A masculine noun coined by students in the 19th century from the word air (“Luft”) and by adding the Latin ending -kus. Originally used to describe an airhead, i.e., a carefree man with his head in the clouds. In English one might equate it with someone who is featherbrained or a dreamer. Don’t you know someone who doesn’t quite seem to live in reality or just isn’t very grounded?
Today the meaning has shifted to describe somebody who is reckless, unreliable and superficial. It certainly seems to have a negative connotation to it. Phrases such as “she realized quickly what a Luftikus he was” are very common in today’s conversations among German speakers.
On the other hand, it can also be used to describe an eccentric person, an oddball or crack pot. A happy-go-lucky character who just wants to have fun.
Do you have a face pop up in your head right about now?
The “staircase joke” or “staircase wit” possibly gets its name from the witty retort or clever comeback that comes to mind when you are on your way out, walking down the stairs following a situation, i.e. after it’s too late.
We’ve all experienced a situation where a snappy response fails us in the heat of the moment, but only pops up after the fact or perhaps later in the day or on the way home. It’s known as the Treppenwitz phenomena.
The term originated from the French expression “l’esprit de l’escalier,” which translates to “staircase joke” as well. It was made popular in Germany by the author William Lewis Hertslet in his book titled Der Treppenwitz der Weltgeschichte (“The Staircase Joke of World History”). In the book, published in 1882, the author writes about tragic ironies of historical events.
Today, the term Treppenwitz is used in German to describe a silly joke, an irony of fate, or inappropriate, silly behavior.
Many of us seem to believe that food is a solution to our problems. We have all seen the romantic comedies with someone heartbroken sitting on the sofa drowning their sorrows in ice cream, chocolate or other unhealthy foods. The sugar might ease the current pain temporarily, but the so-called Kummerspeck will most likely stay with us a bit longer. The compound noun has no direct translation but loosely means “grief bacon” or “sorrow bacon”.
Kummerspeck is the word Germans use to describe the extra weight someone gains after excessive overeating caused by heartbreak, grief or sorrow. Many people turn to eating after a period of stress or boredom as well. It is a general word used to explain the extra weight gained after a time of comfort eating due to unhappiness or depression.
Studies have shown that eating foods with saturated fats can help fight negative emotions temporarily. Hormones in our stomach communicate with our brain influencing our mental state. So, the short-term positive effects of numbing our feelings are possibly not just our imagination?
Do you know the feeling of laziness that just keeps you from reaching your goals? The lack of motivation, will power or the force inside us that makes us stay passive when action seems risky or uncomfortable? Germans would call this their InnererSchweinehund, their “inner pig dog”.
Originally used to describe the dog that hunts boars and later used by students in the 19th century as an insult to describe someone who behaves unethically or breaks the rules, the word has certainly shifted its meaning again to what it is today: the inner voice of procrastination that stops us from being our best selves. There are many tips on how to overcome that inner demon, such as finding a personal motivation, creating a concrete plan, writing down your goals and starting immediately. Having someone by your side with a similar goal might help as well. The ultimate reward is certainly worth it.
So, get off the couch, get over your innerer Schweinehund as we say in German and do something great today!
Katzenjammer literally means “cat yowling or wailing” and is certainly not a pleasant sound. If you’ve ever heard a cat yowling during mating season, you may know what we mean. Many would say it sounds more like discordant music.
The word’s origin is somewhat ambiguous. However, many believe it was used during the second half of the 18th century among university students to describe the discomfort and ill feeling after a wild night of partying and excessive drinking, otherwise known as a hangover. Since the 19th century, it is also known as a general term to describe regret, disgruntlement, or misery. Some Germans even use the word to describe an uproar or bewilderment.
The word is sometimes used in English as well. Have you ever heard someone say, “I recommend you take some aspirin for your Katzenjammer,” “I do hope your Katzenjammer has gotten a bit better since last night,” or “the speech last night caused an outright Katzenjammer.”? The word is not as popular today as it was in the mid-20th century, but you can still find it in the English dictionary.
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).
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!)