Monthly Archives: January 2011

Double murder: German watery psycho strikes again!

January has seen one of Germany’s most notorious serial killers back in action after a relatively long gap in activity. On January 13th a tanker carrying sulphuric acid overturned on the Rhine with the loss of two crew members.

The incident happened at the infamous Loreley rocks… a previous scene of similar events in history. As the alleged legend has it, a sinister Rhine maiden sits on the rocks and lures sailors to their doom with her magical singing.


19th century police photofit of the killer

I’m not sure what kind of profile the police are working with to catch this killer, but as an amateur sleuth, I can provide the following information.

Age: Around 210 years old, but definitely looks younger than that.

Hair: Blonde

Eyes: Blue

Distinguishing features: Exceptional singing voice

Current alias: Laura Ley

Clothing: None, not even in January

Last seen: On the harbour wall, looking a little grey…


Police are looking for a 210 year-old female streaker with long hair

If you see this woman at a river near you, turn up your iPod and sail on by. Do not, repeat do not approach this suspect. She is a dangerous psychotic killer.


Filed under About Germany, german art, german education, Life in Germany

Düsseldorf Karneval 2011 – “Jebuddelt, jebaggert, jebützt”

Now that Christmas and New Year are over, the Germans are starting to look forward to Karneval. Karneval is all about drinking. Of course technically speaking, we are in the Karneval season already. It began on November 11th last year with the Hoppeditz Erwachen session. The start of Karneval involves much drinking. This is when the “Hoppeditz” – the chief fool – claims power and the Fünfte Jahreszeit (fifth season, ie the silly season) starts. The motto of this year’s Karneval in Düsseldorf is: “Jebuddelt, jebaggert, jebützt” – local dialect meaning, “dug, bulldozed and plastered.” (edit: apparently jebützt means kissed – more on this in the comments). Don’t ask me to make sense of it… unusually for the Germans, nothing at Karneval makes any sense. Not surprising really, considering how much drinking is involved.

From November to the start of the pre-Lent festivities, nothing much happens outside of the actual Karneval Verein (the organising club who stage the Karneval celebrations each year). They hold sessions (these involve much drink, silly hats, comedy and song) and meanwhile everyone else gets on with their normal lives.

Then on Altweiberfastnacht – March 3rd this year – the Altweiber… the old women of the town, in hideous fancy dress, will storm the town hall led by the Hoppeditz, evict and emasculate the mayor and install their Karneval Prinz in power for the duration of Karneval. Hoppeditz and the Prinz will give a speech from the balcony of the town hall to the Alterweiber and other fools in the square below. Then everyone will get enormously drunk for five days.

Antennedüsseldorf via flickr

The Hoppeditz arrives to oust the mayor

by antenneduesseldorf via Flickr

Hoppeditz Erwachen - meet the new mayor!

by antennedüsseldorf via flickr

Düsseldorfers who at other times of the year are pretty sensible

Karneval’s highpoint is Rosenmontag, when there is a huge Karneval procession through the streets with elaborate floats, often with witty political messages.

Did I mention the drinking?


For more about German Karneval traditions, see my post over at Birds on the Blog:

John F. Kennedy, doughnuts and some very messy Germans


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Unwort des Jahres – alternativlos

We already had the German word of the year. Now it’s time for the un-word of the year. The Unwort des Jahres.

German has a great way of adding an “un” at the beginning of a word to create a new concept, by the way. For example Kraut means cabbage or herbs… but Unkraut means weeds.   If you receive a cheque you have to hope it is gut rather than ungut.

Anyway… I digress.  This year’s un-word is alternativlos – meaning without any alternative. The reason for the choice, according to the jury spokesman, was that it is a debate killer. It implies that there is no point in discussing the situation any further as there is only one possible solution or course of action. Such argumentation has, according to the jury, been far too common during 2010, leading to greater polemics in political views and less openness to debate and listening to other viewpoints.

The runner up this year was Integrationsverweigerer – an immigrant who refuses to integrate with the native population.  I don’t think many readers of this blog fall into that category at least!

By Christoph Speccius ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The German language is constantly in flux.

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Filed under About Germany, german education, German language, Life in Germany

The strange tale of Tuffi the elephant

One of the oddest stories from Northrhine Westphalia is the accident which befell Tuffi the elephant.

In 1950 the travelling Althoff Circus arrived in Wuppertal, and with them their four year old circus elephant, Tuffi.  While the circus was setting up, the circus trainer had got into the habit of travelling around whichever town they were in with Tuffi, to advertise the upcoming performances. His favourite way of getting publicity was always to take the little elephant for a ride on the city tram – which inevitably caused a stir and plenty of press coverage.

Of course anyone who has been to Wuppertal will know that this town has a very ususual tramline. Built in 1901, the Schwebebahn is probably the oldest operational suspended railway in the world. It is built on an iron structure which spans the river Wupper.

hanging railway

It was onto just such a train that Tuffi’s trainer decided to take her.  The arrival of the elephant at the station caused quite a stir. Many journalists from the local and national press had elected to accompany the elephant on her trip. So when she entered the Schwebebahn carriage, dozens of people pushed in alongside her.

Travelling on the Schwebebahn is not like riding on a tram though. The trains sway considerably more and often pitch at quite odd angles. Normally a very calm animal, with the crowds and the motion this time, Tuffi panicked. First she managed to break one of the seats in the carriage, and then she attempted to get out of the window. Her first attempt only broke the window – but her second effort was successful – the elephant broke a hole in the side of the carriage and jumped… dropping far down into the river below.

