Brückenschläge und Schlagworte

Schlagwort: words

The Things I Love About Poland – Part II

I guess we all have countries which make us feel at home more than others. My parents, for example, love Greece, and they feel imbalanced when they don’t go every year. Most people get that. Greece has beaches, and islands, and ouzo, and lots of pretty old ruins. When I speak about Poland with that same affection, people just give me disbelieving looks. But guess what. Poland has beaches! And lakes! And vodka! And TONS of pretty old ruins – and pretty old buildings that are still whole, or have been restored beautifully.

Dlugi Targ, Gdansk, Poland

Długi Targ, the Long Market, in the center of my most beloved Gdańsk. Everything was in ruins here after World War II, but is shiny and sparkling today. I hear that Polands restorers are among the best in the world, and I believe that alright!

Last week I spoke about my love for the urban beauty of Polish cities, of the amazing sense of history in the country, of the hospitality I have met and the friends I have found, about the enchanting melody of that beautiful strange language, and about Polish music that has touched my heart. As if all this wasn’t enough, I have more reasons why my eyes light up when I talk about Poland. And I am not afraid to tell you about them.

6. The Landscapes

How could I speak about the cities and not equally enthusiastically mention the landscapes! From the Baltic Sea and the Mazurian Lakes in the North to the Tatra Mountains and the softer Plains in the South, the country really has it all.

Szczytno, Poland

Szczytno in the Mazurian Lake district enchants with a beautiful sunset.

Rozanka, Poland

Różanka in Lower Silesia offers pretty views and is very close to the Sudety mountains.

Poland even has the last European jungle in the Northeast which is high on my bucket list as I haven’t managed to see it yet. The wild bisons that live there, the żubry, have been namesake to both the beer żubr and the vodka żubrówka. Who wouldn’t need to see them now? One of the things that make Poland such an amazing country is definitely its diversity. From beach vacations by the sea to skiing in the mountains, you can find everything your travel heart desires here.

Sopot, Poland

Didn’t I say there were beaches? If it is this pretty in winter, just imagine how amazing the pretty spa town of Sopot must be in summer!

7. The Food – and the Vodka!

Ah, the food. I am not a huge foodie, but Polish food has me salivating. For one thing, don’t expect to ever go hungry in Poland. Generally, there is too much food for a person to handle, even if it is so delicious that you never want to stop eating. The Polish are big on soups and stews from żurek, a sour rye soup, to all kinds of vegetable soups (especially try barszcz, a beetroot based soup), to bigos, a heavy cabbage stew that will warm you on a snowed in winter’s night (because yes, it does get cold in Poland). I can never get enough of wątróbki, poultry livers served with apple and onions, and of the famous pierogi, dumplings that come filled with all sorts of different stuffings. If you can get someone to make them from scratch with you, you will never want to cook anything else at home anymore.

Making Pierogi in Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

When I lived in Bystrzyca Kłodzka in Lower Silesia, we made Pierogi in the group of international volunteers with our Polish teacher. And my, were they yummy!

Of course a good Polish meal is not complete without good Polish vodka. No other beverage have I been drunker on. But if you drink the good kind and don’t mix it with cheap kinds, you will not even be hungover. I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to talk much about it. If you go to Poland, one or two vodka incidents are without fail bound to happen. And even if you never liked vodka before, trust me and try it here. It is delicious and it certainly speeds up the process of making Polish friends.

Pear Vodka, Sopot, Poland

Doesn’t look like vodka? Ah, but it is! With pears! And it was beyond delicious. Never would I have gotten to taste it if my friend Karol hadn’t known the bar tender 🙂

8. The Literature

Adding to the Polish language having drawn me in with strange magnetic pull, I have also fallen hard for Polish literature. It was no love at first sight. For a long time I didn’t really have any favourite Polish authors or works. But the more I read, the more I wanted, and the better I knew the language, the more I loved what I was reading. Epic realist novels like Bolesław Prus‘ Lalka („The Doll“), masterpieces of absurdism by Witold Gombrowicz, amazing SciFi like Stanisław Lem’s Solaris and heartbreaking poetry by the nobel prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, and the great feminist novelists of today, like Olga Tokarczuk and my very favourite Joanna Bator – the list goes on and on.


