Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

“Gruezi” and Other Swiss German Expressions

Saaner's Loch - Switzerland by Gamesforlanguage.comIn our previous post, we focused on the bilingualism of many Fribourgers. The German spoken in Fribourg is clearly of the Swiss German variety, with a few French expressions mixed in at times.

And while Swiss German is the generic label for the dialect, there are plenty of regional differences that a foreigner would only detect after a while.

When you're traveling in countries where you speak the language, you may notice that both formal and informal greetings often vary from region to region.

For example, when we were traveling in Northern Germany a couple years ago (see our post: From Utrecht to Hamburg: Dialects and Travel Tips in Northern German), we first couldn't make out the informal greeting we heard everywhere: “Moin.” We first thought it was an abbreviation of “Morgen,” as in “Guten Morgen” (Good morning), but it was clearly used all day.

Digging a little further, we found that while “morgen” may be one etymological explanation for “Moin,” another one could be the Dutch, Frisian, and Low German word “moi,” meaning “beautiful” or “good.”

This week we are exploring a few Swiss German expressions we encountered while skiing in the "Berner Oberland". (Above picture of "Saaner's Loch)

Grüezi” and a Swiss German Ear-Worm

To get a little taste of the Swiss German language, The Minstrels singerslisten to this YouTube Video of a popular song by a Swiss group, The Minstrels, from the late 60s.

It was the #1 song in Switzerland in 1969 for 10 weeks, made it to #3 in Germany, and sold over 1.5 million copies in 27 countries.

Even if you know some German, you'll have a hard time understanding the simple refrain. But listening to it a few times, you'll start distinguishing verbs, their grammatical modifications. You'll also pick up a few Swiss German idiosyncrasies.

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa: The Lyrics, Standard German, and Translation

Ja, grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Ja, grüß sie wohl, Frau Stirnimaa
(Hello there, Ms Stirnimaa)

Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie sind sie de so dra?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie sind Sie denn so dran?
(Tell me, how's life, how's it going?)

Grüezi wohl Frau Stirnimaa
Sagget sie, wie labbet sie, wie gaht's denn ihre Ma?
Sagen Sie, wie leben Sie, wie geht es ihrem Mann?
(Tell me, how's life, how's your husband doing?)

Quick note: There is no standard written form of Swiss German. Letters and letter combinations are mostly attempts to express the way words sound.

And while you'll notice how the verb forms and endings are different from Standard German and hear how the “n” and “m” endings are dropped, we won't try to explain much more.

Just listen to the Swiss German language melody.

Swiss German in the Berner Oberland

Swiss Restaurant Terrace with guestsThis week the public schools in the canton of Bern have vacation, and besides a little French, we hear mostly Swiss German in the villages and on the mountain between Zweisimmen and Gstaad.

Even for us German speakers, some of the Swiss German we come across is a little hard to understand.

Briefly: In general, the dialects spoken in Switzerland (collectively called Swiss German) belong to the Alemannic variety of German.

Greetings: “Grüezi” vs. “Grüess eech”

Grüezi is arguably the most well-known Swiss German greeting. It's an abbreviation of “Gott grüez i” or literally in German: Gott grüß euch. (May God greet you.)

A variation of “Grüezi” is “Grüezi mitenand,” with “mitenand” (“miteinander” - together) making it clear that the greeting is for more than one person.

This greeting is used mainly in the Zurich area and in the east of Switzerland.

In the western part, around Bern and Basel, it's more common to hear “Grüss eech,” which also means literally: Gott grüß euch.

Indeed, here in the Berner Oberland, we've been hearing “Grüss eech” or “Grüess eech mitenand,” all over the place: when entering a restaurant, going into a shop, when sharing a gondola or chair lift with others. People even greet you as you're walking in the village.

In a restaurant: the verb “sein” - “sii” and “gsi” (or “gsy”)

Today, we ate on the terrace of a mountain restaurant. After greeting us “Grüess eech mitenand,” our waitress asked: “Was derfs sii?” - Was darf es sein? (Lit: What may it be? Meaning: What can I get you?)

When we finished our meal and she started to clear the table, she asked: “S isch guat gsi?” - Ist es gut gewesen? (Lit: Was it good? Meaning: How was the meal?)

Swiss German uses a shorter and older form of the verb “sein.” Instead of “sein,” it's “sii” and instead of “gewesen,” it's “gsi.”

Meal time: “Ä Guätä!”

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the terrace was A Guätä - Signcrowded. So, as is typical for many European countries, we shared our table with other restaurant guests.

We ordered “Röschti” (Rösti), which are fried potatoes prepared in a typical way in Switzerland. A meal of Röschti comes in all kinds of combinations: with a fried egg, with ham, with vegetables, etc.

Note also: The letter combination “st” (appearing anywhere in a word) is pronounced “sch.” The German word “ist” becomes “isch” (the -t is dropped)

We were served first, and when our meal arrived, our table neighbors wished us “Ä Guätä!” This is literally, “(Have) a good one!” and best translates to “Enjoy your meal!” The equivalent in Standard German would be: Guten Appetit! literally: Good appetite!

When we finished and were ready to leave, while our table neighbors received their meals, we wished them “Ä Guätä!”

Other useful words and phrases we heard

We often heard teenagers saying “Sali” or “Sali mitenand.” - Hallo, alle. - Hi everybody.
“Sali” is less formal than the greeting “Grüezi.” It comes from the French “salut” (hi/hey).

The French “Merci” (thank you) has been appropriated by Swiss German as well, and you hear it alone or also as “Merci vilmals” - Vielen Dank (Thanks a lot).

The German “Auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye) has the Swiss German equivalent of “Uf widaluege,” and means the same, “luege” - sehen (to look).

Probably a leftover from the old telephone technology of bells, if you want to say “I'll call you,” you'd say “Ich lüt dir a.” This literally means: Ich leute dich an, or Ich leute bei dir an (I'll ring you.)

For more Swiss German expressions see also our previous posts Swiss German Language Lessons in Gstaad (1) and (2).

Don't Despair

If you're just learning German and are trying to understand Swiss German, don't despair. Even native Germans have a tough time understanding rapidly spoken Swiss German, even more so speaking it.

But as with any language or dialect you want to learn, there are many ways to do it.

Here are three iPhone apps that will help you: Gruezi Switzerland (free), Schweizerdeutsch Lernen ($0.99), and uTalk Classic Learn Swiss German ($9.99).

We have not tried any of these yet, so let us know what you think below.

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning: German & French in Fribourg, Switzerland

Fribourg, Switzerland - Gamesforlanguage.comLanguage Learning in Switzerland  

Visiting the town in Switzerland where I spent several years working in my first job, reminded me of my French language learning days. Fribourg or in German Freiburg (im Üchtland) is a bilingual city, and not to be confused with “Freiburg im Breisgau,” which lies in the Black Forest.

Pure immersion aficionados may well scoff at this: But working and learning French in a town where my native language German was well understood, had many advantages for me.

For one, I could always revert to German when my French instructions to the draftsmen in the structural engineering firm where I worked, were met with a doubtful stare.

Also, when the rapid French in a shop or restaurant was still beyond my listening skills, I could typically get a German, or Swiss-German translation, thereby generating “comprehensible input.”

CANTON FRIBOURG'S ROAD TO OFFICAL BILINGUALISM

The canton of Fribourg is one of three Swiss cantons that are officially bilingual. The other two are the cantons of Bern and of Wallis/Valais.

Fribourg entered the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Throughout the centuries both French and German were spoken in the region. For the canton of Fribourg the road to official bilingualism was a complicated one, with plenty of detours.

Since the early days, there have been various shifts. At first, German was the language used by the government (1483-1798). Fribourg, Switzerland language mapThen between 1798 and 1856, French and German alternated.

From 1857 on, both languages have had official status in Fribourg, but until 1990 only French was legally binding. Since 1991 both languages can be used for a binding contract.

Only the two north/northeast districts of the canton (of a total of seven), are predominantly German- speaking. It's more likely that residents of those districts learn and speak French, than residents of French-speaking districts learn German. (A possible reason? Many French speakers may be reluctant to learn Swiss-German.)

At this time, around 63% of the about 300,000 people in the canton of Fribourg speak French, 21% speak German, and close to 4 % speak Italian (which is not an official language in the canton).

A few years ago, the “Day of Bilingualism” (Journée du bilinguisme/Tag der Zweisprachigkeit) was set for September 26 and coincides with the European Day of Languages to foster language learning and bilingualism.

In the public schools of the canton of Fribourg, students learn a second language from grade three on. In communities where German is spoken, students are encouraged to learn French as the second language, and vice versa.

Nevertheless, in spite of such efforts and policies to foster bilingualism, language differences remain a point of discussion and sometimes also of controversy.

THE CITY OF FRIBOURG

The city of Fribourg is right on the language border between French and German. About 40,000 inhabitants live within the city proper. This number increases to 60,000, if adjacent suburbs are included and to nearly 100,000 for the larger metropolitan area.

Fribourg Bridges - Gamesforlanguage.comA few years ago, the completion of a new suspension bridge and the closing of the arched Zähringer Bridge diverted traffic from the neighborhood near the Cathedral and created another Fribourg landmark. (see picture)

Official city statistics mirror the language distribution of the canton as a whole. Still, it seems that there is a greater concentration of bilinguals living in the city, which may be in part because of the university.

The University of Fribourg (created in 1889) is Switzerland's only bilingual university. Both French and German are used as languages for teaching and for the administration.

In 2009, the Institute of Multilingualism was founded, which conducts research of how multilingualism affects education, the workplace, and migration.

Because the two languages intersect throughout the city, you'll find interesting signage in French, German, and also in Swiss-German dialect (which has no standard written form).

During a visit a couple of years ago, Ulrike had a tiny cameo role in a YouTube clip "We are Happy from Fribourg" by a Fribourg film maker. He used the Pharrell Williams' song "Happy" from the movie "Despicable Me 2", similar to what other Swiss cities have done. Maybe you can spot her at ~2.36 minutes into the clip, which also shows many images of Fribourg.

In fact, she was walking through the Farmer's Market where you can always find many delightful language tidbits. This time as well.

FARMER'S MARKET

On Saturday morning, Fribourg has a farmer'sFribourg - Snails for sale - Gamesforlanguage.com market that stretches from the City Hall Plaza down the Grand Rue. Vendors from the region as far as (French-speaking) Lausanne come to sell their wares. When I'm around, I spend an hour or so poking around and I always find some language learning opportunities.

Interestingly, the vegetable and fruit stands seem mostly set up by farmers that speak Swiss German.

For the first time in all the years, I saw a stand that sells snails. The “Schneckenpark” translates into French as “Élevages d'Escargots.” The above picture on the front of the stand explains both expressions: the raised, slanted boards of the snails' park.

Bio-Bread market stand sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAnother stand advertises in typical German compound-word fashion: “HOLZBACKOFENBROT AUS BIO GETREIDE” and with the wordier French: “PAIN FAIT AU FOURNEAU DE BOIS & CEREALES BIO.” Both translate to something like “bread made with organic flour in wood-burning oven.”

