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”.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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?
Diplomats spend much of their year away from Germany. Away from family, away from outstanding public transport, and most dramatically—away from German baked goods. If you have not yet visited Germany, your sweet tooth would like you to. With bakeries abound, in train stations and around the corner, you are never much more than an arm’s reach from something delicious.
But don’t get us wrong! The best part about German baked goods are their subtlety. Slightly sweet but not overly so is the way of the German baker. So here are 10 items you must eat from a bakery in Germany one day!
We’re going to ease you into the world of German baked goods with the staple of a German breakfast/Abendbrot/snack/anything—Brötchen. Loosely translated this a “roll” but gosh that just does not capture it fully. These are often fetched fresh from the bakery, in varieties with seeds and salt and all sorts of add-ins, sliced in half, and decorated with meats, cheeses, and spreads. It is essentially a delicious vehicle for more food.
Here we’re getting a little adventurous for American palates. Mohnkuchen is poppy seed cake. Though bagels and muffins seem to have cornered the poppy seed market here, it’s more often found as a sweet filling in baked goods in Germany.
You just have to love a Bretzel. Originally a Lent dish, and intricately shaped. So simple, goes with everything. What else can we say.
The “bee sting” may have a fear-inducing name but is made with nothing but love. It is a softer cake with almond slices on top and whipped filling in the middle.
Also not a familiar treat in the U.S., marzipan is a thick paste of ground almonds, sugar, and egg whites. But Germans take it to the next level. Sometimes marzipan is shaped in such realistic forms of fruit and animals it is hard to tell that you are supposed to eat it.
Vorsichtig friends. When Germans say cheese cake they mean kind of actually cheese tasting. If you are used to the sugary cream cheese American version, it’s German cousin may give you pause.
“I am a jelly donut.” Made famous to Americans by one JFK, the Berliner is typically eaten for New Year’s Eve and Karneval in Germany but are hardly a staple of German breakfasts. People in Berlin call it Pfannkuchen.
Hope you have an appetite. As Omi would say, the dense and hardy Vollkornbrot sticks to your bones and a loaf weighs that of a small child.
“Streusel” are on all sorts of cakes. They are crumbly round balls of sugary dough. A “Schnecke” is a snail, and refers to the curling backside, like in a cinnamon bun. These have zero nutritional value but oodles of mental health benefits.
We will leave you with a traditional German sweet to add your must-try list. Stollen is a fruit-cake like bread, often with Marzipan, eaten at Christmas time.
What do you use to lift up a piece of pie and place it on a plate? A Tortenheber, of course!
It seems that Germans have a word for everything, even simple objects that do not have a name in English. One such object is the so-called Tortenheber, which translates directly to “pie lifter” or, more indirectly – “cake shovel”. If you don’t know what that is, do not worry – you’ve probably seen one, but can’t think of its name!
A Tortenheber is a tool with a handle and a triangle-shaped surface that is used to pick up a slice of cake or pie and move it onto a plate. This makes it easy to serve cake to a large group of guests – especially when the cake is dry and falling apart. It also prevents servers from having to use their fingers or other tools to serve slices of cake.
Search for a pie spatula, pie lifter, cake server, cake shovel or any other variation online and you will find photos of a Tortenheber. Luckily, Germans are less likely to get confused when asking for one at the store, since they have a word that clearly defines this highly specific kitchenware.
What do you do when you ate too much? You go on a Verdauungsspaziergang, of course!
A Verdauungsspaziergang is a walk that you take to get you moving and help you digest your food more quickly.
This colloquial term comes from the words Verdauung (“digestion”) and Spaziergang (“a walk”). A direct translation would be a “digestion walk”. After stuffing yourself, it may be wiser to go for a Verdauungsspaziergang instead of lying down, which would ultimately make it more difficult to get moving again. By getting some fresh air and moving your body, you are speeding up the digestion process.
In German, there’s a saying that emphasizes this belief: Nach dem Essen sollst du ruh’n oder tausend Schritte tun (“After eating you should rest or take a thousand steps.”) This phrase originated in Ancient Rome, which suggests that people have believed in the benefit of a “digestion walk” for centuries.
So next time you eat too much, avoid the temptation of lying down – and go for a walk instead!
On Tuesday, March 9, Foreign Policy at Brookings hosted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for a keynote address in honor of the launch of the Fritz Stern chair, followed by a panel discussion considering the current state of U.S.-German and U.S.-European relations and the prospects for reform to best address the challenges of the 21st century.
Watch the Minister’s speech and panel discussion with Ambassador Haber:
Bookworms, delight! These 11 libraries are enough reason alone to visit Germany someday.
1. Marienburg Castle Queen’s Library, Hanover
The library in Marienburg Castle, along with the castle itself, was a gift from King George V of Hanover to his lovely Queen, Marie. The lovely arching ceilings and fantastic view make us wish we were curled up with a book there right now.
2. Jacob and Wilhelm-Grimm Center, Berlin
The Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Center in Berlin is an architechtural marvel that was finished in 2009. The design is all about strong lines and sharp angles, but it is still light and open. Students at the Humboldt University get to enjoy this reading room during every exam week, which is almost enough incentive to want to be in school again!
