Word of the Week: Stacheldrahtsonntag

The events of August 13, 1961 brought a new word into the German language: Stacheldrahtsonntag, which means “Barbed Wire Sunday”.
If you’re familiar with German history, it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out the meaning of this word. Stacheldrahtsonntag was the day that GDR authorities began sealing off the border between East and West German using barbed wire and other barriers that which were quickly replaced by a wall. The day became so significant that it was referred to without the date. Everyone knew about “August 13” or, in other words, “Barbed Wire Sunday.”

Between 1945 and 1961, around 2.7 million people fled East Germany for the West, which was about 15 percent of the GDR’s population. To stop the mass emigration, GDR authorities hastily closed the border on the night of August 12 – and they didn’t wait long before sealing it with physical barriers. The use of barbed wire was quick and efficient, keeping people from crossing the border until a system of metal and concrete walls reinforced it a few weeks later. Nearly 17 million people were trapped inside the GDR on August 13, and 533,000 East German troops and police were employed to make sure no one escaped.

Families were separated, East German residents were unable to go to their jobs in the West and some of those along the border even lost their homes. As barbed wire further separated the two Germanys, August 13 quickly became known as Stacheldrahtsonntag.

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As the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, Stacheldrahtsonntag is a word you might hear in conversation – especially among those who lived through that fateful day.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

German “Mauerspechte” responsible for Berlin Wall souvenirs

If you’ve ever traveled to Germany, there’s a good chance you’ve seen tiny pieces of the Berlin Wall for sale at a souvenir shop. But the wall is gone – so where did these colorful pieces come from?

After the East German border was opened up nearly 30 years ago, countless people made their way to the wall, equipped with pickaxes and sledgehammers. They tirelessly chipped away at the wall. Their motivations varied, but in general such a person was called a Mauerspecht.

In German, Mauer means wall and Specht means woodpecker. A Mauerspecht, therefore, refers to a person who chips away at a wall (specifically, the Berlin Wall, since the word arose in this context and had never been used before). The closest English equivalent would be the word “stonepecker.”

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After the border was opened, many Germans flocked to the wall, eager to help break apart the object that blocked their freedom for so long. To many, chipping at the wall was an emotional act in which they gained power over a restrictive barrier that was now a symbol of their triumph. Previously, this concrete structure was representative of the political system that confined and controlled the people in the GDR through fear, which made it even more satisfying for the wall’s former victims to break it apart themselves.

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Word of the Week: Dreckspatz

If you have kids, there’s a good chance they’re sometimes a Dreckspatz – especially if they love playing in the mud. The German word Dreckspatz is a fusion of the words Dreck (“dirt”) and Spatz (“sparrow”), and describes a person who gets him-or-herself dirty easily.

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Sparrow birds bathe themselves in dust or sand to clean their feathers – thus, people who do the same are known as Dreckspätze in Germany.

Someone who constantly drops food on his lap might be called a Dreckspatz – especially if this person struggles to clean himself up afterwards, and walks through life with stains on his shirt. But more commonly, a Dreckspatz is used to describe a child — perhaps because children are more likely to get themselves dirty.

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If you’re a parent, you’ve probably cringed after seeing the grass stains on your child’s brand new dress pants or chocolate on that white shirt. Maybe your child likes to jump into puddles or play in the mud. Either way, it can be frustrating to scrub stains out of your kid’s clothes on a daily basis.

Du bist so ein Dreckspatz! (“You are such a Dreckspatz!”) is what an angry or frustrated parent might say after their child builds a mud pie or wears his dinner instead of eating it. But it’s not a serious insult – a parent might roll their eyes lovingly while calling their child that.

A similar German word is Schmutzfink. The word Schmutz is a close synonym for Dreck – both words mean dirt or filth (but Dreck is also used to describe soil). Additionally, the word Fink describes a finch – another bird species that often bathes in dirt.

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But ultimately, while it’s normal for children to be called a Dreckspatz or Schmutzfink, you probably don’t want that reputation. So make sure to keep those stains off your shirt to avoid the name-calling.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Filmriss

Can’t remember what happened last night? Then you’re suffering from a Filmriss!

