Word of the Week: Sitzriese

Have you ever been to a movie theater and found yourself seated behind the tallest person in the room? This person’s head was probably blocking your view, leaving you frustrated throughout the film. In German, there’s a special word for this kind of person: Sitzriese (“seated giant”)!

The word Sitzriese comes from sitzen (“to sit) and Riese (“giant”). It defines a person who looks deceptively tall while sitting down. A Sitzriese typically has a long waist and short legs, making them appear tall while seated and short while standing up.

On the contrary, the German word Sitzzwerg (“seated dwarf”) refers to the opposite – someone who appears short while sitting, but tall while standing up.

We’re all different shapes and sizes, and you can be sure that the Germans have a nickname for everyone! But if you’re at a concert, movie theater or a performance, you better hope that you end up behind the Sitzzwerg, since the Sitzriese will block your view!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Butterfahrt

© dpa / picture alliance

The German word Butterfahrt might sound strange at first. Literally translated, it means “butter ride” and might evoke images of smooth sailing. This word, however, defines a quick trip into duty-free waters to buy cheap goods – including, of course, butter.

A Butterfahrt takes place on a so-called Butterschiff (“butter ship”), which is basically just a regular ship that takes its passengers out beyond the German customs zone. Once outside of Germany, passengers are able to purchase certain goods and products for a lower price than they would be able to at home. The term Butterfahrt received its name because Germans frequently traveled to Denmark to purchase butter for a lower price. Other common items on a Butterfahrt include tobacco, alcohol and perfume.

The cost of a Butterfahrt is usually low or free, which has sometimes encouraged people to take advantage of the overseas trips, even if they didn’t plan to buy any products. It could certainly be used as a means to travel to a neighboring country for a very low price. Some “butter rides” have also included leisure activities in their program. In some cases, the trips even took place on buses, rather than boats.

The duty-free shopping trips generally took place from the years 1953 to 1999. Laws of the European Union have restricted such trips, but there have been a few exceptions: between 2002 and 2004, Butterfahrt trips took place between Germany and the Czech Republic, which didn’t join the EU until May 2004.

Today, Germans more commonly go on a Kaffeefahrt (“coffee ride”), which is based on the same concept. Passengers board a ship, where they are provided free coffee and cake (or lunch), while vendors sell their items on board. The so-called “coffee rides” tend to attract retirees who enjoy the complimentary food and drinks during the trip.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Sauerkraut: Germany’s cuisine for colder months

It might not be difficult to guess that Sauerkraut is a popular dish in Germany; after all, it is a German word. But this well-known German dish – which directly translates to “sour cabbage” – is also widespread in the United States, and has been used in American English since 1776.

Sauerkraut is a form of chopped cabbage that has been salted, fermented and often flavored with additional spices and ingredients such as juniper berries. In Germany, it is often served with pork, sausage or potatoes. Traditionally it is also consumed on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck and wealth during the new year.

The origins of Sauerkraut, however, can be traced back to 200 B.C., when Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage in wine. When Genghis Khan invaded China, he allegedly took the recipe for fermented cabbage and modified it, using salt instead of wine. When the Tatars (Mongolian tribes) arrived in Europe not long thereafter, they brought Sauerkraut with them, and the dish became popular in Eastern Europe and Germanic regions.

Sauerkraut was particularly valuable in northern climates because it could be preserved and consumed all throughout the winter. By allowing the dried cabbage to ferment, sugars are turned into lactic acid, which function as a preservative and allow for the long-term storage of the dish. The fermented cabbage also retains many of its nutrients and is a good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese. In fact, Europeans have long used Sauerkraut to treat stomach ulcers and soothe the digestive tract.

Although Sauerkraut was not invented in Germany, it became a part of German cuisine and culture, and when German immigrants came to the US, they brought Sauerkraut with them. The dish was particularly useful for long voyages across the Atlantic, since it could be so easily preserved. The Pennsylvania Dutch, which settled in Lancaster County, made Sauerkraut one of their specialties, and continue to serve it on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of good fortune.

