Tag Archives: German sayings

Time to arrive

“She comes in her own time” an interculturally trained friend said when Francesca came late. Last time, she didn´t come at all, because she had mixed up two dates.

As a German, I should be upset. I still am when I have to wait in a business context. In my private life, by now, I´m regularly 15 minutes late. Which means, I arrive 3 minutes before Francesca. And to find myself on the wrong date at the wrong place is nothing new to me.

Once I even lost a day. My spouse and I were on a camping holiday in the Everglades.  We spent Christmas there, and New Years Eve. On the 4th of January, we had to catch our flight back to Germany. Reluctantly, we packed, drove to the airport and handed in the rented car. Then we wanted to check in:

“You can´t fly today”, the man behind the counter said.

” Why not. Is the airline on strike? ”

“Your flight is on the 4th of January. Today is the 3rd” he replied.

Flabbergasted, we tried to figure out what had happened. We had left our remote campground on what we considered to be New Years Eve to have dinner in the local pub. There even were fireworks  though we wondered why there weren´t many. Spending the real New Years Eve on the campground where fireworks weren´t allowed, our misunderstanding wasn´t corrected. 

Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit ist des Kaisers Höflichkeit- the Emperor is polite by coming five minutes earlier”, my grandfather always said. He had seen the Emperor as he served in the Leibgarde of the last German Emperor Wilhelm II. We children were trained to be on time, always, no exceptions. Only later I realized the arrogance of this saying: Am I the Emperor? And five minutes earlier aren´t good style in doing business, either. Five minutes before the set date, people in the offices realize that somebody is coming and start to get ready: they look for the files, check their material and go to the bathroom. To be five minutes early is considered a nuisance. To be 5 minutes late, too. Those are the minutes lost, when I don´t start a different work because I don´t know how long I can stay with it, when I can´t call somebody, and I become slightly annoyed. Bad luck for my visitor, who has to work hard to make up for his blunder. 

Though I blundered myself badly when I had my first business appointment. I had just started to work as an editor in training at an agricultural magazine, when my boss and I were invited to a press dinner in some faraway castle. We set out on time, but then we got lost out in a wood. Nobody in sight we could ask for directions. In this pre-GPS, pre-mobile phone age, this was it. We just had to keep driving and to hope that by chance we would find the castle. Finally we did, late, and stormed into a hall. We hardly looked at the people, but rushed to the man sitting at the head of the table, thus trying to save some seconds.

“Sorry we are late” my boss said, “but we are happy to join you”. The man looked surprised. After a few seconds, he asked us to sit down and help ourselves. We sat and a waiter brought us a dessert. Now we were surprised: Yes, we were late, but not too late to have missed a complete four course dinner. As we were so ashamed to be late, we didn´t investigate further, but started a small talk with our neighbours.

After the mandatory five minutes of talking about the weather, the nice landscape and the difficulties to find the castle, my boss asked:”What to you think of the new XYZ tractor?” The lady thus adressed looked puzzled: “Sorry, I don´t know anything about a XYZ tractor” “Didn´t they present the information yet? This is a strange press conference” my boss said, annoyed. “This is my uncles bithday party”, the lady replied, equally annoyed.

A friend of mine even missed her own divorce. She arrived on time at the trainstation, but then she took the wrong train. 

 But this will be another story.

 @TrueGerman

 

 

 

 

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Snow – friend or fiend?

“Excuse me. The U-Bahn was late because of the snow,” Francesca said when she arrived 15 minutes late to our meeting. “The Germans can´t handle snow any more,” I grumbled.”Two snowflakes, and everything runs late. Just shows how far German reliability has gone down.” “But in London public transport really broke down”, our South Korean friend reminded me. “In comparison, 15 minutes late in  Germany aren´t that bad”.

When it comes to snow, I become a raging “Kulturpessimist”, one of those  who always  sigh “When I was young, everything was much better”.

Snow  was much better when I was young.

First of all, there was snow. Snow season started in December and lasted till March. Sometimes we even looked for Easter eggs in a snow covered garden. In the moderate clima zone of Germany, snow meant fun: skiing, riding a sleigh, bulding a snowman, snowball fights. At least for the kids. For my father, it was hard work. Every morning, after a night of falling snow, I woke up to the sound of the snow shovel scraping on our gravel road. 200 m he had to clear before he could get out to work. I didn´t hear his words, probably for the better. But his angry shoulders and abrupt movements told me that he was not amused. 