The German word Filmriss is a gap in your memory. Directly translated, Filmriss means “film tear”, and the word originated from the days when film projectors were used to play movies. Before the arrival of modern technology, moviegoers occasionally dealt with a Filmriss – an instance where a tear in a role of film temporarily stopped the movie. As you can imagine, this could get quite frustrating if it occurred during a suspenseful scene of the movie! Luckily, today’s digital technology prevents such inconveniences from interrupting a movie.

Over the years, however, the meaning of the word Filmriss has grown, and it now describes instances where your memory has gone black. Perhaps you can’t remember what you did while drinking too much, or maybe your memory is just bad in general. Luckily for you, digital technology has made it easy for others to take photos and videos of your behavior, allowing you to get a glimpse of what happened during your Filmriss!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Spinnefeind

If you have a spinnefeind relationship with someone, the other person may be toxic and scare you away. But even though though this German word translates to “spider-inimical”, it describes a relationship with someone who has two legs and not eight!

The word Spinne means “spider” and Feind means “enemy” – or, in this case, it is used as “inimical”. Despite what it sounds like, this term does not refer to the hairy little buggers that crawl up your walls at night and hide in the corners of your house – even though you might consider them your enemies. Instead, this word is an adjective – and it describes the relationship you have with an enemy – someone that you cannot stand to be around and whose intentions toward you are not good.

In a spinnefeind relationship, your enemy wants the worst for you (and you want the worse for him or her). Adding the word Spinne to the word Feind (“inimical”) creates an adjective that emphasizes just how bad that relationship is.

In German, you might say, Sie waren einander spinnefeind. (“They were spinnefeind towards one another.”)

Just like a spider might cause you to run in the other direction, seeing your someone with whom you have a spinnefeind relationship could cause you to walk the other way. But it may be better to confront your fears than to run from them. You may realize that they’re not as bad as they may seem, and that they look scarier than they truly are.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Warmduscher

What do you call someone who loves comfort, predictability and habitually avoids all risks? In other words – a pansy? A Warmduscher!

The German word Warmduscher literally translates to “warm showerer” – someone who takes warm showers. Metaphorically speaking, this term refers to someone who prefers to live a life of comfort. A cold shower – or anything else that creates discomfort – is something that this person avoids at all costs.

A Warmduscher is, in other words, a “wimp” or a “pansy” – and the term is not a nice one. The term was made popular during the 1998 World Cup, when German comedian Harald Schmidt called German national team player Jürgen Klinsmann a Warmduscher, thereby offending the soccer player and stirring up tensions.

But in the German language, there are also plenty of other ways to call someone a wimp (or unmanly). Some examples include der Sockenschläfer (“the sock sleeper”), der Damenradfahrer (“the women’s bike rider”), der Zebrastreifenbenutzer (“the crosswalk user”), der Beckenrandschwimmer (“the edge-of-the-pool-swimmer”) and der Frauenversteher (“the women-understander”). The list of synonyms is long, so to avoid being made fun of, make sure you toughen up in front of Germans!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Erklärungsnot

What do you do when you find yourself in an awkward situation that you caused? Well, you would probably try to find an explanation for your actions, but it might not be so easy. And Germans have a special word for this type of emergency: Erklärungsnot!

The German word Erklärungsnot means “explanation poverty” or “explanation emergency” and it describes a state in which you are put on the spot without an explanation or excuse for your actions. Once caught, you might be at a loss for words. Some situations that might arouse Erklärungsnot are cheating on a test, stealing, lying, cheating on your spouse, or looking through someone’s phone – basically, situations that make it difficult for you to explain yourself. If caught doing something that you know is wrong, you might be at a loss of words.

But Erklärungsnot is not always associated with grave immoral actions. You can also experience it if you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar, or caught while planning a surprise birthday party for a friend. When put on the spot, your excuses might be so ridiculous that no one will believe you.