World War I led to the development of anti-German sentiment in the US. For the duration of the war, Sauerkraut was referred to as “liberty cabbage.” Today, however, the dish continues to be known by its German name, Sauerkraut.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Moin

Like last week, your business partner takes you in an elevator to the meeting room, but this time you are up north, maybe in Kiel. It’s 6 pm. Somebody steps in, looks at you, and says “Moin!” Did that person oversleep and wish “good morning” at the end of the day?

Certainly not! Northern Germans use “Moin!” as a typical local greeting all day long. Your immediate guess will be that it is the regional version of “morning”. Maybe, maybe not. What does it mean and where does it come from?

The etymology of “moin” is uncertain. The connection to the standard German word “Morgen” (morning) seems natural, but is debated. Using “Guten Moin!” as a term for “Good morning!” for example would not be seen as correct and create raised eyebrows with any North German. Probably, “Moin!” comes from the East Frisian word “mōi” respectively from the Middle Low German “moi(e)”, which both mean “good/nice/lovely”. In East Friesland, they also say “Moin Dag!” corresponding to a Standard German “Guten Tag!” (“good day!”). So in this case, the best translation for today’s “Moin!” would be “Have a good one!” People in other parts of the country might use “Moin!” as well, but not during the whole day.

Frequently, you hear the reduplication “Moin-Moin!”. This expression is deemed to be more polite and can especially be used in response to the single “Moin!” Some people regard this as overdoing, though. “Moin-Moin!” might be derived from the Frisian phrase “Moi Morn!” (“Good morning!”), but it is no longer limited to the morning: Just like the simple term, North Germans (and some Danish and Dutch as well) use it throughout the day.

“Moin” continues its success across the country, and even entered the lingo of young Germans: “Moinsen!” is a modification of “Moin!”, and a very casual greeting among youths.

Although the expression originated at the North Sea coast, the oldest mention can be traced back to 1828, where “Moin!” and “Moin-Moin!” emerge as a greeting among officers in the “Berliner Conversations-Blatt für Poesie, Literatur und Kritik”.

The German Navy allows “Moin!” as a semiformal salutation. According to sailors, this greeting promotes a less formal atmosphere and a spirit of comradeship.

So, using “Moin!” as a greeting is a good idea in Northern Germany, and across the border in Southern Denmark and the Eastern Netherlands. It will not be understood in Southern Germany, unless you happen to talk to somebody who served in the navy.

Word of the Week: Wandervogel

Long summer days are ahead of us, which means it’s the perfect time to go for a hike! When you wake up on a cloudless Saturday morning, do you have a burning desire to strap on your hiking boots and explore the great outdoors? If so, you might be considered a Wandervogel.

In German, the word Wander means “hiking,” and Vogel means “bird.” When combined, these words refer to a person who enjoys hiking or traveling on foot. Like a bird of passage, the Wandervogel moves from one place to the next, whether for a daylong adventure or a longer journey.
This term was used in a well-known poem written by Otto Roquette (1824-1896), in which he compares himself to the migratory birds soaring carelessly across the sky.

Although the term can be used to describe anyone who explores and tries to connect with nature, it is also the name of a popular German movement launched in Berlin in 1896. More than a century ago, a group of German youths founded the Wandervögel, an organization whose members yearned for the pre-industrial days in which societies were closer to nature. They rejected big cities, greed, materialism and oppressive politics, and strived for a culture in which they returned to nature and valued independence, freedom, adventure and individual responsibility.

Wearing hiking boots and shorts, the Wandervögel gathered for long walks in the mountains and forests of Germany, camping under the stars and singing old German folk songs.

The two World Wars of the 1900s affected the development of the movement. After World War I, the Wandervögel united with other youth groups.

The movement, however, was banned by the Nazis in 1933, who established the Hitler Youth to replace all others. After World War II came to an end, the Wandervögel group was reignited, but a number of factions also sprung off of it and it wasn’t the same.

Today, the term has little to do with any of these organizations. People usually define a Wandervogel as a person who is in tune with nature – but it’s not as commonly used as it used to be. If you’re a free spirit that soars through life seeking your next outdoor adventure, there’s a good chance you’re a Wandervogel.

CBYX student Alexander Locher says he gained “broader worldview”

Alexander Locher is participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX), a student exchange program jointly sponsored by the US Congress and the German Bundestag.

Name: Alexander Locher

Grade: 10th

Hometown: Düsseldorf, Germany

Current location: Albuquerque, New Mexico / Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School

What motivated you to apply to the CBYX program?

After my teacher told me about the CBYX program, I was really excited. So I asked my parents what they think about the idea and even they liked it. For me personally I wanted to experience a new culture and a new environment and I wanted to get to know new people!

What reaction did you receive from friends and family when you decided to join CBYX?

My parents were really sad that I decided to join CBYX, but at the same time really supportive because they wanted me to have this experience. My friends nevertheless were really shocked about my decision, but after a couple of days they became very supportive too.

What was your first impression of the US? What was your first day like?

I was just impressed. Everything was new to me – even the little things excited me. However, I had an awesome first day because my host family made it really easy for me to integrate and they were really friendly and patient.

What was your first impression of your new American school?

I really liked my school. It is a relatively small school, so I wasn’t shocked by the size or anything. But I was really happy how people cared about me when I first arrived at my school and how easy it was to fit in!

In your opinion, what are some of the major differences between living in the US and living in Germany?

Everything in the US is big! It shocked me at the first moment, but after the first impression you get used to it and see the advantage of it!

What has been your favorite moment living in the US?

That is a hard question. I think I had several great moments in the US, but my favorite one was Christmas. The whole Christmas season was just amazing and it was great experience to celebrate in a new culture and with my host family!

What has been your biggest challenge about living in the US?

I think the culture shock. In the first days I struggled a little bit with the different cultures. But after the first week I got used to it!

How has CBYX helped you in your life?

CBYX really helped me in my life. Experiencing a new culture benefited my life in many ways – it gave me a broader worldview. Furthermore, the exchange changed my personality – I became more independent and open-minded.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about applying to CBYX?

Don’t be afraid of doing it. It is an experience that you can only gain once in your life. And even if you are afraid of leaving your family and friends at home, you will be supported as much as at home in the US by your host family and your American friends!

Word of the Week: Sauwetter

Look outside, what do you see? If it’s gray, rainy or cold, you’re experiencing what Germans would call Sauwetter – a term for lousy weather! Directly translated, however, Sauwetter means “pig weather”.

Cloudy with a chance of… pigs?

Not exactly.

When it rains, the earth becomes soft and mud beings to form. Pigs feel most comfortable in the mud – so a rainy day is ideal for them. On sunny days, pigs would much rather lie in the shade. Some say that the word Sauwetter was a term first used by hunters in German; since wild pigs are most active when it rains, the best times to hunt them is on a rainy day. As a result, such days were called Sauwetter (“pig weather”) days.

But the term Sau is used in front of other German words too. Animal names are often used as prefixes in the German language, giving those words the traits of the animal. In some parts of Germany, placing the term Sau in front of another word makes it more extreme and emphasizes its unpleasantness (pigs were often viewed as unpleasant and dirty). Two more examples are Saukalt (extremely cold) and Sauarbeit (dirty work).

Today, the word Sauwetter is used to describe any sort of unfortunate weather occasion, including rain, sleet, wet snow, extreme cold, flooding or extreme heat. Basically, any weather that is unpleasant or inconvenient may be referenced that way – whether or not there are pigs in the area.
Unfortunately for Germans, Sauwetter is not uncommon in Germany. And unfortunately for us at the Embassy, it’s not uncommon in Washington either. We’re in the midst of a very rainy week that we hope will end soon!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Gummibären – a German delight since 1920

Go to the candy aisle of any grocery store and you’ll find at least one gummy product. There’s gummy bears, gummy worms, gummy Smurfs and gummy rings. Maybe you’ll find a bag of rainbow-colored gummy frogs or a pack of fun-sized gummy spiders. Gummy candy has found its way into lunchboxes and kitchen pantries across the world, but the chewy treat originated in Germany almost a hundred years ago.

