Untranslatable German Coffee: Kaffeeklatsch and Kaffeefahrt

Posted on 21. Nov, 2014 by in Culture, Language

Today I’m talking about two words centred around one of my favourite things – coffee!

Coffee in German is Kaffee. Just the mere mention of this word brings a smile to my face. I’m sure you’ve heard of the German Kaffee und Kuchen kultur (‘coffee and cake culture’) – they’re absolutely mad for it. So it’s no surprise that the German language has a few words centred around the beautiful drink that is Kaffee.

The first of the two words is Der Kaffeeklatsch.

At the seance

Kaffeeklatsch. Photo by photocapy on flickr.com

A Kaffeeklatsch is a meeting between friends to exchange gossip over coffee. It is made up of the words Kaffee (coffee) + Klatsch (gossip/noise). This word allegedly originated around the 1900s when German women would gather in one of their homes to drink coffee and chat. The German Kaffee und Kuchen kultur (as I mentioned above) most likely originated from this. Compared to here in the UK, I definitely eat more cake and drink more coffee when I go to Germany, and it is all down to the Kaffeeklatsch custom. Practically everybody wants to invite you round, and it is quite an insult to some people if you say no – especially if they have just baked a cake, or bought one fresh from the bakery, ready for this exact occasion! I can’t think of an English word that describes Kaffeeklatsch. It’s a great German word. :)

The second word is Die Kaffeefahrt.

Bus Stop

Photo by dskley on flickr.com

Although it looks somewhat similar to Kaffeeklatsch, this word has a very different meaning. Kaffeefahrt is made up of the words Kaffee (coffee) + Fahrt (trip). This would lead you to assume that a Kaffeefahrt is some sort of nice, pleasant outing where you drink lots of coffee, right? Well… yes and no. It is a trip, and you do get to drink coffee. But a Kaffeefahrt is not as nice as it sounds.

A Kaffeefahrt is an outing – for example, a coach trip – disguised as a pleasant daytrip, but is really a scam to get people to buy cheap, useless things, advertised as being “Schnäppchen” (bargains) and “exklusiv” (exclusive), to hype people into buying them. These scams are usually targeted at the elderly, who receive them in the form of an invitation. It is called a Kaffeefahrt because there is usually the promise of coffee and cake, which is used as ‘bait’ to draw people in. It is also known as a Werbefahrt (‘Advertising trip’).

An extract from the website Pfiffige Senioren (‘Smart Seniors’) explains why people fall for the Kaffeefahrt scam:

“Senioren haben einen großen Bedarf an Kommunikation. Deshalb nehmen sie besonders gerne an Tagesfahrten teil. Busreise, Essen Kaffee, Kuchen und sie kommen mal raus. Man erlebt Gemeinsamkeit, kann Bekanntschaften schließen. Für einen Tag gehört man mit dazu, ist Mitglied einer Gruppe Gleichgesinnter. Das Hauptmotiv für die Teilnahme ist Unterhaltung und Geselligkeit. Nicht jeder hat Geld zum verreisen, der Ausflug ist billig. Warum also nicht? Und vielleicht gibt sogar einen Gewinn? Immerhin nehmen fünf Millionen Deutsche jährlich an Kaffeefahrten teil.”

Translation: Senior citizens have a great need for communication. This is why they enjoy going on daytrips; a coach trip, food, coffee and cake, and they can get out of the house. There is a sense of community and togetherness, and a chance to make new friends. For one day, they are part of a group of like-minded people. Therefore, the main reason for taking part is this chance for communication and community. Not everybody has the money to go abroad, and this sort of trip is affordable. So why not? They may even win something! Each year, five million Germans take part in so-called Kaffeefahrten.

The website advises you to call the police if you suspect a planned trip is actually a Kaffeefahrt. You can read more about Kaffeefahrten on Pfiffige Senioren (in German).

The fact that this scam is named a Kaffeefahrt (coffee trip) just shows how the appeal of something pleasant (Kaffee) can be used to draw you in to something untoward. Coffee is obviously more addictive than I thought! However, I can’t say I know the English equivalent for a Kaffeefahrt , other than the word scam, which is a bit too general for my liking – can anyone help?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Kaffee-related German word post. It’s made me desperately want another coffee, so I’m off to go and make one. As always, I love your comments, so please do leave one if you have something to say. :)

More untranslatable German words:

Untranslatable German Words: Nervensäge
Untranslatable German Words: Waldeinsamkeit
The German Wimp: A Broad Definition (Schattenparker)
The German culture of cleanliness: Putzfimmel and Kehrwoche
Germany doesn’t have bad weather. It has un-weather. (Unwetter)
Untranslatable German Words Teil 2: Schadenfreude and Fremdscham

“Liebe Mauer” and debate: Are films effective language learning aids?

Posted on 14. Nov, 2014 by in Current Events, History, Language, Television

Hallo! Wie geht’s? :)

Inspired by the recent events in Berlin, I’d like to recommend a German film I watched a while back. It is called Liebe Mauer.


Liebe Mauer (“Beloved Wall” in English) is set in Berlin in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The story is about a woman called Franzi who moves to West Berlin to study. Her flat is on the top floor of a building right on the Grenze (border) of East and West Berlin – the only place she can afford. From her window she can see into the Wachturm (watchtower) where Sascha, an East German border guard is on duty.

Sascha has to complete 3 years’ duty for the Nationale Volksarmee (National People’s Army – the name for the armed forces of the DDR) in order to land a place studying Medizin (medicine) at university.

Sascha and Franzi meet one day and fall for one another, but since Sascha is a border guard and they live on opposite sides of the Mauer (wall) their relationship is difficult and risky. They have to find unconventional ways of communicating and seeing each other.

For instance: Under the rules at the time, East Germans were not permitted to leave the East, but West Germans could visit the East under strict border control. Franzi visits East Berlin regularly to meet Sascha, but there is a curfew, so she cannot stay overnight. To counteract this, Franzi swaps identities for one night with one of Sascha’s East German friends, Uschi, so she can stay with Sascha overnight in East Berlin. Meanwhile, Uschi stays in West Berlin, posing as Franzi.

But the relationship between Franzi and Sascha is eventually uncovered. Both the Stasi and the CIA are not happy about a West German woman and an East German border guard planning secret meetings, and they see it as the start of a revolt. So they try to sabotage it, telling Franzi and Sascha that they must spy on each other and report back to the authorities, and that if they don’t they will face imprisonment.

I won’t say any more, otherwise I’ll spoil the ending! But it’s a lovely film which I wanted to recommend for anyone interested in watching German films. Here are a few extra notes to help you if you want to watch this film.

Berlin Wall

Depiction of love at the time of the Berlin Wall. Photo by abhijeetrane on flickr.com


+ The title of the film- Liebe Mauer - is a play on words. It can mean ‘Dear Wall’ (like the start of a letter), ‘Beloved Wall’ (showing affection), and individually, the two words of the title mean ‘love’ and ‘wall’ – which are essentially what the film is about.

+ In terms of genre, this film is more of a romantic comedy than a historical drama about the Berlin Wall. You won’t come away with a wealth of information and facts. But it is extremely enjoyable to watch, and it gives you a sense of how the Wall affected people’s personal lives at the time.

+ I recommend turning on the German subtitles when you watch it, as then you have a visual aid to go along with the audio. Plus, there may be things you don’t understand when you hear them, but recognise when you read them (or vice versa), so you’ll have a better overall understanding of the dialogue. Besides that, the Berlin accent can be tricky (well, it was for me)!!

+ There is debate over how effective foreign language films are to improving language skills. Some say it is too passive an activity to learn from. Personally, I think it is dependent on how advanced you are in your language. Certainly if you are a beginner then you are unlikely to learn much from watching a film (aside from getting a feel of how the language sounds). However, if you are more advanced then it can be a real confidence boost to watch a foreign language film and find yourself understanding and recognising words and phrases. It’s not active learning, but to some degree it’s effective as a way of checking your progress. Plus, it’s fun!

If you’re learning German, do you find watching German films helpful? Why/why not? Do you think watching foreign language films improves language ability, or that it’s too passive?

And would you watch Liebe Mauer? Have you watched it?

I’ll leave you with the trailer! Tschüss!

Berlin to release glowing ‘Balloon Wall’ into night sky for 25 year anniversary

Posted on 09. Nov, 2014 by in Current Events, History

The fall of the Berlin Wall - November 1989

Photo by gavinandrewstewart on Flickr.com

Today, the 9th November 2014, is a historic day for Germany. It marks the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Die Berliner Mauer in German).

For 28 years (1961-1989 inclusive), Germany was divided into East (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR in German; German Democratic Republic or GDR in English) and West (Bundesrepublik Deutschland or BRD in German; Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in English). The Eastern DDR was governed by the Soviet Union, while the Western BRD was split into zones governed by the United States, United Kingdom and France.

The capital city of Berlin, despite being firmly in the Soviet zone, was also divided. It became East Berlin and West Berlin, with the East governed by the Soviet Union, and the West by the United States, the UK, and France. However, on 13th August 1961, Berlin’s political division gained a physical face: This was the historic day that the Berlin Wall went up.

The East German authorities claimed the Wall was to prevent the “fascist” influences of the West on their communist society. While West Berliners could visit East Berlin (under strict controls), East Berliners were not allowed to leave at all. Should anyone make an attempt at escaping, the East German border guards had a “shoot to kill” order which meant they could kill any citizen who disobeyed their orders to stop. In the 28 years that the Berlin Wall was up, hundreds of people lost their lives trying to flee East Germany.

The Wall came down almost as suddenly as it went up. There had been mass demonstrations and protests against the communist regime by East German citizens for months leading up to November 9th 1989. The Eastern communist bloc was weakening, and in Poland and Hungary the system appeared to have collapsed altogether. There was political unrest, but nobody could have predicted what would happen next.

On the evening of 9th November 1989, the East German authorities announced that East Berliners were free to enter West Berlin “sofort” (immediately). Just like that, the Berlin Wall was no more.

The DDR and BRD reunited to become Germany on October 3rd 1990.



Photo by O.Horbacz on Flickr.com

Lichtgrenze Bernauer 3

Photo by berlincount on Flickr.com

To mark the 25 year anniversary of the Berliner Mauerfall (Fall of the Berlin Wall), 8,000 illuminated balloons were installed last week in Berlin, marking where the Wall used to be. This wall of balloons is known in German as the Lichtgrenze (light border). Tonight, this Lichtgrenze will disappear, as the Berlin Wall did 25 years ago; every last balloon will be released into the night sky as a beautiful symbol of German reunification, and a reminder of the historic day when the Wall came down.

Click here to read more about the exhibitions and events surrounding the 25 year anniversary of the Berliner Mauerfall.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the Berlin Wall, I can recommend a book called “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” by William F. Buckley Jr. I borrowed this book from my library sometime last year, and it was a fascinating read.

What do you think of the Lichtgrenze (balloons) as a way of remembering the fall of the Berlin Wall? Please do share your thoughts, experiences and feelings on this topic in the comments. Personally, I wish I could be in Berlin tonight to watch the Lichtgrenze float away. If you’re there, let us know what it is/was like. :)