• Germany's news in English

Very superstitious: Evil eyes, birthmarks and blindness

Sabine Devins · 2 Sep 2010, 08:37

Published: 02 Sep 2010 08:37 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

At 27 weeks pregnant, I've taken advantage of the final bits of energy in my second trimester to prepare for the arrival of Baby Devins. The pram has been ordered, furniture has been picked up, and some of it even assembled. But while checking off each item on the massive “to-do” checklist, the German in me can't help the hesitation I feel about getting things done ahead of time. Am I jinxing things?

Here in the Fatherland, it's bad luck to celebrate an event before it happens, especially a birth.

While North American mothers would begin receiving gifts a few weeks before their due date, German friends and family won’t bring presents until after the newborn arrives. I have yet to encounter a shop that offers gift registries for mothers-to-be planning a baby shower. It's just not done here.

That's why my Oma Eva was horrified when I told her my Vancouver family members wanted to host a little baby shower when we visited in July. “You can't do that!” she yelled into the phone. “It's bad luck!”

So far, so good, though. Nothing bad has happened in the seven weeks since the little party, though I admit that I knocked on wood.

Though they have a reputation for practicality, efficiency and solemnity, Germans are surprisingly susceptible to old wives’ tales (Altweibergeschwätze).

My Oma Gisela likes to tell me how she frequently ate apples while carrying my mother. She kept two on her night stand, enjoying them as midnight snacks. When my Mum was born with rosy red cheeks, everyone reportedly said: “Oh! An apple baby! Look at those cheeks.”

Now Oma Gisela always asks me if I've been eating apples, because heaven forbid Baby Devins is born without a natural blush.

When the baby finally makes the grand entrance, some Germans would have me believe he or she will have birthmarks, thanks to a recent moment of fright. A couple of weeks ago, I was in an U-Bahn metro station when a security dog barked at a friend's terrier. I was startled, which Germans say can leave a mark on the foetus. Good thing there was no fire involved, or else I’d also be on the lookout for a bright red port-wine stain, à la Gorbachev, instead of those coveted apple-blushed cheeks.

I’ve also heard that the tell-tale bump appears sooner with second pregnancies. Or that if a pregnant woman is sad, she'll have a sad baby. Or that women with narrow hips are more likely to have a breech birth.

Some of these tales may reflect old truths, but many of them, told in all seriousness, are just nonsense.

In some ways I’ve given in to the more mild superstitions, though. I’ve been careful to wear pants with the ever-so-flattering maternity belly band. Germans say trying to squeeze into those favourite jeans throughout a pregnancy can suffocate the baby. (Actually the elastic is just more comfortable.)

But my favourite German pregnancy myth could explain why it’s nearly impossible to find spicy foods here - it begins in the womb. Old Teutonic wives say that turning up the heat on meals is bad for developing babies because the spices that enter the amniotic fluid will burn their eyes, sometimes even causing blindness.

The truth is that at this point in development, my baby has more taste buds than it will ever have after birth, and the amniotic fluid, which it uses to practice breathing and swallowing, does take on flavours from food I’ve eaten. But the worst a dish of hot wings can do is give the baby hiccups, leaving me to watch my belly spasm.

Perhaps Germans have a low tolerance for spicy food because they never get the chance to develop the taste for it at the early stages of life.

The bland food may mirror the way other superstitions have affected traditions, particularly when it comes to not celebrating before the birth.

Oma Eva recently explained that four of her five children were baptised in the hospital chapel and the birth was celebrated shortly after.

Story continues below…

“It was an awful tradition,” she said. “The fathers and families get to go celebrate and the mother lies in the hospital with the child. With the last one, I protested and we held the baptism later so I could celebrate with them too.”

This practise is common in predominantly Catholic regions such as Bavaria and parts of my family’s state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the speedy baptisms were initially conducted to ward off evil in times of higher infant mortality. The fear was that the newborn could be given the “evil eye.”

The tradition also dictates that if the baby does have to leave the house before the baptism, it must be hidden from view in a pram. The same goes for the newborn's laundry, because apparently that could be hexed too.

In northern Germany, where attitudes toward religion are slightly more relaxed, new parents have it a bit easier. There they celebrate their new baby with a Babypinkeln or “Baby pee” party – though it is still always after the birth. Family and friends gather and imbibe in honour of the newborn, much like the old North American tradition of handing out cigars. Traditionally, mothers convalesced while fathers gathered with friends, family and neighbours to toast the newborn. But like Oma’s last child’s baptism, today's Babypinkeln (a.k.a. Babybier or Pullerparty), is usually held once the mother and child are home to celebrate too.

With three months to go, I still plan to prepare ahead of time for Baby Devins’ birth, but since we’re in Germany, we’ll celebrate as Germans do. I’ll have to hold off on Schnapps until after the baby arrives, but I won’t be worrying about my next plate of hot wings.

Sabine Devins (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

09:57 September 2, 2010 by Clapoti
Very interesting. I also don't get all those superstitions and find some of them quite laughable, but oh well to each their own.
12:45 September 2, 2010 by freechoice
i wonder how do indian pregnant mothers deal with spicy food..
14:49 September 2, 2010 by Clapoti
I was also wondering that when reading... maybe they switch to the kind of Indian food we can find in Germany ;)
15:22 September 3, 2010 by AMcCorvey
I'm an American giving birth in Germany in February. I've been looking in to the whole Hebamme thing. Does anyone know what the requirements are to be one? What should I be looking for? Thanks in advance!
10:01 September 4, 2010 by Bienchen
Hi AMcCorvey — I'll actually be covering the whole Hebamme topic next month in the series. It will be published at the beginning of October. If you're due in February, you have plenty of time to sort out your Hebamme.

Thanks for reading. -- Sabine
16:27 September 5, 2010 by CLARI$$A
Are Germans really more superstitious than Americans? I doubt that, although I don't like the German attitude too much - above all the resentful tone in online-forums and blog-comments. I'm afraid we might compare sophisticated Americans to German hicks, forgetting about the hicks at home. Well, we can find them in any country.
13:34 September 6, 2010 by Hiawatha
I find this article misleading.

It makes it sound as though Germans live behind the moon.

Every country has its old wives tales and superstitions, but to suggest that German women are a bit primitive and prone to believe these "wisdoms" is just plain stupid.

I have given birth to three children in "Schwabenland" (I am English) and wasn't subjected to any of these ancient rites and beliefs.

I'm sure that in the heart of Lancashire.Wisconsin or New South Wales there are archaic ideas which used to be applied to any situation before the advent of modern medicine or science but to claim that these things are taken seriously by anybody today under the age of 90 is wrong.
15:20 September 8, 2010 by sarabaily
I think this article is fun. I like hearing the superstitions from the author's family and experiences. I have already received much odd advice from my mother-in-law (also from the Schwabenland). Of course it sounds crazy to me because I did not grow up with this - however she told me to eat GREEN apples, not red. For a lot of us, our grandmothers or mother's, for that matter, are still old enough to truly believe these tales.

The one superstition that I have the most trouble with the the celebration before the event. I respect that it is their tradition, but this is my pregnancy and I am from a different tradition, so I too would like that respected.

Great article and I look forward to reading more!
Today's headlines
Ex-chancellor Schröder to mediate in supermarket row
Gerhard Schröder. Photo: DPA

Can Gerhard Schröder bring an end to the Kaiser's Tengelmann saga?

Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd