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The Coldest Winter: Bilingual Thoughts on the Weather and How We Perceive It Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in Culture, Geography

Es wird immer kälter hier in Chicago. I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two winters I spent in Germany. Irgendwie fand ich das Winter dort krasser als hier. Of course, last year’s did make headlines in Europe as the darkest winter Germany had seen in 43 years. Je kälter der Winter, desto schöner der Frühling, oder? But no matter how poetically you look at it, cold is cold. Es hat natürlich nichts einfacher gemacht, dass meine damalige WG keine zentrale Heizung hatte.

But even if I take the cold apartment out of the equation, I still have the feeling that winter as I know it in Germany is colder than winter as I’ve known it in Chicago and (yes, even) Minnesota. Die durchschnittliche Temperatur in Köln in Januar ist 36 Grad (Fahrenheit). In Minneapolis, the average high temperature in January is a full 12 degrees colder. Trotz diesem wissenschaftlichen Daten glaube ich, das Winter in Köln ist kälter als hier.

Leaving wind-chill out of it, how can it be that winter seems colder, even when it isn’t? Ich glaube, es liegt daran, wie wir einen Winter wahrnehmen. It’s all relative. Ein unerwarteter Faktor für mich war wie oft ich über das Wetter in Deutschland gesprochen habe. The weather is always a trusty topic of conversation, especially if you find yourself someplace where you don’t know many people. Ein Lerner wird auch sehr früh in einem Sprachkurs die relevante Vocabular lernen, um das Wetter zu beschreiben. So that could very well be part of my distorted perception: if I talk more about the weather, I will appreciate it or suffer from it more. Das macht einfach Sinn!

A second factor is the way I would get around in Germany. In Minnesota bin ich den Winter lang mit einem Auto hin und her gefahren. In Germany I did not have a car, so I would spend more time walking through the city, letting the cold air sink in. Man wird sich schnell daran gewöhnen aber ich glaube, dieser Prozess hat mich im Endeffekt mit einem tiefen, ungreifbaren, kalten Gefühl hintergelassen. It’s not so grave as it sounds, though. Gestern, zum Beispiel, als ich auf meinen Zug gewartet habe und eingefroren bin, musste ich nur an kalte Köln denken und plötzlich fühlte ich mich nicht so kalt an.

So if it’s cold where you are right now, remember it’s: it’s all relative. Es könnte immer kälter sein.

krass – (adjective) a somewhat colloquial word for “extreme”, often used to mean “cool” or “crazy”

WG – (noun) abbreviation for Wohngemeinschaft, or, “shared apartment”

durchschnittlich – (adjective) average

wahrnehmen – (verb) to perceive

sich daran gewöhnen – (verb) to become accustomed to

* * *

How do you feel about this jumping around between German and English? As I learned German, I found it overwhelming sometimes to try reading lengthy texts. My goal with this style of writing is to provide an opportunity for a beginning learner with something he or she could understand, without reducing the “difficulty” of the content to the point where a more intermediate reader would be bored. Let me know in the comments if you think I should try this again sometime. It was fun for me to write it!

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About the Author: mickeymickey

Mickey was born in 1987 in Chicago, IL. He plays the oboe and loves Calvin & Hobbes. His favorite Beatles song is "Something", but his favorite Beatles album is A Hard Day's Night.


  1. jamie:

    I love the eng-deutsch combo. It gives context so you try to figure out the new vocab. Pls send more.

  2. Maria Cochrane:

    Ditto. I found it much easier and not overwhelming. So glad to read that YOU liked writing this way!

  3. amelia:

    I also like the back and forth. the context does help a lot, and makes it fun when after a few sentences the meaning comes together. thank you!

    • mickeymickey:

      @amelia That’s great to read. I was hoping that people would think of the english sentences before and after as clues to the German meaning, und es scheint so, als ob du es so wahrgenommen hast!

  4. Yohanna:

    Just getting started and wanted to say thanks for the format you are using with the mix of the languages. Already felt overwhelmed when i saw the first sentences in German. I have been involved with this technique with Spanish and it has helped a lot. Please keep it up.

    • mickeymickey:

      @Yohanna Hi Yohanna, glad to hear that this style works for a beginner, too! I’d love a link to where you’ve seen this in Spanish. I will definitely feature more posts like this!

  5. James Brodie:

    Absolutely loving your articles!

  6. Richard:

    Actually it’s good fun reading something that switches rapidly from German to English and Bach again. Thanks.

  7. Marcia:

    I guess I’m the odd man out with regard to your alternating German and English. Your predecessor had the right idea: compose a text in simple, but flawless German, followed by a smooth translation in English for those who would like to check to make sure they have understood the German correctly. While I do appreciate your enthusiasm, there are errors in your German text, for example: you write both ‘das’ Winter and then ‘der’ Winter in your first paragraph; zentrale Heizung (rather than Zentralheizung); ‘in’ Januar(instead of ‘im’ Januar.

    • mickeymickey:

      @Marcia Thanks for the criticism, Marcia! I’d never heard the term “Zentralheizung” before… probably because I never had it in Germany, haha. As for “das” Winter and “in” Januar, I very much apologize for the errors. I will be sure to write a disclaimer in my next post about the potential for incorrect German in my posts. I am neither a native speaker nor an expert by any means. I will not be posting in this style every time, but when I do I will take more care to proofread my writing. I will never be Fehler-frei, but I really shouldn’t have missed those!

  8. rozina:

    Reading this post was like joy-riding on a bumpy road. Loved it, please do keep it up. Ich glaube, dass es mein Deutsch und Englisch verbessern würde.