jump to navigation

Alltag bei Sprachmittlers: Übersetzer und die lieben Kunden February 9, 2009

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

Someone on one of my German-speaking listservs shared this link with us a while ago, and I found it too priceless not to share with you. It’s in German, but I might get around to translating it for the non-German speaking folks – providing the humor translates. It depends on how tomorrow goes.

Krampus outside Salzburg December 5, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.
1 comment so far

In honor of December 5th, here is a video of some Krampus. This kind of Krampus I didn’t mind. It was the ones who skulked in the dark and attacked folks that scared the bejeebus out of me.

‘Twas the night before Saint Nicholas Day December 5, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.

Christmas in Austria and Germany was always my favorite time of year. Nothing beats the Christkindlmärkte (Christmas markets) and a nice steaming glass of Glühwein (mulled wine) while standing under white twinkle lights and straw ornaments. The Christmas season is officially starting today for me, with Saint Nicholas Day, which was the inspiration for the American Santa Clause. In Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a pretty small scale. Many children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, or shoe outside the front door on the night of December 5 to December 6. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good. If they were not, they will have a tree branch (rute) in their boots instead. Sometimes, a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they “have been good” (sometimes ostensibly checking a book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behavior basis.

Krampus in Austria, Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

But for many children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who would threaten to beat, or sometimes actually eat, the children for misbehaving. Knecht Ruprecht is a scary looking incubus with goat legs. In Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the dark forest. In other accounts he would throw the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children. These traditions were implemented more rigidly in Catholic countries and regions such as Austria or Bavaria. In parts of Austria, Krampusse, who local tradition says are Nikolaus’ helpers (in reality, typically children of poor families), roamed the streets during the festival. They wore masks and dragged chains behind them, even occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusläufe (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past. The word Krampus originates from the Old High German word for claw (Krampen).

Traditionally in Austria young men dress up as Krampus in the first two weeks of December, particularly in the evening of December 5, and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells. In some rural areas the tradition also includes slight birching by the Krampus, especially of young females. I for one hated walking on the streets of Salzburg during this time, because it was an excuse for delinquents to beat people. Some of us wore long coats to ward off the hits. Basically you heard the bells and ran like hell.

So Happy Nikolaus, folks!

No GEZ fees for Internet PCs November 26, 2008

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

I never thought it would happen. The German courts have ruled that there is no legal basis for charging the GEZ fee (German TV and radio license fee allowing you to be in possession of equipment capable of receiving radio or television broadcasts) for PCs with Internet access. As an American, where we don’t have to pay a license fee, I never liked the idea of charging a fee to listen to the radio or watch TV. Technically it is a fee to support public broadcasting, but I prefer to donate to the stations I watch directly, which wasn’t ARD and ZDF. Nope, I was a fan of Pro7, Sat1 and RTL – all the channels that showed all the American and British shows. Not to mention the Dutch channel. But I digress… Once I bought my car I paid for a radio, but not a TV, just to keep them off my back. I stumbled on a fun discussion in English about the fee while researching this post. It’s worth reading for a giggle.computer

When I was still living in Germany I heard rumblings that the authorities were going to start charging a fee for PCs that access the Internet. Apparently because they claimed that people would be able to watch TV and listen to the radio over the computer, which back then was a pipe dream and now is reality. Well, no more. Several people filed lawsuits against the fee for the professional use of a PC with Internet access and the court decisions keep coming – all against the fees. The courts agreed, saying there was “no justifiable legal basis” to charge a fee for a PC that is used solely for business. And apparently people who use their PC at home for their job will also not have to pay additional fees as long as they have registered other radios or TVs. That’s one less useless fee Germans have to pay. Maybe they’ll revolt and get rid of it altogether – a girl can dream…

For more articles and blog posts on this subject (in German), visit:

And don’t bother posting comments telling me I should pay. I don’t live in Germany any more and don’t have any plans to move there for an extended period of time any time soon.

Alaaf! November 11, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture.

Oh, how could I have forgotten that today is also the start of Karneval in the Rhineland! Thanks to my friend Heike, who reminded me. “The fifth season” begins at 11:11 a.m. on November 11th every year when women storm the City Hall and officially begin Karneval (Carnival). Karneval is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are usually during February and March. The Karneval spirit is then temporarily suspended during the Advent and Christmas period, and picks up again in earnest in the New Year, culminating on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). Weiberfastnacht is the Thursday before Rosenmontag and is marked by lots of drinking and costumes – and men’s ties are not safe, because the women cut them off. Most businessmen wear old or ugly ties today for this very reason.

