71 posts categorized "Germany"

Denglisch or Dancais?

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As you approach Stuttgart, the A8 Autobahn takes a precipitous dip. A big, menacing sign warns you that the speed limit is reduced to a lousy fifty miles an hour, under the headline Gefahr Danger Pericolo.  

I drove past that sign weekly for two years, intrigued.  The road connects Munich and Vienna with Strasbourg and Paris.  Why would the authorities write a sign in German, English and Italian, and neglect French? 

OK, I'm kinda slow.  But many fellow English speakers assume that when you see an Ungerman word in German, it's been borrowed from English.  Though less prone to lexicographical thievery than our own tongue, German has stolen quite a bit from west of the Rhein. 

This adds une complication for those of us whose mother tongue doesn't inflect—that is, doesn't change grammatical rules depending on whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neither.  

All other things being equal, German assigns a neutral gender to nouns borrowed from a foreign tongue; das Sushi, das Curry, das Handy, das Big Mac. On the other hand, if a word sports a gender at the source, then it carries over into into German.  Latin words hopped directly over the Alps into scientific usage without a detour into English; that's why der Radius looks butch, but das Radium sounds like it's had the snip.

Tricky for those words which come via English rather than from it.  A credit card arrived this week and the issuing firm urged me to download die American Express App, turning this petite slice of software into a woman.  I hadn't thought about it until an online pal prompted me to ask why it should be so.  Surely, the term app came straight out of Silicon Valley.  It ought to be gender neutral. 

But Silicon Valley is fond of Latinate terms, which English sucked up from Norman French.  La application enters German as feminine, die Application.  This shortens into the rather girly term, die App.  

So it didn't surprise me to overhear two bemused people in the supermarket, wondering aloud in German, whether the product pictured above was das Pain, or der Pain.  And if the latter, should it not be im Bäckerei?

My husband, who you may recall is Japanese, thought this was a stupid name for a hot sauce, too.

In the Meiji era, Japan imported many exotic foods, along with the words to describe them.  Sensibly, they chose most of their new Western diet from France—let's be honest, if you could choose among global cuisines, would you choose any from the English-speaking world?  To him, pain (パン) will always mean bread, no matter how much American marketers boast of the agony their condiments inflict.  

When speaking German, you cannot be laissiez-faire about such things.


German Youth Word of the Year: Revenge of the Alpha-Kevins

Better known as a bicycle
My Egg File

At Deutschland über Elvis, it's the most wonderful time of the year! 

No, I'm not talking about Halloween.  In southern Germany, Halloween is nothing more than the night before All Saint's Day, a grumpy, morbid Catholic holiday on which you can't dance. 

No, not Oktoberfest, during which nobody stays sober enough to recall if it's wonderful or not.  

And no, not even Christmas.  Like everywhere, Christmas in Bavaria demands you buy a shitload of useless overpriced stuff and drink too much.  But outside, at a market, in the freezing cold.  

The management of Deutschland über Elvis believes the most enchanting season starts with a vote for the Langenscheidt German Youth Word of the Year.  

100% Jugendsprache 2014
The 2014 results in book form, or as they say, unplugged.

We love words here in Germany. New ones, old ones, and especially great big long ones.  We take Word of the Year seriously, as you can tell from the list of official, grown-up, serious German Words of the Year.  

Why does the "Z" key sit conveniently under the right index finger on German keyboards?  Because when asked to describe Official, Grown-Up, Serious German Words of the Year, one simply may type zzzzzzzzzz.  

Not so the Youth Word, or Jugendwort.  Crack Munich lexicographers Langenscheidt sharpen their pencils and open their ears in pubs, on sports-fields and street-corners, at universities and Diskotheken. The results? 

Ouch!  Or as we say in German, Autsch!

Let's take a rando from the list of finalists.  Nowadays, German youth refer to their bicycles as Eierfeilen, or egg files.  In other words, a tool to sand off your balls, which are known in German as a gentleman's eggs.  Not only does this earn a snicker, but it also raises several important linguistic issues.  

