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.

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

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

Word of the Week: Kehrwoche

Germans have a reputation for being clean, and here’s something that backs up the stereotype: Kehrwoche. The German word Kehrwoche means “sweep week” and refers to the time period in which a resident of an apartment building is assigned to clean the common areas.

If you live in a German apartment building, you might wake up one day and find a sign on your door reading Kehrwoche. The sign indicates that it’s your turn to clean the building. It’s no fun, but every resident has to do it at one point or another. For the duration that the sign hangs outside your door, you are responsible for sweeping the stairways and taking care of the sidewalk at the entrance. Sometimes that even means raking leaves or shoveling snow.

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Word of the Week: Tante-Emma-Laden

If you’re making dinner and you forgot an ingredient, what do you do? Well, some of you might head over to a grocery store. But depending on where you are, it might be easier to walk to the Tante-Emma-Laden around the corner!

Directly translated, Tante-Emma-Laden means “Aunt-Emma-Store”, but it defines what Americans would call a “mom-and-pop grocery store” or a “corner store.” A Tante-Emma-Laden usually has all of your basic needs, from food items to bathroom necessities to newspapers and cleaning supplies. Many of them also sell lottery tickets. So if you need a few small groceries or want to pick up a quick snack, your nearest “Aunt-Emma-Store” is the place to go!

Unlike large German grocery stores such as Aldi and Lidl (or in the US: stores like Safeway and Giant), a Tante-Emma-Laden is much smaller and personable. It is frequently family-run or family-owned and employees are more likely to help you find what you need.

© dpa / picture alliance

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Word of the Week: Schneidersitz

© colourbox

When you’re sitting cross-legged, what do you call that position? In English, you might say you are “sitting Indian style”, but in German, that is the so-called Schneidersitz (“tailor’s sitting position”).

The Schneidersitz describes a very typical cross-legged position that you might use during meditation, classroom discussions or any other situation that requires you to sit comfortably on the ground.

This term originated several centuries ago, when tailors (Schneider) used to sew all clothing by hand. Back then, tailors often sat cross-legged on the table across from their sewing machine. This prevented any cloth or material from falling onto the ground. This position also made it easier to work with heavier material.

© DPA / picture-alliance

In workspaces that employed more than one tailor, the Schneidersitz was also a way to use up as little space as possible; a tailor’s assistant(s) were often found sitting cross-legged in the corner while they did their work.
Today, however, the Schneidersitz has little to do with tailors – especially since factories produce much of the world’s clothing.

Instead, the Schneidersitz simply refers to the cross-legged position that everyone uses at some point or another. So whether you’re sewing or meditating, now you have a name for your sitting position: the Schneidersitz!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

© DPA / picture-alliance

 

Word of the Week: Dreikäsehoch

What do you call a tiny little kid in German? A Dreikäsehoch! Literally translated, this colloquial German word means “three-cheeses-tall,” but has little to do with cheese and instead defines a child (usually a boy) that we would refer to in English as a “tiny tot.”

A Dreikäsehoch usually refers to a curious and intelligent child who is too small to do much, but tries to act like a “big shot.” If, for example, an ambitious five-year-old tells his parent that he wants to run in a marathon, the parent might respond, “but you are a Dreikäsehoch” – thereby indicating that the child is too little (only three cheeses tall!) to do so.

But why does this colloquial term refer to cheese, of all things?

Throughout history, cheese has always been an important resource. The Greeks considered it a delicacy, using it as a sacrifice for the Gods. The Romans considered it an important part of their diet, carrying slabs of cheese with them as they roamed through Europe. Cheese quickly gained popularity across Europe in the Middle Ages, and people soon knew what to expect when they obtained a wheel, which were usually about the same size and weight, according to WDR.

As a result, cheese become a standard measuring device in homes across Europe. In French, the word caisse refers to both boxes and cheese, and both were used as measuring devices. Similarly in Germany, large wheels of cheese were used as measuring units.

Thus, the word Dreikäsehoch originated in 18th century Northern Germany, referring to little boys no taller than three stacked wheels of cheese.

However, this mildly humorous reference was chosen as the third-most endangered beloved German word in 2007, and is slowly falling out of use in common language.

But perhaps you can help bring this 18th century word back into conversation. Next time you see a tiny tot trying to engage in activities he is too small for, you can remind him that’s he’s still only a little Dreikäsehoch.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

Word of the Week: Bandsalat

If you’re a Baby Boomer, Generation X or (in some cases) a Millennial, you may still remember what life was like before the invention of CDs or DVDs. In those long-ago days, you had to listen to your favorite music on cassette tapes or watch movies on VHS. Which means you probably dealt with a Bandsalat at some point.

©dpa

Bandsalat translates to “tape salad”, and no – it’s not the type of salad you can eat. Bandsalat is the mess that forms when a cassette or video tape goes crazy and the tape comes out and gets tangled up in itself. This frequently happened to music tapes when you had to turn the cassette around to listen to the other half of it. Since the music or movie was stored on this tape, a Bandsalat had the potential to ruin it entirely. If the tape had a tear in it, you may not have been able to do much to fix it. But if it’s just tangled, you may have been able to detangle it and roll it back up with the help of a pinky finger and some patience.

Most 80s kids will remember their beloved cassette tapes and the anger they felt when they ended up with a Bandsalat.

If you grew up in the pre-CD era, we know you’ll relate to this word.

And if you didn’t, we hope you feel fortunate that you don’t have to do deal with “tape salads”.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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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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!