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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Word of the Month: Der Wiedergänger

Don Giovanni Wiederganger
Word of the Month: Index

A dark winter night, a fire in the fireplace illuminating with its flickering light an otherwise dark room—the perfect time to tell a ghost story, perhaps one that involves a Wiedergänger.

Wieder is an adverb meaning "again", and a Gänger is a person who walks. In combination, the two words refer to someone who "walks again", i.e., rises from the dead to take care of some unfinished business. Perhaps the most famous Wiedergänger in literature is the ghost of Hamlet's father.

One could also view the Guest of Stone from the Don Juan legend as a kind of Wiedergänger: He is a statue on the grave of a man slain by the libidinous Don. The statue comes to life and appears as a dinner guest at the Don's castle to send him to hell as punishment for his sins. Mozart's opera Don Giovanni tells the story in unforgettable music (my drawing on the left depicts the climactic scene).

Note that a Wiedergänger is not the same as a zombie: He has a mission and will disappear once this mission has been accomplished, whereas zombies, or the undead, represent a more general menace.
Remark 1: The adverb wieder (again) its not to be confused with the preposition wider (against). Even many Germans are not aware of the distinction and misspell wider as wieder, an understandable mistake as the two words are pronounced exactly the same. Note also that both can be used as a noun or verb prefix. For example, wiederholen (literally "to bring again") means "to repeat", whereas widersprechen (literally "to speak against") means "to contradict".

Remark 2: Gänger appears only as part of a compound noun, never by itself. An example is Doppelgänger, which has made it into English as a psychological term. Other examples: Fuß means "foot", and Fußgänger is the German word for "pedestrian", while Kost means "food", and a Kostgänger is a person who shows up regularly at some place to be fed.

When my wife and I lived in what was then West Berlin in the 1970's, the bell rang one evening, and when we opened the door, there were two boys out there, not older than 10, who asked for dinner. We gave them what was left of ours and let them stay over night. When we told the story to a friend, he called them Trebegänger, a term we had never heard before. It refers to children who ran away from home, or from a home, and are living on the streets. The origin of the word Trebe, which indicates a state of homelessness for children, is not known.

I dedicate this post and my drawing to my late friend Bernd Kraneis, who introduced me to the world of opera. Don Giovanni was one of the first operas we went to see together at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin.

Friday, December 2, 2016