When I got up and went to school, not only had my father already cleared our private road, but the public roads were free of snow, too. At 5 o´clock in the morning, the snow plough had started its work. It pushed the snow aside with its iron shield, coughed it up with the snowblower and melted it with salt distributed by a rotating disc. The garage of the snowplough was near my parents home. On my way to school I passed the huge barn, filled with saltbags for winter. Those saltbags, empty,  served as make-shift bobs for us children, as they where very thick and durable. 

Snow never was a problem for drivers in the Black forest. Everybody boasted confidence, nobody came one minute late because of the snow. The secret: be prepared. We had cars whith  engines in the back and not in front, which helped when you had to drive uphill in snow. Everbody knew which gear to choose for the right speed on snowy slopes and winding streets. Everybody knew about engine brakes, had non-skid chains in its trunk and winter tyres on the rims. Sometimes, when somebody got stuck on a hill, all neighbors came to weigh the rear end down with their bodies. 

While  enjoying these happy memories I always forget about the cold. Cold as in terribly cold. Wet woolen mittens didn´t warm my fingers, neither did unlined wellingtons warm my toes . All during winter,  feet and hands were icy red. And wouldn´d get warm at night.

Germans don´t heat bedrooms. Instead, they rely on thick feather duvets and a hot water-bottle for warmth (some of them with two ears…). Normally, the window is open, at least a bit. For this nightly nip of fresh air, German windows can be opened two ways: completely or by unhingeing the upper part which then inclines into the room.  This is the mode for the night, while the wide open window is reserved for the morning, when the duvets are placed on the window sill to air them. 

Germans sincerely believe in the prophylactic power of cold and fresh air: as if bacteria and viruses would immediately die in an oxygen enriched, cold environment. To catch a cold, in our understanding, is only remotely connected to the temperature outside. Of course, German mothers insist that their children wear coat, gloves and cap in winter. But deep in their heart they don´t worry too much: “Draußensein in der Kälte härtet ab. Das ist die beste Vorsorge gegen Erkältung – to beware of a cold  be out in the cold.”

Those “on duty” when snow falls find ample opportunities to enjoy the cold. By law, sidewalks must be cleared from snow before 7 o´clock in the morning and kept open till 8 o´clock in the evening. Otherwise, if somebody falls and breaks its ankle, he can claim liability. In principle, the clearing of the sidewalks lies in the responsibility of the local council. In practice, local councils hand this responsibility down to house owners, who hand it further down to the tennants. Whose duty is to  do what in which week is part of rental contracts and elaborate in-house arrangements. In German appartment houses, you often see calendars with alternating names either fixed to the notice board or dangling from the doorknob of the person on duty.

Homesick Ohioan gets lesson in Snowshovelling in 1967 @John C. Krueger

Homesick Ohioan gets lesson in Snowshovelling in 1967 @John C. Krueger

This schedules for “Kehrwoche” must be obeyed, at all cost. Otherwise, sanctions aren´t far away. A German saying goes: “Es kann der Beste nicht in Frieden leben, wenn es dem bösen Nachbarn nicht gefällt – even the best can´t live in peace if his neighbours decide do act nasty”.  On the other hand, if you obey to the Kehrwoche rules and fight your way out into a snowstorm at 6 o´clock to shovel snow, you will be rewarded with the warmest possible welcome from your neighbours, a 10 on the Richter-scale. 

My landlord outsourced the snow-cleaning job to a professional firm. Lucky me. I can stay in my – heated – bedroom till it´s time to go to work. It is only when I see my handsome new neighbour shoveling snow that I feel a pang of regret. 

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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A country on stand-by

“I can´t get into the internet! I can´t do my post.” When Francesca phoned yesterday, she was desperate. Disaster started when she agreed to switch to a faster DSL-line with Deutsche Telekom. For six weeks, nothing happened, till  Wednesday 31st. At 11:30 a.m. the technical service from Telekom called. “We switch you to the new line now”, they said. “Please wait till the new year”, Francesca begged. But it was too late. They switched, and the DSL-line instantly went dead. Since then Francesca tries to lure a Telekom serviceman to come to her house. To no avail. “Zwischen den Jahren” (between the old and the new year), Germany is a country on stand-by. 

“The biggest surprise in this is that anybody worked on Wednesday 31st at all”, I said. “Aber Ausnahmen bestätigen die Regeln–exceptions prove that a rule is true”.  As a rule, “Zwischen den Jahren”, work is down to a minimum. In the offices, one man or woman “hält die Stellung” (keeps the department going). Just in case the phone rings. Which it never does. So, time in the office is spent pleasantly with winnowing files on desk and desktop. At home, shelves are reorganized, kitchens restructured, closets cleaned from old junk. Seen from the perspective of the new year,   what seemed of utter importance in 2008 becomes disposable in 2009, and is consequently disposed of. 

During the quiet days”Zwischen den Jahren”, the country recharges. Normally, this time ends on January 1st and is only interrupted by Silvester, New Years eve.

 On this day, December 31st, shops and offices close at 12 o´clock so everybody can get ready for the New Year celebrations. While Christmas is the time for family,  Silvester is the time to go out. Private parties, public parties, special events in cinema, opera, restaurants, hotels … nobody stays at home on Silvester.  Unless to watch “Dinner for one” on TV. This slapstick comedy about an English lady and her Butler  has been broadcasted on Silvester for 45 years by now and never lost its popularity. Its catch phrase ” Same procedure as last year?– Same procedure as every year” has become a typical German saying. Don´t be suprised if a German starts to laugh, seemingly out of the blue, when somebody says “Same procedure as …”. Those few words start a movie in every Germans head, of a butler serving the role of four men at his ladies 90th birthday, stumbling drunkenly over a stuffed tiger.

At midnight, church bells start to ring. Everybody goes outside to light the fireworks. Family, friends and neighbours hug and kiss. “Man prostet sich zu”–glasses full of Sekt, a German champagne,  are joined. With “Frohes neues Jahr” best wishes for the new year are exchanged. Soon after, because of the cold, everybody goes back into the house.

The next morning, January 1st, is a public holiday. In the south of Germany, we eat a Neujahrs-Brezel for breakfast. This pretzel can be made from sweet dough (my tradition) or bread dough (my spouse´s tradition), but it is always huge and finely decorated. Its special form symbolizes the the circle of life, when every ending becomes a beginning. 

Usually, “Zwischen den Jahren” ends on January 2nd.  This year, though, because January 2nd falls on a Friday and nobody bothers to start work on a Friday,  it lasts till January the 5th, in southern Germany even till 7th because of “Heilige Drei Könige”, a public holiday in those states of Germany that used to be catholic. On this day, children called ´Sternsinger` go from house to house, sing and collect money for poor children around the world. As a thank you and a benediction, they write in white chalk over your entrance door: “20  C+M+B 09”. The initals stand for Casper, Melchior and Balthasar, the name of the three wise men, and as well as for  “Christus mansionem benedicat”,  Latin for “That Christ shall benedict this house”. 

After Dreikönig, the row of public holidays end. Life goes back to normal. Which, unfortunately, doesn´t automatically mean that the serviceman from Telekom will stand in Francesca`s door. Nowadays, the old German saying “Wenn es dem Esel zu wohl wird, geht er aufs Eis–when the ass feels too comfortable, he tries the thickness of the ice” changes to “When you have nothing else to worry about, change you telecommunication system”.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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Apples or why we don´t have a garden

"Appelwoi"-barrel showing the opening hours of the "Apfelwein-Museum" in Frankfurt."Most"barrels look the same. ©Truegerman

Barrel to make apple wine.

“The only people I know that pick apples are either determined ecologists or extremely thritfty people”, Francesca wrote last week. “Hm”, I thought, “she is right”. But why do I only know people who pick apples?

Probably because I lived in Baden-Württemberg for a long time. Baden-Württemberg is one of the 16 “Länder”(federal states) that make up Germany. Placed in the southwest, it calls itself a “Musterländle”, a role model for other states. The countryside is beautiful and well cared for. “Streuobstwiesen”, green meadows where cows graze and apple trees grow, are an important part of the landscape.  In Baden-Württemberg, average income is high, unemployment is low, and its inhabitants pick apples. Though for different reasons.

