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

Word of the Week: Lebenskunst

Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst!

Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art.

You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible. Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would
be an example of Lebenskunst.

But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.

Word of the Week: Schnapsidee

In German, there’s a special word for a really bad idea: Schnapsidee. Directly translated, this word means “booze idea” – and it describes a plan of action that’s so bad that you must have been drunk when you dreamed it up!

The German word Schnaps is a term for clear spirits, but it is often used to refer to alcohol in general. When someone is under the influence of alcohol, they are more likely to come up with crazy ideas that Germans call Schnapsideen. Getting a ridiculous tattoo might be considered a Schnapsidee – especially if you do it impulsively after a few drinks.

But you don’t have to be drunk to have a Schnapsidee. Germans use the term to refer to any outrageous or unrealistic ideas, regardless of your sobriety status. Buying a horse for your backyard is probably a Schnapsidee (unless you live on a farm). For most, base jumping would also be a Schnapsidee – as would be rappelling off the side of a cliff. The term, however, is relative: for some, anything out of the ordinary would be a Schnapsidee, while for the more adventurous, only few things would be an outrageous “booze idea”.

What’s your idea of a Schnapsidee? Having children? Skydiving? Moving to Africa? Let us know in the comments!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Kopfkino

Does your imagination run wild? Do you think up detailed stories in your head? Maybe you’ve got a Kopfkino entertaining you all day long!

The German word Kopf means “head” and Kino means “movie theater”. Kopfkino therefore describes a cinema in your head. But unlike scheduled movies at your local theater, a Kopfkino can start playing anytime, whether you’re at the office, in the classroom or in the middle of a dull conversation.

Sometimes having your own built-in movie theater can be useful. If you’re on a long train ride, for example, having a wild imagination helps pass the time. But if you’re having trouble concentration on an important task, then your Kopfkino may do more harm than good – even if your daydreams are pleasant!

Perhaps you have a one-hour deadline to finish a task at the office. All of a sudden, your Kopfkino starts playing and you suddenly find yourself laying at the beach, a warm breeze blowing through your hair as the man or woman of your dreams approaches you. Palm trees sway above your head and the worries of daily life disappear – until the movie starts playing and you realize you’re still at your desk!

But not every Kopfkino is pleasant. If you’re highly anxious or worried, you might have worst-case scenarios play out in your head. If you have an active Kopfkino, let’s hope it prefers romantic comedies over horror films! And make sure you know where the pause button is.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

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: 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.

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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