German with Olli – Being sick

Hello class! [pause] Aw.

Looks like you’re all krank.

Krank is the German word for ill or sick. A sickness/illness is Krankheit.

If you’re too sick to go to school or work, you might need a doctor’s note, or Krankmeldung. A sick-report. It’ll state that you are unfit for work until a given date and can be extended if necessary. They are on yellowish paper, which is why we also call them Gelber Schein or yellow slip.
Interesting enough, playing hooky, skipping school or work without legitimate reason, is called blau machen: to make blue.

Being krank is won’t usually ruin you in Germany. We do have mandatory health insurance, the providers are called Krankenkasse. Something like sick-bank.

So you don’t really have to be afraid of THIS reason if an ambulance or Krankenwagen (sick-car) picks you up and drives you to the Krankenhaus.
Over there, nurses will take care of you. Or as we call them Krankenschwester (sick-sister, or rather sister to the sick) if female and Krankenpfleger (sick-carer) if mail.

I’m pretty sure the sister thing came from when the sick were primarily cared for by nuns in abbeys, their title being Sister. That’s why the head nurse of a hospital still is called Oberschwester, a mix of, well Schwester and Oberin (Reverend Mother, from which you could make the link to matron, or hospital matron).

There’s also:

Krankenakte – sick file or medical record
Krankenbett – sick bed
Krankengeld – sick-money, benefits you get paid when you are hospitalized past a certain threshold. For the first six weeks of being sick, your employer HAS to continue your pay, after that your Krankenkasse takes over.


So, yeah, our language might be a bit brutal, but being sick wont really kill you. Uh…unless it does. Sorry.

German with Olli – Pigs!

In today’s German lesson I shall ramble about naming animals again.

Turns out there’s quite an abundance of pigs in Germany.

Our word for pig is Schwein.
A piglet is a Ferkel.

We call guinea pigs Meerschweinchen which translates back to little sea-pig. Their bigger relatives, Capybara, we call Wasserschwein. Water-pig.

Then there’s Seeschwein which translates to sea-pig as well. See is our word for lake or the sea depending on context and gender. Der See is the lake, die See is the sea. Seeschwein is a rarely used word for Dugong. Sometimes we also call it Seekuh = sea cow.

We also have stinger-pigs, Stachelschweine. Those are porcupines!
Finally there’s the Schweinswal. Pig-whale. You probably know it as harbor or common porpoise.

So many pigs. Man, I could totally do with a sausage now.

German with Olli – Just German stuff!

If you read my blog, you might be aware of the #GermanWithOlli twitter feature I’m running three times a week. This is part of it.

You can check out the previous tweets if you want to!

As you see, German has some awesome words, and we’re really good at naming stuff.

And we’re in love with the word for stuff. The German word for that is Zeug. We love that word so much we use it in compound words all the time. Some really official, some a little colloquial, but they’re all legit.

Here’s a few examples:

vehicle = Fahrzeug = drive-stuff
airplane = Flugzeug = fly-stuff
ship = Schiff. Wait, that doesn’t belong here.

But there’s more: our word for toy is Spielzeug. Yup, play-stuff.
The less official ones might be Waschzeug = wash-stuff. Or toiletries. Like the kit that you take with you on vacation, camping or an overnight stay.
Bettzeug = bed-stuff = bedding. Linens, pillowcase, etc.

Schreibzeug = writing-stuff. If we tell you to get your Schreibzeug, we are talking about pen and paper to take notes.

That’s it for today, I hope you enjoy #GermanWithOlli

German with Olli

I’m back from my vacation but I’m still horribly jetlagged or something like that. So instead of showing off pictures or telling you stories, I give you something else I brought home from my vacation.

It somehow came up when I had dinner with Amira Makansi, which was totally awesome ((both dinner and Amira)). We were talking about everything that came to mind and she mentioned a facebook friend who used to do a daily German word but sadly stopped at some point. So I kinda suggested doing something like that on twitter, and yeah. Here I am, starting it.

You might remember my more or less weekly lessons that I stopped at some point because I ran out of ideas. These ones will be bitesized, mostly contained in one tweet, and not daily. I’ll try to go for a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule for now.

If you don’t want to follow me for that, or are afraid to miss my tweets, I’ll hashtag them with #GermanWithOlli

Neat tag, huh? Not my idea:

Olli’s Saturday School – Einkommensteuererklärung

This was sort of what I did today. Except, being German, my taxes are different. I guess.

Let’s start with a few explanations: I am working full time, so my employer deducts my taxes directly from my salary. Taxes, payment for some social security stuff. They don’t deduct health insurance stuff because I’m in private healthcare. So in fact they pay me a little more because they’re obligated to pay half of my health insurance costs. To a certain degree.

The biggest chunk they keep from my salary is the earnings tax or Lohnsteuer.
They give that directly to our equivalent of the IRS, the Finanzamt.

Since the taxes of employees are paid in advance, we have up to four years to file our taxes, depending on the exact situation, which I wont bore you with. But because I hate keeping track of documents and want it to be done as soon as possible, I usually do it end of February every year.

My Einkommensteuererklärung (literally income tax statement). I could do it by hand, filling in forms the Finanzamt provides, but I prefer to do it via a software that costs me 15 bucks a year. If I wasn’t so bad at keeping track of certain invoices, I could claim a refund for that, too.

The software tells me where to find the information on the paperwork I get from my employer, so most of it is pretty easy to fill.
I tell the Finanzamt how much money I made. How much in income tax and church tax my employer already paid. How much money went into benefits. How much money they gave me to cover costs driving to and from work.

Then I have to tell them (and in some cases file receipts) about my professional expenses or Werbungskosten. Which is a nasty words because it translates to advertising cost and should be Erwerbskosten. Costs related to me making a living.
Clothes or work materials I have to by, travel expenses for business trips, that sort of stuff.
Any other tax allowable expenses like certain types of insurance, maintenance costs for my living arrangements, costs related to the care of sick or old relatives, etc etc etc.

Why we do that? Well, in my case, in a few weeks or months, depending how busy the Finanzamt will be, I will get what we call a Lohnsteuerrückzahlung. An income tax refund. I’ll probably get mine in April or May.

This year I’m expecting something in the very low four figures, which is pretty good.


Oh, and you should totally check out Goat Milk Stuff on Youtube or Twitter. Don’t forget Brett Jonas herself, singer and star of the video this blog post started with. ;-)

Olli’s Saturday School – The Wayne Train

We all have been in that situation, when some obnoxious person you can’t really tell to sod off is talking to you. They’re talking about things you just don’t care about. You’re not interested.

Good news: We have a couple of phrases in Germany that exist solely for that purpose.

Say Hier ist ein Groschen while handing someone a small coin. ((Groschen was the German equivalent of a dime, back when we still had the Deutsche Mark as currency.))

This translates to: Here’s a dime.

Wofür? – Why? What for?

Für die Parkuhr! – For the parking meter!

Hä? – Huh?

Für einen Groschen hört die dir eine halbe Stunde zu. – For a dime it will listen to you for half an hour. ((of course this isn’t true anymore)).

In short, you’ve told that person to go away and tell their “interesting” story to the parking meter because nobody else cares. Feel free to adapt, change coinage, shorten or whatever.

Another way of stating your obvious disinterest is the following.

Kennste Wayne? Wayne interessierts!

The translation Ya know Wayne? Wayne cares! only makes sense if you know that Wayne sounds like the German word Wen, a form of who. Wayne interessierts = Wen interessierts? = Who cares?

This led to the following fun phrase, blending German, English and puns together.

Tschuu tschuu!
Hier kommt der Wayne-Train zum Mount Whateverest. Nächster halt: Miregalistan.

Choo choo!
Here comes the wayne-train to Mount Whateverest. Next stop: Idontcaristan.

Or maybe ask them: Wo ist der Bus? – Where’s the bus?

Welcher Bus? –

Der Bus voller Leute, die es interessiert. The bus full of people who care.

What? You don’t care? Fine, I’ll go tell it to the parking meter.

Olli’s Saturday School – The fifth season

Somehow Germans ended up with a reputation of being humorless. Part of that might be, because we put aside a certain time of the year to be funny.

While neither is true, I’m not here to debunk both myths, I’m just trying to shed a light on what we sometimes call Die fünfte Jahreszeit – the fifht season

Fastnacht (Fassenacht, Fasching, etc)

Both words seem to derive from lent starting right after it. Karneval is often attributed to the latin words for meat and farewell, while Fastnacht can almost literally be translated to lent-eve. Or, if you want to pun: Almost night.

It is celebrated in most catholic reagions of Germany, namely the Rhineland. The most well-known and widely spread variation is the Rheinische Fassenacht (Rhenanian Carnival) with the biggest celebrations in Cologne and Mayence.

The season traditionally starts on November 11th at 11:11, or am Elften Elften um Elf Uhr Elf. The eleventh eleventh at eleven past eleven. The number 11 is considered a wacky number in Germany, the first Schnapszahl ((booze number, a number considering of all the same digits)) and plays a big role in Karneval. It also has sort of history roots especially for the rhenanian Carnival, related to the French Revolution. Elf. E-L-F. Ègalite, Liberté, Fraternité.

The first parties and celebrations start then but are suspended during Advent and Christmas until February and the Carnival week starting with the main events on Weiberdonnerstag (Wench Thursday) going through Rosenmontag (Rose Monday)  and Fastnachtsdienstag. (Carnival Tuesday).

During that time the Elferrat reigns. This committee of eleven with a president at the top and in most places the Prinzenpaar (the prince couple) are the rulers of the carnival activities and will often judge comedic performances at the carnevalistic sessions. Their costumes and those of their gards and pages are often a mock-up of late medieval and Napoleonic or Prussian uniforms and clothing, closely related to the tradition of making fun of the government during the season.

Each village and city in the region has their own Elferrat, their rulers and Prinzengarde or Funkengarde and of course the Funkenmariechen (Sparkling guard and Sparkling Mary) trailing them and dancing during the celebrations.

This is what they look like performing a mix of dancing and acrobatics at a carnival session:

Depending on where you are the uniforms look pretty much similar, but the color scheme can vary. Red is traditional in my home area.


In addition to their costumes pretty much every village, town and city has their own carnevalistic battlecry and using the wrong one, especially in rival cities is a very serious faux-pas.

The most well-known and wide-spread are Helau! and Alaaf! but the list is pretty much endless. Just look at these examples.

Now in the primetime of carnival people tend to go wild. During celebrations a lot of people take time off, businesses in the active areas often just close shop and people exhibit a What happens in Vegas attitude. If you join the activities try to retain some common sense though. Don’t go assuming anything when you get a Bützchen (a kiss) from a total stranger at a Fastnachtsparty in Cologne.

A big part of the tradition are the Kappensitzungen, sessions named after the Narrenkappe (the fools hat) worn by the Elferrat and Karnevalsprinz (see picture above). Sometimes they can also have other names, often mock-militaristics due to the Napoleon/Prussia-merrymaking.
Those sessions are basically big comedy shows with music (we have our own genre for that thing), acrobatics and comedy. A bit like a themed circus. A lot of brilliant political cabaret was born in carneval.

A big carnevalistic comedy tradition is the Büttenrede (tub-speech).

Someone enters the tub (a decorated speakers pult) and delivers a comedic, mock-poetic speech with bad rhyming, usually bitterly sarcastic and centered around current events and politics. The punchlines are usually marked by the traditional Karnevalstusch.

But there’s more.

There’s Weiberdonnerstag when women storm the city hall, cut off men’s ties and generally go apeshit. Just like men during that time.

The climax of the whole season is the Rosenmontagszugm the Rose Monday Parade (usually neighboring cities, town and villages time it so some are actually on Saturday, Sunday or Tuesday, so groups and spectators can go to more than one).

Orchestras, clubs, carneval associations form up a parade and throw candy (Kamelle!) , hand out oranges and snacks, fling confetty and paper streamers. Well, not the orchestras, those play music. And the dancing groups dance. But you get the pictures. Mind you, this is not an official holiday. But in most places where it’s celebrated, business just close down for the day or a couple of hours, because nothing would get done anyway.

