Germans obliged to take integration test – Re-education upon failure

Germans will be obliged to take integration test – Re-education upon failure

Germans obliged to take integration test - Re-education upon failure
(c) EvgeniT via Pixabay


Today, the German office for migration and refugees (BAMF) published a report which admitted a partial failure of their current approach of teaching migrants and refugees the German language and culture via so-called Integration Courses (Integrationskurs). Yet the problem doesn’t lie on the side of the migrants, but rather on the side of the culture they seek to integrate in.


90% of Germans would fail an integration test

“Those who have created these integration courses especially the part where participants are supposed to learn about the German culture, social life, history and politics must have lived in a different Germany that anyone we interviewed. We asked about 2000 Germans the same questions course participants have to answer and 90% would have failed that same test,” said the head of intercultural studies at Viadrina University Frankfurt Oder, Prof. Dr. Hans Deutschendorf. “It almost sounds like an April Fool’s Joke,” he continues, “but we simply can’t ignore the evidence any longer.”
Ironically about 92% of the migrants pass that test (see official statistics of the BAMF here).
As a consequence the BAMF in cooperation with the ESF (European Social Fund) have worked out a new approach to optimize the integration process: All Germans citizens (18 and above) will be obliged to take the same integration test migrants have to take.

“We can’t have a situations where migrants end up to be the better Germans,” states Dr. Willer Nixsagsehör of the BAMF. It’s time the citizens of this country brush up their knowledge about the culture they expect others to learn about.


Political and Social Re-Education of Native Germans

Those who fail the test, will be obliged to spend 100 hours in so-called re-integration processes (Re-Integrationsprozess or short: RIP). That’s how many classroom-hours current integration course participants have to spend to learn everything relevant about the German culture therefore it should be more than enough for native Germans. Those courses can be taken in the evenings or on the weekends after work hours and will last between 3-6 months.


Proper Language trainings

It has become also blatantly obvious that High German, the language that is being taught in current integration courses and that ironically is even being used to teach German in those courses, is only spoken by about 3,14% of the German population (that’s pretty exactly the exact number of citizens of Hannover the capital of Lower Saxony). Though through some miraculous circumstance most Germans understand each other even in extreme situations (check this seemingly miraculous example of inter-dialectal communication) it would be humanly impossible for anyone to learn all 250 remaining German dialects. The new initiative therefore aims at making regular High German training obligatory for those who fail their High German oral exam which will be conducted via various institutions like the Goethe Institut or the Volkshochschulen over the coming ten years with all German citizens born after 1945. Participants will be randomly assigned to their exams so some Germans might still have a couple of years before they will have to face re-education. “We hope that everyone will take matters into their own hands and start brushing up on their language skills voluntarily.”


Heavy support from the EU

While the budget of approximately 600 billion EUR (that’s approximately 1000 EUR per German citizen) for the next ten years might seem steep at first glance, the economical benefit of a better integration on both sides and of fewer language related issues among Germans themselves will soon make up for this investment. The European Union is also heavily funding this project with 75% of the costs which is no surprise as Germany is the EU’s strongest link.


Similar consequences as for migrants

Those who fail their re-integration process, will have to face grave consequences e.g. loss of voting rights and continuous re-education until passing the test. “In a democracy we can’t have people vote, who have no clue why and what they actually vote for.”, says Prof. Deutschendorf. He continues: “We also think that the Germans will become more empathetic with migrants that had and still have to go through the same experience, especially when they realize how irrelevant this kind of knowledge actually is and when they are subsequently threatened with harsh consequences.”

Currently integration course participants might face shortenings of their already rather limited state welfare or non-prolongation of their right to stay.


Merkel welcomes new approach

Woman chancellor Merkel welcomes this initiative and, setting a good example, is already participating in one of the first model re-integration courses herself together with her favorite party member Horst Seehofer of the CSU, hoping to pass her test by the end of her current term. “I wouldn’t bet my house on Horst passing though”, Merkel said only half-jokingly.

Beam of hope for German citizens

We at smarterGerman are already developing a course for German natives to help them pass their Integrationstest with flying colors and to become better citizens of this beautiful Merkelocracy. How is your German today? Can you already answer the following questions from the final test of current integration courses? Give it a try. The questions are in German of course.




The most common Religions in Germany

The most common Religions in Germany - religion in Germany
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Since the early medieval period and the formation of what became the Holy Roman Empire, Christianity has been strong in the lands we now know as Germany. However, even with trade, politics, and other considerations shaping its history, religion in Germany is still an interesting subject.

Religion in the Constitution

The Basic Law solidifies the right to freedom of religion in modern Germany. This takes two aspects: both the negative freedom of religion (the right to not have to confess your faith, or any lack thereof, unless legally required to do so; also, the freedom not to be exposed to religion while in a state of subordination, for example) and positive freedom of religion. There is also no state church in Germany, though there is a thing called a church tax. More on this in the next section.

The two major Churches

Due to historical and cultural reasons, the largest religious organizations in modern Germany are the Protestant Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church (both Christian movements). These churches are organized into legal corporations under public law, and enjoy certain benefits such as being able to provide religious education in state schools – for example, one denomination gives a lesson for members registered under their own denomination (Catholics would go to the Catholic-organized class, and so on). For smaller denominations or religious minorities, they may cooperate with these denominations or conduct classes outside school. Those who do not wish to participate in religious education at all must attend an alternative class called “ethics”. So the practice is a bit different from other countries, in this regard.

The Church Tax…

The church tax comes from a longstanding practice of a ruler maintaining churches, graveyards, and so on throughout history. Because of this, while Germany has no formal state religion, it devolved the church tax onto religious organizations – the tax goes towards upkeep of religious buildings, gravesites/cemeteries, salaries for clergy, and so on. Only people registered under the denominations (which are registered as legal corporations under public law) have to pay church tax, with the idea that Catholics would then help to pay for the maintenance of their own (Catholic) churches, and so on. The Jewish faith is also considered a taxable faith, depending on the German state, due to the large population of Jewish people there (third-largest Jewish population in Europe). However, this also means that smaller denominations or those without a strong organizational system (such as Muslims) may not be included in this system of taxation and maintenance, as the system favors large well-structured religious organizations.

…and how to avoid it.

If someone does not wish to pay church tax, they can make an official declaration that they are “leaving the church” – in this case, leaving the religious organization. It may be that the number of people in Germany who do not self-identify as religious may be partly due to this church tax, as more people over time have filed to not be considered members. (You can see what it would cost, and how to file, at this website (German langua only). However,  Catholic and Protestant clergy may refuse to bury someone who has formally left the faith, even if the person in question is still a believer. Currently, the issues revolving around church tax – who can administer it, who can distribute it, who has to pay it and why – are hot issues when it comes to matters of religion and the state in Germany. But as more people within Germany no longer identify with religious organizations, the religious organizations and churches in question are facing dilemmas about how to maintain themselves and how to change.

Islam and Juadism

Islam is notably the largest non-Christian religion in the country. Historically this was because of trade relations with the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century; nowadays, because of the postwar period and the inviting of foreign workers into Germany (notably from Turkey), German Muslims are not too uncommon, but find themselves in the midst of a tide of political debates in Germany, in Europe, and worldwide.

Many Jewish people also returned to Germany, notably after German unity, due to seeing German cities such as Berlin as more welcoming post-war than cities in ex-Soviet bloc countries.

Die Berliner Luftbrücke – The Berlin Airlift

Die Berliner Luftbrücke - The Berlin Airlift
© Pixabay

Berlin is a city full of rich history, culture and diversity. It has witnessed many deep impacts, was severely destroyed during WW II and separated afterwards. But nothing might have influenced the city more like the Berlin Blockade and the Luftbrücke: From June 1948 until May 1949, the Western Part of Berlin was blocked by the Soviet Union.



The Berlin Blockade


To understand the meaning of the Berlin Blockade, you have to know about the geographic situation and the history. The allied forces and the Soviet Union split the city into four occupation zones: The three western zones of the US, Great Britain, and France and the eastern zone of the Soviet Union. The last one was later also a part of the GDR and its capital, whereas the western parts of Berlin became part of the western Federal Republic of Germany.




To rebuild the country after the war, the three western occupants decided to introduce a new currency in the western sectors: The Deutsche Mark. The introduction of the new currency happened in 1948 without the Soviets knowing about it. The eastern occupants then feared the flooding of their zone being with the old currency, the Reichsmark. To prevent this, they had to introduce a new currency in the East, also called Mark. But the standing of Berlin was yet unsolved: The Russians planned to introduce their currency in whole Berlin, the French, British and Americans refused: The Deutsche Mark should also be the currency of West-Berlin. The tension between the Allies and the Russians grew in the following month and Berlin became more and more a game point of world politics once again.




But the Russians had one big trump in their hands: Because Berlin was just an enclave inside the eastern zone, the Soviet Forces just blocked all the entries to the western part of the city. They could do so because Berlin was still a big field expanse of rubble and was not able to take care of itself or the two million inhabitants in the western sectors. The Russians cut all entries on the land, the rivers and also railroads and the electric cables.




The establishment of the Luftbrücke


The Allies now had two possibilities: To give up the city and make the Russians overtake their sectors or to try everything to supply the inhabitants. They did the last one. They could to so because there have been three air corridors to Berlin that had been guaranteed by a particular treaty – to be in sharp conflict to the land and the rivers where there wasn’t any treaty like that.




The Allies and especially the Americans then decided to use those corridors to supply the city by airlift. It was a huge duty for the pilots and their stuff and also for the political decision-makers. Over 8.000 tons of goods had to be delivered to the city each day: Not only food but also common products like coal or gasoline. The allied managed to do over 200.000 flights in one year to save the inhabitants of starving – and also to prove the Russians their stamina. Over one year later, they reached their goal: The Soviet Union stopped the Blockade, all the necessary goods could be delivered by land and water again. The Berliners thus are still thankful to the Americans that they have never given them up.

Foundations in Germany – Stiftungen

Foundations in Germany - Stiftungen
© Pixabay

Made to Last – German Foundations

Recent years saw a continuous rise in the creation of privately run foundations in Germany. In 2015 alone, 583 foundations have been created. As it is, the Bundesrepublik is home to a large amount of this kind of organizations, even though some of the foundations are in fact not foundations.

Why’s that? Well, in Germany, the term “foundation” is not protected by trademark law. This means, that any given entity is allowed to call itself foundation and thus surround itself with an air of public benefit. Big companies often operate organizations that engage in charitable activities, called foundations, that legally speaking are not. Sometimes those institutions are companies themselves or even part of the larger conglomerate. In organizational law, however, what defines a foundation is very clear.

Foundations can come in all legal forms and colors, but most German foundations are created under the private law. Earlier on, I explicitly used the term public benefit as opposed to a non-profit. While the German “Gemeinnützigkeit” is often translated with “non-profit (status)”, the two are technically not the same thing. As non-profit literally describes an organization or an enterprise as being designed to not make a profit, the German word “Gemeinnützigkeit” states that the so named entity or undertaking is created to benefit the general public or part of it. In conclusion, German foundations can indeed be a non-profit, while not benefiting the public. Though, in Germany, roundabout 95% of all foundations are charitable.


Eternal Foundations?

While most foundations are created to exist eternally, they can be created in the form of an endowment trust that is shrinking over time until it is dissolved. If you’re wondering how an organization can purposely be created to fulfill its destiny forever, let’s take a look at how they are operating in Germany. Should you ever consider starting a foundation in Germany, you’ll need a whole lot of money. Let’s pretend we want to start the “smarterGerman Foundation for International Education”. If our capital is below 50.000 Euro, the state will not allow us to proceed. Many experts say your funds should be in the area of a million Euro if you really want to make a dent. The reason is actually quite simple. In its daily business, the smarterGerman Foundation does not spend money out of its original capital stock. In order to guarantee the foundation to continue its good work indefinitely, we take the capital, put some of it in the bank and invest the rest. The return on our investment will then be used to keep the capital stock stable (The worth of money fluctuates through i.e. inflation, but to enable the foundation to run eternally, we have to protect the capital stock so that only the amount of money our foundation can spend changes.) and of course, to further the purpose of our institution – because every foundation is bound to have one or more (rather) purposes. Of course, foundations are allowed to spend money on operations and management, meaning, they are allowed to have a staff. So, you see that in contrast to many American foundations, German ones seldom have to organize charity events as the build up is usually a very different one.

Though the capital stock of our foundation is not supposed to reduce, it is quite common to increase it in order to achieve higher return rates. And should you wonder at this point, where all the money comes from to start privately run foundations, let me tell you that the next ten years will see more than 3 billion Euro passed on in Germany – privately owned money, that is. Thus, in order to start our smarterGerman Foundation, we should start saving.

Vereine – Associations in Germany

Vereine - Associations in Germany
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Are you a Vereinsmeier?

Wanderlust, Fernweh, Fahrvergnügen – there are many words in the German language that one can’t translate into English. Many of them also describe some basic German virtues. One you might not know yet is “Vereinsmeierei.” It represents the German specialty to organize themselves in voluntary associations or, as you would better call it, Vereine. But a Vereinsmeier does more than that: He (or she) lives the Verein – or better, even more than just one. You can find a Verein for almost everything in Germany and some would even say you are not a real German if you are not a member of at least one.


The best-known kind of Verein

This might be the Fußballverein (football club). It is of course also possible in Germany to play soccer outside a club, but almost everybody who likes to score goals not only in the yard but on a real field will sooner or later be at a point when he or she joins a Fußballverein. In this example, it becomes apparent what’s the difference between a Verein and just a loose group of people doing the same stuff together. A real Verein is “eingetragen,” that means it has been officially registered and thus has the letters e.V. at the end of its official name (as you can see, for example, the former logo of FC Bayern München e.V. that was used until 1996.

But when you think you can just get incorporated and get started, you are wrong: If you get engaged in such an association in Germany, you are into some serious business. Not only do you have to come together at least once a year to vote for a chairman, a cashier, and others, you also have to participate in the activities of the Verein, depending on its orientation, and there are many different styles of clubs in Germany.


Famous types of  Vereine

One of the most “notorious” Verein is the Schützenverein (Shooting Club). There are not only uncountable Schützenvereine in Germany, but it is also the one with the most current clichés about the members and the tradition. Shooting is very restricted in Germany and therefore, most of the shooters use air guns. But mostly it’s not about shooting at all; it is the kind of tradition that comes with joining such a Schützenverein. The annual presentation of the most successful shooter, the Schützenkönig (King of the Shooters) is at least as important as the gatherings like the Schützenfest that comes with the “crowning” of the King. Of course, each of the Schützen has a Uniform.

Many of them are not only for pleasure but for helping others or the members. Selbsthilfevereine (self-help associations) for example can help alcoholics or other addicts with their problems by coming together with other affected persons. Also, Junggesellenvereine (bachelor associations) exist where singles gather to have fun or even to have the opportunity to find somebody to love.

But whereas shooting might be something more or less sportive and helping others something noble, there are also associations that occur just a bit bizarre, for example, the snuffing or smoking clubs that also organize competitions in snuffing or smoking. There is, in fact, a Verein for everything. So if you are a Vereinsmeier yourself, make it to Germany.

