Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning.

Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends, which are not that hard to check.

For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.

Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al.

(And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

German Subtleties

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.”

He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with. The friend explained that “warm sein” in German used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”.

Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when mymonkey on tricyle cartoon French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:

Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:

  • einen sitzen haben
  • einen Affen sitzen haben
  • einen Schwips haben
  • einen im Tee haben

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning.

For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:

  • Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
  • ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
  • die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
  • ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

Spanish Subtleties

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish.

One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following:

Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait; “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective.

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

The young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say:

“Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”,

when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say

“No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.

Also:

  • vivo/a is alive with estar, but clever with ser
  • cansado/a is tired with estar, but tiring with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:

  • Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
  • On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:

  • piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
  • gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
  • tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
  • techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries.

A few examples include:

  • fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster
  • coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a babystroller in Chile
  • torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries.

Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning.

But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

French Subtleties

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

For example, voler can mean either to fly or to steal. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).   seagulls trying to steal food on beach

But with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.

  • la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
  • la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
  • la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

Here are a few examples:

  • fin (end), faim (hunger)
  • verre (glass), vers (a verse, or towards), ver (worm), vert (green)
  • vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
  • saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
  • maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
  • c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.

  • (il) est, (tu) es
  • (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning.

A couple of my favorites are:

  • poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
  • faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
  • faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)

  • père - paèr
  • rêve - raève
  • fort - faort

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i

  • tu - tsu
  • tuer - tsuer
  • tirer - tsirer
  • durant - dsurant

3) Many words are contracted

  • tu es - t'es
  • sur la - s'a
  • il aime - y'aime
  • je suis - j'su

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation. 

Italian Subtleties

Besides watching the TV series Un posto al sole, I'm doing some reading in Italian these days. I'm noticing that many common words seem to have cognates in English, but there's been a shift in meaning.

False Friends

a cat and a mouseYou think you understand the meaning of a word, but it doesn't seem to quite fit the context. So at times it's a good idea to double check.

Here are a few examples of false friends (and we'll have more in a soon-to-come blog post):

  • accomodarsi - to sit down (to accommodate - alloggiare)
  • baldo - courageous (bald - calvo)
  • bravo - good, clever (brave - corragioso)
  • fattoria - farm (factory - fabbrica)
  • proprio - one's own, typical (proper - appropriato, giusto)
  • questionare - to argue, quarrel (to question - interrogare)
  • parenti - relatives (parents - genitori)

The verbs essere vs stare

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between estar and ser, the Italian verbs stare and essere will provide you with a new challenge.

In general essere means to be, and stare means to stay. But in some contexts stare also means to be.

As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

  • Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
  • Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
  • La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
  • Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.

  • Sono malato. - I'm sick.
  • Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.

  • Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
  • È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use stare:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use essere)

  • La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
  • Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.

  • Sto bene. - I'm well.
  • Come stai? - How are you?
  • Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:

  • Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
  • Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word ci

The two-letter word ci pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb.

It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian.

With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of ci.

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

  • Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
  • Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
  • Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
  • Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

  • Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
  • Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
  • Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are

  • Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
  • Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
  • Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
  • C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • pensare - to think
  • pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)
  • stare - to be, stay
  • starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)
  • credere - to believe
  • crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)

We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties.

But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Silvester Traditions in German Speaking Countries

Frohes Neues Jahr with fireworks (Updated 12-28-2017)

In 2015 we first started this post about Silvester Traditions in German speaking countries.

German is spoken in many parts of the world.

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. 

There are about 95 million who speak German as their first language. With the pockets of German-speaking communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, U.S., South America, and even parts of Africa, it is estimated that about 10 million people speak German as a second language.

In the U.S., communities of Amish (see Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”), Mennonites and Hutterites speak German dialects. The Pennsylvania Dutch celebrate New Year with a traditional meal of pork and sauerkraut.

GermanyBerlin's "Langer Lulatsch" with Fireworks"- Gamesforlanguage.com

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.

Northern Germany

Rummelpotlaufende KinderIn 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.

Southern Germany

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).

Austria

In Austria, Vienna clearly holds the top spot for New Year's Eve celebrations. Bleigießen:Leadpouring

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.

Switzerland

In Switzerland there are many different and often quite curious traditions. We can only highlight a couple here:

"Altjahresu" - Schwarzenburg (Canton Bern)

Altjahresu in Schwarzenburg, Bern, SwitzerlandIn 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 InterlakenPotschen masks at Harder-Potschete in Interlaken, Switzerland

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!)

Family Traditions

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!

Parts of this post were included in the December 2014 post Molten lead, Red Underwear, Grapes and other End-of-Year Traditions...

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Discovering Pennsylvania Dutch with “Speaking Amish”

Amish Horse and carriage in Pennsylvania Dutch countryRecently, after attending a family wedding in Virginia, we drove back to Boston via Pennsylvania Dutch country.

We knew that the Amish and many Mennonites speak German dialects, but otherwise knew little about the history and language of these groups.

(If you read our posts about Northern Germany, or Seville, Spain, you know that we enjoy learning about dialects.)

Yes, we also saw several of the black Amish buggies (see picture), but we wanted to look especially into the language angle.

Passing through Lancaster county, we stopped off at the Mennonite Information Center to learn about the Pennsylvania Dutch language (also known as Pennsylvania German).

At the Center, we saw a film about the history and culture of the Amish, and we bought a book "Speaking Amish" - A Beginner's Introduction to Pennsylvania German, by Lillian Stoltzfus, which I'll review briefly below.

In her introduction, Stoltzfus explains: "Pennsylvania German is spoken throughout the United States and Canada. Although people from each region can understand each other, each region speaks it a little differently."

What surprised us was to learn that most Pennsylvania Dutch speakers are ethnically Swiss.

A Little History: Why Swiss?

2017 is the year that Protestants are celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther posting his 95 Theses in Wittenberg, Germany.

It was in Switzerland that the Anabaptist movement originally began in the 1520s, as a radical offshoot of Ulrich Zwingli's Reformation in Switzerland.

The movement slowly spread through western Europe.

In Switzerland, the Anabaptists were persecuted for their beliefs. Many fled to the Palatinate, a region in the southwest of Germany. The Palatinate (historically, "die Rheinpfalz") lies west of the state of Hessen and northwest of Baden-Württemberg.

As time went on, Anabaptist followers picked up the name "Mennonite", Mennonite & Amish migration mapafter Menno Simons, a Friesian religious leader, who was active as a religious leader from 1537 to 1561.

The "Amish" were named after Jakob Ammann, a Swiss leader of the Anabaptist movement from 1680 to 1712.

From the late 1640s on, numerous Anabaptist families (who first called themselves "Swiss Bretheren") arrived in Pennsylvania as a result of William Penn's experiment in religious tolerance. Amish and Mennonite families followed in the early 1700s.

A large number of Anabaptist followers came from the Palatinate (to where the Swiss had fled), and a smaller number from Alsace and Switzerland.

The map above from the Mennonite Information Center shows the migration of the Amish and Mennonites through the centuries. (Black lines: Amish to Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, other colors: Mennonites' migrations.)

The Palatinate Dialect

The German spoken in the Palatinate (i.e. "Pfälzisch") is the linguistic ancestor of the Pennsylviania Dutch dialect. Palatine German belongs to the West Franconian group or dialects.

Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. Pennsylvania German) is the primary language of most Amish and conservative Mennonite communities living in the United States today.

Why Pennsylvania "Dutch"?

A possible explanation for the use of "Dutch" (to mean German) is that in the English of the 18th and 19th centuries, the term "Dutch" included what we now call Dutch, Flemish and German.

At that time, you distinguished between "High Dutch" (German) and "Low Dutch" (Dutch, Flemish).

Germany did not become a country until 1871. There were only Hessians, Prussians, Bavarians, etc. , citizens of the many kingdoms and duchies that eventually became part of the German nation.

For English speakers they were all “Dutch"!

Quick Review of "Speaking Amish"

Speaking Amish Cover photoLillian Stoltzfus' book is a delightful introduction to Pennsylvania German and includes suggestions on how to best study.

