Tag Archives: german

“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.

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.)

Pierogi Recipe

Main piece: Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Heat to boiling and simmer until potatoes are very tender. Drain potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the liquid. In a small, non-stick frying pan, sauté onions in a little butter or oil until soft. Add onions to drained potatoes and mash using a potato masher or electric hand mixer. (Add reserved potato cooking water as needed to reach a smooth mashed potato consistency.) Add cheese, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Set aside to cool. Serve with cabbage and/or potato salad.

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 known as 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. The informant learned of this dish from her mother-in-law; she is not Prussian herself, but she learned the recipe to honor her husband’s family tradition of eating pierogi at Christmas. BB loves pierogi because she is proud of embracing a tradition she did not grow up with but is nevertheless very important to BB, as it reminds her of her late husband. BB even adapted the recipe for her growing family in America. Although the original recipe dictates that the “filling” portion of pierogi be stuffed into dough and boiled, BB does not use dough at all in her recipe and instead opts to make pierogi as an open dish, often with potato salad on the side. She put this spin on the recipe because not everybody necessarily likes the dough and she can’t fit as much of the filling as she would like to into a dough pocket. Because of this, she’s able to make the pierogi in bulk so that it can feed a family for a week down the line.

Personal thoughts: What is perhaps most interesting about this particular recipe is the way the informant adapted it – and why. BB mentioned taking away the dough and to be able to make pierogi in bulk. As a young child growing up poor in World War II Germany, BB barely had enough to eat each day, as her community was forced to send the food they produced to the Nazis supporting the war effort. Hunger playing a significant role in her upbringing is evident in the fact that she has 2 refrigerators and 2 pantries in her house that are always stocked full of provisions. So, when BB makes pierogi in bulk, her motivations are not gluttonous or greedy; rather, they stem from an unshakeable, foundational feeling that she must ensure her and her family’s next meal in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Therefore, BB’s adaptation of the traditional pierogi recipe is a product of her childhood circumstances of WW2 scarcity.

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht

“Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäume nicht.”

“You do not see the forest for the trees.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this proverb from her friend when she was upset. She continues to think of this proverb in stressful situations.

Interpretation: This proverb is meant to help people when they are wrapped up in small problems. It teaches the audience to see things from a broader perspective rather than focusing on specific issues that will not matter in the greater scheme of things. It also works to soothe people who are upset or overwhelmed.This proverb also tells the audience about Germany’s environment. One-third of Germany is covered in forestry, so it is fitting that a well-known German proverb utilizes the forest as a symbol.

 

Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

“Was haben Frauen und Handgranaten gemeinsam?

Ziehst du den Ring ab, ist dein Haus weg!”

“What do a woman and a hand grenade have in common?

When you take the ring off, your house is gone!”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany, and spent the majority of her childhood there. She heard this joke from classmates who were mostly male.

Interpretation: This is perhaps meant to be cautionary toward young men. It is based on the stereotype that women use men for money, and could perhaps make men more cautious when choosing a wife so that they do not have to worry about “taking the ring off.” It uses humor to make women and marriage threatening, which is a common occurrence in American stand-up comedy. Furthermore, it subtly warns against divorce, which could suggest to the audience that an unhappy marriage is better than a divorce.

Pickle Tree

Context

The following is the informant’s account of a German holiday tradition performed every winter by the informant’s family.

Main Piece

Thanksgiving, we get our trees. That’s, like, a tradition. For some reason we, ‘cause we live by a bunch of evergreen farms so we just like go out and chop one down on Thanksgiving and then, within the next week, my mom will decorate the tree, because none of us really want to, and there’s, like, this one ornament that’s shaped like a pickle that a lot of families have and I don’t know if its actually a German tradition, but my family’s pretty German so I think it is a German tradition. Basically, the pickle gets hidden like, in the tree, and then you have to like… usually the tradition is, like, Christmas morning you wake up and like, you go get the presents, and then the first person to find the pickle like wins, and in my family no one ever wins anything but you just like… you get the pride.

But then, in my family, it’s kind of like… the kids, like my younger cousins, really like it, so pretty much as soon as the tree’s decorated in, like, late November they just start playing it like whenever they want and they’ll just like, yeah. So that’s about it, you just find the pickle.

Notes

I had never encountered or heard of this tradition, but found that the hidden pickle is fairly common among Christians/Catholics of German and Dutch ancestry. Another informant of mine from Pennsylvania recognized this tradition immediately. What was also notable to me about hiding the pickle in the Christmas tree is that it bears some resemblance to the Jewish Passover tradition of hiding the afikoman, a piece of matzo bread wrapped in a special cloth, for the children to find.

 

Sie Hat Nicht Alle Tassen Im Schrank

Original: Sie hat nicht alle tassen im schrank

Translation: She doesn’t have all the teacups in her pantry

Full translation: This phrase is used when one is trying to say someone else is crazy. When used, one is implying that the person in question is not entirely right in the head.

Note: This piece of folk speech was only provided using the pronoun “she”. However, he/she can be interchanged and the phrase would still work in conversation.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.

Background: My informant heard this piece of folk speech used almost interchangeably with any other permutation of “that person is crazy” both in the city and in the countryside. He does not see it as a piece of folk speech, but rather as another piece of his vocabulary. When someone is acting crazy, this phrase comes as naturally as simply saying “That person is crazy” in German.

Analysis: I was especially excited by this folk speech because it closely resembles a similar phrase used in the United States. In the US, the phrase “the lights are not all on upstairs” shares a similar meaning, to imply that the subject it is referring to is somehow not right in the head. The two phrases most definitely appear to be oikotypes – regional variations of a piece of folklore. Interestingly, however, the German use of “teacups” and “pantry”, more traditional objects may suggest that the German phrase is actually the original, from which the American phrase was derived. Considering there is a sizeable German population in the US, this could most definitely be the case!

The Story of the Inked Boys

Interviewer: Got any other German fairytales?

Informant: I do, actually. This one is one of my favorites – it’s interesting because it shows a tolerance that Germans seemed to have forgotten at some later points in our history.

Three boys are laughing and playing in a field outside of their village, near a road. As they play, a Moor, a black man, comes down the hill, carrying a green umbrella. The Moor is quiet and polite as he makes his way down the road, but when the boys notice him, they grab all of their things and rush over and start insulting the Moor. The boys sing songs and make fun of the Moor’s dark skin and how its so black it’s as black as ink.

St. Nicholas, who lived nearby, heard the boys and what they were doing, and he shouted at them to stop. But, the boys didn’t listen. They kept laughing and shouting at the Moor, continuing to make fun of his skin color.

St. Nicholas is pissed at this point, so he takes his huge ink pot that he used for his quill and grabs the three boys. Then, he goes and takes each one of them… and dunks each one into the black ink until all of them are just as dark as the Moor. Then, he takes them out and puts them next to the Moor, who is laughing super hard at this point. St. Nicholas taught them a lesson about harassing people who look different from themselves.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of his neighbors from his village in Germany. He has a personal love for this tale, as it was one of the first to be told to him in his childhood, but also because of the general message it sends – one of punishment against not only intolerance, but xenophobia. The children make fun of the Moor due to his difference. My informant points out that St.Nicholas places the children into the Moor’s shoes not only to punish them, but also to make them experience life from the point of view of their victim.

Analysis: I believe my informants tale outlines a curious societal quirk inherent in whatever communities it originated from. It appears to be poised against intolerance towards foreigners, especially of African descent, at a time when such intolerance was widely acceptable. It makes a point to not only punish rude children, but also to make them experience life from the point of view of those they wronged. From a more objective lens, one might also point out the motif of threes at play here as well. Three boys are present in the tale, rather than a single one.

Goulash

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

EC: Stuff that we would do is we would eat goulash on holidays. Which is like a German stew.

ZM: What’s in it?

EC: Umm… It’s just basically a stew I guess. Like vegetables and some form of meat. I feel like…it was probably just like beef or something normal like that, but like it has a German name so…

ZM: Who makes the goulash?

EC: My aunt does. So… yeah.

ZM: She’s the one that was in the military?

EC: Umm my uncle by marriage was in the military and then she is my like blood aunt. My dad’s sister.

 

Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC about her German traditions.

 

Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent. She was born and raised in Sacramento. Most of her German traditions were not passed down, rather influenced by aunt’s family who lived on a military base in Germany.

 

Analysis:I thought it was interesting that even though EC is “significantly German heritage-wise,” the only German traditions practiced by her family are not due to their lineage rather a modern-day influence.

 

 

 

German Santa

I interviewed Audrey when I met her in Everybody’s Kitchen, a USC dining hall. Audrey spent some of her childhood in Germany, so she wanted to share some of the German folklore she knew. This includes the legend of the German Santa. The following is lifted from the interview:

 

Audrey: “So I learned this from my fifth grader german teacher when we were learning about German traditions. Okay, so, on St. Nick’s day — the 6th of December — German kids leave their shoes outside the door. Good kids get stuff like candy and toys, and bad kids get coal. But that’s not all bad kids get. German Santa goes into their bedrooms, and puts them in a burlap sack. And then he takes them out back and beats them — just beats them in the sack.” [She mimics the action she is describing]

 

Me: “Did you ever partake in this tradition?”

 

Audrey: “Well, I took part in American St. Nick’s day. I would leave my shoes by the fireplace… and I was never taken out back and beaten in a burlap sack, so I don’t know about that part. But I always got candy and toys in my shoes.”

 

My informant then noted that she vaguely remembers learning that German Santa had an assistant named “Krampus.” She didn’t have enough knowledge to talk about him, though.

 

Analysis

I am aware of the Krampus and the tradition of leaving out shoes, but I’ve never heard of Santa being the one that takes naughty children to be punished. The legend of German Santa seems to be used to scare children into behaving, much like many other fairy tales (Although, this is considered a legend instead of a tale because it takes place in the real world with questionable truth value).