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Muller, Schumacher, Hoffamann: the secrets behind German surnames

The invention of German surnames

The use of German surnames became popular during the Middle Ages (between the 10th and the 11th Century), with the purpose of identifying the social status of people. Surnames were selected – like everywhere else in the world – according to physical, working and family features. Using a surname was very useful for census surveys.

Only rich families could afford a surname                                                                                                                                                                

Originally, the surname was widely used and it was considered as a people’s first name. After that, surnames were used to recognize the families’ origin. Having a family name was a prerogative of rich families, only. During the 12th Century, the use of surnames spread all over Europe, becoming common use everywhere.

How surnames were chosen 

During the Middle Ages, Germany started to use surnames according to people’s professions. Let’s make an exemple: Meyer was first used for rather important and powerful people; it was later adopted with the meaning of “farmer”.

A list of the most famous German surnames and their translations

  • Wagner – a man who deals with means of transit
  • Becker/ Beck – Baker
  • Bauer/ Baumann – Peasant
  • Hoffmann – Farmer
  • Schulz/ Schulze/ Scholz – Mayor
  • Koch – Chef
  • Richter – Notary
  • Klein – Little
  • Wolf/ Wolff– Wolf
  • Schröder – Driver
  • Neumann – Newman
  • Braun – Brown
  • Werner – Defense army
  • Schwarz – Black
  • Schumacher/ Schubert/ Schuster – Shoemaker
  • Zimmermann – Carpenter
  • Weiss – White
  • Krüger – Potter
  • Lange – Long
  • König – King
  • Krause/ Kraus – a man with curly hair
  • Huber – Landowner
  • Frank/ Franke – a man who comes from Franconia
  • Lehmann – Servant
  • Keiser – Emperor
  • Fuchs – Fox
  • Herrmann – Warrior
  • Thomas – Twin
  • Peters – Stone (Greek origin)
  • Stein – Stone
  • Jung – Young
  • Berger – Pastor (French origin)
  • Martin – Belligerent (Latin origin)
  • Friedrich – Peaceful
  • Keller – Basement
  • Gross – Big
  • Hahn – Plumber
  • Roth – Red
  • Günther – Warrior (Scandinavian origin)
  • Vogel – Bird
  • Winkler – Nook
  • Lorenz – Laurentius (Latin origin)
  • Ludwig –Famous
  • Heinrich – A person who belongs to an important House
  • Otto – Heiresses
  • Simon – Simon (Jewish origin)
  • Graf – Lordship
  • Krämer – Trader
  • Böhm – someone from Bohemia
  • Winter – Winter
  • Haas – Rabbits Hunter
  • Sommer – Summer
  • Schreiber – Writer
  • Engel – Angel
  • Brandt – Fire
  • Busch – Bush
  • Horn – Horn
  • Arnold – someone strong like an Eagle
  • Bergmann – Miner
  • Pfeiffer – Piper
  • Sauer – Sour

Photo: Gellinger CC0

Franzbrötchen, the German croissant born as rebellion against French occupation

The flattened croissant: traditional pastry of northern Germany come from historical conflict

The Franzbrötchen – literally “french roll”- is a classic pastry of Hamburg commonly found in the northern Germany, including Berlin. It looks like a croissant, but has a flattened shape with more strong flavour due to the addition of cinnamon. Its birth can be trace back to the early 1800s and seems to be connected with the siege of Hamburg city by Napoleonic troops.

Born as “pacific rebellion”

During the French occupation (1810-14), Hamburg was pushed to modify its own confectionery tradition. Indeed, the Napoleonic troops, being nostalgic of homely taste, wanted local bakers to make croissant. However, the outcome was far enough away from the original pastry, as can be experienced tasting the Franzbrötchen. There are two possible explanations about it. The first one is that the German bakers weren’t good at recreate the softeness of French pastry, accustomed to use more heavy dough compared to. Based on Atlas Obscura, it could be another one which is much more sneaky.  Likely, Hamburg bakers pretend to misunderstand the French request and, as a gesture of “pacific rebellion”, supplying a “german-style croissants” to enemy soldiers, with addition of cinnamon.

The recipe

Without regard to different hypothesis, Franzbrötchen is still today an enjoyable pastry to bake and eat. We show you below a version of  its recipe.

Ingredients (6 serves):

For the dough:

  • 300 g flour
  • 1 egg
  • 35 g softened butter
  • 35 g white sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/4 small cube of fresh yeast
  • 125 ml warm milk

For the stuffing:

  • 35 g softened butter
  • 35 g white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions:

Combine flour, egg, butter, sugar and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk, then blend into the rest of the ingredients and knead until smooth. Cover and let rise about an hour. Next, roll out the dough on workbench and smear softened butter on the surface. Using a teaspoon, sprinkle a mix of sugar and cinnamon. Roll up onto itself and then cut transversely into slices with an angle of 45° in the shape form of trapezium. Place on baking sheet and slightly press in the middle of each section with handle of a wooden spoon. Bake in the oven at 180 °C for 20 minutes. Et voilà, ready to taste! 😉