The book is made up of 25 short lessons, each with five to ten new words that are shown together with a picture to help memorization.

In the lessons you get clear and practical Phonetic, Grammar and Culture Tips.

There are also short exercises, with the answers given in the back.

The audios for each lesson are between one and two minutes long and spoken naturally by two children and as well as Lillian Stoltzfus herself.

At the end of the book, there are several Verb Charts and a Phonetics Chart for reference.

The Pronunciation of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD)

Every dialect of a language has its characteristic pronunciation. The CD that comes with "Speaking Amish" is really helpful.

But for me it's hard to describe pronunciation without audio.

Still, for anyone who knows some Standard German (SG), here are 3 characteristics of Pennsylvania Dutch (PD).

1) PD has no umlauts: no "ä", "ö", "ü", and also no "äu"/"eu".

To produce the equivalent sounds in PD, you "unround" your lips (pull them apart):

For example:

SG "dünn" - PD "dinn" (rhymes with "thin")
SG "Löffel" - PD "Leffel" (vowel as in "left")
SG "Deutsch" - PD "Deitsch" (vowel as in "hi")

2) In PD "ch" usually has a "sch" sound:

For example:

SG "ich" - PD "isch"
SG "du bist" - PD "du bischt"
SG "richtig" - PD "rischtisch"

3) Sounds at the end of a syllable or the end of words are often dropped:

For example:

SG "haben" - PD "hann"
SG "Hunde" - PD "Hunn"
SG "müde" - PD "miid"

Daily Vocabulary

The vocabulary lists below are all taken from "Speaking Amish". As Lillian Stoltzfus explains in her introduction, the words she teaches in the book are all from Pennsylvania German spoken in Lancaster county, or even more specifically from those spoken in her family.

Speakers from other regions in the U.S. or Canada, may have different words and various pronunciations.

Commonly used Nouns

Pennsylvania German uses three articles for "the":

der (with masculine nouns), die (with feminine nouns, es (with neuter nouns)
die Schprooch - SG "die Sprache" (the language/dialect)
es Ess-sach - SG "das Essen" (the food)
die Kich - SG "die Küche" (the kitchen)
die Schtubb - SG "die Stube" (the room)
der Gaarde - SG "der Garten" (the garden)
die Arwet - SG "die Arbeit" (the work)
der Nochber - SG "der Nachbar" (the neighbor)
der Bu - SB "der Bub" (the boy)
es Meedel - SB "das Mädel" (the girl)
die Gmee - SG "die Gemeinde" (the church)

Commonly used Verbs

Pennsylvania German has these pronouns that combine with personal verb forms:

ich (I), du (you), er (he), sie (she), es (it), mir (we), dir (you pl.), sie (they)
hawwe - SG "haben" (to have)
gewwe - SG "geben" (to give)
schreiwe - SG "schreiben" (to write)
gleiche - SG "mögen" (to like)
schaffe - SG "arbeiten" (to work)
laafe - SG "laufen" (to walk)
duh - SG "tun" (to do)
hocke - SG "sitzen" (to sit)
butze - SG "putzen" (to clean)
wuhne - SG "wohnen" (to live)

Words similar to English

Not surprisingly, English words have become part of Pennsylvania Dutch: 

die Schtori - SG "die Geschichte" (the story)
der Boi - SG "der (Obst)kuchen" (the pie)
der Daett - SG "der Papa" (the dad)
schmaert - SG "klug" (smart)
die Dallbopp - SG "die Puppe" (the doll)
der Pickder - SG "das Bild" (the picture)
die Gwilt - SG "die Steppdecke" (the quilt)
der Schtor - SG "der Laden" (the store)

Do Native Germans Understand Pennsylvania Dutch?

In Germany itself, there are a large number of dialects, and not every German speaker understands all of the other dialects of Germany really well. It generally depends on where a person is from and what experience with German dialects he or she has had.

Under the YouTube video: Lillian an Daniel Stoltzfus Lancaster County, which shows some interviews in Pennsylvania Dutch, there are a few of comments by native German speakers.

  • "I am from the south-west of Germany and I understand the most. It is more the dialect of this part of Germany where I live. (Ich komme aud dem Süd-Westen Deutschland und ich verstehe das meiste. Es ist mehr der Dialekt von diesem Teil Deutschlands wo ich wohne.)"
  • "Sounds almost like Palatinate German mixed with American English. Many Pennsylvanian families come from the region here. So, it wouldn't surprise me. [In Palatinate dialect]: (Klingt fascht wie Pälzisch mit Amerikanisches Englisch gemischt. Viele Pennslyfaanischi Familien kumme aus der Geschend hia. So es werd mich nit überrasche.)"
  • "I speak German and Dutch fluently. I understand them perfectly as weird as it is, a funky old Swiss German accent mixed with yank English. None of it sounds Dutch."

Is Pennsylvania Dutch a "dying language"?

According to a SwissInfo article, it is estimated that there are about 300,000 to 350,000 speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch in 31 states of the U.S., mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and in Ontario, Canada.

There are also some Amish groups that speak Alsacian German and Swiss German (both Alemannic dialects). These number about 14,000 together.

Experts such as the German linguist Guido Seiler and Mark Loudon, a professor of German at Wisconsin-Madison, claim that the Pennsylvania Dutch and Alemannic German dialects spoken in the U.S. are anything but "dying languages".

In fact, the number of speakers is constantly increasing because of large families and because 90% of the youth stay in their traditional communities.

I have not touched on the religious differences between the Amish and various Mennonite groups. Those interested in finding out more can find ample information on the web or by contacting the Mennonite information Center.

"Shunning" is one of the differences. "The Shunning" is also the title of a book by Beverly Lewis and a 2011 movie. 

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 or below. 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

European Travels 6 – From Lüneburg to Sylt

Sylt Beach in SeptemberGermany's north has its own charm: off the beaten track medieval towns and sunny islands with long, white beaches.

Readers of previous European Travels posts may remember our Canal Boating trip on Dutch canals last year.

(As last year, we again used the mywebspot pocket WIFI, which had proven so useful during our canal trip and travels to southern Germany and Austria.)

This year we again attended a family reunion in the Netherlands, with over 130 family members coming from Europe, Canada, and the United States.

Following the reunion, we went on to explore the north of Germany and Denmark, which borders Germany's most northern State, Schleswig-Holstein.

 

Lüneburg

From Exloo in the Dutch province of Drenthe, which lies just south of Groningen, it wasLüneburg Marktplatz only about three hours by car to the town of Lüneburg (or Lunenburg), a medieval German town in the state of Lower Saxony.

Located just about 30 miles southeast of Hamburg, Lüneburg is part of Hamburg's Metropolitan Region.

Since 2007, Lüneburg has been allowed to use the title “Hansestadt” (Hanseatic Town) in its name, as a reminder that it used to belong to the “Hanse” (Hanseatic League), a commercial and defensive confederation of towns and merchant guilds.

(We had learned much about the Hanse while visiting Lübeck, when traveling from Hamburg to Wismar a few years ago.)

Lüneburg's "Alter Kran"We arrived in Lüneburg on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Taking advantage of the warm September weather, we took a long, leisurely stroll through the old part of town.

Lüneburg suffered little damage during the Second World War. We could thus admire many of the structures of the historical core: flower-filled alleys and courtyards, traditional gabled Brick Gothic buildings, the impressive City Hall, the huge water tower (built 1905).

Lüneburg gained a great deal of wealth in the Middle Ages, when its salt springs were transformed into “White Gold”. Salt also made Lüneburg one of the wealthiest town of the Hanseatic League for many years.

You can learn about salt's importance and its history in the German Salt Museum.

The “Alte Kran” (Old Crane, see picture above) which dominates the quarter along the Ilmenau Canal was used to load the salt onto the barges.

Lüneburg at the water Today, Lüneburg reportedly has one of Europe's highest concentration of pubs. We certainly had no problem finding one of them with a terrace right by the canal.

For German learners, the language spoken in Northern Germany is much easier to understand than the German spoken by many in the South (Black Forest, Swabia, Bavaria).

So, if you want to explore a small typical Hanseatic League town, which is a little bit off the beaten track, Lüneburg is a great choice.

If you're learning German, here are some words and phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
  • die Hanse - the Hanseatic League
  • die Altstadt - the medieval center, old part of town
  • der zweite Weltkrieg - the Second World War
  • die Backsteingotik - the Brick Gothik (architecture)
  • das Rathaus - the city hall
  • der Wasserturm - the water tower
  • das Salz - the salt
  • das weiße Gold - the white gold
  • der Reichtum - the wealth
  • die Kneipe - the pub
  • abgelegen - off the beaten track

Husum

Husum Harbor with harbor side bistrosAs we had visited Hamburg in 2015 (see also From Utrecht to Hamburg), we decided to pass by this major German port city and head to Husum, a maritime town on the North Sea.

While having a delicious lunch in one of the many waterside bistros, we enjoyed watching the comings and goings in the little harbor.

We knew that Husum was the birthplace of the novelist Theodor Storm. The Theodor Storm House gave us much information about the life of this lawyer-novelist, who is most known for the last of his 50 novellas, “Der Schimmelreiter” (The Rider on the White Horse).

The novel's setting along the North German coast creates an eerie atmosphere along the dyke, with descriptions of superstitions, class differences, and men's struggles against the sea.

Storm's House also gave us a glimpse of the political events in the 19th Husum Harbor at low tide with boats in mudcentury, as this part of Germany was also under Danish control for a while.

(Today the Danish minority in Husum is represented by its own party [Südschleswigscher Wählerverband, SSW] In the 2017 state elections that party only achieved 3.3%, but is excepted from the 5% minimum and sends three representatives to the Schleswig Holstein Legislature.)

When we came back from out visit to the Storm House, we could see first hand how the considerable tides can maroon boats and ships in the harbor's mud. To get in and out of their slip, these sailor certainly have to consult their tide tables!  (see picture above.)

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • der Hafen – the harbor
  • die Gezeiten – the tides
  • die Ebbe – the ebb tide
  • die Flut – the flood tide
  • der Schlamm – the mud
  • der Deich – the dike, levee
  • der Schriftsteller - the writer
  • der Roman - the novel
  • der Schimmel – the white horse
  • die Schleuse – the lock

The Island of Sylt

Husum to Sylt Map via Hindenburg DammMaybe you've heard of Sylt – the northernmost German and largest North Frisian island in the North Sea.

Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich, and other well-known writers and artists had “discovered” the island already in the 1920s; in the 1970s, playboy Gunther Sachs put it back on the map with his wild parties. The island began to attract the German industrial elite, and famous athletes and movie stars began to rent or build homes there for the summer season.

Today, Sylt has become one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations, the wild times of the 70s just a memory of the past.

We wanted to see for ourselves what brings so many visitors to the island.

There are two ways to get to Sylt.: (1) by boat or ferry from the Danish port of Havneby on the island of Romo, or (2) by train across the Hindenburgdam (a causeway named after German President Hindenburg). We chose the latter, drove our rental car unto the train shuttle in Niebull, and 45 minutes later we drove off the train in Westerland, the main town on Sylt.

The island has a 25 mile long beach on the western side, with mudflats Typical reed-roofed house on Sylttowards the main land on the east.

We had booked ourselves for 2 days into a B&B in Rantum, just 5 miles south of Westerland (see picture right).

The first evening, we attended an entertaining and informative lecture about Sylt's history of storms. The speaker talked about the many attempts of the islanders to prevent beach erosions and about their continuing struggle against the sea.

Great efforts are taken to prevent the loss of cliffs and dunes during storms. The beaches are replenished with sand dredged up offshore, but storms and tides often counteract all human efforts.

While Westerland is a busy city with many hotels and a very active nightlife, we preferred the calmer and more scenic areas north and south.

Sylt Beach during off seasonAnd, if you were wondering – just in case you had heard about Sylt's nude beaches – yes, there are many “FKK” (Freikörperkultur) - “clothing optional” beaches on Sylt. “Buhne 16“, is the oldest and, arguably, the most well-known one. It achieved notoriety during the wild 70s and became a paparazzi hunting ground. (There's also a bistro called Buhne 16.)

We explored both the northern and southern tips of the island, walked the long beaches and admired the many wonderful reed-roof houses on the island's high dunes and cliffs.

During our week-day visit in early September, the beaches were mostly empty (see picture above). The large parking lots behind the dunes, however, left no doubt that high-season traffic on the north-south road must be intense.

Words and Phrases to add to your vocabulary:

  • die Insel - the island
  • die Nordseeküste - the coast of the North Sea
  • der Landverlust - the loss of land, land erosion
  • der Playboy, Lebemann - the playboy
  • berühmte Sportler - famous athletes
  • der Filmstar - the movie star
  • das Ferienziel - the holiday destination
  • der Strand - the beach
  • das Watt - the mudflat
  • der Vortrag - the lecture
  • das Schilfdach - the reed roof

The local language spoken on Sylt is Söl'ring, one of the dialects of Tadjem Deel: "Küsse Tal" restaurant in the Sylt dunesNorth Frisian (a Germanic language). Söl'ring, which has been heavily influenced by Danish, is taught in a few elementary schools on Sylt. However only a few hundred people speak it and we saw Söl'ring only on a couple of signs.

For example, we were puzzled by the name of this restaurant that we found nestled in the dunes (see picture right): Tadjem Deel. The owner told us that it means Küsse Tal or valley of kisses

After getting a glimpse of one of Germany's most popular vacation spots, Sylt, we set our sights on Denmark. We were eager to try out our Danish, which we had practiced daily for nearly four months on Duolingo.

More about that in one of our next posts.

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 Peter Rettig

Gamesforlanguage: Understanding “gammeln” und “vergammeln”...

Det gamle Hus on Danish houseTraveling has the added benefit of opening your eyes to both new and old things.

Sometimes you even learn to understand words and expressions in your native language that you heard and used - but never thought much about.

That occurred to me recently during our travels through Denmark when I saw “Det gamle Hus” on a house in Gilleleje, Denmark. (see above picture)

In German, you have the words “gammeln” and “vergammeln”. The etymological roots of these words suddenly became clear! And with that, I have an excellent memory crutch for the Danish word. 

Das vergammelte Haus?

A quick look at a dictionary clarified that the Danish sign “Det gamle Hus” just means “The old house. (Das alte Haus.”)

The German cognate “vergammelt” also means that something is old. In addition “vergammelt” suggests that it's in bad condition, decrepit, run down, etc.

Obviously, if I had ever bothered to look up the etymology of “gammel”, I would have found an entry such as this:

Via German Low German from Middle Low German gamelen, from Old Saxon (attested in the past participle gigamal?). Cognate to Old English gamolian. The verb pertains to an adjective meaning “old” attested in Middle Dutch gamel, Old English gamol, Old Norse gamall (whence forms in all modern Scandinavian languages). (Wiki)

Gammeln

The same Wiki entry also had a good example for the verb “gammeln”:

(of food or figurative) to become old; to rot

Das Brot von letzter Woche gammelt im Schrank. (Last week’s bread is rotting in the cupboard.)

It also provided a second etymological explanation:

Originally a southern German dialect word. Derived from Middle High German gamel, variant of gamen (“amusement”), from Old High German gaman. Related to English game.

Gammeln (third-person singular simple present gammelt, past tense gammelte, past participle gegammelt, auxiliary haben)

(informal) to bum around; to do nothing productive; to be idle; to live the life of a hobo

Nach der Schule hab ich zwei Jahre nur gegammelt. (After finishing school I didn't do anything productive for two years.)

“Gammeln” and “vergammeln” may not be words you learn in a German course. But if you ever come across them in Germany (or their cousins in any of the nordic countries), you now you know their meaning. 

And, as an added benefit for me: I will probably never forget that "old" in Danish is "gamle" (and, as pointed out above, in all modern Scandinavian languages).

So, cognates - such as the Danish “gamle” and the German “gammeln” - are an easy way for learning and remembering vocabulary: You just have to pay attention as you are walking around and try to decipher signs, posters and advertisements.

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 Peter Rettig

GamesforLanguage: When to use “Sie” vs. “du”

Gamesforlanguage.com when to use: "Sie" vs. "du"English speakers have to face another challenge when learning German: when to use the formal “Sie” vs. the familiar “du”. In English such differentiation does not exist.

(I'd like to acknowledge TalkinFrench.com's recent post on the similar topic “Tu” vs. “Vous”, as the inspiration for this German “guide,” as there are many similarities – but also differences – how both languages use the formal and familiar form of address.)

What also complicates the matter is that the internet and the influx of English into the German language has softened the clear du/Sie demarcation lines of the past. As we'll see later, it has also introduced new combinations of first name with the formal “Sie”.

Also, the “Sie” vs. “du” differentiation varies greatly not only at different levels of age and social connection, but also at different levels of society, community, and profession in German-speaking countries.

And as you interact socially with German speakers, you'll not only have to know whether and when to use “Sie” or “du”, but you'll also have to be able to adjust your speech by using the correct verb forms.

When to use the German “Sie” for “you”

There are some clear basic rules: You use “Sie” with:Anybody you're meeting for the first time; a stranger on the street, e.g.,2 business people shaking hands someone whom you're asking for help/directions: “Könnten Sie mir bitte helfen/sagen...” ; at a ticket window buying a train ticket, at an airline counter, information booths, etc.; shopkeepers; and your co-workers when you start a new job (but note exceptions below).

Anybody quite a bit older than you.
Anybody to whom you want or need to be respectful - a teacher, a boss, clients, policemen, or other officials.
Any groups or audience you may be addressing in a speech – unless it's your sports team, or group of friends, when “Sie” becomes “ihr” (and those exceptions are also noted below).

In general, you're much better off erring on the side of using “Sie” rather than “du” when you meet somebody for the first time.

(The young traveler Michael of our German 1 course does so in this MP3 audio clip, as he didn't know that German students “sich duzen” i.e. they use the familiar “du”.)

The “Sie” puts a distance between you and the other person, and in some circumstances this may be seen as aloofness.

But it's much better to be “invited” to use the familiar “du”, than to be somewhat embarrassed when the other person ignores your “du” and responds by using the “Sie”, thereby clearly pointing out your transgression.

When to Use the German“du” for “you”

kiss after accepting the familiar "you" in German?In general, all family members and close friends use “du”.

Members of sports clubs and political parties typical use “du” (although there again are hierarchical and age differences that may create exceptions).
Classmates
Students and colleagues that you're on amicable terms with
Children up to their late teenage/early adult years
When you've offered or have been offered the familiar “du”: “Wollen wir uns nicht “duzen”?

At social gatherings in the past, the invitation to use “du” was often accompanied by a kiss or peck on the cheek (sometimes reluctantly accepted as in the above photo). It was also often  accompanied by linking arms while taking a sip from your drink, and called “auf Brüderschaft trinken” (drink to brotherhood).

But I must confess I have not seen or experienced this old tradition for a long time – maybe because I haven't been at those type of parties for a while.

Clearly, for animals, pets, inanimate objects, etc. you use “du” as well.

Sample Situations

The rules mentioned above may not be cut-and-dried, so let’s have a look at specific examples below.

Family members: Use “du”

Regardless of age, family members use “du” when talking to each other.

Each year we join a Dutch family reunion in the Netherlands. About 100 members now living in various countries get together for a weekend. Whether we're speaking, Dutch, German, or French – even with family members we may not have met before – we always use the familiar “je/jij”, “du”, or “tu”.

 

Strangers in the 15- to 25-year-old age range

Young adults in this age group who meet each other for the first time, often use “du”, especially if they come from a similar social group, are students, etc.

 

Co-workers or colleagues

It very much depends on the type of company and the policies and traditions established by the “old hands”. In hierarchical organizations such as banks, insurance companies, government, the military, as well as schools, universities, etc., it's better to start out using “Sie”.
Once your colleagues offer you the familiar “du”, you have been accepted as part of the group and can now choose when to do the same for any newcomers.
One interesting change is occurring in many multinational firms in German-speaking countries: Rather than using the family name with the formal “Sie”, as was the norm, now colleagues often interact by using their first name while still using “Sie”.

 

Business or professional contacts: use “Sie”

When meeting new contacts in your business or profession, you should always use “Sie”. Only when you start to interact socially or get close enough to offer/be offered the familiar “du” would this change.

 

Teacher to students:

I went to school in Bad Nauheim, Germany. I remember that at the beginning of the 11th grade, and for the last three years of high school, until the “Abitur”, our teachers addressed us with “Sie”.

A friend who is a high-school teacher in Freiburg, Germany, confirmed that the same is still true today in the high school, where she teaches.
In other parts of Germany, or Austria, Switzerland, South-Tyrol, Luxembourg, Alsace-Lorraine, etc. where German is spoken, the school rules may be different.

 

"Sie" + first name

German speakers typically address persons, with whom they have not agreed on using the familiar "du", with their last name. And it is not unusual, even for long-time acquaintances, to use both the formal "Sie" and their last names.

However, likely because of the influx of English in movies and on the internet, the use of the first name together with the formal Sie has become common in many companies, especially those with international connections.

 

We'd like very much to hear from residents in those areas about the use of “Sie” and “du”, so we can add a postscript.

 

“Du” and “Sie” in other parts of speech

The formal “Sie” form (as well as Ihre, Ihnen) is capitalized, mainly to distinguish it from “sie”, which means both “they and “she”.

The written sentence: “Ich sehe, dass Sie gewonnen haben”. (I see that you have won.) can therefore not be confused with: “Ich sehe, dass sie gewonnen haben”. (I see that they have won.) When you HEAR a similar sentence, only the context will tell you who is meant by sie/Sie.

As you will know, using “du” and “Sie” directly affects the verb conjugations. But let’s look at the other “du” and “Sie” forms:

  • Noun: das “Duzen” (saying “du” to each other) and das “Siezen” (saying “Sie” to each other)
  • Verb: “duzen” (to use “du”) and “siezen” (to use “Sie”)
  • Subject pronoun: “du” - Du bist jung. vs. “Sie” - Sie sind alt.
  • Direct object pronoun: “dich” - Ich sehe dich. vs. “Sie” - Ich sehe Sie.
  • Indirect object pronoun: “dir” - Ich gebe dir das Buch vs. “Ihnen” - Ich gebe Ihnen das Buch.

If you find yourself really unsure whether the situation calls for “du” or “Sie”, don’t worry, it’s okay to ask. Here are some questions you could use in navigating the move from “du” to “Sie”:

German phrase

Translation

Wir könnten uns doch duzen!

Surely we could say “du” to each other!

Wir sollten uns duzen!

We should say “du”. (to each other)

Darf ich Sie duzen?

May I say “du” to you?

Duzen wir uns?

Shall we say “du”? (to each other)?

Stört es Sie, wenn wir uns duzen?

Does it bother you, if we say “du”? (to each other)

Sagen wir doch Du zueinander!

Let's say “du” to each other.

When you’re asked the same questions above or if you would like to set the level of familiarity during your conversation, here are some useful phrases:

German phrase

Translation

Du kannst mich duzen.

You can address me with “du”.

Ich glaube nicht, dass wir “per du” sind.

I don't think we say “du”. (to each other)

Ich möchte nicht geduzt werden.

I don't like being addressed with “du”.

Frequently Asked Questions About “du” and “Sie”

By now you probably have a good idea how to use “du” and “Sie” and all that remains is finding the opportunity to turn theory into practice. Here are some frequently asked questions with their respective answers.

Q: While you've pointed out that “geduzt zu werden” can be seen as impolite or even offensive by someone, could the reverse also be true: using “Sie” instead of “du”?

A: There are few instances in which someone would feel offended, but I can think of one: Let's say you and a younger person attend a social event, maybe an office party (and you are the person's boss). You have a few drinks together and you offer him or her the familiar “du”. The next day, however, either because you don't remember, or you've changed your mind, you again use “Sie”. The younger person may now feel bad and not dare to ask you why you've reverted back to “Sie”.

While addressing each other with “Sie” at work and with “du” at social interactions may be more the exception than the rule today, it may still be the code of conduct in hierarchical organizations.

Q: Is it okay to start a conversation with someone using “Sie” and later in the conversation switch to “du”?

A: Well, if the other person reminds you that you were already using the familiar “du” before, it's quite obvious that you should switch. Or, if you hear the invitation “Sagen wir doch du zueinander!” then it's a no-brainer either.

Also, if you're both of similar age, social status, etc. and the other person repeatedly used “du”, you could very well switch as well – at least that's what I would do.

Q: Is it all right if one person uses “du” while the other uses “Sie”?

A: As we have seen, this indeed is the typical situation between children and adults, students and teachers. It used to be quite normal in the past between aristocrats and commoners, bosses and workers, i.e. people of different rank and status etc., but in today's democratic German-speaking societies it would seem unusual between adults.

Q: Do the formal “Sie” and plural “sie” always have the same conjugation?

A: Yes, the conjugation of verbs with the formal “Sie” (you) and the plural “sie” (they) is always exactly the same.

Q: The conjugation of verbs is different for “du” and “Sie”, right?

Yes, the conjugation of verbs with the familiar “du” and the formal “Sie” is different as shown with these examples, while the English translation remains the same :

“Du siehst mich.” - “Sie sehen mich. (You see me.)
“Du hörst uns.” - “Sie hören uns.” (You see us.)
“Du liebst ihn.” - “Sie lieben ihn.” (You love him.)
“Du bist schön.” - “Sie sind schön.” (You are beautiful.)

And, if there are any more questions about the use of “Du” vs. “Sie”, just drop us a line. We'll be happy to answer them or find out.

We also welcome any comments or observations that are different from our experience and explanations above.

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.

You Want to Practice Your German?

Our games and travel-story based courses are also a great way to practice your German.

With our German 1 and 2 courses you'll learn and practice German for FREE - with stories of a young man traveling through Germany and - its sequel - solving a "Blüten"-mystery in Berlin. "The Story" and easy games will let you forget that you are actually learning German!

And you can also listen to both Stories by clicking on German 1 or German 2 on our Podcast page

If travel to Germany is in your near future, you may also enjoy our post: 4 Fun German Language Games Before You Travel.

 

 

 

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning With Songs: From Traditional to Pop in French, German, Italian and Spanish

colorful song signFor music lovers, songs provide a wealth of language learning possibilities. But not only that. Each culture has its own tradition, which makes it all the more interesting.

A simple word like the English “song” is a good example of how various languages may differentiate among alternative meanings (or not) for a basic concept.

And, as language learners increase their vocabulary, they also begin to appreciate the nuances.

When you google for the translation of “song” in the four languages of our Gamesforlanguage site, you'll get the following results:

French

English “the song” translates as “la chanson” (music with words) and “le chant” (song-like piece of music, song-like poem), from chanter (to sing).

The English language uses “chant” as a synonym for “song” or “singing,” often in connection with spiritual or religious singing.

We talk about Gregorian chants, not Gregorian songs, and it's the same in French.

France has a strong tradition of “art songs,” which include not only beloved arias from operas by Bizet, Fauré, Gounot, and Massenet, but also poems, by Hugo, Verlaine, Baudelaire, set to music by Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, and others.

While the English “song,” may or may not include any lyrics, the French “chanson” is typically a lyric-driven song.

Singers that we enjoy include Edith Piaff, Jacques Brel, Mireille Mathieu, Charles Aznavour, Joe Dassin, and Québec's “chansonniers” Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillé, Raymond Lévesque, and more.

The traditional French “chanson” has a long and colorful history, dating back to the Middle Ages.

“Chanson” differs from other French “pop” music by reaching back French Hot songs 2017to French traditions of lyrics and music (rather than following British or American trends).

Songs in French are a wonderful way to acquire the sounds and the rhythm of the French language, and to learn words and idiomatic expressions.

By listening over and over to a French song you really like, you'll even pick up some typical grammar structures.

We are especially fond of Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien, which let's you pick up a number of grammatical clues.

Check out the “Chanson française du moment” (right above) and see if you can find one that you like. If it gets into your head, your French will surely improve.

German

The German translation of “the song” is “das Lied.” This may be a little confusing as the verb to sing translates to singen, and for “the singing” and you'll get “das Singen” and “der Gesang.” 

“Das Lied” is similar to the French “la chanson,” and “Gesang” is the equivalent of the French (and English) “chant.” In German, for example, we talk about the “Gregorian Gesänge” (der Gesang; pl: die Gesänge).

German music lovers will also be familiar with “Lieder” (das Lied; pl: die Lieder). These are often poems put to music by composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, etc.

German Hot songs 2017An English translation for “Lieder” may be “art songs,” as these are poems set to classical music. Their tradition goes back to the 12th Century and the German “Minnelieder” (courtly love songs). 

From the 1960s on, German singer-songwriters liked to call themselves “Liedermacher” (makers of songs).

In modern German, “songs” may also translate as “Schlager,” the popular German songs of the Hit Parade.

Songs performed by Marlene Dietrich and Lale Andersen (Lili Marleen) went around the world; Peter Alexander, Catharina Valente, Freddy Quinn, Udo Jürgens, and many others all had “Schlager” hits in their time.

One of our favorites is Jürgen von der Lippe's  Guten Morgen liebe Sorgen.... It topped the Hit Parade list for several weeks in the 80's.

Every week, the Offiziellen Deutschen Party & Schlager Charts (see above left) are updated. Take a look and see if you can't find a song that you like, and – by memorizing the lyrics - you will improve your German.

Italian

The Italian translation of “the song,” is “la canzone.” “The singing” translates as “il canto,” derived from cantare (to sing).

All Romance languages trace the equivalent for “song” back to the Latin word “cantio” (singing).

The Italian “canzone,” (which derived from the Provençal “canso,” a troubadour's love song) traditionally referred to a song of 5 to 7 stanzas with a particular rhyme scheme.

The form was later made famous by the Italian Renaissance writers Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

Italian opera, born in the 17th century and fashionable in the Italian Hot songs 201718th and 19th centuries, has been a rich source of “art songs” that are popular to this day.

Just think of the great Luciano Pavarotti singing exquisite arias from the operas of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, or Puccini.

In the late 1950s and 1960s emerged the “cantautori” - the singer songwriters, who wrote and sang their own songs, often in protest against the more traditional “canzone.”

This was an interesting and important development.

Starting out as an imitation of sorts of the French “chanson” at the time (Brassens, Brel, Ferré, etc.), the Italian “cantautori” soon succeeded in creating songs about Italian everyday life and reality. It's a trend that's strong even now.

You can read up more about it HERE.

A smash hit from 1962 that has 55 versions is “Quando, quando, quando.” We featured it on one of our  blog posts, "Dimmi quando..." - An Italian Song for Language Learning.

Italian Pop and Rock music is often characterized as “musica leggera” (light music).

Songs by contemporary singers such as Eros Ramazzotti, Mina, Ligabue, Javanotti, Laura Pausini, and many others are good for learning and practicing Italian because the lyrics are relatively simple.

The music is great and many of the songs get under your skin, which boosts language learning.

Check out the Canzoni del momento (see above right) and see whether there is one you can memorize. It will certainly help your Italian.

Spanish

The Spanish translation of “the song” is “la canción” (music with words, song-like music) and “el canto” (song-like poem). “To sing” translates as “cantar.”

Spanish music combines a wide range of cultures that were part of Spain's past, most notably Arabic culture.

During the 17th and 18th century a Spanish form of light opera, or operetta, called “zarzuela” developed and became popular. It was a kind of music theater that combined spoken and sung storytelling, and included regional and folk elements. The Spanish full opera was much slower to develop.

Well-known Spanish “art songs” are by the composers Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Fernando Obradors, though this genre did not become quite as popular as its French and German counterparts. 

But we shouldn't forget Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier), who wrote “La Paloma” after he visited Cuba in 1861. “La Paloma,” which has been translated into many languages, is arguably one of the best-known Spanish art songs.

(See also La Paloma Lyrics – Learning Spanish with a Song, or La Paloma – Carmen – Cuba: Spanish Language Connections.)

After the Spanish Civil (1936-1939) and during Franco's repressive government which followed, regional culture and its music were banned. Rock and roll and pop music found its way into Spain only towards the end of Franco's regime.

After Franco's death in 1975, and as part of the new countercultural movement Movida Madrileña, there emerged a new, energized style of music. It resembled the British new wave and the Neue Deutsche Welle, but added flamenco passion and rhythms.

Since then, the Spanish music scene, with its centers in Madrid and Barcelona, has been nothing but innovative and exciting. 

Spanish Hot Songs 2017Latin Music opens a new world of diverse and beautiful sound. Check out this Latin Music HistoryCrooners include Jose Jose and Juan Gabriel, Mexico; Jose Feliciano, Puerto Rico; Leo Dan, Argentina; Jose Luis Rodriguez 'El Puma', Venezuela.

Click on Latin Music: Top Latin Songs, (see above left)  and find YOUR Spanish song to practice and learn with.

Maybe you'll also like “El Perdón", the subject of a recent post.

And, if you like to learn Spanish with songs, Language Zen, has a number of Spanish songs with lyrics to do just that!

If music turns you on, songs are a fantastic tool for getting the sound, the rhythm, vocabulary, and grammatical structures of a new language lodged deeply in your mind.

And singing in a foreign language is just fun and a pleasure – so why don't you find one in the language you are just learning?

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 Ulrike & Peter Rettig

German Prefixes #1: The Inseparable Prefix “Ver-”

2 verb pairs with prefix "ver-"Some time ago we added a German Quick Language Game called 2 Verb Pairs with 'ver-'.” Soon after, a few players contacted us with some questions about the Prefix "ver".

No wonder: Among the many German prefixes, “ver-” is a very confusing one. If you agree, you're not alone: in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume II (1877-1883), page 253, the author laments about the many “fragmental elements” of the German language:

German language is a dozen fragments of words flung into an octagonal cylinder …. up spring your fragmental elements with Ver's & Be's & Ge's & Er's & lein's & schen's & gung's & heit's & zu's & a thousand other flashing & blazing prefixes, affixes & interjections broiderd on them or hung to them.

Well, even if Twain was exaggerating just a bit, the “ver-” prefix can indeed be tricky and somewhat misleading.

Moreover, “ver-” is just one of a number of inseparable prefixes. (Others are “er-”, “ent-” “emp-“, ”be-”, “ge-”, “zer-”.) At least the inseparable prefixes don't add to a learner's word-order woes.

A Little Prefix "ver-" Language History

Today's German inseparable prefix “ver-” can be traced back to the Old High German “far-”, which originates from a mixture of Proto-Germanic “fer-”, “fur-”, “fra-” and other similar particles. And it's no coincidence that you'll recognize the “ver-” also in the “pro-”, “per-”, “pre-”, “for-” of English and other European languages.

In German the prefix “ver-” appears in three basic ways:

1. As a Simple Prefix.

Examples are:gehen vs vergehen - German Quick Language Game with prefix "ver-"

  • geben – (to give) vs vergeben – as in: Ich vergebe dir. (I forgive you.)
  • kehren – (to sweep) vs verkehren – as in: Er verkehrt in besten Kreisen. (He socializes with high society.)
  • gehen – (to go, walk) vs vergehen – as in: Die Zeit vergeht. (The time goes by.) [Note however, “sich vergehen” means to abuse someone sexually and “ein Vergehen” is a minor offense.]

In the above examples, the prefix “ver-” creates a new meaning with the root verb. Even if you know the meaning of the core verb, you may find the new meaning with the prefix hard to guess.

Many of the root verbs in this category also take other (inseparable) prefixes, such as “er-”, “be-”, “ent-”, etc.

  • ergeben – as in: Ich ergebe mich. (I give up, surrender.)
  • bekehren – as in: Er bekehrt die Ungläubigen. (He converts the unbelievers.)
  • entgehen – as in : Er entgeht einer Gefahr. (He escapes a danger.)

2. As a Prefix that makes the root verb a “faulty action,” or somewhat the opposite of what the root verb implies.

Examples are:

  • kaufen – (to buy) vs verkaufen – as in: Ich verkaufe mein Auto. (I am selling my car.)
  • zählen – (to count) vs (sich) verzählen – as in: Ich habe mich verzählt. (I miscounted.)
  • fahren – (to drive) vs (sich) verfahren – as in: Ich habe mich verfahren. (I got lost driving.)

In these cases, the somewhat opposite meaning can be guessed from the root verb. Here the ver- prefix sometimes corresponds to the English mis- prefix, as in miscount above, to misspell (sich verschreiben), to miscalculate (sich verrechnen), etc.

These root verbs combine only with a few inseparable prefixes. But they do combine with a number of separable prefixes, such as “auf-”. Often these change the root meaning just slightly.

  • aufkaufen – as in: Er kaufte halb Las Vegas auf. (He bought up half of Las Vegas.)
  • aufzählen – as in: Sie zählte alle seine Fehler auf. (She enumerated all his faults.)
  • auffahren – as in: Er fuhr auf das Auto vor ihm auf. (He rear-ended the car in front of him.)

3. As a Prefix that makes the root verb an (often new, different, but somewhat related) action.

This is the most frequent use of “ver-”.

"suchen vs versuchen" German Language Game with prefix "ver-"Examples are:

  • suchen - (to seek, search) vs versuchen – as in: Ich versuche es. (I'm trying it.)
  • binden – (to tie, bind) vs verbinden – as in: Ich verbinde Sie. (I'll connect you.)(Note that there is second meaning of verbinden: to wrap, bandage.)
  • folgen – (to follow) vs verfolgen as in: Ich verfolge ihn. (I pursue him.)

With most of these there are many other separable and inseparable prefixes that let you guess the meaning quite easily.

4. There are a number of verbs starting with “ver-”, where the root verb doesn't have a meaning of its own.

Examples are:

  • verdächtigen – to suspect
  • verdeutlichen – to make clear
  • vergessen – to forget

There are just a few verbs in this category and the root verbs typically don't work with any of the other separable or inseparable prefixes. So you'll just have to learn their meaning.

While prefixes can be confusing at times, they can also provide you with an initial clue of their meaning – especially when you understand the context in which they are used.

Test Your German with the Prefix "ver-"

Depending on how good your German is, you may have fun guessing the meaning of these “ver-” verbs below. You can look up the translation on Google translate or send us a note and we'll return the answers.

Root verb

English translation

“ver-” Prefix Verb

English translation

Category

achten

to respect

verachten

ändern

to change

verändern

ärgern

to annoy

verärgern

arbeiten

to work

verarbeiten

bauen

to build

verbauen

bergen

to recover

verbergen

beugen

to bend

verbeugen

bieten

to offer

verbieten

bitten

to ask

verbitten

brechen

to break

verbrechen

danken

to thank

verdanken

decken

to cover

verdecken

dienen

to serve

verdienen

drehen

to turn

verdrehen

And often, when you learn and remember the root verb, you'll also have an easier time remembering the many derivatives with the “flashing and blazing prefixes”.

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 Ulrike Rettig

German Travel Memories 2 - Michael in Heidelberg

Heidelberg mit Neckar und SchlossVisiting Heidelberg? Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with lots of wonderful travel memories.

Our first German Travel Memories post covered Frankfurt a.M., where Michael, the young traveler in our German 1 course, is visiting family. He then takes the train to Heidelberg for his second stop in Germany.

We'll follow Michael's explorations of Heidelberg. For those of you who are doing or have done our German 1 course: Michael in Deutschland, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you more about each of the cities of GamesforLanguage's travel-story based courses. We typically use the cities' real street names, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the two other German cities Michael visits, Munich and Berlin. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Italy, Spain, and the U.S.

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 travel terms in German.

Quick Facts about HeidelbergHeidelberg view from Castle

The city of Heidelberg lies on the Neckar river, in the south-western part of Baden-Württemberg (one of Germany's 16 federal states).

Because of its stunning location and picturesque cityscape, Heidelberg is a hugely popular travel destination.

A quintessential college town, Heidelberg has a population of just over 150,000, with roughly a quarter of its inhabitants being students.

The city is well known for its university, which was founded in 1386 and said to be one of the oldest in Germany. Over the centuries it has attracted prominent philosophers, poets, and scholars.

In addition, Heidelberg is the location of numerous research institutions, among them four Max Plank Institutes.

After World War II, Heidelberg, which was situated in the American Zone, became the Headquarters of the American forces in Europe.

  • Bundesland (n.) - federal state
  • Lage (f.) - location (of a city)
  • Stadtbild (n.) - cityscape
  • Universitätsstadt (f.) - college/university town
  • Studenten (pl. m.) - students
  • Philosophen (pl. m.) - philosophers
  • Forschung (f.) - research
  • Forschungsinstitut - research institute
  • Hauptquartier (n.) - (military) Headquarters, H.Q.
  • die amerikanischen Truppen - the American forces

Arrival in Heidelberg (the Weststadt Neighborhood)

House Zum Ritter in Heidelberg, GermanyFrom Frankfurt, Michael takes the ICE (InterCity) to Heidelberg, a train ride of less than an hour. (You can also take the S-Bahn, or a regional train.)

Heidelberg has 15 city districts. The Central Railway Station is located in Weststadt, the district next to the historic core of the city (Altstadt). It's also where Michael's friends live: on the Schillerstraße.

Weststadt is a residential district dating back to the 1830s. Starting in the 1870s and continuing into the 20th century (a period which is often called "Gründerzeit"), Weststadt experienced a residential building boom and became a highly fashionble neighborhood.

The "Gründerzeit" (literally, "founders' period") - related to the period when the German national state was consolidated under Chancellor Bismarck - coincided with rapid industrialization and economic growth in central Europe.

The architectural style of that time was eclectic and mixed diverse historical periods. So walking through the Weststadt neighborhood, you'll see buildings in various styles: Italian Renaissance, Baroque Revival, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, etc.

  • Hauptbahnhof (m.) - Central Railway Station
  • Altstadt (f.) - historic city center
  • Wohngegend (f.) - residential area
  • Gründerzeit (f.) - economic phase of rapid development (lit.: "founders' period")
  • Bauboom (m.) - building boom
  • Industrialisierung (f.) - industrialization
  • Wirtschaftswachstum (n.) - economic growth
  • Baustil (m.) - (architectural) style
  • Ritter (m.) knight
  • Friedrich Schiller - German philospher, playwright, poet (1759-1805)
  • nach rechts - to the right
  • nach links - to the left
  • geradeaus - straight ahead

Mark Twain's Travel Memories of Heidelberg

Michael and his friends walk through the historic of Heidelberg ("Altstadt").

One of his friends, Renate, points out a hotel, where Mark Twain supposedly stayed during his visit to Heidelberg in 1878.

In that year, Mark Twain was struggling to finish his novel Huckleberry Finn (as some journalists claim), and went on a Europe tour with his family, as a kind of working holiday.

Mark Twain loved Heidelberg (as you can  read in his Travel Book "A Tramp Abroad") and stayed there for three months. 

Possibly, the hotel that Renate points out, is today's Crowne Plaza, built in 1838 as Hotel Ernst, and located in the Old Town on the Bahnhofstraße. Mark Twain first notes in "A Tramp Abroad": "We stopped at a hotel by the railway-station."

Twain continues:

The weather was growing pretty warm,—very warm, in fact. View from Heidelberg castle where Mark Twain made travel memoriesSo we left the valley and took quarters at the Schloss Hotel, on the hill, above the Castle.

As Twain describes it, the Schloss Hotel provided him with a fantastic view: (see view from Heidelberg castle)

"Now if one turns and looks up the gorge once more, he will see the Schloss Hotel on the right perched on a precipice overlooking the Neckar—a precipice which is so sumptuously cushioned and draped with foliage that no glimpse of the rock appears. The building seems very airily situated. ...

Out of a billowy upheaval of vivid green foliage, a rifle-shot removed, rises the huge ruin of Heidelberg Castle, with empty window arches, ivy-mailed battlements, moldering towers ... It is a fine sight to see the evening sunlight suddenly strike the leafy declivity at the Castle’s base and dash up it and drench it as with a luminous spray, while the adjacent groves are in deep shadow."

Journalists and historians have tried to guess why Mark Twain loved Heidelberg so much.

Was it because "Heidelberg" (short for "Heidelbeerenberg"), in fact, means "Huckelberry mountain" as we speculate in Why did Mark Twain like Heidelberg?

More likely, Twain fell in love with the beauty of town itself, and its picturesque riverside setting.

  • Roman (m.) - novel
  • Arbeitsurlaub (m.) - working holiday
  • Heidelbeere (f.) - huckleberry
  • Wetter (n.) - weather
  • Aussicht (f.) - view
  • Schloss (n.) - castle
  • Klippe (f.) - precipice
  • raten - to guess

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 travel memories read for anyone learning German.

Heidelberg University

Heidelberg Universität The founding of the University of Heidelberg (1386) was prompted by a curious historical event. At the time of the Great Schism of 1378 (when two popes - one French and one Italian - were elected after the death of Pope Gregory XI), German secular and spiritual leaders supported the Italian one in Rome.

As a result, German students and teachers at the University of Paris had to leave. But, the Italian Pope, Urban VI, allowed the creation of a university in Heidelberg.

During the years 1804 to 1809, a number of writers who were part of the German Romantic movement, spent time in Heidelberg for teaching and research at the university. They included poets such as Clemens Brentano and Friedrich Hölderlin.

In the 1960s and 70s, Heidelberg University became one of the main centers of left-wing student protests.

Today, Heidelberg University is internationally renowned. Its building are grouped in two main locations. 1) In the Altstadt: the Old Town Campus (for humanities), some of whose buildings reach back to 1712, and the Bergheim Campus (for economics and social sciences). 2) In the district of Neuenheim across the river: The New Campus built during the 1960's (for the natural sciences and life science).

  • Universität (f.) - university
  • Gründung (f.) - founding
  • Pabst (m.) - pope
  • Romantik (f.) - Romantic movement in the arts and literature (late 18th-early 19th c.)
  • Dichter (m.) - poet, writer
  • Dichterin (f.) - poet, writer
  • Linker Studentenprotest (m.) - left-wing student protest
  • Ort (m.) - location, site, place
  • Unigelände (n.) / Campus (m.) - campus

Heidelberg SchlossDas Schloss

A Renaissance ruin and well-known landmark, Heidelberg Castle is nestled on the slope of the Königstuhl hill, 300 feet above the city of Heidelberg.

To go up to the castle from near the center of town, you can take a funicular to the Molkenkur station, and from there change to another funicular up to the castle. In all, it's about a 15-minute ride, and the view from the top is fantastic.

First built in 1890, the two Heidelberg mountain railways (Bergbahnen) underwent various building phases, renovations, and additions to meet current safety standards.

  • Ruine (f.) - ruin
  • Abhang (m.) - hillside
  • Wahrzeichen (n.) - landmark
  • Standseilbahn (f.) - funicular (cable car on a slope)

Further sights may interest you:

Other Places to visit in Heidelberg

Studentenkarzer: The Student Prison (part of the old university), which was used from 1778 to 1914.

Philosophenweg: The Philosopher's Walk is a pathway that the university's philosophers frequented. It runs along the side of Heiligenberg and provides spectacular views of the castle and the city.

Alte Brücke: The Karl Theodor Bridge goes over the Neckar river joining the two historic parts of Heidelberg.

Königstuhl: Instead of taking the funicular up to the summit, you can also make the Königstuhl (King's Chair) a destination for hiking.

For anyone interested in poetry, click on Poems about Heidelberg (Heidelberg in der Dichtung) 

Michael's Next Stop

Munich HofbräuhausFrom Heidelberg, Michael takes the Intercity to Munich. There he stays at a hotel, visits the Hofbräuhaus (see picture ), and spends the evening with friends in Schwabing, a lively student quarter.

We'll soon tell you more about Munich in our future post "German Travel Memories - Michael in Munich"

Register or log in again to continue with the German 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 Peter Rettig

European Travel 5 – Discoveries in Austria

Beer Garden in Austria with "Grüass Eich God" sign - Gamesforlanguage.comAustria always holds new things for us to discover. After a week in Überlingen, Germany, where we explored sights along Lake Constance, we picked up a rental car in Friedrichshafen and headed to Austria.

And we were happy to still have our Webspot Pocket WiFi with us, which we had first used while canal cruising in the Netherlands and during our train trip from Utrecht to Lake Constance. This way we could easily google information about the towns and sights we passed by. (Returning the pocket WIFI was also easy: Later in Vienna, we just dropped it off at a Post office in its metal case and prepaid envelope!)

In Austria

Our car's navigation system led us easily around Munich and, it being a Saturday, we didn't encounter any of the notorious Munich traffic jams.

Soon we found ourselves on Austrian territory. (There are open borders between Germany and Austria, so we had no wait at the border. This is one advantage of the “Schengen Agreement” for tourists and travelers.)

At noon we stopped in a little town. The warm and sunny September weather allowed us to enjoy our lunch in a typical Austrian beer garden.

We watched as the restaurant became busy and the tables all got occupied.

We picked up pieces of Austrian conversation here and there, and as is customary in Austria, we were not surprised when another couple joined us at our table.

We enjoyed a delicious meal. As we wereBeer Garden sign: "Pfüad Eich God" leaving, we chuckled when we noticed the sign over the entrance to the garden restaurant:“Grüass Eich God” (see above left) and on the other side of the sign, when leaving: “Pfüad Eich God” (see right).

The first one is a local form of “Grüß Gott” meaning “May God greet (or bless) you. ”The second translates as something like “Be well with God,” meaning “Goodby.”

Both Austrian/Bavarian versions would be pretty well incomprehensible to a German learner. (Now you also know what “Pfüad di” means?)

Wels, Austria

A little more than an hour later, we arrived in Wels where one of Ulrike's Austrian cousins lives with his family. His son now manages the family business, the Hotel and the Gasthof Maxlhaid, located on the outskirts of Wels.

Wels, the seventh-largest city in Austria with 60,000 inhabitants, lies at the Traun River, about 20 miles from Linz.

It was my first visit to Wels and I was eager to learn more about its history.

Important during the Roman age, prosperous during the Middle Ages, devastated during the 30 Years' War, Wels became an important manufacturing center during the industrial revolution.

In World War II, Wels saw heavy destruction, and only a few historic buildings have remained. However over the years, new industries have settled there and the city has also gained prominence with its trade fairs and congresses.

The Saturday we arrived happened to be the Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of the Museums). For a small fee, people could visit any of the area's participating museums, many of which stayed open until midnight.

We took advantage of that opportunity and visited several museums in town, including the City Museum.

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels

Stadtmuseum Burg Wels GardenThe City Museum is located in a castle, which for centuries belonged to the Habsburg family. (see the castle gardens left) The castle was rebuilt between 1504 and 1514 by emperor Maximilian I in late-Gothic style.

Many artifacts from that time are exhibited, together with documents, models, and audio-visual presentations of the city's and area's history.

One exhibit shows the many different bread forms bakers have used over time. Another one shows the various tools and machines the agricultural industry had developed in Austria.

In another display, we were fascinated by several maps that show the German enclaves in what used to be called the “German-Austrian empire” before 1918.

Our understanding of the Upper Austrian dialect was also tested (we passed!), when we watched museum staff perform several humorous sketches about Wels personalities.

Pferdeeisenbahnmuseum in der Maxlhaid

At the end of the night, Ulrike's cousin gave us a private tour of hisHorse railway map Budweis to Gmunden own horse railway museum, which is located in a large barn behind the hotel. The museum, a longterm hobby, is his love and passion.

The history of the horse railway is quite interesting. The Italian Franz Zola, (father of the French writer Émile Zola, 1840-1902) was an engineer/surveyor during the construction of the first continental horse railway between Budweis (now Czech Republic) and Linz (Austria).

That was the northern route of the horse railway, which opened in 1832.

Franz Zola received a license from Emperor Franz in 1828 to continue the southern route from Linz to Gmunden. However, when his financing fell through, Zola left for the Foreign Legion and settled later in France.

Subsequently, the southern route of the railway was completed by others in 1836. The 123 miles of track from Gmunden to Budweis could then meet their real purpose: transporting goods, especially salt from Gmunden to Bohemia.

The station Maxlhaid, at the location of the current hotel, was one of several stations where horse changes occurred and a tavern already existed there in 1835.

By 1855, however, steam engines replaced the horses and the horse railway became history. (See the map above and the German Wikipedia entry for further details of the Budweis-Gmunden horse railway).

Linz, Austria

The next day, we visited Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. It is Austria's third-largest city with a population of over 200,000.

Linz is only 19 miles from the Czech border. Founded by the Romans and called “Lentia,” Linz was the most important city in the Habsburg Empire, but lost its status to Vienna and Prague after the death of Emperor Frederick III in 1493.

Today Linz remains one of Austria's main economic centers. Its harbor on the Danube (one of four in Austria) attracts logistic and trading enterprises as well as manufacturing plants along the river banks.

"Winged Piano" in Linz, AustriaFrom the Pöstlingberg, a 1700-foot hill on the left bank of the Danube, we had a wonderful view of the city.

We were intrigued by “Höhenrausch 2016,” an exhibition now in its ninth year, with always changing art. This year angels were the main topic.

The “Höhenrausch” tour takes you through large rooms of the Ursuline Church, the top of a parking garage and terraces with various sculptures. It was all both fun and instructive. We learned about the history of angels in different religions, and in literature and art.

We were amused by various interactive exhibits (click on the picture above or this YouTube clip to see a piano with wings).

The views across the roofs of Linz from one of the wooden towers were spectacular.

Our short stay did not allow us to visit any of the many museums along the banks of the Danube, for example, the Schlossmuseum, the Lentos Art Museum, the Ars Electronica Center, but we got a glimpse of them during our walk through the city and along the Danube.

The Danube

Seeing the Danube wind its way through Linz Map of Rhine - Danubeprompted me to look a little further into this great European river.

Indeed, with a length of about 1785 miles, the Danube is the second longest European river after the Volga.

And, as no other river in the world, it touches 10 different countries on its way: From its source in the Black Forest in Germany, it flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldavia, and Ukraine, where it empties into the Black Sea.

With the completion of the Main-Danube Canal (Main-Donau Kanal) in 1992, linking the Rhine with the Danube, a waterway connection between the North Sea and the Black Sea was established.

Thereby even more European states were linked through their own connected waterways. (On the map above, the Rhine and Main are shown in green, The Main-Danube Canal in red, and the navigable stretch of the Danube in blue.)

We would be amiss if we didn't mention the poster child of German compound words:

Donaudampfschifffahrtskapitän (Captain of the Danube Steamship Company)

(However, it even pales against this one which contains 79 letters and, reportedly, holds the 1996 Guinness Book of World Records. Click HERE for the translation and history:) 

Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft,

Vienna, Austria

Austrian National Library: Prunksaal - Gamesforlanguage.comA few days later found us walking through the streets of Vienna, a city we both know well. But you can always find something new to do in Vienna!

This time we happened to walk by the Austrian National Library and were attracted by the exhibition about the life of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was held in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of his death in 1916.

Franz Joseph's long life (1830-1910) made him the “ewige Kaiser” (eternal emperor) to many Austrians. He reportedly was the most painted and photographed person of the 19th century.

The exhibition described his life from young child to teenager, young man, media star, and statesman, with portraits, letters, news reports. It was was set up in the Library's grand “Prunksaal” (State Hall).

The Austrian National Library is not only the largest library in Austria with 7.4 million books, but the “Prunksaal” of the old imperial library takes your breath away.

It forms part of the Hofburg Palace and everywhere you look, there are sculptures, frescos, marble statues, and paintings.

So next time you go to Austria, consider going a little of the beaten track. And don't forget, when you come to Vienna, take a look at the Austrian National Library.

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. 

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