How big is this? The largest one in Cologne has been around since 1823. The parade is more than 4 miles long. Yes, 4 miles of parade floats, groups and orchestras one after another. They hand out about 300 tons of candy, snacks, flowers and little presents. About 12.000 individuals are involved in organizing it, there’s about a million spectators. In 2014 there were 82 orchestras, four of them riding on horses. In 2014 the parade was longer than the path it took, so the first group was already done when the last one hadn’t even started.

Here’s an example for a parade float (and it’s actually a pretty small and cruddy one, compared to what you occasionally see) critizising a German Cardinal opposing abortion.

You get all kinds of stuff on the big ones. Polititians, church figures, TV scandals, literally NOTHING is safe from satire on a Rosenmontagszug.

And now, to wrap things up, I give you THE traditionall carnevalistic music, the Narrhallamarsch. The March of the Fools Hall, which is played by orchestras on the parades, wherever the Prince is due to appear or when a new performers enters or exits the stage on one of the sessions.

Olli’s Saturday School – where to put your stuff

Hey everyone! I don’t have any special topic around, but I thought about some words while tidying up my place, so why not.

There are many words in the English language for one German word that you’ll find in many houses and appartments.

Cabinet. Closet. Cupboard. Wardrobe. Locker. Safe. Armoire.

All of these can be translated with the German word Schrank.

Usually some sort of qualifier is added, as to the location, content or built of your Schrank.

Küchenschrank – cupboard, literally the kitchen cabinet
Kleiderschrank – wardrobe – clothes cabinet
Schlafzimmerschrank – a wardrobe that very specifically resides in your bedroom
Badezimmerschrank – the one in the Bathroom

The fun starts with the fridge and freezer. Those can be a Schrank, too.
A Gefrierschrank (freezing cabinet) or Kühlschrank (cooling cabinet)

And you thought German was hard and complicated? Doesn’t get easier than that. If it is large enough and contains stuff, it can be a Schrank.

A server rack where you install all the 19″ computer equipment is called a Serverschrank.
If it’s one that only contains say patch panels and maybe a few switches, it’s a Netzwerkschrank. A network cabinet.

A gun locker? Easy: Waffenschrank. A weapon-cupboard. ;-)

Worried about shoe storage? Put them in a Schuhschrank.

Another example where German is a lot easier than English would be the hoover or vacuum cleaner. Jeez, don’t make it complicated. We just call it Staubsauger. Literally: dust sucker.

Olli’s Saturday School – German cookery

Hey, no worries, I’m not going to make you learn how to make Sauerkraut. Not in the least because I don’t know how. :-D

Instead I’ll let you tag along with my impromptu lunch today and maybe teach you a few kitchen and food-related terms.

Here we have:
Schinkenwürfel – diced ham
– apparently you guys call them button mushroom. The generic term for mushroom (and all kinds of fungi) is Pilz
Paprika –
bell pepper

Now what to do with that? I poured some Olivenöl in a Pfanne. some olive oil into a pan, turned up the heat, threw the ham in there, added the diced Champignons after a bit and topped it off with a cut up Tomate.

Since I don’t cook every day I stopped keeping fresh Zwiebeln (onions) or Knoblauch (garlic) around unless I plan for something specific. To be honest, gefriergetrocknet ( freeze-dried)  or powdered works as well. I added both to the pan, sprinkled generously with Salz and Pfeffer ((you can probably guess what these words mean)), some freeze-dried provencal herbs and started preheating the oven. Or den Ofen vorheizen.

Kräuter = herbs
Gewürze = spices

Time to deal with the Paprika.

In a spur-of-the moment decision I cut up a ball of Mozzarella (same word in German) into small pieces, leaving a few larger slices.

The small pieces I filled into the ham/mushroom/tomato mix. The Füllung (stuffing) for gefüllte Paprika!

I put the larger slices of Mozzarella cheese on top, put the peppers into an Auflaufform or casserole dish to bake it for about 20 minutes at 200°C or roughly 390 Fahrenheit.

Guten Appetit!

Literally “good appetite”. A way of saying “enjoy your meal”.

