Zitat der Woche

„Forsche gründlich, rede wahr, schreibe bündig, lehre klar.“

Carl Remigius Fresenius
(German scientist)

Research thoroughly, speak truly, write concisely, teach intelligibly.



A German Christmas Tradition – Barbarazweige

While growing up in a small village in northern Bavaria, I always saw my mom putting Barbarazweige on top of the kitchen cabinet in early December. These otherwise brown barren twigs would come into full bloom by Christmas.

Traditionally, these twigs are cut on 4 December, also known as St. Barbara Day (Catholic church). After cutting, they should experience a slight frost by either putting them in the fridge or leaving them outside overnight. Then put them in warm water for the first night. This will cause them to bloom later as the change from frosty temperature to a warm room makes it seem like spring is coming.

After the first night of warm water, fresh cold water should be given every three days.

Barbarazweige, a German Christmas tradition

Barbarazweige, a German Christmas tradition

Short list of trees or bush which are best:

Kirsche/cherry    Apfel/apple    Forsythien/forsythia    Haselnuss/hazelnut    Zierjohannisbeer/currant    Birke/birch   Weide/willow   Schlehe/blackthorn   Goldregen/laburnum    Ginster/broom (gorse)


This tradition is based on St. Barbara (Heilige Barbara), a shopkeeper’s daughter, who was put in jail. On her way there, her dress got caught on a cherry twig. While she was in her jail cell, she watered the little twig every day. On the day of her execution, the twig blossomed.

Blossoming Twigs bring Good Fortune

Bringing Barbarazweige to blossom is an old, but almost forgotten Christmas tradition. If everything is timed properly, the blossoms come to full bloom at Christmas and this means good fortune for the coming year, and shriveled ones brings back luck.

In the old days, a young woman would write her suitors’ names on pieces of paper and hang them onto the twigs. The one, whose twig blossomed first, should be the one chosen for marriage.

This tradition is mostly forgotten. Yesterday morning, I called my neighbor, a nice elderly woman in her late 70s, and asked her for some Barbarazweige from her garden. She said I was welcome to cut some, but she was not sure if they had such a tree or bush named Barbara. I did not bother to explain this tradition over the phone, but went right over to her garden.

I believe I have twigs from an apple tree, but we shall see.

9 Interesting Facts about the English Language

For students and teachers of English:

* The longest word with only one vowel is ‘strengths’ (a nine-letter word).

* There are only four words ending with -dous are tremendous, stupendous, hazardous and horrendous.

* The oldest word is ‘town’.

* The longest one-syllable word is ‘screeched’.

* The longest word with all the letters in alphabetical order is ‘almost’.

* The only two words ending with -gry are hungry and angry.

* The longest word without the main vowels is ‘rhythms’.

* The dot on the top of the letter ‘i’ is called a tittle.

* The most commonly-used word in conversation is ‘I’.

Quote of the Day

If we do not know what port we are steering for, no wind is favourable.

(German: Solange wir nicht wissen, welchen Hafen wir anlaufen wollen, gibt es keinen günstigen Wind)

– Seneca –

Maasholm in Germany

Maasholm in Germany

Storytelling: What Goes Around, Comes Around

This story will take you from Japan to Thailand, to Germany, and then Istanbul.

Many moons ago, at some time in the early 90s, I used to send care packages for Burmese refugees to the Chiang Mai University in Thailand. Locals had put up a Burmese Relief Centre (BRC) and gathered towels, sheets, clothing, etc. for new arrivals.

During the three years we spent in Japan, I must have sent close to 20 big packages. I hauled each one down the mountain from where we lived and took them to the post office on 199 (main road going through Wakamatsu). I asked around for donations from neighbors and friends.

Every time the centre received a package, I would get a polite thank-you note in return. I used to collect stamps back then, so I  held on to the colorful envelopes.

Letters from Thailand

I had forgotten about this little Burmese Drive of mine until our son applied to the Thailand English Teaching (TET) program this spring, 20 years later. This was the same child I had carried in Japan, while sending these relief packages. Son Thomas was born in Kitakyushu on a cold wintry day in January 1994.

If accepted, Thomas would teach English as an assistant teacher for nine weeks this summer. Well, he got in and so we were curious, of course, as to what location he would be assigned to, but we had to wait a couple more weeks to find out.

Then we learned he got a solo placement at Doitaowittayakom School School, which is a secondary school located at153 Moo.2 Doitao District… in Chiang Mai 50260 (Chiang Mai Province,  Thailand).

This was Chiang Mai calling. Interesting to see how this cycle was coming to a close.

Now this might seem to have come full circle. But wait. There’s more. This inspired me to e-mail the Burmese Relief Centre (BRC) and inquire whether they are still running it. Excerpts from their response this week:

… and many thanks for all your past donations of clothing to the Burmese refugees. The BRC is still operating, and providing emergency assistance to displaced Burmese people, as unfortunately conflict is still continuing, particularly in northern Burma. We still accept donations, of clothing or funds, for the displaced. If your son is passing through the town of Chiang Mai, he is welcome to get in touch and we can explain more about the current situation and our work.

From here and only two days later, the story continues in a different direction. One of my friends, Kamil, a German of Turkish heritage and living in Germany, had asked me to do a translation for his son. He needed this so his son would  be able to travel from Istanbul to Bangkok (without an adult) and spend time with his dad in Thailand for the holidays. When I sent him the translation, I also mentioned our son being in Thailand around the same time this summer. Surprise, surprise. He and his son would also be in Chiang Mai in late August and would like to meet up with Thomas.

I also mentioned to Kamil how much I admired Elif Shafak’s book The Bastard of Istanbul (the link will take you to Amazon.de). This book inspired me to plan a short trip to Istanbul with my husband this autumn.

Again, life surprised me when Kamil offered his vacation apartment in Istanbul for our use.

This seems to be the end of the story. For now. I’m sure it’s just the beginning.

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