I have found myself in too many books to actually list here, they have been eye-opening for me. To give you a taste, I translated one of my favourite Szymborska poems for you.

Na lotnisku

Biegną ku sobie z otwartymi ramionami,
wołają roześmiani: Nareszcie! Nareszcie!
Oboje w ciężkich zimowych ubraniach.
w grubych czapkach,
ale już tylko dla nas.
Bo dla siebie – nadzy.

At the airport

They run towards each other with open arms
Calling out laughing: Finally! Finally!
Both in heavy winter clothing
In heavy hats,
But only to us.
Because to each other already – naked.

9. The Sense of Humour

Poles are extremely friendly and set great store by hospitality, as I mentioned last week. But not only that. Man, those people can make you laugh! I don’t know wether it is because they haven’t had much to laugh about in history, but generally Polish humour is dark, dry, politically incorrect and screamingly funny. To be quite frank it took me a while to really get into it, but I’m just telling you to not be shy, take that stick out of your butt that has been shoved up there in whatever country you are from, and go ahead and laugh.

Browarnia, Gdansk, Poland

„A bar tender is no camel, he needs to have his drink too!“ – on a jar for tips in a much beloved Gdansk based bar. Yeah, sometimes the humour isn’t dark and twisted, but just cute 🙂

I was warned before watching the Polish cult film Rejs, „The Cruise“, that I might not get why it is funny. I never stopped laughing when I saw it. I wish I had found a subtitled version of this scene which is my absolute favourite. I can but hope that the body language of the cast alone will at least make you smile. The dialogue is hilarious.

10. The Swearwords

Closing on a high note here. Obviously there is one specific part of language, which in general I already discussed, that deserves extra attention. Almost any language beats German when it comes to swearing, we only have boring words that don’t do the somewhat violent melody of our language any justice. But cursing in Polish is pure poetry. It is so emphatic and creative. I know you expect better of me, the academic, but I dare you to have a Pole teach you how to curse and your life will never be the same. There are actual linguistic studies on the fact that German cursing is usually related to fecies (shit) while Slavic cursing is related to sex (fuck). There is nothing as relieving as uttering a heartfelt kurwa jebana mać (a very emphatic „fuck!“, but literally something like „damn fucked bitch“). And the most brilliant thing is: They use swear words for affirmation and celebration as well – as in zajebiście, which means „awesome“, but literally „fucked“.

Bystrzyca Kłodzka, Poland

I called the little town of Bystrzyca Kłodzka my home for 6 months. There was nothing spectacular about it. But it is Poland. Therefore, it is home.

Having said all of this, I feel once more ever so grateful for my blog. You don’t understand how even thinking about all these things made me so happy. I think back on all the places I have seen in Poland, and all the ones I am yet to discover. There is no other country except for Germany that I know so much about, and yet I don’t know nearly enough. I want to see more, know more, understand better.

You know how when you travel and get cash from the ATM in a foreign country, you try to calculate so you won’t get too much as to not be stuck with foreign currency at the end of your trip? In Poland I never do that. I always take out any decent amount I feel like taking out. If I have Zloty left over at the end of my stay, I will just spend them the next time around. It is never far away.

Which country makes you feel at home? Why do you love it so much, and do people understand your love for it?

Travel Fever and Moving Forward

The first post I ever wrote in English on this blog was almost exactly three years ago – I looked back on the first half of my (South-) Eastern European adventure and took stock. That post centered around travel quotes. You can read it here.

Years later, I am still a big fan of words that encapture what travel means to me. I find them in so many places – in what a friend says to me. In a song that I hear on my iPod looking out a bus window. In a book that I have read. Written on buildings, monuments or the pavement of the cities I visit. All I have to do is open my eyes and my heart to them, and they will fall into my soul and move me.

