations from the days when castles and knights were the norm. One such creation is the Rakotzbrücke — the Devil’s Bridge.

Located in Kromlauer Park near Gablenz in eastern Germany, this unique bridge is shaped as a semi-circle. From a distance, the reflection in the water creates the image of a perfect sphere. Photographers and travelers love visiting this bridge, and you may have seen already seen fantastic images of the Devil’s Bridge on Instagram!

The bridge was commissioned by a local knight in 1860 and built with a diversity of local stones. It was called the “Devil’s Bridge” because its structure made it so dangerous that it must have been built by Satan, people said. Similar bridges exist throughout Europe and many of them are considered the work of the devil due to their “impossible” design.

This bridge (and the surrounding park) are a must-see for travelers in the area, but take note that crossing the bridge is strictly prohibited! There are great views of the bridge from the park, and you can always Photoshop yourself into the pictures you take!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Luftschloss

Do you spend a lot of time dreaming up a life that you wish you lived? Do you create grandiose scenarios in your mind, or visualize that impossibly expensive 20-bedroom mansion? In German, there’s a special word to describe that “castle in the sky”: Luftschloss.

The word Luft means “air” (or in this context, “sky”), and Schloss means “castle”. The word Luftschloss therefore describes an unrealistic plan or dream that a person longs for, even though it is usually unattainable. The literal translation – “castle in the sky” – is a metaphor for those dreams: they exist only in one’s mind.

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An exciting week for Germany in the Winter Olympics

Excitement is running high as we head into the final days of the Winter Olympics. Today, Germany beat Canada 4-3 in the men’s ice hockey semi-finals. Many were surprised by the result, since Canada has been a nine-time Olympic Champion in the sport and rarely settles for a bronze. Germany will play against Russia in the finals on Sunday – you can be sure that we’ll be watching!

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Intern Q&A: Hanna Rohde

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

Name: Hanna Rohde

Where you’re from: Frankfurt am Main

Where and what you’re studying: I’m studying International Relations (M.A.) with a focus on Peace and Conflict Research. It’s a cooperative program and I take classes at both TU Darmstadt and Frankfurt University. The latter is also where I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Legal Philosophy.

Why did you apply to intern at the German Embassy? Because of my passion for cultural exchange and my interest in global political issues, the Federal Foreign Office – and international work environments in general – has always fascinated me. And leaving university campus behind for a couple of months to witness in action what’s usually theory has been an amazing experience.

The German Ambassador’s residence in the snow. ©Zacarias Garcia

What is your favorite project or experience at the German Embassy so far? Being an intern with the protocol department I feel lucky to have a varying everyday work life. Assisting the Ambassador’s chief of staff allows me to do research on a variety of interesting topics. Helping prepare and attending events at the Ambassador’s Residence grants me some insights into the multifaceted diplomatic work. Therefore not one single project but the variation at work would be my favorite experience at the German Embassy.

What are some impressions you have of the United States? People are very friendly and polite and treat each other with respect in everyday life situations. According to my experience, usually everyone you interact with will greet you with a smile and a few nice words. That’s one reason why I find it easy to feel as a part of the community.

What is your favorite part about living in the United States? What I like about the United States is that the country itself is so diverse. Living in a city on the east coast is a completely different experience than living in a rural area out in the Midwest. If I had to pick my one favorite part about living here that’s simultaneously somewhat representative of the US as a whole, I’d say it is the easiness with which one can get into a conversation with people.

What do you miss about Germany? I miss my friends back home.

Where do you plan to go after your internship? I plan on going back to Frankfurt to write my Master’s Thesis. And after that I’ll hopefully be on my way to another exciting part of the world.

Travel Tuesday: The Bastei

If you’re looking for a travel destination with jaw-dropping views, add The Bastei to your list. This rock formation stands 636 feet above the Elbe River in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, southeast of Dresden.

What makes this majestic rock formation even more spectacular is a wooden bridge that connects several of these rocks together. Visitors have been walking across the bridge since it was constructed in 1824 (and replaced by a sandstone version in 1851).

From the 12th to the 15th century, a fortress known as the Felsenburg Neurathen stood by the rock formations. This fortress, however, was burned down by an opposing army in 1484 and there is little left of it to see.

In 1801, tour guide Carl Heinrich Nicolai perfectly described the rock formation from one of its lookout points:

“What depth of feeling it pours into the soul! You can stand here for a long time without being finished with it (…) it is so difficult to tear yourself away from this spot.”

The rock formations have impressed so many people that The Bastei was even the location for Germany’s very first landscape photographs, taken by photographer Hermann Krone in 1853.

The Bastei continues to draw in tourists today, as it has done for centuries!


Word of the Week: Familienkutsche

If you have a large family, how do you transport everyone all at once? In the olden days, you would use a horse and buggy. Today, you might choose to buy a minivan for that purpose.

To take your whole family with you on a trip, you would probably need a Familienkutsche. This form of transportation usually has a large amount of horsepower. And no, we are not talking about the animals. We are talking about a vehicle with a lot of power and space – something like a camper van, SUV or minivan.

The term Familienkutsche comes from Familie (“family”) and Kutsche (“carriage”). In the olden days this may have referred to a horse-drawn carriage, but today, it refers to a large automobile filled with parents, children and all of their stuff. A Familienkutsche is great for road trips in the countryside, but it’s not something you want to try to find parking for in a city!

Intern Q&A: Tobias Schneider

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

Name: Tobias Schneider

Where you’re from: I live in Cologne.

Where and what you’re studying: I studied law in Cologne, where I now seek admission as a lawyer. Therefore I’m undergoing a two-year trainee program – the so called “Referendariat”.

Why did you apply to intern at the German Embassy? As part of my traineeship I wanted to learn more about diplomatic service and figure out what working for an embassy is like.

What is your favorite project or experience at the German Embassy so far?
There has been a lot of interesting work. Every project and experience is connected with new and different people – both from the German Embassy and various organizations. That’s what makes the job special and way more interesting than others.

What are some impressions you have of the United States?
Especially in D.C., due to the political scene, you meet people from every state and all around the world. You soon realize the enormous size and diversity of the country.

What is your favorite part about living in the United States?
Living in the United States invites you to travel. There are few countries that offer a similar variety of places and landscapes. I, for example, traveled from an icy New York City to a spring-like Florida on New Year’s Eve.

What do you miss about Germany?
I miss my four-year old niece – and that there are less stop signs and there’s no speed limit on the Autobahn…

Where do you plan to go after your internship?
As part of my education I will work with the IP section of an international law firm at their Cologne office.