Not all stands advertise bilingually. Some have signs that are only in French or only in German. When it's Swiss German, even I sometimes need the help of a local person.

Take this sign of a Swiss-German butcher:Swiss-German Butcher sign - Gamesforlanguage.com The word “Metzger” (butcher) abbreviated to “Metzg” presents no problem. But hey, how about “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's”? To decode that, I had to dig deep into my Swiss-German language memory.

The word “gglùschtig's” means “tasty, a pleasure to eat” - not to be confused with the German word “lustig” (funny). I'm not sure about the double “g” and the grave accent on the “u.” Probably, it's a way to represent Swiss-German pronunciation.

The word “säüber” is as tricky as “gglùschtig's.” One could easily confuse it with the German word “sauber” (clean). But the letter combination “äü” suggests the sound of a word closer to the German “selber” (self).

The word “gmacht's” is easy and just means “made.” The suffix “-'s” (for “Gemachtes”) adds the idea of a “made” product.

So “gglùschtig's ù säüber gmacht's” would best be translated as: “tasty and homemade (or self-made) products.”

LANGUAGE LEARNING WITH FRENCH & GERMAN SIGNS

With its medieval town center and old ramparts, the city of Fribourg is a great place to walk around and explore. When you pay attention to street signs or signs on shops and restaurants, you'll see some interesting words and language combinations.

"Croutes au fromage" sign - Gamesforlanguage.com French sign in a restaurant window: Les croûtes au fromage

These are bread slices dipped in white wine, topped with cheese, (often also with cornichons and tomatoes) and grilled in the oven. The advertised prices and types of preparation indicate a substantial meal.

la croûte – the rind

le fromage – the cheese

Street signs combining French and German.

One of the quarters Chemin de Schoenberg sign - Gamesforlanguage.comof Fribourg is called “Schoenberg,” a German word meaning “beautiful mountain.” (Note that in the French spelling, the German umlaut is replaced by an oe.)

One of the roads leading up to the quarter is called “Chemin du Schoenberg” (chemin – the French word for way, path.)

Not everybody loves this French specialty: Beef Tongue

Rindszunge/langue de boeuf sign - Gamesforlanguage.comGerman/French sign in a restaurant window: Rindszunge/Langue de Boeuf

la langue, die Zunge - the tongue

le boeuf, das Rind - the beef

les capres/die Kapern - the capers 

German speakers may notice a spelling error on the German sign: It should say "Rindszunge IN Kapernsauce"

Strolling through the city streets you'll see many signsRues es Epouses Sign, Fribourg  - Gamesforlanguage.com that make you smile.

A favorite of mine is the one above the Rue des Epouses, which I described in a previous post 11 Language Clues from German and Swiss SignsLook for item#11, if you need a translation of the French or the German, which is on the other side of the sign.

If you ever visit Fribourg and the Cathedral, or are looking for the above sign, you'll also pass by the bookshop Librairie "Bien-être" on one side, and the modern furniture store "Forme + Confort" on the other side of la Rue des Epouses.

In "Bien-être" you'll find all kinds of books (in French) about well-being, alternative medicine, etc. And - you can say hello to my sister Ingrid.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below. 

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 1 - Marco in Pisa

Leaning Tower of Pisa - Gamesforlanguage.comMarco's travels start in Pisa, Italy.

With this post we'll now cover the first city that our Italian traveler Marco visits on his trip through Italy. (Previous posts followed our German traveler Michael in Frankfurt, Daniel in Paris and David in Barcelona.)

The travel stories, which are the basis of our GamesforLanguage courses, use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for the other cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

Pisa is Marco's first stop in Italy, a university town with a long history, and known the world over for its Leaning Tower.

Visiting Pisa? Here's a short introduction to this historic Tuscan city. 

We'll follow Marco's discoveries in Pisa, for those of you who have done or are doing our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia.

In our travel-story course, you learn everyday conversational language. Here, we've listed a few basic terms in Italian that will help you in your travels.

Quick Facts about Pisa

The city of Pisa is located in Tuscany, one of Italy's 20 Regions. Pisa mapIt lies near the mouth of the Arno River, about 50 miles west of Florence and around 5 miles from the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

(Note: Italy is further divided into 96 provinces, with the city of Pisa being the capital of the Province of Pisa.)

Pisa's origins date back at least to the time of the Etruscans, 5th century B.C. Later, it became a Roman colony and rose to the status of an important port city. During the early Middle Ages, the Republic of Pisa developed into a powerful maritime nation, involved in lively trade and power struggles around the Mediterranean.

Pisa's decline was accelerated after the 15th century when the Arno River started to silt up.

Now a quiet university town of around 90,000 inhabitants, the city of Pisa is renowned for its art and architecture.

[Please Note: PISA is also an anagram that stands for The Programme for International Student Assessment. That has nothing to do with the city. PISA is a recurrent study that measures the scholastic performance of 15-year-old pupils worldwide.]

Pisa Airport

Marco Magini is a young student who learned some Italian at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to Italy.

During his flight to Pisa, Marco chats with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him - all in Italian. It's a perfect way for him to practice his language.

His flight lands at the Pisa International Airport, also named Galileo Galilei Airport, and the main airport in Tuscany.

Marco continues to use his Italian as he goes through passport control. He explains to the officer why he is traveling to Italy and how long he'll stay.

Corso Italia and Ponte di Mezzo

Ponte de MezzoMarco's aunt, uncle, and cousin Valeria live on Corso Italia, which leads through the city center, from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II to near Ponte di Mezzo.(see picture)

If you're in Pisa at the end of June, you could watch a traditional spectacle, the Battle of the Bridge (called Gioco del Ponte) which takes place on the Ponte di Mezzo. Two teams battle it out: the Mezzogiorno (the neighborhoods south of the Arno) against the Tramontana (the neighborhoods north of the Arno). It's Pisa's most important annual event. (Find more information HERE .)

The centrally located Ponte di Mezzo takes you over the Arno River to the other side of the city. Standing on the bridge, you get a stunning view of the river bank and the shops and buildings there.

  • la città - the city
  • la bocca - the mouth (of a river)
  • mezzo - central, half, halfway
  • il gioco - the game
  • il mezzogiorno - the south, midday, noon
  • la tramontana - the north, north wind

Piazza dei Miracoli and la Torre Pendente di Pisa

It's just a 15 minute walk from Ponte di Mezzo to the Piazza dei Miracoli - Gamesforlanguage.comPiazza dei Miracoli (also called Campo dei Miracoli).

The Piazza dei Miracoli includes a number of magnificent buildings: The Cathedral (begun in 1063), the Baptistry (built between 1153-1284), the Campo Santo cemetery (started in 1278), and the Leaning Tower (completed in 1350).

The buildings combine Moorish elements (arabesques) with Romanesque colonnading and spiky Gothic niches and pinnacles. [Eyewitness Travel Guides]

Apparently all of the buildings on the Piazza dei Miracoli lean to some extent (which you can see on the picture above). They're constructed on soft soil composed of mud, sand and clay, which started settling soon after building began.

Because of its height, the Tower was most in danger of eventual collapse. It was closed to the public from 1990 to 2001, as an international team of engineers found a way decrease the lean and to stabilize the tower.

  • la passeggiata - a walk, stroll
  • 15 minuti a piedi - a 15 minute walk
  • l'edificio - the building
  • il campo - the field
  • il duomo - the cathedral
  • la torre - the tower
  • pendente - leaning
  • il campanile - the bell tower
  • la terra - the soil, earth

Borgo Stretto

Borgo StrettoOn the way back to Corso Italia, Marco and his cousin Valeria stop at Borgo Stretto, a picturesque street with shops, bistros, and cafés, on the northern side of the Arno. There, Marco buys a travel guide.

Afterwards, they go to a café for an Italian-style coffee and pastry: Marco orders "un macchiato," Valeria "un cappucino," and they both have "una crema di mascarpone con i cantuccini."

  • il borgo - the borough, district (in a town), village
  • stretto - narrow, tightly bound
  • la strada - the street
  • i negozi - the shops
  • una guida turistica - a travel guide
  • un macchiato - an espresso with a "stain" of milk
  • macchiare - to stain, add a splash (of sth)
  • crema di mascarpone - dessert made of Italian cream cheese
  • cantuccini - twice-baked almond cookies, biscotti

Other Places to visit in Pisa

Piazza dei Cavalieri (Knights' Square): Historically Arno in Pisathe headquarters of the Order of Knights of St. Stephen, the square is located in Pisa's student quarter.

Banks of the Arno: A walking tour along one of the banks of the Arno River is especially beautiful in early evening.

Mural "Tuttomondo" by the artist Keith Harding: 1989, painted on the back facade of the church of St. Anthony. It shows 30 characters put together like a puzzle, each one representing an aspect of the world in peace.

Museo delle Navi Antiche (Museum of Ancient Ships): Archeological museum of ancient ships with nine well-preserved Roman ships, discovered during an excavation in 1998. 

Marco's Next Stop

From Pisa, Michael takes the train to Florence. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

Have you been to Pisa and have some suggestions? We'd love to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Peter Rettig

European Travel 4 – From Utrecht to Lake Constance

German Intercity TrainTraveling to and exploring Lake Constance 

In an earlier post, I wrote about Dutch Canal Boating. After a fun trip around Dutch rivers and canals, we said goodbye to our American friends. We then began the next stage of our European travels.

In the Dutch city of Utrecht, we boarded one of the fabulous European Intercity trains. It took us through Cologne and along the Rhine River to Basel. There we changed to a regional train.

In Basel, the Rhine bends sharply to the east and for long stretches makes a natural border between Germany and Switzerland.

Initially, the train tracks follow the Rhine River Valley. At dusk we passed the well-known “Rheinfall of Schaffhausen” - the waterfalls of the Rhine at the Swiss town of Schaffhausen. (German students, don't forget to note the spelling of “Rheinfall” versus “Reinfall”! The latter means “letdown, failure, flop, disaster.” It is often used in wordplays with its sound-alike cousin.)

Überlingen at Lake Constance

Our destination that day was the city of Überlingen, located on Ueberlingen - St Nicolaus Cathedralone of the two major arms of the “Bodensee” (Lake Constance). (In Überlingen we met up with my sister, who had come from Switzerland.)

I had last been in Überlingen as a young boy with my parents. And while there was little that I recognized from that time, I vividly remembered climbing the bell tower of the St. Nikolaus Cathedral with my father. (see picture) As we neared the top, the huge bells suddenly started to ring, scaring me both with their powerful sounds and the vibrations they generated in the tower.

A good part of the city, including our hotel, is located on a sandstone cliff overlooking the lake. The 100 steps of the “Teufelstreppe” (Devil's Stairs) made it less than a 10 minute walk down to the lake. There, we found a “Promenade,” a wide walkway along the lake, leading to the town center with its restaurants, cafés, ship wharves, etc.

