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

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
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"?

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.

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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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