Word of the Week: Schenkelklopfer

You may have heard of the word Sparwitz, which describes a joke that isn’t funny. Now, let’s look at a word that describes a joke with a bit more humor: 

A Schenkelklopfer is a simple, corny but effective joke that evokes serious laughter. The direct translation is “thigh slapper” but in English, the term “knee slapper” is a more commonly used equivalent. The German word Schenkel means “thigh” and Klopf means “to knock” (or in this case, slap). This type of joke is so funny that it may have listeners slapping their knees while laughing. It’s not clear why certain jokes prompt listeners to slap their upper legs while laughing. Think back: have you ever laughed so hard that you slapped your thigh or knee? It’s common – both in German and American culture.

Unlike a Sparwitz, which usually evokes little to no reaction, a Schenkelklopfer is so funny that it promps belly- aching laughter. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Sparwitz

We all know someone who tries to make jokes that no one laughs at. Some people are notoriously good at telling jokes that aren’t funny (or that no one comprehends). It would be ironic to call their attempts “jokes” in the first place, so Germans have a better word for them: Sparwitze

A Sparwitz is a joke that isn’t funny or doesn’t make sense. In English, this is sometimes called an “anti-joke”. It could be a random phrase that doesn’t have much purpose and will leave people raising their eyebrows in confusion. Should they laugh? Maybe they’ll force a chuckle or maybe they’ll stare at the person telling the Sparwitz with a blank expression. The term Sparwitz comes from the words sparen (“to save”) and Witz (“joke”). It’s a joke where the jokester saves his humor for himself, leaving you with something less than funny. 

Here’s a few Sparwitze examples: 

Have you ever seen a Schnitzel run through the woods? No? Well, that’s how fast they are!

What do you call a cookie under a tree? A shady cookie! 

Two mushrooms are walking in the woods. One says “hi”, the other one says “ahhh, but mushrooms can’t speak!” 

These Sparwitze are neither funny, nor do they make much sense. Sometimes, however, the randomness of the anti-joke may cause some unexpected laughter. Some comedians even try to provoke laughter through use of Sparwitze. In English, this is referred to as anti-humor and their stand-ups are known as alternative comedy. As you can imagine, getting an audience to laugh at a Sparwitz is much more difficult than getting them to laugh at a good old joke! 

But in general, if someone is telling you some German Sparwitze that they perceive as jokes, tell them to spare you of that. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

10 famous German composers that made musical history

Are you in need of some new (or old) music to listen to while teleworking? Do you need some relaxing classical music for a slow summer car ride? We’ve got you covered!

Many of the world’s greatest musical geniuses called Germany their home. From Bach to Beethoven, these composers moved the world with their works.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Born in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He is celebrated for his Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor and a number of other instrumental masterpieces.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

Born in Bonn, Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist in the period between the Classical and Romantic eras. He spent his childhood in Germany, where he was taught by his father – Johann van Beethoven and later by composer and conductor Christian Gottlob Neefe. At the age of 21, he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he began studying under Joseph Haydn. Some of his most influential works include Symphony No. 5 and 9, Piano Sonata No. 29, Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto No. 4.

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

One of the leading musicians of the Romantic period is Johannes Brahms, a virtuoso pianist who was born in Hamburg before spending his adult years in Vienna, Austria, where he composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ and voice and chorus. He is sometimes grouped together with Bach and Beethoven as one of the “Three B’s”. Brahms is best known for his four symphonies and his Violin Concerto.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor in the Romantic period. Some of his most famous works include the overture and music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio Elijah, The Hebrides, the Violin Concerto and his String Octet.

George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)

George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in former Brandenburg-Prussia. He was a Baroque composer who spent his early years in Germany and his later years in Britain. Some of his greatest compositions include Messiah, Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Richard Georg Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss was born in Munich and grew up to become a talented German Romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of his early success came from his tone poems. One of his famous works – inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – was called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Another famous was is Don Juan.

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

Born in Leipzig, Richard Wagner grew up to become one of Germany’s most famous composers. Although he had many talents, he is best known for his operas. Some of his major works include The Flying Dutchman, Tannhäuser, Lohegrin, Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal and The Ring of the Nibelung.

