The story behind garden gnomes

Cultural heritage or just a funny German tradition?

Walking through a German suburb, you often get to see some little red-capped and white-bearded creatures, smiling or staring at you. Garden gnomes. “Oh no”, you think while passing by, “this is so typically German”. In fact, an estimated 25 million garden gnomes live in Germany’s gardens. So, no wonder that they became a part of many people’s imagination of a German stereotype. But do you actually know where this trend comes from?

What are garden gnomes?

Garden gnomes are small statuettes that are used as garden décor. Most of them look like squat little men with white beards and red pointy hats, so-called Phrygian caps. You can spot the typical gnomes doing leisure activities like gardening (while holding their garden tools, of course). However, a current funny part of this trend is that some gnomes portray stereotypes of certain groups or carry uncommon attributes. So, a real garden gnome collector may be in possession of figures with biker suits, a German football jersey or a bathing suit and sunglasses. People might even give them names – there really are no limits to creativity!

The origin of garden gnomes

To discover how these little guys actually came to end up in our gardens, we have to travel back to ancient Rome, when decorating already was a huge thing. Back then they put statues of their fertility god in gardens to defend them from evil spirits. During the Renaissance era, the folklore around gnomes grew thanks to German fairy tales and myths. Inspired by stories portraying gnomes as little creatures living in forests, people put the statues in their gardens as well by the beginning of the 18th century. However, at this time only wealthy families could afford that, as the first gnomes on the market were made of terra cotta. Nevertheless, the trend soon spread across Europe and the production of garden gnomes flourished in Germany. Thanks to new and more economical options for material, gnomes also became affordable for lower classes.

The mystic part behind it

“Garden gnome” comes from the Greek genomos meaning “earth-dweller”. As I already said, the popularity around gnomes emerged from myths and legendary tales. Gnomes were believed to have magical powers and to live underground or deep in a forest. Traditionally, people believed that gnomes could help humans in their garden, but only during the night when nobody could see them – as in the light of day they would again transform into stone. We might probably never know if this part of the story was really true – or have you ever spent an entire night in your garden looking to see if anything was moving?

The traveling gnome prank

If you’ve never heard about the Garden Gnome Liberation Front, this game will probably amuse you. The community originating in France made it their mission to liberate garden gnomes from their owners’ servitude and take them with them on their travels. The owners then received pictures of their stolen gnomes in front of famous places – and when the gnomes were returned after their journey, they often carried a travel diary documenting their newly gained freedom.

So, a German cliché?

As you’ve seen, there’s much more behind the story of garden gnomes than you might have thought. Their stories date back to ancient mythologies about gnomes and dwarfs, which were told through generations. Today, apart from a handful of serious garden-gnome-collectors, people certainly regard them as funny. However, they’re still part of Germany’s cultural heritage.

Author: Marie Peter

Festive season in January?

Celebrating orthodox Christmas in Germany

“Merry Christmas” is a phrase I would typically say in December as me and my family celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December, just like every other Christian families does, right? Well, at least I thought so until I got to know my best friend. She and her Macedonian orthodox Christian family celebrate Christmas on the 6th of January. With the help of her real life experiences, I want to illustrate some background information and traditions of a Macedonian orthodox Christmas celebration in Germany.

What is the orthodox church?

The orthodox church alongside roman catholic and protestant church form the three main Christian groups. Orthodox beliefs don’t differ in many ways from the other two, but it is divided geographically e.g. to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Church. Those do have theological differences within because this belief forms partly from traditions which differ around the world, even though the main beliefs in Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God and his reincarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, stay the same. The Eastern Orthodox church is again subdivided geographically, rather than divided by nations and all churches are either autocephalous (have their own head) or autonomous (self-governing). They still go by the Julian calendar which explains the time differences to our Gregorian calendar.

The relatively small Republic of North Macedonia shares borders with Serbia in the north, Bulgaria in the east, Greece in the south and Albania in the west and is therefore landlocked in the eastern part of Europe. The Macedonian orthodox church is a belief which about two-thirds of the North Macedonian population professes, but it isn’t recognized autonomously by all of the other churches.

What does a typical Christmas look like?

