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 []

Longing for whales

One of the many interests I’ve pretty much always had is whales. I’ve read a German translation of Moby Dick as a preteen, saw the Gregory Peck movie around the same time.

I vaguely remember seeing a dolphin show at an amusement park when I was a kid, I’ve always liked aquariums and it’s difficult to get me away from penguins, seals or walruses at zoos, especially when they’re active. Or sharks. Or whatever.

So whenever I had the opportunity to go to an aquarium, I went. Denmark, UK, New Zealand, Virginia Beach, etc.

But even befor that, whales were special. I had non-fiction books on whales, I watched the occasional documentary or movie if it just involved whales. I think that’s part of the reason why Star Trek IV is one of my favorite Star Trek movies.

I don’t think I ever thought I’d actually see real, big whales out in the wild. They’re not exactly commonplace in Germany or wherever I’d been in the first 20 years of my life, but then I got invited to visit a friend in Seattle in 2006. I’d already had my flights book when we had to cancel the whole thing due to him becoming a father for the first time. Would’ve been awkard because the day I’d arrived was the actual birth day of his daughter. Or within a few days at least.

Needless to say, while happy for him I was angry at the fate and the world, because one of the things we might’ve done while I was there: Go watch Orcas. Actual black and white beautiful whales in the wild. Even if only from far, that would’ve made my decade.
So I sulked around and talked to a friend on instant messenger who tried to console me and told me to find another trip somewhere beautiful. Googled a bit and said “How about Iceland? Iceland has whales!”
So I booked a trip to Iceland and reserved a seat on a whale watching tour on one of the days with nothing else planned. I was giddy with excitement, right up until the moment the telephone in my hotel room rang and the receptionist told me the trip had been called off due to bad weather.

Iceland was absolutely gorgeous, though.


The next time I even considered the possibility of seeing whales was on my trip to New Zealand in 2013. Unfortunately we didn’t find any whale watching opportunities on our North Island round trip, and we didn’t catch any whales on the week on Norfolk Island afterwards.

What consoled me a little was the fact that we saw a school of dolphins on the boat rip to White Island. Seeing those beautiful creatures swim, jump and frolic all around as felt magical.




And my first time snorkeling (Emily Bay, Norfolk Island) also made for an awesome experience and nice pictures.



Right now I’m working on my next attempt at seeing whales in the wild, planning for my trip to the US west coast followed by 5 days on Maui. Hopefully catching a whale or three in my lens and finally having that experience.


Well, maybe not that trippy, even though that’d be might cool.

Olli’s Saturday School – Pronouncing C, K, CH and SCH

Credit for the following lesson should go to Brianna because well, a rather randomly starting conversation about cookies and cables during the final hour or so of my work day prompted it. In fact, I’ll mostly be paraphrasing the conversation.

Stop judging me, it was a Friday it was quiet and I was bored.

So, cookies and cables. Or Kekse and Kabel as we say in German. Pretty close etymologically, eh?

Oh, cookies and cables isn’t a German figure of speech, by the way. It was a conversation that started out REALLY randomly.

It led to the remark that German words usually don’t start with the combination C + vowel.
We turned Canada to Kanada, cow to Kuh and karma to Karma. Oh, wait…

The only exceptions that I can think of are names. While Kathrin, Katharina and Karina are common in Germany, a some actually go for Cathrin, Catharina and most commonly Carina. What we don’t usually do is Karmen. We kept that at Carmen. Which is kinda weird, because some people actually call their kids Aleksandra instead of Alexandra.

If we start words with a c, usually an h and r follow. As for names, Kristin, Kristine, Kristina are common enough, but less than Christin(a/e). Interestingly enough there’s also Christian, but way fewer Kristians.
Outside of names, words starting with chr in English usually do so in German if they have the same stem. The German word for chronicle is Chronik, etc.

As to pronunciation, all those are pronounced the same. In the beginning. It’s the common K-sound.

Cutting to the cheese1, I uh…don’t know how to continue here. We don’t have ch as a tch sound, we’d actually have to put a t there. But the German word for cheese is not Tschäse2, it’s Käse. With a fancy Ümläüt3.

