Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hawk or Buzzard?

This is as much a language post as a bit about certain birds of prey. And as language goes, part of it concerns “two countries separated by a common language.”

In the Facebook group “Scotland from the Roadside” members frequently post photos of birds of prey – Kestrels (Turmfalken), sparrowhawks (Sperber), golden eagles and white-tailed eagles (Steinadler und Seeadler), red kites (Rotmilane) and common buzzards (Mäusebussarde). Inevitably when a Scot posts a photo of a buzzard, the discussion begins.

Common buzzard (Buteo buteo)
Credit: Andrew Fuller

Scot: Buzzard on a post/in flight/sat in a tree.

Amer: That’s not a buzzard, it’s a hawk.

Scot: It’s a common buzzard.

Amer: I know what a buzzard looks like, and that beautiful bird is not a buzzard.

Scot: No really, it’s a buzzard. Buteo buteo.

Amer: Huh?

Harris hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)
Germans also call this a Wüstenbussard ("dessert buzzard")

In one discussion I’ll never forget, the American insisted he had spent his whole life around birds of prey, and the buzzard in the photo was definitely a hawk. In the end he looked it up and realized the truth of what I’m about to tell you, and ended with, “I surrender. Would you like my sword, Sir?”

That is the best capitulation I have ever read. Chapeau, my fellow American!

So who’s right??

It could be argued that they both are, but not equally so. The common buzzard is indeed a buzzard. Why do Americans get confused by this every time? Because Americans call vultures “buzzards.” For clarity, we need to look at the classifications of the birds in Latin.

This not a buzzard, it's a vulture.
Photo credit: M
Buteo = buzzard

Parabuteo = sort of a buzzard

Accipiter = hawk

Cathartes = vulture

Common buzzard = Buteo buteo = Mäusebussard (not native in the Americas)

Harris hawk = Parabuteo Unicinctus = Wüstenbussard (native only in the Americas, popular in European falconry)

Red-tailed hawk = Buteo jamaicensis = Rotschwanzbussard (most common "hawk" in the Americas)

Cooper’s hawk = Accipiter cooperil = Rundschwanzsperber ("round-tailed sparrowhawk")

"Turkey buzzard" = Cathartes aura = Truthahngeier


But don’t get distracted by the English names or the American common usage. We Americans call vultures buzzards, though they are not. Try it – google “turkey buzzard,” the one most Americans have heard of. Wikipedia will correct you and take you to the “turkey vulture” page. They are not buzzards, they are vultures.

Hawks and buzzards (in the European understanding) are both members of the Accipitridae family of raptors, which in German is "Habichtartige" (hawk-like). The genus is where they split into buzzards (Buteo) and hawks (Accipiter). The vultures native to the Americas - New World vultures, such as the turkey vulture - already split from other raptors at the classification level of order. They are raptors, but they are not buzzards, regardless of what they are commonly called.

(Kingdom - Phylum - Class - Order - Family - Genus - Species)

Frankly, the buteo buteo are beautiful birds regardless of what people call them. But since this comes up nearly every time an American hears or sees a European call this bird a "buzzard," I thought I'd throw some light onto this confusion.

By now each time I see on the Scotland group that a Scot has posted a photo of a beautiful common buzzard, I mention it to M, who, like Douglas Adams’ pot of petunias, says, “Oh no, not again.” 😊

Some of the other birds mentioned above:

Kestrel (falco tinnunculusTurmfalke)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus; Sperber) in our neighbor's tree

White-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla; Seeadler), Isle of Mull

Red kite (Milvus milvus; Rotmilan)

Back to the wildlife photography I've seen in the Scotland Facebook group, do check out Andrew Fuller's portfolio of photos from the Outer Hebrides and elsewhere! Truly breathtaking.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Knock Knock

There was an informative article in this month’s state hunting magazine about how to handle a visit from the Waffenbehörde (weapon authorities). I’m blogging about this to show how differently gun ownership is handled in Germany. What’s it like in Wisconsin? There is no national gun registry and there are no laws about how to store guns as far as I know, so what I’m going to explain here will sound utterly foreign to American gun owners from the very first word.

The German gun law (
Waffengesetz, or WaffG) allows certified officials to show up unannounced at your door – if you own guns – and check that you are complying with the law and properly storing them. There is a national gun registry in Germany, so authorities know where the legally owned guns are or should be.