Carnival is mostly associated with Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox Christians; Protestant areas usually do not have carnival celebrations or have modified traditions, like the Danish Carnival. The world’s longest carnival celebration is held in Brazil but many countries worldwide have large, popular celebrations, such as Carnaval of Venice, or the world famous German celebrations. Karneval festivities are especially strong in the Rhineland region (Cologne, Bonn and Düsseldorf), since it was a way to express subversive anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts in times of occupation, through parody and mockery.

So Kölle Alaaf! I’ll be cracking out my Karneval CD this morning and celebrating virtually with all my friends in the Rhineland.

Happy St. Martin’s Day! November 10, 2008

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

Saint Martin’s Day is without a doubt my favorite evening in Germany. St. Martin’s Day (or Martinstag, Martinmas, Martlemass, Mardipäev, etc.) is November 11, the feast day of Martin of Tours. Although in the Rhineland it is often celebrated on another day so that it doesn’t conflict with Weiberfastnacht, which is the kick-off for the Karnevalszeit (Mardi Gras) and takes place at 11:11 am on November 11 (11/11) when the women storm City Hall. The parade this year in Bonn is being held on November 10th. Even if you don’t understand German, you might want to click on the link and check out the photos (Bild-Galerie). Watching the kids walk through the dark night with their homemade lanterns simply warms my heart.

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and became a monk. It is understood that he was a kind man who led a quiet and simple life. The most famous legend of his life is that he once cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, to save the beggar from dying of the cold. That night he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.” According to legend, Martin was reluctant to become bishop, which is why he hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location to the people who were looking for him.

The day is celebrated in the evening of November 11 in many areas of Northern and Eastern Europe. Named for Saint Martin, the Fourth Century Bishop of Tours, this holiday originated in France, then spread to Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. It celebrates the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of the harvesting. It also marks the end of the period of all souls, that begins on November 1st, which is why Saint Martin’s Day activities resemble those from Halloween.

Children parade down the street with paper lanterns and candles and sing songs praising St. Martin’s generosity. A man dressed as St. Martin rides on a horse in front of the procession and there are generally geese being pulled along in a cart. The parade is culminated in Bonn by a large bonfire on the Marktplatz. The kids then go door to door and earn sweets or treats by singing songs, dancing, or citing poems.

The lanterns the participants carry have become a distinctive part of the tradition. Every age group has its own lantern design, which becomes more elaborate with the age of the builder. Older youth often opt to take a flashlight and attach craft paper with cutout designs augmented with transparent colored cellophane paper making them appear like stained glass torches. I still have the lantern my boss’s daughter made for me in my room. Unfortunately the batteries corroded and the light on the plastic arm no longer works.

If you live in Philadelphia (Sarah…) you might want to check out the German Society’s St. Martin’s Day Parade.

An amazing Holocaust love story October 13, 2008

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

This has got to be one of the most romantic love stories I have ever heard. It is about a couple who met on two sides of a Nazi death camp fence. She would throw apples or bread to the “cute boy.” They met years later on a blind date in the U.S. According to the article, there are plans to make a movie based on this story. I am not at all surprised. Stories from World War II never cease to amaze me, but I got chills and tears came to my eyes when I read about this one.

Is Germany really that child-unfriendly? October 6, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings, Translation Sites.
add a comment

One of my favorite German/English blogs, False Friends, has a post today about a “baby shooting” that made me chuckle. He likes to point out English misuse in German society. His dry comment “Zugegeben, Deutschland ist nicht besonders child-friendly, aber das geht echt etwas zu weit.” (Admittedly, Germany isn’t exactly child-friendly, but this really goes a little too far) had me laughing this morning. I’m just glad I wasn’t drinking my coffee yet. It would have ended up on my computer monitor. It wouldn’t have been the first time…

TGIF: Berlitz ad – Improve your language September 26, 2008

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

It’s hard to top the I Love Lucy clip, but I’m going to try. This commercial is an oldie but a goodie.

For those of you who don’t speak German, the senior officer is explaining the Coast Guard equipment to the newbie. What he is saying isn’t really that important, but it’s basically “This is my sector. This is the Coast Guard’s most important piece of equipment. This device. This device.” Then something unintelligible like life-saving/survival radar or something about survival – it’s hard to tell and neither choice makes much sense grammatically. The senior officer leaves him alone at his new post and hilarity ensues in English. Enjoy!