The orthodox church puts a lot more emphasis on family and Jesus than the typical German Christian family. When I was a kid, Christmas was mainly about the presents and good food, but as my friend told me, her family doesn’t exchange gifts at all on Christmas. However, food is an important part in their traditions as well. In the time before Christmas, they fast, which means in this case following a vegan diet. Fish, however, is still allowed in this diet and the fasting lasts up until and including the 6th of January, so effectively their Christmas Eve.

Another important tradition is the coin in the bread. They put a coin in the bread dough and when it’s time for dinner the bread gets separated between the family members, including a piece for Jesus and Maria and other people or things that are important and loved by the family. All the bread must be eaten or else it allegedly means bad luck and whoever finds the coin in their piece is to have good luck during the next year. If, for example, the kid gets the coin, he or she also gets a little money from the parents and if the coin is for example in the piece for their house, the family is supposed to buy or do something for the house, like giving it a fresh paint or buy some sort of accessory for the house.

A very interesting aspect of their dinner is that once a person sat down at the table, they are not allowed to stand back up or if they do and then sit back down, they are not allowed to eat anymore. Because of that, the family gathers everything they might need during dinner on the table before sitting down, which always ends in an awfully full table, as my friend states.

What does it feel like to celebrate Christmas later than all of your friends?

In this section I can only speak for my friend who told me all of this and I know that it is probably different for everyone experiencing it. First of all, she states that celebrating later has pros and cons. She never has to argue about which family dinner to attend with her roman catholic boyfriend, as they have separate dates for celebrating Christmas and can subsequently simply do it twice. Generally, she says that when it comes to the 6th of January, she is usually not in a festive mood anymore because all of the people around her already throw out their Christmas trees and are done with the festive season. It sometimes feels weird to still celebrate Christmas. Also, because it is usually the last day of the holidays, her parents have to work the next day and she has to attend to university the next day, they only have one day to celebrate and almost no opportunity to visit relatives the following day like I have when I celebrate on the 24th.

After all, please don’t forget to wish your orthodox friends a Merry Christmas on the 6th of January, I know that they will appreciate your consciousness about their culture very much!

Author: Sandra Rieger

The cultural identity of someone who switches between 4 languages every day

Many people assume that being multilingual has only bright sides, especially if someone speaks one of the languages they’ve been trying to learn for ages. And in that specific context, they might be right: the one speaking a language “naturally”, without searching for words or asking themselves if the structure is correct, might at that moment feel good about speaking that language. But that’s not the whole story.

Languages convey cultures

Conventional wisdom has it that language is related to culture, particularly if you learn it at an early age. If your parents talk to you in a different language from the one spoken in the region/country you live in, they unconsciously convey a certain sense of otherness; this aspect normally extends to other aspects of life and influences the way they are perceived.

Some might enjoy talking in a different way and having another code while others might just want not to be different, depending on their personality and on the social prestige of the language they speak.

Whatever the case, when you speak another language, especially as a means of communication in everyday life, you will adopt another culture as well. It does make a difference whether your mom tells you “du siehst heute müde aus” or “dai non fare il monello che viene la polizia” or “stai ma la un loc” or “is somebody tired today?”.  They all convey culturally different meanings, even if they are semantically similar.

“Are you more X or Y?”

Sometimes, people will ask you  which culture you really belong to, and no matter how unimportant or obvious  the answer might be to you, you are still going to wonder why you have been asked that question. For many people the answer might be obvious: a “mixed culture”; others may not be aware of having one, or be proud of having a mixed one, but it’s still going to be a special cultural identity.

Me

I don’t feel like I have a mother tongue anymore: each one of my languages has “missing parts” or “non-native speaker fields of vocabulary”. I have no answer to the question “Are you more German/Italian/Romanian?”. I was relieved when I managed to speak German well enough to not be asked where I was from anymore. My children are learning German as their first language and the other languages I speak as a sort of foreign language.  I don’t know if that was the right choice. I do know, however, that this was the best way for me to simplify the cultural issue.

Conclusion: where will your children be “at home”?

There are, of course, many cognitive advantages in learning different languages at an early age, and everybody should be aware of that. However, there are disadvantages to being multilingual as well:   sometimes it means having to decide where you want to belong – and where you want your children to  feel at home.

Author: Ana Maria Silberhorn

Language and Gender

How society changes language

Language plays an important role in our lives. It’s not just about communicating and interacting, but also about sending indirect messages through our chosen words. This can have challenging consequences in society regarding individual attitudes and lifestyles. In recent years there have been linguistic changes intended to make our language more inclusive. But why now?