We were told that Überlingen has become one of Germany's favorite retirement destinations. That also makes it one of the oldest cities in Germany (in reference Ueberlingen wharfto the age of its inhabitants). The “seniors” we saw strolling down the Promenade, sitting in cafés, riding their bikes, or waiting to board a ship, all looked fit and active to us. (see picture)

While we were sitting in one of the cafés, we were surprised to see many bikers board a ship. We found out that there are several bicycle organization that organize tours along the “Bodensee-Radweg” (Lake Constance-bicycle path). It calls itself “Europa's beliebtester Radweg” (Europe's favorite bicycle path).

We often took advantage of the wonderful, warm fall weather and enjoyed people-watching while sitting in one of the many outside restaurants. There, we couldn't help but overhear conversations in various German dialects spoken at nearby tables.

Some German Dialects

Überlingen is located in Baden-Württemberg, the third-largest German state, German dialect mapwhich has close to 11 million inhabitants. Stuttgart is its capital and largest city.

Two distinct dialects are spoken in the state, with various variants: the Alemannic dialect of Swabian and Franconian. Swabian is spoken in the southern part of Baden-Württemberg, up to the border of the neighboring state, Bavaria. Franconian is spoken in the west/northwest along the Rhine including in Mannheim and Heidelberg.

[Note also: The Swiss German language is another variant of the Alemannic dialect. And, Franconian can also be heard in the northern parts of Bavaria [Germany's largest state], around Nuremberg, Bamberg, etc. The most recognizable dialect of the state of Bavaria is Austro-Bavarian, spoken in the southeast of the state and reaching beyond the border into Austria in a continuum of local and regional variants.]

We also heard the very distinct Saxon dialects from regions around Leipzig and Dresden.

And how could I forget the Hessian dialect, spoken around Frankfurt and Bad Nauheim (the city where I spent most of my school years, and subject of an earlier post: Where “Bad” does not mean “bad”...)

You can see the various German dialects on the chart.

Der Bodensee

The Bodensee, or Lake ConstanceLake Constance is the largest lake in Germany and Austria. It is only a little smaller than Lake Geneva, the largest lake located on the border of Switzerland and France.

Lake Constance is also the huge water reservoir which feeds the Rhine, the second largest European river after the Danube.

The Rhine River begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, enters Lake Constance at its eastern Swiss/Austrian border and then leaves it again near Konstanz from the Lower Lake. (Note: It's the town of Konstanz/Constance which gave the Bodensee its English name.)

I have fond memories of the Bodensee, where I started first grade in the town of Friedrichshafen. It was in there that Ferdinand von Zeppelin established the first factory to build his famous dirigibles, the Zeppelins, around 1900.

I remember going fishing on the lake with my grandfather. Later,Sailing with alps in the background a sailing trip on the lake with my father, as we ghosted by the Mainau (see below) at night, made me fall in love with sailing. On clear days you can see the Alps in the background, as in this photo.

This time, Ulrike and I took advantage of sunny weather and took several trips with the Bodensee's “Weiße Flotte,” the White Fleet of motor ships, with which you can explore the lake.

There are also two car ferries to take you across the lake: (1) Between Meersburg and Constance and (2) Between Friedrichshafen and Romanhorn (Switzerland). On this Bodensee-Schifffahrt site – yes, the word is spelled with three “f's” - you can download the “Fahrplan” (schedule) for the various seasons.

Our first lake trip took us to the Island of Mainau.

The Mainau

I visited the island first as a young teenager and remember thatisland of Mainau I was fascinated by its history. The island has changed owners many times over the centuries.

In early years, it belonged to the Order of Teutonic Knights. Then, after falling into private hands, it was purchased in 1853 by Grand Duke Frederick I of Baden to serve as a summer palace.


Later, through inheritance, the island fell to the Swedish Prince Wilhelm, who in 1932, gave it to his only son, Lennart Bernadotte. He then owned it until 1974, when he transferred it to a foundation.

Currently, Lennart's oldest daughter Sonja and her brother Björn Bernadotte are managing the property.

The island is a flowering paradise. Over 30,000 rose bushes Mainau flowersof more than 1,200 varieties grow there, as well as 20,000 dahlias of 250 varieties, and many other kinds of flowers.

We were there at the time of a dahlia exhibition. Walking through the gardens, we saw stunning arrangements by local garden shops, which where competing for the exhibition honor roll.

The island attracts more than 1 million visitors a year and it serves as a favorite destination for weddings. You'll find more information on the island's website.

Another car trip took took us to the town of Meersburg.

Meersburg

Meersburg - Old CastleMeersburg is located on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, at the midpoint between Überlingen and Friedrichshafen.

We visited the Old Castle, which towers over the town, and learned that it is still the oldest inhabited fortress in Germany. (There is also a Baroque New Castle.)


The guide, dressed in a medieval costume, took us through the part of the castle that is open to the public and now a museum. It included the Knight's Hall (see picture), the Arm's Hall, the dungeon, etc.

She told us much about the castle's history and the various legends surrounding it. The castle dates back to the 7th century and the Merovigians under King Dagobert I.

In 1268, it became the seat of the Bishop of Constance until Knights Hall - Meersburgthe bishops built the New Castle at the beginning of the 18th century.

The Old Castle then came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Baden. The collector and business man Joseph von Laßberg purchased it in 1838.

For German language enthusiasts, the castle is also noteworthy as the sister of Laßberg's wife, the famous poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, lived there the last 8 years of her life.

In 1877, Karl Mayer von Mayerfels purchased the castle and established the Medieval Museum. His descendants still live in the building during the summer months.

As in many of the towns along the Bodensee, there is a Promenade along the lake with pleasant cafés and restaurants. The small streets and squares bustle with boutiques, shops, and street merchants.

We just happened pass through when grapes were unloaded at the local winery. That was a colorful spectacle.

Other Sights along the Bodensee

There are many other places along the Bodensee that are worth a visit.

I still remember the little town of Unteruhldingen where I visited the Unteruhldingen Stilt Houses - Gamesforlanguage.com Pfahlbaumuseum” (Stilt-House Museum) during my childhood. The stories the guides told at the time were fascinating. This time, we did not visit the rebuilt village, but we could see the stilt houses from the ship as we docked (see picture).

I've already mentioned Friedrichshafen. While more of an industrial city (heavily bombarded during World War II because of its airplane and bomb factories), the modern Dornier aerospace museum shows the various Dornier airplane models, engines, satellites, and products of the Airbus Group.

Lindau Harbor ENTRANCEThe historic town of Lindau is located on a small island connected by a dam to a strip of land that allows Bavaria access to Lake Constance. The Lindau harbor entrance with the light house and its Bavarian Lion statue (see picture) is a beautiful sight. I remember it well from my youth when we entered or left the harbor on one of the white ships.

Traveling just a few miles further southeast, you'll enter Austria and will have reached the end of the lake in Bregenz, the capital of the Austrian state of Vorarlberg.

If you are an opera lover and happen to be there during the months of July and August, be sure not to miss the Bregenzer Festspiele. Most memorable will certainly be a performance on a floating stage in the open-air amphitheater. (But be sure to reserve your tickets early!)

On the other side of the lake, right on the border to Switzerland, lies KonstanzBlick auf Konstanz (Constance), a lively university town and for over 1200 years the seat of Catholic bishops. (See photo of Constance, with a view of the "Untersee" and continuation of the Rhine)

The city has an interesting history. Konstanz was refused entrance into the Swiss Confederacy in 1460, then joined the Swabian league and became part of the German Empire in 1871.

The city avoided being bombed during World War II by a clever ruse – it left the lights on and allied bombers could not distinguish it from neighboring Swiss towns. The large and well-preserved “Altstadt” (Old town) is dominated by the “Münster” (Cathedral).

Our stay in Überlingen and our various excursions along the lake brought back many vivid memories from my childhood and later vacations at the Bodensee. We can see why this region has become a favorite place in Germany for retirees. Austria and Switzerland are only a boat ride away. The cultural offerings in the nearby towns and cities are amazing. There are many things to see and do in each of the seasons.

If you are interested in more photos, see our Niume picture gallery: Überlingen and Lake Constance

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Spanish Travel Memories 1 - David in Barcelona

W-Hotel at Barcelona Beach - Gamesforlanguage.comThe travel stories in our Gamesforlanguage courses use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll already find posts on Frankfurt and Paris.)

David is our traveler to Spain. His first stop is Barcelona, often named as one of the top ten travel destinations in Europe. (And no, the photo above is not Dubai, but of the W Hotel right at the beach in Barcelona.)

Visiting Barcelona? Here's a short introduction to this lively, bilingual port city. We'll also list a few basic terms in Spanish and Catalan that will help you in your travels.

We'll follow David's discoveries in Barcelona, for those of you who have done or are doing our Spanish 1 course: David en España.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational Spanish. The Spanish vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms. We've also added Catalan equivalents.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Barcelona Novels

We wish we had read these books before or during our stay in Barcelona in 2012. Zafon's novels El Juego del Ángel (The Angel's Game),  La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind),  and El Prisionero del Cielo ( The Prisoner of Heaven), all are set in Barcelona. They are a combination of mystery and adventure tales. (Reading them in Spanish - maybe with the English translation beside it - will advance your Spanish quite a bit!)

The first published novel actually includes a “Walk in the Footsteps...” to “give a flavor of the setting for 'The Shadow of the Wind', and can be used as a starting point to explore more of the world of the novel, many of the locations and sceneries.”

Many places that we're familiar with and our traveler David visits as well, are described in the novels which span the first half of the 20th century.

The Catalan language

Because our course teaches Spanish, we don't include information about the Catalan language. However, the city is clearly bilingual. Catalan is a language spoken in three regions of Spain: Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as just across the border in southern France and a small community on Sardinia, Italy. It's also the official language of Andorra. 

While 98% of Barcelona's population speaks Castilian Spanish, a majority, around 60%, also speaks Catalan. You'll hear Catalan spoken as you walk around town and you'll see many signs in both languages. You'll notice that many of the names of streets, parks, villa, museums, etc. on your street map will be in Catalan.

If you'd like to know more about the Catalan language and why one should not consider Catalan a melting pot of Spanish, French, and Italian, read this excellent post by the Spanish Linguist. 

The Autonomous Community of Catalonia

Catalonia has been in the news of late because of aSpain's autonomous areas map - recent vote by the Parliament of Catalonia for its secession from Spain. (See also our previous post: Spain and Catalonia – Not Just a Language Conflict)

The territory of Spain, according to its constitution of 1978, is organized into 17 autonomous communities, and 2 autonomous cities. (see map)

In its second article, the constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all. [Wikipedia]

While the “autonomous” label and “self-government” language in the constitution would indicate a substantial degree of independence of many communities, the tax levies and its distribution by the central government in Madrid remain an area of contention for many, not only for the proponents of secession in Catalonia.

A referendum in 2006, gave Catalonia an higher degree of autonomy than stated above. But a wish for more independence has obviously remained. And language has long been part of politics, with some bitterness on both sides.