At the same time, this is Germany, and spontaneity is not really a thing here. It's unlikely anyone from the Waffenbehörde would waste their time going from gun-owner-door to gun-owner-door on the off chance the gun owners are home. Of course, a spontaneous check is more to the purpose. If we're ever subject to one of these, I'll update this post.

Despite my title for this blog post, the article emphasized that the officials who come for this purpose have zero sense of humor. While Americans think Germans lack that anyway, this is really not a time for any attempt at being funny or getting them to smile.

Parts of this law changed after one school shooting in Winnenden in 2009. One.

What if the gun owner is not home?

If the gun owner is unavailable, the appointment must be rescheduled. The spouse or children of the gun owner are not permitted to even know the combination to the safe or the location of the key, so if they allow the authorities access to the guns, the gun owner has already gone against regulations and could risk the confiscation of his gun license, hunting license and guns. This, for instance, is one change in the law since the school shooting, in which the shooter knew how to get to his father’s legally-owned guns.

Rescheduling the appointment will not damage the gun owner’s *Trustworthiness* (one of the requirements for gun ownership), but repeatedly doing so could.

Identity of controllers

Just as with any visit to your home of a uniformed person requesting entrance, the gun owner should first check the I.D. of the controllers. If there’s any doubt after checking their badges or I.D. cards, the gun owner should call the Waffenbehörde (weapons agency) before letting them in.

Satisfied that the controllers are who they say they are, the gun owner should show them to the gun safe by the most direct path possible. They have no business in any other room or location in the house and are not allowed to search any other place or objects other than the gun safe.

Checks are not allowed to be made on Sundays or holidays, or between the hours of 22:00 and 6:00.


What will the authorities check?

  1. the security grade of the gun safe
  2.  that all guns registered in the owner’s WBK (gun license) and the ammo are stored according to regulations
  3. that all guns are unloaded

It is legal in Germany for a hunter to borrow a gun from another hunter for up to a month without paperwork such as an Überlassungsvereinbarung. However, at the check if there is a gun in the safe that is not on the owner’s WBK and there is no paperwork, this will lead to questions and hassle. 

Proper storage of guns and ammunition

Depending on the type and number of guns and ammunition, these must be stored in a locked gun safe or case (the locked case is only for Luftgewehre or air guns). The gun safe, if purchased after July 6, 2017, must be a minimum of security grade 0. The guns must be completely unloaded, as in no ammo in the chamber or the magazine. 

The boxes of ammo may be stored in the safe with the guns as long as the safe is security grade 0 or 1.



Not only can the Waffenbehörde show up at your door unannounced to check that you are properly storing your guns, but they can also charge you for the experience. The federal law states that the fee has to be reasonable in regard to the tasks performed, but it does not state what the fee should be – that is determined by the county. In our county the charge is €50 + €5 per gun, with a maximum of €75.

And now for a little Aprilscherz fun, the article below appeared in the current April 1st edition of Wild und Hund. In an attempt to reformulate “Waidmannsheil” to be more inclusive to hunters of all genders, the Gender Commissioner of the federal government has released a statement that the traditional hunter's greeting and congratulatory salute should be “Waidmenschheil!” from now on.

I totally fell for it, but M thinks it's an April Fool's prank. I guess we'll see two things in the next issue:
  1. whether it was indeed a prank, and
  2. how many people's heads exploded when they read this.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Corona Conundrums in Germany


Foto von Moose Photos von Pexels

Let me begin by saying, for the record, I love living in Germany. Many expats (and locals!) complain about the bureaucracy and the frequently crappy customer service. I have had very few problems with those. We also don't have a problem with the Corona rules We follow them like the good little kittens who found their mittens.

But this weekend was for the shitter.

Here's the short version of what we went through this weekend, an entire year into this pandemic, mind you:

We had planned a private thing on the weekend which involved leaving town, so…

  1. We went to the local Corona-Test-Center on Friday for Schnelltests (results in 15 minutes)
  2. I tested negative, M tested positive.
    Medical helper told M not to panic because it could be a false positive, but to quarantine and get a PCR test as soon as possible.
  3. M found a doctor to do the official PCR test immediately.
    Labs don't test on weekends, we'll have to wait until at least Tuesday for the results. M's probe hung out in the doc's refrigerator over the weekend.
    M did a home test (same as the Schnelltest, just at home): Negative.
  4. We slept in separate rooms and self-isolated over the weekend and into Monday.
  5. Saturday & Sunday, M did a home test each day: Negative.
  6. On Monday the Gesundheitsamt (health department) called M and informed him he is officially in quarantine until 29 March. M told him it was only a Schnelltest and not the official PCR test results. Gesundheitsamt Guy didn't know that. He also didn't care.
    I searched the internet to find out if I am in quarantine also according to rules in Freudenstadt. Looks like yes. Gesundheitsamt guy could have told M that, just sayin'.
    M did another home test. I'm starting to think he enjoys the brain tickle: Negative.
  7. On Tuesday morning, after another negative home test, the friendly doctor called with the good news that M's PCR test results are negative!
    She faxed (yes, faxed) the official certificate to the Gesundheitsamt, I drove to her office to get the form, and M emailed it to the Gesundheitsamt.
  8. After lunch M called Gesundheitsamt guy to ask if he can be officially released from quarantine. He was told no, once the quarantine has been activated, it cannot be abgebrochen (stopped).
  9. My head exploded.
    I spat through clenched theeth, "I'm calling your mother!!" (I unload pretty much everything onto that poor woman.)
  10. Thirty minutes later someone else from the Gesundheitsamt called (without knowing M had already spoken to someone there) and told him his quarantine has been officially lifted/cancelled because of his negative PCR test result.
So after dutifully getting a Schnelltest so we could enjoy our weekend guilt-free knowing we’d both be Corona-free,* we had to cancel our plans and sit around in separate rooms waiting  four days wondering what the hell. The test itself, once the lab received M’s probe, took a good deal less than 24 hours. But because this is Germany and test labs are closed on the weekend even during a global pandemic the government cannot figure out how to get control of, we’ve been shitting ourselves for 4 lengthy days.

*We knew this because he has even fewer contacts than I do, and my only contacts are people I pass at the store while wearing a mask (required Germany-wide). If either of us, but especially HE picked up Covid-19 or any of its variants, we're all screwed.

Here's the thing. If he and I struggled this much trying to find out A) what we both needed to do each step of the way and B) getting reliable information, what about the elderly who only have a Smartphone because their granddaughter set it up for them (but can't visit at the moment because vaccines are coming at us in Germany like a sloth swimming through molasses) and don't really know how to navigate the internet? What about expats and immigrants who have greater challenges with German than I do? What about people who are alone and have no one to help them (or bitch to)?

We are one year in, and this should have been streamlined long ago. Those who test positive even with just a Schnelltest should be given a one-page clear explanation using short sentences telling them step-by-step what exactly they need to do from that moment until either they receive a negative test result or their quarantine ends. It would be great if that sheet were available in more than one language.

I don't pretend to have the answers to everything, but Jesus Murphy! 

If you found your way here because you've tested positive and have made it beyond the "What the F*ckkk?!?!" phase, I found this PDF from the Robert Koch Institut today, after I'd calmed down and didn't need it anymore. It is at least a place to start.

And if you found your way here because you are one of the powers-that-be, I volunteer to write that one-page document instructing people what to do after they've tested positive with a Schnelltest. Just send me an email. Sorry, I don't have a fax machine.

For those who haven't yet needed one of those brain-tickle tests and wonder what it's like (that was me until Friday), it's not so bad. M describes as "picking your nose. ALL the way."

Bleibt gesund!! // Stay healthy!!

Sunday, March 7, 2021


Here in Germany we are still on lockdown for the most part. Salons and a few stores have been allowed to open, but restaurants and cafés are still closed except for take out. I imagine everyone is getting eager to dine out again, and I know the chefs and restaurant owners are hoping for permission to finally open for outside and inside dining. In the mean time all we can do is cook for ourselves and order take-out when we want something special - and to support local businesses!

Earlier this week M sent me the Sonntags-Menü for today from our favorite local restaurant, and I think I had jotted down my order within three minutes. I also knew immediately what M would order without even asking him: Meat, not chicken and salad, not soup. When I called to place our order, the Chefkoch, Martin Straub, told me the Rebowls had arrived, and I enthusiastically said we're in! I had read an article in the local paper that several establishments in the area were going to start with this system, so I knew they were coming. 

The short version is that a restaurant, Imbiss, etc. signs up for the program and pays a monthly fee as well as a deposit on the number of bowls they want for serving their take-out meals. They are made of good-quality plastic with tight-fitting lids, are microwaveable and dishwasher-safe. Customers who prefer this container over one-use plastic and styrofoam agree to pay a €5 Pfand (deposit) on each bowl, take their order home, and wash the bowl and lid. The next time they place an order they bring the clean bowls back, swap them for the new bowls in which their order is packaged, and off they go again.

