Category Archives: German people

Digging up the dog in Rheinsberg (Part 2)

Here it is – the long-awaited, “exciting” second installment.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I did eventually manage to get my cup of tea to my mouth, by adopting a new technique I like to call the “Wurstfinger-out manoeuvre”. I might patent it.

I am a genius.

While elegantly sipping my exquisite Netto own brand tea, I spotted Oma emerging from the tool shed in the garden and decided to pop out to say “good morning”. This was just after 10 a.m. and I was feeling rather pleased with myself for simply being up, even if I was still in my pajamas with bed hair. Oma, however, looked like she’d been up for hours and was suitably full of the joys. I raised an eyebrow at the toolbox she was carrying and she threw back a cheery, “So ist das Leben!” (Such is life!)

I couldn’t even imagine a life that would involve me chirpily carting around a toolbox at 10 a.m. (or any time of the day for that matter) but then I’m not a German Oma; she’d probably built the shed while I was sleeping.

Feeling a little underachieving, I went back inside, showered and got myself ready for the day. I figured I would probably have enough plasters to get me through.

Now looking slightly more presentable (and appropriately plastered), I set out in search of food. Before long, I hit the jackpot – a cosy little café that served… Käse-Schinkenbrötchen! The nice lady behind the counter even offered to heat it up for me. (I think there must be something gormlessly endearing about me, or my accent, that Germans find appealing as she just glared at everyone else who came in.)

Gold.

On the way out, I discovered that there must be some live dogs* in Rheinsberg as dead dogs don’t poop, as far as I know.

The dump dump.

Satisfied with my morning so far, I set off for the palace and lake. My plan was to take a few photos of the palace and lake, walk around the lake to the obelisk, take photos of the palace and lake from the other side and then walk back again. Just when you thought this trip couldn’t get any more exciting, eh?

I set off, convincing myself that I was enjoying the (freezing) fresh air. Along the way, I passed a few other brave souls out for a walk, all very clearly German in their sensible footwear and all-weather clothing. Most of them gave me a cheery smile and a hello. It could have been the even more gormless, half-frozen look I was sporting at the time.

Brrrr.

Anyway, I achieved my goal of making it to the obelisk, taking a lot of pretty photos along the way.

At this point, I was feeling so “at one” with nature, that I decided to carry on walking for a while. After ten minutes or so, I noticed something odd. I was completely alone. I hadn’t passed any Germans since the obelisk. Did they know something I didn’t? Had I missed a sign or something? I sent Manfredas a quick message.

Me: Are there wild boars in Brandenburg? 

Manfredas: Hmm, I think you’ll be quite safe in the middle of the day. 

Pfft. What did he know? Maybe the wild boar had never smelled Irish meat before and would disrupt their nocturnal habits for a nibble. Feeling more like eating than being eaten, I headed back towards town for some cake.

Unfortunately, I came to a Glühwein hut first.

Actually, there was nothing unfortunate about it; it was bloody brilliant. My cockles warmed, I continued on for around three minutes until I hit a likely-looking café.

A mandarin, cream and sponge concoction that was just as delicious as it looks.

Naturally, after all of this wild adventure I was exhausted, so I walked back to my apartment for a nap. A few hours later, I was ready to eat again. (I know – it just keeps getting more exciting…)

I’d spied a reasonably-priced restaurant on my earlier travels and, this being Rheinsberg, had no trouble getting a table. A lively foursome were sitting at the table next to me and thankfully, they didn’t look like they were about to leave any time soon. This was good as we were soon the only people left. We ended up having a nice chat but soon they were also ready to leave. Determined not to be the last one in the restaurant again, I downed my wine and left with them. We parted ways and I headed to the only Kneipe in town.

OPEN! YES!

While it wasn’t the most salubrious of joints, I’m generally quite at home in these places so I plonked myself at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. The heads around me turned. Ah, “strange face in a local bar syndrome” – fun.

Me: Huh. Am I the only woman here? 

Holger: (nodding behind the bar) She’s a woman. 

Me: (casting a dubious look at the barkeep giantess) Oh, yes, of course she is! I meant, you know, as a customer… (eek, bad start)

Holger: Hmm, you speak good German but you don’t sound like a German. Where are you from? 

