muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Don't know if you caught the story last week about small-time hood Lutz Bachmann (which continues to look to me like the kind of lazy rearrangement of "Baz Luhrmann" you'd find in an amateurish Hollywood roman-à-clef) being forced to step down from the leadership of Pegida, the anti-immigrant movement he founded, after posting a picture of himself with a Hitler moustache and comb-over. In his defence, he said, "Man muss sich auch mal selbst auf die Schippe nehmen" and I hadn't the slightest idea what he meant. At first, I thought I was dealing with a Saxon dialect expression. With its double p, Schippe screams "mitteldeutsch" to me. And it is, but nonetheless it's a regionalism that's made its way into the standard. Still, being able to translate the sentence as "You've got to take yourself onto the shovel" didn't clarify things for me until I found that the equivalent idiom is "make fun of yourself".

What was particularly interesting to me was to find that the idiom has travelled further than the word itself. The maps from the Atlas der Alltagssprache show that, although "Schippe" is restricted to the Saarland, Rheinland-Pflaz, and the former East (the usual word is Schaufel), in that expression, "Schippe" is nigh-universal outside of Austria. (There are a few spots where the expression isn't current at all, however, and it turns out that some are scattered right near where I lived in Germany. So I'm going to claim that I come by my ignorance honestly.) Makes me wonder how many Germans use it without knowing what a "Schippe" refers to or having made up some idiosyncratic definition of their own (which I was in the process of doing before I did my research).
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Der Werther ist tot; es lebe der Wertherismus! I may not have been able to fit in a movie on Sunday night, but at least I was able to tackle the last few pages of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. I'm indebted to Nuphy for his advice about avoiding the mistake of thousands of yellow-vested nincompoops and not taking it at face value. It was intriguing to find that I could simultaneously laugh at Werther's maudlin excesses and yet be genuinely moved by his suffering. After all, pain you cause yourself is still pain. So kudos to the German Genius for writing a novel that supports such contradictory readings. You still have a lot to answer for, but at least it's less your fault than I once thought.

As I suspected, I found Ossian much more palatable in Goethe's translation than in the original. It still feels derivative and repetitive, but at least it reads like real poetry. Still, six whole pages? What the hell, Wolfgang? "I went and translated this shit, so dammit if I'm not going to use it all." But I'm sure if one enlarged the two solid pages of commentary on it in the endnotes to the same font, it would be at least as long. Knowing that, once you include apparatus (or at least the parts I read) you're already up to twice the original length, makes me feel better for having taken nearly a month to finish such a relatively short work.

Of course, you could spend years exploring just a fraction of everything that has been written about, inspired by, or referred to in Goethe's novel. Thanks to a colleague at work, I learned that a puzzling mention of "den Hofmeistern" (which somehow escaped my voluble commentator's notice) is most likely a callback to Lenz' eponymous drama, one which arguably out-Werthers Werther. And via Wikipedia I discovered that Goethe's mostly-forgotten contemporary Nicolai wrote a satire with a happier ending (Freuden des jungen Werthers) which so enraged old Goethe that he not only snuck an insulting caricature of the man into Faust but blasted him with this poetic salvo:

Ein junger Mensch, ich weiß nicht wie,
Starb einst an der Hypochondrie
Und ward denn auch begraben.
Da kam ein schöner Geist herbei,
Der hatte seinen Stuhlgang frei,
Wie's denn so Leute haben.
Der setzt' notdürftig sich aufs Grab
Und legte da sein Häuflein ab,
Beschaute freundlich seinen Dreck,
Ging wohl eratmet wieder weg
Und sprach zu sich bedächtiglich:
„Der gute Mensch, wie hat er sich verdorben!
Hätt er geschissen so wie ich,
Er wäre nicht gestorben!“
(For those of you who are a little German-challenged, Nicolai is described herein as literally shitting on Werther's grave.)

I guess it's a sign of enjoyment that instead of going for a change of pace, I've decided this is the most opportune time yet to dive into Mann's Lotte in Weimar. So far I'm quite enjoying it; the Schachtelsätze aren't as horrendous as in some of his better-known works and the tone is humorous--by Mannian standards, almost frivolous. I was actually chuckling aloud on the shuttle this morning as I read the garrulous attempts of a provincial innkeeper to make a good impression on his distinguished guest. In particular, his request for her to sign the guestbook was so overwrought that I only determined the intent from the context. Can he keep that going without losing my interest for another 380 pages?
Oct. 11th, 2012 10:44 pm

Angelogen!

