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GERMAN LANGUAGE

What’s behind the strange German name for musical chairs?

In English the name for the popular kids’ birthday game involving chairs and music is fairly straightforward. But why do Germans call it "Trip to Jerusalem"?

Saxony, Lichtenwalde: A group of figures
Saxony, Lichtenwalde: A group of figures "Journey to Jerusalem" from the series "Everyday People" is arranged in Lichtenwalde Castle Park. Photo: dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

If you have been invited to a children’s birthday party in Germany or other German-speaking countries you’ve probably been invited to join in on a game of Reise nach Jerusalem, the German equivalent of musical chairs.

The rules are exactly the same as in other countries: the game starts with the same number of chairs as players, but each time the music stops there is one less chair and the player who fails to find a seat is out.

According to the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper, the origin of the name is something of a mystery, but it could come from the early migration of Jews to Palestine. The theory is that there were never enough seats on the boat, meaning some travellers were left standing.

There is even speculation that the name dates back to the crusades, when Christian soldiers would travel to war in the holy land and never return.

What makes the origin even more murky though is the fact that Austrians call it Reise nach Rom – Trip to Rome.

There are various rule adaptations that you may come across in Germany – each with their own unusual name.

Reise nach Jericho is a co-operative game – all the players need to find space on the ever smaller number of seats, either by sitting on one another’s knees or finding other ingenious ways of sharing the dwindling resources.

In Reise nach Bilbao, an extra seat is added in each round. The players need to find ways of occupying all the seats by lying across them or stacking up the chairs.

Interestingly the game has strange names in other countries too. In Sweden it is called Stormy Seas, Romanians call it “the chick is looking for its nest” …and in Jerusalem? 

In Hebrew it is simply called “kisaot musikaliim”, which means musical chairs.

SEE ALSO: 12 ways to improve your life in Germany without even trying

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

Denglisch - a hybrid of Deutsch and English - can refer to the half-and-half way Germans and foreigners speak to each other. But Germans use plenty of English words amongst themselves - although they don’t always mean the same thing.

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

English speakers are no stranger to using certain German words when speaking English—schadenfreude and kindergarten being perhaps the most obvious. The process is possibly even more advanced in reverse.

Many Germans are proud of being able to speak English well, and the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 only accelerated the process, as a redefined international community – with English as the main global language – beckoned.

Now English words are found in all parts of German life. Many Germans don’t even necessarily understand why. English-language cultural influence is certainly a part of German life, but the dubbing of television shows, to use just one example, remains far more widespread in Germany than in many smaller European countries, which use original audio with subtitles.

Here’s a selection of anglicisms that Germans use with each other. 

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

‘Coffee-To-Go’ or ‘Takeaway’

‘Ein Kaffee zum mitnehmen’ is correct and your coffee shop owner will definitely understand what you want if you ask for it. But plenty of Germans will ask for a ‘Coffee-To-Go,’ even when speaking German to a German barista. This seems to only apply to coffee ordered on the move, however. If you’re sitting down at a table, expect to order the German Kaffee.

Getting a coffee-to-go in Berlin.

Getting a Coffee-To-Go in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Human Resources, ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Manager’

‘Personalabteilung’ is still used to describe a human resources department. But plenty of German companies—whether international or mostly German will use Human Resources even in German-language communication. Although ‘Leiter’ and ‘Leiterin,’ meaning ‘leader’ are used, even German job titles will use “Manager.” The word ‘Manager’ has even been adapted to accommodate German noun genders. A female manager, may be referred to as a ‘Managerin’.

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The world of work in Germany is also notable for importing another contemporary English term. ‘Soft Skills’ is used in German when recruiters are looking to see if a candidate might fit culturally into a particular workplace. The words actually describing these skills, like ‘Führungskompetenz’ or ‘leadership ability,’ often sound unmistakably German though. But there are exceptions. ‘Multitasking’ is used in German as well.

‘Clicken,’ ‘Uploaden,’ ‘Downloaden’ and ‘Home Office’

As technology that came of age relatively recently, German has imported many English terms related to technology and the Internet. While web browsers might use ‘Herunterladen’ instead of ‘download’ or ‘hochladen’ instead of ‘upload,’ Germans are just as likely to use the slightly Germanized version of the English word, hence ‘downloaden’.

READ ALSO: Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

Even before ‘Home Office’ appeared on German tax returns, to calculate what credit workers could get from remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Home Office’ was still widely used in German to describe, well, working from home. It can be confusing for English speakers, though, especially those from the UK, because the Home Office is a department in the British government. 

English words that have slightly different meanings in German – ‘Shitstorm’ and ‘Public Viewing’

There are English words Germans use that don’t always mean quite the same thing to a native English speaker. An English speaker from the UK or Ireland, for example, might associate a ‘public viewing’ with an open casket funeral. Germans, however, tends to use “public viewing” almost exclusively to mean a large screening, usually of an event, that many people can gather to watch for free. Placing a large television at the Brandenburg Gate for German Football Team matches is perhaps the most immediately recognisable example of a ‘public viewing’.

Then there’s what, at least to native English speakers, might sound outright bizarre. But former Chancellor Angela Merkel herself used “Shitstorm” more than once while in office. In German though, it can refer specifically to a social media backlash involving heated online comments.

Another typical English-sounding word used in German differently is ‘Handy’ – meaning cellphone (well, it does fit in your hand). It can sound a bit strange to English speakers, though. 

Other words, however, more or less mean what you think they do – such as when one German newspaper referred to Brexit as a ‘Clusterfuck’.

READ ALSO: Shitstorm ‘best English gift to German language’

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