Tuffi Elephant

This image is a mock up – no photo exists of the original falling elephant

Remarkably, Tuffi was unhurt by her unexpected plunge into the river Wupper.  Apart from a few grazes, she was able to extricate herself from the water and return to the nearby circus.

Tuffi continued to work at the Circus Althoff through the 1960s, then she was sold on to a French circus where she worked for many years until her death in 1989. Throughout her life she continued to travel happily on trams, but never set foot in the Schwebebahn again.


Filed under About Germany, Life in Germany

Alas…poor currywurst…

The latest victim of the dioxin scandal is Germany’s favourite snack of all time.  Readers, a moment’s silence please as we mourn the passing of the currywurst.

As Germans abandon their normal diet of ham, bacon, pork, chicken and eggs for fear of ending up looking like Viktor Yushchenko, the sausage stands lie deserted on our street corners.

The currywurst has to be one of Germany’s oddest inventions. For the uninitiated, I should point out that it bears almost but not entirely no resemblence to curry. It is a sausage, usually cut into slices, covered in a steaming hot ketchup sauce and sprinkled with curry powder. It is served either with chips or with a bread roll.


The currywurst is thought to have been invented in Berlin shortly after the war when the British army imported ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder. The sausage seller who is credited with creating the first currywurst is Herta Heuwer, on September 4th 1949. The site of her snack bar is marked to this day with a plaque.  I’m surprised the invention-date has not yet been declared a national holiday.

Herta Heuwer

But now that German pork has become contaminated with dioxin, maybe we need to erect a memorial to mark the passing of the currywurst itself. After all, it is already something of a museum-piece…  as well as a rock-legend…



Filed under About Germany, food, Life in Germany, World War 2

Yet another celebrity zoo creature

You have to hand it to the Germans. In an age where kids are obsessed with computer games and theme parks and shun more traditional leisure pursuits, they can still manage to make a visit to a traditional zoo sexy.

How do they do it? Well… they exploit our obsession with celebrity culture. Berlin zoo doesn’t just have a polar bear… no, it has Knut. The cuddly adorable cub, or latterly the lovelorn teenage polar bear, or even the killer sociopath, depending on which tabloid you’re reading at the time. The main thing is, he’s in the headlines at least as often as Heidi Klum…

Then there was Paul, the amazing Oberhausen octopus. Not just any old fishy cephalopod mind, but one capable of predicting the football scores with uncanny accuracy, as amply displayed in his 2008 Euro and 2010 World Cup performances. The octopus marketing department glossed over the small detail at the time that the normal lifespan of an octopus is only around two years, which must raise some suspicions that the 2008 and 2010 Pauls may not have been entirely the same octopus…  but we shouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good story. Cephalopod psychics will be here to stay…. watch out for the predictions on this year’s Women’s World Cup in Germany.

The newest celebrity zoo inhabitant to break onto the scene is Heidi, the squinting Opossum. Heidi exhibits all of Knut’s cuteness (think merchandise) but definitely lacks Paul’s psychic powers. The initial back-story which the fine marketing people invented (even an opossum needs more than just a pretty face to stay in the headlines) was that Heidi was given to Leipzig zoo by a Danish zoo – presumably offloading one of its more defective exhibits. Not only does Heidi squint, but she also has a non-functioning tail. These are, of course, precisely the attributes which a German zoo marketing department can work with to turn Heidi into the X-factor winner of the captive animal world. All they needed to do was team her up with a really irritating song…. and where’s Simon Cowell when you need him?

You might also like to check out my latest post on Birds on the Blog:

Living in a time of poisoned eggs and ham


Filed under About Germany, Life in Germany

Things I’m looking forward to in Germany in 2011

2011 promises to be a fun year in Germany.

For a start, Düsseldorf will be playing host to the Eurovision song contest in May. Although the tickets for the main event sold out almost instantly, a whole programme of events is scheduled around the competition and there will be the beloved “public viewing” areas where those who couldn’t get tickets can watch together from the comfort of the biergarten. Those of us who dare to wear our country’s colours can expect a jocular ribbing from the locals when the inevitable “nul points” happens.

Düsseldorf 2011

Then in June and July there’s the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals.  Less of an all-encompassing national party than the men’s version in 2006, but nontheless a fabulous event with many matches in various parts of the country. And England will be there! Yay!

There’s still every chance of getting tickets to games, and of course the public viewing opportunities should be good too. Oooh! More beer! I wonder where I put my vuvuzela….


For the more highbrow, there are some fabulous art exhibitions coming up in 2011.  I’ve got my eye on the Jan Vermeer exhibition in Munich in which opens on 17. March at the Alte Pinakothek.  Should be a nice peaceful antedote to the excesses of Karneval the week before.

Before that though, there’s the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Ludwiggalerie in Schloß Oberhausen which opens on January 23 and runs to May 1. Great stuff – Kerpow…BANG!
The clear highlight of the year though is definitely going to be the Faces of the Renaissance exhibition at the Bode Museum in Berlin which starts on August 26 and runs to November 20. This is an event where the big museums of the world have got together to create a show of some of their most valuable Italian portraits.  Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Leonardo da Vinci will all be attending. And so will I, of course.
Anyone know of any other major events coming up this year?


Filed under Uncategorized

The same procedure as every year

It seems as though every New Year spent in Germany follows the same pattern. This year though, there was one major difference. Instead of writing about Dinner for One, Bleigiessen and fireworks here, I posted about it on Birds on the Blog, where I also have a column. You can catch up with my New Year’s Eve experiences there.

New Year in Germany

Other seasonal posts I have written there include:

A Small Christmas Miracle

German Stollen – The Cheat’s Version

Grogs, Nogs and Glühweins – The Best German Christmas Drinks




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