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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday March 9, 2022

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, German culture.
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Shoes missing from German town May 13, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.
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Since I occasionally like commenting on German culture, this story on NPR this morning is just so bizarre that I had to share it with you all. I have never heard of an animal stealing shoes, but there you have it… So think twice the next time you take your shoes off on the porch. They may not be there when you get back.

Übersetz das doch mal kurz March 12, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Fun stuff, German culture, Translation.
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The German radio channel WDR3 featured a commentary yesterday about the work of translators that you German-speaking readers might enjoy hearing (warning: it’s in German). The title is Übersetz das doch mal kurz (Can you translate this quickly for me?). The speaker talks about how people expect translators to work quickly and compares translation and dental work, which I think is a good comparison. After all, no one expects a dentist to quickly fill a cavity at a low rate – and people expect dentists to know what they are doing because they have had the training. Enjoy!

And, thanks to Roland Grefer, here is a link to the MP3 in case you want to save it.

On the swabish railway – EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger February 4, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, German culture.

Several of my German colleagues alerted me to this rather humorous piece in the Frankfurter Rundschau entitled “Well done, Günther: On the swabish railway.” Günther Oettinger is a German politician and member of the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU). He was appointed as an EU Commissioner in the European Commission on October 24, 2009. He recently received a lot of criticism and ridicule when he announced that English would be the working language of the Commission – and then held an atrociously articulated speech in English that no one could understand. The joke in the article above is that he needs ghostwriters and that those ghostwriters also do a terrible job with English. The links below the article to other “speeches” are just as enjoyable. Enjoy!

McDonald’s coming soon to Checkpoint Charlie January 13, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.

Expatica is reporting today that McDonald’s is planning on building a restaurant in Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie, “completing the landmark’s 20-year transformation from Cold War front line to money-making tourist hotspot.” Checkpoint Charlie was the main border crossing for foreigners between West and East Berlin. I myself had the privilege of crossing through it, although my very first border crossing was at Friedrichstraße. For the love of all that is holy and good, I think building a McDonald’s at the historic location is a TERRIBLE idea. McDonald’s symbolizes capitalism, and I understand what they are trying to do, but Checkpoint Charlie is more than just a tribute to capitalism. I would be interested to hear what some of you Berlin residents think about this idea.

As Expatica explains:

The 120-seater restaurant will be opposite the Mauermuseum dedicated to the Berlin Wall that used to divide the city, and hopes to be selling its burgers, fries and other products from mid-2010, a spokeswoman said.

The 600-square-metre (6,500-square-feet) restaurant, on the site of where Soviet and US tanks famously faced off in 1961, is a “top location,” the Bild daily cited the American fast food giant as saying.

My memories of Checkpoint Charlie have absolutely nothing to do with McDonald’s. I hope the German authorities deny the request!

How not to flirt in German January 11, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, German culture.

ALTA Translation’s blog has a fun blog post this morning on How NOT to flirt in German. Although to be perfectly honest the lines don’t work in English either. If someone used them on me I would groan and roll my eyes and excuse myself. 🙂 But it’s a fun read for an otherwise blah Monday morning.

Twenty years ago today… November 9, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.

rip“The Berlin Wall (German: Berliner Mauer) was a concrete barrier erected by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (East Germany) that completely encircled the city of West Berlin, separating it from East Germany, including East Berlin. The Wall included guard towers placed along large concrete walls, which circumscribed a wide area (later known as the “death strip”) that contained anti-vehicle trenches, “fakir beds” and other defenses.” – Wikipedia

The East German government built the Wall on August 13, 1961 to stop East German citizens from fleeing to West Germany. Once the Wall was up the vast majority of East Germans could no longer travel or emigrate to West Germany. Families were separated and East Germans who had worked in West Berlin could no longer go to their jobs. Around 5,000 people attempted to escape over the Wall after it was built, with death toll estimates between around 100 and 200. I had always been fascinated with German culture, and after I watched the movie “Gotcha” starring Anthony Edwards I decided I wanted to be a spy in East Berlin and studied German and Russian in college.in_wall

I was living in Salzburg during my academic year abroad. The previous year I had taken a German culture class, and my professor had stated we would never see the fall of the Berlin Wall in our lifetime. That professor was our Academic Year Abroad (AYA) adviser that year, and our group had just returned from a trip to Vienna, Austria. We were all amazed when the first dominoes started falling, when Hungary proclaimed itself a democratic republic and opened its border on October 23rd. The inflow of Hungarians into Austria was immediately apparent. East Germans were also fleeing to Austria through Hungary. Hungary tried to close the border again, but the damage was done. East Germans clogged the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to return to East Germany. This then triggered a similar incident in Czechoslovakia and mass protests within East Germany.


