USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘german’
Customs
Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Karneval/Fasching: A German Celebration

The following is GK’s recollection and respective interpretation of her experiences at Karneval/Fasching celebrations in Germany.

 

GK grew up in Germany as a Lutheran and celebrated Karneval throughout her childhood and young adult years. In her description of the holiday, she says that Karneval was like the Mardi Gras equivalent in Germany. It occurred right before Lent, starting fifty-two days before Easter and then ending before Ash Wednesday. Growing up in Ansbach, in Southern Germany, the festival was called “Fasching” there.

 

GK says that on the first day of the celebration, all of the women in town would dress up in costumes and gather in the streets to march around. They would do silly little things, such as cutting off the bottoms of men’s ties and in exchange would give them a small kiss on the cheek. GK notes that the bolder ones (women) would plant a kiss on the boy’s lips.

 

Then, there was “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday), which occurred [on] the Monday after the celebration began. There would be a parade in her town and she and her brother would watch on the side of the streets and small floats and marching people came through the streets. People were dressed up in costumes that were very colorful or fantastical, too. Good food was everywhere for everyone to indulge in. There were bratwursts, German pretzels, Berliner donuts (called Krapfen in German) filled with a berry jam, all being sold by vendors in the streets. Though she was younger and couldn’t participate in these activities, she remembers the bars would be open all night (her parents often went there to celebrate during this time). When GK was older, she and her friends had Glühwein together, a spin-off of wine. She describes it as a “red wine drink mixed with hot apple cider and spices.” She also says that “people were always drinking, celebrating, and dancing.” When World War Two approached and Hitler’s grip on Germany got stronger, some of the floats and people marching in the streets conveyed his messages, she recalls. “Those were some of the more uncomfortable years and less people wanted to go. But you still had to, otherwise the Nazis would think you weren’t in support and would come after your family,” she says.

 

The Last Day of the celebration was on Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday. In Germany, it was called “Karnevalsdienstag,” (Shrove Tuesday). It’s the last day of parades and parties, and this is also the day that is the same as Mardi Gras in other places in the world.

 

On Ash Wednesday, GK remembers that there was a custom of burning the “Nubbel,” which is a straw, life-size doll. It would customarily hang outside of bars or in town squares and when it was burned it symbolized the doing-away of all the sins committed during Karneval time. She notes that this part never occurred in Ansbach, but rather in bigger cities in Germany. She only witnessed it once when she travelled to a larger city with her girlfriends.

 

GK remembers Karneval as some of her better memories from Germany before and after World War Two. Several bombs had struck her hometown, so she says that being able to look back on the celebrations and good times she had with her friends and family before these tragedies will always be something that she cherishes.

 

My Interpretation:

Karneval, better known as Fasching to her, seemed to be a celebration that really affected and influenced GK’s life. It’s clear that some of her best memories of her hometown came from this celebration, which mean a lot to her as many of her memories include taking shelter in bomb shelters and seeing the aftermath of her town, destroyed by bombs during World War Two. While reminiscing on her memories, it was evident that GK misses her home and the Fasching celebration that she used to partake in. However, she spoke very romantically about it, as if it were the festival of the century; nothing could ever be better than Fasching. Whether it was because it was part of her childhood, or really that spectacular of a celebration, Fasching seems to be a very influential festival for the German people, with several of their traditions and customs performed/practiced throughout the days it occurs.

Customs
general
Holidays

German Advent Calendar

Context: The informant was talking about differences in American and German culture. This is one of the major differences she saw with American Christmas and German Christmas

 

Piece: Another thing Germans do is the called an advent calendar so like you can buy one with chocolates from um like Trader Joe’s like 25 to 1 and it like counts down to Christmas, but what my family did is like they had this really big one actually like that was just like a bunch of pouches so it was like reusable. And so my grandparents would ship a package like 2 months before Christmas and we fill it up and like they’d putting numbers like little napkins wrap candy with it and we’d like fill it and like every day unwrap one. Sometimes they’d have an ornament, sometimes it’d have like five bucks in it, sometimes it’d have like a couple candies And it was like a family thing so there’d always be stuff in the pouches and we’d open it together and even now I buy the chocolate ones even though it’s not the same, but it’s like such a big part of the countdown.

 

Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent. Her family practices this tradition every year.

Analysis: This piece demonstrates how German culture created the advent calendar and how it has morphed in American culture. The German tradition is a personalized set of gifts for a family in order to count down for Christmas. There is an element of surprise that creates anticipation and helps preserve the tradition. But in America, the usual advent calendar sold is a chocolate calendar where each chocolate that counts down to Christmas has a different shape or flavor. American culture has commercialized and mass produced this tradition that originated in the individualized German version. It shows how American ideals have shifted the tradition and created a new version. The personalized version in German tradition creates more of a sense of community and gift giving, in the spirit of Christmas ideals, rather than the manufactured American version.

For another version of the German advent calendar, see: Haring, Carol. “Christmas Activity: Create an Advent Calendar.” Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, pp. 191–192. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3531917.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Struwwelpeter – German Folktale to Frighten Children

“Struwwelpeter is the villain in the story, and is about a boy that does not want to cut his nails despite his parents advice, and he is warned of the villain/demon type figure–Struwwelpeter–who has curly blond hair, at least that is what he looked like in the book. He also had very, very long fingernails, and wore this sort of tunic outfit with pants.

So basically, if the young boy refused to cut his nails, his parents told him that Struwwelpeter would come. The boy refused to cut his nails, and Struwwelpeter came in the middle of the night. He cut off not only the boy’s nails but also the boy’s fingers, so he didn’t have any fingers.”

Context: The informant, ML, and myself were talking about the stories that we were told as children that would keep us in line. The informant, being of German descent told me this story that scared him as a child. Struwwelpeter is a German folktale. His mother was read this story as a child, and she used to be terrified by it. This story teaches a lesson in a very brutal, typically German way, according to ML. Most of the German children’s folktales are pretty gruesome, and follows the nature of German parental “advice-giving”. ML’s grandfather used to tell him that the way to get a child to not go near the stove was to hold one of their hands over the burners and possibly singe their hand a little bit, so that it would hurt and they would know that touching the stove in the future would hurt.

Analysis: I agree with ML’s insights as to the pattern this folktale follows. One of the most famous collections of German folklore was the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The stories, while still reminiscent of the tale circulating in German oral history, were “cleaned up”–removing violence and sex–to cater to a wider, and younger audience.For example, Rapunzel was supposed to be impregnated by the prince who visits her tower, but later editions of the Grimms removed this reference to sex, particularly the pre-marital kind. However, the tales from which the Grimm’s stories were derived from children’s folklore aimed to scare the youth into abiding by certain rules and obeying what their parents and society told them; in this case, you must cut your nails if you want do not want to be mangled by this terrifying demon figure.

Along with this, the context in which ML was taught this folk belief shows how folklore can change over time. The informant was told the story by his mother in a way that shows that she was told this story to scare her as a child, but she was not going to use the same story to scare her child. In this way, ML’s mother is no longer spreading this belief as something that the informant should be believing, but rather as a way to connect with her child. Folklore is shown as a way to connect various generations together through similar experiences; in this case, the reluctance for children to cut their nails is somewhat universal. For another version of this tale, see Spence, Robert, et al. Struwwelhitler A Nazi Story Book by Dr. Schrecklichkeit (Philip and Robert Spence). Autorenhaus-Verlag, 2014.

Folk speech

Sleep well in your old bett gestell

Text:

“Sleep well in your old bett gestell”

Genre: Phrase / saying

Background: The interviewee, VP, is an American middle-aged female. VP resides in Northern California and comes directly from Austria and Latvian descent. VP’s heritage and traditions are deeply influenced by her Austrian descent and capability to speak both German and English. The folklore originated in Austria and was translated from German to English. The original German translation of “Schlaf gut in deinem bett gestell” translates loosely to “sleep well in your bed frame,” but means that the sturdiness and safety of your bed will allow you to sleep well. VP states that the phrase is used at night before either going to bed or tucking someone in. It can be said amongst adults and children alike, but is primarily used by parents and grandparents of German descent when tucking in their children at night. VP notes that she learned this from her Austrian great grandmother who passed it down verbally to her daughter, then down to her.

Nationality: Austrian
Location: origin: Austria, practiced: America
Language: English German hybrid

Interpretation: Like most oral traditions, these are passed down from generation to generation. What I find extremely interesting is that by definition, folklore contains variation and multiplicity, much like the phrase that has been passed down to VP throughout generations. Over time and through Americanization, the phrase has gone from the native tongue to shift into a mixture between both American and Austrian cultures as both languages are present in the phrase. This is seen more commonly within those who are capable of speaking both American and Spanish. People with this bilingual capability are often seen speaking both languages at the same time that some may call “Spanglish.” This blend of languages makes it extremely hard for someone who is monolingual to translate or make sense of quotes or conversations, thus causing a loss in translation as seen with the Austrian phrase presented above. What I also find interesting is that the original phrasing’s translation into English doesn’t make all that much sense, but in the native tongue of Austrian it carries a far deeper meaning. However, the mixture of the two languages does not lose any emphasis or meaning as the words become more of a phrase or saying that carries meaning versus a straight language translation.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

German Folk Metaphor

Context: The 51-year-old informant from Memphis, TN, and I were discussing the role of folklore in parenting. The topic originally came up when I asked him if he was ever repeatedly taught any proverbs by his parents when he was young. He told me that while his parents never told him many proverbs, there was one sentence that his father would say sometimes; it was something that the informant’s grandfather, a German Jewish Canter and Holocaust survivor, told to the informant’s father when he was a young child. While the folk metaphor may seem like a harsh threat for a father to say to his son, the informant explained that “it was normal for a German parent discipline in a rather stern manner while including this essence of subtle humor.”

Piece: 

German: “Ich schlach dich das deine zahne in arsch klavier spielt”

English: “I will hit you so hard that your teeth will play piano in your ass”

Analysis: It must be pointed out that the informant’s father and grandfather performed this German folk metaphor in two completely different contexts and with entirely different intentions. The Grandfather, having come from a more traditional time with a harsher upbringing, clearly did intend to instill some fear in his son with this sentence, but only enough fear to get him to stop misbehaving when he was doing so. The fact that the metaphor begins with a harsh threat and ends with the hilariously ridiculous image of a pair of teeth jumping around piano keys in someone’s rear end sends a message from father to son. While the father may be mad at his son, he is acknowledging to both himself and the boy that humor can be found in the situation and that no great offense was committed. On the other hand, the informant’s father recited this folk metaphor to son in order to remind himself about his childhood while also sharing the information with his son.

Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Oyster stew on Christmas

Text

 

INFORMANT: We had a nasty tradition growing up that I absolutely hated.

 

ME: What was it?

 

INFORMANT: Well papa was really German and, I guess, proud of his German heritage, and it’s an old German tradition to eat oyster stew at big meals, so he made us all eat the stew at Christmas dinner even though none of us liked it. I don’t even think he liked it at the end of the day.

 

Background

The informant’s father’s grandparents were the ones who raised him and were from Germany. This close line to Germany made the informant’s father extremely proud of his heritage, especially because of the immense respect he had for his grandparents.

 

Context

The informant currently lives in Dallas but grew up in the small town of Garner, Iowa (population: 2,000 people).

 

Thoughts

Tradition plays a crucial part in how one identifies one’s self. The informant’s father clearly identifies heavily with his german heritage, and wants to hold onto all German traditions, even if he does not necessarily like the tradition itself. These traditions give him some sense of being apart of a group and, therefore, being apart of something bigger than himself.

 

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t Sing At the Table!: German Superstition

Context and Practice of Superstition:

“So basically when we were sitting at the dinner table, if someone whistled or sang my grandmother would stop them and she would say if you whistle or sing at the dinner table (meal time) you would have a crazy spouse.” 

Significance to Informant:

“Now when anybody is singing or whistling at the dinner table, I will remember what she said and I will say it. Maybe I think sitting at the table is a time for family to be talking to one another and paying attention to one another, not being self absorbed in their own music and their own. Ya know.”

Informant Background Information:

The informant is 56 and from New York. Learned this saying from his grandmother who was born in New York in 1907 to German immigrants. Informant says she probably got this from her mother. Informant says, “[My sisters] would try to sing their music and my grandma would tell them not to. I’m sure she said it to me too, but they were older than me so they were singing and whistling at the table before I was.”

My Analysis:

I think that this superstition speaks to how people of the informant’s grandmother’s time value table etiquette. Rich people then and now could pay silly amounts of money to take classes in table etiquette. Abiding by these decided social rules in public could outwardly indicate your social standing. Singing at the dinner table does not follow the rules of table etiquette, so doing that would signify your uneducated/lower social status. Marking yourself as lower status would probably fend off higher class potential partners, leaving you with less socially-desirable pickings (AKA someone “crazy”).

An alternative interpretation is that this stems from something more wholesome as the speaker indicates, like valuing interpersonal connection. We still value interpersonal connection today, as many parents tell their children today not to use their cellphone during dinner. Following this train of thought, parents could fear that if their children lack social skills (at the dinner table), they will probably end up marrying someone who also lacks social skills. 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Holiday Foods

Abstract:

This piece is about specific German foods, specifically baked goods, that are eaten at Christmas or other special occasions.

Main Piece:

“My maternal grandmother came from Germany, first generation, so her parents came from Germany. So she had a lot of German traditions, but the ones I remember the most about her had to do with baking and very special baked goods and pastries for certain occasions. She made something called a stollen every Christmas morning she would make it fresh and everyone had to have their stollen before they could open their presents. When there were special occasions, like when we had lots of family around she would make lebkuchen and she even had a special pan for it. It was a pastry with fruit on the top and it was amazing. But she always insisted certain pastries for certain occasions.”

Context:

This subject is an adult woman who remembers her grandmother and the traditions from her German heritage she brought to the holidays. The subject has German ancestry that would be highlighted through foods at the Christmas time or when there were large family gatherings. She learned these foods from her grandmother. Though she does not continue the tradition exactly, she makes cinnamon buns that her family must eat before opening presents these days.

Interpretation:

These kinds of foods remind me of baked goods traditions like having cake on your birthday or a wedding cake. The idea that there are certain pastries for certain occasions rings true with those kinds of baked goods as well. I think it is nice that the subject also tries to keep the tradition alive in her own way by making cinnamon buns. This kind of shows the evolution from one kind of cultural food through the change of culture the subject is in. As a person that does not identify as German, the subject makes the tradition “her own” in a way, while still holding on to her heritage.

Childhood
Folk speech
general

“Ich bin klein”

Main piece:

Ich bin klein

mein Herz ist rein

darf niemand drin wohnen

als Jesus allein.

 

Informant’s English translation:

 

I am small,

My heart is pure,

So no one will live in my heart but Jesus alone.

 

Context: The informant (DB) is a first generation immigrant from Germany; her mother is from Silesia, Germany, and her father is from what was previously known as East Prussia, so she is fluent in both German and English. She was raised Christian but does not consider herself very religious. DB grew up in Orlando, Florida, has two kids, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Our conversation took place while eating quesadillas for lunch our home in Atlanta. The informant heard this nursery rhyme from her mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother. She values it because it’s “such a simple yet sweet prayer that any child can understand.” DB remembers “Ich bin klein” as the one solitary moment she shared with her mother before bed; despite their busy life and large family, they were always able to regroup and return to each and God at the end of the day.   

Personal thoughts: Popular Christian prayers tend to involve long sentences or invoke complex biblical concepts, which can be especially confusing for children. Take the Lord’s Prayer, for instance – one line reads: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” An 8-year-old has no grasp on temptation or evilness. Although these kinds of prayers are touted to be family friendly, many times children will simply recite them word-for-word without actually being able to fully understand what they are saying. The beauty of the “Ich bin klein” prayer is that it begins by reinforcing the innocence and simplicity of child (“I am small / my heart is pure”), which are words a child can easily grasp, and ends with an affirmation that the child reciting the prayer loves Jesus (“So no one will live in my heart by Jesus alone”). Bam. Easy. No mumbo jumbo about debts and trespassing – just an affirmation of a child’s purity and love for Jesus.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Schuhplattler

Main piece: Schuhplattler is a traditional style of Bavarian folk dance that includes lots of leg movement, stomping, clapping and slapping. The male performers wear Lederhosen and the female performers wear Dirndls. Modern performances of Schuhplattler can be seen at Oktoberfest in Germany, where many in attendance of the wear Dirndls and Lederhosen – a very good look. Schuhplattler dancers may also play the accordion in their performances, which is a nice addition.  

Context: The informant (BB) grew up in Schlesien (Silesia), Germany and immigrated to the United States when she was 24 in August 1960. BB and her husband, who was from East Prussia (now considered a territory in Poland), started a family of 3 children in Orlando, Florida and ran a greenhouse business until their retirement. BB is a devout Christian with Lutheran roots. She is fluent in both German and English. Our conversation took place by the fireplace in my home in Atlanta. Interestingly, the informant never practiced, performed or watched Schuhplattler in her youth, since the Bavarian dance was more popular in the Southern part of Germany, and she grew up in the Northwest. However, when she immigrated to the U.S. and began attending the American-German society, many young German people were practicing Schuhplattler and putting on shows among their friends. So, she sent her three kids to Schuhplattler practice every weekend and accordion practice for 5 years (and they hated it). BB admires the dance because it was a tradition she wouldn’t have really been exposed to if she had stayed in Northwestern Germany.

Personal thoughts: There is definitely some irony in the fact that immigrating to a new country taught her more about her own country than living there, in some small ways. It goes to show the ways in which folk adapt traditions to new cultures, locations and time periods. Additionally, the Schuhplattler dance is a perfect reflection of the German people and their mindset – disciplined and refined, yet still lively and fun within those constraints. For external reference, see “Kolb, Alexandra. “The Migration and Globalization of Schuhplattler Dance: A Sociological Analysis.” Cultural Sociology, vol. 7, no. 1, 12 July 2012, pp. 39-55. ProQuest 5000. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.)

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