German word of the day: Himmelszelt

Literally meaning ‘heaven’s tent’, this is one of the most beautiful German words you will come across.

German word of the day: Himmelszelt
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

This poetic term is unlikely to become part of your everyday vocabulary, but it holds a particular religious and literary significance.

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Though das Himmelszelt can mean the sky itself, it usually refers to a view of the vast arch of sky stretching out above you, often at night. It was particularly common in early references to cosmology and described the portion of sky that could be seen by an individual when looking upwards towards the heavens. 

The word is closely associated with Christian beliefs and the firmament is mentioned in the Bible as a divine creation. Early interpretations of the text suggested the Himmelszelt was a solid dome created by God above the earth. 

The description of the firmament as a ‘heavenly tent’ gives the sense that the sky and the heavens beyond are finite and able to safely contain the sun, moon and stars. 

Though the literal interpretation of Himmelszelt began to waver as a better understanding of cosmology developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the literary use of the word persevered. 

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As there was such mystery and spirituality associated with the Himmelszelt, the celestial term was a favourite of German poets, writers and playwrights. Goethe used this idea in his infamous Faust.

In his exploration of the story of Isis in Faust, Part Two you will find the appeal:

Höchste Herrscherin der Welt!

Lasse mich, im blauen,

Ausgespannten Himmelszelt

Dein Geheimniß schauen

Mightiest empress of the world,

Let me, in the blue

Pavilion of the sky unfurl’d,

Thy mystery view!

Use it like this:

Er lag unter dem sternenübersäten Himmelszelt.

He lay under the starry canopy of the sky. 

Die klare Nächte hier sind wunderbar. Ein Himmelszelt voller heller weißer, gelber und bläulicher Sterne.

Clear nights are wonderful here, the heavens full of white, yellow and blue stars. 

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German word of the day: Belastung

Sometimes things can be too hard to carry - but keep this German word to hand and you may be able to lighten the load.

German word of the day: Belastung

Why do I need to know Belastung?

Because this versatile little word can be found everywhere, from articles about contaminated waterways to discussions about teen mental health.

What does it mean?

Die Belastung (be.last.ung) can mean numerous things depending on its context, but generally it’s used to refer to a “load” or a “burden” of some kind. This can, of course, mean a physical load such as goods on a cargo train, but more often it’s a metaphorical one.

That’s why you may hear politicians in Germany talking about a “finanzielle Belastung” (financial burden) on citizens through inflation, or have a friend write to you about how their hectic new job is “eine Belastung” (a strain). 

Occasionally, Belastung can be a liability or debt, and other times it could be a heavy workload. 

If you hear it in an ecological context, it’s sadly most likely to be referring to pollution or exposure to a toxic substance.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Beharren

Where does it come from?

The word Belastung appears to come from the noun ‘Last’ in Old High German, which was used to describe something that weighed a person down – in other words, a load. In Middle High German, ‘Last’ could also be used as a measurement to mean an abundance or large quantity of something – again, similar to the English ‘load’.

‘Last’ has the same meaning to this day and can be found tucked away in several German words with similar connotations. For example, as well as burdening someone with a Belastung, you can also free them of their heavy load with an Entlastung. Incidentally, the latter is the word usually used to describe financial relief measures taken by the government. 

Use it like this: 

Ich will an der Universität studieren, aber momentan sind die finanzielle Belastungen zu groß.

I want to study at university, but at the moment the financial burdens are too great.

Mein rücksichtsloser Freund ist eine Belastung.

My reckless friend is liability.