Even in modern times, in Germany we attribute typical character traits to different regions or tribes. In Baden-Württemberg, two extremes come together to form an odd couple. While the  “Schwaben”(in Württemberg)  live according to their motto: “Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue und nicht nach den Mädchen schauen …” (Work, work, build your house and keep your eyes off the girls), the “Badener” rather enjoy looking at–and flirting with–the girls first and work to build the house later.

In “Schwaben” apple trees are a duty to serve. The main impulse in picking apples is “Nur nichts verkommen lassen”-Beware not to waste anything. So, every fall, the family fills crates and carts with apples and delivers them to the “Mosterei”, a local apple processing plant. The apple juice is put in a barrel in the cellar to make alcohol, an apple wine called “Most” (must). “Most” is a delicious drink to go with bread and wurst or any of the typical German dishes. Though, when you are invited to drink a homemade “Most” in September, you better decline. At this time of the year, “Schwaben” are very generous with their favorite drink, as the barrel has to be emptied before it can be filled anew. Alas, this late in the cycle the “Most” normally doesn´t taste its best. But drunk it must be.

Schwaben love their “Most”, though you don´t find any “Most-Wirtschaft” in Württemberg, probably because no “Schwabe” would pay for something he can get for free from his own cellar. One of the most popular, and slightly menacing sayings in Schwaben is based on it: “Dem werde ich zeigen, wo der Barthel den Most holt”, meaning “I´ll show him that I´m much cleverer than he is”. If you hear this, you better beware – they normally are.

In Baden, you won´t find any Most-Wirtschaft either. Baden is a wine growing region and apples are used to make juice, pies or “Apfelmus”, mashed apples, instead. To make Apfelmus, you slice and cut the apples, cook them, mash them and then fill them into “Weck-Gläser”, big glass jars that preserve all kinds of fruit and vegetables. Apfelmus goes nicely with “Milchreis mit Milch und Zucker”, round rice boiled in milk, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and topped with melted butter. While Milchreis still is popular in Germany, I haven´t eaten “Pfludde” for 30 years now. This is a dish based on mashed potatoes with fried onions, covered by melted butter, and served with Apfelmus. Also on the list of endangered dishes are “Apfelküchle”, slices of apples dipped in pancake dough and then fried, to be eaten hot, topped with vanilla sauce. Luckily, other dishes like “Bratapfel” see a comeback. For a Bratapfel, you punch a hole into an apple with a “Apfelentkerner” and push out the core. This hole you fill with chopped almonds or hazelnuts and either raspberry or red currant jam and top it with a flake of butter. Then you slowly bake it in the oven. Bratapfel has become so popular again that the dairy industry now even has created a limited edition of “Bratapfel”-joghurt in  winter.

For all this delicacies, you need special varieties to get the full taste. In the 70ies, most of the old varieties began to vanish. People, including me, preferred an imported Granny Smith to any of the homegrown types. I remember how, as a teenager,  I spent a considerable amount of my allowance to buy those green, glittering apples with its new fresh-sour taste at the supermarket instead of taking one out of the apple crate at  home.

Then, in the 80ies, the environmentalist movement and the Green party were born. “Baden” was one of the birthplaces of this movement.  The ecologists invented sponsorship for old trees and encouraged small “Mostereien” to keep up business. For decades, drinking “Most from Streuobstwiesen” served as a political statement. Though a lot of of the ecologists probably enjoyed the rich taste as well.

Today, the old varieties are well established again: Boskop, Goldparmäne, Renette, Alkmene, Gravensteiner can now be found at a farmers market or even bought in a supermarket. They are part of a gourmet trend that accepts a higher price tag in exchange for the better taste.

There is a flip side to the apple picking impulse, though, and that is why we don´t have a garden. In German cities, the usual home for a family is an appartment. To make good for the lack of space, most cities provide garden patches at the outskirts of the city that can be rented very cheaply. As my son wanted to build a treehouse and I needed two trees to hang my hammock, we decided to apply for one and soon found one. On our first visit, my spouse panicked:

” I don´t have the time to have a garden!”

“You don´t need extra time”, I said.” You just come here to sit and relax”

“But I can´t just sit and relax in a garden! All the work that is to be done! Look at all those apple trees. All this picking and preserving …”

As you might have figured out by now, my spouse is from “Schwaben”. By the way, we have the lowest electricity bill in town, too.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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Thanksgiving – The German Way

“I always wondered why your Thanksgiving is later than ours”, I asked Francesca. “Does your harvest season end that late?”

She laughed, ”American Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the harvest. It is all about the Pilgrim Fathers and eating turkey.”

In Germany, Thanksgiving is about going to church. Every first Sunday in October we celebrate “Erntedankfest” or “Thank you for the harvest” in English. If you are in Germany and missed out on Christmas and Easter, Erntedankfest is another chance to attend a special mass. All over the country, fruits, vegetables and grain decorate the altar. Most likely you will hear a choir singing “Großer Gott wir loben Dich”. If you smell incense, you are in a catholic church.

When I grew up in the countryside in the 60ies and 70ies, I understood the meaning of this celebration very  well. In our little mountain village, self-sustainability was not a fashion but a necessity. Everybody had a cow or two for milk and cream, two pigs for sausages and meat, hens for eggs, a big garden for vegetables, baskets for picking wild raspberries, blueberries and mushrooms and a huge cool cellar to stock potatoes and carrots, with shelves full of preserves. To celebrate–and to show off–on Erntedankfest we would bring wicker baskets full of home grown stuff to church and place them in front of the altar.
You might know the German saying, “Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen” – “work first, celebrate later”. There was a lot of work to be done till we could sit down in church and rejoice. Though, for me as a child, the work was fun.

I was lucky to grow up in a place where “Füchse und Hasen sich gute Nacht sagen” – “where fox and hare meet to say goodnight”. In this narrow mountain village, agricultural mechanization meant a tractor and nothing more. Therefore, during harvest season, every hand counted, even small ones.

When we children followed the hand-pushed mower at sunrise, picked up the grass with wooden forks and threw it in the air to spread it evenly for the sun to dry, we knew we were important. When we raked the grass again into swathes at night, we knew we protected the sweet smelling hay from the morning dew. When we rushed out to form haystacks when a thunderstorm built up over the hills,  we knew that we saved the winter´s forage for the farm animals. And when we rode the hay home on a swaying cart, we knew that in winter we would sneak away from our mothers to jump from the wooden beams of the barn into the soft hay—and would be punished by our fathers for ignoring their ban of the barn.
In later years, my memories of these summers faded from golden and green to pale sepia. I got hay fever, went to live in the city and never came near a haystack for thirty years. Then, this June, I decided that I needed a dose of green, to balance the grey I see each time I look out of the window.

“Can I come and visit you?”, I emailed my friends Barbara and Albert, recently turned into hobby farmers. When they invited me, I filled my bags with books I wanted to read on their terrace, surrounded by  the healthy air of the Black Forest.

When I arrived, they hugged and kissed me, showed me the terrace, and said: “I hope you don´t mind that you won´t see us till late at night. We have to rake the hay.”

“To rake the hay? This is 2008. Nobody rakes the hay anymore.”

“We do. The slopes are too steep.”

“Ok, I´ll help you today and then we are through with it.”

“Hm, we will have to rake it into swathes in the evening and then spread it again early in the morning at least three times, our neighbour says.”
“Three times” I cried . “What a waste of time. There must be another way of doing this. Let me check the internet.”

Half an hour later,  I had found it. “Look, how they do it in New Zealand. They just cut the grass, spread it and then leave it for a few days to dry. That’s the way to do it.”
So we tried it this way and enjoyed an evening of friendship and good wine on their terrace.
The next morning, the grass that had already been 90 percent dry in the evening, was green and wet again.
Humbled, I left the terrace and started to shake and rake, hour after hour. The sun burnt my face, my arms ached, my nose itched.  Late in the afternoon, with half of the work still do be done, I started to develop a business plan: hay making instead of boot camps to form a team. Wouldn´t stressed out corporate managers pay good money for this old-time experience? We could call it: “Zen and raking the hay with one fork” or “The ultimate battle: How to survive a day at work without a computer”.

I survived. Two months later, on Erntedank, I decided to give my son the chance to learn where milk comes from. So we went to see Barbara and Albert again. He came back a different boy.

But that is another story.

Truegerman

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