Löwenzahn – A German National Treasure

Löwenzahn - A German National Treasure
© Pixabay

Ask any German under 40 about Löwenzahn and chances are they’ll start humming a jolly tune. That tune is the well-known theme to German public channel ZDF’s longest-running kids’ TV show, Löwenzahn.

The show started in 1981 and accompanied generations of Germans as they discovered the world. Its presenter, “Erklär-Bär” (explainer character) Peter Lustig was a TV grandad to millions of people, becoming one of the country’s national treasures.

In February 2016, Germany said goodbye to Lustig as the show’s creator passed away following many years of illness. But his legacy continues in the show, still running in its 35th year.

What Happens on The Show?

Löwenzahn takes place in the Schrebergärten (allotments) of a fictional of city called Bärstadt. In every episode, Peter Lustig greeted the audience from his home in the Bauwagen, a disused builder’s trailer which he had converted into his home.

Peter Lustig (that is the actor’s real name) was a casual character dressed in dungarees. He represented the archetype of an alternative dropout, sharply contrasted with his neat and conservative neighbour Hermann Paschulke. In most episodes, Peter and his neighbour started off with a little chat (or occasional neighbourly spat).

These chats inspired many of Peter’s curious questions about the world.He found himself wondering “Warum ist das so?” (Why is it like that?). He presented film clips and went out into the world to explore. The episode topics included answers to many children’s questions like “Wie kommen die Löcher in den Käse?” (How do the holes get into the cheese?) or “Was ist eigentlich Blech? Was passiert, wenn es rostet?” (What is tin? What happens when it gets rusty?).

Alternative Attitudes and Environmentalism in Löwenzahn

Peter’s show promoted excitement about nature and environment for several generations of Germans.

Löwenzahn and its understated, chilled out presenter were a product of Germany’s green consciousness. Peter didn’t wear suits or live in an expensive home. He wasn’t a professor, and his appearance celebrated authenticity and challenged the status quo.

The Bauwagen was a showcase of self-sufficiency and DIY skills, showing how everyday “junk” can be upcycled and reused. In this way, engineer Peter Lustig showed generations of German children how to make something out of nothing.

Throughout the show’s run, nature and environment were important core topics. Progress was acknowledged, yet regarded with a little skepticism along with Peter’s trademark curiosity. And for decades the programme’s most famous catchphrase was a variant of “.. und jetzt machen wir den Fernseher…aus.” (And now we switch the TV… off)

Löwenzahn Continues

Löwenzahn stood out because it was not shrill or oversaturated like many other kids’ TV shows. Peter Lustig himself designed his character to promote a grown-up’s curiosity about the world. He valued learning at any age and invited his viewers into a world of tüfteln, forschen, entdecken (tinker, research, discover).

In 2007, Peter Lustig received the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande, Germany’s highest Order of Merit. His legacy is evident not only in the love and praise he received but also in the show’s ongoing success.

Today, Löwenzahn continues with a new character: Fritz Fuchs, played by comedian Guido Hammesfahr, took over the show and the Bauwagen in October 2006. The original cast has grown to feature more diverse characters and create a faster-paced version of Löwenzahn. Hammesfahr and Lustig know how much times have changed. Lustig joked that he’s happy not to compete with PlayStation in this interview with the Bild newspaper.

The show also maintains its theme of encouraging young viewers to get away from the TV for a bit and step out into the world. You can find out more about the current topics on Löwenzahn’s official website.

Über Integrationskurse – About Integration Courses

Über Integrationskurse - About Integrationcourses
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Everybody is talking about immigration, refugees, whether they are allowed to stay or even who is allowed and who not. But what’s next? What happens if somebody comes to Germany and gets his permission to stay? Besides the urge of a flat and work, there is one crucial aspect: Learning the language and getting integrated into German society. Because both is not easy in many cases, there is the opportunity and, sometimes, even the obligatory to attend an Integrationskurs  – an integration course.

Who has to attend an Integrationskurs?

First of all, not everybody who is coming to Germany and is planning to stay is obligated to attend such a course. It would not even be possible because there aren’t even enough courses for those who need one. There is a difference between the obligatory and the optional courses. As soon as somebody gets his or her Aufenthaltsgestattung, the permission for staying in the country, he or she can apply for a course until three months after receipt.

But as said before, sometimes you have to take a course. This is the case if the Ausländerbehörde (the bureau for foreigners) has the opinion that you are particularly needy to get integrated into German society, for example, if you won’t find a job. This is also the case if you will receive social welfare of a particular kind or, for instance, your kids have problems at school that could be put down to you or your behavior.

What does an Integrationskurs include?

No matter if somebody is obligated or not, the Integrationskurs contains two different parts: Learning the language and learning about the culture of Germany. Both is, of course, very tightly linked and especially the language course ought to teach you about the cultural circumstances of your new home country. The language course consists of 600 hours of lessons, separated into basic and advanced courses. The focus of this courses lies especially on coming around in your everyday life as a new citizen of Germany. Consequently, you will not only learn how to deal with your neighbors or the people at the bakery but also how to understand German bureaucracy. The goal is “intercultural competence” and you can achieve it through ongoing analysis of the differences between Germany and the according culture of origin. At the end of this language course, you will have to pass the Deutsch-Test für Zuwanderer (German test for foreigners).

What happens afterwards?

After 600 hours of learning the German language, the second part – the Orientierungskurs (orientation course) – contains just 60 hours. It is designed to teach the participants about German culture, history, law and matters of dealing with your fellow citizens. Also, this course ends with a test.

The classes are not held by public governmental agencies, but by social institutions. They get a certain amount of their money by the German state, but also the participant of the course has to pay one-half of the costs. Because the payment for the social institutions depends on the number of participants, there have also been cases of fraud where the participants could only speak unsatisfactory German.

But after all, integration courses are a superb opportunity for new citizens to become a part of this country by learning not only its language but also its very own culture.

German Traditions – Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany
© Pixabay

There are a few similarities between American traditions, at the least, and German traditions for Christmas. However, even though in both the United States and in Germany Christmas is a commercial season, the season looks a bit different in Germany!
When I grew up (in the US), we had a glass pickle ornament on our Christmas tree, and we were told it was because of an old German tradition. As my family could easily trace their ancestry back only a generation or two from Germany, they took it to be fact.
Unfortunately, while these glass ornaments are often made in Germany (as are many glass ornaments for Christmas), the pickle ornament has never been a tradition in Germany by natives.


The Christmas tree, however, is!

While evergreen plants have been used to represent life eternal in human imagination for centuries, the tradition of the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) has been carried over from Germany to other parts of Europe and also the Americas. It is said that during the Christianization of the Germanic tribes, St Boniface used the connection between renewal and everlasting life to dedicate the fir tree (Tannenbaum) to the Christ Child, which eventually displaced the oak tree which had been sacred to Odin. However, we can trace the use of the Tannenbaum  – raising it in rooms and decorating it – to around the 1550s due to looking at carols from the time.


Christmas markets

Germany has other major traditions for Christmas too, though, that sometimes we do not see as easily in the United States. The tradition of the Christmas market (Weihnachtmarkt; also known by other names) in Germany stemmed from winter markets to help people get through the cold winter months, and nowadays any town of moderate size in Germany will boast at least one of these markets. In the United States we only see these markets in larger cities, especially the cities that have a large German-American population; I do see them in other cities in Europe however, such as in Guildford, in England. These markets generally start when Advent starts (though some start as early as late November!) and run for about three to four weeks. You can buy food at these markets, too – everything from currywurst to cookies to cider. These markets can be found in other places across Europe, but the market in Dresden has the strongest claim for being the oldest Christmas market (1434) as far as we can tell!


