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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

There is a persistent rumor in English-speaking countries that President Kennedy made a terrible gaffe in a speech he delivered in 1963 in what was then West-Berlin when he said (in German) "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). According to the rumor, he said, in fact, "I am a jelly donut" b/c "Berliner" is short for "Berliner Pfannkuchen" (Berlin pancake). The claim is that he should have said "Ich bin Berliner" (i.e. leave out the indef. article "ein").

Well, this is utter nonsense, and the first time I heard the story, my reaction was: How silly! "Ich bin Berliner" means "I was born/grew up/live in Berlin" (i.e. it's the same as "I am from Berlin"), which is certainly not what Kennedy wanted to say. What he did say was grammatically and idiomatically correct--the association with jelly donuts is far-fetched, especially since Berliners do not call the things "Berliner", they simply call them "Pfannkuchen". I am sure that no one in the crowd of tens of thousands who listened misunderstood the sentence.

A friend of mine was there and told me that people were standing on each others' feet b/c it was so crowded, but that excitement was so great that he noticed only when he got home that his feet were bleeding. My own association with the event is much less direct: My (American) wife and I got married in the same city hall (Rathaus Schöneberg) from where Kennedy delivered the speech.


The issue has come up whether "fink" in slang has something to do with German "Fink"--the German word for "finch." The dictionaries on the web I have looked at (quickly) claim that the origin of fink is unknown, but my German dictionary suggests something interesting: It lists under "Fink" not only the primary meaning, the songbird "finch", but also a slang meaning, "tosher". Now, I have never heard of "tosher," but this is what my friend Wiki says: "A tosher is someone who scavenges in the sewers, especially in London during the Victorian period." This is interesting b/c German "Dreckfink" means a dirty person who loves to play in the mud. This suggests to me that English "fink" may actually have something to do with German "Fink". But then again, why hasn't someone found this out yet?

More on the Ode to Joy

We follow-up on stuff from the Hello World thread

Friday, May 30, 2008

Schlegel vs. Coleridge

We have a topic--scary, actually.

Hello world

I created this blog as a spin-off to a very popular crossword puzzle blog to which I contribute on a regular basis. In particular, I make comments triggered by German references in the daily puzzle, which are of interest to some other readers and sometimes trigger short back-and-forth exchanges that seemingly turn the blog into a personal affair. I have been reprimanded (and rightfully so, I may add) by the owner of the blog repeatedly for doing this. In response, I created this blog to invite anybody who wants to engage in this sort of exchange without guilt or fear of reprimands.

To start things off: In response to my posting the first few lines of Goethe's Faust yesterday on said blog, one reader sent me a quote by Schiller and asked if her quote was correct--it almost was. Here's the correct version:

"Ehret die Frauen! Sie flechten und weben
Himmlische Rosen ins irdische Leben."

Translation: Honor women! They wreathe and weave
heavenly roses into life on earth.

Schiller was Goethe's friend and rival. Here are the lines from Faust I posted (in a quickly made translation)

I’ve studied, ach! philosophy
medicine and jurisprudence,
and, sad to say, theology,
with single-minded diligence,
and here I stand, a fool and poor,
no wiser than I was before.

Note that Schiller's line is lofty and not meant to be funny, whereas Goethe's lines display already the generally ironic or teasing tone that he maintains throughout the play, especially in the parts he gives to the devil, Mephistopheles. In a nutshell, we get a sense of the way in which these two giants of German literature differ--I think this is a good start of the blog (I've no idea if I can maintain it)

Please read the rules of engagement on the left before posting.