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Guten Tag! Today I thought it’d be fun to look at some superstitions – or Aberglauben – you may come across in Germany. Knowing what these are might help explain any ‘unusual’ behaviour you see in Germany, and help you to avoid making an embarrassing faux-pas yourself!
Feel free to add any more German superstitions you know in the comments. 🙂
In Germany, and several other countries, wishing someone a happy birthday before their actual birthday is considered bad luck. This superstition is what gave rise to the German concept of reinfeiern, where people have a party the night before someone’s birthday and wish them happy birthday at midnight or afterwards. The word reinfeiern means ‘to celebrate into’.
In Germany it’s believed that, if you don’t maintain eye contact while raising a toast and clinking your glasses together, you’ll have bad sex for 7 years.
Never say Prost (cheers) with water. The Ancient Greeks used to raise a toast to the dead with water in their glasses, so doing this is considered bad luck.
A traditional German housewarming gift is bread (Brot) and salt (Salz). It’s believed that if you give bread and salt to someone, they will never go hungry in their new home.
However, do not give knives as a housewarming gift. The superstitious believe doing this brings injury and even death!
When you meet your friends in the pub, knock on the table to show you are not a demon. Back in the day, all pub tables were made of oak, which was considered a holy tree that the devil couldn’t touch. By knocking on the table you tell your friends you are you and not the devil, which is always nice to know. So if you see anyone knocking on the table as a greeting, you know why.
In English theatre, you don’t say ‘Good luck’ but rather ‘Break a leg’ before a performance. In German theatre, the tradition is to say ‘Toi Toi Toi’ and spit over the actor’s left shoulder. This was believed to be a way of warding off evil spirits.
Press your thumbs! If you want to wish someone good luck, you shouldn’t cross your fingers but rather press your thumbs with your fingers. During Gladiator fighting in Ancient Rome, a thumbs-up indicated for the gladiator to be executed, while holding the hands up with hidden thumbs indicated that they shall live. This is why Germans say Ich drücke dir die Daumen! – ‘I will press my thumbs for you’ to wish someone luck.
It is considered good luck to shake hands with a chimney sweep.
It is also considered good luck to break something glass or ceramic. The Germans have a saying: ‘Scherben bringen Glück’ – ‘Shards bring luck’.
Some believe that if your dog dies you should bury them right underneath your front doorstep, and then their ghost will guard your house.
It’s bad luck to walk in between two old women in the street.
In the UK it’s bad luck for a black cat to cross your path. In Germany this is also bad luck, but it’s a bit more specific. There is a saying:
“Schwarze Katz von rechts nach links, Glück bringt’s.
Schwarze Katz von links nach rechts, was Schlecht’s.”
“Black cat from right to left brings luck.
Black cat from left to right brings bad luck.”
Let me know if you know of any more! 🙂
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