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CULTURE

German word of the day: Das Laternelaufen

Forget Halloween – Laternelaufen is the autumn tradition you need to know about while living in Germany (with or without kids). 

Children walk with lanterns through Berlin.
Children walk with lanterns through Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

“Das Laternelaufen” or lantern walking, is an annual celebration in honour of St. Martin’s Day.  While St. Martin’s Day is an occasion celebrated by Catholics across Europe, including the UK, this children’s tradition seems to only be commonplace in German speaking regions (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and some areas of Belgium, Italy and Poland). 

As the legend goes, Saint Martin, a Roman soldier, gave a beggar half of his red cloak to protect him during a snowstorm. Through this good deed, Saint Martin is considered the patron saint of travellers and the poor and is seen as an example to children to share and be giving. While this holiday has its roots in Catholicism, it has become commonplace for German children of all faiths to be taught St. Martin’s story and celebrate the occasion through Laternenlaufen.

READ ALSO: Where to enjoy St. Martin’s celebrations across Germany

Once the sun sets on November 11th, children across Germany, and in some other countries, take part in a procession through the streets, carrying handcrafted paper lanterns and singing traditional St. Martin songs. The procession is usually organised through local kindergartens and schools, and the lanterns are often made by the children themselves during their classes. The children are often accompanied by a man dressed as St. Martin in his iconic red cloak. This procession is then referred to as “der Laternenumzug” or lantern procession. At the end of the walk, you will often find a large St. Martin’s bonfire and a traditional meal of goose, the “Martinsgans” (Martin’s goose), red cabbage and dumplings waiting for you. 

But what do paper lanterns have to do with St. Martin?

As far back as the Middle Ages, to mark the end of the autumn harvest in the Alemannic region of western Upper Germany, traditional lanterns were crafted out of turnips, called “Räbenlichte” (literally: turnip lanterns), with a candle flame in the centre lighting up the vegetable. Turnips were a staple food at the time and their harvest was therefore celebrated in this way. Nowadays the lanterns are no longer made out of turnips, instead children opt for coloured cardboard and tracing paper as tools for creating their glowing pieces of art. Naturally, for safety reasons, the candle of the lantern is now replaced with an LED light. 

So, the two aren’t explicitly linked, but it seems the harvest season overlapped with St. Martin’s day, resulting in today’s celebrations combining the two. Either way, “Laternelaufen” is something children love to take part in, and many German adults reminisce over. 

Examples:

Bevor wir mit dem Laternenlaufen beginnen können, müssen wir zuerst unsere Laternen basteln.

Before we go on our lantern walk, we must first make the lanterns.

Morgen ist Sankt Martinstag, das heißt, es ist Zeit für unseren Laternenumzug!

Tomorrow is St. Martin’s Day, which means it is time for our lantern walk!

Haben Sie die Lieder für dem Laternenlaufen schon auswendig gelernt?

Have you memorised the songs for the lantern walk yet?

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Lüften

One of the first lessons you learn when living in Germany is that airing out rooms is extremely important.

German word of the day: Lüften

Whether you sublet, rent a flat or own your home in Germany, it’s likely you’ve been told how important it is to lüften, or open your windows and let air in and out regularly. 

Lüften can be a verb or noun in Germany. As a noun it uses the ‘das’ article and stands for ventilation. The verb lüften means to air out something. It comes from the German word die Luft which means air.

The proper airing out of rooms is a very German thing. Hell, it’s a way of life. 

Just check your rent contract. Foreigners in Germany are often surprised to find that ventilating their homes is usually written into their contract and accompanied by instructions. That means it’s literally legally binding! 

There are very important rules to remember, and German even has a set of vocabulary dedicated to getting fresh air safely in and out the room. 

Words like Stoßlüften – which translates to shock or impact ventilation. This is needed at least twice a day (and more in summer) and involves opening the windows or balcony doors wide to let a ‘shock’ of cold air in. According to experts, you should do this for about five minutes a time in winter, 10-15 minutes each time in autumn and spring, and up to half an hour in summer.

Meanwhile, Querlüften or cross ventilation involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

The aim of all this lüften is to stop mould from forming, get rid of smells and to stop rooms from getting too humid. The more people that live in your home, the more airing out you’ll have to do. 

Germans recommend that you turn off your heating while airing out your room (to save on money and to protect the climate) – so be sure to have a big jumper on if you’re airing out in winter. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out a room

Lüften took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic as other countries – or at least those that didn’t have the same culture for airing out – began recommending it to people as a way of helping protect against Covid-19 transmission.  

A good German habit

Lüften can quickly become a habit. Whereas before Germany, I was happy to leave a window tilted open for a while to get some fresh air, I’m now obsessed with the proper way to do it. 

I throw open the windows of my flat wide at regular intervals to get that fresh air circulating, even in the dead of winter. When I’m at home in Scotland or on holiday somewhere else, I do the same thing, which can be alarming to people who think you are trying to freeze them.

I find myself feeling pleased when the neighbours across the road from my Berlin flat open their windows or balcony doors wide. It’s like we’re all part of the secret society of fresh air.

There is nothing now that stands between me and Lüften. When I tweeted about this habit, lots of people said they felt a similar way. 

One Twitter user said: “Been telling my family this for years – as they shiver and complain about how cold it is, and my partner and I passive-aggressively follow each other around shutting and reopening windows. Makes for fun times.”

Another said: “My little sister spent an exchange year in Germany before me and when I visited was thoroughly disturbed by her obsessive window opening. A couple years later I was living in Germany and had become a convert, too.”

Examples: 

Hey Karl, Kannst du bitte dein Zimmer lüften?

Hey Karl, can you please air out your room?

In Deutschland muss man die Zimmer richtig lüften.

You really have to air out rooms the right way in Germany.

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