Is a woman's bike an Eierfeile?  Why is the word Ei (egg) neither masculine or feminine, but neutral?  (In German, both males and females can have Eier.)  And finally, why use the word file, and not sander?  I looked up sander in German, and found two words, Bandschliefmaschine and Sandstrahlgebläse.  Enough said.

The Countdown, or das Rückwärtzählen zum Start.

Here's a selection of the 2015 finalists. Many of them sound like they could have been stolen from Fede's 100 Days of German Words Project, except his are actually in German. 

  • Swaggetarier—A bling vegetarian.  Someone who is a vegetarian only for the status.

  • Augentinnitus—A ringing in the ears, of the eye.  The unpleasant feeling of being surrounded by stupid people.  Interesting that the word conflates stupid with ugly. Beautiful + stupid is a thing, too.

  • Bambus—Bamboo.  An adjective meaning cool.  One wonders why the German language needs a word for "cool", when it has already borrowed the English word cool.  But with the world dreaming up so many cool things every day, no language can have too many words for coolness. 

  • Rumoxidieren—To hang around, rusting.  A verb that means to chill out.  Another odd one, since fashionable German already adopted the verb chillen to mean the same thing. Are German youth trying to de-Anglicise their slang? (A move I would support, by the way)  

    Or are too-clever Langenscheidt linguists digging shit up from their Latin dictionaries?  Let's really get Latin: how about intoxidoxidieren, for chilling out over a few drinks?

    Hat tip to my pal at Berg ≠ Burg for deciphering that one.
     
  • Bologna-Flüchtling—a student taking a break from studies.  Literally, a Bologna refugee, so named for the Bologna Process that unified higher education in the EU.  I had originally thought it might be named for the fashion of spending one's gap-year in Italy—which may still be the case.  For American readers, Bologna ≠ baloney, though in context, that might still make sense. 

  • Shippen—to be a couple.  A shortening of the English word relationship. E.g. Boris and Steffi are 'shipping.

  • Maulpesto—Snout Pesto.  This simply means bad breath.  At first, I thought it might refer to the distinctive fax-papery texture of your teeth when hung over.  Further, I thought that fax paper was a far better metaphor.

    Then I remembered this is a youth word.  No present-day youth were even alive at the time when faxes needed special paper, or indeed, when faxes were needed at all.  

    But that didn't seem to stop German youth from coining the word Arschfax, or ass-fax, to describe the practice of showing your fashion-brand underwear label above the belt of your low-rise jeans.  

    How did I get from bad breath to underwear in the space of a few sentences?  Hey, that's how we roll at Deutschland über Elvis.  

Cherry Picking

The Jugendwort never fails to attract controversy, and in 2015 the press is running hot with outrage. Langenscheidt plucked the word Alpha-Kevin from contention, in favour of kirscheln. 

Kirscheln is a lame choice—if it had a literal meaning, would mean to cherry. The term refers to lovers who make it a point to stand close, like two cherries joined at the top of the stem, so that they may cuddle on impulse, or in German, spontan kuscheln. Gag me with a spoon.  

OTOH*, the phrase Alpha-Kevin actually gets used.  In German, Kevin is a byword for a dumb guy, and an Alpha-Kevin is a guy who has reached the zenith of dumbness...or maybe that should be the nadir of dumbness.  The German language is often employed to complain about the stupidity of others, so new insults always prove useful. 

A Wide Longlist

The long-list of nominated words on the Jugendwort website offers greater insight into the brains of our youth than the official shortlist.  If he wants to tell you he's hungry, a youth might remark "I'm a model".  In reply, you might suggest a visit to the Restaurant of the Golden Seagulls, or McDonald's.  A selfie-stick acts as an Idiotenzepter, or an idiot's sceptre.  A Twizzelditwazzelen means a long, satisfying draw on a cigarette; a word whose etymology, alas, defeats me.

Forever Jung

Why does Langenscheidt devote such attention to youthspeak?  The language spoken by the youngest among us surely gives us a clue to the future.  

And it's wicked fun to boot.  The Jugendwort mocks all those pompous language-purists, who figure large in chats held by the German chattering classes.