This is our double-order since we both had the same main course.
We re-plated it on our own plates for dinner.

But what if you are not a regular customer and are only ordering from that restaurant this one time? You can swap the bowls for orders placed at any establishment that  is in this system. When we are finally able to travel within Germany again, we'll check out what places in the area we plan to stay are in Rebowls - and take the bowls with us!

When the customers think they don't need the bowl(s) any more, they can return them and get the deposit back. They are out nothing and have reduced the amount of waste connected with take-out! Every little bit helps.

The Rebowls can't be kept warm in the oven while you enjoy your starter, but neither could the throw-away styrofoam containers. You can always plate it and then put it in the warm oven.

Our local butcher is also in on the program for their lunches-to-go, several places in Tübingen, one restaurant each in Herrenberg and Böblingen, and of course several places in big cities like Stuttgart. We hope to see the program expand! Check the Rebowls website to see if there's a participating restaurant near you.

So far there are no establishments in Esslingen participating, but we received a postcard advertising the program to send to someone, and I just might do that!

So, then. What did we order and enjoy today? Because that's what you really came here to see, isn't it?

Karottencremesuppe mit Frühlingskräuterpesto & Kracherle

Knusprig gebackene Fleischtäschle
auf buntem Gemüsesalat mit Paprika-Avocado-Creme

Schwäbisches Frühlingstöpfle

Bayrisch Creme & Schokoladenmousse
Himbeertraum & Obstsalat

We definitely look forward to restaurants being able to open for their sakes, and we will enjoy dining in again and enjoying a glass of wine in the nice atmosphere (Straub's Krone is within walking distance), but the Krone team has kept us well-fed during this pandemic and ordering take-out from them to eat at home has been the next best thing to dining out. We are very happy they're participating in the Rebowls program and happily support it!

Guten Appetit!!

P.S. I do not make any profit from my blog when I write about or recommend a place or a product. My descriptions and reviews are honest and my own.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Falknertag 2021

Back to falconry!

Back in November when M was looking for tips on making our own Geschüh (jesses) for our future birds, he came across and showed me this blog post. He knew I'd love it. I read a few more posts and then went back to the Ronja's first post and started reading from the beginning. It's a delightful blog, written with heart and humor and focusing on falconry from the point-of-view of the falcon. And she's begun translating it into English!

Later that evening I decided I had to write to Ronja's Mensch (human), and I discovered that she is in Baden-Württemberg, not more than an hour's drive from us. She responded and we have continued our corresondence ever since. Skipping ahead to yesterday, I met Ronja and her Mensch personally and spent more than 5 hours with them. What a day, and what a beautiful Sakerfalke Ronja is!

We first went up to a field behind their house for some Federspiel-Training. For this Ronja's Mensch secures a GPS sender to her Geschüh and activates the app on her Smartphone that shows exactly where Ronja is in case she buggers off during the training. Beizvögel might do this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because they can. When the Falkner sends them off to train or hunt there is nothing forcing the bird to return, and many a Falkner has stood for hours beneath the tree in which his bird is perched trying to entice her to come down while the bird thumbs her beak at him and preens. Without a sender attached to the bird the Falkner might never find her again.

Then Ronja's Mensch ties a piece of meat onto the Federspiel (lure that looks like a bird), which is attached to the end of a telescoping fishing pole. While she is securing the delicacy Ronja has her Haube (hood) on so she doesn't get overly excited. When she's ready, she removes Ronja's Haube and lets her fly off. Ronja knows her work (and knows where the meat is), gets some momentum going, then swoops, dives, turns, and whooshes past her Mensch, who is swinging the Federspiel and pulling it away from Ronja as she shoots past at 127 km/h (79mph). Her Mensch knows her well, and she can see when it's time to stop pulling the Federspiel away at the last moment so Ronja can catch it.

My photo is not tack sharp, but it gives you an idea
what Federspiel-Training looks like. 

After Ronja had her reward we went for a walk among the fields to an alpaca farm about 2 km away. During that walk Ronja sat cooperatively on my Falknerhandschuh (glove). Her Mensch calls this "Baum-to-go" (Baum = tree). Ronja's favorite pastime is "Rumgucken," which means sitting somewhere and looking around. Flying is hard work, so if a silly human is willing to offer her glove as a perch while wandering about, well that's perfectly fine with Ronja. 

