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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!
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!
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.
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!
The German word Purzelbaum sounds like some sort of strange tree. After all, the German word for tree is Baum. But this term actually describes an acrobatic move often practiced by kids – the so-called somersault.
When you were a kid, you probably remember practicing your somersaults in the backyard. Rolling around may have been fun for your. In German, these are called Purzelbäume (singular: Purzelbaum). It’s a colloquial term primarily used by kids and their parents – after all, adults generally don’t roll into a somersault very often or have a need to describe this. The term comes from the words Purzel (to stumble or fall ungracefully) and aufbäumen (to rear up). The word thus describes the motions of falling and getting up at the same time – sort of like you do when you roll into a somersault.
A Purzelbaum can be executed for fun or by mistake – like in an accident. If, for example, you’re downhill skiing and lose control of your skis, you might fall straight into a Purzelbaum. If you’re lucky, you’ll escape unharmed. Similarly, competitive athletes (such as soccer players) may roll into a somersault if they trip over someone or something. Let’s hope your Purzelbäume have all been intentional!
The German word Habseligkeiten is a beautiful one. Literally translated, it means “belongings”, but it also means so much more! It comes from the words haben (“to have”) and Seligkeit (a state of bliss, happiness or salvation).
In 2004, the Goethe Institute held a competition for the most beautiful German word. The winner? Habseligkeiten (in the plural form). But why is a word that defines “belongings” so beautiful? It’s best explained in the words of German Doris Kalka, the woman who submitted the word for the competition.
“The word doesn’t signify ownership or wealth of a person. However, it does refer to his possessions and does it in a friendly and compassionate way. Typical for those with these kinds of possessions would be a six-year-old child who empties his pockets to take joy in what he has collected,” Kalka, who is a secretary at the University of Tübingen, wrote in her submission. “Or the word can be seen from a more pitiful side. It can express the few belongings that someone who has lost his home has and how he has to transport them to whatever shelter available.”
So Habseligkeiten means more than any old items you have laying around or the items you order on Amazon. It refers to items to which there is emotion attached. A pretty stone that you’ve been carrying for months in your pocket or the diary that you write in every night are both Habseligkeiten. If you were forced to leave your home and could only take one backpack of stuff with you, what would you take? Those items are probably your Habseligkeiten.
When you’re shopping for a new car, what do you rely on most as your deciding factor? Some people may rely on ratings, reviews or research, but most of us make the decision based on how the car feels when we test-drive it.
Similarly, people employed to test cars rely most often on their Popometer when writing about, recommending or rating a vehicle. Race-car drivers, in particular, use this measurement more than others.
The German word Popometer comes from Popo (a colloquial word for your buttocks) and Meter (a measuring stick). A Popometer is a word that describes someone’s rear end as a measuring device. When someone sit down in a new car, motorcycle or even on a bobsled or a bicycle, they get a feel for the vehicle – a measurement of comfort taken by their buttocks. When a professional reviewer or race car driver tests a vehicle, the results of his or her Popometer are very important, since it measures the level of comfort someone may experience in that vehicle for years to come.
Although the term is often used in automobile magazines or by people who review vehicles, it is perhaps most commonly used by race car drivers in Germany. The closest English translation is “seat-of-the-pants feel”.
Even if a car has high ratings and good reviews, you will probably not want to buy it if a reviewer’s Popometer gives it a low score. So make sure to find out what the Popometer says about it, since those results are ultimately the most important!
Do you live in a tiny little house in the middle of nowhere? Somewhere far away from big cities and other people? Germans would say that you live in the Hinterland!
The German word Hinterland translates to “the land behind”. Generally, it is the inland region of a country. The closest English translation is “backcountry”.
But in German, it can be used in two ways. In some contexts, the word describes land that is behind the shore, a city or a port. The Hinterland of a port is the region that it serves for imports and exports.
But more commonly, the word is used to describe any part of a country that is remote and underdeveloped with few people – a place that we might refer to as “the middle of nowhere”. Think the Mojave Desert. Or a small town in Arizona. Or that little cabin in the woods that’s miles away from people.
These days, the word Hinterland is not only used in German, but it has also been incorporated into English, Spanish and French! After all, it is a useful word – every country has its remote regions! So what’s your ideal day trip: a visit to the city or one to the Hinterland?
A Milchmädchenrechnung (literally “a milk maid’s account”) is a naive calculation. In English, we might say it is the result of counting the chickens before they’ve hatched.
Let’s say you’re entering a writing contest where the cash prize is $100. You’re confident that you will win, so you start fantasizing how you will spend the money before you’ve received the prize. Those fantasies are a Milchmädchenrechnung – a naive calculation – since there is no guarantee you will even win the contest.
German politicians involved in a campaign sometimes use the word Milchmädchenrechnung to describe their’s opponents promises, thereby claiming that those promises cannot be fulfilled because of unforeseen costs. It might, for example, be a Milchmädchenrechnung to blindly promise a pay increase of 50 percent, since employers might not be able to afford those costs in the first place.
The origin of the term Milchmädchenrechnung comes from a well-known fable that has been around since the 14th century and gained lasting popularity from its inclusion in La Fontaine’s Fables. In the story, a young farmer’s wife carries a jug of milk to the marketplace, which she plans to sell. During her trip, she fantasizes about how she will spend the money. While distracted by her own thoughts, she spills the milk and says farewell to her dreams.
The lesson? Don’t spend your money (metaphorically) before you have it! A Milchmädchenrechnung won’t get you anything.
If you’re American, you’ve probably heard of “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. In Germany, however, we have what’s called Schrottwichteln, which basically means “the exchange of crap”.
The holiday season is all about gift exchanges. Even if you’re giving away junk – it’s the thought that counts, right? In German schools, workplaces and social circles, people often organize a so-called Schrottwichteln. The word Schrott means “crap”, “garbage” or “junk”. Wichteln is the organized exchange of gifts during the holiday season. So people who participate in Schrottwichteln essentially give each other things they don’t want themselves – like that ugly Christmas sweater they received from their grandmother or an overly fancy candleholder for which they have no use. Often times, they will regift an item or contribute a gag gift. It is not
uncommon for these gifts to be wrapped up in newspaper, rather than gift wrap – anything to make it look more like junk.
When people organize a Schrottwichteln, they will often set a limit on the value of the item – perhaps 5, 10, 15 or 20 Euros. Participants usually have a few days to decide on a gift – and will often search for the ugliest, funniest or most useless possible item they can think of. Sometimes Schrottwichteln organizers will choose a “winner” – a gift that is the most worthless of all.
Those who participate in Schrottwichteln parties do so for the holiday spirit and the humor associated with it. And if the gift they receive is perfectly useless, they may regift it the following Christmas at another Schrottwichteln party.
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.