Pexel  CCo creative commons

All you need to know about the German flag

The origin of the German flag

If you want to trace the birth of the German flag, you need to go back to the 18th century. During that period, Europe started to put together several former states. In the past, coats of arms were used to identify a dynasty or a land. Germany occupied a wide territory and was made of several members. Some of them were more powerful than others, like Prussia and Austria. Also, the Holy Roman Empire exerted a limited influence over the lands, ran by different dynasties. The German flag typically depicted in black, red and yellow as we know it, appeared for the first time in 1832. The selection of these three colours represented a choice made by patriots to identify themselves as a group with clear political ideas. However, this choice also reflected a sort of compromise among patriots; even if they were democrats, part of them regretted the Emperor’s leadership, the symbol of which consisted of a black eagle drawn on a yellow background. Red and black instead, stood for people who wanted to get rid of Napoleon’s authority.

Black, red and yellow: the German flag colours

The idea of a unified German state came out during the 19th century as a protest against the French emperor Napoleon I. During that period, new colours were selected, such as black, red and gold. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the former states refused to gather all the states under a single one; in a certain way, democracy was considered as a risk. German history recalls a revolutionary period between 1830 and 1870, when the industrial revolution was setting out, too. Unemployment, poverty and bad harvests were just a few reasons that put up several insurrections. The golden colour, which was widely used for flags, was replaced by yellow, which together with black and red, created a distinction between Nationalists and Democrats. Over the years, the flag became a symbol of the 1848 Revolution, the aim of which was to obtain democracy. When the revolution failed, colours were banned.

German reunification and flags of the new country

A unification became necessary to release Germany’s own economy and to avoid constraints and customs blocks. Prussia, which at the time was guided by Bismarck, pushed for freedom. Bismarck was a former politician, who worked to embitter political relations with Austria and marginalize it. Furthermore, he moved against France, which represented Germany’s historical enemy and also a major power of that period. In 1871 Germany was unified and Bismark chose new colours for the nascent state’s flag, such as black, white and red. Today’s colours of the German flag came into force in 1918 with the rise of the Republic and the Emperor abdication.

From Hitler’s period till nowadays

When Hitler rose to power in 1933, a new symbol thrust upon Germany. A black swastika with white and red colours in the background appeared. The third Reich colours were black, white and red. Ever since 1935, all symbols were forbidden with the exception of the Nazi one. With Germany’s division in 1949, DDR government adopted the classic flag colours (black, red and golden) adding three symbols: a hammer, which represented workers; a divider, which represented intellectuals; and a spike, which represented farmers. Germany Federal Republic adopted some colours without any symbols. After the unification, the last flag became today’s German flag.

Photo: marselelia CC0

 

Party in Berlin? Then, you should learn these 10 typical German expressions

Berlin is famous for its alternative and excessive night life as much as Hamburg and Cologne. The international newspaper Deutsche Welle points out some words we should know to get ready for a night out in the German capital city.

FEIERABEND

Ready for a wild night in town? First thing first, it’s important to be stress-free from work. And Germans have the right word to mean the end of a working day: Feierabend, which literally means “holiday evening”. Unless you are a professional DJ, not every day can end with a party. But every Feierabend, is a good chance to join one.

AUFBREZELN

After work, a pit stop at home is what you need to start your night in the best way. Especially if you’re planning to go to an elegant and chic party. In this case, you should “dress up to kill”. Aufbrezeln just means this. High heels and a touch of lipstick for girls and a fresh shirt for boys are the necessary requirements. You never know where the night will end up. You could meet someone interesting.

VORGLÜHEN

Going out in group can be both funny and cheap. Having a drink or maybe two or three with friends is a good excuse to break the ice. Vorglühen is the German word for this. German bier might not always be loved by everyone but you have to admit that after one or two bottles you feel your feet above the ground. And ready to conquer the world.

WEGBIER

If you take a bier with you before the party, you can call it Wegbier or “take away bier”. In Germany, drinking bier on the streets is legal, as long as you behave and keep yourselves together.

AFTER-WORK PARTY

The number of after-work parties is increasing in the last years. What seems to be a retirement party, it is an actual after work party.

TÜRSTEHER

If you are going to a chic area of Berlin and Hamburg, it’s necessary to pass the bouncers which in German are called “Türsteher”. It literally means “the one who stays at the door” and somehow, surveils it.

AUF EX

If your German friends tell you to finish your drink “auf ex”, you better be ready to what is going to happen next. It believed to come from Latin but there is no document to prove it. Although, the translation is clear: kill your drink in one sip.

DÄMMERUNG

It’s the moment between day and night. And between night and day. So the beginning and the end of the day in one word. And if it was a cool night, it’s more likely that it will finish in the Dammerung.

NACHTSCHWÄRMER

The moment between twilight and down is when the night owls come out from their caves, offices and houses and head to bars, pubs and clubs. In one hand, residents complain about the screams and noise in the night. But in the other hand, bars’owners and taxi drivers thank the NachtSCHWÄRMER for their contribute to the city’s finance.

