Besides Italy, Italian is also an official language in Switzerland (Ticino & Graubünden), San Marino, and Vatican City, and a second language in Malta, Slovenia, and Croatia, but we know little about particular end-of-year traditions in these regions or countries.
The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.
Italy, where San Silvestro died, obviously has a special relation to the Saint and uses the term "Notte di San Silvestro" (as well as "Vigilia di Capodanno") as names for New Year's Eve.
There are some particular Italian Notte di San Silvestro traditions that you may not know about:
The most curious one must be to wear red underwear during the last day of the year. It is supposed to bring you luck, health, and love. Importantly, a piece of red underwear should have been given to you as a present, for example for Christmas, and you'd be wearing it for the first time on New Year's Eve. This centuries-old custom, originally just observed by women, is now also being adopted by men! Anything for luck, health, and love, right?
Lentil Stew & Pork Sausage
The San Silvestro dinner, eaten with family and friends, varies quite a bit from region to region, but it often includes fish and seafood. At midnight when the bells ring, a traditional lentil stew is often eaten, one spoonful per bell, served together with "zampone" (pig's trotter, stuffed with spicy ground-up pork, usually dried and cured) or "cotechino" (a rind-and-pork-meat sausage). The round lentils, representing coins, are supposed to bring wealth and good fortune.
Grapes and dried fruit are traditionally served at the end of the dinner. Preserving grapes for the Capodanno dinner - rather than eating them earlier - means that you have willpower and are a frugal person. Everybody at the table eating the grapes will therefore be frugal and wise with their wealth.
Throwing out old "Stuff"
Throwing out of the window unused or unusable stuff - pots, pans, clothes, and kitchen utensils - will "clear the deck" for next year. While few Italians still seem to practice this tradition - it was more prevalent in southern Italy in the past - you may still want to watch you head when celebrating New Year's Eve in Naples and further south.
At midnight, fireworks are also displayed across much of the country and the first day of the year, "Capodanno," is an official holiday in Italy as in many other parts of the world.
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 Facebook, TwitterandInstagram, and leave any comments with contact.
French is the second most widespread language worldwide after English, as only these two languages are spoken on all five continents. French is an official language in 29 countries, most of which form la francophonie (in French), the community of French-speaking countries.
While particular end-of-year traditions exist in most of these countries, we'll just focus here on France.
In France, huge municipal firework displays were not the customary way to usher in the New Year. This has changed however in recent years, and the Eiffel Tower fireworks and light shows in Paris have become quite spectacular.
Nevertheless, French people tend to take things more quietly and celebrate with friends at home or in a restaurant. These New Year's Eve celebrations - le réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre - traditionally are a feast that includes plenty of champagne and foie gras or oysters, symbols of prosperity and good fortune.
As in many other countries, the last day of the year in France is named after the fourth-century Catholic pope and saint. This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of Saint Sylvestre's death in 335.
[You say "la" Saint-Sylvestre because it's short for "la fête de Saint-Sylvestre."]
In Paris, the city of lights, New Year's Eve becomes a visual feast: from many vantage points in the city you can see the iconic, illuminated Eiffel Tower.
And, you'll find the biggest New Year's party on the Avenue de Champs Elysées, where hundreds of thousands of people gather to celebrate, wish each other "Bonne année" (Good year), and exchange "bises" (kisses on the cheeks) at the stroke of midnight.
In 2014, Paris added a first-time spectacle before the final countdown: a 20-minute video show projected on the Arc de Triomphe, highlighting the Parisian "art of living." This RTL clip lets you practice your French listening skills and you'll learn that not everybody was happy with the show.
If you click on the image on the left you can watch a YouTube clip of the 2014 light show and fireworks.
Due to the recent terror attacks, there is some question about the extent of the official New Year's celebrations in Paris this year.
A Less Joyous New Year Tradition...
Even in previous years there were some clouds on the New Year horizon:
"The infamous custom can be traced to the northeastern city of Strasbourg that straddles France’s border with Germany. Strasbourg, which hosts thousands of tourists who flock to the city for its renowned Christmas market, first began to be blighted by holiday season vehicle arson in the late 1980s. But the phenomenon exploded to alarming levels during the 1990s."
Le Réveillon du Nouvel An
Nevertheless, in spite of such statistics and recent events, I'd be very surprised if the French were not on the streets and celebratingle réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.
Update: This France24 article of December 28, 2015 confirms that the celebrations will indeed take place in Paris, although under heightened security. The Arc de triomphe light show will be reduced to 10 minutes.
On New Year's Day, it's the tradition to have a large family dinner and to give presents to the children as a way to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
The King's Cake
The New Year holiday season comes to an official end on January 5th, Epiphany, the day when it is believed that three wise men presented their gifts to the baby Jesus.
The French celebrate by making a unique kind of cake, the "Galette des rois." In many regions the "galette des rois" is a flat layer of puff pastry filled with almond cream, in other communities, e.g. in the south of France, the "gâteau des rois" is a round brioche with candied fruits and sugar, shaped like a crown.
Common to all versions of the King's Cake, is a small trinket, a plastic or porcelain figurine of the baby Jesus hidden in the cake. The one who finds it (watch out to not swallow or bite on it!) is the king for the the day (and can wear the paper crown, often sold with the cakes).
Young kids obviously love this tradition and families use various rules to ensure a fair distribution of the cake to all. (Wikipedia)
German is the only official language in Austria, Germany, and Lichtenstein.
It is the "majority" language, and shares official status with the other languages, in 17 cantons of Switzerland.
It is the co-official language in Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as in another four (4) Swiss cantons and the Italian Autonomous Province of South Tyrol, where it is also the majority language.
In France, the German spoken in the Alsace and Moselle regions is deemed a "regional language," and German speakers (who are often bilingual) also live in the border areas of Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.
New Year's Eve in German-speaking countries is also called "Silvester," as December 31 is St. Silvester (or Sylvester) Day. The fourth-century Catholic pope and saint became associated with New Year's Eve.
This was after the reform of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the last day of the year became December 31, the day of his death in AD 335.
(Not only the German-speaking countries, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Israel all use a variant of Silvester's name as the preferred name for New Year's Eve.)
St. Silvester, Germanic Gods, and other Superstitions
Watch out for fish bones - St. Silvester had a frightening reputation: It was said that non-believers would suffocate in his presence. As he died on December 31st, superstitious Germans are very careful when eating fish on the last day of the year.
No laundry - The superstition not to wash and hang up any laundry for drying around New Year's Eve, traces back to the German god Wotan. This custom is said to keep Wotan happy who, together with his buddies, supposedly roams through the gardens on the night of Silvester.
No work - At the end of each year, the gods let the wheel rest to which the sun is attached. Mankind should therefore follow suit and let all work rest on the last day of the year.
In Germany's northern state Schleswig-Holstein, quite a few old traditions survive:
"Rummelpottlaufen," quite similar to Halloween in the U.S., sees costumed children with a self-made music instrument (a can covered with pigskin or thin leather, pierced by a willow-stick, which when turned and rubbed makes hollow and scary sounds), going from door to door on New Year's Eve, singing old tunes and being rewarded with candies and sweets.
Berlin is the site of Germany's biggest New Year's Eve party, which takes place around the Brandenburg Gate; "Berliner" (jam-filled doughnuts) are a particular favorite in Berlin, as in many other German-speaking countries during Silvester.
In the southern parts of Germany, originating from Austria and Switzerland, a cheese Fondue or Raclette is often also a typical New Year's dinner.
At midnight a "Feuerzangenbowle," a punch made with red wine, orange peels, cinnamon, cloves, and poured over a burning sugar cone supplements or even replaces the German "Sekt" (sparkling wine).
In Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations.
Before midnight, small marzipan or chocolate "fortune gifts" (figures of chimney sweeps, little fortune piggies, four-leaf clover, etc.) are exchanged.
As in many other German-speaking regions, "Bleigießen" (lead pouring) - the melting of small pieces of lead, dropped into cold water - results in a popular, fun game: the various forms of the the hardened lead pieces let the participants speculate what a person may experience in the coming year.
This YouTube video of an ARTE.TV video (see also our post on how to connect to ARTE.TV) explains to a French audience (in German) how "Bleigießen" is done.
Impressive fireworks are part of the Viennese tradition as is a glass of champagne. After the midnight countdown, the Danube waltz plays on all radio and tv stations.
In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:
"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)
In this small town near Bern, about 40 participants dress up as various characters for the "Altjahresu" (old-year-donkey) performances: the donkey guide, the musicians, the priest, the devil, the barrel carrier, the newlyweds, the mailman, etc.
They go from bistro to bistro with their donkey, the musicians play, the newlyweds dance, the mailman distributes the old year's newspaper, the barrel carrier collects white wine in his wine barrels, etc.
At the end of the day, around 9:30 PM, the priest then reads his "sermon" at the town center to the great amusement of all spectators. Some pictures from last year above and the 2015 event HERE.
"Harder-Potschete" - Switzerland's longest Silvester in Interlaken
The Silvester celebrations end in Interlaken only on January 2. Until 1956 the "Potschen," scary- looking figures with masks - representing dead people - were roaming the streets, screaming at spectators and pulling them along.
That often got out of hand. So, in the late fifties, a new custom was added to tone down the rowdiness. It combined the legend of a delinquent monk marooned on the "Harder," Interlaken's town hill, with that of the masked characters. The scary masks are still there but the celebrations are not as wild as before. See last year's masks in the picture on right above.
I'm not aware of any particular Silvester traditions in Lichtenstein and Luxembourg that differ from those in the other German-speaking countries and regions. (If you do, please let me know!)
As countries and regions have developed particular traditions and celebrations, so have many families. We are now continuing a tradition with our extended family here in the U.S. that started with my father's family in Berlin, Germany:
The after-midnight snack is "Heringssalat," a Scandinavian/Northern Germany specialty that has many recipe variations. It is served with "wieners" or "frankfurters." The herring, potato, apple, and pickle combination makes a welcome change after the sweet treats of the Christmas season.
And strangely enough, it even goes well with a glass of champagne!
So, you're learning a second language. Are you agonizing about which language program or method would be best to become fluent in French, German, Korean, or even in Mandarin? And with that, are you thinking about your “learning style”?
WHAT ARE LEARNING STYLES?
The concept of individual learning styles became popular in the 1970s and continues to endure. The impetus behind it is the idea that each person learns a little differently. It's an idea that's hard to argue against.
In the 1970s and 80s, the theory of individual learning styles served as a way to get beyond traditional methods of teaching that were textbook-based and heavy on rote memorization. Even now, the theory of learning styles continues to play a role in educational policy. Where it is applied, classroom teachers are encouraged to adapt their materials to what is assumed to be the learning style(s) of their students.
Though there are various learning-style models, these are the three basic learning styles that are often cited. They define how people PREFER to take in information:
To these three basic styles, four more have been added:
4. “verbal” (using primarily words)
5. “logical” (using logic, reasoning, systems)
6. “social” (learning with other people, in groups)
7. “solitary” (learning alone, by self-study)
If you're a self-learner, you too may stumble across sites or blogs that encourage you to identify “your learning style.” You're typically told: “That way, you'll learn faster.”
A BEST LEARNING STYLE FOR LEARNING A LANGUAGE?
We don't all learn a foreign language the same way. That's absolutely true. There's a myriad of reasons for this. They include our background, knowledge, interests, experience, abilities, lifestyle, etc.
There's also no question that we as individuals have different preferences. And yes, we have different strengths and weaknesses that impact on learning a foreign language. But should we just learn with our strengths?
It may surprise you that the answer is “No.” Each of the 7 learning styles mentioned above applies itself very well to foreign language learning. But - think about it - learning and using a language involves ALL of the above ways of acquiring information.
YOU BUILD A SKILL BY PRACTICING IT
I do agree that it's probably a good idea to get started in a language by learning in a way that you prefer. If you favor a certain way of learning (with videos, audios, flashcards, by talking, or by writing, etc.), it may be the best way to get going in your language. However, it's not a good strategy for really learning a language in the long run. Just think about the answers to the following questions:
If you just use pictures to learn vocabulary, then how will you master abstract concepts in a foreign language?
If you just listen to the language, how will you learn how to read and write it?
If you just study alone, how will you build your social skills in your new language?
In short, the idea of using just your strong learning style(s) ultimately doesn't make much sense when you're learning another language.
Consider this: “Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of the brain. By involving more of the brain during learning, we remember more of what we learn.” (See Overview of learning-styles)
What you really want is involve as MANY of your “learning styles” as you can to fully engage your brain.
It comes down to this: To function well in a foreign language, you need to learn and use a broad variety of skills.
BUT IF ALL I WANT IS TO LEARN TO SPEAK, NOTHING ELSE?
What if you just want to be able to speak, to converse in the language you're learning. That's all. Okay, you don't want to read, you don't care about grammar rules, you're not interested in writing in the foreign language.
Fair enough. But to have a good conversation, you still need to use several “styles” of taking in and processing information.
You need to be able to decode the stream of sounds that you're hearing. You have to take in and understand the visual signals that you see, interpret your conversation partner's facial expressions and any gestures he or she is making. And finally, you have to use correct body language, appropriate facial expressions, and gestures yourself.
Even by just speaking with someone, you're covering all three basic “learning styles”: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. Plus, you're also being social, verbal, and logical (I hope). If you've practiced and can use all of these skills, your conversation will go much more smoothly.
WEAVING YOUR “LANGUAGE SKILL ROPE”
When learning a language - even just for speaking it - don't just focus on your preferred learning style. A much better approach is to see language learning as a process that involves learning and practicing multiple skills.
In his own words: “Ropes, as everybody knows, are made up of multiple strands, and language skills, like other skills, are made up of cognitive, social, and emotional components. Learners have to have those strands modeled, and they also have to be given opportunities to practice weaving those strands together.”
Rather than worrying about which program or method fits best with your “learning style,” chose the one that engages and motivates you the most. But then try to maximize your exposure to the target language in as many ways as you can, ideally every day. That is the key to rapid progress.
So, try out and then choose a program that is fun to do and to practice with – even if it does not conform with the way you think you're supposed to learn.
And remember:The “best” program is useless, if you don't use it!
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.
Remember what your mom would say, actions speak louder than words, she was right. From eye contact to posture, nonverbal details reveal who we are and impact how others see you.
Is non-verbal communication important in a conversation? Absolutely, words are important, but it turns out, we communicate most of the meaning of our conversation via body language and gestures.
The way you move, the way you stand and the way you listen tells others whether or not you care about what they are saying. When your words match your body language, they increase trust, clarity and rapport.When they don’t, they trigger tension, distrust and confusion.
Unfortunately, many people send negative and confusing nonverbal signals without even knowing it when speaking with someone from another country. When this happens, both clarity and rapport may be irreversibly damaged.
To become a better communicator, it’s important to become sensitive not only to the nonverbal cues of others, but also to the nonverbal cues you may be sending.
As you can imagine, communicating with someone from your own culture can be challenging but when speaking with a foreigner it can perplexing. Nonverbal communication gestures do not translate across cultures easily and can lead to serious misunderstanding.
While translation systems are available for verbal communication, translators for nonverbal communication do not exist.
Nonverbal communication is composed of facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, space and voice. We must appreciate and identify that in one country a respectable gesture may mean something completely different in another country. In this article we will focus on 5 different hand gestures that are commonly exchanged:
Understanding the different meaning these signs may have in other cultures, will not only enhance your conversation but may keep you out of trouble while talking to someone from another part of the world.
In the US, we use it to convey agreement, it assures people things are fine or when everything is perfect. In Brazil, Greece and Spain it conveys a different meaning! This sign is used to call someone an a**hole. While visiting Brazil in the 1950’s, Richard Nixon flashed the OK sign to the crowed and they responded with boos! In Turkey and Venezuela the sign is used as an insult toward gay people. In France and Australia it means zero or worthless. Lastly, in Japan this gesture means money.
We use this gesture a lot in the US it means it is all great. But I recommend you do not use it among Middle Easterners and people from West Africa. People from Bangladesh, Australian and South Americans also find this gesture hideously offensive. It is assumed to mean that you want the receiver to stick it where the sun don’t shine, up yours or sit on it.
Where I am from in Latin America, snapping your finger meant to hurry up. In the US and Great Britain, it usually is used when someone remembers something or gets an idea. In some cultures it used to get someone’s attention but in many cultures it is just rude.
So, to keep it safe, snap your fingers for the same reason the Ancient Greeks did -- to keep the rhythm set by musicians and dancers
Beckoning sign (come here)
In the Philippians the beckoning sign is impolite and can be a cause for being arrested. In the USA it is used often to call someone over here. Careful by using this gesture in Japan. It is very rude and only fit for a dog and or other animal. In Singapore, beckoning is an indication of death.
This gesture has been adopted by rockers and it is a sign of approval “rock on” for most Americans. Except in Texas, where football fans use it as a sign representing the horns of a bull. In other cultures, this is not the horn of a bull but instead of the devil and representing evil. In Buddhist and Hindi culture, it means the Karana Mudra which is used to dispel the evil. Watch out making this gesture in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, Portugal and Italy since it is known as the 'Cuckold' and is used to tell a man that other men are enjoying his wife. In 1985, following the news that Texas Longhorns football team won the football game, five Americans were arrested in Rome for using this gesture outside the Vatican.
We might not have translators for nonverbal communication but we have our phone or computers at our hands to learn and understand the meaning of the gestures we use. So remember before jumping to conclusions about the meaning of a gestures, consider the person’s cultural background. Embarrassing moments can happen as a result of ignorance and by misinterpreting a gesture.
It is always ok to ask people from different countries and cultures about the meaning of rituals, mannerisms and gestures. It is a great topic to discuss with a friend from another country over a cup of coffee and a yummy pastry. There are no wrong and right gestures, only cultural differences.
Bio: Kendal Knetemann is the founder of LingoHut where free language lessons, activities and articles are making language learning uncomplicated. Communication is our thing!!! Like us on our Facebook page.
In a previous post we gave some tips for adults who want to restart with a foreign language they abandoned after leaving school.
But even restarting can be tough -- it takes time, energy, practice, and commitment. And even more though, when you are starting with a completely new language.
So why make it harder on yourself than it needs to be?
One simple strategy can make learning feel much simpler, and it begins with taking a look at your learning style, as well as your overall goals. While there are certainly overlaps in what you'll need to learn, the idea is to prioritize what you're learning to make it the most effective for you.
Think about it: what vocabulary do you need to learn first if you're heading overseas on vacation? How about if you want to communicate with clients in your industry? Different goals, different priorities.
To help you get started thinking about your goals, and how those can affect how you study the language,TakeLessons' Joan B. put together this primer.
With Black Friday, the Christmas Shopping season starts in the U.S. Many companies, including language learning sites, are offering great deals.
GamesforLanguage is a completely free site already, so we can't offer any special deals!
Over the last year, we have been making a few bucks (really few!!) with Google Ads. However, the Google ads that you see on our site pages are typically not related to language learning (unless YOU searched for them).
We therefore have decided to limit Google Ads to our dictionary pages.
We plan to partner with language learning companies we like and whose approaches and philosophy are similar to ours.
These may be companies and sites that offer free and/or fee-based services or products.
When we mention, review, or recommend such a company or site, we will always let you know whether we have a financial relationship with them. Look for our disclosure at the bottom of any of our posts.
Past Reviews and Relationships
We noted in our past reviews or mentions of Rosetta Stone, Babbel, Duolingo, Linguaville, Lingua.Ly, LingQ, Digital Dialects, Quizlet, Eduxeso, Speaklikethem, etc. when we either used free or purchased/subscribed courses.
And, we are currently working with a free 3-month subscription of LearnwithOliver.com's Dutch course, as well as a free 3-month subscription of Lingualia's Spanish course for future reviews of these sites.
We will continue to mention and comment on courses, apps, and sites as we learn about them and try them out ourselves.
As you've seen over the past months, we have not only mentioned some companies in posts, but also in some of our Quick Games.
French: We are adding links to our French Quick Games for Frantastique, a fun and very effective site for French non-Beginners. They offer a free 1-week try-out.
Spanish: We have added links to our Spanish Quick Games for Lingualia, a site which we are currently using ourselves to improve our Spanish. Try it out for free and see whether you like it as much as we do.
German: There are links in some of our German Quick Games for Freelanguage.org and its free Language Learning Magazine.
Italian: In addition to Freelanguage.org, we also have links in our Italian Quick Games for Luana's free Italian Video Lessons Learnitalianwithme.it
Inglés: We will be adding links to our Inglés Quick Games for Gymglish (a sister company of Frantastique), as well as Lingualia, both of whom provide excellent English courses for Spanish speakers.
Lingohut - With Lingohut, also a free language learning site, that offers brief lessons for 10 languages, and ESL (English as a Second Language) courses, we have been in a partnership for several months. We exchange guest blogs, information etc.
Fluent in 3 Months - We recently joined the affiliate program of Benny Lewis (whom we met during the Polyglot Conference in New York in October). His Fluent in 3 Months Premiumprogram is being offered at a 51% discount until Monday 11/30/2015. We admire his enthusiasm and dedication to language. We believe that anybody who wants to boost his or her motivation and language learning will greatly benefit from his method and many practical tips!
More Changes to GamesforLanguage
We continue to work on improving our courses. Starting with German, we have been streamlining the “Memory Games” and “Snap Cloud” sequencing, adjusted the Word Hero's speed, and added more Vocabulary Quizzes and Quick Games.
We also continue to publish blog posts weekly on one of our three topics: Language Learning Culture and Travel.
Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.
Readers of my recent post From Stralsund to Usedom, know that since Germany's Reunification in 1990, Usedom has again become “die Badewanne der Berliner” (the bathtub of Berliners). This is not surprising, as it took us less than two hours to drive from Heringsdorf to Berlin.
We rented an apartment in “Berlin-Mitte” near the Alexanderplatz and the Hackeschen Höfe (see picture left), a neighborhood we had gotten to know well during our stay there in December 2005.
This time, however, instead of Christmas markets, we frequented outdoor restaurants and cafés.
A later visit - this time together with my wife Ulrike - will likely stay with us forever: When we checked in at our hotel late morning on September 11, the hotel clerk seemed preoccupied. He suggested that we turn on the TV in our room, as “something's happening in New York.”
Then, just when we turned on the TV, we saw the plane hit the second tower ...
Needless to say, except for our memories of witnessing this horrific event on TV, we remember very little from that stay.
Berlin December – January 2005/2006
Our month-long stay, from early December 2005 to early January 2006, was to make up for the ill-fated visit in 2001. And, we certainly made the most of it:
We enjoyed the wonderful Christmas markets (picture right), visited museums and churches, attended opera and theater performances, watched German movies, went up on the TV Tower at the Alexanderplatz, strolled down Kurfürstendamm, Berlin's premier shopping street, explored the Nikolaiviertel, etc.
On New Year's Eve, after a performance of the “Merry Widow” operetta, we experienced the wild firework celebrations around the Brandenburger Tor.
Berlin September 2015
As we walked around the neighborhood, we recognized many of the stores and cafés around the Hackesche Markt S-Bahn station. We found our favorite bakery and movie theater. Both hadn't changed much. We also went back to the “Sophieneck” restaurant, our favorite hangout from before - which now was even better because it has become smoke free.
On Saturday we strolled through the familiarAntique and Book Market at the Bode Museum. (This flea market - see right picture - plays an important role in our German 2 course, “Blüten in Berlin?”). Lunch in the “Pergamon Keller” didn't work out, though. The restaurant (also featured in our course) was closed that day.
Berlin - New Discoveries
The pleasure of visiting Berlin again allowed us to catch up on a few experiences that we had missed before.
One of them was a visit to Potsdam via a boat trip on the Wannsee.
Berlin is surrounded by lakes and waterways. You can actually get by boat to the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, even the Mediterranean, from Berlin.
My father had owned a small sailboat on the Wannsee during his student years and always talked about it.
Potsdam and Sanssouci
Taking advantage of the warm late-summer weather, we set out to explore Potsdam and Sanssouci. We took the S-Bahn to the Wannsee station. (S-Bahn means “Stadtschnellbahn,” but depending on whom you ask, the “S” stands for “Stadt” (City) or “schnell” (fast)!)
Boat trip to Potsdam
At a Wannsee dock, we joined a few other passengers on a boat to Potsdam. We all sat on the sunny deck as our boat made its leisurely way onto the Havel River, into connected lakes, and past various islands.
The ship's captain entertained us with many interesting tales about the islands, buildings, monuments, and sites we passed.
The Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) in the Havel River, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, was a favorite of Prussian King Friedrich II, who had a little “Lustschloss” (pleasure castle) built on it for himself and his mistress, in the mid 1790s. (see picture)
His successor, Friedrich III, turned the island into a model farm and zoo with exotic animals, in the early 1820s. He even allowed access for the people of Berlin. The people's interest led Friedrich IV to transfer all the animals to the first German zoo, the Berlin Zoo, in 1844.
To create a real “beach” for the nearly one-mile-long “Freibad” Wannsee in 1908, many loads of beach sand were brought in from the Baltic Sea.
The Cecilienhof, on the shore of the Jungfernsee was the site of thePotsdam conference in July 1945, nine weeks after Germany's unconditional surrender in May 1945.
TheGlienicke Bridge, (see picture) under which we passed, connects the state capital of Potsdam with the federal capital of Berlin. It became known during the Cold War as the point where secret agents were exchanged. The bridge also appeared often in novels and movies (e.g. John le Carré's 1979 novel “Smiley's People,” and Spielberg's 2015 movie “Bridge of Spies.”)
Potsdam was important in German history. As the residence of Prussian kings and the German emperor until 1918, it developed into a major center of culture and science in the 19th century.
Potsdam was inside the Russian zone after 1946 and therefore, after the wall was built, separated from West Berlin.
Today it is again the capital of the state of Brandenburg. Heavily damaged during World War II, many of Postdam's historic buildings were torn down during GDR times. We could admire several of the buildings that were reconstructed after Reunification, for example the City Palace and the St Nicholas' Church. (see picture above)
French speakers will immediately understand that the name “Sanssouci” means “without worries.” It was indeed the palace that Frederick the Great (1712-86) enjoyed the most. The palace was completed in 1747 and became his private residence, where he could relax in the company of people he liked.
With its Rococo style, Sanssouci (picture left) is often called the German Versailles. However, the palace is unusual because it is a one-story structure connecting a row of 10 rooms. These face south and overlook a terraced vineyard and a large park.
Some 20 years later, Frederick had the much bigger “Neues Palais” (New Palace) built on the west side of the park (picture right). Although he always preferred to live in Sanssouci, he apparently felt the need to show off his power and might with a more pompous palace.
His son, Frederick III, who succeeded him in 1797, preferred the “Pfaueninsel” (see above), and did not spend much time in Sancoussi.
You can easily fill a whole day exploring the extensive Sanssouci park with its various buildings and structures: the Sanssouci Picture Gallery, the Wind Mill, the Orangerie, the Chinese House etc.
(In 1990, Sanssouci with its gardens became a UNESCO world heritage site. You can find more information in this English Wiki.)
This time we made a point to go there. It is highly interesting to see the many examples of modern design in architecture, furniture, ceramics, metal work, painting and graphics art.
Works of Bauhaus Founder Walter Gropius (who also designed the Berlin facility, which opened in 1979) and famous teachers and artists such as Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and others are exhibited.
Also, we were reminded that the Bauhaus, which operated from 1919 to 1933 in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin counted among the 20th century's most important schools of architecture, design and art.
The “Potsdamer Platz” is a major public square and intersection located less than a mile south of the Brandenburger Tor. During Word War II, it had been completely destroyed. Bisected by the Berlin Wall after 1961, it remained a desolate wasteland until Reunification. Then, it became Europe's largest building site.
In the picture, the guard is looking across the Brandenburger Tor towards the Potsdamer Platz!
By 2005, major structures of the masterplan had already been erected, e.g. the Sony Center. Now in 2015, even more buildings, hotels, office towers, and a complex of buildings by the Italian architect Renzo Piano have been completed.
In one of Piano's shopping arcades, we discovered a fascinating exhibition documenting the 25 years since the fall of the wall. In addition to the historic pictures and mementos, there were pieces of the notorious wall, as well as an old “Trabi” (the East German 2 cycle engine Trabant”). We later saw (and smelled) more Trabis on Berlin's streets as "Trabi-Safaris" have now even become a tourist staple!
Berlin is today still one of our favorite cities. We hope to be back soon to further explore the city and again make some new discoveries.
How many of the subjects you learned in school are now on your to-do list again? Not that many, right? But it's not uncommon that out-of-school adults go back to relearning a foreign language that they took in school.
Interest in traveling, foreign friends, trips for work overseas, curiosity about one's heritage, or even just a broader outlook on the world - all these can be reasons for unpacking a language you had mentally stashed away.
However, resurrecting a language that you started in school and building on it needs a little planning.
Here are five tips for easing yourself back into a foreign language.
1. Develop a new mindset
When you're no longer in school, time has a way of becoming scarce. Work and/or family life tend to fill our your schedule. And, going to evening or lunch-hour classes may be out of the question. All that makes learning from your home using resources on the Internet a good option.
However, learning from home requires a new mindset. You're now your own boss and in charge of your own learning. It may also be time to reassess your goals. Rather than being anxious about grades and not making a fool of yourself in front on your classmates, you can direct your attention to acquiring practical language skills.
For example, perhaps you never really learned to speak the foreign language when you were in school. That's no surprise given class size and the importance of reading and of written tests. But now, by choosing the right resources, you can easily take your understanding and speaking to a new level.
Give thought to how you learn best. There are many options to consider as you'll see below.
2. Find something that makes re-entry into the language fun
Instead of worrying about homework and test scores, you can now focus on what you enjoy and find interesting.
It can be anything you like: listening to music, scanning news headlines on your tablet, watching a tv soap, reading an easy ebook, playing language games, etc.
In school, fun is usually not a big factor. But believe it or not, learning a language can be hugely fun. A new language gives you the tools to break out of your routine, to meet new people, to experience a new culture, to engage with locals when you travel.
If you've ever searched the Internet for anything language related, you may have seen that there are lots of language-learning groups, language-exchange sites, Polyglot events and conferences, multi-language forums, just to name a few. Most of the members of these groups and communities love languages and and pursue one or more languages - just for fun.
3. Start putting together your resource list
Everyone's list of resources for learning a language looks different, and yours should too. At best, the list reflects your personality, your learning habits, your language skills, your interests, etc.
Take some time to read reviews of different language programs and apps, try out free demos, look at online courses, or consider online tutors, etc.
While many of your resources will probably be online, a well-rounded resource list also contains some hands-on paper grammar books, phrase books, dictionaries, novels, stories, magazines, etc.
Here are some categories of online resources you may want to explore:
- Flashcard programs and apps - Programs that use and adapt web texts - Programs that use internet video content - Comprehensive language programs with apps - Game-based programs and apps - Online dictionaries - Online sites for practicing writing - Ebooks
Don't let “experts” or friends talk you into using (or even buying) programs, especially, if they have not used them successfully themselves. Try them out yourself and work with the ones you like. Stay with those that keep you interested and motivated.
(We, personally, like and use GamesforLanguage and the programs and apps of our Partners. However, it's up to you to try out and find the learning tools that motivate and engage you, ideally with daily practice!)
Remember: The "best" program won't help you learn and practice, if you don't use it!
4. Your most important goal: Do something in your foreign language (almost) every day.
This is the one goal you should start out with: daily engagement with the language.
Just think: A goal of just learning 10 new words a day, for 300 days, will amount to 3,000 words, sufficient for many conversations!
The amount of time you spend is less important than the daily routine. Try to apply the 20-minute rule. (i.e. Doing something for 20 minutes is manageable for almost everyone.) It works for many people.
If you weren't a big procrastinator in school, this is one school habit that could be helpful now.
And, if you were – now is the time you can acquire a new habit quite easily.
Even though progress may seem slow at times, the benefits of daily practice will also become obvious: things are starting to click; you'll hear sound differences; you'll remember words and phrases; grammar rules begin to make more sense, etc.
Language learning is not a linear process. Think of it more in terms of “weaving a rope” that consists of many strands. This is an image for language learning suggested by Michael Erard, author of Babel no More and a topic of one of our recent posts: Are You Weaving Your “Language Rope?
Learning to do something regularly is an important habit. If you can learn to use the 20-minute rule for your language, you can apply it to other tasks as well. Not a bad habit to have.
5. Find a native speaker to talk with.
As soon as you can, find someone to converse with. Be it a language-exchange partner in an online community or an occasional tutor on Skype. It could even be someone in your own neighborhood who is eager to speak his or her own language with you.
Your language course in school was probably not an ideal place for learning to speak in a foreign language. You had to compete for “air time” in class and deal with fears about speaking up.
Learning to freely converse with others in a language you formerly struggled with in school is both a huge achievement and a special pleasure.
So, don't delay. Take charge of your own learning and take advantage of the resources available on the Internet. It's really worth it.
How do I know?
Language have always been part of my life. I'm both a language learner and a language teacher. Once out of school, I continued learning languages on my own; I really enjoy “language hacking” - learning languages quickly and efficiently - to use one of the new terms.
It's been exciting to see the Internet start providing fantastic tools and resources for learning languages.
Benny Lewis, the “Irish Polyglot”, may be on to something, when he invites you to get you started with a FREE week-long email course: Speak in a Week.
Will you become fluent in a week? Clearly not, but changing your School mindset and getting into a daily learning habit with materials that interest you, will get you into “language hacking” in no time...
Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.
Leaving Rostock, we again decided to take the slow road. We had read that three small islands linked to the mainland and each other by bridges - Fischland, Darss, and Zingst – cover a good part of the Baltic coastline between the cities of Rostock and Stralsund.
We had hoped to see some of the 60,000 or more cranes that arrive every fall on the island of Zingst, but the weather did not cooperate: It rained. The long beaches were deserted; the reed fields along the eastern inland coastline of Fischland - which at some parts is only about 600 feet wide - swayed sadly in the driving rain; Ahrenhoop, a favorite of artists since the end of the 19th century, showed no life.
Fortunately, by the time we reached Stralsund, the rain had become just a drizzle.
The second and third parts of this video: Ostsee: Lübeck, Stralsund, Rügen, Hiddensee,from the Mediathek archive of “Das Erste,” the German TV channel, show some wonderful images of Stralsund and the island of Rügen.
Stralsund became an important Hanse city (see from Hamburg to Wismar for more about the “Hanse”) when it joined the League in 1293. Today it has about 58,000 inhabitants.
Together with that of Wismar, Stralsund's historical core is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the many imposing brick gothic buildings still give testimony to the city's former wealth.
The old market square (“Alter Markt”) is surrounded by buildings from different periods: the Gothic Town Hall (13the century), see picture above, the imposing St. Nicholas church (“Nikolaikirche”) completed in the 14th century, and the 18th century Commandantenhus.
Our walk through the old city core made it clear why Stralsund had been of such strategic importance: It is surrounded by water on three sides.
At the harbor, we admired the Gorch Fock 1, the German Navy's former training ship, which is now a floating museum.
And from the harbor we could also see the new suspension bridge, which has connected Rügen, Germany's largest island, with the mainland since 2007. (see picture)
As the map shows, Rügen is a large island with many coves and lagoons (“Bodden”).
I always wanted to visit Rügen, as I remember my father talking about the island. He had wonderful memories of the vacations he spent there with his family in the 1920ties, at which time they lived in Berlin. I recalled him mentioning the town of Sassnitz, and so we decided to stay there for a few days.
(A linguistic tidbit: When Germany introduced a spelling revision in the early 90's, the original spelling of the town “Saßnitz” was then changed to “Sassnitz” in 1993. This was consistent with changing the “ß” to “ss” after short vowels. So, words that used to be spelled daß, naß, muß, Kuß, etc. changed their spelling to dass, nass, muss, Kuss, etc. The “ß” after long vowels in words such as Gruß, saßen, schließen, etc., were kept.)
Sassnitz, a town with less than 10,000 inhabitants, lies on the northeast corner of the island at the edge of the Jasmund National Park. One of the attractions of the park is the Königsstuhl(king's chair), an over 350 ft high chalk cliff designated as a World Heritage site.
To see the famous chalk cliffs, we chose a boat trip, which took us from Sassnitz north along the coast. We not only saw the Königsstuhl and the adjacent chalk cliffs in the gleaming sunlight, but also heard much about Sassnitz' history.
When a rail link to Bergen, Rügen's main city in the center of the island, was established in 1891, the little fishing village of Sassnitz started growing and the chalk industry expanded. When the beach promenade was built in the early 1900s, tourism grew as well.
Later, during GDR times, the harbor was home to a large fishing fleet and a ferry terminal with service to Russia and Poland.
In 1984, the ferry terminal was relocated a few miles south to the subdistrict of Mukran, to operate a railway ferry to the Soviet Union.
Today, the new and expanded ferry terminal in Mukran (see picture) is Germany's most easterly deep water port and has developed into a trading and transport hub for Scandinavia, Russia, the Baltics and former Soviet Union states. Because it is the only port in western Europe with track and transshipment facilities for Russian broad-gauge vehicles, it's often called “the most westerly station on the Trans-Siberian railway.”
However, the relocation of the ferry terminal and the decline of the fishing fleet after reunification, have made the large, well-protected harbor in Sassnitz look quite empty.
The town is making great efforts to attract more tourism. Some of the old hotels have been renovated and a very impressive pedestrian suspension bridge connects the harbor to the upper town (see picture).
We had rented an apartment in the upper part of town in a private residence, whose garden extended to a cliff that dropped directly down to the Baltic sea.
Our landlady lived with her harbormaster husband in the downstairs apartment. We frequently chatted with her; she was very helpful, gave us advice on restaurants and walking tours, and even brought us a plate of homemade “Pflaumenkuchen mit Schlagsahne” (plum pie with whipped cream) on Sunday afternoon.
She also told us a story that still bothers her today – 25 years after the fall of the GDR:
In the mid-eighties, when travel restrictions between East and West Germany were somewhat eased for older people, she wanted to visit one of her sisters, who lived in Hamburg. In order to get the necessary exit Visa she had to go to Stralsund to be officially interviewed.
“I will never forget this woman” she said. “I come from a large family with four brothers and three sisters, some of them I had not seen in years. She wanted to know why my sister Jutta, who lived near Berlin, had never asked to go to West Germany. How would I know?! This woman knew where all my sisters and brothers, even where my cousins lived and where they had traveled to. She knew more about my family than I did. It was really scary.”
We had never heard of Prora until a Swedish couple we met in Lübeck suggested that we visit the site. Only a short drive south from Sassnitz, we passed the huge new train/ferry terminal of Mukran and then stopped along a long beautiful white beach, which stretches all the way to the next, larger town, Binz.
Prora is one of these gigantic projects that Hitler had started in 1936, but never completed.
As envisioned by him and his planners, this seaside resort for the Nazi organization “Kraft durch Freude” (KDF, meaning Strength through Joy) was intended to accommodate 20,000 vacationers. The complex of buildings stretches for several miles along one of Rügen's most beautiful beaches and can be best appreciated from the aerial photo (right) and other maps and pictures on theProra website. There you can also learn more details about the gigantic project that sprang out of the ground in only three years.
When the war began, construction was halted and after the war, the buildings were initially used by the Soviet army and later by the East German army.
Today, some of the buildings have already been renovated and are used as the Prora Documentation Center, a youth hostel, a coffee shop, and most recently apartments. So, nearly 80 years after construction started, and after decades of inaction and shame about its Nazi past, the “New Prora” complex is gradually being turned into luxury condominiums. (see picture)
After a few days of exploring Rügen – and there are more sights, places, beaches, towns, etc. to explore than we can cover here - we headed further southeast to another island - Usedom.
Usedom is Germany's second biggest island, and maybe even more than Rügen, has again become “die Badewanne der Berliner” (the bathtub of Berliners) as it had been during the 1920s and 1930s. (And I, indeed, remember my father reminisce about Usedom as well.)
But I also knew of Usedom as the site of another notorious Nazi installation: Peenemünde. After Hitler came to power in 1933, this place became the world's most advanced center of rocket science research in only a few years.
Peenemünde is located at the northern, narrow tip of the island, separated from the mainland by a wide channel. This very location also explains why the research could be kept secret for so long.
Our visit to theHistorical Technical Museum, (watch the video!) located in the observation bunker and former power station, (see picture left) was both interesting and depressing:
Interesting, because the exhibition explained the many stages of rocket development between 1932 and 1945, as well as in later years.
Interesting, because I did not know, for example, how instrumental Wernher von Braun had been not only in the research, but also in the development of the immense research and rocket production center.
Interesting, because I did not realize that, until the start of the war in 1939, scientists and workers from all over Europe were hired and came to Peenemünde.
Interesting, because I wonder, how the “distribution” of the Peenemünde scientists among the four allied powers after the war was still able to give the Soviet Union a head start in the space race - when the US was drafting the top brass;
Depressing, because of the damage and terror the V2 rockets caused, especially in England.
Depressing, because the German scientists, (including Wernher v. Braun) were successful in convincing the Nazi leadership after 1933 that more funding of rocket research would have military benefits.
Depressing, because once the war started, Peenemünde became a prison for foreign scientists and workers, and KZ inmates and other prisoners were used as forced laborers.
Depressing, because Allied bomb raids seemed to have killed prisoners and forced laborers rather than destroying the launching facilities, etc. etc.
The scale of the original Peenemünde research and production center can only be understood by looking at maps and aerial photographs. Except for the power station and observation bunker (shown on the picture above and only a small part of the facility), most other facilities were destroyed after the war.
After the interesting but also sobering visit to Peenemünde, we drove south towards the “Dreikaiserbäder” (Three baths of the emperor), the towns of Bansin, Heringsdorf, and Ahlbeck. They were favorites of German emperors until 1918.
As we were looking for a hotel along the beachfront, we realized that these three towns are actually connected by an over 7-mile-long beach promenade. The beach and “Dünenstraße” (dune road) actually extends beyond the border with Poland, into the former Swinemünde, now Swinoujscie. (After World War 2, the southeast tip of Usedom, including Swinemünde, was awarded to Poland.)
We found a hotel in Heringsdorf, located directly at the promenade and enjoyed the pleasures of beach life for a couple of days. We took long walks along the wide beach. (To do this, we had to acquire a “Kurpass” for 3 euros each). We rented bikes and biked up and down the promenade. We also enjoyed some live evening concerts right at our hotel's beer garden.
At one of these concerts, we shared a table with a young couple. (It's very typical in German beer gardens and restaurants to share tables.) We learned that they lived in Lübeck, a city we had just visited. We asked them what attracted them and their two young twin daughters to the Usedom beaches, rather than to the “Timmendorfer Strand,” the well-know beach in Travemünde near their home.
“The Timmendorfer Strand is overrun by folks from Hamburg!” they answered. “And the beaches are cleaner and safer here, so our girls can play without us worrying.” (see picture of Heringsdorf Beach)
Their answer provided us with another insight and understanding why the Baltic sea beaches, with their low tides and beautiful white sand, are more attractive to beachgoers than the mudflats of the German North Sea with their 12-16 foot tides.
With our stay in Heringsdorf, we've come to the end of our trip along the German Baltic coast. The next destination, Berlin, will be the topic of our next travel post.