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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Die Sternsinger

As the last of the Christmas decorations are cleared away once more, this adorable word - which relates to a German tradition dating back to the 16th century - is guaranteed to give you one last dose of festive cheer.

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

Three King’s Day on January 6th is an official holiday in many parts of Germany and is celebrated in many ways. One such tradition is the appearance of “Sternsinger” – translated as star singers or Epiphany singers – who are groups of children who, on “Dreikönigstag” take part in nationwide carol singing. The children go from door to door dressed as the Three Biblical Magi, offering carol blessings and collecting donations for charitable causes, often those aiding children in need.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Der Barbarazweig

Sometimes the carol singers will write a special blessing on the front doors with chalk, “*C+M+B”. While some believe this to be the initials of the Three Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar”, it is actually a Latin abbreviation for “Christus mansionem benedicat”, which translates to “Christ blesses this house”. The star represents the star of Bethlehem on the way to the manger and the crosses are signs of blessing.

The general caroling tradition on Epiphany can be traced back to the 16th century, while the campaign for charitable purposes began in 1959. Although it was historically only boys who participated, nowadays children of all genders take part.

It has become an important event of the German holiday calendar, with it even being added to the list of intangible cultural heritages in Germany. However, similar variations have also come about in Catholic regions of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and even Mexico. Even former Chancellor Angela Merkel received annual visits from Sternsinger – with 108 carol singers travelling to the capital, four from each of Germany’s 27 dioceses, bringing blessings to the Federal Chancellery. 

However, the tradition hasn’t been entirely without controversy. The Three Wise Men are often depicted as men from three different continents (Asia, Europe and Africa), so to represent this, many white children in Germany would paint their faces with black makeup to symbolize Saint Caspar, the African King. While blackfacing was custom in the 18th and 19th century, it is now considered offensive. On December 14th 2021, the Federation of German Catholic Youth in Cologne demanded that the Sternsinger no longer paint their faces black in order to counter discrimination and stand up for diversity. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: der Weihnachtsbaumschmuck

Generally, the tradition is viewed in a positive light, with over one billion euros raised through it, and 100 percent of the donations going to charities across the world. The campaign has even been lauded as the world’s largest solidarity campaign by children for children. Of course, to ensure that the hard-working children get some kind of reward, they are usually given some sweets too.

Starsingers in Bavaroa

A group of starsingers walk across a bridge in Regensburg, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

Examples:

Die Weihnachtszeit ist erst vorbei, wenn die Sternsinger vorbeikommen.

The Christmas period isn’t over until the Epiphany singers come by.

In Deutschland feiern wir den Dreikönigstag, indem wir Königskuchen essen und den Sternsingern zuhören.

In Germany we celebrate Epiphany Day by eating King’s cake and listening to the Epiphany singers.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Die Auffrischungsimpfung

With new state-wide 2G-plus rules on the way, you might be looking to get your Auffrischungsimpfung - or wondering what this term even means.

A blackboard with the work 'die Auffrischungsimpfung' on it
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

We’ve been hearing lots about the Auffrischungsimpfung in Germany in recent days (and the past few months) so here’s a closer look at what you should know about the word and the way it is used.

Die Auffrischung translates to refresh, and die Impfung translates to vaccine, therefore making a refresher vaccination, or booster shot. So far, more than 35.6 million people (around 42.9 percent of the German population) have been “geboostert”, meaning they have gotten their Auffrischungsimpfung, or booster shot.

Why do you need an Auffrischungsimpfung?

While Covid-19 vaccines significantly increase vaccine protection against coronavirus, studies show that this protection declines overtime. As a result, an Auffrischungsimpfung is needed to act as a top-up to the immune system and give further protection. 

On Friday, the federal and state governments in Germany agreed to stricter, state-wide rules to combat the new wave of the Omicron variant, with the so-called 2G-plus rules for the hospitality industry. 

READ ALSO: 

It means you must either be vaccinated with your booster shot, or be vaccinated or recovered with a negative Covid test to enter places like restaurants, cafes and bars. 

States are currently putting together legislation to bring these rules in, so keep an eye on local authorities in the coming days. There may also be some regional differences. 

A sign to get vaccinated without an appointment in Wilhelmshaven.

A sign to get vaccinated without an appointment in Wilhelmshaven. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

Who can get an Auffrischungsimpfung?

The booster is recommended for all those fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and over 18 years of age (and note that some states also offer booster vaccines for those 12 years and older).

It is also advised to wait three months after your last vaccination before getting your booster shot, unless you were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in which case, only a four weeks waiting time is recommended.

If you have a weakened immune system, or you’ve recently had Covid-19, you should talk to your GP about the best recommendation for you. 

Regardless of which vaccine was used for the first and second vaccination, an mRNA vaccine such as BioNTech and Moderna should be used for the booster vaccination.

READ ALSO: When should I get my booster in Germany if I’ve just had Covid?

Where can you get an Auffrischungsimpfung?

There are a number of places to get your booster shot: from vaccination centres or at your family doctors to pop-up vaccination centres in places such as Ikea and vaccination buses – Impfbusse.

It’s important to know that like a booster vaccination, the term Auffrischungsimpfung does not necessarily imply a coronavirus booster, with the word also being used in the context of other vaccinations such as a tetanus shot.

And Germans do sometimes use the English word “booster” so you may hear that on your visit to the doctor or vaccination centre too. 

Examples:

Um mich gegen die neue Variante zu schützen, werde ich mir morgen eine Auffrischungsimpfung geben lassen.

To protect against the new variant, I am going to get my booster vaccine tomorrow.

Nach der Auffrischungsimpfung tat mir der Arm ein wenig weh, aber sonst ging es mir gut.

After my booster vaccine my arm was a little sore, but otherwise I was fine.

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