No Cowboys or Princesses! Why German Halloween costumes are ‘spooky only’

American Halloween and German Halloween are very different!


In the US you would expect to see all sorts of costumes- cowboy, skeleton, princess, witch, movie characters, etc. Halloween is not just a spooky holiday, but a fun one for the whole family. It’s expected that children and adults alike embrace the fantastical aspects of the day as an opportunity to dress up as they see fit. There’s a lot of flexibility. Heck, people even dress up their dachshunds as hot dogs!

Not so in Germany. If you go out on Halloween in Germany, you’ll likely only see seriously spooky costumes: zombies, ghosts, witches, werewolves, murderers etc. All the “fun” costumes mysteriously disappear. There are no gag costumes or couple costumes, no astronauts or politicians, few superheroes and jedi- only creepers and jeepers. This even holds true with school children, who might come to school dressed in black, stereotypical halloween costumes. What gives?


Halloween is only a recent celebration in Germany. It coincides relatively closely with Carnival, which also includes costumes, and until 25 years ago, this was sufficient for Germans itching to dress up in a costume.

But retail pressures have brought the holiday across the Atlantic. Big sales on clothes and candy make shops prosper, and consumers keep spending. Halloween has slowly gained prominence across Europe, even though it’s mainly celebrated in the US.

However, a couple parts of the holiday have been lost in the transition across the ocean. Trick or Treating hasn’t really caught on yet, though “Süß oder saueres!” is a rough German equivalent. And important for our inquiry: the idea of costumes outside of the stereotypes haven’t caught on yet either. Germans have seen Halloween in American movies and TV for decades, and have recognized the stereotypical spooky costumes as the only possible. That’s why German Halloween is dominated by werewolves, ghosts, witches, and axe-wielding murderers!


Things continue to change. Maybe this year you’ll see a different mix. But don’t be surprised if you see a 6 year-old with a knife dressed as Jason. It’s just how things are!

American pilot shot down in WWII makes emotional return to German town

A remarkable story of German-American friendship recently took place in the small town of Gerolzhofen between Frankfurt and Nürnberg. A former American pilot who was shot down over Germany and taken in war captivity is visiting the place where he almost lost his life for the first time in 76 years.

Roland Martin was a pilot of the “Iron Maiden” on October 14, 1943 as part of America’s second major attack on a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt. As the youngest pilot of the US Air Force at that time, his plane and those of other pilots were shot down shortly before his 20th birthday. Six pilots had already left the plane with parachutes; the rest had to face an emergency landing. Due to the high losses, this day went down in US history as the “Black Thursday”. Although all 10 crew members survived the emergency landing, Martin was picked up by German ground troops after two weeks on the run. As a prisoner of war he remained in a prison camp at the Baltic Sea until the end of the war. The fact that today, despite this history, he came back to the scene of the events shows how much German-American relations have developed in times of peace.

Norbert Vollmann

This history of enmity between Germany and the USA has found a moving and happy end, which we owe also to the Americans, who committed themselves to a peaceful reconstruction of Germany after the war.

Roland was visibly touched by his visit to the launch site, especially by the frankness of the Germans. It shows that friendships can nevertheless emerge from death, suffering and destruction in war. “Today we meet as friends” summarizes Gerolzhofen’s mayor Thorsten Wozniak. When Roland received the honor to write down a few words in the Golden Book of the City of Gerolzhofen, the 95-year-old was in tears. 

Norbert Vollmann

Next year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. There are many sad stories to remember, but also rays of hope, just like the connection between Roland Martin and Germany that shows that over time enemies can become friends. We look back on decades of support from America and are grateful that we live together in friendship and peace today.

original story by Norbert Vollmann
English adaptation by Kimberly Klebolte

Word of the Week: Republikflucht

When East Germans escaped over the inner German border during the Cold War, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) described their actions as Republikflucht, which means “desertion from the republic“ or “flight from the republic.” Additionally, the word Republikflüchtlinge describes “deserters from the republic.”

When used by GDR authorities to speak of deserters, the word had a negative connotation, associating them with a crime against the state. The word closely resembles the more generalized Fahnenflucht, which literally means “desertion from the flag” and in this case refers to military desertion. The word Republikflucht therefore invoked similar feelings of betrayal against the state, and specifically referred to escape from the GDR.

Millions of Germans fled the east during the post-war period before the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 – and even after its erection, several thousand others managed to escape. Some even obtained permits to visit the west, never to return again. Many who attempted Republikflucht, however, were shot at the border. Tens of thousands of others were imprisoned for up to eight years for their attempts.

The GDR publicly condemned the actions of Republikflüchtlinge, and in 1955 outlined the seriousness of such a crime in a booklet published by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.

A woman is pulled out of a tunnel through which she escaped from East Berlin to the West on October 5, 1964. In total, 57 people escaped through this tunnel German Missions in the United States Welcome to Germany.info before it was discovered by East German border guards.

“Leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity,” the booklet says. “…Workers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the imperialists and militarists.”

Today, the word Republikflucht is one of many unique words associated with the GDR, and is often used to describe the many escape attempts from the communist regime. If you are reading German history related to the fall of the wall, this is a term you will surely come across – a term that partially defines the way we remember the effects of the Cold War.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

This map shows every single Oktoberfest in Minnesota… (we could find)

It’s that time of the year again! Oktoberfest in Munich kicks off ever so soon!

That means soon the beer tap will be broken and cries of “O’ Zapft is” will ring in the festival and celebration. Beers will be poured, songs will be sung, dances will be…danced.

Picture this: thousands of people, dozens of huge tents, a ferris wheel and some carousels – This world-renowned folk festival is held annually in Bavaria and attracts more than six million people from around the world in search of German beer, music, and food. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds.

But until Munich Oktoberfest arrives, we’re on the hunt for other Oktoberfests around the USA. And since we’ve spent our weekend at St. Paul Oktoberfest in Minnesota, we thought we’d track down every single Oktoberfest in Minnesota that we could find. Our source for the map is Funtober’s article: “OKTOBERFEST IN MINNESOTA”.

Here are the towns and cities with Oktoberfest. Some even more than one!

Pierz, MN

St. Paul, MN

Stillwater, MN

Longville, MN

Minneapolis, MN

East Grand Forks, MN

Grand Forks, MN

Delano, MN

Grand Marais, MN

Shakopee, MN

New Ulm, MN

Gull Lake, MN

Pelican Rapids, MN

Deerwood, MN

What did we miss? What state should we do next?
@GermanyinUSA

By William Fox, German Embassy

Word of the Week: Geisterbahnhof

Have you ever been on a metro train that passed through an empty station?
The word Geisterbahnhof means “ghost train station” – and as its translation implies, it signifies an empty or out-of-service station that gives off a ghostly vibe. This word originated during the Cold War, when so-called “ghost stations” arose in Berlin’s public transportation system. Today, however, the word may also be used to refer to any desolate train station, regardless of its location.

When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the transportation system in Berlin was drastically affected. Parts of Berlin’s metro system (called the U-Bahn) were in the East and others were in the West, leading to a divided railway system. Many lines ran through both parts, and in most cases, they were split to create individual lines. In these instances, trains would stop at the border and turn around. But some Western lines – specifically the U6 and the U8 – ran through small portions of East Berlin. These lines took Western commuters from one part of West Berlin to another, but not without going through the desolate Eastern stations that became known as Geisterbahnhöfe.

These ghostly out-of-service stations were heavily guarded by East German police. Barbed wire fences and an electrically charged third rail ensured that no East Germans would escape into the railway system. Trains slowed down as they traveled through these stations, but they did not stop. Looking out the U-Bahn windows at the dimly-lit platforms, commuters often had an eerie vibe. Over time, each of these desolate stations were referred to as a Geisterbahnhof. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, these stations reopened and have since been modernized – but the word is still used.

The entrance to an U-Bahn station in East Germany. ©dpa / picture alliance

Today, the term Geisterbahnhof describes any and all disused train stations. From New York to Hamburg to Moscow, many of the world’s metro systems have stations that are out of service – either temporarily or permanently. Looking out at the empty platforms as your train passes through one, the hairs on the back of your neck might stand on end as you imagine the ghosts of a station that has been shut down.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Berlin opens highly awaited bridge to Museum Island

If you’ve ever been to Berlin, you know that the city is filled with art, monuments and interesting buildings. The city is rich with history; in fact, Berlin is home to 170 different museums, which is more than you could ever see in just one trip!

And for art and history buffs, a new building has just opened: the James Simon Gallery. Located on the fringe of the Museum Island along the Spree River, the gallery will serve as the central visitor center between the Neues Museum and Museum Island, orienting and directing visitors to the island. But the gallery is not just an assembly space; it also features an auditorium and a changing exhibition space, giving visitors plenty to do and see between its own walls.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended the opening ceremony of the gallery on Friday, stating that the building complements the existing museums on the island – a “universal museum of human history.”
The building was designed by British architect David Chipperfield and is named after James Simon (1851-1932), a German-Jewish art collector who has contributed many items to Museum Island, including the Nefertiti bust.

If you’re in Berlin this summer, you’re right in time to see this long-anticipated building, which is now open to the public!

©dpa / picture alliance

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

Gummibären – a German delight since 1920

Go to the candy aisle of any grocery store and you’ll find at least one gummy product. There’s gummy bears, gummy worms, gummy Smurfs and gummy rings. Maybe you’ll find a bag of rainbow-colored gummy frogs or a pack of fun-sized gummy spiders. Gummy candy has found its way into lunchboxes and kitchen pantries across the world, but the chewy treat originated in Germany almost a hundred years ago.