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Born in Zwickau, Robert Schumann became a widely regarded German composer of the Romantic era. He initially studied law but left that field for a career as a virtuoso pianist. However, a hand injury left him unable to fulfill that career, and Schumann turned his focus to composing.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767)

Born in Magdeburg, Georg Philipp Telemann was a German composer of the late Baroque period. During his youth, he rebelled against his family’s wishes in order to study music. He is almost completely self taught. His most famous pieces were his church compositions ranging from small cantatas to larger works for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Hans Zimmer (1957 – )

One modern-day German composer is Hans Zimmer. Born in Frankfurt, Zimmer has composed scores for more than 150 different films. Some of his most famous works include scores for The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Intersteller, Gladiator, Crimson Tide, Inception, Dunkirk and the Dark Knight trilogy. Of course, his works are quite different from those of Beethoven – but we still love them!

Of course, there are many more composers we could add to this list! Who would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy 

Word of the Week: Riechkolben


Do you know someone who has a nose like Pinocchio? Or maybe a nose that reminds you of Rudolph? Germans would call such noses a Riechkolben!

The term comes from the words riechen (“to smell”) and Kolben (which best translates to “conk” – a colloquial term for nose). A Riechkolben defines a very large or swollen nose – one that catches your attention. Perhaps someone with a Riechkolben is suffering from a cold and has a red and oversized nose, perhaps someone got hit in the face, or perhaps someone just has a naturally large nose. Whatever the reason, you’re more likely to describe that large object on their face as a Riechkolben than a Nase (“nose”). 

It’s probably not the nicest way to refer to someone’s nose. After all, who wants to be acknowledged for having a Rudolph-sized nose on their face? 

But it is not always an insult in German. The term Riechkolben is also a medical one: it is a synonym for the olfactory bulb, a neural structure that is involved in creating a sense of smell. The olfactory bulb is located at the bottom of the brain – not the nose. So in this regard, the Riechkolben has nothing to do with the size of one’s nose and simply describes a part of the human anatomy. 

Most Germans, however, will use it to describe what they see. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Musikantenknochen

When you accidentally smash your inner elbow into a table or a door, you might scream in pain because the impact affected your Musikantenknochen – your so-called “musician’s bone”. But what exactly is that? 

In English, you might have heard the term “funny bone” used to describe a sensitive location in your arm. In German, this is called your Musikantenknochen, which comes from the words Musik (“music”) and Knochen (“bone”). It describes the part of your arm that is especially sensitive when you hit it against a hard surface. But what does this have to do with music? 

Well, the term can be deceiving because your Musikatentenknochen has nothing to do with music and it is not even a bone! In reality, it is the ulnar nerve – a nerve that runs along the ulna bone and is the largest unprotected nerve in your body (meaning it is just under the surface of your skin). That means it is highly sensitive and prone to injury. Some describe the feeling of hitting your Musikantenknochen against a hard surface as a sensation similar to a small electric shock. That’s sure to cause some people to cry out in pain.

It is unclear why Germans call this nerve the “musician’s bone”, but some believe it has to do with the perceived vibrations that arise when impacting the area. Others say it has to do with the cries people make when they hurt their Musikantenknochen

But one thing’s for sure: most of us are not going to sing to the sound of that music! If we hurt our Musikantenknochen, it’s best not to talk to us until we come back to our senses. 

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

German vs. American Universities

Though you can’t avoid the reading or the due dates, studying at a German university can differ in some significant ways from the United States. The obvious differences are that courses are, generally, conducted in German. But there a few less obvious things to consider when trying to study full time abroad.

Basically free

Probably the “least best kept secret” about German schools are their low cost. In 2015, all 16 German states had officially gotten rid of tuition fees. There is still a small fee to cover administration and other costs per semester and often housing is paid for separately from the university, but generally it is very cheap compared to the tuition costs at American schools.

Public vs. private universities

Since public universities in Germany are free, it makes them that much more competitive. Want to be a doctor? You better have almost perfect grades and Abitur score (university qualifying exam) to even be admitted. Though private universities are still high quality, most students would choose no tuition over even the low tuition of a private school.

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Forget the rankings

Sure, lists ranking German schools are out there, but any German would tell you that it basically makes no difference if you go to one public university vs. the other. All public universities are thought to give you an equal quality education.

Degrees are different lengths

Gone away are the automatic four year degrees. Instead, many bachelor programs are just three years. Dual programs to receive both a bachelors and master’s degree are very popular and often four years long.

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One big exam or paper rather than smaller assignments

There is relatively little hand holding at German universities. You don’t get points just for attending, or for small daily assignments. Rather, typically, your entire grade depends on one or two exams or papers and going to lectures is not mandatory.

Students don’t always start college right after high school

In the United States, the percentage of students who defer admissions for a year or more remains very small—generally 1% or less of an admitted class, according to PBS. In Germany, many students take time off after graduating from high school and travel for a year (or two or three). In fact, the tradition of setting out on travel for several years after completing an apprenticeship as a craftsman dates back to medieval times!