“My dog ate my homework,” might be the result of Erklärungsnot when a child is put on the spot for skipping his homework.

So remember: next time you find yourself in a state of Erklärungsnot, take a deep breath and think before you explain yourself!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Holzklasse

Are you on a budget, but love to travel? Most likely you will be booking the Holzklasse whereever you go!

Literally translated, the German word Holzklasse means “wood class”, and it’s basically the least desirable place you can sit on any mode of transportation. Unlike first class, the “wood class” is where you’ll find the cheapest tickets.

When the word Holzklasse first came into use, it was used to describe the economy class seating in trains, since this seating area usually consisted of wooden planks as benches. If you’re looking at a 10-hour train ride, this isn’t too comfortable. As transportation evolved, so did the meaning of the word. Today, the Holzklasse on a train is much more comfortable. But the word is also used to describe the economy class in airplanes, which often consist of small seats with very little leg room.

But first class comes with a hefty price, and for many, the Holzklasse is simply their only option.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Waldeinsamkeit

When Henry David Thoureau took his leave into the woods of Walden, he said he wanted to learn to live deliberately. He claimed to “need the tonic of wildness” and that “we can never have enough of nature”. Since it is officially spring and the forests are coming alive again, it might be useful to rediscover the feeling of Waldeinsamkeit. The feeling you get when you are walking in the woods all alone with natures wonders all around, that is Waldeinsamkeit.

Waldeinsamkeit consists of two words: Wald meaning forest, and Einsamkeit meaning loneliness or solitude.

It is the feeling of being alone in the woods, but it also hints at a connectedness to nature. The feeling plays a big role in religion. Shedding one’s material possessions is often a prerequisite for joining an order of monks or priests. This act is called monasticism. Christianity has a long tradition of Saints who live in on the land and pursue Waldeinsamkeit. One famous example is St. Trudpert, who was given a piece of land within the Black Forest and retired there in a simple church in solitude, surrounded by nature. The image above was taken at St. Trudpert’s Abbey.

The solitude of wilderness as a motif is prevalent in both religion and literature. The entire literary movement known as Romanticism (1800-1850) centers on returning to nature and becoming a part of untamed nature. In Germany, authors and artists depicted individuals quelled by nature’s glory. Authors from this movement included E.T.A. Hoffmann, the Brothers Grimm, and Heinrich von Kleist. The word Waldeinsamkeit belongs to this movement; it describes not only a feeling, but an entire motif in romantic literature. Ludwid Tieck, a well known romantic German author, once composed an ode to Waldeinsamkeit in his story Fair Eckbert :

“Waldeinsamkeit, “Woodland Solitude

Wie liegst du weit! I rejoice in Thee

O dich gereut, Tomorrow as today

Einst mit der Zeit. – Forever and ever

Ach einzige Freud Oh how I enjoy,

Waldeinsamkeit!” Woodland Solitude!”

The woods, it seems, is the place to go to contemplate the loneliness of ones existence – or maybe just to get some fresh air. Regardless, spring has sprung, so its time for some Waldeinsamkeit!

Word of the Week: Schnarchnase

You’ve been staring at the ceiling for hours. Despite all your attempts, you just can’t fall asleep – and you blame the Schnarchnase beside you for that!

Literally translated, the German word Schnarchnase means “snoring nose”. The term comes from schnarchen (“snoring”) and Nase (“nose”), and it identifies someone who snores loudly while sleeping. The reasons for this can vary – maybe the Schnarchnase has a stuffy nose, maybe it’s sleep apnea or maybe there’s no explanation for why this person snores every time he or she goes to sleep. Regardless of the cause, sleeping next to a Schnarchnase can be annoying – especially if you’re a light sleeper!

But the word doesn’t always define someone who snores in their sleep. The term is also used to describe someone who has messed up a task or is slow in finishing something. A so-called sleepy-head or a slowpoke (like, for example, a slow driver) can also be called a Schnarchhase. Even if someone has good intentions, he may still be called a Schnarchnase because he can never seem to get it right.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy