Good bye, 2014. Don’t come back.

Everything and everyone is doing retrospectives today. Funny how my last scheduled blog post for this year turns out to be on New Years Eve because I arbitrarily chose Wednesdays when I started this blog about a year ago.

I’d do one, but I’d have to leave out explaining the part that dominated my second half. Can’t talk about that yet THAT openly. Even though a lot of people know.
It’s a work-related thing. Don’t worry, though. I still have my job, I make a living and have my big vacation for 2015 booked.

All in all, 2014 had some pretty great things. I met neat people online, mostly on twitter which has become my new go-to social network after facebook went more and more down the drain.

I had a great roadtrip along the US East Coast including Niagara Falls, met awesome internet friends on the way and travelled with one of them.
I visited friends and family in England.

Hey, stop reading this now. Have an awesome New Year’s Eve!

Olli’s Saturday School – A German Christmas

A typical German Christmas differs from the American one in quite a few ways. There’s no stockings. No chimney. No Santa Claus.

The German word for Christmas is Weihnachten.
From Weihen and Nacht.
Basically it translates to Sanctified night. Since Christ is actually an old word meaning anointed or sanctified…go figure.

In case you wondered, –mas is actually coming from mass as in church, not as in “tons of presents”.

The German Christmette is the church service held at night on Christmas Eve or, as we call it Heilig Abend (Holy Evening)

Back to celebrations. Germany usually celebrates on Christmas Eve, despite it actually being a regular working day. Most companies just close anyway, though. And/or give everyone half the day off and deduct a half day from their vacation allowance.

A standard German family (assuming there’s small kids) Christmas means everyone arrives “back home” on Christmas Eve. They oooh and aaah at the family Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) in the living room, hide the presents they brought somewhere and spend the day together, preparing dinner or trying to keep the kids from complaining too much about having to wait. Classic cartoons and Christmas movies and fairy tales showing on TV or DVDs usually help with that.

In the evening, everyone gets herded off to church so someone can stay back, prepare dinner and put the presents under the tree. We all loved that. Nowadays every two years we still go to church. Well, my dad and I, since the orchestra accompagnies the service every other year.
We leave around 5PM play some music at church and get back home.
Woo, dinner’s ready! Almost. Let’s have a drink first!
There are various Christmas Eve dinner traditions around Germany. Some involve a carp or trout. Others revolve around potato salad and sausages1 or a Weihnachtsgans. The Christmas goose is Germany’s Thanksgiving turkey.
In my family we usually just have a fancy dinner with mom, dad, us kids, sometimes my sister’s boyfriend joins us, my aunt and up until last year my grandmother.

Because if Christmas isn’t an occasion for a fancy family dinner, what is? We don’t get all dolled up, though. It’s not shorts n t-shirts, but neither is it tux and dress shoes.

Then, after dinner, we usually talk about random stuff, past years, or about how it was when I was born, etc…at some point it became a game to drag this part out as long as possible, to see how bad my sister would complain about when we were finally getting to open the presents. But we’re both responsible adults now.2
After that’s done – or sometimes even before – we usually call some relatives in another part of Germany, maybe get a call from my mom’s family in France, but not much happens.

Then it’s time for the Bescherung, the gift giving. We all gather in the living room, usually my sister and I give the presents to our parents etc, then we start opening ours. We usually open a bottle of sparkling wine and lounge around until everyone gets tired and we go to bed.
Traditional besides regular presents is usually a plate of chocolate, homemade christmas cookies3, maybe oranges and clementines.

A few years ago, we’d have that twice, once upstairs with my parents, once downstairs at my grandma, but when her health got worse, we just held it all upstairs.
Even earlier we’d usually have a second Christmas dinner at my aunt’s place, so we’d go pick up presents there on 25th. Actual Christmas day.
This is called (in our local dialect) Geschenke aufheben which is not at all proper German. In high German that would translate to picking up presents from the floor, in the local dialect it’s going somewhere to get presents that are waiting for you.

The ones not Santa Claus or Father Christmas brought you, but the Christkind. Or Christkindl in some dialects. Nowadays often envisioned as a very young, sort of angelic person of indeterminable Gender, Christkind is short for Christus-Kind. Christ-Child? The annointed child? Yes, right. Baby Jesus brings the presents in Germany.

This year will be the first year with only one fancy-ish Christmas family meal since my aunt has other plans for the day and, well, my grandma isn’t with us anymore.

In larger families or circles of friends there’s also the tradition of Bäumchen gucken (tree-watching).
You visit friends or relations in the days after Christmas Eve, admire their Christmas tree and have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or a few shots of schnaps.

Hope you all had a good time with the blog, with your friends and relations around the holidays and if you don’t celebrate anything these days at least enjoyed yourself and everyone being a little more amiable than usually. Hopefully. ;-)


  1. Yes. Don’t ask, it’s just the way it is []
  2. bwahahahaha []
  3. Weihnachtsplätzchen []

Rudolph the Red Shirt Ensign

You know Savik and Chapel and McCoy and Spocky,
Sulu and Chekov , Uhura and Scotty,
But do you recall?
The most famous crewman of all?

Rudolph the red-shirt ensign
Had a very flashy shirt
And if you ever saw it
You would fear he’d bite the dirt
All of the other crewmen
Used to laugh and be right mean
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any away team

Then one boring mission brief,
Jim Kirk came to say,
Rudolph with your shirt so bright,
Won’t you lead my team tonight!

Then all the crewmen loved him,
And they shouted out with glee:
Rudolph the red-shirt ensign
You will soon be history!


Have a long and prosper Christmas!

Olli’s Saturday School – Advent

Advent season – the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas – is filled with various customs in Germany.

Here’s a few:

There’s of course the Christmas markets, where you can eat yourself into a ball of carbs and fat and then get drunk on Glühwein (mulled wine, literally Glow-wine) if you survive the meatpress that most of these are when the weather is even halfway decent.

Another thing is the socalled Adventskalender. The, well… Advent calendar.

It started out as a way to count down the 24 days leading up to Christmas with simple things like hanging 24 religious pictures on a wall or even simpler: erasing 24 chalk markings from a wall, a day each. In the early 20th century, Advent calendars as we know them today came into fashion. A case with 24 doors, behind each you’d find a piece of chocolate or maybe a little cookie or biscuit and a religious picture having to do with Christmas.

Today, these can be bought alreadyfilled up with chocolate, they are a common promotional give-away and can be anything from 5 bucks to loads of money if they are filled with expensive confectionary. Or, common among university students: A case of beer with 24 bottles in it.

Selfmade Advent calendars can have all kinds of appearances and are often used in families or among couples, so you can stuff cute little presents into the bags. That can be anything from candy to lottery tickets or…well, use your imagination.

In many cities or villages there is another´custom related to that. Where I grew up it only started being popular a few years ago, we call it Adventsfenster (advent window).

For each day one family, club or one home is chosen, on that day they host the Adventsfenster. There’s a little food, mostly Christmas-related pastry, maybe Glühwein and something without alcohol for the kids. There’s music and, obviously, decoration. Usually based on a backlit window, hence the name.

Finally the last way of marking time during that season. The Adventskranz (Advent wreath).

Usually a wreath made from fir boughs, but these days pretty much anything that holds four candles can be used.
The wreath is displayed in a prominent place like the coffee table or in the middle of the living room, or even hung from the ceiling. And on each Adventsonntag (I’ll let you translate that for yourself) on more candle is lit, until all four are burning and Christmas has finally come.

That is also the theme of the easiest and best-known poem in Germany, I guess.

Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt.
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier.
Dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür

Advent, advent, a light is burning (Lichtlein is the diminuative of Licht – light)
First one, then two, then three, then four (I said it was easy. Every kid in Germany will know this)
Then baby Jesus is at the door.

Yes, in German tradition baby Jesus brings the presents. Somehow. I’ll explain that maybe next week.

All the right fur in all the right places

Because you know I’m all about that box,
‘Bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box

Yeah it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no LOLcat
But I can purr it, purr it like I’m supposed to do
‘Cause I got that meow meow that all the kits chase
All the right fur in all the right places

I see the videos with all them kittycats
We know that shit ain’t real
Come on meow, make it stop
If you got fluffy pawsies, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is furry
From the bottom to the top
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
Sit in boxes you hardly fit into it just feels right
You know I won’t be no match-stick leg skinny-ass Greyhound dog,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into
I’ll stick my head inside a hole

Because you know I’m all about that box,
‘Bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box

I’m bringing cuddly back
Go ahead and tell them skinny kittens meow
No, I’m just purring I know you think I’m fat,
But I’m here to tell you that,
Every inch of me is furry from the bottom to the top
Yeah, my momma she told me don’t worry about your size
Sit in boxes you hardly fit into it just feels right
You know I won’t be no match-stick leg skinny-ass Greyhound dog,

So, if that’s what’s you’re into
I’ll stick my head inside a hole

Because you know I’m all about that box,
‘Bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box, no catbed
I’m all ’bout that box, ’bout that box

stu_2014 031

Olli’s Saturday School – bumblebees up my bum

I’ve covered various German figures of speeches and idioms before, but currently another one is on my mind.

Hummeln im Hintern.

Translation: bumblebees in the bum

When kids are restless and wont sit still for some reason, or when you are anxiously waiting for something and are all antsy about it, or when you’re eager to start doing something and are all excited about it, or when you simply can’t just sit down and relax but have to do SOMETHING, you have bumblebees up your bum,

I currently have Hummeln im Hintern due to planning my vacation that starts in freaking five months. I’ve booked my flights, rental cars, a few hotels, I’ve contacted friends that I want to meet and I’m waiting on my booking confirmation. I’ve also found a pretty awesome Seattle-based whalewatching tour since I’ll be arriving on Maui after the Humpbacks will all have migrated away.

And now I just can’t wait for it to get closer and closer. I suffer from acute and chronic Reisefieber. Travel-fever.

Yup. I have bumblebees up my bum!


Last Christmas

Oh god, there it is. Every year when Christmas draws near, we listen varily to the radio programmes, hoping to avoid it, until at one point that one song comes on.

Pretty much everyone in the office at work hates it. Except one coworker who turns it up. “What’s your problem? I like that song!”

Wham!’s Last Christmas1

A while ago Emmie Mears who is totally awesome, you should follow her on twitter and read her book ranted a bit about it and I got an idea.


So, here goes!

Last Christmas
I cut off Wham!’s head
But the very next day it grew back on
This year
To save all our ears
I’ll try to do something special. 

Once listened, ne’er forgot
I keep my distance
But I still catch the song
On the radio
I do recognize it!
It’s been a year,
It doesn’t surprise me
(Merry Christmas)

I hacked it off up and sent it
With a note saying, “I hate it”
I meant it
Now I know what a fool I’ve been.
But if they sang it now
I know I’d try it again.

Last Christmas
I cut off Wham!’s head
But the very next day it grew back on
This year
To save all our ears
I’ll try to do something special.

Oh, oh, baby.

A crowded room,
Friends with tired ears.
I’m hiding from it
From that tune from hell
My god I thought it was finally over
No! I guess I need a shoulder to cry on.
That song on the radio, brings pain to my heart

I wish I could just go and tear the it apart, ooh-hoo
I could play a good song, I’d never hear you again
That song on the radio, brings pain to my heart (I’ll cut off Wham’s head)

I’ll grab them and kill them, and tear them apart
Maybe next year I’ll give it to someone
I’ll give it to someone special.

Disclaimer: I do not endorse anyone being hurt just because of that song, I do endorse switching the radio station or turning off any audio equipment and screaming at whoever put that thing on.


  1. I don’t even know if they just covered it and I can’t be bothered to look []

Olli’s Saturday School – Heiliger Nikolaus

Today is sort of a special day for the kids in Germany. It’s the 6th of December, or Nikolaustag.

Christmastradition here differs somewhat from that in the US or elsewhere.

Santa Claus, the guy from the Coca Cola trucks IS known exactly like that, thanks to the media and commercialising the crap out of everything popular, but over here, Santa Claus is actually Saint Nick. Or der Heilige Nikolaus.
A Catholic saint born in today’s Turkey around 280 AD he was imprisoned and tortured in 310 and later turned bishop. He gave the riches he had inherited to the poor, authorities didn’t like that a whole lot apparently.

In the night leading to the 6th of December Nikolaus visits children in Germany and puts little presents into their boots, usually some chocolate (often in the form of a little Nikolaus, so called Schokonikoläuse), nuts, clementines, gingerbread, cookies and maybe something else.
I guess that’s where the US custom of stuffing stockings with … stuff originated.

In many regions all over Europe (it’s not only a German thing) Nikolaus has a companion. Just like Doctor Who. Except it’s usually something scary to scare the naughty kids, rattle chains, beat them up with his birch or give them coal or rocks instead of presents.

Nikolaus is usually portrayed as a catholic bishop with a staff and robes plus matching headgear. His companion of many names, in my region known as Knecht Ruprecht (Knecht being word for a vassal, servant or farmhand) usually is a darkish figure in very plain jute clothes.

In many families and of course kindergardens and elementary schools a friendly neighbour, uncle or friend will dress up as Nikolaus, don a white beard and scare the crap out of the little beasties, telling them things from his golden books which he’s not supposed to know. Naughty or nice, eh? I’ve done that once, it was kinda fun. No, I don’t have pictures.

Sometimes this ends in hilarity, when a kid realizes: “Look, Nikolaus is wearing sneakers!” or “It’s not Nikolaus, it’s uncle Jim!”

Evolution of the custom created the figure called the Weihnachtsmann (Christmas-Man) which is pretty close to the US Santa Claus and even sometimes brings presents on Christmas Eve nowadays, which I personally think is a little sad, but that’s globalization for you.

And this is what he traditionally looks like in Germany!

The Next Generation music (bad pun intended)

What if Status Quo had rocked the mid-2nd millenium instead of…ya know?

A paid vacation on an asteroid
Captain Kirk flies into the void
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

Now you remember what the draft man said
Don’t wear a red shirt or you are dead
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

You’ll be a hero of the whole quadrant
A five year patrol is all you want
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

Alien faces as you wait to land
But once you get there no one gives a damn
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

Photo torpedo flying over your head

Phaser beam flying over your head
If you want to survive beam out of bed
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

Exploding console in the dead of night
The ensign calls : “Stand up and fight!”
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

You’ve got your phasers set to kill
Your finger’s on the LCARS but you’re not sure you will
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now

Light’s are failing and the ship’s a wreck
Is this illusion or a holodeck?
You’re in the starfleet now
Oh, oh you’re in the starfleet, now


Or maybe the Village People?

Where can you find pleasure
Search the ‘verse for treasure
Learn science technology…

Uh. I think that one already IS all about starfleet.


Olli’s Saturday School – No such thing as Thanksgiving

Most of you probably know, but the American Thanksgiving tradition does not exist in Germany, unless you count US Americans living here.

Well, it’s not entirely true. We do have our own Thanksgiving which is called Erntedankfest.

Ernte = harvest
Dank = thanks
Fest = festival, celebration

It is a Catholic holiday that had various dates since the 3rd century, due to harvest happening in different months depending on the climate you’re in. The German Episcopal Conference put it on the first Sunday of October but didn’t force the communes to celebrate it on that day, so while it is usually celebrated in some way, it never became an official part of the lithurgy. In some places it just dictates the theme of the weekly mass, maybe the kids in kindergarden learn something about it that week or have a little celebration and in some places there are – sometimes massive – processions.

And that’s about it. What we do have is Black Friday. Sort of. There’s no actually tradition for this, it’s just that businesses in Germany exploiting the fact that people can be goaded into into spending money by declaring an arbitrary sales day. People see it in US TV shows and on the internet anyway, so why not take advantage on it?

Something similar that is a tradition is socalled Mantelsonntag. This translates to cloak Sunday. Historically the Sunday before All Hallows people would go into town to get a new cloak for the winter. Today this became an arbitrary reason to open shops on Sundays in cities with a predominant Catholic population.1

I don’t want to dwell on commercialism with this lesson, so here’s a few funny words or figures of speech that might entertain you.

The German word for a lucky devil. someone who is always lucky or just got hit by an insane stroke of luck, like winning the lottery, catching a spectacular spouse or dodging certain death by pure luck is called a Glückspilz. A luck-mushroom.
That probably comes from the poisonous Fliegenpilz (fly agaric) being a symbol for luck.
As well as a four leaf clover or vierblättriges Kleeblatt, a pig (Schwein) or a chimney sweep (Schornsteinfeger). The latter supposedly will bring luck if kissed. Depending on who is doing the kissing and what the sweep looks like, it’s either a self-fulfilling prophecy or maybe even the sweep being the lucky one. Also don’t go around calling people Glücksschwein. It’s bad luck. You might get a punch to the face for that.

A jester or prankster, someone who constantly plays pranks or makes jokes is a Spaßvogel. A Jestbird.

A favorite among many non-Germans is the word Kabelsalat, translating to cable salad. A tangled mess of cables in a drawer, box or behind your hifi system. There’s no specific dressing recommendation for it.

Now the final piece. Ever had one situations where two people say or do the exact same thing in an instant? Or when you and a friend text each other at the same time asking to hang out? Or you make the same joke, have the same idea or come to the same conclusion at the same time?

It happens. Great minds often think alike. You’d think there’s a literal translation for that in German, but there’s not.

The German expression for that is zwei Dumme ein Gedanke.
meaning stupid you might think it’s not exactly a compliment but in that case it is often used in an endearing way. Gedanke is the German word for a thought.
So the best impromptu translation would probably be two fools, one idea.

Have a nice Saturday, folks!

  1. All Hallows being a Catholic holiday []