Hans Riegel © dpa / picture alliance

In 1920, Bonn resident Hans Riegel launched a confectionery company that he named Haribo (which stands for Hans Riegel Bonn), producing hard, colorless candies in his own kitchen. His wife, Gertrud, helped him with his endeavor, distributing the candies to their first customers using only her bicycle. Business was good, but not as good as Riegel had hoped – until he came up with a new idea.

In 1922, Riegel was struck with inspiration: after seeing trained bears at festivals and markets across Germany, he invented the so-called “dancing bear” – a fruit-flavored gummy candy in the shape of a bear. The initial “dancing bears” were larger than the Haribo gummies that are on the market today, and they quickly became popular. The bears were sold at kiosks for just 1 Pfennig (German penny), making the colorful treats affordable at a time when the economy was struggling.

© dpa / picture alliance

It wasn’t long before Haribo made it onto store shelves: by 1930, Riegel was running a factory with 160 employees. By the time World War II began, there were more than 400 employees. But World War II took a toll on the company: Riegel died during the war and his two sons were taken prisoner by the Allied forces. When they were released, the company had only 30 employees left.

Despite the wartime hardships, the company recovered and Haribo continued to grow. It soon had over 1,000 employees and a catchy slogan (in English: “Kids and grown-ups love it so, the happy world of Haribo!”). The name Goldbär (Gold-Bear) was registered as a trademark in 1967. Although Haribo dominated the gummy bear market, other companies were emerging with their own versions of gummy candy as far west as the US. In 1981, the German company Trolli introduced gummy worms, while The American Jelly Bean Company came out with its own line of gummy bears. In 1982, Haribo opened its first branch in the US. Today, Haribo produces over 100 million Gold-Bears each day.

And not all gummy candy is uniform; over the years, a diversity of gummy types emerged on the market. There are organic gummy bears, gummy candy with added vitamins, Halal gummy candy, gummy candy in various shapes and gummy candy that’s allegedly good for your teeth. Gummy bears are a staple candy in Germany, but even across the world, the chewy candy has become a common treat.

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

 

German brothers brought grocery empires to the US

German-Americans are the largest single ethnic group in the United States, and their influence can be seen across all industries. From cuisine to businesses to holidays and traditions, Germans have brought many of their customs and products to the US – including grocery stores.

Two of America’s largest grocery store chains, Trader Joe’s and ALDI,  were under the management of two German brothers who ultimately split up ownership.

© dpa / picture alliance

In 1913, Anna Albrecht opened a small store near Essen, Germany. When her sons Karl and Theo came of age, they both started work in the food industry. While Theo worked in his mother’s store, Karl gained experience in a delicatessen. After the Second World War, the two brothers took over their mother’s business together, naming it Albrecht Discount (in short: ALDI).

By 1950, thanks in part to the Marshall Plan, business in postwar Germany was booming and the brothers’ discount supermarket had expanded to 13 locations. By 1960, they had about 300 stores throughout much of West Germany. But the brothers didn’t always get along, and in 1960 they clashed over whether or not they should sell cigarettes in their stores. As a result, the brothers divided the company into Aldi Nord (“north”) and Aldi Süd (“south”), splitting up ownership by region. Theo claimed ownership of the north, while Karl took over the south.

Over the years, both grocery store chains expanded internationally, opening locations across Europe, the U.K. and even as far away as Australia and the United States, opening its US headquarters in Iowa in 1976. In the US, Aldi Süd simply goes by the name ALDI, and has about 1,300 locations across the country. Aldi Nord, on the other hand, operates under the name Trader Joe’s and has about 418 locations.

Both stores have seen success in the U.S. While ALDI prides itself on its overall low prices, Trader Joe’s has become known for its affordable organic food selections. A 2013 Market Force Information study found that Americans ranked Trader Joe’s as their favorite grocery store, with Publix, Whole Foods, Wegmans and ALDI also ranking high.

Both Karl and Theo Albrecht passed away in recent years, but their grocery chains continue to expand in both the U.S. and Germany.

© dpa / picture alliance

By Nicole Glass, German Embassy

Doughnuts: a German creation from the 1400s

Since the early 20th century, doughnuts have been a popular treat in the United States. More than 10 billion doughnuts are consumed annually in the US, due in part to the large-scale expansion of corporations like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts. Although the diversity of colorful and frosted doughnuts might seem like an American delicacy, the origin of these sugar-laden treats lies at least partially in Germany.

Although doughnut-like delicacies existed throughout Europe for centuries, the first written reference of a jelly doughnut (called Gefüllte Krapfen in German) was in a cookbook from 1485. The cookbook, titled Küchenmeisterei (“Mastery of the Kitchen”) was published in Nuremberg and was one of the first to be reproduced with Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press.

These early-stage doughnuts had no holes in them, and had their interiors filled with meat, cheese, mushrooms or other ingredients, according to Leite’s Culinaria. Once the price of sugar dropped in the 16th century, doughnuts became sweeter, and countries all across Europe began to adopt the sweetened versions of the jelly doughnut.

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