German Advent word of the day: Der Nussknacker

These beloved wooden figurines are said to be good luck and to fight away malevolent spirits from the home.

German Advent word of the day: Der Nussknacker
Photo: Depositphotos

What does it mean? 

Der Nussknacker translates to “the nutcracker,” a classic Christmas symbol. Die Nuss refers to “the nut,” while Der Knacker comes from the verb knacken, “to crack.” 

A traditional nutcracker figurine is handpainted. Many are mass produced today. Photo: DPA. 

Where does it come from? 

Functional wood nutcrackers have been used in Germany since the 14th or 15th century. While the exact origin of the nutcracker man is unknown, legend goes that a wealthy farmer in the town of Seiffen in Saxony offered a reward for anyone in the village who could design a better way to to shell nuts. All the craftsmen had a different solution, but the farmer chose the puppet maker’s doll who cracked nuts in its mouth. 

The design of the nutcracker figurine was perfected in the late 17th century in the Erzgebirge, or “Ore Mountains” region of Germany. The handmade wooden figures often contained over 100 individual parts and took the form of a soldier, knight, or king. 

They became popular gifts and eventually became associated with the Christmas season due to the widespread use of nuts in the traditional Stollen and biscuits popular during the season and the need for an easy way to crack them. 

They became well-known in other European countries in the 19th century and then gained mass popularity in the United States after the Second World War, when many American soldiers stationed in Germany brought them home as souvenirs. 

The first mass production of nutcrackers in factories was started in the 1870s by Friedrich Wilhelm Füchtner, now known as the “Father of the Nutcracker” in Germany. Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” ballet also increased the worldwide fame of the jolly figurines. 

Visitors to the Erzgebirge will find Europe’s only Nutcracker museum, as well as handcrafted wooden nutcrackers, which are also on sale around the world in specialty Christmas shops during the holiday season.

Nutcrackers await their top hats at a workshop in Seiffen, Saxony. Photo: DPA. 

Example sentences 

Wir fahren ins Erzgebirge, um handgemachte Nussknacker zu kaufen.

We are going to the Erzgebirge to buy handmade nutcrackers.

Die Nussknacker wurden in den fünfziger Jahren in den USA sehr beliebt. 

The nutcrackers became very popular in the US in the 1950s.


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German word of the day: Abgefahren

If you enjoy things that are a bit out of the ordinary, this German word is perfect for you.

German word of the day: Abgefahren

Why do I need to know abgefahren?

Because ironic German slang words can be pretty fun to use – and because it tells us quite a bit about what the German youths were up to back in the 1970s. 

What does it mean?

Literally, abgefahren is the past participle of abfahren – which means to depart or to leave. For instance, “Der Zug ist abgefahren” means “the train has departed”, which can either be used to say that you’ve missed your train or to indicate a missed opportunity (think of the English phrase: “That ship has sailed.”)  

But to uncover the really fun side of abgefahren, you need to know its meaning in German slang. When used in a casual conversation, abgefahren is a big happy exclamation that can mean crazy, awesome, cool, weird or even trippy. 

A word to the wise: this isn’t the most modern slang word around, so you may get some amused looks if you start using it all the time. But funnily enough, we have heard a few younger Germans drop this into conversation recently – possibly as a semi-ironic or retro statement like the words “wicked”, “phat” or “radical” in English.

Where did it come from?

As you might have guessed, abgefahren is very much a relic of the 1970s – and particularly the hippy subculture. 

When experimenting with psychedelic drugs or other mind-altering narcotics, people would depart (abfahren) to go on a fantastical journey – otherwise known as a “trip”. In the midst of their trip, they’re fully abgefahren – probably to somewhere in outer space. 

Like a lot of slang, the meaning of abgefahren became a lot more broad once it entered into common usage. A bit like the English phrase, “far out” – an exclamation beloved of hippies in the ’60s and ’70s – you can basically use it for anything cool or interesting. 

Use it like this: 

Das war echt total abgefahren.

That was totally awesome. 

Es wäre verdammt abgefahren mit ihm abzuhängen.

It would be pretty awesome to hang out with him.