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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Der Barbarazweig 

If you see a spring blossom branch hung up in your German or Austrian friend’s home throughout December, it will likely be a Barbarazweig.

Blackboard shows the words 'der Barbarazweig'
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Der Barbarazweig, translated literally to “Barbara branch”, are branches cut from cherry, apple or plum trees that, according to German Christmas custom, should bloom pretty white flowers just in time for Christmas morning. These bloomed branches will then bring you good luck in the new year. However, if the branch fails to bloom, bad luck will come your way. But where does this legend come from?

Saint Barbara was the daughter of a merchant who was imprisoned due to her father’s disapproval of her conversion to Christianity. On her way to the dungeon, a cherry branch got caught in her dress. Every day of Barbara’s sentence, she provided the cherry branch with lots of water until the day of her execution, when the branch finally bloomed.

While the legend describes a cherry branch, nowadays apple or plum branches are used, as well as other garden shrubs such as blackthorn, forsythia, and hazelnut.

READ ALSO: Seven classic Christmas traditions still taking place in the pandemic

How do you do it?

To ensure a blooming branch on Christmas morning, it is recommended that you cut the branch on December 4th. This also coincides with St. Barbara’s Day or the feast of St. Barbara, which is celebrated in several other Roman Catholic and Anglican countries, such as Italy, France and the UK.

Immediately after cutting off a branch or a few (for extra luck of course), place them in a freezer for around 12 hours, then place them in lukewarm water overnight. Finally, place them in a vase with room temperature water and watch them bloom, making sure to change the water every three to four days.

A cherry blossom tree blooming in Thuringia.
A cherry blossom tree blooming earlier this year in Thuringia. This tradition gives a reminder that spring will come again. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

The custom also developed into a wedding tradition in German households. Unmarried girls would hang slips of paper with the names of their suitors on the branches. Whichever branch blossomed first was to be chosen as the girl’s husband.

While this tradition isn’t the most well-known – even in Germany it is becoming increasingly uncommon – it is a great way to add a touch of spring bloom to your festive decorations.

Examples:

Vergiss nicht, deinen Barbarazweig zu gießen, sonst haben wir im neuen Jahr Pech.

Make sure to water your Barbarabranch, or we’ll have bad luck in the new year.

Heute ist der vierte Dezember, also ist es schon so weit, einen Barbarazweig abzuschneiden.

Today the fourth of December, so it’s already time to cut off a Barbarabranch.

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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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