Quick Facts about Barcelona

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a cosmopolitan port city located on the Mediterranean Sea in the northeast of Spain. It is the second largest city in Spain, with over 1.6 million inhabitants. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 4.6 million.

The history of Barcelona appears to go back over two thousand years, though details of its founding and early times remain elusive.

Ruins from Roman Barcelona (then called Barcino) date back to the 1st century AD. These can be visited in what is now the gothic part of the Barcelona's medieval city. In his Blog, the travel writer Richard Varr describes the site as The world's most Extensive Underground Roman Ruins.

Barcelona belongs to the world's major global cities and has been called one of the world's leading tourist, economic, trade fair and cultural centers.

Catalan Art Nouveau architecture, called Modernisme, developed between the years of 1878 and 1910, and was an expression of Catalonia's striving for its own national identity. Barcelona claims to have the greatest collection of Art Nouveau Buildings of any city in Europe.

Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, which revamped the harbor area and many buildings, and created a several mile-long beach area with cafés, restaurants, promenade, etc.

David arrives at Barcelona's El Prat Airport

David is a young student who learned some Spanish at home and later studied it in school. His father is from Spain and his mother from Mexico. This will be his first visit to Spain.

On his flight to Barcelona, Michael chats in Spanish with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.

He arrives at the busy International El Prat Airport, which is located 12 miles from the center of the city. (Visitors using certain discount airlines may also arrive at the Reus and Girona airports, which are about 60 miles from Barcelona, so watch out!)

David's aunt picks him up. Otherwise, he would have gotten into town by taxi, bus, or train.

As David goes through passport control, he continues to use his Spanish. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Spain and how long he will stay. Following the Spanish, you'll see the Catalan equivalent in parentheses.

the flight - el vuelo (el vol)
the flight attendant - el auxiliar de vuelo (el auxiliar de vol)
the airport - el aeropuerto (el aeroport)
the passport control - el control de pasaportes (el control de passaports)

Districts of Barcelona

Districts of BarcelonaDavid's aunt and uncle live on Carrer de Mallorca (Spanish: Calle de Mallorca). This large street runs through the neighborhood (Spanish: barrio) of la Dreta de l'Eixample, and is close to Plaça de Cataluña and el Passeig de Gràcia.

Barcelona is divided into 10 administrative districts, which consist of 73 barrios. Each of the 10 districts is referred to by number and a name. (see map)

The old town stretches mostly across districts 1 (Ciutat Vella) and 2 (Eixample). It's in the latter where the barrio Dreta de l'Eixample is located.

Again, some relevant vocabulary, first Spanish, then Catalan in parentheses. 

the street - la calle (el carrer)
the neighborhood - el barrio (el barri)
the square - la plaza (la plaça)
the promenade - el paseo (el passeig)
the district - el distrito (el districte)
the old town - el casco antiguo (el nucli antic)
the city - la ciudad (la ciutat)

La Sagrada Familia

David and his cousin María walk over fromLa Sagrada Familia 2012 - Gamesforlanguage.com Calle Mallorca to Antoni Gaudí's spectacular church La Sagrada Familia.

Begun in 1882, the project became Gaudí's life work. At his death in 1926, only part of the church was finished. Construction resumed after the Civil War (1936-1939) during the reign of Franco, and continued after Franco's death (1975). The building is now projected to be finished in 2026.

La Sagrada Familia has been called the most unconventional church in Europe. Gaudí used the natural world and its curves for his inspiration and avoided straight lines and angles as much as he could.

For his constructions, he developed his own architectural techniques. Some of these are on display in the museum of the church as well as in the Casa Milà Exhibits (see below).

the church - la iglesia (la església)
the Civil War - la Guerra Civil (la Guerra Civil)
the nature - la naturaleza (la naturalesa)

El Paseo de Gracia (Passeig de Gràcia)

Paseo de Gracia from Predrera RoofAs they walk through their neighborhood, his cousin María asks David if he wants to join her for some shopping on the Passeig de Gràcia.

The Passeig de Gràcia is a wide avenue with shops and businesses that leads from Plaça Cataluña to the neighborhood of Vila de Gràcia. (The photo left is taken from the roof of Gaudí's Casa Milà, see also below)

A little history: Originally, Passeig de Gràcia was called Camí de Jesus and connected the city of Barcelona to the nearby town of Gràcia. With time, small houses, cafés, restaurants, shops, theaters, and dance halls were built along the stretch.

In 1897, the town of Gràcia was formally annexed by Barcelona. It became fashionable to live on the Paseo and to have one's house build in the Modernist style, by architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and others.

Today, the Passeig de Gràcia has retained its appeal. Most of the older buildings have been restored; villas, shops, and fashion houses have multiplied. Along the avenue, which is lined with trees, there are street lamps and benches. 

Here is a link to more history and a walking tour along the Passeig.

On the Passeig de Gràcia there are also many restaurants and cafés. In Spain, a café is called una cafetería. David and María order una horchata (a tiger nut milk drink; in Catalan: orxata), un cortado (espresso with a dash of mik; in Catalan: tallat), and magdalenas (small cupcakes).

Parque Guëll 

In 1900, Count Eusebi Guëll, a wealthy and influential CatalanParque Guell - Gamesforlanguage.com owner, bought land in Gràcia. He employed his friend Antoni Gaudí to design an estate for the rich. The park was built between 1900 and 1914. Gaudì's imaginative designs and architectural solutions were inspired by natural organic shapes.

Only two houses were built, though neither was by Gaudì. Because the project was not commercially successful, the family Guëll gave the land to the city in 1923 as a public park. It officially opened in 1926.

Gaudì lived in the park between 1906 and 1926 in a house built by the architect Francesc Berenguer.

In 1984, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

the park - el parque (el parc)
World Heritage - Patrimonio de la Humanidad (Patrimoni de la Humanitat)
to design - diseñar (dissenyar)

Other Places to visit in Barcelona

The Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys): Built for the 1929 International Exhibition, the stadium was renovated in 1989 for the 1992 Summer Olympics. It is located on Montuïc, a hill in Barcelona that overlooks the harbor. 

Gaudí's Casa Milà 2012 - Gamesforlanguage.comCasa Milà  (picture left) popularly known as La Pedrera was Antoni Gaudì's last civil work and built from 1906 to 1912. It is an apartment building located around an inner court yard and incorporates many innovative features of its time.

The gallery in the building's attic exhibits many examples of Gaudi's design and engineering concepts. From the top you get a stunning view of the city. (see photo)

The building is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso): The museum opened in 1963 and houses an extensive permanent collection of Pablo Picasso's works presented in five medieval palaces. 

Joan Miró Foundation (Fundacío Joan Mirò): A collection of Miró's art, exhibitions of contemporary art, and Espai 10 and Espai 13, a Laboratory for Contemporary Art - where artists have the right to fail. 

David's next Stop

From Barcelona, David takes the train to Granada. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

(Going from Barcelona to Granada by train, is a nearly 600-mile trip. Taking the train is the most inexpensive option, and the trip can take between 8 to 12 hours. You can, of course, also fly to Granada, which takes about an hour and a half.)

Register or log in again and continue with the Spanish 1 course. 

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 3: Dutch Canal Boating

Pénichette 1020FB layoutIf “fietsen” (bicyling) is a Dutch favorite, “bootjevaren” (boating), which includes “zeilen” (sailing), is certainly another.

With about one third of the Dutch mainland BELOW sea level and another one third very close to it, it's no wonder that the Dutch have a special relationship with water.

Yes, Italy has Venice, which has romantic canals but also more frequent flooding. Venice also needs to worry about its future as it is slowly sinking into the Adriatic Sea.

On the other hand, Amsterdam with its many “grachten” (canals) is a vibrant international city that has well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the ever present water.(See also European Travels 1 and European Travels 2)

And, the canal network in the Netherlands is nothing but astounding. It's a great way to explore the country.

For the fun of it, we'll sprinkle in a few Dutch words. Because Dutch is a Germanic language just like English and German, you may find some cognates.

  • het land - the country, land
  • de stad - the city
  • de fiets - the bicycle
  • het water - the water
  • de gracht - the canal (in a city)
  • het kanaal - the canal (outside of a city)
  • de rivier - the river
  • de zee - the ocean, sea 

Dutch Canals and Rivers

Traveling by boat on a canal or river lets you experience the countryside in a different way Dutch windmill along canal - Gamesforlanguage.comthan driving through it. At 7 to 8 miles per hour, you can observe your surroundings in a leisurely way.

You'll notice the different designs of houses and various building methods, admire beautiful gardens, wonder what crops are growing in the fields, what type of cattle is grazing on the pastures.
Often the canals are higher than the adjacent pastures, as water is pumped continually from the lower lying fields into the canals.

While most pumps in the Netherlands are now electrically operated, there are still old windmills that are doing the job. We certainly observe more and more of the modern wind turbines every time we visit.

The ABC of Dutch Canal Travel

Operating a motor boat on Dutch canals is not really
difficult, although sometimes when in tight quarters, you have to keep calm and go slowly. 

You don't need a license. If you haven't sailed or operated a motor boat before, don't worry. The charter company will instruct you in how to handle the boat.

Obviously, prior boating experience helps, not only for operating a boat, but also for knowing a few basic facts:

  • Boats have no brakes
  • Boats are affected by wind and current
  • Boats have various electrical and plumbing systems
  • The forward/backward gear of boats is operated with a throttle
  • Larger boats respond more slowly to throttle and steering commands
  • A “bow thruster” greatly helps maneuvering in tight quarters
  • Locks” connect waterways with different water level elevations
  • The lower the boat, the more bridges you can pass (without their opening)

Our 2016 Charter Choice

For our previous three canal cruises in the Netherlands, we had chartered from different local charter companies. This time we selected Locaboat, a multinational charter with locations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Poland, and the Netherlands.

Pénichette 1020FB layoutTheir location in Loosdrecht, just north of Utrecht and close to the Dutch family reunion we attended, as well as our good experience with them during a charter in France a few years earlier, made them an easy choice.

Péniche” is the French word for a barge. A “Pénichette©”, Locaboat's trademarked name for its motorboats, is therefore a small barge.

We selected a “Flying Bridge Pénichette© 1020FB, which had two cabins with toilets and showers, just right for our American friends and us.

The “Oude Rijn” (the old Rhine), as our mini barge was called, had inside and outside steering – perfect for either rainy or sunny weather – a bow thruster, and the two bicycles we had reserved.

With its 10.20 meter length (about 34 feet), it suited us fine.
The midship saloon and steering station provided a great view during any meal. The compact kitchen (galley) had a refrigerator, a two-burner stove and oven, and all the pots, pans, and dishes we needed.

I noticed several improvements since the last time we had chartered from Locaboat:

  • The bow thruster
  • Electric instead of pump toilets
  • No switch to change from inside to outside throttle operation
  • A spacious refrigerator working well either on motor or shore power
  • An easily operated diesel heater for the hydronic heating system

Dutch canal chartThrough the charter company we had ordered some basic supplies from the local grocery store, such as water, beer, etc. These arrived shortly after we boarded.