3. The German National Library, Frankfurt
The German National Library is charged with recording and storing every German and German-language publication that is produced. (That’s why the building is so big – it’s full of secrets). The National Libray has been collecting texts since 1913 and now has over 25 million individual items.
The outside is impressive, but the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and spiral staircases are any library-nut’s dream. Gorgeous, right?
4. Stuttgart Central Library
The Stuttgart Central Library may look like something out of a video game, but we assure you, this is real life. The dramatic white staircases, bookshelves, and floors give the whole building a crisp, clean feeling, perfect for all you minimalists out there.
Also, the facade is permanently lit in patterns of blue lights!
5. Wiblingen Abbey, Ulm
Beauty and the Beast, anyone? Nothing more can be said about this absolutely stunning set up inside of Wiblingen Abbey, a former Benedictine abbey that houses several departments of the University of Ulm.
6. Ulm City Library
The theme for hte Ulm Library is transparency, and what better way to show that than with a giant glass pyramid? There are practically no walls in the library, rather everything is about openness, glass, and light.
7. Herzog August Library, Wolfenbüttel
The Herzog August Library is a flavorful blend of classic and modern architecture. It provides the perfect atmosphere for reading the books it specializes in: Early middle ages texts!
8. The Lower Saxony State and University Library of Göttingen
This library may have the strong lines of some of the other ones, but the warm wood tones makes it look so much homier. This is one of the largest German academic libraries. In 2002, it won the German Library of the Year award!
9. Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-House, the Library of the Bundestag, Berlin
One of the major perks of being in the German parliament: the architecture. The German government buildings are some of the most modern in the world. This giant glass structure opened in 2003.
10. The Cottbus Library
Another modern marvel for librarians is the Cottbus Library. The soft, flowing angles and curves are much different than many of the other German libraries.
Also, all of the staircases in the building are a fun pink and green!
11. Duchess Anna-Amalia Library, Weimar
This library is straight out of one of a Goethe or Thomas Mann novel. Coincidentally, Goethe actually lived a few streets over from this heavenly library. You’ll be sure to find some literary inspiration here.
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a world famous African American singer who made history on both sides of the Atlantic with her opera and spirituals. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to Salzburg and Munich, her voice inspired thousands of people with every show. But in order to perform, the American contralto had to face segregation and racial prejudice, both at home and abroad. Her determination to sing – despite opposition and countless hurdles – turned her into a civil rights icon. Some even called her the “voice of the 20th century“.
Although Anderson grew up in Philadelphia and had a successful music career in the United States, she also spent a significant amount of time in Europe. In the early 1930s, Anderson spent time studying and touring various European countries, including Finland, Sweden, Russia, England and Austria.
In 1935, after a successful performance in Vienna, Austria, Anderson was asked to perform a charity concert at the Salzburg Cathedral as part of the Salzburg Festival. This annual festival drew some of the most talented artists of the time. However, there was growing Nazi sentiment in Austria at this time and festival authorities banned Anderson’s performance. But rather than letting this keep her away, Anderson worked with organizers to hold her very own concert in Salzburg, separate from the official festival. Held at the Mozarteum, her unofficial concert stunned the audience, which grew continuously larger as word of her performance spread through town. A few days later, Anderson performed once more in the Alps. Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini told her she had a “voice head once in a hundred years.”
Despite her talents, Anderson continued to face hurdles in a segregated America. In 1939, Anderson was back in the US and preparing for an Easter Sunday concert in Washington, D.C at the invitation of Howard University. Because of her international reputation, organizers expected the crowd to be enormous. They applied to use Constitution Hall as the concert venue, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution. However, “[DAR] refused to allow her use of the hall because she was black and because there was a white-artist-only clause printed in every contract issued by the DAR,” said Anderson biographer Allan Keiler. So instead, Anderson’s historic concert was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the held of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt, drawing a crowd of 75,000 people and making history. Millions of people also tuned in on the radio. Anderson later admitted to being nervous with a crowd size that large, saying, “I could not run away from this situation. If I had anything to offer, I would have to do so now.”
Although the concert at the Lincoln Memorial was one of Anderson’s most well-known performances, her popularity only continued to grow and she found herself performing all over the world – including Germany.
A few years after the end of the Second World War, Anderson returned to Europe and continued to perform. The concerts she held in Berlin and Munich in 1950 were some of the “most gratifying”, according to her biography. And the German people were blown away by her talents. After her concerts, The Neue Zeitung wrote “…in critical places one is surprised by a wonderfully accomplished phrase or even a single tone in which her soul seems to open. From such moments the whole song achieves a new illumination.”
Throughout her career, Anderson became an important figure in the Civil Rights era. She became the first African-American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the Department of State. She sang at the 1957 inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. She participated in the Civil Rights movement and found herself at the steps of the Lincoln once again when she performed at the 1963 March on Washington. She also won numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Marian Anderson was an inspiration to millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic.
This blog is part of our larger series for Black History Month. During Black History Month, we are not only highlighting Germans of African descent (see our blog here), but also black Americans who have inspired Germans across the Atlantic, and across the years.