Olli’s Saturday School – Mahlzeit

As most languages probably do, German has an abundance of greetings to use in person, for various occasions, social structures or even the region you’re in, and it might go very badly if they are used in the wrong set up.

Good ones to use in pretty much any situation are the standard ones relating to the time of the day. Apply different tones if necessary.

You know, grumpy on Monday morning, cheerful on Friday afternoon, sombre at funerals, etc…

Guten Morgen! – Good Morning!
Guten Abend! – Good evening!

You may have noticed that I didn’t put an expression for Good afternoon! here.
That one IS a little tough because we don’t really have one. We have Guten Tag!
That translates to Good day! and is usually used in the afternoon. In Bavaria it is actually frowned upon by the more traditionally minded people.
Also, if said in a dismissive tone both Guten Abend and Guten Tag can be the conversational equivalent of hanging up the phone on someone. A very sarcastic “Have a nice day!”.

Don’t worry though, in most situations a cheeful Guten Tag! when starting a conversation or entering a shop will not get you beaten up.

When adressing a stranger in the street or a shop attendant sorting shelves because you need directions, you might not want to use one of these but start with Entschuldigung or Entschuldigen Sie bitte which translates to Pardon/Excuse me in that context.

Now in the southish regions of Germany, south of the Main river, which for that reason is also called the Weisswurstäquator ((white sausage equator)), the proper greeting is Servus, from the latin word for servant. It originated as something like I am at your service but is really just a friendly greeting or goodbye. Going further south this will often change to Grüß Gott!
This literally translates to Give god my regards! which has led to the popular elevator joke reply “Sorry, I’m not going up that high” or the reply in any situation: “Will do, if I meet him.”
Same here: It doesn’t really mean anything anymore, it originated from Grüß dich Gott!, which is kind of a blessing. It’s also used by a lot of Atheists, except maybe the petty ones.

Grüß dich! = Greet you can be used pretty universally, the further south you go, the more contracted it may get. In Switzerland it becomes one word: Gruezi!
That often will be contracted to ‘zi!

A Bavarian good-bye is fierti which is short for fiert di Gott or Führt dich Gott in high German.
That translates to may god lead you, but usually it is said with as much religious intent as the average English bless you when someone sneezes.

Another special adress is high up in the north, beyond the wa…wait, wrong word.
In Northern Germany (and, interestingly enough, in Luxembourg and parts of Switzerland, too) the standard greeting for any time of the day can be a variation of Moin!

Moin is a variation of the German word Morgen (meaning Morgen in this context, but also tomorrow).

The usage varies. In some regions it is Moin! in others Moin moin! and then again in some places the one going first is supposed to say Moin! to which the appropriate reply will be Moin moin!
Some make a difference depending if it is used as a greeting or a farewell.

Moin moin
will be understood in most parts of Germany, mostly without your conversation partner batting an eye. Well. Maybe not in Bavaria.

A colloquial greeting that is used when friends or coworkers pass each other around noon is Mahlzeit! Some people use it all day round, some people are immensely annoyed by that or by the use of the word as a greeting at all.

It is usually not the start of a conversation but more an acknowledgement. Yes, I saw you, I’m polite, you’re here, I noticed you, hi there.

The word Mahlzeit literally translates to mealtime and is also a German word for a meal. So it’s could be translated to “happy lunchbreak”.

The word mahlen being the word for to grind has led to the humorous reply Mahl dir deine Zeit doch selbst.
Go grind your own time.

A very popular use at the workplace is this: A coworker – preferably one who is chronically late – comes in shortly after they’re supposed to be. When they cheerfully go Guten Morgen a well-placed Mahlzeit! lets them know that you are well aware of them being late.

Wait, all that’s to complicated? Fine. Around friends and coworkers just say Hi!
Works in German as well as in English. If that’s not formal enough, a cheerful Hallo! will do.
You can also observe people saying Und? ( And?) to each other, which actually would prompt them to tell you how they are or what they are doing. It’s the German equivalent to ‘sup?

Or, as the people in my home village say: Öp!
And nobody knows what the hell that originally meant.