The classic role allocation

Up to the 20th century there was a clear gender distinction in life. It was common that men provide for their families, go to work and manage the finances. Meanwhile the women stay at home to take care of the home and children. Back then, people didn’t think about changing common gendered expressions in the language they used. The words used just reflected the structure of society at the time. Terms like ‘manpower’ were clearly adequate to describe the workforce in that times, which consisted of male workers. But should we still stick to those expressions nowadays?

Language develops with culture

In modern society we’re more aware of these antiquated prejudices in general. Over the last century, awareness for equal rights of women and minorities has risen. Since our way of expression and communication reflects our mindsets and attitudes, it changes as our habits do. Why should we hold on to terms that exclude minorities, when we aim to include them in our society and fight for their equal rights? It wouldn’t make any sense to hold on to them because we don’t want to harm anybody’s feelings by using exclusive language. If we care about other people, we also have to choose our words wisely.

Cis men are still privileged

Regardless, there are still many situations where cis men are regarded as superior. The question is: does language change our society or does society change our language? We could say they influence each other. If people are not willing to adapt their attitudes towards modern movements, their language won’t either. But if we don’t become aware of the effect our way of speaking has on our habits, we won’t rethink how we’re living.

Make a change

We can see in political debates, that there are still problems and challenges in our efforts to be more inclusive. Raising awareness towards minorities and all the terms that could negatively affect others, seems very demanding and often difficult to realize. However, isn’t it better to try our hardest rather than to simply give up? Obviously, change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we keep trying we can improve our world one word at a time – for all of us.

Author: Leonie Kohl Xiques

Underrated University events : International Day

I have been studying at the University of Augsburg for over two years, but I’ve never heard of International Day. As somebody that’s highly interested in other countries’ cultures and especially their food, it’s safe to say that I was excited to be part of this event for the first time.


Foreign students present their country

The biggest part of this event is, of course, the presentation of countries from all over the world, done by students that are either natives or have lived there. Since our table was right next to India, and I was very intrigued by the delicious-looking food that people were handing out right next to us. I decided that the “Asia corner” would be my first stop. My first time walking through, I decided to have a look at everything before starting to talk to people. The people from the Indian table, apart from having great music and food, also offered henna tattoos, which looked absolutely beautiful. Right next to them, I was immediately offered some rice from the nice man behind the Pakistan table. I continued my journey looking at every country from Japan to China over to Korea. I also met quite a lot of people interested in Australia and New Zealand. Beside their curiosity in vegemite, they also wanted some information on studying abroad and on what to look for when applying. Right at the entrance, I saw a flock of people collected around Georgia. When I looked closer, I realized what was keeping them: some very nice-smelling food.

But what’s the one thing that attracts students more than food? Alcohol! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try any of it but people looked thrilled at the shots offered right next to “HS I”. Exams are getting closer and what better way could there be to prepare yourself? These are just some highlights that I saw, but these weren’t even half the countries you were able to get a glimpse of. So all in all, if you missed this time, make sure to visit next time, because the people you meet are delightful. Here’s a big thank you to everyone that put so much effort into showing us their home or favourite travel detination.

What else was there?

Not only were you able to get an insight into other countries’ cultures but you could also meet experienced people who were ready to reply to your questions. Whether you consider studying or working abroad, and no matter which continent you consider going to, these people are there to help you. And, last but not least, there was… us. We were there, too, to spread the word about eMAG. In case you missed out on this one (like I always did), make sure you follow our social media accounts where we post regularly about events on and around campus:
Instagram: @emag_ua
Facebook: @eMAGUniAugsburg

Author & Picture: Melani Cifric

Sympathy for a killer


The lights come on and in a nightgown Ruth Ellis (Lotte Albrecht) enters the stage to the bittersweet Blues of Billie Holiday, which immediately draws the audience into the stylish, but flawed version of the 1950s that forms the backdrop for the story preceding Ruth’s death. On 13 July 1955, at the age of 28 she is hanged, the last woman in Britain to suffer this fate. Her crime: she shot her lover in cold blood. What drove this young, beautiful woman over the edge? Why did she not even attempt to defend herself? These are some of the questions “The Thrill of Love” by Amanda Whittington aims to explore.

