Moin Moin! – four untranslateable German expressions

Moinsen, readers.

I suppose you’ve been wondering where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. The short answer is: Germany, school and travel. The long answer is: VDAC seminars, mother visiting from the states, Hamburg, Tuebingen, Berlin, the Ostsee (Baltic), seminar presentations, term papers and catching up with the friends I’ve made in my months here.

Basically, I have a few posts I’ve written during my trips from thither to yon and back again, but I have to transport them from my Ipod notes to the ‘puter. You’ll see them soon, though.

In the meantime, here are some German expressions I’ve heard that don’t have a translation in English, or need some sort of explanation.

Moin- the northern German general greeting for “Hello.” The origin is debatable, but it reaches back beyond 200 years and could have to do with “moi morgen,” with the “morge” of the “morgen” being the part that’s truncated. Egal…  I think it will stick with me for a few months after I get back to the states. Variants include “Moinsen,” and “Moin Moin”

“na?”- this expression comes so often after meeting with a Hamburger, Frankfurter, or many others and having already gotten through the “hallo” or the “Moin” or the “guten morgen.” It’s a sort of question like “well?” I finally got over my irritation after nine months of hearing it and just take it as it is. I found out saying “na” back doesn’t really work. People usually expect some sort of reply like “ja, alles gut,” or something in direct relation, so it’s not even like the U.S. “how’re you?”

Ohrwurm (n)- an Ohrwurm is an ear worm. It’s not something that craws into your ear (sorry for putting that image in your mind) but rather a song or a tune you can’t get out of your head. It’s a handy expression that is much easier to slide into conversation than the longer “I’ve got a song stuck in my head”

“asi” (adj.)- short for “asozial,” this word is used pretty widely in the youth scene (though I’m not sure if I condone it). Its equivalent in the English would be “ghetto” and is used to describe things that are off-beat style, non-mainstream and sort of grungy. The connotations matching it up with “ghetto,” a term I have issues with as well, makes it something I observe from a distance and don’t use myself.

And finally, just for fun, a poem by Joachim Ringelnatz, now one of my favorite German authors/painters:

The Ants
In Hamburg lived two ants who wanted to travel to Australia.
their legs already hurt at Altona, on the Chaussee
And so they wisely decided to forego the last part of their journey.

Of course, the whole thing rhymes in cute couplets in the original:

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I found this in the bathroom of a Karl’s Erlebnishof, a mix between Crackle Barrel, Disney, and a fun farm. Finally a bathroom worth paying 50 cents to go on


“It’s Alive!” or, “how I spent the last three months”

This time last month, I had just submitted my total draft for my MA thesis. Now, the thing has been edited, defended, corrected and edited some more, and submitted, officially this time! Yes, yes, you may congratulate me. Thanks.

Unfortunately, that’s all I have to show for three months. Sorry folks.

No, wait, that’s not entirely true. I have three essays that you’d like to read? No? Okay.

I guess I can tell you about some other cool things though.

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I saw the Main river. It’s definitely worthy of being called “Main” (though in German it’s pronounced like [mine].

For one thing, there was the trip to Mainz in February.  2015-02-20 15.20.44 2015-02-20 12.54.29 2015-02-20 16.10.52 2015-02-20 09.58.36 2015-02-20 09.56.312015-02-20 16.11.09Invited by the VDAC Club in Mainz to a political conference they organized, I was impressed by the beauty of the city even if it was cold and wet. Like Nuremberg, it was a significant city during the time of Holy Roman Empire. That’s part of the reason why there are golden horses just prancing around.

2015-02-20 15.35.18Gutenberg was also here, so if anything, the city is well-known because of the man who invented the movable-type printing press. A fun fact we learned on a tour was that no one actually knows what the guy looks like so the face is a little blurred and androgynous.

But Mainz is also the capital of Rhineland-Pfalz. This means that there’s politics (we got to visit the rheinland-pfälzischen Landtag) and wine (Rheinland is well known for it’s grape fields and vinification); I think it’s a splendid combination.

Unfortunately, I spent the weekend in Mainz shortly before submitting my thesis, so a wee bit went over my head, but I cannot emphasize enough how well-organized the seminar was. Even though I am a literature student, the material comparing German/EU and U.S. politics was interesting enough for me to follow, simply by virtue of being familiar with both locations. There was a session on speech-writing and rhetoric, which explained some things I’ve noticed in German literature. For example, did you know that the strive for less emotional writing was an active decision to present things in a more rational way following WWII and the Holocaust? The people had learned to fear politicians who spoke too much to the people’s emotions. There was also a session on migration in the U.S. and Germany, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could use some of what Professor Dr. Thunert explained in my thesis.

We were also invited to lunch by the Mainz woman’s club, so I had my first Spundekäs (a type of cheese dip) with a pretzel. In hindsight, I would have ordered something more filling, but this was good! If you’re ever looking for something to go with a cool German beer, Spundekaes isn’t all that bad (it’s really good, actually).

Finally, I have to mention the wine tasting. It was my first time, and I never would have known that five sips of wine would be enough to get a room from quiet to really, really chatty. I learned about the different types of wine, why cheap wine isn’t necessarily bad (it often means less middle-men), and that I like sweet wine. It’s good to know!

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Going home reminded me how I’ve taken Florida lighting and green so much for granted.

So, what else? I got very used to the German library cataloging system, found a great appreciation for the Hamburger coffee and tea, and was able to keep my sanity with the German habits of not-too talkative and giving me space.

I did end up going home to defend my thesis. It’s a bit rough trying to wrap up a phase of studying while abroad… there’s so much hassle with fulfilling requirements and such. I’m glad I went home, if anything, to tank up on family love and successfully defend my thesis, but now I’m really happy to be back in Hamburg. I don’t think I would have finished my thesis if it weren’t for being able to hang around in Hamburg during January and February and balance my extreme writing sessions with trips out into the city, exploring churches and taking walks along the Hafen. Now, I get to be here without the academic stress! (classes don’t count. Those are fun).

I am signed up for five classes (four German lit, one English lit) and I’m looking forward to seeing what the Spring brings. It has to include a boat trip around the harbor, a bike tour on the Elbe, maybe a visit to one of Hamburg’s many famous musicals? Who knows? If anything, there’s Easter this weekend, my birthday (ha ha, also on Easter), and the Hamburg marathon coming up at the end of the month. Frohe Frühlings Tage! (I’m loving the daylight savings, it means that there’s more time to explore the city in the afternoon before it gets dark).

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How do you say “up” in German? Originally I wanted to make this an überdate, but that wouldn’t have been linguistically appropriate. So I’m giving you an auf-date.

But first, a few notes about the fascination with “über.” Basically, it’s because it has an umlaut and an umlaut is just another kind of accent… and accents make everything sexier.

… though it is possible to go overboard

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Looking for a “sexy” new tattoo? Go to cmdshiftdesign.com

At any rate, it’s common knowledge that the German language involves umlauts (and actually, the fascination with über comes from Nietzsche’s übermensch, but this is neither the time nor the place). But after dealing with the language long enough, one doesn’t think twice about umlauts. Do you think twice about the letter “g”? Didn’t think so.

But what takes longer getting used to is that these umlauts make the keyboards in Germany funky. The image below shows the differences.

I lug my laptop to and from the states for my academic work, so it’s easier to get through my writing assignments, e-mails, and papers. But occasionally I find myself at the library, on German computers, and I struggle through everything I type… though admittedly, when writing in German, those keyboards are convenient. The “z” is used more than the “y,” and it’s handy to have the key to press rather than a key-combo and finger-twister to produce umlauts on the screen.

But whoa, way off track.

This post is supposed to be an update and basically an apology that I’ll have to be a little scarce producing for this blog. I am currently challenged by finishing up the German winter semester and producing my MA thesis (and three papers) by the end of February. Once it becomes apparent I can’t finish by March, I may return earlier. Otherwise, I have to focus and spend more time in my room, which means I’ll have less to observe anyway. (just kidding, VDAC! I still plan to take advantage of all the cool things I can experience here! most recently, it was a slam competition in this gorgeous building:

Hamburger Laeiszhalle Saal

). I just can’t write about them all.

The good news is, I have a whole semester break and summer semester to comment on after this ordeal, so there will be enough forthcoming that I don’t have to give up this blog quite yet. 🙂 In the meantime, post questions about what you’d like me to comment on (there’s so much to talk about! A little focus helps), or what you think about the umlaut (or accents). Don’t you think it’s sexy?