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Okay, that was kind of painful. I've been on a Scrubs binge lately. It was never a show I watched when it was in prime time, but I caught some episodes in syndication and enjoyed them, so I've been working my through season two on YouTube. I just got to an episode featuring a German patient and his brother. The German was all comprehensible and grammatical but just so glaringly non-native. Neither of them could pronounce ch for Scheisse. I went to the IMDb and looked up the actors. One even has the urauthentisch name of Ingo Neuhaus, but turns out to be an American army brat who, though born in Karlsruhe, grew up in Texas. The other guy was Danish. Both looked insanely Aryan. Still, kudos to the writers for Not Mentioning the War. Instead we got kooky references to Nena. Vorschritt!
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Earlier in the week, my Thuringian coworker let me know that the shambolic attempt at a presentation by one of our colleagues was "unter aller Kanone". Literally, this means "under all cannon [sic]" and represents a German idiom that I wasn't previously familiar with. She mentioned that there was also a pseudo-Latinisation, sub omni canone.

Surprise! The "pseudo-Latin" is actually the original. According to Wikipedia, sub omni canone (more mellifluous in the plural, sub omnibus canonibus) is a consecrated phrase with which doctoral dissertations are rejected (back when they still used to do that regularly). Canon is used here with the sense of "standard" (metaphorically derived from its original meaning of "staff" or "measuring line"). Kanone is probably ultimately of the same origin (cf. Gk. κάννα "reed"), but comes into German through a different route.
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I had my first German tutoring session in over a month today, at the Blind Faith Café. In the middle of reviewing adjective endings, I had one of my embarrassing and all-too-typical brainfarts and couldn't remember whether it was "das Reich" or "der Reich". So I did what I usually do and started rummaging in my head for fixed phrases which would settle the matter without me having to crack open the dictionary again. Suddenly I hit one and yelled out:

"Heim ins Reich!"

I've mentioned before that the guy I'm tutoring is a rabbi, right?
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The word of the day is bramarbasieren. I came across it a few nights ago (still reading Der Stechlin, although the end is in sight) and remembered it yesterday evening when Nuphy called to give me his colonoscopy horror story. The story of its origins are somewhat convoluted, but suffice it to say that it is not, as I briefly hoped, derived from Yiddish. Also, try not to think of the fact that it fits the chorus of "Bad Romance" perfectly or you will be stuck with that in your head all day.

Last night we also met our roofers. It didn't look like they'd started tearing up the roof surface yet, so I decided to go Edward Scissorshands on the verbena. The other greens can be rinsed easily, but verbena leaves are sticky and I'm worried that once the black dust begins descending they're'll be no washing it off again. One mug of tisane went in me, the rest is chilling for next week when it will be in the 80s again and we'll all want something refreshing--particularly if we can't open the windows yet.
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No German lesson this week--the Rabbi got too busy. In addition to pouncing on his ngs last week, I also had a couple of opportunities to remind him, "Das hier ist kein Jiddisch!" But to take the sting away, I followed up by asking him if he'd ever heard of Rotwelsch, the German thieves' cant. As you might expect, there's quite a bit of Yiddish in it. In fact, the language itself can even go under the name of Ganovensprache (albeit rarely).

And just as in English, yesterday's cant has a knack for finding its way into today's slang and even general colloquial usage. I told him that of three common slang words I know for "money"--Kohle, Kies, and Moos--two of them are actually Yiddish in origin (and all of them have been folketymologised to look German). Hebrew, in fact: the first (if my sources are to be believed) derives from a word for "bag" and the second is from Hebrew מעות ma`oth "money" [like Spanish dinero, from the name of an ancient coin]. Both have been modified over time to appear identical to common German words (i.e. Kies "gravel", Moos "moss".) As a result, probably not one in a hundred speakers could tell you they're of foreign origin; certainly I didn't know that when I learned them.

Reading Fontane yesterday, I came across another beautiful example--this one not in the least disguised by folk etymology: ausbaldoweren. Paul glossed this as auskundschaften, also a word I didn't know, but it apparently means "keep a lookout". The root is Yiddish baldover from Hebrew ba`al dabhar "word master". The range of Yiddish meanings is somewhat quirky, from "person in question" through "accused" to "culprit". How exactly we get from this last to "lookout" I couldn't say, but it's interesting to note that Fontane, writing in the 1890s, puts this word not in the mouth of a criminal but of a young maid-of-all-work from a respectable Christian family.
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I was a bit taken aback just now to see Facebook auf deutsch telling me "Freundschaftsantrag versendet". Call me altmodisch, but that just sounds Denglishy to me. I would've used the strong(ish) participle versandt and reserved the regular ending for the meaning "broadcast" (e.g. "Die Serie wird seit erst seit kurzem gesendet"), which--whatever its actual origin--has always struck me as a calque on English. But I suppose the distinction is much blurred these days when that request was never more than bits and may well have been viewed on a mobile device.
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The second night on my own turned out more interesting than the first. Once I figured out that the young cub I ran into last weekend was "giving me the basket" (wie man auf deutsch zu sagen pflegt), I tried to set something up with [livejournal.com profile] cuore_felice34, who similarly flaked. Only after I decided, fuck 'em all, I was taking myself out to Massouleh with The Economist as my dining partner did I think to call the every dependable [livejournal.com profile] welcomerain. She lives just around the corner for there, so I thought I might drop in for a chat; she had plans but offered her husband, and he responded to my suggestion with, "Where are you going for dinner? Give me half an hour and I'll meet you there." It was a lovely meal, a sincerely why-do-we-do-this-more-often experience, but not a long one, so when I got home I thought I've got just enough time to watch the new NetFlik and do some tidying up before [livejournal.com profile] monshu gets home. And I would've, too, if I hadn't broken at the 1:45 mark for a little tea and gossip.