Look, Ma! I'm a Baum-to-go!

It's funny to see the looks on people's faces as they walk by and see the falcon on my glove. It's just not something one sees every day! Sometimes they stop and ask questions, sometimes they take a guess at what kind of bird Ronja is (we heard Bussard, Weihe, and Milan), and others just nod and keep walking. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light wind.

We sat on a bench chatting about falconry for a bit while Ronja perched on the back of the bench and did her Rumgucken. At one point she made it clear that she was ready for some noms and pecked at her Tupperware® bowl until her Mensch opened it and offered her the rest of the Taube (pigeon). 

On the way back the wind was still up and Ronja treated me to her Titanic impression. You know the scene at the front of the ship with Jack and Rose? She didn't want to fly off on her own; she had a good steady grip on my glove. But she likes to "lüft" her feathers in the sun and wind. Come on, admit it, you've wanted to do this on a beautiful day, too.

"Jack!! I'm flying!!"

I told Ronja and her Mensch I could do this for hours and hours. It was a really enjoyable day and I appreciate the time Ronja and her Mensch spent with me!

Oh dear...I just found out on a falconry marketplace that the Falkner and breeder Ronja came from has one of her sisters from a later brood for sale. This is me right now...

I didn't see that, I didn't see that, I didn't...

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Changing Language, Part 2

Language changes. This is nothing new. If you doubt me, have a go at reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English from the late 14th Century. Even texts written in the early years of European colonization of the Americas pose a challenge for native speakers of American English.

One change that is going on in German focuses on being inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s not as simple as it once was (and my students would argue that it is not and never was simple), with two biological genders, the linguistic neutral, and the corresponding pronouns (he/er, she/sie, it/es). Until recently a person had only two options in German: “I am a male pilot” or “I am a female pilot,” because there was no gender-neutral word for “pilot.” That leaves out the people who do not identify as male or female. This change is less problematic in English, where most of our labels for people have no gender: cousin, pilot, swimmer, teacher, and so on. In German, however, those labels all have two forms, depending on whether the person is male or female: die Cousine/der Cousin, die Pilotin/der Pilot, die Schwimmerin/ der Schwimmer, die Lehrerin/der Lehrer. Female titles typically end with the suffix -in, and the suffix -er usually indicates a male.

In English we’ve handled changes like this, though on a smaller scale. Instead of “waitress” we should say “server.” Instead of “stewardess” we should say “flight attendant.” “Parent” and “spouse” have long been used instead of “mother or father” and “husband or wife.” This type of change is not difficult for native speakers, or at least it shouldn’t be.

In German nowadays there are several options to officially address people and be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as cisgender men and women, none of which are perfect. There’s the Genderstern (Lehrer*innen), the Gendergap (Lehrer_innen), the Binnen-I (LehrerInnen), the Genderdoppelpunkt (Lehrer:innen) and other options fully explored in this pamphlet, which also explains the pros and cons of each approach.

Another method is to find gender-neutral words or phrases for labels and occupations. Instead of using “Studenten” for college students, people have started to use “Studierende,” which translates to “studiers” or “people who are studying.” A teacher, instead of “Lehrer” can be called a “Lehrperson” or “Lehrkraft.” The plural form is “Lehrende.” I received an invitation to an online course the other day from Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, and the target group is “Lehrende and Kursleitende” (persons who teach and leaders of courses).

Some of these newish terms are no problem for language learners. “Lehrperson” is perhaps a bit cumbersome, but combining “lehr[en]” (to teach) with “Person” is no big deal. Both “Lehrperson” and “Lehrkraft” are feminine based on the final part of the compound word, so neither is really gender-neutral. The word “Person” certainly is, but since German requires an article for every noun which then does clearly indicate a gender, I don’t necessarily understand what is gained.

In case I need to say this again, the concept of inclusion and not linguistically ostracizing a group of people is good! I am looking at this from the point-of-view of my students, who are already struggling to learn German. I do my best to make the language as painless as possible for them. 

One of the issues in teaching occupations and titles that adhere to the more inclusive language (faire Sprache) is the sequence in which German learners learn the language, following the books used in the A1 – B1 course. Traditionally, in order for a student to be able to answer the question “What is your job?” with “I am a pilot,” the student must learn:

  • Verb conjugation of "to be"  (Ich bin)   [level A1.1, chapter 1]
  • The occupation title (Pilot)   [level A1.2, chapter 9]

By chapter 9, which is approximately 105 hours or 5 weeks into the Integrationskurse taught here in Germany, the student can easily say, “Ich bin Pilot” (I am [a] pilot.) Since these are adults, they usually already know their occupation title by the time class starts, so most can already say this in week one.


In this Genderwörterbuch (gender dictionary) the title “flugzeugführende Belegschaft“ is suggested for “Pilot,” which translates to “airplane-guiding personnel.” In order to understand and produce this job title, the student would have to nearly finish the 600-hour course. Why?

  1. Starting at level A1 students learn about  compound nouns and work on developing their vocabulary. Flugzeug is an A1 word, führen is expected in level B1. I don't know which level Belegschaft is, but I don't recall ever coming across it until today and I've been learning German since 1983.

  2. Adjective endings, the bane of existence for most learners of German because these involve gender and case, are taught in level A2.2, in chapters 9, 10, and 12.

  3. In order to construct "führende," the student needs to learn about participles [verb+d+adjective ending], which are taught in B1.2, chapter 38 (if the chapters for the 6 books of the entire course were numbered 1-42),


This same problem applies to the gender-neutral term for a person who is learning German: Deutschlernende. Deutsch and lernen are both A1-level words. But to understand the ending (-de), which looks much simpler than it is, the student needs to understand participles and adjective endings (levels A2.2 and B1.2). Well, for heaven’s sake just teach them in the first weeks to add -de to infinitive verbs to create titles! Ok, so "kochen" means "to cook," therefore "Kochende" would be cooks or chefs, right? But "kochend/e" is already a word, which means "boiling." And what is a notice to all “Fahrende? One uses “fahren” (to drive) for driving a car, train, bus, etc. but also when one travels with a car, bus, train, etc. So is a "Fahrende" the driver of the bus or a passenger? Who needs to pay attention to that notice?  My point here is that if you think the issue is easy to solve, I promise you it is not.

Each of the options suggested by faire Sprache creates a difficulty for a group of people. Most companies seem to be using the Genderstern (Lehrer*innen) because the Stern includes all gender identities. But it’s problematic for visually impaired people, because the electronic devices that read texts aloud tend to ignore the symbol and the person hears simply “Lehrerinnen” or “female teachers,” which is not inclusive. For people (at least for native speakers) who are blind, the better option is using gender-neutral terms such as “Lehrende” (people who teach). But then non-native speakers may be at a disadvantage because of the complicated phrasing (flugzeugführende Belegschaft). In the 56-page pamphlet I referenced above, non-native speakers were only mentioned once as an aside – so they were mostly ignored as a group who will struggle with this issue.

German companies and publications are faced today with deciding how to handle this change. Ignore it? Adopt one of the more-inclusive methods of gendering? Mix them up and use several different ones? In one journal for Deutschlernende I subscribe to, I noticed they use the gender-neutral term in the plural when there is a fitting one (Lernende), and where there isn't they go new-traditional (Bewerberinnen und Bewerber = female and male applicants). They also used the old traditional, which is the plural form that looks the same as the male form (Arbeitgeber = employers) - all three forms within the same article. 

The German language is in the process of a Sprachwandel – a language change. It’s not an abrupt change, like the Great Spelling Reform of 1996, when teachers had to stop teaching daß in favor of dass, words with three identical consonants in a row became a reality (Schifffahrt) and whether words were written as two or one became more standardized (formerly radfahren/Auto fahren are now both Rad fahren/Auto fahren). 

It will be interesting to see how we are speaking 20 years from now. 

Changing Language, Part 1

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Changing Language, Part 1

I’ve been teaching German for 22 years (since 1999), and although I have also taught English (American Literature in the US, informal conversational English in Germany), I far prefer teaching German. One of the things I love about living in Germany is that I am challenged by the language every single day: Listening, speaking, reading, writing, lately crossword puzzles… Although M and I speak mainly English peppered with German words at home, and although I sometimes get quite frustrated when I don’t understand something, I truly do prefer German because it’s a delicious challenge.

I have taught German I-IV in Wisconsin (that is first year to fourth year high school German) and levels A1 through B1 in Germany. Ultimately those equate to the same grammatical topics and levels, but in Germany I’ve been teaching adults, so therefore some of the vocabulary topics have a different focus, such as parenting, day-to-day life in Germany, dealing with government agencies, etc.

Anyone who has started learning German knows it is a challenging language, especially compared to English. Just as one example, where English has one definite article (the), German has 16, and some of those are the same word but have different functions. For example “der” could be any of these: Masculine nominative, feminine dative, feminine genitive or plural genitive. I realize I have already lost my American readers, in part because cases (nominative, dative, etc.) don’t play much of a role* and very few words in English are assigned a gender.

*Case in point, do you know confidently whether you need “I” or “me” in a sentence involving a second personal pronoun? ("This letter is for ____ and ____.")


In German every noun is assigned a gender, and although there are some hard-and-fast rules, for learners of German the assigned gender seems absolutely random. Sometimes it is. Read Mark Twain’s The Awful German Language for a more amusing essay than I could write on the topic. A spoon is masculine (der Löffel), a fork is feminine (die Gabel), and a knife is neutral (das Messer). Just for fun let me say here that when a spoon is accusative it is den Löffel, when the spoon is dative it’s dem Löffel, and when it’s genitive it’s des Löffels. Yes, every single one of those examples means “the spoon” (in genitive it’s “of the spoon”).

The gender of a noun depends on the word, not the thing. For instance, that thing I lie on while napping reading is both die Couch and das Sofa. Same thing, two different words, two different genders/articles. Some items have a different gender depending on region and dialect. Butter is feminine (die Butter), but in some regions I’ve heard people use masculine (der Butter). Lastly, sometimes the same word is used for two different things and has two different genders. “Der See” is the lake, “die See” is the sea. Die Paprika is the pepper vegetable and der Paprika is the dried red spice. Oh, and if you want to be specific and say paprika powder, then it’s neutral: Das Paprikapulver.

die Paprika    der Paprika    das Paprikapulver

Ok, that’s my basic intro to the confusing nature of gender in the German language. Here's an earlier one. If you are learning German, do not despair. Some of it will click if you stick with it long enough and really want to learn it, but also we foreigners will never be able to learn all the genders of all the nouns in German and keep up with the new words being added every year. The good news is that when you’re just speaking casually as a non-native speaker, screwing up the gender of a word is just not a big deal.

The creators of the German language did, at least, do us one favor and made job titles and names for people pretty logical and easy. Females are feminine (die Mutter, die Tante) and males are masculine (der Vater, der Onkel).* A male pilot is der Pilot, and a female pilot is die Pilotin. The female version of the job title often has a slightly different form (der Arzt/die Ärztin), and my students haven’t had much trouble learning those.

But the German language is changing in an effort to be more inclusive and to move with our changing society and embrace the trans community and gender fluidity. The concept is good, though it poses a significant challenge to learners of German (Deutschlernende). More on that in the next post.

*Yes, das Mädchen (the girl) is genderless or neutral, but that’s because all words ending with the suffix “-chen,” meaning “small,” take the neutral.

das Pferd and das Mädchen - both genderless or neutral
Never mind that the horse, Cyrano, is male and my daughter is female.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

WTF, 'Murica?!?!

Well, here we are in 2021. It's been fun so far, eh?

The U.S. is apparently leaderless, since the only way the prez was willing to communicate with the people he was supposed to serve was via Twitter and other social media, and they’ve all banned him now. I'm sure that's great for national security. [Note to self: Work harder at convincing children to move to Europe, or at least Canada...]

It’s been nearly a week since Buffalo Man and his cohorts stormed the Capitol with nefarious intentions (what were those cable ties for, Mr. Air Force Veteran Guy? And the noose and gallows? The pipe bombs?) and we still haven’t heard from the manchild in the WH or from his VP, or (…checks notes…) anyone from the still-current administration.

Please note: I am obviously no expert, and I am trying very hard to keep myself informed. I am angry. I’ve never been a flag-waving nationalist, so I'm not claiming it’s about “OMG, my country has been attacked!” I’m angry because too many Republicans are apparently so devoted to Trump that even after inciting an insurrection against Congress, he remains in office and in the White House. I don’t get that. Why didn’t Pence invoke the 25th Amendment? I can only guess – and then "a source close to the vice president" reportedly said this as well – that he is afraid of the damage Trump would do if faced with such a scenario. Pence would need support from the cabinet, who seems to share his fear of or devotion to Trump. Think about that: Trump is still in office because “What if he did something worse than he’s already done?” I suppose the real reason, though, is that Republicans fear losing votes of those who support Trump if they act against him.