Munich has more than its fair share of blue-rinse pseuds, ready to tut-tut the way young people speak.  Bayerische Rundfunk, the Bavarian BBC, collected some senior citizens—combined age 238—to see if they could guess the meaning of the finalists.  

After breaking the Eis with a slug or two of Eierlikör, the trio were asked what they thought might be the Youth Word of the Year.  They agreed that it was likely to be an English word or phrase.  The youngest panelist, a mere slip of a lass at 74, guessed Fuck You.  

One of the first words to trip up the panel was Tinderella.  They imagined it must refer to a woman of incredible beauty, worthy to be a princess.  Or perhaps a modern day cosmetician, which stretches the meaning from Cinderella's original job as a cleaning lady.  As a sexually active speaker of any language in the 21st Century might guess, the word actually describes a woman who expects, naïvely, to find her Prince Charming online.  

(Its gay male equivalent, Grindrella, has a slightly different nuance.)

Smombie perplexed the trio; on first sight, it perplexed me, too.  Smombie mashes up smartphone and zombie.  It evokes a familiar scene; the wandering brain-dead, staring down at their iPhones, awaiting the next cat pic.  Though the elders couldn't guess the meaning, they responded warmly to the concept, and vowed to employ the word when next they sneered at kids nowadays.

So far, Null Punkten for the Bejahrter (literally, in German, the Enyeared).

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Erderotika, or Earth Porn

They didn't do much better with Earthporn, which describes a beautiful landscape.  The earth part posed no problem, since even wrinklies know about Google Earth.  But astonishingly, they couldn't decipher the term porn.

Even a cursory look at the internet auf Deutsch will reveal the term "porn" in common usage.  The panel may have had better luck if they checked the longlist, which contains the mildly more Germanly Erderotika.  Perhaps the elders were being coy. 

image from i.huffpost.com
Chancellor Merkel, in a rare display of emotion

Die Rätselhaftige Kanzlerin

Struck me as pretty rum that our group could not decipher the verb merkeln—to Merkel.

The panel worked out instantly that it referred to Chancellor Angela Merkel.  They imagined it might refer to a noble manner, dignified and respectable.  It surprised them to discover that it meant to do nothing, to say nothing, not to betray what you really think or feel—at least, not until you see the opinion polls.  e.g. When his girlfriend accused him of cheating, he Merkeled for several minutes. 

The rest of the world would not be so surprised.  The foreign press often describe Mrs. Merkel as inscrutable, an enigma, a sphinx.  It's her trademark. 

This New York Times op-ed by Anna Saubrey, opinion editor of Der Tagesspiegel, seeks to decode Merkel's quiet mystery. Alas, her account ends up just as inscrutable as its subject.  Perhaps those privy to the Chancellor's gehacktes Handy may know more of her inner thoughts, but the rest of us can only speculate.  

Merkeln, by the way, is winning. 

What word got my vote?

Since I can't vote for Alpha-Kevin, I threw my weight behind Hayat, a term of endearment.  Hayat comes from the Turkish word for life. E.g. I love you, you're life.  

Why?  Well, first of all, it's Turkish.  Outside of Berlin street argot—and fast food menus—surprisingly little Turkish has made its way into modern German.  

(By the way, German isn't the only language that puts up a fight. Think of how little Spanish has made its way into American English, with Spanish speakers a much bigger slice of the US population than Turks in Germany.)

Second, it's really nice.

Cynicism weaves through the Jugendwort list.  A good deal is just trash talk.  

Don't get me wrong, I like a good zinger as much as the next guy. But there's a time for optimism, too.

Hayat has echoes of l'chaim, the Hebrew toast to life.  Conflate the words love and life?  May we always find them in harmony.  

The photo of Mrs Merkel and her patriotic iPhone is embedded from the Huffington post, and the photo links to the source. 
All translations are my own, and thus subject to catastrophic mistakes.
*English Youth Word of the Year 1998


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben VI: im Supermarkt

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For your information, every open container has been weighed!

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Please, on hygenic grounds, use our one-way gloves. 

Only organic
Please put only organic items in organic bags
(Bio-logical!)

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!!!Attention!!!
The Federweißer is not provided with a fermentation lock, so the cover is not completely closed. We therefore ask you NOT to lay the bottle on its side because otherwise it will run out. Many thanks, your Supermarket Team. 

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Please always line up at the Meat Counter! 
Thanks. (Clown Smiley)

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Honoured Customers!  
Please lay your entire shopping on the conveyor belt.  Thanks.  

Trust is good
Trust is good, checking is better
No sale of alcohol to youth
Young people often don't look their age. Please understand if, when selling alcohol and tobacco, we ask for age identification—for the protection of all children and youth.

Belt divider hygiene

And note the excellent checkout belt divider hygiene.


The Definition of Sanity

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Peace.  We heard that word a lot over the recent holiday season.   Prayers for it, wishes for it, regret at how little of it seems to abide.  Heavenly peace, peace on earth, the prince of peace, peace to all men, peace was on everybody's lips.

Isn't it ironic that the new year always begins so peacelessly?

That goes double for our otherwise genteel neighbourhood.  A mere 5 doors away from us, we find the Europaplatz; a noble public space which the city government, for one night of the year, surrenders to hammered arsonists with explosives.  They're so drunk, most of them can't even find the place, and begin to blow shit up anywhere handy.  This was the view from our front window at one minute past twelve. 

 

That jars with my customary New Year's resolution.  From the previous sentence, you might conclude that I make the same, unsuccessful resolution every year.  You'd be right.   

My new year's resolution would appear to fit the definition of insanity often attributed to Einstein: it's crazy to do the same thing year in, year out, when the only result so far has been failure.  

Personally, I prefer a different definition of insanity: Giving fireworks to drunks.

My usual New Year's resolution aims for an oft-misunderstood state of mind; that is, mindfulness. To be present in the moment, to abandon that which angers, to be thoughtful in word and deed.  To mutter, when needed, Reinhold Niebuhr's famous Serenity Prayer, minus the first word.  

In 2012, I made a binding promise, in public, to be mindful.  Like, with a meme on a website, and everything.  It lasted eight days. 

This year felt different.

An afternoon walk on New Year's day, as always, revealed a the detritus of the night before.  But the sun, low in the sky, cast a light that made the trash, abandoned atop some recent snow, seem almost poignant. 

Detritus footpath

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Detritus whirligig

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Detritus beastmaster
Cars tried, and failed, to keep their dignity under the snow dumped on them.

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Buildings and trees schemed which pals to tag for the Ice-Bucket Challenge.  

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The usually sombre St. George's Church felt quite perky.  Under fresh snow, even their graveyard shines with optimism.

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By the time I reached the Maximiliananslagen, our local park, I was primed for a good mood.  Mind you, the park lifts your mood no matter what.  Its visitors have mastered the very skill I lacked; an unselfconscious ability to hang out, and enjoy simple pleasures. Especially on the sledding hill. 

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Yes, Rover, the yellow snow always smells more interesting, doesn't it?

It was then, I stumbled on an impromptu lesson in being present in the moment.  Three hung-over-looking men decided that the best thing to do this fine day, was grab a few shopping bags, and in an ass-chilling fit of madness, go for a slide.

  

I shall use these men—clearly too old to find joy in anything so childish as losing control of the direction in which their butts are travelling—as my example for 2015. 

This year, the resolution might stick, mildly.  I'll keep you posted.

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Blueskystudio2The first photo is entered in the PhotoFriday Weather challenge.


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben V: Protect Us from Dancing

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This helpful sign tells us what German youth are allowed, and not allowed, to do.  It clarifies the regulations under the Federal Jugendschutzgestez, or Youth Protection Act.  Hey kids, don't get excited over the word "allow"; the first sentence makes clear that just because it's legal, parents don't have to agree to it.  So none o' your lip. 

Naturally, many of the provisions concern alcohol. Thirsty adolescents should note in §9 that one may drink legally at the age of sixteen, as long as the drink contains no fortified spirits.  Germany recently declared college education free for all students, including those from abroad, and this loophole makes the deal even sweeter for many American youth who need to wait 'til they're twenty-one for a Miller Lite.  Dichter und Denker, meet underage Trinker. 

You may even do this in a pub—before midnight according to §4—but not in a nightclub.  Because there might be dancing.  

Youth dancing is controlled as strictly as alcohol.  §5 forbids those under 16 from entering a disco without the buzzkill of adult supervision.  And kids under 14 can't even do folk dancing past the hour of 10.00 pm. 

Bavarian Tanzangst reaches a peak next week when we celebrate the Feast of All Souls on November 1.  Halloween parties for all ages need to clear the dance floor on the stroke of midnight, lest it run afoul of the notorious Tanzverbot, or dancing ban.  The Church, still a powerful influence on German life, insists that the day remain solemn.  No dancing, public or private, for people of any age.

Because dancing might lead to sex.  That's probably why the sign tells us, in the grey highlight near the legend, that none of these restrictions apply to married youth under 18.   

The Tanzverbot turns adult citizens into adolescents.  Flout it.  Who wants to join me for a quick Madison in the Stachus next Saturday?  


Ordnung ist das halbe Leben IV: At the City Finance Office

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!!ATTENTION!!
PLEASE NUDGE THE REVOLVING DOOR
ONLY LIGHTLY.

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PLEASE first take a WAIT NUMBER!

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-Contact Desk.
Please wait until your call
100
shows on the display panel.  
Two persons are waiting in front of you. 

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PLEASE note Contact Desk 1 or Contact Desk 2

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(Contact Desk 2 has not been manned since 2005)

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 Please note hereupon, 

that you [must] lay the provided ball-point pen back again after use.

Because the next visitor would like to fill out his form/application with it.

The ball-point pens are placed by
the Finance Office Munich Service Centre
in the context of [a] Service Concept for the disposition of visitors.

They are not promotional giveaways!!

We thank you for your understanding. 


Always Wear a Conservative

My landlord, Roman, loves the good life.  Since he takes charge of the bottle recycling at our place, he can't help notice that we do, too.  

That led us to chat, in English, about beer.  Nowadays, I told him, I could scarcely manage three Weißbier at a time.  That amounts to about 1500 ml, which isn't even two of those giant Krug you see at Oktoberfest.  A mere sip for a true Bavarian.

Condom_advertisement_1918"That's because Weißbier isn't covered by the Reinheitsgebot,"  he began.  The Bavarian beer purity law—the 1516 Reinheitsgebot, or Cleanliness Order—forbade local beer to contain anything more than water, malt, barley and hops.  Weißbier, made with unmalted wheat, doesn't actually qualify as beer.  Brewers can put a modest number of chemicals inside.  "It has many conservatives," Romulus continued, "Like with California wine, the next day the conservatives make my head explode."

Scholars call this linguistic interference.  In German, a preservative is Konservierungsstoff—literally, "conserving stuff".  No biggie.

"Yes, last week we went out to dinner, and the wine was full of preservatives," I replied. "We felt very sore the next day."

Perhaps I should have considered this sentence more closely.  In German, most people use the borrowed word Kondom, for a condom.  But that's slang.  The ever-wise Papa Scott tells us that his teenage son learned the high-falutin' term Präservativ in his sixth-grade sex-education class.

(One wonders what they teach in a German ninth-grade sex-education class. Cunnilingus technique?)

Roman looked at me quizzically.  Then he smiled.  "You gay guys and your parties!" he said.  He thought for a moment, and added "That's a very good idea, you know."  We bid each other a schönen Tag.

This post is part of the Awful German Language Blog Hop on Young GermanyServus to you, Nicolette Stewart!

Picture: Wikimedia Commons.  Links to source


Wir Sind Papst Nicht Mehr!

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After Thursday's angeljacking, yet more post-Papal sentimentality.  This flyer tells us that a mere €10 will secure a souvenir coin, commemorating one of  "the most important stations in the life of our German Pope."  That is, the day he quit.