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Germany’s most frightening lake: the Schrecksee

High up in the German Alps is a lake so eerie that it’s known as the Schrecksee (“fright lake”).  With an elevation of 5,949 feet, the Schrecksee is Germany’s highest alpine lake – and it’s often covered in fog.

While some might consider it spooky, others would call it beautiful: the Schrecksee has a mystical feel to it.

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Located in the Swabian region of Allgäu, the natural lake lies in the Alps — but getting there is no easy feat. Hiking up to the Schrecksee takes about seven to eight hours round-trip, on average. The views, however, are worth the effort: the Austrian border is located only about 1,000 feet away and hikers can peer over to Germany’s neighbor from the Schrecksee.

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Those wanting to cool off can swim in the lake — but with temperatures around 55 degrees in the summer, few find the desire to do so.

Today, the Schrecksee remains a lesser-known travel destination in Germany, perhaps due to the difficulty in reaching it. But for those with a sense of adventure and motivation for a long hike, the Schrecksee is well worth the journey! And it’s also a great place to practice social distancing. Just make sure to start your hike early enough to make it back down before sunset.

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By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Can you fit through the world’s narrowest street?

Where is the world’s narrowest street?

Some might guess Venice. But according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the narrowest street is located in the town of Reutlingen, Germany.

© dpa / picture alliance

The Spreuerhofstraße is located between two closely linked buildings. This street is on average 40 centimeters (15.7 inches) wide, and just 31 centimeters (12.2 inches) wide at its narrowest point.

Although some may be inclined to call this an alleyway, the people of Reutlingen insist that it is in fact a street, since it is located on municipal land.

Let’s take a look at how this passageway became an official street:

© dpa / picture alliance

In 1727, the city was being reconstructed after a massive city-wide fire destroyed many parts of Reutlingen. In 1820, an administrator in the city’s town hall decided to elevate this gap between two houses into a street. It is wide enough for the average person to walk through, which is one of the prerequisites for the classification of a street. For a long time, Spreuerhofstraße did not receive much attention. But once the Guinness Book of World Records gave the street its title in 2007, tourists started flocking to Reutlingen to see it. But before you start planning a future trip, keep in mind that this street is not particularly long or attractive and we would only recommend going there if you are in the area already! It is also not a great place to practice social distancing, considering how little room there is in the alleyway.

Only time will tell how long this street will remain; one of the 18th century houses is already leaning into it, making it even smaller. It may soon be too small to be considered a street at all!

© Nicole Glass

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Fruchtfleisch

With summer around the corner, many of us are drinking more smoothies and fruit juice than usual. From fresh-squeezed orange juice to strawberry smoothies, there’s plenty of options to energize yourself on a hot day! But here’s a question for you: with Fruchtfleisch or without?

Some of us love it, some of us don’t. Fruchtfleisch comes from the words Frucht (“fruit”) and Fleisch (“meat”). But this type of “meat” is one that our vegetarians can comfortably consume. Fruchtfleisch means the “meat of the fruit” – basically, the internal part of a fruit (the part that most people eat). Fruchtfleisch can refer to the inside of the fruit or it can refer to pulp (since pulp is made up of a fruit’s “meat”). Some people prefer their juice with Fruchtfleisch, while others buy it without it.

When you peel an orange, the inside of the orange is called its Fruchtfleisch. Similarly, when you drink orange juice with pulp, you would refer to the pulp as Fruchtfleisch.

The Fruchtfleisch has more vitamins than the juice alone. Plus, it has fiber! So make sure to eat your “meat”!

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Liegewiese

What do Germans do in the summer? Some travel, some hike, some swim – and others simply lounge on a Liegewiese.

The German word Liegewiese has no English equivalent. It comes from liegen (“to lie down”) and Wiese (“field”). Directly translated, Liegewiese means “lying-down-field”. It defines a place that Germans like to go when they want to relax – a grassy field.

A Liegewiese is simply just a lawn – often next to a swimming area – where people go to sunbathe. It’s essentially not more than a large patch of grass, but this grassy area is unique because it attracts sunbathers. If you visit an outdoor swimming pool in Germany in the summertime, you’ll probably notice a large area next to it where people lounge on their beach-towels in the grass. Some may have umbrellas and chairs; others lie on just a towel. Clearly Germans appreciate the simple pleasures of life; a Liegewiese has few features to it aside from mowed grass.

A Liegewiese is a great alternative for sunbathers who have no access to a beach. And at times like these, finding yourself an isolated grassy patch may be a great way to catch some rays.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy