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not easy to speak German. You can choke to death on the gutturals.
On the other hand, only in German is it possible to invent an entirely
new word simply by mashing a couple of old words together. And because
words are mashable in German, Germans can give names to the dark
fears, shadowy anxieties, and hard-to-define experiences that go
unnamed in other languages. In fact, to describe the following German
compound words in other languages you need -- as I do -- an entire
Who hasn't met a man or woman in a dark, smoky party or pub, made
arrangements to meet the next day, and discovered by daylight that
the other person is hideous and an embarrassment to be seen with
in public? When that happens, you are bound to experience naktPlatzzurückschrecken
If the handsome blond Aryans who appeared on Nazi recruiting posters
were to walk down the streets of modern-day Berlin or Münich,
they would be recognized immediately for what they were: homosexuals.
In Germany, the masculine ideal of beauty is very similar to the
homosexual ideal. That being the case, German women sometimes feel
KuchenMannVorsicht (cake+man+wariness), the apprehension
that the handsome fellow on the opposite side of the cafè
table is more interested in the waiter than he is in his date.
and Krükosker+city+commute: One morning you arrive at the
bus stop just as the bus arrives, you make your connection to the
train without having to wait on the platform, and you see nothing
but green lights as you cross the streets to get to your office.
Or, if you are driving, you never have to press the brakes, because
the traffic lights all turn green as soon as you come to them, and
when you get to your office, a parking place waits for you right
in front of the building. On mornings like these, when the commute
goes so smoothly it seems to have been choreographed, a German commuter
is said to have a BalletGrosstadtumwandeln (ballet+city+commute).
On the other hand, if everything goes wrong, and one obstacle after
another is thrown in the commuter's path-red lights, gridlock, stalled
buses and trains, traffic accidents-the commuter is said to have
a KrükoskerGrosstadtumwandeln (Krükosker+city+commute).
The Krükosker is a tumultuous Bavarian harvest dance in which
the drunken participants guzzle last year's blueberry wine as they
crush the new blueberry crop under their wooden clogs.
In the brief interval between sleep and wakefulness, everyone is
a mystic. Having communed with death and eternity during sleep,
the waker understands exactly what they are, but only for the briefest
of moments, because daylight and its exigencies quickly intrude.
Almost as soon as the waker opens his or her eyes, all is lost.
Even the aftertaste of eternity, even the shadow of the memory of
being there, cannot withstand a moment of waking consciousness.
Thus, the waker leaves eternity behind and feels instead an urge
to piss. The Germans have a word for that brief, second-long interval
of total understanding. They call it DunstEwigkeitZug (vapor+eternity+whiff).
In the United States, the fear many men have that their lovemaking
skills are subpar and that their sexual partners will be unsatisfied
is called "performance anxiety." Sexologists tell us that performance
anxiety is the chief cause of impotence. In Germany, performance
anxiety goes by the poetical name TurmeinstürzenAngst (tower+collapse+fear).
It has become a standard joke for visitors to castles to say as
they climb the steep stairs of the tower, "Ach, I think I am getting
Biologically, all children are their mothers', but not all were
conceived with the help of the guy called vater. A German father
who observes his child in an odd light or from an odd angle may
experience, however momentarily, a twinge of rothaarigStiefkindVerdacht
(redhead+stepchild+suspicion), the foreboding that one's child is
not really one's own.
In crowded urban settings, at bus stops or in cafes, an eavesdropper
sometimes overhears a conversation in which the talkers know they
are being listened to, but far from being offended, the talkers
actually change the tenor of their conversation for the benefit
of the eavesdropper. The result is a theatrical performance with
an audience of one. Often the performers try to bait the audience
with outlandish political opinions or vulgarity. The audience, in
the same way that the audience at a real performance must not disturb
the players, cannot change facial expressions or show any evidence
of listening, no matter how provocative the players are. This little
theater, in which the actors try to make the audience speak and
the audience pretends it isn't listening, goes by the name EchoSpiegelUnterhaltung
(echo+mirror+talk) in German.
Among extreme macho types ("Ja, I did a number on the bitch!")
it is a point of pride to be able to say that your ex-girlfriend
has become a lesbian. Some men exult in lesbischMetamorphoseStolz
(lesbian+metamorphosis+pride). There is even a folk song by that
name, the final chorus of which has the singers smash their beer
steins on the bar.
The German longing for orderliness is legendary, but, curiously,
the Germans themselves think that the Danish are the ones who take
orderliness to unnecessary extremes. The Danes are too orderly.
The Danes make too much out of being on time, being clean, and being
efficient. A German who exceeds even the German standards of orderliness
may get called a dänishBesen (Danish+pushbroom).
Imagine growing up in a country where everyone over a certain age
is under suspicion of having committed murder. One walks down a
pleasant country lane. One comes to a charming village. Four old
gentlemen spill out of a tavern. How many Jews, Gypsies, and dissenters
did they kill? In moments like these, a young German may experience
the sneaking suspicion that one is in the company of geriatric killers.
At age 20, a man can flirt with the entire spectrum of womankind.
Teenage girls are flattered by his attention and matrons blush.
In the ensuing two decades, however, the 20-year-old slowly concludes
that he cannot flirt with all women, not without looking ridiculous
or violating social proprieties. Teenage girls would think he was
a creep. To flirt with older women would wound his vanity. The erstwhile
20-year-old must resign himself to flirting only with women his
own age, and even at that he can't be sure they notice, because
they are so preoccupied by their careers and children. His youth
is finished. He has reached what Germans call his LebenMeridanSchwelle