Building bridges, celebrating friendship

What symbolizes the friendship of two nations better than a bridge between them? A slackliner walking across a highline between two hot air balloons, one featuring the German flag and the other the American flag.

This crazy idea — that may cause many to shudder just thinking about — was made possible last week over the mountains of Monument Valley along the Arizona-Utah border. Niklas Winter, a German athlete for slacklining group One Inch Dreams, braved the 33-foot walk at 1,640 feet in the air, looking down at the red desert sand of the Navajo Nation Reservation. After days of unpredictable and difficult weather conditions that delayed the stunt, the forecast finally cooperated, making the feat possible on October 25. With the help of a dedicated team — including Utah State Senator and balloon pilot Curt Bramble — and local support on the ground, Winter successfully walked across the highline.

The stunt is a testament to the strong ties between our two countries. Many new bonds have been forged during this project, and friendships developed in new areas and with new communities in the U.S. The project evinces the heights we can reach together. As we face shared challenges, we must build more and stronger bridges between our people.

This venture is part of Wunderbar Together. For an entire year, we are celebrating the German-American friendship with over 1,000 events throughout the U.S. We will paint a picture of everything our relations stand for in an array of topics including science, the arts, culture, language, business and of course sports. We’re excited for what other thrilling events are yet to come. Stay tuned!

By Alina Burkholder, 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

Need a place to celebrate Halloween? Head over to Frankenstein Castle in Germany!

With Halloween just around the corner, let’s take a look at one of Germany’s creepiest places: Frankenstein Castle.

Frankenstein Castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the city of Darmstadt. It was constructed sometime before the year 1250 by Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg, who founded the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein. Over the coming centuries, the castle was home to various different families and witnessed several territorial conflicts. In 1673, Johann Conrad Dippel – who later became an alchemist – was born in the castle. The structure fell into ruins in the 18th century and was restored in the mid-19th century.

The most famous story is, of course, that of the alchemist who worked in the castle in the 17th century. He was known to experiment with strange potions. He supposedly created an animal oil (which he named “Dippel’s Oil”) that was a so-called “elixir of life”. There are also rumors that the man studied anatomy and conducted experiements on cadavers, some of which he dug up himself from graves. There is no evidence that proves that any of this happened, but local people believe the legends are true.

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Reader submission: A transatlantic voyage

Horst Cerni

This is a guest post by Horst Cerni telling the story of his long journey from Germany to the United States.

Others call it “Germany”, or “Alemania” or “L’Allemagne”, but for me it has always been Deutschland.

My first home was in Allenstein, East Prussia, which no longer is German. We had to escape from the Russians in January of 1945, – we, my mother, two younger sisters, my cousin, and a friend of our family with five small children. It was a horrifying experience, walking in snow for many miles at icy temperatures. After three weeks, we reached Gotenhafen (now Gdingen in Poland) – in time for my tenth birthday. There we were fortunate to get on a freighter that took us to the West.

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Word of the Week: Hexenschuss

Have you ever had a sharp pain in your back – one that leaves you cringing in pain or crouching in agony?

Germans would call that a Hexenschuss – a shot by a witch! Literally translated, Hexe means “witch” and Schuss means “shot” (as in, a gunshot). It might sound strange – especially since witches carry broomsticks and not guns. But either way, any sort of bewitchment on your back is bound to be unpleasant!

A Hexenschuss refers to the sort of lower back pain that leaves you crippled for at least a few seconds – but perhaps even a few days or weeks. Maybe you pulled a muscle or injured yourself. Most likely you’ll reach for the Ibuprofen and hope that the pain subsides. But back in the Middle Ages, Germans had more supernatural beliefs attributed to this sort of pain.

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Ludwigsburg Castle: Home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world

It’s that time of year again: Halloween season! Although this spooky holiday is predominately celebrated with costumes in the United States, many autumn traditions are also celebrated in Germany. In fact, Germany is home to the largest pumpkin festival in the world!

Each fall, the Ludwigsburg Castle (near Stuttgart) hosts a large exhibition of pumpkins, which are shaped as extravagant sculptures based on a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Pumpkin Forest” and features pumpkin sculptures of woodland creatures like foxes. Typically, more than 450,000 pumpkins in 600 varieties are used to create the pumpkin sculptures that bring tourists from near and far.

© dpa / picture-alliance

The festival also hosts some unusual activities, such as pumpkin boat races in which people paddle across a lake in a giant pumpkin. There is also an annual competition to find the largest pumpkin and a pumpkin smashing ritual at the end of the season. That makes your typical pumpkin farms look mediocre in comparison!

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“The future needs remembrance.”

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which was often described as the “war to end all wars.”

Remembering the Great War is of utmost importance to the Federal Foreign Office. This week, a series of events kicked off in Berlin to look back on the events before and after 1918.

“The future needs remembrance,” said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on October 11. “The European Union is a unique example in world history for successful conflict resolution. We should be proud of the lessons we have learnt from our shared history, of what we have achieved. And – in awareness of the past – to protect and promote this.”

Together with French politician Jean Yves Le Drian, Minister Maas opened the two-day conference “Winning Peace – the end of the First World War with its history, remembrance and current challenges”. Several other events will take place in October and November to reflect on the war, including an international Youth for Peace meeting in Berlin with more than 500 young people from 52 countries.

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Word of the Week: Freundschaftsdienst

Sometimes you do things for other people that you don’t like. Why do you do it? Because of your Freundschaftsdienst!

The German word Freundschaftsdienst means “friendship duty”. It is a word that describes the obligations that come with a true friendship.

Let’s look at an example:

You’re allergic to cats, but your friend is traveling for the holidays and desperately needs a cat sitter. You begrudgingly agree to take in the cat, and spend the next two weeks sneezing and taking anti-histamine pills.

You endure all of this suffering because of your Freundschaftsdienst. Being a friend means doing favors for the other person, even when it inconveniences you.

Here’s another example:

You have a 6 am flight tomorrow morning and you have not begun packing. Your friend calls you crying because she just broke up with her boyfriend. You know you have a lot to do, but you choose to spend the night consoling her. The next morning, you’re rushing to the airport with little to no sleep. Enduring this was your Freundschaftsdienst.

Naturally, you expect your friends to do the same for you. If this isn’t the case, you may want to reconsider who you provide your Freundschaftsdienst to. Be selective, and make sure the Freundschaftsdienst is a two-way street.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Intern Q&A: Victoria Hiepe

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

Name: Victoria Hiepe

Where you’re from: Berlin, the capital of Germany.

Where and what you’re studying: I’m studying Politics and Administration as well as Sociology at the University of Potsdam, which is located in the capital of Brandenburg.

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

Since I worked for the Protocol Office I spend a lot of time at the Ambassador’s Residence during events. The nature of this work is to see many important personalities of Washington DC engage, which was a great opportunity. The highlight of my internship was helping with the biggest event of the year: the celebrations of the Day of German Unity, during which the Ambassador hosted over 2,500 guests on the residence grounds.  The opportunity to join this event and also take part in organizing this day was definitely something very special which I will keep in my memory.

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Breakdance meets Bach: The Flying Steps perform at the Lincoln Memorial

Four-time break-dance world champions the Flying Steps held a special performance at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to kick-start our year-long campaign, Wunderbar Together – a celebration of the German-American friendship.

The B-Boy crew, which has been around since 1993, combined break-dancing with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for a one-of-a-kind performance in the nation’s capital.

The Flying Steps combined break-dancing with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy

The show took place during the opening week of our Wunderbar Together campaign, which celebrates the transatlantic partnership between the US and Germany through dialogue, experience and exchange.

Crowds at the Lincoln Memorial cheer for the Flying Steps. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy

The Flying Steps crew was formed by Vartan Bassil and Kadir „Amigo” Memis in Berlin, Germany. Currently the group consists of nine members. In 2007, the group established the Flying Steps Academy, which is the largest urban dance school in Germany. The group is currently on tour in the US.

The Flying Steps take a group photo with members of the “Wunderbar Together” team. © Nicole Glass / German Embassy