After reviewing our intended itinerary, (see map) learning about the boat's systems, and a quick test-outing into the canal with me backing into the slip, we started our trip.

It was late afternoon and we had to pass one lock and bridge before starting our round trip as shown on the chart.

  • de winkel - the shop
  • de boot - the boat
  • de sluis - the lock (on a waterway)
  • de brug - the bridge
  • het dorp - the village, town
  • het huis - the house
  • de tuin - the garden, yard
  • de boerderij - the farm

Locks

In a lock adjusting lines - Gamesforlanguage,comShortly after leaving the Marina, we encountered the Mijnden Sluis, the first of the few locks that we had to pass on our trip.

When approaching a lock, you'll know from the position of the gates (open or closed) and the red or green lights - whether you have to wait (red) and possibly tie up, or whether you can enter (green).

Once in the lock, your crew loops a couple of lines around the bollards and holds on to them. But they should NOT TIE UP.

As the lock gates are closed and the water level rises and falls, the crew adjusts the lines so the boat glides along the lock walls, protected by its fenders. (In this picture our friends are adjusting the lines in the biggest lock we encountered, behind a large commercial barge.)

As the lock gates open again, you motor out the other side to a different water level.

In the Dutch inland canals, such level differences are often only a foot or two.

(In French canals, we had encountered a level difference of 10 feet or more in many locks. Also, in an earlier blog post, we describe how the boat lift in Henrichenburg, Germanyovercomes a 42 feet level difference.)

Bridges

We had chartered a motor boat for the first time in the Netherlands, over 20 years ago in Utrecht. Our teenage sons loved it right away. At that time, a few of the bridges still had to be opened manually. The boys had to jump ashore, open the bridge, let us pass, close the bridge, and then hop on board again.

This time, we were told that we would not have to open any bridges ourselves on our trip.

The moving bridges we encountered, called “Beweegbare Bruggen,” and labeled “BB” on the chart, were operated as follows:

  • By an operator at the bridge or a person who monitored it remotely via cameras
  • By a push button, typically located on a piling before the bridge
  • By phone call to an operator or on an automated line

Many bridges opened as we approached, adding a yellow light to the red light before it turned green. Sometimes we called. (Telephone numbers were on a sign at the bridge. In addition, nearly all bridges had a telephone number listed in the boat manual or in the chart app on my tablet.)

More instructions were provided in the boat's handbook, but Ulrike's command of Dutch was clearly helpful for the third option.

under fixed bridgeThere are only very few bridges left where the operator collects a fee with a wooden shoe on a long pole. We passed only two.

In towns and cities, operating hours often consider morning and evening traffic rush hours. Commercial vessels always have priority over recreational boats and you learn to be patient.

Your chart tells you the passing height of each bridge. Our “Oude Rijn” was listed as 2.92 m. Passing under a 3.00 m bridge left only 8 cm or a little more than 3 inches – and when steering and sitting outside on top of the upper deck we certainly had to duck. (In the above picture there were only a few inches to spare...)

Mooring Sites

The waterway chart (as well as the Dutch app for my tablet I
had downloaded) not only shows all the locks and bridges, but also the marinas and mooring sites that one can tie up to. Some of the mooring sites in small towns are free.

At others, you can replenish your water or hook up your shore power (for a fee). We only did this a couple of times. 

However, you're not limited to the designated mooring sites. Especially in the countryside, you can just hammer in two steel spikes ashore and tie up your boat along the canal bank.

No Hurry

After passing through the Mijnden lock, we turned north and were immediately faced with our first challenge.

The bridge operator of the first moving bridge we were to pass in Loenen, informed us that the next bridge had mechanical problems and could not be opened. He thought it could be fixed in an hour or two and suggested we should just tie up. 

We did and explored the little town of Loenen, with its narrow cobble stone streets and its two picturesque bridges across the river Vecht. We also found a bakery and stocked up on fresh bread and pastries.

Bridge opening in LoenenThis short delay taught us again not to be in a hurry. Canal traveling has to be done leisurely.

Yes, we would not get very far this first day, but no matter. Waiting for bridges or locks to open is as much part of canal travel as finding a nice restaurant for lunch or dinner or a good mooring spot for the night.

Indeed, when the bridge operator told us that the problem was fixed, we continued north on the Vecht. (see picture above)

As it was soon going to get dark we made fast near the small town of Overmeer.

After a 10 minute walk we found a very pleasant restaurant for our first dinner ashore.

Returning a few hours later to our “Oude Rijn,” we were glad that we had not forgotten the flashlight to unlock the door.

We had a quiet and peaceful night and the next morning greeted us with sunshine and ducks and other birds in the water around us.

Sightseeing

The Netherlands is very densely populated country. In traveling
along the small rivers and canals, we passed through cities and towns, as well as commercial and industrial areas. But we also came through long stretches of farm land and pastures.

In addition to the many small towns and villages we came across and explored, the major cities on our itinerary were Amsterdam, Gouda, and Utrecht.

We've written a blog post about Amsterdam, as we stayed there before getting on the boat. But visiting Amsterdam by boat is even more fun.

You can easily get to the marina in the center of town from where you'll explore the city on foot. There are a few more marinas in the outskirts, but then you have to find a way to get into the city.

Gouda is a wonderful town with a stunning 15th-centuryGouda City Hall - Gamesforlanguage.com city hall (see picture) and a spacious market place, where during the spring and summer a traditional cheese market is held every week (Thursday mornings).

You can actually moor right in the center of town, but we chose to tie up and stay overnight on the Hollandsche IJssel, just south of the city.

When we came to Utrecht, it was not possible to go through the town with our Flying Bridge Pénichette, as the many arched bridges of the Vecht were too narrow and low for the “Oude Rijn.”

However, mooring in the “Singelgracht” close to the center of town, allows you to explore the city easily on foot.


Along the Vecht, there are many restaurants tourists and locals alike seemed to enjoy on a late summer day. 

The town has over 20 museums, ranging from the Aboriginal Art, to the National Military, the Railway, and the Waterline Museum Fort Vechten. 

This is often one of the major benefits of sightseeing from a boat: You can moor in or near the center of a town or city (where finding a parking space for your car may often be difficult).

  • het stadhuis - the city hall
  • het centrum - the center (of town)
  • de jachthaven - the marina
  • de buitenwijken - the outskirts (of town)
  • de marktplaats - the market
  • de kaas - the cheese
  • de Noordzee - the North Sea
  • de Oostzee - the Baltic Sea

The European Canal system

While we traveled mostly on small canals and riverscontainer barge on canal - Gamesforlanguage.com (such as the Vecht and IJssel), there were also a few stretches where we encountered commercial traffic.

When a large container-laden barge is heading towards you (as on this picture), you realize how important the waterways are still for the European economy.  You also do your best to keep out of  the way! 

Leaving Utrecht and before we could re-enter the
Vecht near Maarsen, we had to travel on the wide Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. This canal serves as an important commercial link between Amsterdam and the Rhine.

Indeed, barges can make it up and down the Rhine all the way to Basel, Switzerland, or via the Main river, the Main-Danube Canal, and the Danube to Budapest, Vienna, and the Black Sea.

No wonder, traffic is heavy and recreational boats like ours have to keep well out of the way.

The European canal system not only connects the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, but barges and boats (even sailboats with a lowered mast) can find their way into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Mosel and the Rhone.

Breukelen

Our last overnight stop before returning to our base was Breukelen. Breukelen, by the way, gave New York's Brooklyn its name.

We again were moored right in the center of town, behind a typical old-style bascule bridge and several restaurants. In one of them we ate dinner.

There we met the Dutch artist, Toos van Holstein, who was elected the Netherland's “Briljanten Kunstenaar 2016” (Dutch Brilliant Artist of 2016). She had just organized a special art event “25 Karaats Briljant” at the gallery Peter Leen, which is adjacent and connected to the excellent Thai Same Same restaurant.

Traveling on Dutch canals leaves you with many
impressions, memories and pictures, certainly more than we can relate here.

On our last evening we could again enjoy a spectacular sunset across the huge Dutch sky - a fitting end to our canal cruise.

If you're interested in trying canal boating yourself in the Netherlands or France and have more questions, drop us a line via contact and we'll be happy to help.

And for more photos from the trip see our picture gallery Canal Boating in the Netherlands.


Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

French Travel Memories 1 - Daniel in Paris

trip to ParisThe travel stories, which are the basis of our GamesforLanguage courses, use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (You'll find our first German post by clicking on: German Travel Memories 1 – Michael in Frankfurt)

Daniel's first stop is in Paris, France's cosmopolitan capital.

We'll follow Daniel's discoveries in Paris. For those of you who have done or are doing our French 1 course: Daniel en France, this post provides some local color. Others may discover some new things about Paris and perhaps get inspired to dig deeper.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.

Visiting Paris? To many of you, Paris doesn't need much of an introduction. Besides, there are plenty of sites that can fill in any gaps. We'll just mention a few quick facts and list some basic terms in French that will help you in your travels.

A FEW QUICK FACTS ABOUT PARIS

Paris was founded in the 3rd century BC by a Celtic people called Île de la Cité and Notere Damethe Parisii, who gave the city its name. They settled on Île de la Cité (see photo), an island in the middle of the Seine river and located on an important north-south trade axis.

(The well-known Cathédrale Notre-Dame, seen on the photo was later located there.)

In 52 BC, the Romans set up camp on the Île de la Cité and (temporarily) renamed the city Lutetia.

By the end of the 12th century, Paris had become the largest city in the western world, and the political and economic capital of France.

By the 17th century, Paris was an important center of finance, commerce, science, fashion, and the arts in Europe. It continues to play that role today.

It was interesting to read why Paris is called The City of Light (La Ville Lumière).

For one, Paris played an important role during the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that championed the concepts of reason, liberty, and the scientific method, seeking to illuminate man’s intellect.

For another, Paris and London were two of the early cities to adopt gas street lighting.

Since the late 19th century, Paris has also been known as Panam(e) (pronounced: [panam]) in French slang.

The city of Paris (also called the Commune or Department of Paris) now has a population of over 2.2 million people. The urban area of Paris is estimated to have a population of 10.5 million.

Île-de-France, also called “région parisienne” is one of the 18 regions of France. It includes Paris as well as 7 other administrative departments. The Île-de-France region has a population of over 12 million inhabitants.

la capitale - the capital
la ville - the city, town
la lumière – the light
Île de la Cité – an island in the Seine, within the city of Paris
la commune - the town, municipality
l'arrondissement – city district
le fleuve – the river (flows into the sea)
la rivière - the river (flows into a lake or another river)
l'aire urbaine (f) - the urban area
la banlieue – the suburbs (autonomous administrative entities outside of the city of Paris)
Île-de-France – one of the 18 regions of France

PARIS CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT

Daniel is a young student who learned some French at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to France.

On his flight to Paris, Michael chats in French with the flight attendant and with the woman who's on the seat next to him.

He arrives at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, which is Europe's 2nd busiest airport in Europe, after London.

As Daniel goes through Passport Control, he continues to speak French. Responding to the standard questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to France and how long he will stay.

le vol - the flight
l'hôtesse de l'air/le steward - the flight attendant f/m
l'aéroport (m) - the airport
le contrôle des passeports - the Passport Control
Êtes-vous ici pour affaires? - Are you here on business?
affaires has multiple meaning: affairs, matters, business
Combien de temps? - How long?
un bon séjour - a good stay

PARIS NEIGHBORHOODS

Paris arrondissments mapParis is divided into 20 arrondissements, or administrative districts, arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral (snail shell) starting from the middle of the city, the first being on the Right bank (north bank) of the Seine, the 20th being on the outer edge. (Plan by ThePromenader http://www.paris-promenades.com
with numbers in map.)

Most of the districts have their particular brand of Parisian identity and atmosphere. A brief description of each arrondissement can be found HERE. You can click on the number of a particular district to see the streets, metro stops, monuments, etc.

RUE LA FAYETTE

Daniel's aunt and uncle live in the 9th arrondissement, on Rue La Fayette (which also continues through the 10th district). Rue La Fayette is two miles long and an important axis on Paris' Right Bank.

The 9th district is a lively and diverse residential area, with many boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Historically, the fashionable, the moneyed, and the artistic mingled there.

In the 9th you'll find the Paris Opera and the neighborhood of Pigalle, home of the cabaret Moulin Rouge. The painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec had his studio there, and Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh lived near Place Pigalle.

You'll also find the famous department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette in the 9th.

The Galeries Lafayette are a chain of upscale department stores. The famous flagship store on 40 Boulevard Haussmann had its early beginnings in 1893 with a small fashion shop located at the corner of rue La Fayette and rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. The shop founders were two cousins from Alsace, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn.

In the next couple of decades, Bader and Kahn added adjacent buildings, with the goal to transform the whole complex into something of a luxury bazaar.

The architect Ferdinand Chanut “called upon great artists from the École de Nancy to decorate this magnificent building in the style of Paris Art Nouveau. ... The dome, rising to a height of 43 metres, soon became the iconic symbol of Galeries Lafayette. Master glass-maker Jacques Gruber was responsible for designing the Neo-byzantine style stained glass windows.”

The store was inaugurated in 1912. You can read more HERE.

SAINT-GERMAIN-DES-PRÉS

Saint-Germain-des-Prés is an administrative quarter in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This quarter has a large number of bookstores and publishing Place Saint-Germain-Des-Préshouses, and several famous cafés including Les Deux Magots (where Daniel has “un verre” with his aunt when he returns to Paris.)

As you can see on the image on the right, the number of the arrondissement is shown on all signs of streets and squares.

In the middle of the Twentieth century, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter was the center of the Paris Existentialist movement (associated especially with the writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir).

The church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Originally a Benedictine Abbey, it was founded in the 6th century AD.

Historically, Saint-Germain-des-Prés square was an important marketplace thanks to its annual fair.

The Foire Saint-Germain, which dates back to 1176, attracted merchants from all over Europe throughout the centuries. It lasted generally three to five weeks around Easter.

Today, there's a covered market on the square.

la place – the square
le marché – the market
la librairie – the bookstore
l'éditeur – the publisher
la maison d'édition – the publishing house
la foire – the fair, trade fair
un verre - the glass
prendre l'apéritif – to have an aperitif (pre-dinner drink)

RUE DE GRENELLE

Hotel Lutetia - ParisDaniel returns to Paris at the end of his trip and stays for a few days with his aunt Juliette, who lives on Rue de Grennelle, in the 6th arrondissement.

On his way to Rue de Grenelle, Daniel passes Hôtel Lutetia, located at 45 Boulevard Raspail (see picture). It was built in 1910 in the Art Nouveau style and was named after the early Roman town Lutetia.

The interiors of the hotel are in the somewhat later Art Deco style. During Nazi occupation of France, the hotel played an important role as a shelter for refugees.

Over the years, the hotel was visited by guests such as Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, James Joyce (who wrote part of his novel Ulysses here), Peggy Guggenheim, and Josefine Baker.

Rue de Grenelle is a funky street lined with stunning 17th and 18th century mansions, charming bars and restaurants, and interesting shops. Somewhat off the tourist route, rue de Grenelle is a great place for a stroll. Nearby, on Boulevard de Grenelle, you'll find one of Paris' best street markets (Wednesdays and Sundays). The Eiffel Tower is just a short walk away.

LE TROCADÉRO and LA TOUR EIFFEL

After dinner, Daniel and his aunt Juliette take an evening stroll to the Trocadero - ParisTrocadéro, a 20-minute walk away, and located in the 16th arrondissement.

A hill and esplanade with a magnificent view over the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, it's the site of Palais Chaillot, built for the 1937 Paris Expo. (For more info click HERE.)

Sloping down towards the Eiffel Tower are the Gardens of the Trocadéro, also built for the 1937 Paris Expo. The gardens are a beautiful open space with a large water basin called the Fountain of Warsaw, and lined with numerous statues and smaller fountains.

The Eiffel Tower (7th arr., on the Champ de Mars) was erected for the 1889 World's Fair on the centennial of the French Revolution.

The tower was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower (and also created, among other monuments, the metal structure of the Statue of Liberty). The Eiffel Tower continues to be the tallest structure in Paris at 324 meters (1,063 ft.). To get to the top, a visitor can take one of the 5 elevators, or walk up 1665 steps.

Every evening since 1985, the Eiffel Tower is lit up, and sparkles for five minutes at the beginning of each hour.

QUARTIER LATIN and DEUX MAGOTS

Les Deux Magots - ParisAfter visiting the Eiffel Tower, Daniel and his aunt Juliette walk over to the Latin Quarter (6th & 7th arr.) known for the Sorbonne and other educational institutions and lively student atmosphere.

Called “Latin” quarter because Latin was the language of learning in the Middle Ages, its winding streets are the home of quirky second-hand bookshops, and hip cafés and bars.

At the café Les Deux Magots, Daniel and his aunt enjoy a glass of wine to finish the evening. Located in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was a popular meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and artists.

Besides Beauvoir and Sartre, its patrons have included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Julia Child, and others.

Since 1933, the Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded every year to a new French novel that is a little off-beat and non-conventional. The writer who received the prize in 2016 was Pierre Adrian for his novel La Piste Pasolini (published by Les Équateurs).

BOAT TOUR ON THE SEINE

Near the end of his visit, Daniel and his aunt take a river cruise on the Seine. It's his chance to see many of Paris' monuments one last time.Gamesforlanguage Facebook page

A boat tour on the Seine during a sunny day with the “Bateaux Parisiens,” “Bateaux Mouches,” or “Vedettes de Pont Neuf” is indeed a great way to enjoy many of the Paris sights. You'll glide under quite a few of the 37 bridges and learn about the Paris history.

(Click on the image of our Facebook page for our French Quick Game: Paris Quiz!)

A boat tour on the Seine also passes by the new buildings of the National Library.

France's national library dates back to the 14th century. First located at the Louvre Palace, the collection of book grew dramatically over the centuries and was moved again and again into more spacious housing.

The latest expansion, which included new construction, was initiated by President François Mitterrand. The 4 angular towers of the Mitterrand Library - which suggest four open books - were built on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 13th district and opened in 1996.

Controversial since its inception, the new facility had its share of design and construction problems as this article Books Under Glass: the Bibliotheque Nationale de France confirms.

A dinner cruise at night may not be the gourmet highlight of a Paris visit, but lets you experience why Paris is “la Ville Lumière.”

Daniel's travels in France take him also to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. You'll read about these two cities in a future blog post.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language

Dutch windmillIn our previous post, European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”, we described a few of our observations in the Netherlands at the start of our visit this year. (Read also about our canal boating!)

The Netherlands is a great country to visit. It has bucolic scenery, picturesque towns, and a rich tradition of art and intellectual life. Plus, there's Amsterdam. Who can beat that?

Most Dutch people speak English quite well, so it's not necessary to speak any Dutch to get around.

Still, knowing a few phrases of the language can be the passport to a more genuine experience of the Netherlands and its people.

DUTCH - THE NETHERLANDS - HOLLAND

To clarify:

  • English speakers may learn “Dutch,” while Dutch people (Nederlanders) speak “Nederlands” or "Hollands."
  • “The Netherlands” is made up of twelve (12) provinces, plus three (3) Caribbean countries (Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten) and three (3) municipalities (Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius), also in the Caribbean.
  • “Holland” consists of the two provinces, North Holland and South Holland, therefore just describes a part of the Netherlands. However, "Holland" is often used by German speakers when talking about the Netherlands.

Last year's post, 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion, includes a snapshot of Dutch history.

Map of the NetherlandsWe should also point out, that the new Dutch kingdom, established in 1815, lost its southern half in 1830, when that became part of Belgium. William Z. Shetter in The Netherlands in Perspective describes the reasons this way:

“The North had had centuries of independence and prosperity while the South had been a remote province of the Spanish and later Austrian Empires. The constitutional provision for equality of religion had not changed the fact that Protestantism was dominant in the North and Catholicism in the South.”

Dutch language (Nederlands) is spoken in the Netherlands and in Flanders, northern Belgium, (the Dutch kingdom's former southern half) where the language is called Flemish (Vlaams). Flemish is also spoken in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais, bordering Belgium.

Dutch is also spoken in the Republic of Suriname (located in South America, north of Brazil). In addition, Dutch has official status in the three countries and three municipalities in the Caribbean.

Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, is one of the official languages of South Africa. Dutch and Afrikaans are mutually intelligible.

SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORD "DUTCH"

In the Brittanica you'll find this explanation:Dutch language

"In the Middle Ages the language of the regions was called Dietsc, or Duutsc, historically equivalent to German Deutsch and meaning simply 'language of the people,' as contrasted with Latin, which was the language of religion and learning. The form Duutsc was borrowed into English and gives modern 'Dutch.'

The official name of the language is Nederlands, or Netherlandic. In the Netherlands it is also called Hollands (Hollandish), reflecting the fact that the standard language is based largely on the dialect of the old province of Holland (now North Holland and South Holland)."

For a more detailed account of the history of the Dutch language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_language.

DUTCH IS BETWEEN ENGLISH AND GERMAN

German-UK flagsLearning some Dutch is a fun adventure, especially for someone who speaks English and German. This is because Dutch is closely related to both English and German. One could say that it is between them.

On the one hand, Dutch resembles English in that it has no umlaut, doesn't use the subjunctive, and does not use case endings for adjectives, etc.

On the other hand, Dutch resembles German in that it has three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), a similar word order, and uses modal particles (those little hard-to-translate words used in spoken language that reflect the attitude of the speaker). Also, Dutch and German vocabulary often show great similarity.

Below is a sampler. (To learn and practice Dutch words and phrases with audio for free, go to Lingohut.com)

THE NUMBERS 1-14 (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • one, een, eins
  • two, twee, zweipool balls
  • three, drie, drei
  • four, vier, vier
  • five, vijf, fünf
  • six, zes, sechs
  • seven, zeven, sieben
  • eight, acht, acht
  • nine, negen, neun
  • ten, tien, zehn
  • eleven, elf, elf
  • twelve, twaalf, zwölf
  • thirteen, dertien, dreizehn
  • fourteen, veertien, vierzehn

QUESTION WORDS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • where, waar, woquestion words
  • what, wat, was
  • when wanneer, wann
  • why, waarom, warum
  • These two are a little confusing:
  • who, wie, wer
  • how, hoe, wie

BASIC NOUNS (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • street, straat, Straße
  • house, huis, Haus
  • bridge, brug, Brücke
  • way, weg, Weg
  • money, geld, Geld
  • check, rekening, Rechnung
  • table, tafel, Tisch
  • weather, weer, Wetter

COMMON ADJECTIVES (ENGLISH - DUTCH - GERMAN)

  • now, nu, jetzt
  • later, later, später
  • bad, slecht, schlecht
  • good, goed, gut
  • small, klein, klein
  • big, groot, groß
  • new, nieuw, neu
  • old, oud, alt
  • low, laag, niedrig
  • high, hoog, hoch

DUTCH SAYINGS

One characteristic of the Dutch language is that it's full of colorful sayings that are sometimes pretty hard to figure out. But they sure are entertaining. Here are a couple:

1. De hond in de pot findendog in flower pot

Literal: To find the dog in the pot
English equivalent: All the food has been eaten

Ze kwam zo laat thuis dat ze de hond in de pot vond.
She came home so late that all the food had been eaten.

2. De aap komt uit de mouw

Literal: The monkey comes out of the sleeve
English equivalent: Truth will come out

Als hij binnekort voor de rechter staat, komt de aap uit de mouw.
When he soon stands in front of the judge, truth will come out.

3. Iets op eigen houtje doenwood carving

Literal: To do something on one's own piece of wood (or carving stick)
English equivalent: To do something on one's own

Hij is geen groepsmens, hij doet dingen het liefst op eigen houtje.
He's not a group person, he prefers doing things on his own.

WHAT ABOUT “FIETSEN"?

Woman with bicycle in Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.com“Fietsen” is a word you may hear a lot, as its seems that everybody does it in the Netherlands: Bikes are everywhere; in Amsterdam, along the canals, on bridges, etc.

The words “bike" (English), “fiets" (Dutch), and “Fahrrad" (German) don't seem to be at all related.

The English terms "bike" or "bicycle" are derived from the Greek (bi- "two" + kyklos "circle, wheel"). The German word "Fahrrad" is simply a "riding wheel." Thus, these words make etymological sense.

But, the origin of the word “fiets," so central to daily life in the Netherlands, has long puzzled linguists.

One long-held conjecture was that the word "fiets" was a corruption of the French word "vélocipède" (as "fielsepee") and originated in 1870 in the town of Apeldoorn. (dr.j.devries etymologisch woordenboek, 1973)

Another popular possibility was that "fiets" came from the name of the bicycle merchant E.C. Viets (V pronounced as F).

Or, that it's a corruption of the French word "vitesse" (speed).

Or, that it comes from the southern Dutch word "vietse," meaning "to move quickly."

Most recently, two Belgian linguists suggested that "fiets" comes from the German "Vize-Pferd" (substitute horse) (Linbkhttp://www.24oranges.nl/2012/02/23/etymology-of-dutch-word-for-bicycle-cracked-after-140-years/)

However, the suggestion that "fietsen" is a German loanword was quickly and thoroughly criticized online in the electronic magazine for Dutch language and literature, by the linguist Jan Stroop in his 2012 post, Ga toch fietsen. (The article is in Dutch, but you can easily get a Google translation, which gives you the basic idea.)

Stroop ends his argument with the sentence: "Fiets" een Duits leenwoord? Bike rider in Holland Ga toch fietsen. ("Fiets" a German loanword? - Go take a hike., i.e No way! )

So, the origin of "fiets" remains a riddle.

For anybody visiting the Netherlands "fietsen" is a must activity. Weaving your way through traffic and busy pedestrian passages may take some practice and not be for everyone.

But in all cities and towns, you'll also find bicycle lanes you can ride on comfortably and safely "Dutch style," sitting erect and leisurely enjoying the surroundings...

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagramand leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 1: Rembrandt, Reunion, Dunes, and “Fietsen”...

European travels Traveling to Europe after Labor Day can only be recommended. The trains are not as crowded and the interstate roads - while always busy – don't have the massive tie-ups that often occur during the main travel months in the summer.

We are lucky to be members of an international family that gets together once a year, in late summer or early fall. The reunions take place mostly in cities or villages in the Netherlands, but we've also attended gatherings in Werden, Germany, and in Brugge, Belgium.

These reunions (see last year's 3 Languages, a Pyramid, Napoleon and a Family Reunion) are not only an opportunity to touch base with family members, but they also give us the chance to use and practice our languages.

Frankfurt - Amsterdam

Our flight from Boston to Frankfurt am Main was eventless. As usual, it was easy to pass throughFernbahnhof sign - Gamesforlanguage.com passport control, pick up our luggage, and walk over to the “Fernbahnhof” (long-distance train station) to board our train to Amsterdam.

Frankfurt has another train station, this one for local trains, as the signage makes quite clear. It's the “Regionalbahnhof,” in case you just want to head into the city. (If you do, our blog post about Michael's visit to Frankfurt may interest you.)

The ICE trains are pleasant and convenient. We learned from one of the daily papers that they are now already in their 4th model series. Normally we like to select a “quiet” compartment after arriving from Europe so we can pick up on some lost sleep. (A quiet compartment is marked by a sign with a man saying Psst and a second one that has a cell phone with a line through it.) 

Here's a quick explanation for the three terms mentioned above:

Fernbahnhof - station for long-distance trains

Regionalbahnhof - station for regional trains

ICE  - Intercity-Express (high speed trains that run through Germany and surrounding countries)

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal Station - Gamesforlanguage.comA few hours later when exiting the Centraal Station” (see left) in Amsterdam, we stepped into bright sunshine and 80 degrees weather. Amsterdam's central train station is an imposing building sitting right on the banks of the Ij river.

The station was designed in the Gothic/Renaissance Revival style by the Dutch architect Pierre Cuypers (1827-1921) and first opened in 1889. Cuypers is the same architect who also designed the building of the Rijksmuseum.

In front of the train station, you're immediately faced with crossing a busy street that takes you over a canal. Our Airbnb was located in the center of Amsterdam, so that's where we needed to go.

Our quarters were only a 12-minute walk from the train station. Our host must have heard our approach as he greeted us before we could ring the bell.

The room was in a typical Dutch row house and situated below street level, along one Amsterdam  B&B at Canal - Gamesforlanguage.comof the typical Amsterdam canals. With big windows and a glass door opening to the sidewalk and street, it looked very inviting. The inside was attractively furnished and well equipped.

Our host gave us detailed instructions: how to use the coffee maker, get Internet access, etc. He also explained that the shower and toilet had to be pumped up to the sewer line and that the water level of the canal was less than one foot below our room floor. He hastened to assure us: “Don't worry, it's safe, this building has been here for over 200 years.”

A bottle of red wine was waiting for us as a nice welcome gesture and we enjoyed our two nights there.

Amsterdam is a great city for walking. From Centraal Station to the Rijksmuseum, which is at the other end of the historic center, it's only about a mile.  

Dutch bike sign - Gamesforlanguage.comBut - you have to really watch out to avoid the bike riders, who seem to attack you from all directions as you try to cross the street. They are clearly a privileged class in the Netherlands. 

One-way streets? They are one-way just for cars. Bikes or mopeds are not shy about taking them in either direction, even with cars heading their way. Often there are signs that expressly make bikes and mopeds the exception,” as on this typical one-way sign, uitgezondered (except) for bikes and mopeds, which can still come towards you.

We had been in Amsterdam some years ago. This time we stayed only one dayAmsterdam:Eye Film Museum - Gamesforlanguage.com in the city as we were familiar with many of the sights and had done the must-do activities, a canal cruise, the Anne Frank house, Rembrandt House, etc.

Our host suggested that we take the free ferry across the Ij river, just on the other side of Centraal Station. We did so the next morning under blue skies, together with a crowd of pedestrians, bikes, and scooters.

The spectacular structure of Amsterdam's Eye Film Institute certainly invited a look, and anyone interested in the cinema and its history will enjoy spending time in there.

Rijksmuseum

We spent the afternoon in the famous RRembrandt's "Nightwatch" - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - Gamesforlanguage.comijksmuseum, which had been closed for several years during extensive renovations. We went straight to the Honor Gallery with its masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age by Rembrandt van Rijn, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael, and others.

We spent quite a bit of time with Rembrandt's “Nightwatch,” one of the most prominently exhibited paintings.

From the available information sheet, we became aware of a lot of details that the casual observer would miss: the chicken hanging from a young girl's belt, the mascot of the guard unit, or Rembrandt's face peering out from behind one of the soldiers. The claws of the dead chicken on the girl's belt represent the “clauweniers” (arquebusiers) and the dead chicken suggests a defeated adversary.

A Family Reunion and a Roman Castellum 

Soest, a small town east of Utrecht was again the location of our Dutch family's reunion. Communication is not a problem because all members speak English and often one or two other languages to boot. We always have fun distinguishing the various German, Austrian, and Swiss or the British, Canadian, and U.S. accents.

One of Ulrike's distant cousins had just moved with his wife and young child from Mexico to Amsterdam, the Netherland's capital city. While both their English was excellent, they spoke no Dutch (yet) and it'll be interesting to see their progress when we see them again. (Maybe next year?)

While my Dutch had improved substantially and I could follow many Dutch conversations, speaking fluently remains a challenge. Nearly all of the Dutch relatives' English is better than my Dutch. Besides, they're eager to practice their English.

We always learn something new about the area or city where the reunion takes place. Castellum Hoge Woerd, Netherlands - Gamesforlanguage.comThis time we all went on an excursion to the Castellum Hoge Woerd, in De Meern, near Utrecht. This is a replica of a Roman fort with an exhibit of a recently discovered Roman river barge (below). It took us back to the time the Romans ruled in the area. (see also: http://www.castellumhogewoerd.nl)

Roman barge - Gamesforlanguage.com The museum is brand new, with free entrance. Interactive displays of Roman life and culture added to the interesting stories of our guide: He imagined what could have caused the sinking of the over 90 feet long barge as the Roman skipper was guiding it down the river. (The river since then has changed its course, and is now called the Oude Rijn.)

The river's mud had preserved both the hull and the skipper's tool chest quite well for nearly 2000 years. It made this an extraordinary find and allowed for many speculations about the skipper (a veteran Roman soldier?), his skills as a carpenter, the load the barge might have carried, and his likely connection to the leader of the Roman Castellum. (Did he know him from serving with him earlier?) The barge was found close to the location of the original castle, of which only foundations remained. It was part of the Roman fortification line, the limes that stretched across Europe.

These excursions always present wonderful opportunities to talk with family members in the bus, during a coffee break, or when looking at something of common interest!

