Tag Archives: german

German Local Legend

Nationality: American
Primary language: English
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: Seattle, WA


There’s a mountain range in southern Germany in which, during springtime, there are many waterfalls and fast rivers. There was once a farmer traveling with his cows at the top of the mountain. Suddenly, one of his cows was swept away into the river. He looked for the cow, but couldn’t find it. Later, people further down the mountain suddenly saw the cow shoot out of the waterfall. To this day, whenever you pass by that waterfall, people tell this story, saying, “A cow once shot out of this waterfall.” There’s even a sign about it next to the waterfall!


BW was 10 or 11 when she heard this story. She was a military brat, and when her father was stationed in Germany, the military base she was staying at had a hotel nearby. BW’s family visited and hiked in the mountains during their stay. BW heard this story from a tour guide or a local who knew the area well. She doubts that this was a true story, and thinks it was probably a silly way to encourage people to use caution around waterfalls. She also notes that there were quite a few waterfall caverns in this mountain range, so perhaps this was a way for locals to add lore to a notable geographical landmark.


Legends always have unknown truth value, and often tell us about people’s values and fears. This particular German legend seems “untrue,” but whether or not a cow shooting out of a waterfall is possible isn’t relevant for the area this story belongs to. The inclusion of a farmer and his cows as the main figures of the story are notable, hinting that this area did or does value agriculture and require farming jobs. After all, legends take place in the real past or present, not a fantastical world. More interesting, though, is what’s at the heart of the story: the loss of the farmer’s cow to the waterfall. I believe that this represents the way in which nature is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Weather in the mountains can be harsh, and I imagine that snow, rain, wind, and other conditions would make growing crops and living in a mountain range a difficult endeavor. The farmer’s loss of his cow demonstrates the way in which people trying to live in this mountain range might lose precious resources in unpredictable ways to the climate around them. However, this legend has an amusing end, with the cow returning to fly out of the waterfall. This is a humorous image–cows aren’t supposed to fly out of waterfalls!–and according to BW is used as a fun tidbit. I believe that this is a way for residents of this German mountain range to make light of their fears about nature and loss. The possibility of losing precious resources without warning is scary, but this legend makes it seem less so. Additionally, the potential survival and return of the cow from the waterfall is hopeful, implying that the residents of this mountain range want to stay optimistic even in the midst of hard times.

New Year’s Day Pork, Sauerkraut, and Donuts

CONTEXT: JM is a third year USC student from Pennsylvania. He describes a tradition he learned from his mom to mark the new year (Jan 1). He reflects fondly on the tradition, though he expresses that he didn’t really understand why they did it.


JM: On New Year’s Day, my mom would make us eat donuts in the morning for good luck and for dinner we would always have pork and sauerkraut. I think it’s a German thing but I’m not entirely sure why. So breakfast was donuts and dinner was pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. I think you’re technically supposed to eat the donut at New Year’s Eve, but my mom always gave it to us in the morning. She’s Italian, but I think her dad’s side is German and that’s where it came from.

ANALYSIS: This is a foodway, and a celebration and marker of the start of a new calendar year. JM believes this tradition follows German tradition that his mother inherited from her family. I have heard of donuts and pork and sauerkraut being eaten in Germany for good luck. This also makes it a tradition that brings family together, both when it is eaten, and across generations. Eating pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day is also practiced by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities, commonly in the region where JM is from. Both foods are eaten for good luck, which is a superstition associated with the calendar year- starting new.

Proverb:  “Mit dem Hut in der Hand kommt man durch das ganze Land.” 

Context: The interviewee, S, is 18 years old and they were raised in Dusseldorf, Germany. Their mother had taught them this German proverb when they were young. The English translation of this proverb is “with hat in hand, you can go through all the land” and S told me that it basically means to be polite and everyone will be nice back because tipping your hat is a gesture of politeness. 

Analysis: I wasn’t able to find when and where the proverb originated from, and S also did not know, only that it’s a common German proverb in the city where they grew up. I think it’s quite an interesting proverb and it makes a lot of sense to me. I interpret it as not holding your chin up too high and thinking you’re better than everyone else around you but instead staying humble and grounded, which will help you lead a much more fruitful and insightful life. I have always learned to not wear hats inside because it’s a sign of disrespect to the people around you, so by having your hat in your hand, you are communicating that you’re giving all of your attention to the room and the people in it. 

German Proverb: Cats in the Night

Background: My friend, ZK, comes from a German family and is bilingual in English and German. I asked her if she knew any German proverbs, and this was her response:

ZK: “Another proverb I know is In der Nacht sind alle Katzen grau, and that translates to ‘in the night all the cats are grey’ which means at night people are no longer individuals because they all look the same.”

Analysis: This proverb is interesting because I think it speaks a lot to a collectivist identity. Similar to the themes of the other proverbs about anti-materiality and delayed gratification, it appears that German proverbs shoot for the long-term goals–in the end, most of what you’re currently doing will be irrelevant, and so constantly having a sense of the big picture appears to be important here, and these proverbs are intended to prevent people from losing focus here.

German Proverb: Bandaid is Sand

Background: My friend, ZK, comes from a German family and is bilingual in English and German. I asked her if she knew any German proverbs, and this was her response:

ZK: “The last proverb I can come up with is Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand, which translates to ‘under the bandaid is the sand,’ so like under the hard things there is something better but you can’t get to it.”

Analysis: As is the theme with all of the German proverbs my friend told me about, there’s a highly prevalent degree of delayed gratification here, a prioritization of hard work, sacrifice, and eventual payoff (hopefully). It’s also interesting how most of these proverbs fall under a pessimistic mentality–if the goal is to if not inspire, at least offer wisdom for future generations, that wisdom appears to be coming out of some incredibly jaded mouths. Which, once again, would make sense given Germany’s history.