Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Month: Zersiedeln, die Zersiedelung

Word of the Month: Index

Like English, German allows for the creation of new verbs by adding a prefix to an existing one. In fact, German offers a broader range of prefixes that can be used to this end, and I will dedicate my next post to this topic.

For starters, let's look at just one of these prefixes, zer-, which has no real equivalent in English. It indicates an action that destroys something. It is particularly expressive because of the sharp z-sound with which it starts. For example, reissen means "to tear", and zerreissen means "to tear apart" or "tear to pieces". Our current word of the month is another example. It's formed by adding zer to siedeln (to settle) and means literally to degrade [a countryside] by settlement. Zersiedelung is the noun formed from the verb. The term originated with urban and regional planners and is usually translated as "urban sprawl". But Zersiedelung is somewhat more general—it can happen far away from urban centers.

The image used in this post is a good illustration. It shows how the second-growth forests covering a good portion of Connecticut often look like moth-eaten carpets from the air. Roads through such areas are typically flanked by a monotonous succession of residences sitting on grounds that have been cleared of all trees, producing, in the worst case, a barren "moonscape". But the consequences are not only esthetic. Habitat destruction is very often a major consequence. And when the cleared land is covered by a vast lawn that needs regular watering to stay green, there can be a noticeable effect on the water table (I know of a mansion in our neighborhood that needs a second well just for watering more than one acre of grass!).

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Tatendrang

Word of the Month: Index

Taten is the plural of Tat, which means "action" or "deed", and Drang means "urge" or "drive"—it refers to a strong inclination to do something. In combination, the terms indicate a pronounced psychological disposition towards action. But note that this state of mind is not the same as mindless activism: Yes, people full of Tatendrang get fidgety when something can be done to remedy a situation or when adventure beckons. But that does not mean that they plunge headlessly into action, no matter what the consequences are. Rather, they prefer an active over a contemplative life style, but may well be able to keep their impulses in check when the situation demands it.

Drang is perhaps best known to English speakers in the combination Sturm und Drang, a German literary movement of the late 18th century. The name is usually translated as "Storm and Stress" in English, but that is really a mistranslation because Drang does not mean "stress": a Drang comes from the inside and is not imposed from the outside. So, why does this mistranslation prevail? I don't know. Yes, "Storm and Urge" sounds strange and does not have the catchiness of the German original, but what's wrong with "Storm and Drive"?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sevenstar Contest Cup 2016

Photobook by Ulrich Flemming et al.
Two exciting days on board the Amica Agrippina in Medemblik, Holland

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Hassprediger

Word of the Month: Index

Hass is the German word for hatred, and a Prediger is a preacher (derived from the verb predigen-to preach). Taken together, the two compounds refer to someone who, in his function as preacher, calls for hatred and violence. Hasspredigerin is the female form.

The term goes back to the end of the 19th century. But the Duden, the official German spelling guide, lists it in 2006 for the first time. This reflects an increased use in the early 2000s in connection with the activities of certain radical imams who used their pulpit to sow hatred against Western liberal societies and to call for a Holy War to overthrow them. [Source: Wikipedia article "Hassprediger"]

Since then, the term has assumed a wider meaning. It is now being used to characterize anyone who, in some public function, attempts to instill in an audience hatred of some group on the outside, be it for ethnic, political, or religious reasons, even instigate violence against members of that group. For example, the leaders of some xenophobic movements on the far right in Germany have been called Hassprediger (like other nouns ending in –er, the plural is the same as the singular). The term also comes to my mind when I listen to Donald Trump's tirades against Muslims and Mexicans.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Euro 2016

Euro 2016 has started, with 24 national teams competing for the cup. For the intial group phase, these teams have been placed into 6 groups, where each team plays 3 matches, one against each of the other members of its group. The first- and second-placed teams in each groups and the 4 best third-placed teams overall will advance to the round of 16. Here are the groups:
Group A
Group B
Group C
N. Ireland

Euro2016 fever in Cologne, courtesy of kidbrother

Group D
Czech Republic
Group E
Group F

The mood in Germany is guardedly optimistic. Since they won the World Cup two years ago, the Germans have hardly ever played at the level they had shown during that cup. But then again, that just fits the pattern: They typically enter a tournament with a mixed record and then improve as they advance through the rounds.

The great strength of the Mannschaft is that it works as a team, a collective in which every player can, in principle, be replaced without an apparent drop in performance of the team as a whole. At the opposite end are sides whose performance depends on and is geared to a single dominant player. Such teams can be beaten if the dominant player can be neutralized—the Germans demonstrated this during the 2014 World Cup when they beat Portugal (with Ronaldo) in the group round and Argentina (with Messi) in the final. More about this in my first comment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Persilschein

Word of the Month: Index

Persil was the first commercially available "self-activated" laundry detergent (i.e. a cleaner containing both soap and bleach). It was introduced in Germany in 1907 and has remained popular to the present day. The name derives from two of its original ingredients, sodium perborate and silicate. [Source] The text of the vintage poster on the left means in English "For the love of laundry".

A Schein, in this context, is a certificate, and a Persilschein is a document confirming that somebody is "clean" in the sense that there is nothing in the person's past to disqualify him or her from pursuing a career or occupying a position of influence in a certain field. The term is often used ironically, even sarcastically, when there are indications that the certificate has been obtained by means that are not entirely above-board.

There is a reason for this connotation. People who remember the fifties in Germany or know her post-war history still associate the term with the denazification program, efforts initiated by the occupying powers to rid the German bureaucracy and professions of former Nazis and war criminals. A Persilschein obtained under the program was a document confirming that one had never committed a war crime, was not a member of the Nazi party or, at worst, a fellow-traveller. The program was plagued from the start by (i) inconsistencies in its administration across the occupation zones and (ii) a lack of enthusiasm for it on the part of the Germans. As a result, quite a few people got their Persilschein undeservedly.

As to Persil, the detergent, it's now sold in many countries, including the US, in spite of the fact that the name is not always easy to pronounce for non-German speakers. In addition, persil means "parsley" in French!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke: Das Karussell (The Carousel)

Rilke's "Carousel" (1906) is one of the most charming poems in the German language. It tries to capture, through its rhythm and imagery, the fleeting sense impressions a spinning merry-go-round produces—it has become a classic of impressionist poetry. I was reminded of it when I visited yesterday the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, which motivated me to try my hand at a line-by-line translation:

The Carousel—Original and Translation

This is not an exact literal translation. Rilke uses iambic pentameters consistently to render the movement of the carousel. Note especially how it picks up speed in the last stanza, and how the impressions get more blurry—this is masterfully done. Since inflected endings are rarer in English than they are in German, English words tend to be shorter than the corresponding German ones so that a literal translation often produces several stressed syllables in a row; that is, Rilke's iambic line gets lost. But I consider it important that English readers get a sense of the poem's rhythm and therefore added a little padding to recreate it (although I had to be content sometimes with fewer than five feet—adding more padding would have created distortions of its own by making the text wordier than the original).