Fietsen” (biking) to the Dunes

Soest Dunes - Gamesforlanguage.comSoest lies about over 80 miles inland from the coast. Discovering large stretches of sand dunes during a bike trip therefore was quite surprising. (If you are interested in the origin of "fietsen", read our next post: European Travels 2: The Netherlands and the Dutch Language)

The dunes were created by heavy westerly winds during the second to last ice age. (see: “Soester Duinen” Dutch Wikipedia) Later, woods and heath grew around it. The area is now a nature reserve and a popular place for bike and walking tours. It is also a beautiful spot to just sit and enjoy the stunning natural landscape. Families with children used a brilliant Sunday afternoon to enjoy the beach-less dunes, as you see on this picture.

The Dutch have developed extensive, numberedsenior bikers in the Netherlands - Gamesforlanguage.com bike networks, for which already many apps exist. I downloaded the Android app “knooppunten” (junctions). It lets you plan your trip, provides a map with the bike path and numbers, and gives you various statistics.

On this Sunday afternoon, we saw a wide range of bikers on these bike paths: Families with young children on the parents' bikes or riding in front of them; groups of seniors on a leisurely outing, (see picture right) riding high on their typical Dutch bikes; teams of quite determined looking men in full gear on their racing bikes.

What was quite noticeable for citizens of the U.S.: Except for the men with their racing gear, (and maybe a few of the younger children), none of the bikers wore a helmet!

Canal Cruising

The next stage of our Europe trip this year was a week on the Dutch canals with friends from the U.S. This was the fourth time we were canal cruising in the Netherlands.

Gliding through the country side at about 8 miles/hour lets you take in many sights you'll miss when traveling by car – and you can read about it in this post...

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 1 - Michael in Frankfurt am Main

Frankfurt a.M.The travel stories, which are the basis of our GamesforLanguage courses, use real street names, places, restaurants, hotels, etc., many of which we visited ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide additional details for each of the cities our young travelers visit in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

That we chose Frankfurt for Michael's first stop in Germany was no accident: My husband Peter grew up in Bad Nauheim, a small town 20 miles north of Frankfurt. (Skyline of Frankfurt across the Main River at sunset) 

Ken Burns' PBS documentary reminded us recently that Franklin Roosevelt had attended school in Bad Nauheim for several weeks, while his father sought the water cure for his heart condition. (Read our post: Where “Bad” doesn't mean “bad” - Franklin Roosevelt in Germany...)

Visiting Frankfurt? Here's a short introduction to this lively, cosmopolitan German city. We'll also list a few basic terms in German that will help you in your travels.

We'll follow Michael's discoveries in Frankfurt, for those of you who have done or are doing our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland.

In our travel-story course, you learn daily conversational language. The vocabulary listed here is a combination of some words taught in the course as well as other useful terms.

Quick Facts about Frankfurt

Frankfurt am Main is located on an ancient ford (German: "Furt") on the Main River in the federal state of Hesse.

(There's also a Frankfurt an der Oder, a city that is located on the Oder River in the state of Brandenburg, at the Polish border.)

Frankfurt am Main is the 5th largest city in Germany. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 5 million. The city is an important financial center. Its stock exchange (Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse, FWB) ranks among the top 10 stock exchanges of the world. (Frankfurt with the twin towers of the "Deutsche Bank" below)

Frankfurt is also known for its trade fairs, which go back in history to the Middle Ages. The city hosts the world's largest book fair, which takes place annually in October. The first Frankfurt Book Fair was held in 1485. (For further reading)

der Fluss - the riverFrankfurt a.M. - Deutsch Bank Towers

das Bundesland - the federal state

die Grenze - the border

die Stadt - the city

der Großraum - the metropolitan area

die Bevölkerung - the population

das Finanzzentrum - the financial center

die Börse - the stock exchange

die Buchmesse - the book fair

Frankfurt Airport 

Michael is a young student who learned some German at home and later studied it in school. However, this will be his first visit to Germany.

On his flight to Frankfurt, Michael chats in German with the flight attendant and with the woman who sits next to him.

Frankfurt airport is the 4th busiest airport in Europe, after London, Paris, and Istanbul. With its 297 destinations in 104 countries (as of 2015), Frankfurt's airport may have the most international destinations in the world. (Further information)

As Michael goes through passport control, he continues to use his German. Responding to the standard immigration/passport control questions, he has to explain why he is traveling to Germany and how long he will stay. 

der Flug - the flightGerman passport control

der/die Flugbegleiter(in) - the flight attendant m/f

der Flughafen - the airport

die Passkontrolle - the Passport Control (did you notice the "Paßkontrolle" spelling on the picture? If you don't know, which one is correct or why, write as at contact, and we'll explain.)

Sind Sie geschäftlich hier? - Are you here on business?

Wie lange bleiben Sie? - How long are you staying?

Eine gute Zeit! - Have a good time!

Districts of Frankfurt

Frankfurt is divided into 46 districts. The financial center spreads across several districts in and near the inner city.

A little farther out, you'll find a number of residential areas that are still well-connected by subway and tram to the city center and its core, the historical quarter.

Leipziger Straße, where Michael's aunt and uncle live, is a charming street with bistros, shops, and apartments in the residential district called Bockenheim.

Not far from Leipziger Straße is one of the four campuses of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität with its lively student quarter.

(Aerial view of Frankfurt-Bockenheim below, right)

der Stadtteil - the (city) districtFrankfurt Bockenheim

die Innenstadt - the inner city

die Wohngegend - the residential area

die U-Bahn - the subway

das Universitätsgelände (der Campus) - the campus

das Studentenviertel - the student quarter

die Kneipe - the pub

das Geschäft - the shop

Der Römerberg

Michael's cousin Julia shows him around Frankfurt's historic quarter ("Altstadt").

Römerberg market place - Frankfurt a.M.They walk across the central market square, which is called "Römerberg," (see picture left with Justizia statue) literally translated as "Roman mountain." Curiously enough, the name may have nothing to do with early Roman settlement, which can be documented for the time between 75 and 260 A.D. (or if you prefer, C.E.)

Rather, there are various speculations about the origin of the name "Römerberg." One idea is that the name comes from the presence of Italian merchants that frequented the popular meeting place for fairs and markets during the Middle Ages.

Another is that the square was considered a focal point for celebrations during the Holy Roman Empire (a multi-ethnic empire, which lasted from the early Middle Ages to the early 19th century and included, among others, the Kingdoms of Germany, Bavaria, Burgundy, and Italy.) For more information click here.

Frankfurt was heavily bombed during World War II (1939-1945) and its historic city center was reduced to rubble. Most of Frankfurt was rapidly built up again, but without much attention paid to architectural style.

However, city planning took hold in the 60s and 70s and in the 1980s, some of the buildings in the historic city center were rebuilt in the old style. In 2010/11 a new effort was started, called the "Dom-Römer Projekt," to reconstruct another 35 buildings using old historical plans.

Reconstruction has included the timber-framed houses on the Römerberg, as well as the city hall, called "der Römer." The step-gabled house became Frankfurt's city hall in the 15th century and has been the seat of city government ever since.

(See picture below right of Frankfurt old town.)

der Berg - the mountain Frankfurt old town

die Römer - the Romans

der Römer - Frankfurt's city hall

das Rathaus - the city hall

das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages

die Altstadt - the history quarter

der Marktplatz - the market place

das Gebäude - the building

das Fachwerkhaus - the timber-framed house

der Weltkrieg - the world war

Die Zeil

During their walk through the historic center, his cousin Julia asks Michael if he wants to go to the Zeil with her to do some shopping. It's about a 10 minute walk from the Römerberg to get there.

Die Zeil is a well-known, busy shopping street in the center (Innenstadt) of Frankfurt. Its name dates back to the 14th century, when it referred to a specific row of houses. Over the centuries, the street was extented and became a boulevard of palaces, grand buildings in various architectural styles, fine restaurants, and numerous department stores. Many of these were not rebuilt after the second World War.

From 2004 to 2009, the Zeil underwent major renovations, and the Myzeil shopping arcade with its gigantic glass façade was added. It has eight floors and its architecture is stunning.

(See picture of MyZeil shopping arcade below, right)

die Zeile - the rowMyZeil - Frankfurt a.M.

die Einkaufsstraße - the shopping street

der Reiseführer - the travel guide

die Renovierung - the renovation

das Kaufhaus - the department store

die Architektur - the architecture

Das Frankfurter Goethe-Haus

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Germany's most famous writer, was born and grew up in Frankfurt am Main, then still an Imperial Free City of the Holy Roman Empire.

Goethe got his education from private tutors, with a special focus on languages (Latin, Greek, French, Italian, English, and Hebrew). He loved drawing, and read as much as he could of literature, history, and religion, in books that were in his father's library.

In 1765, at the age of 16, he (reluctantly) began his law studies, at the universities of Leipzig and Straßburg, finishing his law degree in Frankfurt in 1771. During his time as a student, he became close friends with other writers, fell in and out of love, and started writing passionate poetry himself. In 1772, he gave up his law career and left Frankfurt.

Goethe is probably best known for two works. One is his loosely autobiographical Sturm and Drang novel "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), which he wrote in the course of six weeks. Upon publication, the novel instantly made him world famous. People started dressing and acting like the young Werther. Unfortunately, it also led to some copycat suicides.

Goethe's other well-known work is the drama "Faust I" (published in 1806). This was a reworking of the old Faust legend - a scholar's pact with the devil - that had been popularized by Marlowe in his "Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" (1604).

The Goethe-Haus (see picture below, right) documents the writer's formative years in Frankfurt. (For further reading about Goethe, click on this Wiki entry

der Dichter - the poet, writerGoethe Haus - Frankfurt a. M.

die Kaiserstadt - the Imperial City

die Bildung/Ausbildung - the education

die Sprache - the language

die Bibliothek - the library

das Jurastudium - the law studies

das Gedicht - the poem

Sturm und Drang - Storm and Stress (early Romanticism)

Die Leiden des jungen Werther - The Sorrows of Young Werther

Michael spends a few more days in Frankfurt. Among the other sites he visits, these may also interest you:

Other Places to visit in Frankfurt

The Archäologische Garten: an archeological museum that includes remnants of ancient Roman settlement.

Frankfurt Cathedral: the city's main cathedral, constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries. Roman-German emperors were crowned here during the time of the Holy Roman Empire.

Haus Wertheim: a timber-framed house on the Römerberg that was undamaged during World War II.

The Alte Oper: the former opera house, built in 1880.

Michael's Next Stop

Heidelberg - GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the train to Heidelberg. There he gets together with a friend he had met in Boston.

Register or log in again and continue with the German 1 course. When you reach the Heidelberg Scene you'll also learn the English translation of the town's name.

In Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg? we further speculate about why Twain stayed in Heidelberg for three months in 1878.

Twain had a love-hate relationship with the German language and his The Awful German Language - an Appendix to his 1880 book, A Tramp Abroad, is a fun read for anyone learning German.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact.

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