The movie was Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex, a film about the early days of a notorious German left-wing terror group, the Rote Armee Fraktion. I don't remember hearing about them before my arrival in Germany in 1990. They were still very active then, having assassinated the chairman of Deutsche Bank the previous year, and before I returned to the States they shot to death the head of the Treuhandanstalt (a government agency responsible for privatising the assets of the GDR). Nevertheless, I recall a curious sense of culture shock upon first seeing a wanted poster listing known members. After all, I came from country where organised political terror of this sort had been dead for a decade already. Bombings and shootings were the work of crazed loners, not armed revolutionary groups.

So I had a great deal to learn about the group and the history of the radical left in Germany in general. At the time, I was more interested in current events than recent history (after all, my country had just initiated a war in a Middle Eastern country) and didn't pursue this, so the movie was an excellent primer on an important period of German history. I had never even encountered the term "Deutscher Herbst" ("German Autumn") until reading the Wikipedia article just now. I certainly didn't know that the tiny band of leftists kidnapping bankers had once convinced the PFLP to hijack a plane for them.

It can be tough in films like these to strike the right balance of sympathy with the protagonists. Too little and you're left with a bunch of psychopaths offing people for no reason; too much and you're glorifying cold-blooded murder. I think Eichinger handles this well, making it clear how they caught the imagination of a generation (one of the characters quotes an Allensbach poll that showed one in four Germans under 40 expressing sympathy for the group and one in ten willing to shelter a member) while at the same time presenting the cynicalness of their manipulation of public opinion. The only time he seems to err too far on the side of the terrorists is in the elegiac final sequence.

Baader in particular comes off here as far more thoughtful and mature than he has throughout the film (where he is depicted as the "charismatic, spoiled psychopath" described in the source text). But at least the deaths are shown as unambiguously self-inflicted, two-and-a-half decades of lefty conspiracy theory to the contrary. Overall, Lola rennt's Bleibtreu does a particularly fine job of illustrating how a violent misogynist could attract so many women to the cause. (The gender parity among first-generation members of the organisation was striking to me, and in particular how many women are shown planning and leading attacks.) And learning that Ulrike Meinhof was a popular journalist who had appeared on television before going underground really clarifies for me the popular appeal of the group at the time.

This also makes her a handy identification figure early in the film. It was instructive watching Baader and his partner Ensslin bully her into laying down the pen for the sword, but what I missed was insight into how the two of them arrived at their extreme views. Later, focus shifts to the farsighted director of the Bundeskriminalamt, who apparently completely reformed the German police force making it a model for other states to follow. (It took me more than half the film to be sure that he was played by one of my favourite German actors, Bruno Ganz, and then only because his accent and delivery resembled that which he employed as Hitler in Untergang; I'm not sure whether to credit a fantastic makeup job or the sad fact that advanced age has taken more of a toll on his features than I suspected.)

It's also inevitable that a film this ambitious would leave loose ends. In particular, I was confused by the fate of Meinhof's twin daughters, who were hidden in Sicily when the founding members of the RAF fled to a PFLP training camp in Jordan. Peter Homann is shown leaving the camp to save them, but it's not him who arrives in Italy to take them back to Germany. (In fact, the character on screen must be Stefan Aust, a colleague of Meinhof's and author of the book upon which the movie is based, who cooperated with Homann to return the children to their father, a colleague of both Meinhof and Aust.) Another armed revolutionary group, the Tupamaros, are referenced but their relationship to the RAF is never made clear. (Come to think of it, it's not even clear whether the group in question is the one based in Berlin, notorious for an attempted bombing of the Jewish Community Centre there [on Kristallnacht, no less!] or another of the same name in Munich, to which key second-generation RAF leader Brigitte Mohnhaupt belonged.)