Here’s the problem for me: He is the leader of the GOP. He is the Republican party. They and their voters chose him. Many of them apparently still believe – without providing evidence that could convince federal judges – that the election was fraudulent and stolen from Trump. He has already indicated that he will be back to run in 2024, and I imagine that’s why so many GOP lawmakers are still backing him. Voters who have supported him have openly said for four years that some of the reasons Trump is so great in their eyes is because he “says what needs to be said,” he “says what he means,” and he “talks straight.” They like and praise his style, his disregard for common decency (which some call “political correctness”), and his appalling behavior.  He is not going to change and they are not going away, so they'll be able to gleefully vote for him again.

Michelle Obama said that Joe Biden is “a profoundly decent man.” 74,222,593 American voters chose a batshit crazy narcissist over “a profoundly decent man.” Yes, I am angry.

This election was too close, and there’s no telling what will happen in four years if he runs again. 74,222,593 Americans voted for Trump in 2020. 74,222,593 people looked at that orange-tinted buffoon-turned-madman and said, “Yes, THAT is what I want to stay in the White House. THAT is what I want to lead my country.” Every single one of those votes was a signal to him that he is loved, adored, and revered. Or does anyone think he saw that number and said to himself "It's possible some of those were people who don't actually like me, but voted to support the party"? He kept going on about how he got more votes than any sitting president EVER. So obviously (to him), the election was fraudulent and stolen from him. And his supporters believe him. 

The article of impeachment brought forth by House Democrats nearly a week after the insurrection says that Trump is and will continue to be “a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.” The FBI is warning that in the coming days (between January 16 and January 20) there will be further armed protests and attacks, not only in Washington, DC but also in all 50 state capitals. And yet…and yet. Not enough Republican lawmakers, cabinet members, or members of the administration are willing to get him out. They’d rather wait and see. Abwarten und Tee trinken.

Some have said/tweeted they think Trump will have lost enough support after the attack on the Capitol that the RNC wouldn’t let him become the nominee in 4 years. That’s pretty bloody naïve. If he is not run out of town or tossed into prison, the GOP will spend the next four years excusing and enabling him to woo his supporters and the people who voted for him. Trump and his party have been feeding lies to citizens who have been soaking them up because pretty lies make them feel good, and that will continue. Quite likely already Republicans have forgotten how it is that Trump (and Giuliani, Hawley, Cruz, Boebert, and others) is/are considered at the very least partly responsible for the attack and are re-writing the story. “He never actually said that.”  “Don’t you understand sarcasm? He was joking!” “Just because someone encourages you to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. It wasn’t Trump’s fault.” “This was no different than the protests and riots during the summer.”  Yeah, I don’t want to hear any of that.

I encourage you also to find and watch Trump's whole speech at the rally on Wednesday morning, as well as Ted Cruz's words from the back of a pick-up truck in Cumming, GA on January 2nd. And then there's Rep. Lauren Boebert, who tweeted "Today is 1776" on the morning of the insurrection as well as "The Speaker has been removed from the chambers" in the middle of the riot.

Although CNN is the only American news source we have on TV in our home and I have had it on way too often of late, I do not rely solely on it for impressions of events. Even I am growing tired of their anchors telling us how we should feel and think about events. We need to think for ourselves.

M and I watched all 2.5 hours of this podcast with Bret Weinstein and journalist and “radical pacifist” Jeremy Lee Quinn, who was filming in the midst of the mob on the west side of the Capitol. Quinn spoke directly with the guy wearing the horns before things got ugly, and his interview with the Buffalo Man is on his Twitter feed. Both Quinn and Weinstein have received hate mail from the far left and the far right, with both sides calling them enemies of their cause.

I also read political historian Heather Cox Richardson’s daily letters summarizing the madness of the day and I follow Peter Wehner on Twitter, a former life-long Republican who saw the light about Trump right from the start and said he could never follow that even though his political identity is conservative. CNN’s fact checker Daniel Dale is an important one for me because when posts go viral but are untrue (even if we wish they were true), he calls them out.

I recommend any of those and welcome recommendations you have for me of reasonable people, regardless of their politics leanings. 

One final PSA: Please, people, do your own fact-checking before you share, re-tweet, re-post, and comment online. I've been reading a lot of comments on various tweets, and some people are believing everything!

I couldn't come up with a photo for this post, so I chose an angry-looking Steinkauz. Somehow that fits quite well. His name is Joschi.