Düsseldorf, Germany

Spotted on the door to a confectionery – „The world belongs to those who enjoy it“. This happens to be the motto of the lovely German travel blogger Jana of – if you speak German, check her out!!

I set out on my trip back in the days with this quote by Polish travel writer and journalist Ryszard Kapuściński on my mind:

Podróż przecież nie zaczyna się w momencie, kiedy ruszamy w drogę, i nie kończy, kiedy dotarliśmy do mety. W rzeczywistości zaczyna się dużo wcześniej i praktycznie nie kończy się nigdy, bo taśma pamięci kręci się w nas dalej, mimo że fizycznie dawno już nie ruszamy się z miejsca. Wszak istnieje coś takiego jak zarażenie podróżą i jest to rodzaj choroby w gruncie rzeczy nieuleczalnej.

A journey does not begin the moment when we set off, and it does not finish when we have arrived to our last stop. In reality it starts much earlier and practically does not ever finish, for the tape of memory runs on inside of us, even though we have long stopped moving from the spot physically. There is indeed something like the contagion of travel, and it is a kind of illness that is in fact incurable.

When I found it, just before I was about to leave Germany to travel for 5 months, I focussed most on the part about the journey starting before it starts – now, stuck for the most part of my days at a desk (even though it is at a job I quite like!), I think more about how true it is that it never stops. I still think about my big trip almost every day, and how it has changed me, and how I wouldn’t be the same person today without it. I dream about the places that I will go to next. I try to travel in my day to day life whenever I can – be it for a day on the weekend, or even just to a different neighborhood, or in eating exotic food. I am branded incurably and for life with the contagion of travel fever.

Szimpla, Berlin, Germany

Coffee, writing, and contemplating wise words others have uttered about travel – one of my favourite pastimes!

When I was in Bosnia, one of my favourite travel acquaintances, Bata, taught me the following Bosnian quote by famous movie maker Emir Kusturica:

Svakoga dana u svakom pogledu sve više i više napredujemo.

Every day in every respect we move forward more and more.

I have had this sentence on a note card above my desk for a very long time. While travelling it is quite literally true. We move. All the time. And while travelling, it is also metaphorically true more than usually. We see so many things that change us, we experience so many things that add to our knowledge. I try to keep it in mind every day to make it true when I am at home as well. I try to improve as a person every day and move forward. And it is so much easier for me to do that with much sensual and intellectual stimulation – so I try to learn and see new things all the time. The world is my market with thousands of fruit, cheeses and spices to try.

Market, Mostar, Bosnia

Oh dear, the cheese in Bosnia… and how you can try every kind at the market to see if you like it, and then go home full and happy… only to have more cheese… with honey… yum…

Only recently I fell in love with the music by Gerhard Gundermann, a singer songwriter from the former GDR who passed away far too young. His lyrics have captured me from the start. This song is called „No Time Anymore“:

It is a song about our daily struggle in life between obligation and choice, between the things we have to do and we want to do, and it is about the feeling of not having enough time to do it all. He sings:

Und ich habe keine Zeit mehr Räuber und Gendarm zu spiel’n
Den Ämtern meine Treue hinzutragen
Und rauchende Motoren mit meinem Blut zu kühl’n
Und nochmal eine Liebe auszuschlagen.

And I don’t have time anymore for playing cops and robbers
For bringing my loyalty to authorities
And for cooling down smoking engines with my blood
And for turning down another love.

What are the things that I don’t have time for anymore? There is so much to see and try, and so much life to live. I hope that the travel fever always burns strongly inside of me and provides me with the drive to move forward and the desire to be led astray.

Word Sights – Reichstag and Jakob-Kaiser-Haus in Berlin

„What does she mean by a ‚Word Sight‘?“ you may ask yourself. As I wrote about last week, and in my About me, and probably in a gazillion other posts as well, I have a thing for language. Now you may think that is true for any writer, but I really don’t think that is the case to just quite my degree, because I haven’t met many people that share my obsession of inscriptions, epitaphs, or really any other kind of writing in the public sphere. And that when it is so ubiquitious on buildings, monuments, pavements and statues, and in many other places! Couchsurfing hosts have suffered from my incessively nagging questions about what anyting written on any kind of surface from the parliament building to a banknote in foreign currency means. Meanwhile, I cannot really understand how anyone would not desperately want to know the meaning of those words.

In this spirit, I have something that I want to introduce you to today. Let me take you on a very quick walk through Mitte.

The Reichstag building must surely be on your itinerary when you come to Berlin. It has a long history that is intertwined with the history of the entire country. This was where Germany (that is, back then it was Prussia) was first declared a republic in 1918. Also, the dome of the building caught fire in 1933 under unknown circumstances, and the Nazis used this incident as pretense to fuel antisemitism by blaming it on the Jews. After 1945, the building was unused and left to decay until reunification. Today it is once more the place where the German parliament meets – a democratic one.

Reichstag, Berlin, GermanyWhen you face the building, the large inscription above the front gates cannot be missed. In capital letters it says DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE, which means „For the German People“. The inscription was put there in 1916, not very much to the liking of the Prussian king who found it to be too democratic a gesture. Today, I personally know quite a few people who dislike the inscription for very opposite reasons: They think it sounds nationalistic, and that it should be removed.

"Dem Deutschen Volke", Reichstag, Berlin, GermanyGranted, the German word Volk, people, has been connotated in all the wrong ways during national socialism. It can carry a weird undertone when used in the wrong context, and for some people, the wrong context already is in the word deutsch, German. To me, however, this inscription on the Reichstag building is not the wrong context. I like the idea that a member of parliament would be reminded when entering the building that they are there as a representative of the German population, to work for the people in this country, and not solely for power, fame or money. To me, these three words are still a reinforcement of the democracy we are lucky enough to live in today. Looking at the historical facts about the place I sketched out above, I feel very aware of the fact that democracy is not to be taken for granted.

There is a second „word sight“ close by that I am sure many tourists overlook, and that is quite in keeping with the theme of reinforcing German democracy in the public sphere using words. When you pass by the Reichstag on the left side in the direction of the Spree River and walk toward Friedrichstraße station along the so called Reichstagsufer, you will soon notice a glass wall with writing on it to your right. Behind it is the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, the biggest German parliament building holding offices.

Jakob-Kaiser-Haus with Reichstag, Berlin, Germany

This shot is taken from the other side – you have the Reichstag building in the background.

Article 5, German Basic Law, Berlin, Germany

§5 – Freedom of Speech and Press

What is written on this glass wall, easily overlooked, are the first 19 articles of the German constitution – althoughthe German constitution is not called „Constitution“, but Grundgesetz, „Basic Law“. When the Federal Republic passed it in 1949, the idea was that one day the German Democratic Republic would be part of Germany again, and a constitution for the entire country would only be discussed then.

Article 3, German Basic Law, Berlin, Germany

§3 – Equality

After reunification, the Grundgesetz just stuck and we still don’t have a law that is called the Constitution. I kind of like Grundgesetz. Because that is what it is, it is the most basic law that we have, it settles our very basic rights.

I can never restrain a feeling of being in the presence of something grand when I come to the place where it is written down. Laugh at me all you want, but I think these words, be they technical as they may, be they nothing but a dry and dusty law, are  of sublime beauty. When you come from the Reichstag building, you start by article 19. The further up front you go, the more basic the content of the articles. §5 Freedom of Speech and Press. §4 Freedom of Religion. §3 Equality before the Law for all People. §2 Right to self-development and personal freedom. And finally, my favorite, §1:

Article 1, German Basic Law, Berlin, Germany

§1 – Human Dignity

Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.

In English that means:

Human dignity is inviolable. To respect it and protect it is the duty of all governmental authority.

And isn’t this what it all comes down to – that we are all human beings and that we all have a dignity that deserves to be protected? Isn’t that the essence of democracy, that we all deserve equal treatment and should all have equal rights and opportunities, and that the government we choose is a means to that end of protecting our rights and opportunities so that we can live a life worth living? I may curse politicians at times, I may have a very critical view of what is happening in this country – but the basic principles are the right ones, and this place states that for the whole world to see.

What’s in a Word?

„What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.“

Being a blogger and, if I may be so bold as to call myself by this classier term, maybe even a writer on the whole, I obviously value the written and the spoken word. Putting in words what I have seen while travelling makes me happy, because it makes my experiences seem real, even after they are over. Finding expressions for emotions that I have felt has therapeutic effects on me. Engaging in eloquent discussions with interesting people is when I learn about the world, about myself and about the people around me.

In short, I love using words, and I love it when people know how to use words. By that I don’t mean just having the capability of speech, but I mean people who have an awareness of a language’s possibilities and opportunities. I love it when people are in search of the perfect word while explaining something to me, and it makes me happy when they are aware of having used one specific word because any other word they could have used wouldn’t have been quite as appropriate for just what they meant to say.

Stone heart, Crete, GreeceAbout half a year ago, my job inspired me to a little game: I compared articles about love in different languages on wikipedia, and they set such different focus in the definition of the concept at times that it didn’t even feel like they were talking about the same thing. For example, the English one about LOVE says:

The English word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure („I loved that meal“) to interpersonal attraction („I love my partner“).

This one mentions love as an expression of affirmation or approval even before it mentions romantic love between two people. Meanwhile the German article on LIEBE reads:

Love in the narrower sense is the term for the strongest affection that one person is capable of feeling for another. It doesn’t need to be reciprocated.

I think it’s beyond interesting that the German entry would feel the need to mention so fast and so explicitly that love can actually be a one-way-street. Whereas the English article is almost functional, or realistic in the least, we may still be stuck in romanticism here in Germany. Who’d have thought.

Wer are all a little weird

Who could have said it better than Dr Suess, really… Courtesy of


The Polish entry about MIŁOŚĆ starts like this:

Love – a feeling directed toward a person that is connected with a desire for their well-being and happiness.

I love that definition because it is so completely altruistic and emotional, and it focuses on the object of love, the loved one, while the German entry focusses on the subject that loves. The Polish is all about the YOU when the German is all about the I. Compared to those very personal approaches, the Spanish piece on AMOR is unbelievably technical and almost scientific:

Love is a universal concept relating to the affinity between beings, defined in diverse ways in respect to different ideologies and points of view (artistic, scientific, philosophical, religious).

In a way, this is the much more professional definition – but who wants professionality when it comes to love, really? And that from the Spanish, a people with a reputation of romance to uphold.

So are Love, Liebe, Miłość and Amor four different things? Are all the definitions valid for every one of these words? For any given word, how do we choose which word and which definition to operate with in which context? While I don’t have any definite results on any of these questions, I try to explore possible answers when I write on my blog, and I think this is one of the most rewarding endeavours in my day to day life.

Writing teaches me to be sensitive to implications, to shades of meaning in words. It forces me to look at the world and at myself so much more intensely. What is the color of that water called? What is the word for that sound that I hear when I tread on this ground? What is going through my head as I make my way from A to B in a foreign place, and how did those thoughts get there, what were they inspired by? What was it that I was feeling when I was in that one specific place? Was it – awe? admiration? or intimidation? Was I overwhelmed or stunned? overstrained maybe even? or on the contrary – complete? at peace? plainly happy? I have come to understand that I need to let myself experience the feelings wholly and find the right moment to attach words to them in order to make the most of my experiences. It is just how I work.

In linguistics, the idea of performativity suggests that words create reality. The most common example for this notion are weddings. By saying “I do”, one creates a reality that goes beyond words – one creates a marriage. The “I do” is thus simultaneously an utterance and a manifest act, a so called speech act. Nothing illustrates the power of words better, I think. They actually are action. With that in mind, I’ll close with a meme that circulated among my friends on facebook a few days ago and that may reflect the general sentiment of the thoughts in this post:

It's always words that undress you.

Courtesy of