I remember November 9th being a very exciting day. The East German government announced that East Germans would be allowed to cross through the border checkpoints, and the people started flowing through. It was chaos. The border guards didn’t know what to do or how to react. East Germans walked through the West Berlin streets, unsure what to do with themselves. Lots of people climbed onto the Wall once they realized the border guards weren’t going to retaliate. Strangers were hugging and kissing each other. I remember sitting around the TV in my Austrian dorm watching the happenings in Berlin, crying. My parents told me later they were looking for me at the Wall, but I had an art history exam that Monday so I stayed home to study (what an egghead, right? That is one of my biggest regrets in my life…).

101_0073I got my chance to hammer away at the Wall in February when I traveled through Berlin during our month off. We still needed transit visas to enter East Germany and to cross the border into East Berlin, but we were free to visit the museums (the Pergamon Museum was and is amazing!), shop in the East Berlin stores, and chop away at the Wall. It was bizarre. The photos you see above were taken there of me – in the Wall and in front of a hole in the Wall with a guard house behind it – and I didn’t realize a guard stopped and posed behind me.

When I visited Haus der Geschichte while living in Bonn as you got closer to the late 1980s in the exhibit they had a recording of the “chink-chink” sound of chisels and hammers chopping at the concrete that you could hear along the Wall back then. It brought tears to my eyes and transported me back to February 1990. My pieces of the Wall are among my most prized possessions.

My dream of being a spy was crushed that day, but I stuck with the languages, graduating with a double major in German and Russian and a minor in Political Science. I went on to get a Master’s in translation and the rest is history. All’s well that ends well.

Congratulations Germany on a peaceful transition of power 20 years ago and a successful reunification.

Walpurgisnacht and May Day April 29, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.

I miss Germany, but I really miss Germany during the holidays that I celebrated when I lived there. Two of those holidays occur within 24 hours of each other: Walpurgisnacht and May Day.

walpurgisnachtWalpurgisnacht (Walpurgis Night) is a traditional religious holiday celebrated by pagans and Satanists, as well as Roman Catholics, on April 30 or May 1 in large parts of Central and Northern Europe. Walpurgisnacht gets its name from Saint Walburga (or Walpurga), a woman born in what is now England in 710. Saint Walpurga traveled to Germany and became a nun at the convent of Heidenheim in Württemberg. She was made a saint following her death in 778 (or 779), and May 1 is her saint day.

In Germany the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, is considered the focal point of Walpurgisnacht. Witches (Hexen) and devils (Teufel) allegedly gather on the mountain (also called the Blocksberg), which is often shrouded in mist and clouds, lending it a mysterious atmosphere that has contributed to its legendary status. The tradition of the witches gathering on the Brocken was immortalized in Goethe’s Faust: “To the Brocken the witches ride…” (“Die Hexen zu dem Brocken ziehn…“)

In its Christian version, the former pagan festival in May became Walpurgis, a time to drive out evil spirits—usually with loud noises. Bonfires were built to keep away the dead and chaotic spirits that were said to walk among the living then. The bonfires reflect the holiday’s pagan origins and the human desire to drive away the winter cold and welcome spring. This is followed by the return of light and the sun as celebrated during May Day. I experienced Walpurgisnacht for the first time when I lived in Austria. We went to a bonfire and jumped over the bonfire to welcome spring. When I was in grad school at Kent we did a translation about the Brocken, so my interest has always been piqued by this holiday.

May Day is observed on May 1st in many countries around the globe as the International Workers’ Day, but I never saw too many labor protests in Germany. Even though the day was inspired by labor protests in the U.S., the holiday has historically had special importance in socialist and communist countries, which is one reason it is not observed in May in America. In Germany, May Day is a national holiday and an important day, partly because of Blutmai (“bloody May”), a labor protest in which 32 people died and 80 people were injured, in 1929. The holiday also tends to be a day of demonstrations that often turn into clashes between the demonstrators (hooligans) and the police in Berlin and other large cities. If the weather is nice, law-abiding people use the day for picnicking or relaxing with the family.

maibaumIn addition to being an international day of labor and protests, May 1 is also celebrated in the Rhineland by the delivery of a Maibaum (May tree) covered in streamers to the house of a girl the night before. The unmarried men of the villages gather together to chop down trees and help each other deliver them to a love interest’s house. A tree wrapped only in white streamers is a sign of dislike. I never saw many of those. Anyone who would go to the trouble of gathering trees probably wouldn’t put forth the effort for someone they disliked. On leap years, it is the responsibility of the females to place the Maibäume, though the males are still allowed and encouraged to do so. They also placed a tall Maibaum or Maypole in the town square. In small towns virtually the entire population maibaum2turns out for the ceremonial raising of the Maypole and the festivities that follow, with Bier und Wurst of course. I never saw any Morris or Maypole dancing in Bonn. I know how to do it though, having learned it here in the U.S. in grade school. I loved watching the trucks filled with trees drive through the village as I biked home late at night and then waking up in the morning and seeing trees propped up against the houses and the town square decorated. It always seemed so magical.

Felix Mendelssohn wrote Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) and based the words on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Mendelssohn completed an initial version in 1831. It was extensively revised and published as his Opus 60 in 1843. The text describes pagan rituals of the Druids in the Harz mountains in the early days of Christianity. If you have a bit of time, you might enjoy listening to this in the background while you work.

Thanks to Wikipedia and About.com for the background to this post.

illy’s tax stimulus package April 14, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, German culture.

Have you ever looked at the “possibly related posts” at the bottom of the blog posts here in WordPress? If not, you may be missing out. Some of the possibly related posts are pretty lame, but the latest one for my last post, T minus one and counting… Tax Day is almost here, was really interesting. Apparently illy, the maker of that delicious Italian coffee, is offering a special deal. According to the Slashfood post, illy is apparently “offering a deal on their brand new espresso machine. After June 30th, it will cost approximately $695. If you purchase this new machine before June 30th, you’ll just pay $150.” So if you were looking for a way to spend your tax refund check (oh, who am I kidding? none of my readers get tax refunds… I mean, if you want to buy a new coffeemaker…) you should check out the new espresso machine. The only hitch is that by buying the machine you “can enroll in their automatic coffee delivery program.”

My beverage center in my kitchen

My beverage center in my kitchen

Now, I don’t drink enough coffee to make an automatic coffee delivery program worth it. I don’t want to become addicted and get a headache if I have to go without coffee one day. I do appreciate a really good cup of coffee every other day or so. Most translators I know are huge coffee fans. We have lived in Europe, hung out in Viennese/Parisienne/(insert city here) cafes and appreciate a good cup of joe. If you are anything like me you buy imported coffee. I just finished up my illy and have cracked open my big pack of Jakobs Krönung, which should last me a while. I have a German Tupperware coffee container (see photo) that fits a 500 g pack of Jakobs Krönung perfectly. Another factor in translators’ love of coffee (and tea) is that we sometimes have to pull all-nighters to meet a deadline. This coffeemaker might be just the ticket…

Stuck between cultures March 19, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.

When I lived in Germany I frequently referred to myself as a Stranger in a Strange Land. I never quite fit in. The people (particularly those in positions dealing with customer service or more likely the lack thereof) would frequently frustrate me. I wasted time on German men who were impossible to read. My neighbors never quite understood me (although I did get a complement from one older woman on the Christmas lights in my window 🙂 ). I became a little bastion of America in Germany. And yet I loved living there. I made a lot of friends and embraced the cultural traditions like sitting in a beer garden or sitting in the sun at a café with a Milchkaffee, a nice piece of cake and a good book.

I am currently reading several books set in Europe, Spotted Dick, S’il Vous Plait by Tom Higgins and The Private Patient by P.D. James. Spotted Dick is about a translator who opened an English restaurant in Lyon, France. It’s enjoyable. I just wish he would translate his French phrases for those of us who don’t speak French… Anyway, I started The Private Patient last night and was seized by a wave of “homesickness” (or Fernweh – whatever you want to call it…) while reading a paragraph explaining how she walked through the center of town listening to the church bells. It’s amazing how just a simple sentence or description can transport me back to Europe and make me wish I lived there again.

But things wouldn’t be the same if I did. My friends have scattered to the wind, gotten married or had children. Living in Europe in my forties wouldn’t be the same as it was in my late twenties. I am sure I would be able to meet new people and make new friends, but there are lots of benefits to being home as well. I love having all my things around me, for one. I lived a temporary life for six years, with minimal property and lots of used furniture. I now own new furniture and have both new and old things from my childhood/college years/etc. surrounding me. It’s great to have all my CDs in a shelfing unit and just pick out the one I want to hear. I love being a dog owner and doubt I could bring her with me without a lot of hassle and paperwork.

But there’s also a lot to be said for wandering along cobblestone streets and listening to church bells peal – or sitting in a beer garden on the Rhine River watching the barges go by. I decided the way to deal with this is to make sure I actually get to Europe this year, come hell or high water. It’s been a while since I’ve been back, and I do really miss it.

It’s amazing how our adopted countries can quickly become home – and how home never quite feels the same when we return. We translators are a rare breed of people who learn to live stuck between cultures. In the end we adopt the practices that we enjoy the most. I have several German, Spanish and Czech cookbooks that I can use when I get a craving for a bit of the old country. I celebrate Karneval instead of Mardi Gras. I give friends who move into a new home a basket with salt and a loaf of bread. We become the best of both worlds. How about you? What do you miss about your home and adopted countries?