Hans Riegel © dpa / picture alliance

In 1920, Bonn resident Hans Riegel launched a confectionery company that he named Haribo (which stands for Hans Riegel Bonn), producing hard, colorless candies in his own kitchen. His wife, Gertrud, helped him with his endeavor, distributing the candies to their first customers using only her bicycle. Business was good, but not as good as Riegel had hoped – until he came up with a new idea.

In 1922, Riegel was struck with inspiration: after seeing trained bears at festivals and markets across Germany, he invented the so-called “dancing bear” – a fruit-flavored gummy candy in the shape of a bear. The initial “dancing bears” were larger than the Haribo gummies that are on the market today, and they quickly became popular. The bears were sold at kiosks for just 1 Pfennig (German penny), making the colorful treats affordable at a time when the economy was struggling.

© dpa / picture alliance

It wasn’t long before Haribo made it onto store shelves: by 1930, Riegel was running a factory with 160 employees. By the time World War II began, there were more than 400 employees. But World War II took a toll on the company: Riegel died during the war and his two sons were taken prisoner by the Allied forces. When they were released, the company had only 30 employees left.

Despite the wartime hardships, the company recovered and Haribo continued to grow. It soon had over 1,000 employees and a catchy slogan (in English: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!”). The name Goldbär (Gold-Bear) was registered as a trademark in 1967. Although Haribo dominated the gummy bear market, other companies were emerging with their own versions of gummy candy as far west as the US. In 1981, the German company Trolli introduced gummy worms, while The American Jelly Bean Company came out with its own line of gummy bears. In 1982, Haribo opened its first branch in the US. Today, Haribo produces over 100 million Gold-Bears each day.

And not all gummy candy is uniform; over the years, a diversity of gummy types emerged on the market. There are organic gummy bears, gummy candy with added vitamins, Halal gummy candy, gummy candy in various shapes and gummy candy that’s allegedly good for your teeth. Gummy bears are a staple candy in Germany, but even across the world, the chewy candy has become a common treat.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

Word of the Week: Nabelschau

The German word Nabelschau means “navel-gazing” or “staring at your navel”. But in this case, it doesn’t refer to anyone else’s belly button – just your own.

In a literal sense, Nabelschau means looking at your own navel for a long period of time. But most people probably don’t do that. In the German language, the term has a negative connotation and refers to self-absorbed pursuits, self-centeredness or excessive contemplation of oneself. The Nabelschau is a narcissistic activity – one that distracts from the things that are truly important in life.

The word is a paronym of the Greek word omphalaskepsis (“navel-gazing”) – a form of self-contemplation often practiced as an aid to meditation. But while omphalaskepsis is a positive practice that allows you to connect with yourself, the Nabelschau is usually not – at least, not in colloquial German.

If someone accuses you of exhibiting a Nabelschau, that person probably thinks of you as self-absorbed. Don’t take it as a compliment.

Word of the Week: Katzenwäsche

You overslept and don’t have time for a shower – what do you do? In Germany, a Katzenwäsche would be your solution!

The German word Katze means “cat” and Wäsche means “washings” (or “laundry”, depending on the context). Literally translated, it describes a cat’s daily process of licking itself clean.

But in the human context, a “cat wash” is a quick clean-up that is not entirely sufficient. It is often used for children who do not take a bath every day – but can also be applied to adults in a hurry. If you don’t have time for a shower, you might wash yourself in the bathroom sink – a procedure that would be considered a Katzenwäsche. A typical Katzenwäsche does not use much water and does not get you very clean. It typically just involves washing your face, brushing your teeth or applying deodorant – and often even less! You might be more presentable, but you still won’t match up to the days that you fit in a shower.

The use of the word evolved from its literal translation of a “cat wash”. Cats are generally afraid of water and spend about two to three hours licking themselves clean every day. Their tongues are covered in papillae, which are coarse, hair-like growths that are used for self-grooming. But unlike the prolonged Katzenwäsche by your furry friend, a human Katzenwäsche is much quicker and much less efficient.

Unless you’re in a hurry, you’re better off taking a shower!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy