USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘germany’
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Legends

Wanda

Informant IT is a sophomore studying Computer Science and Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She is of Polish descent and has lived in many parts of the world. She is fluent in several languages including Polish, English, and Mandarin, and she considers herself very good at learning languages. In this piece, she tells the interviewer (AK), about a Polish legend about a very beautiful Polish queen. This piece is not as well-known, but it is indicative of the Polish spirit.

IT: This story is interesting, because it gives an insight so I don’t know how much about the history or Poland, but it’s located to the east of germany, so it’s kind of the most western of easter Europe and it’s kind of the center of Eastern Europe with Germany and all of those countries. And it’s been fought over for many many centuries, the land itself. So there’s always been and the reason why it’s still stuck together for such a long time and still exists today through all these troubles is because people have always had a huge sense of nationalism and so the story is called Wanda. And it’s this story of this Polish Queen … who I don’t think, I doubt she ever existed. She might have. Who ruled Poland and she was a single young beautiful girl and she was living in a Polish castle. And the King of Germany… you know noticed this and he noticed how beautiful the lands of Poland were. And he was like well, it’s only this one girl ruling it and I could really take advantage of it. And I would love to take her as my wife, so he sent several soldiers over as messengers from Germany to the castle in Poland with the message to her saying that “either you marry me and give me the lands of Poland as the dowry, or I wage war against Poland.” And the Polish had been fighting many wars, so their army you know … was very down. They just couldn’t stand a match against Germany. In the end she had decided that she would drown herself and kill herself instead of giving over Poland to Germany and marrying this guy. So she killed herself and drowned herself in the Vistula River, which is like a big … also has a lot of historical significance. So she would have rather killed herself than give the German control of Poland.

AK: So is she like a memorialized figure and seen as a hero?

IT: Not really, because it’s kind of like a legend you know. I don’t know if it ever actually happened. This one I would say isn’t as well known as the other story I told you. Still most people would know it, but it’s more kind of just … I just don’t know if she was ever actually a queen.

AK: So I guess it’s just part of the Polish cultural identity.

IT: Yeah, and it invokes a huge sense of nationalism. Even in the Polish national anthem … umm (laughs) I have to remember it. As long as we are here and we love Poland and we love each other, Poland will still be here.

I found this piece of folklore to be very unique from most that I had heard. For one, this was one of the few folklore that featured a woman as the main protagonist and ruler of the land. I found this to be a very progressive stance for Poland, and I’m glad this story represents a part of their national fabric. I also found this story to be unique because it didn’t really portray Poland in the best light. It demonstrated that Poland couldn’t really stand up to Germany. Their only option was to pick between two terrible options. I guess the act of sacrificing herself is indicative of the bold spirit and courage Polish people probably seek to embody.

For another version of this legend, see  http://www.anglik.net/polish_legends_wanda.htm

Customs
Foodways
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Eye Contact Following a Toast in Germany

The informant is a 51-year-old international businessman who has frequently traveled across Europe and Asia to meet with clients for the past 20 years.

Over a relaxed nine holes of golf, I asked the informant if there were any dining customs or etiquette that have stood out to him throughout his travels. He went into detail about proper German etiquette when enjoying a drink with friends, family, or business connections.

“It’s always a great time drinking in Germany, especially for a beer connoisseur like myself. Whenever I’m out to lunch or dinner for a business meeting, we always grab a beer and make a toast before drinking. Usually the toast is just to a successful partnership in the future, or to health and happiness. What you’d expect. One thing that’s really important following this toast is that you look whoever it is you’re drinking with in the eye when you ‘cheers.’ It is considered extremely rude not to. They joke that if you fail to look someone in the eye it means seven years of bad sex, but what it would really result in is whoever you’re with thinking that you’ve been dishonest or are hiding something from them.”

This German custom of looking someone in the eye reveals that in German custom, authenticity and personal connection are important. Toasts usually follow a celebration or accomplishment of some kind, and so eye contact can be seen as a way of solidifying whatever the toast was made to. If one man makes a toast to good health and the other fails to look him in the eye, then the ma who made that toast may begin to wonder whether the other is hoping for him to become ill. The superstition that failing to make eye contact will lead to seven years of bad sex is a playful way of reminding Germans of this custom, or of highlighting its importance to foreigners. I thought that this particular folkway made a lot of sense, given the intimate nature of a toast and taking into account the context in which the informant learned of it. Since the informant is often out to eat with business connections and is working to create a professional relationship, it is important that he look his German clients in the eye to let them know that he is understanding of their culture and that they can trust his word and that he will honor their negotiations.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Easter Lamb Cake

*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.

Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”

The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.

Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Oktoberfest

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

I asked Julian about Oktoberfest and our family history of celebrating it.

Julian: “I like Oktoberfest. It’s fun. It’s not a day like most people think – it’s like two and a half weeks. In Germany, people celebrate for a long time.”

I ask Julian if he remembers what Oktoberfest is about.

Julian: “It’s just a festival – I think. It was the marriage festival for German King [King Ludwig I] in the early 1800’s. It was so fun that people never stopped celebrating it. There’s a lot of music and dancing. And beer. (laughs)”

I ask Julian what Oktoberfest means to him.

Julian: “It means booze! (laughs) I’m joking, I’m kidding. It’s when grandma and grandpa [our mom's side] and all of Dad’s friends come over here. We have a party. And I get a glass.”

Since we both turned thirteen, our parents give us a glass each year so that we don’t feel left out during the annual party. It’s not a lot of beer, but it’s meant to keep us cheerful.

I ask Julian why our family celebrates Oktoberfest like we do.

Julian: “Well, it’s more like a get-together. Our grandparents all came from Germany, so it’s a fun way to celebrate our heritage. Yeah it’s just fun, I guess. It’s about celebrating family and friends. I mean, it’s the only time other than Christmas when we’re all here together.”

“We only celebrate it for a day, but it’s a unique sorta celebration.”

Summary

My family celebrates the German Festival of Oktoberfest once a year by throwing an annual house party. Though it’s not celebrated in the *authentic* German way, it’s meant to be a fun way of touching our heritage.

Oktoberfest isn’t that complex of a festival; it’s not steeped in religious tradition, but it carries a sort of nationalistic pride. My parents are both second-generation German folk, meaning their parents came from the motherland. My parents were raised observing Germanic traditions and to them, this is a way of giving back. My family celebrates Oktoberfest the same way others celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Mardi Gras, but we do it with the idea of uniting both family and friends.

 

Foodways

Stollen – Traditional German Sweet Bread

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

My brother commented on a food tradition he picked up on.

Julian: “Every Christmas our Mom makes the same dish every year. It’s called Stollen, and it’s a traditional German sweet bread. It’s tastes like a crunchy fruitcake, but it’s not bad. Mom’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped her make it before, so I think I can tell you what goes into it.”

“Stollen is made out of dried fruit, cake mix, marzipan, nuts, and gets powdered sugar thrown on top.”

“From what other people tell me, it’s sort of an acquired taste. I can imagine why, but I just like it a lot so I don’t really care what other people think. My mom got the recipe from her mother and so on so forth.”

Summary:

Stollen is a traditional German Sweetbread eaten as an alternative to fruitcake.

I one-hundred percent agree with my brother here. Stollen is a delicious food. Everybody’s always got that one thing they like that’s traditional. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it has that familiar flavor that just keeps you coming back. 

 

Customs
Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Tradition: Sylvester/ New Year Celebrations

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So for Sylvester, in every major city, and pretty much all of Germany, you are allowed to shoot fireworks at the turn of midnight.  And this day is a holiday, but some shops are open like, until 6:00pm.  And then people will go to their houses, or friend’s houses, or even parties. But usually first, the evening starts with a dinner. Like, not just with your close family, but it is with your friends too.”

Interviewer: “And why do they call New Years ‘Sylvester’?”

Informant: “I have no idea, I mean I never thought of it as ‘New Years’. It is just the name we gave it.  I think it is some religious guy… Oh! And on Sylvester everyone always watches Dinner for One.  It is one of these things where you have a certain tradition, and you don’t really know where it comes from but you grow up with.  And Dinner for One is a common thing for Sylvester because the butler in the show keeps saying ‘same procedure as every year?’ So he is referring to the routine, and that some things don’t change even though the year changes.  I don’t know, it’s just one of these traditions that you don’t know where they come from, but you grew up with them so you don’t really question them.  So yeah.”

Analysis:

Much like in America, Germany celebrates New Years by partaking in special events such as the shooting of fireworks at midnight and spending time with friends and family.  On New Years it is important to spend time with friends and family because it is a way of expressing to them that you appreciate and love them, and you want them to be in your life at the start of the new year.  This indicates that you are wishing your relationship with them to extend into the new year, and many years afterwards.  The shooting off of fireworks is a sign of celebration, much like it is in America.  However a difference I noticed when I celebrated New Years with my informant was that in Germany people are allowed to fire the big fireworks, but where I am from in America only city workers are allowed to shoot off the big fireworks because it is considered too dangerous for other people to do.  Even though firework regulations change based on where you are in America, the fact that there are not as many regulations on fireworks in Germany indicates that the German government probably trusts it’s people with the explosives more than the American government does with their people.

In Germany, ‘New Years’ is referred to as Sylvester.  My informant was not sure as to why this is, which indicates that the tradition of calling ‘New Years’ ‘Sylvester’ comes from old, long forgotten beliefs. In my research I discovered that the term ‘Sylvester’ is of Isreali origin because that is what the Isreali people call the New Years celebration.  Sylvester was the name of the ‘saint’ and Roman Pope who was in charge of the Catholic church during the 4th century.  Pope Sylvester is best known for convincing Constantine to forbid Jews from living in Jerusalem.   All Catholic ‘Saints’ are awarded the day Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory, and December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day.  Due to the anti-Semitic tone of this legend, perhaps one of the reasons why my informant was not aware of the true origin of Saint Sylvester Day was because Germany has been very careful to distance themselves from their negative history in WWII and the Holocaust.

The final Sylvester tradition my informant mentioned was watching Dinner for One every year.  This english film is played every hour on television during Sylvester and it is very popular in Germany because as my informant pointed out, it reflects on the idea that even though things are changing there are some things in life that will always remain.  Some people feel anxiety towards change, therefore I can understand how in this idea that there is “the same procedure every year” is reassuring to those fearful of change.  The film is especially popular among the wealthier German class because there are jokes in the film that only the wealthy would understand, such as the knowledge of serving the right kind of alcoholic drink with the food.  This comes from upper class dining beliefs that for example, port is an after dinner drink therefore it should be served with the final dish, fruit.  The film is also in English, which is a language that only educated German people would understand.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

Watch Dinner for One:

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

German Tradition: Saint Nikolaus Day

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So Saint Nikolaus Day is on the 6th of December. And that is just Germany though, and I’m not sure about other European countries.  I know that for example, people in Spain do it on the 6th of January.  I don’t know why we choose that date, I’m sure it has some religious background, as everything in that time. But I don’t know why we celebrate it in December and not January.  Maybe it is to get people excited for Christmas. It’s kind of the beginning, like the very first Christmas event.  So when St. Nikolaus Day arrives, everybody is getting into the Christmas mood. And it somehow commences the Christmas time. So on the evening of the 5th of December, children have to clean their shoes, like their boots, and place them on the windowsill. But only very clean shoes are allowed to be on there.”

Interviewer: “And that is to show that the children are good children?”

Informant: “Well yeah, that is part of it. And you clean you shoes to ask St. Nikolaus to put small treats inside, overnight. So on the 5th of December, children place their shoes there and go to bed. And on the 6th in the morning, they wake up and check their boots to see if something has been put in there. Usually, if the children have behaved fine over the year, St. Nikolaus brings treats. But they are special treats… like walnuts, and also oranges, the small ones… clementines? And also some chocolate stuff.  And if you are bad, you would get sticks and stuff. I don’t know, I never had that. But they have a special name… a rod? And that would be to express that the child was misbehaving.  And St. Nikolaus Day is only for children.  Oh! And you can put spices on the oranges, like cinnamon or nutmeg? And it is arranged in small stars, like they put stars on the oranges.  And usually the boots are supposed to be red boots.”

Interviewer: “Why red?”

Informant: ” I have no idea. Probably the same reason… that the Christmas man… how is he called?”

Interviewer: “Santa Claus.”

Informant: “Santa Claus! Right. Because he is wearing a red coat.”

Analysis:

Saint Nikolaus Day is very similar to the tradition we have in America of hanging stockings over the fireplaces to get little gifts from Santa Claus.  Much like our stocking tradition, Saint Nikolaus Day puts a high emphasis on rewarding good children and punishing bad children.  In both traditions, good children receive gifts for their good behavior and bad children receive something that is symbolic of their naughty behavior such as coal in American tradition or a rod, which is used to spank bad children, in German tradition.  Saint Nikolaus is essentially the German version of Santa Claus.

In addition to what my informant told me, I also found some more interesting information on the legend in my research.  Saint Nikolaus, or Saint Nicholas as he is commonly called, was known to leave coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.  Sometimes a Saint Nikolaus impersonator would visit children at their school or at their home and ask them if they had been good, helpful, and polite.  The impersonator would then check his golden book to for the child’s record to see if they were right.  This is much like our idea that Santa Claus is ‘making a list, checking it twice, and he’s gonna find out who’s naught and nice’.  During the interview I asked if she knew about the Krampus, which is a demon who accompanies Saint Nikolaus and takes away naughty children to eat them for Christmas dinner.  She said she had never heard of the Krampus before.  I thought this was odd because I was sure that the Krampus was a German legend, but I was only half right.  The Krampus is legend found in the Alpine regions of Europe such as Austria and has it’s roots in Germanic folklore, which is why I thought the Krampus was a part of German tradition.

In my research I was not able to determine why the 6th of December is the chosen date for Saint Nikolaus Day, but I agree with what my informant said about Saint Nikolaus Day marking the start of the Christmas season.  In America we seem to start Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, because this is when people generally start shopping for Christmas gifts.  I do not know why Saint Nikolaus Day is done earlier than Americans version of the day, which is on Christmas Day when children open their stockings that they had set out the night before on December 24th.  However I agree with her in that Saint Nikolaus Day is a great way to start of the Christmas spirit and get into the gift giving mood.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

Childhood
Customs
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

German Tradition: Schultüte (School Cone)

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “I don’t know if you have this in the States, but we get school cones. Do you know what that is? Well, you know how a cone is where you put ice cream inside? And we get massive ones on our first day of school, but filled with gifts.”

Interviewer: “And what is in these cones?”

Informant: “Mostly presents of any type.  It can be sweets, it can be stuff for school, it can basically be pretty much everything.”

Interviewer: “And are these presents supposed to make students feel better about having to go back to school?”

Informant: “No, no. This is only on the very first day, when everyone is super excited anyways. And it’s just to make the start even more special.  And then it’s usually grandparents and everybody coming to the school and we have a big ceremony where the classes are announced and who is in which class, with which teacher and stuff. Yeah, it’s actually sweet.  And in my family we went out for lunch later, and we just ate. So that is what I did.”

Interviewer: “What are they called, the cone things in German?”

Informant: “School cone, schultüte.”

Analysis:

Schultüte translates into English as ‘school bag’, even though the object is in a cone shape.  A Schultüte is a cone shaped cardboard cup filled with things such as chocolates, small gifts, and practical gifts for school like pencils or crayons.  These are given to children in Germany and Austria by parents and grandparents on their first day of school, especially upon entering kindergarden.  This tradition appears to only be for younger children.  The tradition first appeared in the early 19th century in Germany.  It first began in the bigger cities, but the tradition soon spread to the rural areas of Germany and is now a common custom in Germany and Austria today. When the tradition first began, the school cones were not directly given to the children as they are today.  Children’s names were written on the cones, and then were hung from a metal Schultüten-Baum or ‘school cone tree’.  The children had to then pick the school cones off the trees without breaking them. There is a story connected to this that says adults would say to the children that if the school cone tree was ripe with school cones, than it was time to start school.

I am not sure what the connection to fruit growing on trees is for the school cones, but the cones represent an initiation for children to start the new year of school.  In my research I found that my first response to the reason why school cones are given, which is to make the children less nervous about going back to school, was just as reasonable as my informant’s reasoning that it was just part of making that day even more special.  The first day of school is full of all kinds of anxieties that come from starting a new school year with a new teacher and new courses.  School cones are given to the children to help create an atmosphere of celebration, which makes the anxieties of change more bearable to children because the gifts make the day more exciting.  I don’t know why this tradition has not spread to other countries, perhaps because it is a relatively new tradition compared to other traditions we see in folklore.  I like the idea of turning the first day of school into a celebration because it makes education special in the minds of the children due to this kind of positive association with the start of school and gifts.  This is not to say that in America we think of education differently than than they do in German culture, but the first day of school can bring about anxiety to children because things are unfamiliar to them.  Therefore creating a happy atmosphere would be a great way to dispel any feelings of nervousness that the children feel.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

Customs
Foodways
Material

German Recipe: Curry Wurst

German Curry Wurst Recipe:

Ingredients: 

Ketchup, 10 tablespoons

Water, 5 tablespoons

Salt, ½ teaspoon

Pepper, 1 teaspoon

Paprika Powder, 1/2 tablespoon

Cayenne Pepper, to taste

Chili Sauce, 1 1/4 tablespoons

Curry Powder, 1 tablespoons

Sugar, 1 tablespoon

Bratwurst sausages

Instructions:

First, cook your sausages on either a grill or pan if you don’t have a grill.  Once the sausages are done cooking, set them aside.  In a saucepan add ketchup, stir in 4-5 tablespoons of water and boil while stirring. Remove from the heat and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili, curry powder and a little sugar if necessary. Serve hot!

(Warning: SPICY!)

Analysis:

When I first traveled to Germany, I really wanted to try some local cuisine.  My informant suggested that I try curry wurst, because the fast food dish is very popular and she thought I would like it.  I had curry wurst for the first time at a small open air market in Berlin.  There were all kinds of condiments you could add to the curry wurst such as mayonnaise and hot sauce.  The curry wurst was also sold with potatoes, french fries, and white bread rolls which you would use to dip in the extra sauce.  My informant told me that Berliners normally get white bread rolls with their curry wurst, and I wanted to do ‘the local thing’ so I got a bread roll to go with my snack.  To me, doing things as they locals do them when I travel is my way of trying to get an understanding for the culture.  I hoped that in trying many different types of  German food, I could get an understanding of what kinds of foods Germans like.  Are they the kind of culture that likes spicy, savory, or sweet foods?  German food seems to be a good combination of all those food tastes, like the sweet taste of apple strudel, the savory flavor of potato dumplings, and the spicy kick of curry wurst.  I ended up loving the food so much that I asked the informant’s mother for a curry wurst recipe that I could take back to America with me.  I think the recipe is very close to what I had at the market in Berlin, but of course nothing can compare to the real thing.

The invention of curry wurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer, who created the sauce in 1949 when she obtained ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and curry powder from British soldiers in Berlin.  Her recipe soon became very popular and her stand was selling as much as 10,000 servings per week. Heuwer patented the recipe as ‘Chillup’ in 1951 and started her own restaurant.  Today curry wurst stands can be see all over the major cities of Germany, and they are a popular form of fast food for tourists and Germans.

My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany.  She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree.  She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.

[geolocation]