An emotional rollercoaster

The story is told in flashbacks through the perspective of Inspector Jack Gale (Jack Sigel). During his investigation he reconstructs a selection of events that give us an insight into the seedy world of gentlemen’s clubs and the women working the nights. Always present on bar room stage, he is a constant reminder that even the happiest moments in the lives of the women there are nothing but stepping stones on the path to the grim future we already know. However, these scenes of joy are one of the greatest feats of the play: it’s all too easy to get lost in the hopelessness and sadness that is usually associated with the story of Ruth Ellis. The playful banter between the women is a welcome break and allows the actresses to display their perfect timing and quick delivery. Thanks to these moments the characters become more than just parts of a tragic story. We become invested in their hopes and dreams, although we should know full well that they are unlikely at best. When this realization finally kicks in during the second half of the play, it hits that much harder.

Powerful performances

There are no extras in “The Thrill of Love”. Every character has his or her moments. The club’s manager Sylvia Shaw (Lucie Marchand) appears to be all business, but she cares deeply about all the women who work for her. The charwoman Doris (Anna Hilbel) often puts her needs behind those of others, even if it puts her own happiness at risk. The young Vicky Martin (Sara Steffes) hopes to meet powerful men and become a star on the big screen. Even Inspector Gale, cold as he may seem, turns out to be motivated by more than the mere desire to solve a case.

An unforgettable evening

“The Thrill of Love” is a powerful experience. The crew surrounding Rudolf Beck has managed to create a captivating atmosphere that lingers long after the curtain closes. We may know the outcome from the very beginning, but we don’t know the story behind it. In finding out, it’s difficult not to feel somewhat like a voyeur. Personal tragedies happen in silence. It’s when they emerge that we start to care.

 

Performances:

Thursday 6th December
Friday 7th December
Tuesday 11th December
Thursday 13th December

8 p.m., Hörsaal II

 

Author & Poster: Andreas Böhm

German grimness

Sometimes it’s a good idea not to worry so much. But even when we really shouldn’t, we kind of always do. You see we Germans are pretty good at a lot of things, or at least we hope we are. We build some rather nice cars. We play soccer as an actual team sometimes. We have the best beer. We have a really good rail network. Wait what?

Yeah, you got that. Someone actually saying the Deutsche Bahn is doing at least a more or less decent job. Half of you will probably stop reading now – but not so fast, please. The last time I took a train outside of Germany thirty-five kilometres took seven hours on a Chinese train with British train tracks. I say that, because the Chinese didn’t quite get their measurements right and the ride was incredibly bumpy. There was also a mouse (or quite possibly mice) hiding somewhere under the floor and occasionally a branch hit someone through the windowless carriages. But guess what? Everybody on that train was really happy. For a country where the GDP per capita is a good three percent that of Germany, I find that quite fantastic. On the last train I took in Germany, half the people looked unhappy – me included. After all, that 5-minute delay really was heart breaking.

So lean back, relax and maybe try not to worry for the next one and a half minutes it will take you to read this.

First, there’s our school system. Every three years, the “Programme for International Student Assessment” (PISA) does just that and assesses our school system somewhere, somehow. In the end, everyone is disappointed and nothing changes. I’m sure there’s a PISA inspector somewhere that hopes that Chinese students acing all their exams are incredibly happy and that all those poor lost souls playing football and having fun are really unhappy that they didn’t come top of the world in the test.

Besides, there’s the weather. It’s either too hot or too cold and when it’s just right, you’re far away on holiday and its either too damp, humid or sunny there.

Apart from that, those of you who are not privately insured will surely have sat in a waiting room before. And yes, our system is quite silly. But no, don’t tell that to anyone in the United States who just got a medical bill for fifty thousand dollars. He’ll probably wish the snake had been more poisonous.

Another thing is statistics like the unemployment rate, which is a mere 3.8% and yet if you ask any German for their first impression, they’d likely say it’s way too high. Tell that to the Kenyans, where not even half the people are employed. And yes, that might be a rather lousy comparison, but our next-door neighbour France’s rate is closer to ten percent. Ask them, and they’ll say it’s not too bad. And they’re not wrong. Compared to Kenya’s, it really isn’t.

Looking at someone’s face in a posh restaurant in Germany when they have to wait longer than the five and a half minutes, they expect their apéritif to take makes you think people in Africa die of anger – and not starvation.

So yeah, maybe next time think about how happy others would be if their situation was only as bad as yours. And then just relax – it really can’t be that bad.