KATER

The term has two meanings and somehow, a bit ambuguous. Kater is the German version of ‘male cat’ but it means ‘hangover’ as well. The feeling that everyone knows after a wild night out. Also, Kater, comes from the Greek word ‘catarrh’. Which seems weird. The right English word is Hangover but, anyway, who cares about the meaning? Especially after an amazing night.

 

10 indispensable dialectal terms if you are in Bavaria

A rich region, cities full of history, gorgeous forests, and beer flowing to rivers. These are just some of the reasons why a visit to Bavaria is a must. As a nice article by The Local recalls, Bavaria is a bit of a world in itself and, as such, it has its own specific language: Bairisch (or Boarisch, in Austro-Bavarian).

Incomprehensible to the profane – even those not fasting from Hochdeutsch, the German standard – Bavarian dialect is an indispensable element to live fully in Munich and the surrounding area. Here, there are newspapers and television broadcasts in Bairisch, which are sometimes hard to understand even for a northern German, and certain terms, at least the basic ones, can be useful for getting in touch with locals more easily. We chose ten of them, just to give you an idea.

 

Medieval greetings: Grüß Gott and Servus.

The Bavarians have their own way to greet each other. Forget the Hallo and Guten Tags that you learned in school and unlock the religious Grüß Gott, literally “greeting God”, but translatable as “good morning” or “hello”. Or, if you want some other feudal suggestion, you can use Servus, literally “slave”. A greeting formula that can be used even to say goodbye to someone.

 

Buam and Madln, ladies and gentlemen.

Sometimes you can find these two terms on the toilet door, and if you miss the pictures, you may get confused. So, better to know that Buam is used for men, Madln for ladies.

Dirndl and Lederhosen: the traditional clothes.

You will have seen them a thousand times, at the Oktoberfest or any in any stereotyped representation of Bavaria, but you never remember the precise name. Well, the Dirndl is the typical gown of the Bavarian (and also Austrian) ladies, while the Lederhosen (which, strictly speaking, is not a dialectical term) are the traditional leather pants worn by the young.

Fesch, or “attractive” or even “fresh”

It is the equivalent of the German standard hübsch. You could, for example, hear it in conjunction with Madl in a phrase like Ja mei, was für ein fesches Madl ! : “What a beautiful girl!”

 

Schmarrn, if someone says nonsense.

The Schmarrn (or Schmarren) is originally a dish (similar to a pancake) but, figuratively, it is also used as a derogatory expression, to mean “nonsense”, when someone is saying something unwise or fake .

 

The equivalent of oder: Gell.

As you may know if you have been living somewhere in Germany, Germans usually used “oder?” or more colloquially, “ne?” at the end of the sentence to stimulate the response of others. It is the equivalent of our “or not?”, “is not it?” Even in this case the Bavarians stand out, and their particle for this function is “gell”.

 

I mog di, or “I like you”.

f you are talking to a Buam or a Madln really fesch and want to declare it, you will need to use these simple words: I mog di, “I like you”. It will not be too hard to remember, given the similarity with the Hochdeutsch, Ich mag dich.

When you leave: Pfiat of.

Probably, in your opinion, you will be accustomed to the classic Tschüß or Hello. In Bavaria, they use as usual a formula that has a religious etymology: Pfiat of, which literally meant “God Protect You”. Anyways it is a nice way to say hello, right?

 

Give your consent: freilich.

Those who live in northern Germany, you will be used to give your consent or approval after a question by using terms like natürlich – of course – or selbstverständlich – obviously, of course. In Bavaria you will need to reset on freilich. A bit of patience.

 

Maß, the Bavarian beer unit.

To what do you think it equates to? One liter, of course. Do not try to get a beer below the Maß, or you might as well not drink at all.

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Germans and English? They are very good, but not all of Germany is Hamburg or Berlin

For many foreigners coming to Germany without any knowledge of the language, it is quite reassuring to know that worst comes to worst they can rely on English. It won’t take long to realize that a lot of Germans speak it very well considering that it is their second language (better than Italians, to pick an example). Concurring to a study released by Education First (EF), Germans belong to the global Top 10 ranking for the best non-native english speakers, establishing themselves at the 9th place out of 72 countries taken into considerations. According to the research the average knowledge of English in Germany reaches the B1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference.

The most diligent Lands

Education First praised the efforts of Germany to better the standards of the last decades, with positive and encouraging results due in particular to the introduction of mandatory English classes in schools. Even Germany could however better its standards and reach a B2 level, just like Holland, which is ranked first. Moreover from the study it has emerged that the level of knowledge of English varies considerably according to regions and gender. The standard levels of knowledge of English are better in the north-western regions, led by Hamburg and soon after followed by Bremen and lower Saxony. Amongst the most english – friendly cities we also find Berlin, whereas the regions that have registered the worst levels of knowledge of the language are those confining with France, which prioritize French as a second mandatory language. The Saarland is in fact the Land that had the worst result.

© EF

Women know better: Regarding gender differences, women have demonstrated to be more fluent in English.

Cover photo © Flickr – Sascha Kohlmann CC BY SA 2.0 Man, Linkin Park, Teddy


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