Mutterschutz is the German term for maternity protection or maternity leave. Mutterschutz in Germany is based on the Mutterschutzgesetz (Act on the Protection of Working Mothers) which provides for paid leave four weeks before and eight weeks after the birth of a new child. If you are expecting multiples or have a premature birth, the time period extends to 12 weeks.
Mothers in Germany also enjoy protection from being terminated during their pregnancy and up to four months after giving birth. Furthermore, each parent is entitled to stay at home for the purpose of raising the child without pay for up to three years.
We are thrilled that one of our colleagues has been able to enter Mutterschutz recently and we can’t wait to see the new arrival in a few weeks. We wish her all the best for the coming weeks and months.
If you’ve ever visited East Germany during the Cold War, you probably saw a lot of grey, cheaply-built apartment buildings that might have made you feel depressed. This sort of building is what Germans referred to as Plattenbau – a structure made up of prefabricated concrete slabs. Basically, an inexpensive structure with little originality.
In this context, Platte means “concrete slab” and Bau means “building.” World War II had left many parts of Germany damaged and in need of reconstruction. By the 1960s, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was struggling financially, and most of its new apartment buildings were therefore built in the Plattenbau style. There were several different designs, varying in size and height, but overall each one was made up of concrete panels.
The Plattenbau design made it possible for the GDR to rapidly build new apartments across the country. GDR architects claimed to base their construction on the world-renowned Bauhaus style. Indeed, the Plattenbau was a functional concept, but lacked aesthetic qualities. At first, East Germans were excited about their new homes; many young people wanted to move out of their parents’ apartments to receive a Plattenbau-style apartment of their own, because at a minimum, they had central heating. But after the wall came down in 1989, things changed; East Germans saw the higher-quality homes of the West, and few remained content with their Plattenbau apartments. They sought out homes exhibiting greater originality in their design.
Over time, many of these buildings were modernized. Some were demolished. Others remain occupied, but are often a cheaper alternative to Western-style buildings. But if you visit cities in former East Germany today, you will probably see at least one Plattenbau. You’ll know it when you see it.
A Bratkartoffelverhältnis, which literally means “fried potato relationship,” is not about how much Germans love fried potatoes, but it is about finding a meal ticket, or at the very least someone who cooks for you.
“Er hat ein Bratkartoffelverhältnis mit ihr,” essentially translates, for instance, into “he only sees her because she feeds and waters him.”
At the same time, “er sucht ein Bratkartoffelverhältnis” means “he’s looking for a meal ticket.”
According to some online sources, the origin of this expression dates back to the early 20th-century, World War I era, when short-term love affairs were entered into because of the better provisions provided by one particular partner in the relationship.
These “relationships of convenience” often revolved around adequate food, shelter and other basic needs – things that are often in short supply in wartime or other crisis situations.
Today, however, this expression is more often than not used in Germany as a tongue-in-cheek, synonym for a “wilde Ehe” (wild marriage), a reference to co-habitation without tying the knot. This is a not entirely uncommon relationship status, for instance, in Germany and most Nordic countries, where a couple might live together for decades, with or without children, in what is officially recognized after a certain period of time as a common-law marriage.
Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes) are, incidentally, a very popular side dish in Germany, usually fried up in a pan with some onions and bits of ham or bacon. They are often served with fried eggs, sometimes with ketchup on the side, a meal that is also known as “chips’n’egg” in Great Britain. (Note to anyone who might want to try this at home: the Bratkartoffeln are usually prepared by slicing already pre-cooked, boiled potatoes into a hot, greased-up skillet – this is a way of using up leftover boiled potatoes, another staple of the traditional German diet.)
A Verhältnis, moreover, refers to a “relationship.” So if you hear someone say “er hat ein Verhältnis mit ihr” (he has a relationship with her), it usually means there is some kind of hanky panky going on.
Other nouns that share the “Brat-” prefix – besides the classic bratwurst (sausage), or brats, natürlich (of course) – include: Bratfisch (fried fisch); Brathering (fried herring); Brathühnchen/Brathendl (roast chicken); Bratfett/Bratenfett (fat for frying); Bratensoße (gravy); Bratenfleisch (meat for roasting); Bratenwender (fish slice); Bratofen/Bratröhre (oven); Bratpfanne (frying pan); and Bratrost (Grill).
When you’re sitting cross-legged, what do you call that position? In English, you might say you are “sitting Indian style”, but in German, that is the so-called Schneidersitz (“tailor’s sitting position”).
The Schneidersitz describes a very typical cross-legged position that you might use during meditation, classroom discussions or any other situation that requires you to sit comfortably on the ground.
This term originated several centuries ago, when tailors (Schneider) used to sew all clothing by hand. Back then, tailors often sat cross-legged on the table across from their sewing machine. This prevented any cloth or material from falling onto the ground. This position also made it easier to work with heavier material.
In workspaces that employed more than one tailor, the Schneidersitz was also a way to use up as little space as possible; a tailor’s assistant(s) were often found sitting cross-legged in the corner while they did their work.
Today, however, the Schneidersitz has little to do with tailors – especially since factories produce much of the world’s clothing.
Instead, the Schneidersitz simply refers to the cross-legged position that everyone uses at some point or another. So whether you’re sewing or meditating, now you have a name for your sitting position: the Schneidersitz!
With four or more weeks of vacation per year, many German workers are out of the office during the summer months – especially in July and August, when schools are also closed. As a result, this time period is often referred to as the Sauregurkenzeit, which translates into “pickle time.”
But what does this have to do with pickles? Well, not much!
The word originated in the late 18th century in Berlin, where pickles from the nearby Spree Forest hit store shelves at the end of the summer. Although Sauregurkenzeit has nothing to do with pickles, pickle season coincided with the time when people were typically on vacation and stores and offices were empty, which is how the term received its name. Sauregurkenzeit means something along the lines of a summertime “off-season”. Businesses often found it difficult to make money during the late summer, and those who did come into work could sometimes be found taking naps, trying to pass the time or avoiding the heat.
Newspaper reporters, in particular, complained about the Sauregurkenzeit, since there wasn’t much to write about with politicians and businessmen out of town.
To this day, people continue to experience the effects of the Sauregurkenzeit. And although this term is uniquely German, the phenomenon occurs around the world: in Washington, D.C., for example, Congress is on recess for the month of August, leaving some political offices and newspaper bureaus with less work than usual.
And Germans even have a second word to describe this time period: the Sommerloch (“summer hole”), which is most often used by the media when they are unable to fill up their programs or newspapers.
Is your workplace empty? Do you have less work than usual? You can now refer to this period as a Sauregurkenzeit!
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.)
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!