The German ch in the middle or at the end of words is more interesting. There’s two ways of pronouncing it.

One of them is the throaty rattle that you might now from Scottish place names. The ending of Loch in for example Loch Ness. If that doesn’t ring a bell, another use for that sound is the Klingon ‘H’ .  I actually found a neat description of it.

The ‘H’ in Klingon is a raspy English ‘h’, or like the end sound of the composer Bach, or the Hebrew word l’chaim.
– as Scots loch or the musical composer Bach. Lift the back of your tongue and then force a puff of air out of your throat.

The other one is similar to the English sh sound but not quite. Try saying it but pulling the corner of your mouth apart so it almost turns into a …well… hiss. Keep the tip of your tongue at the bottom of your mouth: chhhhhhh!

The other sh as in fish or shit is the German sch. As in Fisch or Scheiße.

Our word for school, Schule is pronounced schoolay4.

This can lead to some confusion with little kids and certain dialects where those two sh-versions of ch are slurred and both pronounced like the shit one.

Consider the two words Kirche (church) and Kirsche (cherry).

I hope you didn’t break your tongue or throat trying all these.


  1. what a great segue []
  2. which doesn’t mean anything []
  3. Umlaut is how it’s actually spelled. []
  4. with a very short ay []

Blogging, Twitter and shit

Once in a while I can’t really come up with anything original to blog, no adventures, no cooking, but there’s always plenty of shenanigans happening on that twitter place.
So here’s what happened in the past few days. I might’ve made a new friend, and shit.
That’s all.

Olli’s Saturday School – Marriage

No worries, I didn’t get married the past week without telling you. I just stumbled across this and thought I’d educate you a little on the subject of marriage and family connections that come with that. Languagewise.

The German word for marriage (the institution) is Ehe.
Sometimes that is cited as being an acronyme:

Errare humanum est

Latin for to err is human.

Important vocabulary:
husband = Ehemann
wife = Ehefrau

Often these are just abreviated to Mann and Frau which are our words for man and woman.

wedding ring = Ehering
divorce = Scheidung
widow(er) = Witwe(r)
wedding = Hochzeit (
literally high-time)

Fun fact: One of the German words for dowry is Mitgift which is interesting, since gift is etymologically connected to our word for give but means poison.
But then, dowries don’t actually play a role in Germany anymore.

Then, there’s the in-laws. Yes, we also make jokes about the mother-in-law being a Drache (a dragon, a person that guards her lair fiercely and hates her child’s spouse with a passion).

The German terminology for in-laws is also used for the family of your not-married significant other, or what we call Lebensgefährte (life-partner). Or, more modern: Lebensabschnittsgefährte = a partner for the current phase or stage of your life. Because apparently all things are temporary.

Anyway, what we do is, instead of adding the German translation of “in-law” to the terms, we use the prefix Schwieger-.

Your mother-in-law would be your Schwiegermutter. Or, sometimes endearingly, sometimes less so: Schwiegermonster.1

father-in-law = Schwiegervater

There are no terms for grandparents-in-law that I know of, though.
For siblings, it gets a little difficult:
We don’t call our brother/sister-in-law our Schwiegerbruder or Schwiegerschwester.
Those are Schwager or respectively Schwägerin.

We do have really cool terms for the brother or husband of one’s sibling-in-law though:
Schwippschwager, or Schwippschwägerin if it’s a sister/wife.

So if you ever plan to get married to a German2, you know the important things.

If you consider becoming a French husband or wife, here’s a neat linguistic tid-bit.

mother-in-law = belle-mère  = beautiful mother
father-in-law = beau-père = beautiful father
Same terminology applies to siblings.

Your in-laws are beautiful.

  1. it means exactly what you think it does []
  2. not that I’m thinking of anyone specific []

A fun weekend

A fun weekend is what I had a few days ago. I did what I Like doing best. Among other things. I took Friday off work1 and drove to some friends’ place where I spent the weekend. With my friends.

We ate tasty food, annoyed2 their cat, took pictures of said cat, let the cat annoy us in the wee hours when it was hungry but we were still tired. We went out for food and drinks, bought and drank Scotch and took pictures of Dinosaurs and animals3. Oh, and we went out for brunch on Sunday.

We spent loads of time just catching up, watched a few movies and in general had a bloody good time.

Here’s a few picutres from the weekend so you can all be jealous!

Warm kitty, soft kitty, not so little ball of fur…sleepy kitty…stu_2014 016

Alert kitty

stu_2014 020

The following we dubbed “Quasimeowdo”stu_2014 031

As you will see I always was that little boy who was into dinosaurs and stuff…

stu_2014 055


This one was kind of a weirdo, though…stu_2014 086


Excuse me Sir, do you have a moment to talk about our lord and saviour John Hammond? Cue Jurassic Park theme.stu_2014 059


And here’s one for the hedgehog nation! stu_2014 115




I suppose this is art.stu_2014 106


More Jurassic Park like stuff.stu_2014 080


This one looks like a very weird Romeo & Juliet adaption.

stu_2014 144


Another Weirdosaurus!stu_2014 064


And a shark!

stu_2014 140


Take your time, check out a museum of stuff you are interested in, go there with friends!

  1. that’s always a doozy []
  2. and petted []
  3. of the fake and taxidermied or petrified persuasion []

Olli’s Saturday School – Martinsgans

Welcome class!

[akward pause]

Oh. Okay. Well, I hope everyone recuperated after Halloween, which as you should remember, is not quite such a big deal in Germany.

We do have our own festivities in November, though.

There’s St. Martin’s Day on November 11th. It’s not as big as Halloween in the US, not as cheerful and generally very different.

Customs vary throught Europe. Since St. Martin’s Day is not a public holiday, the festivities usually center around the weekend closest to the day.

The legend
In short,  Martin was an unbaptized Roman soldier who cut his cloak in half to give to a beggar. The night after he has a vision of it having been Jesus Christ and he turned to religion and was reluctantly made a bishop. In fact he hid in a goosepen to avoid this, and the cackling geese betrayed him.

The customs
In Germany there are processions on St. Martin’s Eve.
In my home village (and many other places as well) the kids from kindergarten and elementary school prepare for this Martinszug by making Laternen from paper and transparent cardboard. Lanterns can also be bought around that time, but nothing beats selfmade, eh?
The Martinszug or Martinsumzug (Zug = Train, Umzug = Prozession) is often also called Laternenzug on account of these Lanterns. Taking part in the Procession carrying a lantern is also called Laternelaufen (laufen = walking/going).

The procession is usually led or followed by a man dressed as a Roman centurion riding on a horse, symbolising St. Martin, and accompagnied by a local orchestra or marching band, playing Martinslieder (St. Martin’s Songs) to be sung along by the children. The best part is when the kids continue singing after the band stops. The kids lose track of the number of verses and just start over, the band stopped and everything falls apart. Musically.

The procession usually ends at the Martinsfeuer, a big bonfire, where everyone warms up at the fire, enjoys large, soft sugary pretzels, the so-called Martinsbrezel and hot cocoa or mulled wine for the grown-ups.
By the way, the German word for mulled wine is Glühwein which translates to glow-wine.

Usually there also is a big raffle for charity, people can win enourmous pretzels, random things donated from local business and of course a Martinsgans. A Martin’s goose. When I was a kid those were actual live geese that also were carried along with the procession. I once won one of these. I was walking along with the procession, carrying along my lantern when my mom shouted from the side of the street: “YOU WON A GOOSE!”
Me: “Yeah, sure.”
What can I say? I did! Thankfully our neighbour back then kept chickens and had an unused coop where it could stay, we’d pay for food and stuff. It wasn’t happy I guess, didn’t eat a lot and wasn’t exactly a pet you could play with, despite my sister and me visiting often to feed salad and stuff to it.
It also didn’t taste very well when we ate it at christmas. Very tough and dry.1

A couple of years later they stopped raffling off live geese because it was inconvenient for those who won and stressful for the geese. Deep-frozen was the best solution for all involved parties, I guess.

Here’s a video of a typical Martinszug with band, centurion on a horse, lanterns the bonfire and a retelling of the legend of St. Martin…enjoy!

