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German word of the day: Sommerschnee

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
German word of the day: Sommerschnee
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Though you're unlikely to see much snow in summer, this German word describes something that looks just like it.

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Why do I need to know Sommerschnee?

Because this rather adorable word describes a truly delightful part of late spring and early summer in Germany, and your German friends will be very impressed you know the nickname for it. 

What does it mean?

Though you may be tempted to take the word literally, Sommerschnee (pronounced like this) actually has nothing to do with a bout of cold weather in the warmer months. 

Instead, summer snow is a romantic way to talk about a soft, white, featherlight substance you may see floating around the streets or catching a stray sunbeam in a park in summer.

This Sommerschnee is actually closer to wool, and it's often referred to as Pappelwolle (poplar wool), Pappelschnee (poplar snow) or Pappelflaum (poplar fluff) since it originates on poplar trees.

READ ALSO: Nine expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Germany

So, why do poplar trees produce this strange, ethereal substance? Well, it's primarily way of transporting the seeds of the poplar, ensuring that they're carried on the wind as far as possible. With a casing of white fluff protecting the seeds, they can move much further on a summer breeze, or Lüftchen.

In the later months of spring in particular, Sommerschnee becomes an inextricable part of the natural scenery in Germany, with tiny flakes sailing in the sunshine and occasionally coating the streets with a light dusting of summery snow. 

Summer snow in Germany

A cyclist rides along a country lane covered in 'summer snow' in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Anything else I should know about Sommerschnee?

If you think this soft, wool-like material looks cosy enough to sleep in, you're spot on: poplar wool is even used as a filling in duvets these days.

Jens-Gerrit Eisfeld was the visionary who first discovered this use for Sommerschnee, and he created a special machine that separates the seeds from the cellulose fibres of the wool, making a perfect, moisture-absorbent and heat-resistant bedding. 

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And humans aren't the only ones to make good use of Sommerschnee in the home: some species of bird are also partial to poplar wool for building their nests. One charming example of this is the marsupial tit, which builds beautiful cocoons out of Sommerschnee that hang high up in birch trees. 

If you tend to get allergies, you'll also be pleased to know that this fluffy substance won't get up your nose - though the pollen that the poplars produce this time of year may well be a different story. 

READ ASLO: German word of the day - Frühlingsmüdigkeit

Use it like this: 

Ich liebe diese Jahreszeit, wann alles grün ist und den Sommerschnee erscheint. 

I love this time of year, when everything is green and the summer snow appears.

Sommerschnee ist wirklich wunderschön, auch in der Großstadt. 

Summer snow is really beautiful, even in the big city.

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