Word of the Week: Sonnenwendfeier

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Many Germans – like the Scandinavians – celebrate the Sonnendwendfeier, an annual midsummer festival marking the summer solstice, or longest day of the year (on June 20 this year).

The marking of the summer solstice dates back to pre-Christian, pagan times across northern Europe. Stonehenge, for instance, was erected in England to mark the Sonnenwende (“solstice”), which occurs twice per year – the Wintersonnenwende (“winter solstice”) on December 21 or 22, and the Sommersonnenwende (“summer solstice”), marked from June 20 to 23 (or a later date, depending on the country in question).

A traditional Sonnenwendfeier involves the lighting of a big, blazing bonfire. Villagers, for instance, might gather around such a fire on a field in the northern German states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They will hang out together at the fire, which might become the center of a local Volksfest with sausages, beer and other items for sale. (In the same vein, many Germans set up Osterfeuer (Easter fires) in their own backyards, which they observe with friends, family and neighbors.)

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Colin Lloyd

In the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, many cityfolk will drive out into the surrounding countryside and light such summer solstice fires, around which they will launch lively outdoor celebrations that last late into the night. (Legend has it that many children are also conceived on this particular night!)

Do you partake in a Sonnenwendfeier?

Word of the Week: Sommerloch

Although it may at first sound like a reference to a refreshing riverside swimming hole, a Sommerloch (“summer hole”) actually refers to something entirely different – the dearth of “real news” smack dab in the middle of summertime.

The Sommerloch occurs during the Sommermonate (summer months). During these long, languid days punctuated by many vacations in Germany (and beyond – most Germans are avid globe-trekking travelers!), people don their Sommersachen (“summer stuff / summer clothes”) and might even acquire a few Sommersprossen (“freckles”). They may also retro-fit their German-engineered driving machines with Sommerreifen (“summer tires”).

The German media, meanwhile, just might start concocting some far-fetched April Fools’ type tales to confuse and bemuse – their audiences. Past Sommerloch stories in Germany have, among others, included reports of an escaped seal swimming up the Elbe River near the eastern German city of Dresden, as well as alleged “sightings” of a crocodile that decided to call a lake in the southern German state of Bavaria home.

“For most of last week, there had only been one topic of discussion in Schwandorf, Germany: ‘Klausi’ the crocodile, the first big story of the country’s annual silly season of slow summer news,” Spiegel Online International reported a few years ago in a story aptly entitled “What a Croc – Dangerous Reptile Might be a Beaver.”

Welcome to the “Far Side” of the annual German news cycle.

So who ever said Germans have no sense of humor? Clearly some German media folk, at least, like to indulge in the lighter side of life during the Sommerloch, which sometimes leaves them scrambling to find any “hard news” to report on. If they fail to deliver any such Sommerloch stories, their audiences would moreover take note, for they have come to expect them.

Word of the Week: Katzengold

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Ever gone panning for gold? Probably not, but if you have, be careful not too get too excited when you find Katzengold!

Literally translated, Katzengold means “cat’s gold”, but it has nothing to do with your furry housemate. The best English translation is “fool’s gold.” The word Katzengold usually refers to pyrite – a very common mineral that is often mistaken for gold. During the California Gold Rush, many people had their dreams crushed when they realized that the mineral they had found was actually Katzengold, not real gold! Although it can still be used for jewelry, it is far less valuable! Real gold can be worth $1,700 per ounce, while the same amount in Katzengold or Fool’s Gold – might just get you $1. Sometimes, however, Katzengold might contain traces of real gold – but extracting it is difficult.

Pyrite. ©colourbox

But why would Germans call the mineral pyrite Katzengold? It seems that this was simply the evolution of a very old German word. Initially, the Old High German word Kazzüngold was used to describe the substance. This meant “gold-yellow cherry resin” and had nothing to do with cats.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

International cooperation on green finance: a virtual event

Financial markets will be needed to channel private funding in a volume of several trillion dollars to finance the transition to a zero carbon economy in the coming years. Climate change and the transition causes existential threats to the financial system. Financial institutions and investors as well as regulators need to ensure appropriate risk management and disclosure. Governments and legislators decide on sustainable infrastructure financed by green bonds and define policy frameworks to incentivize private activity and avoid misallocation.

The new Climate Counselor John Morton of the U.S. Department of the Treasury will be in a dialogue with Jörg Kukies, Deputy Minister of the German Ministry of Finance on the topic of International Cooperation on Green Finance. It will be one of the first public events Mr. Morton is appearing in his new function, so it will be exciting to hear how he defines his and the Treasury’s role on the topic. Mr Kukies will present the German Sustainable Finance Strategy recently adopted by the German government as well as ongoing developments in the European Union and in international fora. Together they will discuss ongoing efforts and prospects for international policy coordination in this area, bilaterally between the European Union and United States and at the multilateral level.

Click to register for the webinar.

By Thomas Dohrn, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Hüftgold

Many of us may be  carrying a few extra pounds around the middle, and in German there’s a nice word it: Hüftgold!

Directly translated, Hüftgold means “hip gold”, and it refers to the extra weight around your hips. One English translation would be “love handles”, although Hüftgold refers more to the hips than to a person’s love handles. Both the English and German words, however, refer to the weight in a friendly manner: after all, who wouldn’t want hips as valuable (or beautiful) as gold?

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However, most people who possess Hüftgold don’t want it, and they choose to exercise or eat healthier to cut down on that Hüftgold.

But there’s also another definition for the term: Hüftgold may also refer to the calorie-rich foods that cause you to gain weight. In this context, Hüftgold could refer to that gallon of chocolate chip ice cream in your fridge or the french fries you ate last night. Either way, the Hüftgold that you consume will transform into the Hüftgold that you carry.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Green bridges help animals safely cross the German Autobahn

To protect the country’s native wildlife, Germany has built more than 80 “green bridges” since 2005, helping hundreds of thousands of native animals cross roads safely, including elk, deer, wild boars, wolves, foxes, badgers, raccoons and other animals.

The so-called “green bridges” (called Wildbrücken or Grünbrücken in German) are man-made passageways that are strictly off-limits to humans. The wildlife crossings are covered in vegetation that makes them look like an extension of the land on either side of the road.

The eco-friendly passages are “so wide and diverse [that] they appear like an extension of the forest, and animals, the thinking goes, would be less inclined to go galloping across roads … resulting in fewer accidents and a slimmer cleaning bill,” Suzanne LaBarre, an advocate of the concept, told the Atlantic.

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Many of the green bridges are equipped with cameras, allowing researchers to gather data on how many animals use these wildlife crossings. Over the past 15 years, more than 100,000 wild animals were sighted on green bridges over the Autobahn in Brandenburg. We can only imagine how high that number must be throughout the whole country!

Although wildlife bridges can be found in the US and Canada as well, Germany (along with France, the Netherlands and Switzerland) was among the first countries to begin constructing them.

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Each year, there are hundreds of thousands of registered collisions with wildlife in Germany – not including small animals.  Some of these collisions kill lynx and wolves, both of which have been making a comeback in Germany. Large roads and canals also prevent animals from traveling freely, thereby limiting genetic diversity and leading to an increase in death and disease. But the construction of green bridges helps to put a stop to that.

Last month, researchers reported that the gray wolf population in Germany is staying safe thanks in part to green bridges.

Opponents to green bridge projects often cite the high costs of building these bridges. Construction of the wildlife crossings can cost millions, but if they succeed in preventing wildlife collisions, they may be able to save both human and animal lives and reduce damage and cleanup costs in the long run.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Bierernst

If you’re trying to express how serious you are about something, what word would you use? In German, you would say you are bierernst (“beer serious”). No joke! Or is it?

The word bierernst (which is an adjective) does not sound like one that you would use to express your seriousness. But it is – seriously! Someone who is bierernst about something is someone who is not kidding around. Germans are clearly serious about their beer – so serious, in fact, that the word “serious” is overly emphasized when combined with the word “beer”.