  1. true story []

Vacation planning!

Hey guys! Just a quick update, I’ve been too busy with work and fun stuffs to blog this week. Saw NightVale Radio live last night. So awesome!

Okay, holiday planning: I’m gonna do a roadtrip next year, come May.

San Francisco, Sacramento, up to Seattle (maybe via Portland? Have to check) possibly British Columbia for a bit. If there’s anyone who wants to meet up, let me know. We’ll work it out. I’ll keep you guys posted!

Olli’s Saturday School – Deppenapostroph

Your use of you’re is only surpassed by their way of using the apostrophes they’re going to find there. Or something.

Jeez, that impromptu sentence had so much room for mistakes that would’ve bitten me in the ass.

There’s sorts of spelling or grammar mistakes that are more than just a pet peeve for some people, especially the ones that I hinted at.

I’m not beyond making them, and I am always annoyed at myself. I guess that my spelling is influenced a lot by how what I type sounds in my head, and what seems to be the most common spelling of what I hear.
I know the differences between to, two and too. Or once and ones.
Or the various things I used in the first sentence.
I will still occasionally mistype them and I won’t always catch them.
I’m ok with that. I’m ok with it slipping into mails and chats and instant messaging. It happens. But sometimes it riles me up. When it’s stuff that should be checked before sending/publishing anyway. Or when the person making the mistake is also being VERY stupid contentwise. Or when the spelling mistake totally changes the content of what is being said in a very obvious and or dumb way. Or when I don’t like the person making the mistake, I’m only human after all. ;-)

Back to apostrophes. You might have spotted the word in the title of this post.

Deppenapostroph literally translates to  moron’s apostrophe. Yes, we Germans are all about subtlety and politeness. You might know the term as greengrocer’s apostrophe.

In German, plural and genitives are kinda tricky. Some words get -en at the end, some get an -s, some words get an -e and the word is even changed further.

For genitives we usually just add an to the end of the name or noun.  Sometimes an -es NO apostrophe.

So Oliver’s hair translates to German is Olivers Haare

The dog’s bone is der Knochen des Hundes or des Hundes Knochen

For plural genitive things can get weird. the dogs’ bone  is der Hunde Knochen.

Now what if we have a word that natively ends with an s? 

What’s the English singular genitive of octopus? The octopus’ arm? the octopuses arm?
Confusing here and there. That’s a situation an apostrophe might be acceptable in German genitives: Des Oktopus’ Arm.

English being widespread in Germany and the use of anglicisms being very common has lead people to abuse apostrophes in plural, genitive or genitive plural forms. They put them sometimes before, sometimes after the s at the end of a word when there’s in fact NEVER an apostrophe there.

We usually do use apostrophes for some contractions, though. Is there = gibt es can be contracted to gibt’s. There’s other expressions that applies to, but please don’t use it in anything official.

Finally two specific pet peeves of mine: People of a certain region in Germany tend to mispell the noun Haken or the verb abhaken.
They turn it into Hacken or hacken.
A Haken is a hook of sorts. Or a checkmark.
Abhaken can be ticking off items, or putting something (mentally) aside, letting a matter rest.

The noun Hacken is the plural of either of these

A heel, or a pickaxe or a similar too.
The verb abhacken means to chop something off.

So yes, that really grinds my gears.

Second pet peeve:

Someone I know kept using the word threat instead of thread in a Forum we both frequented. A German Forum, back then the software it was built on wasn’t fully translated, so it even said thread everywhere, it had become a common word. Occasionally the word threat was even more fitting, but that wasn’t the point. I don’t usually mind if people make spelling mistakes, but it got on my nerves after a while. So I gently (really) educated him on the matter, pointed out the change in meaning between thread and threat to hopefully act as sort of a mnemonic.
The reply I got was: “Yeah thanks. I don’t care, people know what I mean.”

He was the type to also chop things off instead of putting matters to rest.

Conclusion: I don’t mind if people make mistakes. I don’t even always correct them, because it’s usually not the point of anything. But I like language too much to not be affected if they just say things like “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter”.