But hurry!  The limited edition of a mere 20,000 means your devout grandmother might end up with an empty sideboard.  

The celebration feels aWirsindpapst bit subdued, when you compare it to the heady days of 2005.  People still remember the front page of Das Bild, which loudly declared We Are Pope! 

The faithful here in Bavaria view the former Archbishop of Munich through rose-coloured glasses.  Many will admit that their favourite son had a troubled Papacy; few will call him a failed Pope. 

Note how the blurbers use the word "station".  Does it suggest Ratzinger is being crucified by unbelievers?

Previous popes faced financial fiddles, conspicuously gay priests, and the systemic abuse of children.  None of these problems appeared overnight.  But what was Benedict's response?

Insiders tell us that the Pope was as shocked and appalled by much priestly behaviour as any reasonable man.  A sympathetic BBC Op-Ed reminds us how then-Cardinal Ratzinger led a Good Friday service in which he called out the "filth" afoot, and how it could sink the Church. 

As he assumed power, he choked.  He went back to what he understood best—theology—and doubled down on it.  Stricter adherence to doctrine would cleanse the church.  And, indeed, it would.  If it mattered.

No clerical criminal resorted to Catholic doctrine to justify his corruption, nor the abuse of children in his care.  No misunderstandings, or lack of clarity.  Every offender knew, and understood the rules.   Besides, the secular world, it could be argued, operates on even stricter doctrine than the church does. 

Nope.  The Pope needed people skills, not theological rigour.  Can you think of a worse place to learn people-skills than the Catholic Church?  And the Bavarian Catholic Church, at that.   It's a double-whammy.

When the chief clergyman faces a child whose life has been destroyed by treatment at the hands of fellow clergy, perhaps he might stifle the mumbo-jumbo about the how the abusers' contrition trumps everything else, and how it is the obligation of the victim to forgive.  Secular courts take contrition into account, too.  But they don't let contrition erase the crime. 

Confession is good for the soul.  So let me confess that I was raised, and confirmed, a Roman Catholic.  I am one no more, in part because my Catechism seemed to hate children; it was used in the classroom to justify cruelty, and not love.   The current Church hierarchy stands aghast that their actions can be construed as expressing anything but the epitome of love.  No amount of theology will correct the fact that the priesthood relies on scripture to tell them what love is, rather than personal experience.

Before you buy a coin for your devout grandmother, think about sending your ten Euros to a victim's charity instead.  Surely, a much better way to commemorate Benedict's papacy.  Happy Sunday.


Playing with Feuer

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Living in Munich, we enjoy high levels of peace, safety and public order. Which is why it's so surprising to witness the Silvester, or New Year's Eve, in action.

There's an awful lot of recklessness with fireworks, and many drunken revellers toss firecrackers around simply to cause mischief.
A fave trick, it seems, is to toss a string of crackers at someone's feet and tell them to dance.

On Monday night, I witnessed someone throw a string of crackers under the wheel of my neighbour's Porsche; luckily, it only smoked up the upholstery. (Was this a political statement, like the rash of car burnings in northern cities?)  The ever watchful Papa Scott assures us that the injury toll in his northern city of Hamburg has declined in recent years, but I suspect this may be more luck than management.

Our place is near the Friedensengel in Munich, where police close off the street to give tipsy pyromaniacs a free rein. Even today, we can smell the cordite in the air. I posted the photo above on New Year's day in 2008, and it gives a hint of how we face down the dangers of a festive occasion.  The überlin blog gives you a filmic taste of what it's like to be in the middle of a German public Silvester celebration.

Drunken assholes love to toss firecrackers into post-boxes. It's such a common problem, apparently, that the post office has worked out a procedure. The deliverable mail is dried out after the fire brigade's dousing, placed in a plastic sleeve, and delivered with a very, very obsequious letter of apology, asking the recipient still to trust Deutsche Post nonetheless.   It also asks one not to blame the sender for the condition of the article.  This kind New Year card arrived from Berlin damp and smoky, but legible.  

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Let me use that card as a segue.  Master Right and I belatedly wish you all a happy, bountiful, and above all, safe 2013.