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: Strohwitwe

If someone calls themselves a Strohwitwe, they’re probably feeling lonely. A “straw widow” is someone who has been temporarily left alone by her partner.

The word Stroh means “straw” and Witwe means “widow”, but fortunately this type of widowhood does not last forever – so don’t offer your condolences just yet! A Strohwitwe has been left to sleep alone in her shared bed for an undefined period of time. Back in the Middle Ages, Germans still slept on beds made of straw, which is where the analogy most likely comes from.

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Throughout German literary history, “straw” has often been used as a reference to a bed. A Strohbraut (“straw bride”), for example, was the term for a bride whose groom was not her first bed-partner. And in Goethe’s Faust, there is a passage that reads, Er geht stracks in die Welt hinein / Und lässt mich auf dem Stroh allein (“he goes straight into the world, and leaves me alone on the straw”).

There could be many reasons that someone calls herself a Strohwitwe: her partner might be traveling for several weeks or too busy to come home one night. And there is also a male equivalent: Strohwitwer – a man whose partner or wife has left him alone. In American English, the closest equivalent would be “grass widow” or “grass widower”.

But if you’re a Strohwitwe or Strohwitwer in this day and age, look on the bright side: you may be sleeping alone, but at least you’re not sleeping on a bed of straw!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Butterfahrt

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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

Word of the Week: Gartenzwerg

If you’ve walked around Germany’s residential neighborhoods, you’ve probably seen them peeking at you from behind the bushes: garden gnomes. The German word for these creatures of the garden is Gartenzwerg, and you’ll find over 25 million of them in Germany.

The word Garten means “garden” and Zwerg means “dwarf.” In English, you’d refer to these “garden dwarfs” as “garden gnomes.” Although you might find them all over the world these days, Gartenzwerge originated in Germany and are still a common sight there. And if you see a garden gnome in your neighborhood in the US, there’s a good chance that the family living there is German!

A Gartenzwerg is a small human-like figurine usually wearing a pointy red hat and colorful clothing. These figurines are commonly found in gardens, flower beds and front porches. Although human-like figurines were placed in gardens all throughout Europe during the Renaissance, the garden gnomes we recognize today originated in 19th century Germany.

According to mythology, “garden dwarfs” were creatures who lived underground and had magical powers. If they encountered daylight, then they would be turned to stone by the sun – which explains the figurines in the gardens. Mythology also claims that the gnome statues come back to life at night, providing their help in the garden and making sure the plants grow.

The legend of the Gartenzwerg quickly became popular in Germany, which led Sculptor Phillip Griebel to mass-produce garden gnome statues in Thuringia in the mid-1800s. Today, Gartenzwerge are not only popular in Germany, but across the world; following the legend of the gnomes, gardening enthusiasts often place the dwarf-like creatures on their plots.

But even if you don’t believe in the legend of the gnome, they still make a cute addition to any front yard. And who knows – maybe your lawn will end up greener!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Abseitsfalle

The World Cup games are underway! Who will take home the gold this year? With soccer tournaments this big, some teams are willing to do anything to win. Let’s take a look at one type of soccer tactic that might prevent someone from scoring – the so-called Abseitsfalle.

In German, the word Abseits means “offside” and Falle means “trap.” Abseitsfalle therefore means “offside trap”, and refers to a tactic used primarily by a team’s defense to maneuver an opposing player into an offside position.

For those of you unfamiliar with soccer, an attacking player is in an offside position when he is closer to the opposing goal than the opposing defenders, as well as the soccer ball. If the attacker receives the ball while in an offside position, the opposing team is awarded a free kick – a good way to get the ball back to the other side of the field.

In some cases, defenders work together to push an opposing player into the offside, therefore winning a free kick for themselves. But as you can imagine, this is a risky maneuver. In order to successfully push an attacker into an Abseitsfalle, defenders must move forward at the same time while the attacker is about to receive the ball. If one defender stays back or moves too slowly, the attacker may obtain the ball – without being offside – and attempt to score while the goal is unguarded by its defense.

In the World Cup, a successful Abseitsfalle has the potential to prevent a goal. But of course, having a strong and deeper defense is always a safer way to play. A well-executed Abseitsfalle, however, can make a game much more interesting to watch – especially in the World Cup. Let’s see how many Abseitsfallen we can spot during the games!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

Word of the Week: Fanmeile

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During big televised sporting events – like the World Cup – thousands of Germans gather in the streets to watch the games together on large screens throughout the city. They will usually be waving flags, cheering and sporting their favorite team’s colors. In German, this sort of area is called a Fanmeile (“fan mile”) – a public space that is transformed during significant sporting events.

With the 2018 World Cup about to begin, Fanmeilen will be popping up all over Germany. This summer in Berlin, the street between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column will be transformed into a massive Fanmeile (the largest in Germany!), complete with food and drink stands. Television screens will air the games while up to 100,000 people gather on the street to watch.

Germans sometimes refer to a Fanmeile as a “public viewing”, which they use to describe places that air sports games. But while a public viewing can also take place in a smaller locale such as a bar, restaurant, school or church, Fanmeilen are large-scale outdoor regions that typically accommodate thousands of people.

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Fanmeilen originated in Germany during the 2006 World Cup, which means they are still relatively new. In 2006, Germany hosted the World Cup – but not everyone could get tickets. FIFA-sponsored Fanmeilen were therefore set up for people without tickets to watch the games. The concept was a huge success, and the screenings became events in themselves – especially the screening of the Germany vs. Argentina game in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finale. The longest Fanmeile was located in Berlin and brought together 900,000 soccer enthusiasts.

Consequentially, the word Fanmeile was selected by the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache as the 2006 Word of the Year.

Berlin’s Fanmeile is still the largest World Cup viewing area in Germany – and the number of fans will surely increase if Germany makes it into the finals this summer. Additionally, Fanmeilen have popped up all over Europe – including countries like Austria and Switzerland.

Whether or not you’re a soccer fan, make sure to check out a Fanmeile if you’re in Germany. It’s the experience that counts!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

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: 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