For those of you who are interested in the German:
“Das hier ist mein Sektor. Das hier ist das wichtigste Gerät des Küstenwächters. Das Gerät und das Gerät. Überlebensradar.” [but it could be Überlebensretter – it’s difficult to hear]

Oktoberfest! September 19, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in German culture, Random musings.
1 comment so far

Thank goodness it’s Friday, and I’m taking a road trip to Cincinnati for the Zinzinnati Oktoberfest, which is proclaimed to be the world’s second largest celebration of Prince Ludwig’s wedding by the Guinness Book of Records. Having attended the Oktoberfest in Munich in 1997, I look forward to comparing the two. Hopefully there will be fewer drunk Italians in Cincinnati – although I have a feeling there will be just as many drunk Americans there. 🙂

The history of Oktoberfest dates back to the year 1820 when Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig I decided to marry Saxony Princess Therese and organized a great holiday on the 12th of October. He invited all the residents of the city to join the celebration. The holiday was repeated at the same date the following year, and very soon it became a tradition.

The most common question I usually get asked is why Oktoberfest is celebrated in September. The date of the festival was changed near the end of the 19th century so it can be celebrated while it is still warm out. The Munich Oktoberfest takes place during the sixteen days up to and including the first Sunday in October. It is one of the most famous events in the city and the world’s largest fair, with some six million people attending every year, and is an important part of Bavarian culture. Bavarians and lots of foreign guests drink about 6 million liters of beer, consume approx. 1 million chickens, approx. 400 thousand wurst and sausages and other local cuisine, such as Käsespätzle (spaetzel mixed with melted cheese and onions), roast ox tail, and Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes). Thirty percent of all the beer produced by Bavarian breweries is consumed during this festival.

The Oktoberfest is a lot more than just eating and drinking. You may be surprised to hear that there are lots of amusement park rides and souvenir vendors as well. There are currently fourteen main tents at the Oktoberfest. The tents themselves are non-permanent structures that are constructed for and only used during the festival. The beer (or wine or champagne) served in each is brought to an accompanying table by women in Dirndl (traditional Bavarian dress). These women can carry up to 12 heavy Maßkrüge (a Maßkrug (aka Maß) is a 1-liter beer mug, plural: Maßkrüge) at once. It’s amazing. Seating can be hard to come by, because many people reserve space in tents up to a year in advance. More than 6 million people come to the Oktoberfest, and there are only about 100,000 available seats. If you want a seat, come a little later in the day or try your luck in one of the tents without a line, like the Spaten or Hippodrom tents.

You should fight the urge to take one of the Maßkrug home with you. The Maßkrüge are made from heavy glass – really heavy glass so they are not a good souvenir for backpackers! – and typically have a decorative brewery logo on the side, making them very popular souvenirs among visitors. Although it is strictly forbidden to steal the mugs, they can be purchased in the tents at a “reasonable” price. Buyers are strongly advised to keep the receipts because police are known to search them for stolen mugs even away from the fest area. When police catch someone stealing a mug, the thieves may be fined up to €50. There is also a general Oktoberfest souvenir mug that features that year’s Oktoberfest poster. This one is made of clay instead of glass and is available with a tin lid.

For those of you heading to the Oktoberfest in Munich, here is a fun little Wiesn dictionary for you. I’ll miss the tapping in Cincinnati, but in just a few hours many people will be hearing O’zapft is! (it’s tapped!) in Munich.

9/22/08: For photos of our weekend at the Zinzinnati Oktoberfest, click here! Unfortunately, the sausage in Cincinnati is sadly lacking. They consider Weisswurst to be a Brat and sell something called Mett, which is nothing like the Mettwurst I am familiar with in Germany. German Mett is raw minced pork and is usually served on bread rolls (Mettbrötchen) or sliced bread, frequently with a garnish of raw onion rings or diced. Not my cup of tea, but my sister loved it. Cincinnati’s Mett is more like a kielbasa. The pastries like Bienenstich, chocolate mousse cake or Schmidt’s Jumbo Cream Puffs were to die for though! And of course the beer was awesome! One gem is the Hofbräuhaus in Newport, just across the river. I felt like I was at my favorite beer garden in Germany (Schaumburger Hof). There were even real Germans there 🙂 It’s an absolute must for German culture fans! I’ll definitely be back!