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Let’s look at an example: your friend tells you she is moving to Fiji. At first, you think she’s joking – why would she take off and fly thousands of miles away? She looks at you sternly and tells you that she is bierernst. At this point, you know she’s telling the truth.

The term can be traced back to the early 1900s. At the time, it was assumed that wine makes people act happy and relaxed, whereas beer changes someone’s mood and makes them more serious. But whether or not this is the case, you can still use the word bierernst to express your sincerity!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy 

Word of the Week: Stein im Brett

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Let’s pretend your coworker surprised you with your favorite Starbucks drink during work. How do you feel about her? Most likely, he or she is now on your good side. Germans might even say you now have a Stein im Brett with him/her (literally translated: a “stone in the board”).

In German, if someone has a Stein im Brett with you, it means that person now has your sympathy. In other words, that person did something to win you over. But to understand where this phrase came from, we will have to take a close look at the origins of this strange German saying.

The phrase has its roots in the 16th century, when a board game called Tric-Trac was popular (in English, this game was often called “tables”, and later evolved into Backgammon). Tric-Trac, as the Germans and French call it, is one of the oldest games in the world, and first appeared in Europe during the 9th century. In the board game, players strategically block their opponents from advancing by creating a blockage with two stones (or, more recently, with cubes). During the Middle Ages, German Tric-Trac players began calling this situation a “stone in the board.”

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Over time, this phrase made its way into the German language in different contexts. If, for example, someone was traveling by a horse-drawn carriage and left the carriage on its own for a while, then a friend who guards the carriage had a Stein im Brett with the traveler. Literally, the friend served as a type of blockage to ill-intentioned people who might otherwise try to steal the carriage. Like the stones in the board game, the friend blocked opponents from making a move.

But the phrase continued to evolve, and is now used to describe any situation in which someone gains someone else’s favor. So by giving someone preferential treatment, helping them with a project or paying them a compliment, it could very well be that you will have a Stein im Brett with them.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Eiertanz

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Have you ever wondered what to do with any leftover colored Easter eggs you don’t plan on keeping for next year or are unable to eat anytime soon? How about conducting an “Eiertanz” (egg dance) with them, an expression that once was taken literally but today has an altogether different meaning.

“Eiertanz” is mostly used as a figure of speech to indicate how an individual might “beat around the bush” by avoiding the heart of a matter. In this vein, Germans might use the expression “einen Eiertanz aufführen/vorführen” (performing an egg dance) to connote careful or complex behavior and/or conversation used as a stalling and/or avoidance tactic.

Originally, however, this expression was actually used to describe a type of dance that was literally performed around eggs strewn about the dance floor. Among the first known German literary references to an “Eiertanz” was a citation dating back to 1795 in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre” (Wilhelm Meisters Apprentice Years), in which the character Mignon dances blindfolded between eggs laid out on a floor.

Similar expressions include “Herumeiern” and “Herumgeeiere,” which essentially boils down to “waffling around” or engaging in stalling tactics in difficult situations or social scenarios.

The expression “German Eiertanz” moreover wended its way into the English language according to news agency Bloomberg in 2011 to describe Germany’s alleged reluctance in dealing with the euro crisis.

A common “Spielart” (gaming tactic) of the “Eiertanz” is the “Salamitaktik” (salami strategy), which can in particular be observed in politics.

The English expression “walking on eggshells,” however, is not entirely synonymous with “Eiertanz.” This figure of speech applies more to avoiding conflict or confrontation with a disgruntled partner or adversary, particularly in the personal versus the political realm and is used more to critique the person being avoided due to their generally moody behavior.

Eggs and bunnies symbolize renewal and joy

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Something odd happens throughout Germany on Easter Sunday. Whether in apartments, houses or gardens, excited children run around, pushing the furniture aside, lifting the cushions and looking under trees and bushes outdoors.

Why? Easter is the time at which German children look in the most obscure corners for brightly colored Easter eggs that have been hidden the night before by the Easter Bunny.

But why is it a bunny that brings the eggs at this annual festival?

Continue reading “Eggs and bunnies symbolize renewal and joy”