Germans are thought to be disciplined and hard workers who devote themselves to their work. This dedication can only be interrupted by few a things. One allowed interruption is an Umtrunk.
What exactly is it? It’s a gathering of all employees, either from a department or entire workplace, where a special occasion is toasted. Everyone toasts and then hangs around for a bit, talking with your co-workers and eating a little bit if snacks are provided. The Umtrunk is often initiated by the head of the office for occasions as the arrival or departure of a colleague or high-ranking guest. However it can be initated by anyone with something to celebrate. Depending on the professional surrounding and workplace culture, an Umtrunk can be a regular occurrence. Sometimes they are much rarer, so the sight of chilled champagne, orange juice and glasses can cause quite a stir. However, for the most part, the Umtrunk is part of the German culture at work and way to enjoy the workplace while getting to spend some time with co-workers who you may not regularly see.
The term is also used for toasting private occasions when not at work. Often these celebrations may be a little more formal due to the traditional and old-fashioned origins of Umtrunk. The roots of the term are to be found in a Germany of less modern times, where aristocractic language was considered to be the height of style. The term originates from a combination of a verb (trinken=drink) and a preposition (um=around), which gives just about enough an explanation about the meaning.
Sometimes language is a complicated thing… so complicated that it can take on a philosophical bent.
Take the German word aufheben. It can have multiple meaning that contradict each other. In the most frequent use of the term people can express both the wish to “abolish” as well as to “preserve” something. It all depends on the context.
The famous German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel used this antipode to explain the motor of dialectic functions. “Sublation,” he argues, shows the movement of Geist (spirit) or mind and can therefore both preserve and abolish at the same time.
For example: during adolescence we struggle with problems that will soon be forgotten. Those problems did not simply vanish, but instead helped to form us into the adults we are today. The same is true for every part of human life and evolution. In history, politics, art and philosophy: we do not simply forget and move on, but instead always keep a part of what we experienced with us.
Aufheben is the exemplary verb of the German language used to express this philosophical complexity. Still it is pretty safe to say that this dualism is lost not only on non-native German speakers, but also on a majority of Germans who use it in everyday life.
It is amazing to see what one word can do, isn’t it?
There are still some formalities implemented in European and German linguistic culture. One of the most known formalities, which sometimes surprises many Americans, is the very important distinction between a more distant and more private way to address people. It is known as honorific which expresses esteem and respect by using the third person of personal pronoun in addressing people. Especially in a professional and demographically more diverse context, it is adequate to approach people in a more formal way which is known in German as “Siezen.” It is considered to be very friendly, more distant and respectful form of addressing people up from the age of 18. Once a relationship becomes more personal it is most of the time the older part’s privilege to offer a switch in addressing each other by replacing the formal ‘Sie’ with a more personal pronoun as ‘du.’ Once it is agreed on interacting verbally in a more personal way (‘duzen’), the counterpart becomes a ‘Duzfreund’ which demonstrates especially in a more professional surrounding a special level of proximity and trust. In a private setting the formal way of verbal interaction is actually not applied anymore although it was quite common up to the 1950’s that children addressed their present in the ‘Sie’ form, which appears totally out-fashioned from a present perspective. The English language covers honorifics as well but more by using prefixes instead of playing with the personal pronoun. The form of Mr./Mrs./Ms. actually serve the very same purpose. Asian languages are even more sophisticated in distinction of honorifics due to the fact that most of these cultures are more status-oriented in a high contextual environment.
“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.
Gemütlichkeit or “coziness” is an abstract noun used to describe a feeling, so individual perception plays a significant role in determining the definition. If asked for an illustrated depiction of Gemütlichkeit most Germans would probably picture something like a well-heated, nicely furnished room with a fireplace on a cold and rainy day and a good book. But it means more than just a description of a place. It also connotates a strong notion of social belonging, a sense of well-being or simply the lack of hecticness and uneasiness.
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, for example an evening spent at the Christmas Market, can be just as gemütlich or cozy as the silent comfort of one’s own living room.
For the lack of a better English word, Gemütlichkeit has found its way into the English language. 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.
Carnival seems to be the best time to have a look at an interesting German word: Jeck.
The word is used almost exclusively in the Rhineland, especially in the city of Cologne and, to a slightly lesser degree, in Bonn and Düsseldorf, the strongholds of German carnival.
Jeck can be a noun (ein Jeck), as well as an adjective (you can be jeck). Originally, it refers to a person who actively participates in a carnival celebration. During Carnival, all inhabitants of Cologne are, or at least should be, somewhat jeck.
But the more important meaning of the word is used year round. In this sense, it is an adjective that reflects the tolerant Cologne way of life and the general attitude of the Rhinelanders, who like to refer to themselves as jeck.
Ein Jeck thus means a humorous person who does not take things – or himself – too seriously. The Jeck may even be slightly crazy, but in a nice way. At least in the Rhineland area, the word clearly has a positive connotation.
Famous Rhineland sayings (Jeder Jeck ist anders – “Every Jeck is different” or Jet jeck simmer all – “We’re all a little jeck”) express this concept of tolerance. Knowing – with a wink– that you are not perfect helps in recognizing that others aren’t either. They are, in fact, as jeck as you are.
Large parts of the countryside may still be covered in snow, but in some areas people have already had the pleasure of taking the first stroll of the year outside without a jacket. The first signs of Spring have sprung!
As the temperatures rise and the days become longer and brighter, our mood often improves. When walking down the street you see more people smiling, the salesperson might be a bit friendlier. Even the security guard seems to get into the spirit.
This seasonal happiness is what Germans call Frühlingsgefühle (literally: spring feelings). Frühlingsgefühle describe the increased amount of energy and vitality that many experience during this time of the year.
Some scientists argue that the cause is the reduced production of Melatonin, a hormone known to cause fatigue. Others say that the advantages of modern civilization’s electric lights has saved the northern hemisphere from this ancient experience.
Regardless of the explanation of this phenomenon the Germany.info team wishes all of our readers nothing but the best as we move into Spring.
Isn’t it great when an expression is created to finally describes something that we’ve seen or experienced, but could never really name?
Welpenschutz does exactly that.
This expression is more commonly used in northern Germany and describes a phenomena that can be witnessed daily at workplaces all around the world.
Picture the following: fresh out of college, Ben starts working at an office. He has lots of energy, is full of ideas, but doesn’t know a lot about the office culture or workplace etiquette. Ben simply hasn’t learned this yet.
Consequently, some older workers in the office get a little annoyed by Ben. But others start treating him like a little puppy that still needs to learn his way around in the real world.
Just as older dogs often protect their young, Ben’s colleagues handle him with a little extra patience and gently correct him.
The literal translation of Welpenschutz is “puppy protection”. So all you “puppies” out there: enjoy it while you can!
Have you ever had a friend tell you an amazing story and you just weren’t sure how to react? Enter the word krass, the ultimate comeback word for any situation!
Mostly used among younger Germans, krass is very informal and can mean practically anything. Originally krass had several meanings. Several literal translations are glaring, blatant and complete. However, there is no exact translation for the way krass is used today. In fact, the popularity of the word probably comes from its meaninglessness. This allows it to be used whenever comment on something you maybe shouldn’t or express something there just isn’t a word for. Krass is a word that helps you out in precarious situations.
The popular German expression Zeitgeist has, like Kindergarten and Gesundheit, wended its way into the English language (which some might even go so far to claim is “based on German,” which it is – at least partially). Zeitgeist is a fantastic word.
Two of its temporal cousins, however, are less known in the anglophone world – Zeitzeuge and Zeitreise. Both of these words are worth mentioning as close relatives of Zeitgeist, so it seemed only fitting to highlight them together, even if this is the “Word of the Week” column.
Zeitzeuge is composed of two nouns – Zeit (time) and Zeuge (witness). It basically means “a witness to history.” A particularly eloquent chronicler of his or her times could be hailed as an especially effective Zeitzeuge. At the same time, all of us, at the end of the day, are Zeitzeugen of the events we live through that serve to shape our collective conscience.
In a similar vein, Zeitreise brings together “time” with Reise, or journey. A Zeitreise, however, refers not just to “time travel” in the nerdy sci-fi sense, but more broadly and poetically to a journey through time as in a flashback or a panorama voyage through history.
One of Germany’s most highly regarded newspapers is the cerebral, Hamburg-based weekly “Die Zeit.” Like the US newsweekly Time magazine, it simply refers to our times as it chronicles them with in-depth news and feature stories. Even though it is beloved among many well-informed Germans, a common phrase in Germany is: “Wer hat die Zeit die Zeit zu lesen?” (Who has the time to read Time?)
First there was that eyebrow-raising and little known German word of the year – Wutbürger (enraged citizen). Now there is the Unwort des Jahres, or ‘un-word’ of the year – alternativlos, literally meaning “without alternative.”
According to an official jury that selected this word, it serves as a loud and clear debate killer to critically underscore the oft-repeated tone of politics and policymakers over the course of 2010 who used phrases such as: “We have no alterantive but to bail Greece out of its euro crisis to stabilize the euro zone.”
The runner-up this year was Integrationsverweigerer – an immigrant who refuses to integrate with the native population. According to the jury, this word was also used unfavorably in 2010 by certain German politicians.
Other contendors, among a field of some 1,120 suggested words, were Steuersünder (tax sinner) and Schwarzsparer (black saver), to denote citizens who evade taxes via offshore bank accounts. The terms Brückentechnologie (bridge technology), ascribed to nuclear energy, and Sparpaket (savings package), used to denote the federal government’s savings’ program, were also considered.
Last year’s un-word of the year was betriebsratverseucht, which can be loosely translated as “plagued by the corporate employee board.”
The German prefix “un” is incidentally a great way to totally change the meaning of a word in the language. For example Kraut means cabbage or herbs, but Unkraut means weeds.