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NAMIBIA

Namdeutsch: How has the German colonial period left its mark on Namibian culture?

When you think of German speaking minorities, this southwest African country may not be the first to come to mind. Though the relationship between Namibia and Germany is fraught, the influence of German culture can still be seen across Namibia’s urban areas. 

Namdeutsch: How has the German colonial period left its mark on Namibian culture?
Archive photo from 2018 shows a street in Windhoek with German name. However, many streets commemorating the colonial era are being changed. Photo: picture alliance / Florian Pütz/-/dpa | Florian Pütz

In May, Germany recognised for the first time that it had committed genocide in Namibia during the colonial occupation of the African country, which was at that time known as German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1908, German forces massacred tens of thousands of Namibian people in what is considered the first genocide of the twentieth century.

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Germany’s actions in Namibia poisoned relations between the two nations during the last century, but the influence of German occupation can still be seen in modern Namibia. From the teaching of German in schools, to the selling of traditional German dishes, Namibian-German culture is certainly still alive and kicking. 

German influence permeates deep into the culture of urban Namibia. If you visit Windhoek, the country’s capital, you will see street names, churches and schools all bearing German names. There is even an Evangelical Lutheran congregation in the capital with around 4.5 thousand members. 

Over the last few decades, a number of cities have started changing the names of streets and schools to better honour black Namibian figures and traditional elements of the culture, rather than German colonialists. English has been the only official language in Namibia since 1990, in an attempt to move on from the bloodied history of the German colonial period. 

A memorial for victims of the genocide committed by German colonial troops against Herero and Nama people in the centre of the Namibian capital Windhoek. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jürgen Bätz

German language in Namibia

German is the mother tongue of around 30,000 Namibians, while several hundred thousand more people are said to speak German as a second or third language. Afrikaans and English are also spoken across Namibia and show the influence of Dutch and British colonial efforts in Southern Africa. The traditional language of Oshiwambo remains the most widely spoken in Namibia. 

Namibian German is considered its own dialect and is the most common form of the language used in the country, but there are also a number of patois versions of German that will often be used by older Namibians. German is rarely spoken in rural communities, and most speakers of the language live in major cities in the centre and south of the country. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s four minority languages

The German spoken in Namibia today is called Namlish or Namsläng by younger Namibians, while German academics tend to refer to it as Namdeutsch. The number of students learning German schools is actually increasing, despite fears from some that the Namibian-German is dying out. 

Modern Namdeutsch includes a lot of influence from English and Afrikaans. Here are a few of the most common Namibian-German words, along with their translations, that you might hear on the streets of Windhoek:

Morro-tse! Guten Morgen – Good morning!

DeutschländerDeutscher – a German, or a white Namibian with German heritage

Biekie/bikie bisschen – a bit, or a small amount

Drankwinkel Getränkemarkt – a shop selling alcohol

Lekker lecker – tasty

Nüffel Kind – a child 

Trockenzeit/KaltzeitWinter – winter (literally ‘dry time’ or ‘cold time’) 

Uitlander Ausländer – foreign national

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Summer has arrived in Germany, so we’ve put together a list of ten words to help you navigate the hottest season.

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

1. (die) Sommersprossen

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles.

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles. Photo: pa/obs/myBody / Shutterstock | Irina Bg

The German word for ‘freckles’, translates literally as “summer sprouts”, as these little spots start to appear on many people’s faces as soon as the sun begins to shine in spring and summer.

2. eincremen

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer's day.

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

To help protect against sunburn, it’s important to use a lot of sunscreen during warm summer days in Germany. Thanks to the magic of German separable verbs, there is a specific word for applying creme to the skin – eincremen – which can also be used to talk about applying sun lotion.

Examples:

Den gesamten Körper vor dem Aufenthalt in der Sonne eincremen

Apply creme to the entire body before sun exposure.

Einmal eincremen reicht nicht, um die Haut einen ganzen Tag lang vor Sonne zu schützen.

It’s not enough to apply sun cream just once to protect the skin from the sun for a whole day.

3. (die) Hundstage

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures.

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Gerten

‘Dog days’ are colloquially referred to in Europe as the hottest period in summer from July 23rd to August 23rd.

The term ‘dog days’ dates back to the 14th century and was originally associated with the first appearance of the star Sirius of the “Great Dog” constellation. However, due to the changing position of the Earth’s axis, the time period has shifted by about four weeks.

Nevertheless, you’ll still hear people all over Germany referring to the “Hundstage.”

4. eisgekühlt

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon.

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

There’s nothing better than cooling off with a refreshing, ice-cold drink on a hot summer day, so make sure to use this word at the beach bar to specify that you want your drinks at a near-zero temperature!

Examples:

Das Kokoswasser schmeckt am besten eisgekühlt.

The coconut water tastes best ice-cold.

5. (die) Waldbrandstufe

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five.

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-centralpicture | Soeren Stache

The Waldbrandstufe – meaning forest fire level – is a warning system that has been used in all German states since 2014 to indicate the level of forest fire risk, based on the local heat and dryness levels.

Level 1 stands for very low fire risk in forests and level 5 for very high risk. When the Stufe (level) is above 3 or 4, certain measures – such as banning barbecues – will come into force locally.

You will often see the Waldbrandstufe sign in woodland areas, near beaches, or on weather reports over the summer.

Example:

Lagerfeuer werden aufgrund der hohen Waldbrandstufe nicht geduldet.
 
Due to the danger of forest fires campfires will not be tolerated.

6. (der) Strandkorb

Beach chairs stand in sunny weather on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen.

Beach chairs on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The “Strandkorb”, literally meaning beach basket, is a special type of beach chair that you will find on almost every German beach. The traditional beach chair was invented in 1882 by German basket maker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock.

Example:

Hier kannst du in der Ostsee baden oder dich in einem Strandkorb entspannen.

Here you can swim in the Baltic Sea or relax in a beach chair.

7. (die) Radtour

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath.

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HeideRegion Uelzen e.V. | Jürgen Clauß, HeideRegion Uelz

Germans love biking, so it’s no surprise that a specific word exists for the summer phenomenon of going on a Radtour – bike tour.

READ ALSO: 10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

Example: 

Der gesamte Rundweg ist eine leichte Radtour.
 
The entire circular route is an easy bike ride.

8. Sonne tanken

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by.

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

If you love summer, then you probably like to lie in the sun and soak up the rays. In German, you would call this “Sonne tanken” – literally to fuel up on sun.

Example:

Ich will einfach nur Sonne tanken!

I just want to soak up the sun!

9. (die) Sommergewitter

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021.

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Another very specific word, this term is used to describe the phenomenon of summer thunderstorms.

Example:

Die ersten Sommergewitter rollen quer durch Deutschland.

The first summer thunderstorms are rolling across Germany.

10. (die) Eisdiele

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the "Eiskultur" ice cream parlor in Schöneweide.

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the “Eiskultur” ice cream parlor in Schöneweide. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Finally, no summer would be complete without a generous helping of ice cream. In German, the most common name for an ice-creme parlour is “Eisdiele”. 

The word seems to have joined the German language when the very first ice-creme parlour was opened in Hamburg in 1799.

READ ALSO: Spaghetti ice cream to Wobbly Peter: Why we love Germany’s sweet summer snacks

Example:

Es gibt eine sehr gute Eisdiele an der Promenade.

There is a really good ice-creme parlour on the promenade.

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