Tag Archives: german

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.

German Proverb: Shirts Without Pockets

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: “I grew up with a lot of proverbs. My great-grandma’s favorite saying was das letzte Hemd hat keine Taschen, and it translates to ‘your last shirt has no pockets,’ which means you can’t take anything with you when you die. She said it every night before she went to sleep, and I feel like it says something about German culture.”

Analysis: My friend frequently talks about her family’s struggles growing up in Post-War East Germany, and I think this proverb in particular is strengthened by that context. This proverb is particularly anti-materialistic, and I think her great-grandmother saying it as a nightly sort of ritual is indicative of an ideal or desired mentality as reflective of a larger societal belief or priority. Its brevity makes it memorable, and I can imagine that the daily ritual of it indicates that choosing the anti-materialistic route was not instinctual, or always desired.

German Proverb: Day Before 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: “Oh wait, and there’s also Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend Ioben which directly translates to ‘you can’t praise the day before the night’ so like you can’t say that something is good before the entirety of it is done because you never know what can still happen.”

Analysis: Based on my conversations with my friend, I think this proverb reflects a lot of the cultural values she was instilled with growing up–delayed gratification in some ways, a more conservative view on upcoming events and occurrences, a general sense of wariness that would be logical with Germany’s history. The realistic interpretation of the proverb in conjunction with its metaphorical meaning make its double entendre more significant.

German Easter-Water Ritual

Context:

HH is a retired former housewife who lives in a Westergellersen, a very small village in northern Germany.

Main Piece:

“Am Ostersonntag holen Frauen Wasser aus einer Quelle. Sie dürfen dabei nicht gesehen werden und es darf währenddessen nicht gesprochen werden. Dem Wasser werden heilende Kräfte nachgesagt und es soll die Fruchtbarkeit fördern. Mädchen erhoffen sich Schönheit und Verliebte bespritzen ihren Traumpartner mit dem Osterwasser um diesen für sich zu gewinnen.”

Translation:

On Easter Sunday, the women get water from the spring. They are not allowed to be seen during this and it is not allowed to speak. The water is said to have healing powers and is supposed to promote fertility. Girls wish beauty for themselves and those in love spray their dream partner with the Easter Water to win him for themselves.

Analysis:

This tradition follows step with Easter’s general association with fertility. The women gathering the water in silence, without being allowed to be seen, also aligns with some marriage customs that deal with purity. Since this custom was collected from Westergellersen, a very rural German village, from a grandmother who participated in this ritual when she was young, it follows that societal standards around purity, fertility, and gender roles were much more strict and strongly enforced than they are now.

Spraying the Easter Water on the subject of affection is a form of magic folk belief that falls into the Homeopathic category. I interpret the Easter Water to be symbolic of fertility, as Easter, also connected to eggs and bunnies/rabbits, has a general thematic connection with fertility. So, splashing a potential partner with Easter Water creates a metaphor for the future fertility of the relationship. This metaphor arguably even symbolizes a reversal of the typical conception process, as here, the woman splashes the man with a fertile liquid instead of the other way around.