Me: Ireland. 

Holger: Oh, right then! Shot? 

Me: Yes, please. 

And so began a merry night of shot-drinking, bizarre conversations and terrible dart-playing. It seemed there was some fun to be had in this town after all.

Day three got off to a rather later start and was pretty much a carbon copy of day two, apart from a nice glass of wine on a (currently non-touring) tour boat – and skipping the Kneipe; I was worried I might have some damages to settle from my slightly erratic darts skills.

And, while I may not have dug up the dog, I did find where he’s buried.

Woof.

All in all, a perfectly enjoyable few days. I can definitely recommend it – especially if you enjoy having entire restaurants to yourself at the outrageous hour of 9 p.m.

*If you’re confused by the dog references, you probably need to read the previous post.

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Digging up the dog in Rheinsberg (part 1)

Me: I’m going to Rheinsberg for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s. 

Ze Germans:

“Where?”

“Why??”

“Da ist der Hund begraben.”

Me: The dog is buried there? What?

Ze German: Ja, this means it is a very boring place where nothing ever happens. 

Me: Oh, good. Perfect! 

After a pretty hectic year, a few days in a sleepy, picturesque town in Brandenburg sounded ideal. I’d booked a beautiful apartment a few minutes’ walk from Rheinsberg Palace, Googled how to get there and was good to go. It was while I was on the last leg of the journey, a bus ride from Neuruppin to Rheinsberg, that my phone decided I was roaming. But not to worry – unbelievably, they have WiFi (that actually works) on the buses in Brandenburg. A true post-Christmas miracle…

I texted the owner of the flat to tell her I was outside and, a couple of minutes later, was being warmly ushered in by a jolly German granny. After she’d shown me around the flat and we’d had a jolly chat, I decided that I would like her to be my new German Oma.

The flat was even better than I had hoped; really cosy, newly renovated and adorned with twinkly Christmas lights.

My very own garden

This being Germany, of course there was some form-filling to be done. Rheinsberg is one of the areas that charges a Kurtaxe (visitor’s tax) of €1.50 per person per night. I’m not sure why some places charge it and some don’t but again, this is Germany so there doesn’t necessarily have to be any logic.

Urgh.

Form filled in, Kurtaxe paid, Oma left me to it. At this stage, I was pretty hungry so I hit the town in search of cake. Unfortunately, most places I liked the look of were either having their Ruhetag (day of rest) or closed until March. Hmm. I wandered on and eventually found what I was looking for, settling in with my book, a cup of tea and…

cake!

I decided to take a walk back through the town to the palace and Lake Grienerick. It was around this time that I noticed how much Brandenburger folk like to stare at people, or maybe just me. In a town of only 6,000 inhabitants maybe I stood out a bit but I don’t think I’m that odd-looking. After one gawp too many, I alternated between beaming at people (instant confusion) or hitting them with the Latvian-Girl-Death-Stare (instant cowering wreck). This is how I like to entertain myself sometimes.

The palace and lake were pretty impressive, even in the already dimming light. I decided to leave most of the walking and photos until the following day but managed to snap a few pics before heading to the charming Ratskeller Restaurant (nothing to do with rats) for a glass of wine to warm up.

After that, it was off to Netto to pick up a few essentials (shower gel, tea, wine and crisps) and then back to my apartment for a little nap. I woke up a couple of hours later, feeling wonderfully refreshed and ready for food.

Unfortunately for me, my packing skills are a bit Irish, i.e. fecking everything into a bag with no particular rhyme or reason. While rummaging for my make-up, I felt something prick the index finger on my right hand. What the …? I withdrew my hand and watched with fascinated horror as the blood started flowing. Oh shite.

A quick (very quick) look in the bag revealed that my razor had landed blade up and that I had gashed myself quite badly. Then it was time to run. In the bathroom, I tore through sheets of toilet paper, wrapping the offending finger, waiting for the blood to soak through, binning the blood-soaked tissue and repeating. After a few minutes, the sink and surrounding area looked a bit like the bathroom in SAW. How could something as small as my finger bleed so bloody much!?

ARGH!

Swathed in half a roll of toilet paper, I found my handbag and tried to locate a plaster. In the chaos that is my bag, you never know what you’ll find but luckily, there was one plaster. I stuck it on, thinking that would be the end of the matter.

But no, blood started seeping out above, below and even through the damn thing. I thought about tearfully calling Oma at this point but decided she probably had enough to cope with as she had around 20 family members staying with her.

By now, it was 8.15 p.m. and Oma had told me that the supermarkets closed at 7. My last hope was the Späti (late-night shop). I waved my bloody stump at the Späti guy, while asking calmly and politely if he sold plasters. He did not. BUT (Gott sei Dank) LIDL was open until 9 p.m. I raced down the road, squeezing excess blood into a tissue as I went and located the plasters.

With three more plasters wrapped around the original plaster, I figured things would probably be OK. I found a nice Italian restaurant I’d seen a poster for earlier in the day and ordered. Little did I realise how difficult knives were without a fully-functioning index finger. Every time I pressed on the knife, blood started seeping out again until I’d gone through another four plasters and created the ultimate Wurstfinger. I was so focused on my finger that I failed to notice I was the last one in the restaurant. It was around 9.30.

I finished off my wine and hit the town. Unfortunately, the town was shut. Oh well. I guess I had been looking for a quiet few days; it didn’t get much quieter than this. Back at the flat, I fired up my laptop and started chatting to my Irish friend on Facebook.

Me: Aw crap, my finger is bleeding on my keyboard. Hang on…

Sinéad: Did you put pressure on it? 

Me: If shouting at it to stop bloody bleeding counts as pressure, then yes.  

Sinéad: Erm…

The next morning, I had a new problem.

Massive sausage finger vs tiny, tiny cup

 

Did the bleeding ever stop? Did I manage to get that cup to my lips? Did I dig up the buried dog?? Find out in the next “exciting” installment… 

Germans are flippin’ hilarious

I’ve just had one of the funniest lessons I’ve had in a long time. This was in no part due to my amazing skill as an English teacher, but rather due to the Germans’ amazing lack of skill when it came to something I think most six-year-olds have probably already mastered. (Not that I know anything about six-year-olds. Or want to.)

Anyway…

We were doing a lesson on comparatives and superlatives – you know: good, better, the best/bad, worse, the worst (or bad, badder, the baddest if you’re German and new to the language). The book wasn’t overly inspirational on this topic, so I thought I’d spice things up a bit by bringing in a game I’d found on the internet.

The game consists of a series of squares with one adjective in each. The students roll the dice and move their marker to the correct square. Once there, they have to flip a coin – if it’s heads, they have to make a comparative sentence; if it’s tails, they make a superlative sentence. Simple, right?

Bertha: Um, I don’t think I can do that. 

Me: Do what? 

Bertha: Flip a coin. 

Me: What? 

Bertilda: Can you show us again? 

Me: What??

Betlinde: Yes, please show us again. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.

Me: …

Slightly incredulous and wondering if they might be taking the piss (unlikely, given that they are German), I placed the coin on my forefinger, deftly flicked it with my thumb, neatly caught it and slapped it onto the back of my other hand. Triumphant, I looked around at the blank faces before me.

Bertilda: Can you do it one more time? 

Me: Wowsers…

Behold! The coin of doom…

After another flawless demonstration, it seemed like we were ready to start. I passed the coin to Bertilda and we were off. She threw the dice, moved her marker, read out the adjective, picked up the coin and… regarded it dubiously.

Me: Go on! You can do it! 

The flip was more of a flub – the coin hopped about a millimetre into the air before crash landing on the table with Bertilda snatching at it wildly.

Me: Bah hahahahaha! Oh my god! Sorry, yes, erm, heads. Make your sentence. 

Sentence made, the coin worked its way around the table.

Me: Come on, Betlinde! Flip that coin! 

*flip*

Me: Or you can just fling it at the table. That works, too.

I can best describe what Bertha did as fist pumping the coin into the air. She bungled the catch and the coin tumbled to the floor, rolling under the table. Ensuing “flips” saw the coin land everywhere in the room except for where it should have, including other people’s laps. I looked at the open window, wondering if I should close it before the battered coin made its getaway. I thought it might be a good idea to end the game before things got to that point but I was laughing too hard to speak.

Bertilda: My turn. 

Me: Gurgle…

By now, she had developed this method of bouncing the coin between her hands as if it was burning her. Through my blur of tears of laughter, she seemed quite proud of herself.

Bertilda: “Interesting.” Umm. This English class is more interesting than my job. 

Me: Aww, thank you! Wait, I don’t know how boring your job is. Maybe that’s not really a compliment. 

Bertilda: Yes, my job is very boring. 

Me: Harumph. 

While the German gift for the coin flip was a flop, it seemed the German talent for ego-piercing directness was still alive and kicking.

 

 

 

Talking shit. Literally.

On Monday, I got rained into a bar – my worst nightmare, as you can imagine. However, I really did mean to stay for just one but then the heavens opened. Google had (oh so reliably) informed me that there was a 0% chance of precipitation that day, so I’d set off in a summer dress and flip-flops, without any of the all-weather paraphernalia the Germans are famous for.

While a lot of people might look at this as a fail on my part, these people clearly do not know me very well. First of all, it was a chance to confuse a whole new set of Berlin pub regulars with my intoxicating Irish accent. Second of all, a trip to the bathroom provided unexpected gold. (“Really, Linda? Toilets again?” I hear you groan.)

Gold.

Now, I’m all for “WC” signs throughout the establishment directing me towards the floodgate unleasher, but never have I seen a “WC” sign directly above the loo. Maybe this was the kind of pub where people got so drunk there was a chance they might mistake the sink/floor for the toilet? Or maybe the local clientele just weren’t that bright to begin with? There were no signs over the bin or the sink but I guess it’s not so important if you miss those…

Anyway, I figured out from the clever signage that the WC was, in fact, the toilet. I’m a smart cookie…

As I approached, I noticed the little picture on the toilet lid. I rubbed my eyes. Nope, the glass of wine hadn’t gone to my head – it really was a poo in a speech bubble. But what could it mean? I started coming up with some ideas:

  • Feel free to talk shit here?
  • Let your poo do the talking?
  • If I were a turd, what would I say…?
  • Poo has the right to freedom of speech?
  • A poo is worth a thousand words?

The only talking poo I’d ever seen was on South Park so this was a bit of a mystery to me. I’m shit out of ideas so does anybody else have any? Is this some kind of German thing I’ve never heard of? Answers on a postcard (i.e. in the comments below).

 

Throw me a bone

Me: I accidently hit on the right verb in German class – wegwerfen – to throw away.

Manfredas: Well done! 

Me: My initial thought was “auswerfen” – to throw out – but I thought, “No, German… It has to be something else.”

Manfredas: See? You’re getting better and better. “Auswerfen” is also a verb though. It means “to output”.  “Rauswerfen” is to throw out, like to throw someone out of a bar. 

Me: Huh. That will probably come in handy. Is “einwerfen” possible?

Manfredas: Yep, to throw in. Like to throw a coin into a machine. 

Me: Oh yeah! That’s on the washing machines downstairs. Choose the programme before throwing in the coin. Can I throw in my clothes after I throw in the coin? 

Manfredas: NEIN! That would be “hineinwerfen.”

Me: (Sigh) OK. Abwerfen?

Manfredas: Yep, if you’re thrown off a horse, for example.

Me: Anwerfen?

Manfredas: Yep, to start something up. Like a machine. 

Me: Can I anwerfen the kettle?

Manfredas: NEIN! 

Me: Verwerfen? 

Manfredas: Yep. To reject or discard something. 

Me: Zuwerfen? I’m sure this isn’t annoying for you at all…

Manfredas: Zuwerfen? Yep, it means “to toss.”

Me: Can I zuwerfen a salad?

Manfredas: NEIN! Geht gar nicht.

Me: How do I toss a salad then?

Manfredas: You don’t. 

Me: Can…

Manfredas: Before you ask, no, you can’t use it for “toss off” either. 

Me: I’m offended. I would never ask something so crass…

Manfredas: Hmm.

Me: Vorwerfen?

Manfredas: Yep, to accuse or blame someone. 

Me: Bewerfen?

Manfredas: Yes, to pelt.

Me: Unterwerfen?

Manfredas: Yep, to subdue.

Me: Bet you wish you could unterwerfen me but I’m going to keep going. Hinwerfen?

Manfredas: To throw something down. 

Me: Zurückwerfen?

Manfredas: Yes. To reflect or echo. 

Me: …

Manfredas: …

Me: Huh. I think I’m out. 

Manfredas: (runs for the door)

A few days later, I was with a student. I like to share the misery around so…

Me: I’ve been having great fun with “werfen” this week.

Gundula: ??

Me: You know – abwerfen, auswerfen, einwerfen, hinwerfen, verwerfen, wegwerfen…

Gundula: Ha, oh right. Yeah, Germans never really think about that. Do you have “entwerfen”?

Me: NEIN! What does that mean?

Gundula: To draft something. 

Me: Man, is there anything werfen can’t do? 

Anyway, I will never throw in the towel when it comes to this language. Incidentally, that also works – das Handtuch werfen.

And now I’m off to toss a salad. So there, Manfredas.

 

 

Germany – where formal is normal

Last week, as I was arriving for a lesson, I met the Managing Director of the company on the way in.

Me: Hey, how’s it going? 

Bertilda: Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde will not be in the lesson today. 

Me: OK. I have no idea who you’re talking about. So, how are you? 

Bertilda: Fine.

Me: (makes mental note to do a lesson on small talk)

That day, however, the lesson was to be on “Greetings and Introductions”. Only four women work in the office, two in their mid-forties and two in their mid-twenties. With the absence of Frau Schmittendorf and Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, I only had two students – the MD and her assistant. After establishing once again that Germans are protective of their personal space in business (and pretty much all other) situations, we moved on to the discussion questions.

Me: How do you address the other person? Mister? Ms? First name?

Bertilda: Always Mister or Ms. Never first names. 

Ediltrudis: Yes, never first names.

Me: Never? Not even after you’ve known the person for a while and have a good working relationship? 

Bertilda: NEVER! 

Me: OK. But surely in the office you call each other by your first names? I mean, there are only four of you…

Bertilda: We use Frau plus surname.

Ediltrudis: Yes, always.

Me: So, as soon as you leave this room, where you’re Bertilda and Ediltrudis, you switch back to Frau such-and-such and Frau such-and-such?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. Immediately.

Ediltrudis: Immediately. 

Me: Wow. How long have you been working with Haduwig? 

Bertilda: 16 years. 

Me: And you still call her Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde?

Bertilda: Yes, of course. 

Me:Frau Ottovordemgentschenfelde, could you pass the stapler, please?” Wouldn’t it be easier and faster to just use her first name?

Bertilda: (shoots me a look that suggests that the words “easier” and “faster” are not in her vocabulary)

Me: Is it weird for you that I call you by your first names? 

Bertilda: A bit but we are get used to it. I think it is different for English speakers. 

Me: Getting. Yeah, I’ve worked in America, Australia, New Zealand, England and Ireland and I don’t think I ever called anyone by their surnames. 

Bertilda: (disapproving sniff) 

Ediltrudis: (obviously trying to throw me a bone) Our Azubis (trainees) – they mostly work in another office – they call each other by their first names and use “du”.

Clearly this was news to Bertilda.

Bertilda: (lowering her glasses and picking up her pen) They do?

Ediltrudis: Well, I mean… I think that… sometimes they might, yes…

Bertilda: (scratching angrily in her notepad) I think we need to have a meeting. 

I knew I should probably wrap it up here but I was enjoying myself far too much.

Ediltrudis: Well, you know, they’re young and…

Bertilda: It is a sign of respect. Using surnames and “Sie” is our office culture. 

Me: Oh, but in Berlin it’s so hard. Almost everyone immediately switches to “du” and uses first names. Even my Hausmeister told me to call him Burkhard the first time I met him and he’s in his fifties. (gleefully waits for response)

Bertilda: (flatlines)