The Christmas season

As stated, this means Christmas has a lot of commercialism to it, but instead of going to big stores, it has a bit more local flavor in Germany. Christmas itself is its own season, with German traditions incorporating Advent (the four weeks before Christmas Day) as well as “the twelve days of Christmas” between December 25th and January 6th – that is, between Christmas Day and Epiphany, the day in which the three wise men are supposed to come from the east to visit the newly born Christ child (as per the gospel of Luke in Christian scripture). While the gift-giving date has changed over the years from the festival of St Nicholas himself (December 6-7) to Epiphany (January 6th) to the more common Christmas Eve (Germans don’t tend to open presents on Christmas Day!), the idea of Christmas as an anticipated, joyous season to combat the dreary, cold days of winter has a long history in Germany.
What’s your favorite part of Christmas – or do you not celebrate Christmas at all? Let us know!

Peinlich und blamiert – Embarrassment in Germany

What embarrasses the Germans?
© Pixabay

When you first arrive in Germany, you might think that we are totally immune to embarrassment. There are crazy events like carnival, nakedness in the sauna, and certainly no fear of disagreeing or asking direct questions in the workplace.

But of course, embarrassing situations affect Germans as much as everyone else. They fear being singled out in a group and drawing attention to themselves in a negative way, for example with unwanted physical slip-ups like rülpsen (burping), furzen (passing wind), stolpern (stumbling) or Magenknurren (a growling stomach).

Embarrassment is also caused by behaviours. Many Germans have been brought up in the European tradition of valuing humility. As a consequence, getting many compliments or being praised in front of others can feel embarrassing. When you pay a particularly enthusiastic compliment to your German friend, they may feel a desire to run away or at least emphasize that their achievements were actually nur ein Glücksfall (a case of blind luck) or Zufall (coincidence).

What’s more, angeben (bragging) and arrogance are considered extremely bad taste, and embarrassing for everyone around you. This is hilariously common when we catch other Germans speaking bad English – examples like “I lost mei längwitsch at se bietsch” from people who declare themselves fluent feel like a bad reflection on all of us. Yes, Germans take pride in their language skills.

How to Say It

The key words when you talk about embarrassment are peinlich (embarrassing), sich schämen (to be ashamed) and sich blamieren (to make a fool of oneself).

Peinlich comes from the Latin word “poena”, referring to a sin or punishment – football fans will recognize its English language cognate “penalty”.

The words schämen and Scham relate to the English word “shame”, and both words are related to the old English word “scamu” which means the same thing. They also both indicate “cheek redness”, so that we can conclude that even the wild Vikings had to battle feelings of embarrassment.

And to add a little Latin flavour to our shame vocabulary, blamieren and the related noun Blamage came to Germany through the French language, where “blâmer” means “to criticise”.

The Ground Opens Up

When Germans are embarrassed, they may rot werden (blush) or im Erdboden versinken (to sink into the ground).

Here are a few expressions to use when something embarrassing happens to you:

Mann, das ist mir aber peinlich! (Man, that’s embarrassing.)

Ich schäme mich ein bisschen. (I’m a little ashamed.)

Entschuldigung. Wie unangenehm! (I’m sorry. How awkward!)

Das ist mir total unangenehm. (This is really awkward.)

Herrje, was müssen Sie von mir denken? (Oh my, what must you think of me?)

If all that embarrassment has you scared of ever setting foot in Germany, rest assured that there are many ways it happens to others, too.

Fremdschämen and Mitleid

German society is not impressed by people who aus der Rolle fallen (stand out). Eccentrics, bad jokers and extroverts can cause embarrassment, and their actions feel like an awkward reflection on their friends or companions. If you can relate to those situations, the German language has a word for you: fremdschämen means feeling embarrassment on behalf of other people, just because they are being pretty embarrassing. It’s embarrassment by association.

When you’re expressing that embarrassment from your own point of view, you say es ist mir peinlich für or ich schäme mich für with the Akkusativ case.


Ich schäme mich total, wenn meine Begleitung unangebracht unfreundlich zu Verkäufern ist. Sowas ist ganz schön peinlich. (I am really ashamed when my companion is rude to sales people with no clear reason. Things like that is pretty embarrassing)

Meine Freundin hatte letztens Lippenstift auf der Nase, und sie hat stundenlang geflirtet. Mir war das so peinlich für sie. (The other day my friend hat lipstick on her nose, and she was flirting for hours! I was so embarrassed for her.)


This word is so powerful that it even made its way into the English language as a loanword. In essence, Schadenfreude is the pleasure you feel when bad things happen to someone you don’t like. It’s kind of the opposite of Mitleid (pity, compassion).

The Germans know that there is particular satisfaction in seeing the downfall of someone who would have previously commanded envy or admiration. Sayings like Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude (Schadenfreude ist the best joy) are heard in the country until today. The best way to express this feeling is to avoid any expression, so you can say the beautiful sentence Ich kann mir das Lachen nicht verkneifen. (I can’t stop myself from laughing.)

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Fall of the Berlin Wall
© Pixabay

There is hardly any other date in the latest German history that has influenced the country more than November 9th, 1989. It is the time where the Berlin Wall came down, and people from the east and the west could meet again in freedom for almost 30 years. It was also the event that made the reunification of Germany possible only one year later, on October 3rd, 1990.

The Division of Germany

After World War II had ended, the remaining parts of the former Reich have been divided by the victorious forces into four sectors. But after only a few years, the relationship between the three western occupants USA, France and the United Kingdom on one side and the Soviet Union on the other side became colder and colder – so cold that the Cold War came on the rise. But not only the country itself was divided into sectors, but also the capital Berlin. The eastern area of the Soviet Union soon became part of the Soviet occupation zone which later was acclaimed as the German Democratic Republic, whereas West-Berlin remained more or less independent, but also was strongly connected with the German Federal Republic that had been founded in the meantime in the three western sectors.

As the tensions grew, the Soviets went the whole hog and built a wall between their part of Berlin and the western sectors. Soon, the rest of the inner German border followed. Since 1961, Germany, therefore, used to be a divided country – not only by state and ideology but also by barbed wire and fences. The “real” concrete wall thus was only to be found in Berlin.

Tension rises in East Germany

Over the years, it became more and more apparent that the socialist state could not provide as much wealth and especially freedom for its citizens. The social and political tensions grew inside the eastern bloc and also inside the GDR. Many people demonstrated in the streets in the late 1980s. But luckily, those demonstrations remained peaceful. The tipping point has thus been the fact that Hungary has disabled its border controls so thousands of East-German citizens could flee into the west crossing the Austro-Hungarian border. Hungary then stopped further Germans to do the same and brought them back to their country, while the government of the GDR prohibited its citizens from traveling to Hungary any more. In the meantime, also Czechoslovakia opened its borders towards Bavaria. Those who have been on their way through Czechoslovakia got informed about the events and entered the West German embassy in Prague. They could do so because West-Germany still saw them as “Germans” and therefore also their citizens. In the following weeks, they were more or less trapped in that embassy. Something had to happen.

The missunderstanding that led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

In the meantime, the leader of the GDR, Erich Honecker, resigned and Egon Krenz became his successor. He did not want to close the borders to Czechoslovakia because an agreement of free traveling which made even more East-Germans go to the neighbor countries. Günter Schabowski, the spokesman of the SED party, was therefore chosen to communicate new regulations of traveling to the public on November 9th. Those rules included opening the borders between East and West of Germany, which made the wall in fact fall that day. But as Schabowski did not know, the regulations should officially come into force the other day. Though as he was asked about the point of time they will be official, he just said: “As far as I know effective immediately, without delay.” Those words are not only still one of the best known in Germany, but were a point of no return: The Berlin Wall fell just that night – more or less by mistake.

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