Of course, all those loose ends make for a fascinating game of Wikipedia wandering. It's heartening to discover that one of Meinhof's daughters is a successful journalist (the one, in fact, who broke the notorious file photo of Joschka Fischer beating a cop) and heart-rending to learn that, despite his extraordinary success, Herold is forced to live in a former border patrol base and bear the costs of his own protection against assassination by RAF sympathisers. (He calls himself "the last prisoner of the RAF".)
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We had a poster in a linguistics forum I regularly contribute to ask for help finding out more about the "Dresden dialect". He's apparently doing a report on it for class. I offered my commiserations that he had (most likely unwittingly) chosen what is generally considered the ugliest form of German, namely Saxon dialect. But there's another regular poster there who we're always berating for beginning posts with "I always thought" and basically never ever seeking out data that would either confirm or refute his preconceptions. So it occurred to me that perhaps I should try finding some support for this assertion of my own.

So here you have the results of a recent (2008) poll by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach (basically Germany's answer to Gallup). Their methodology isn't ideal: From what I can ascertain, they presented respondents with a list of seventeen "dialects" and asked them "Are there some which you especially like hearing?" and then "Which dialects do you not like hearing, which do you not like at all?" So first of all you have the problem that there are any number of ways to slice up the spoken varieties of Germany and they're presenting just one of these as authoritative. (I found other versions of this poll that split out "Ruhrpott" from Rhenish, for instance.) Next there's the issue of how many respondents have heard reasonable samples of each dialect, or could even identify if they had.

For instance, I find that my beloved Alemannic is pretty low on both lists (with only 8% saying they like hearing it and 5% saying they'd rather not). Is it really that most Germans don't care for it one way or another or that they simply can't distinguish it from Swabian? Dialects of territories which are no longer German (e.g. East Prussia, Pommerania, Silesia) showed up low on both lists. Of course, so did Palatinate German, and I don't think there are many people in Germany with no inkling what that sounds like. (Helmut Kohl was widely ridiculed for his Palatinate accent.) Seems to me the best methodology would've been to play recordings of dialect samples without identifying them by name and then ask people to rate them. But now we've crossed the line from "survey" to "laboratory research".

So, for what it's worth, the top three are Bavarian (35%), North German Platt (29%), and Berliner (22%). The first is no surprise given that more than one in seven Germans lives in Bavaria and that Bavarians are Germany's most eager dialect-speakers. (According to charts further down the page, 45% answered affirmatively to the question "I speak dialect pretty much all the time".) I was caught a bit off guard by the next two given that North Germans are the least likely of anyone in the German-speaking zone to speak dialect. (10% on the "speaking dialect always" question.) A certain romantic nostalgia taking hold?

But at least I now have solid evidence for my initial assertion: fully 54% of respondents disliked hearing Saxon. No other variety provoked so strong a reaction. Interestingly, the next three on the list are Bavarian (21%), Berliner (21%), and Swabian (17%). This rather strengthens my hypothesis about how familiarity influences the ratings. No German can credibly claim they don't have any idea what "Swabian" sounds like, and it shows up in fourth place on both lists.
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One thing that never quite made sense to me about Alemannic is that High German /a:/ corresponds to (Breisgauer) Alemannic /o:/...except when it doesn't. So on the one hand, Mohlzit for Mahlzeit, but on the other mahle for mahlen. Looking at a short list of such words today, it struck me: Could there be a connection to the vowel length in earlier German?

Here followeth an excursus on the history of vowel length in Germanic )

Middle Alemannic must've undergone a shift in the quality of /a:/ almost precisely parallel to that which had already occurred in (Southern) English, i.e. /a:/ > /ɔ:/ > to /o:/. Compare the various descendants of Latin pālus "stake". Old English pál came to be pronounced ['pɔ:l] in the dialects of the Southeast sometime before 1400, ultimately continuing on to ['po:l] before dipthongising at some point in the early modern period. Similarly, MHG phâl yields Pfohl in the dialect of Breisgau, whereas there is no change to the Standard German, Pfahl. (For a British parallel, compare Scottish paul "pole", pronounced ['pʰa:ɫ].)

As a result, Alemannic ends up with minimal pairs where Standard German has homophones, such as mahle "grind" (OHG malan > StG mahlen) vs. mole "paint" (OHG mâlôn > StG malen). On the other hand, of course, you have a merger of /a:/ with /o:/ that Standard German avoided, e.g. Droht "wire" and droht "threatens" vs. StG Draht, droht.
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Die dir zugemessene Zeit ist so kurz, dass du, wenn du eine Sekunde verlierst, schon dein ganzes Leben verloren hast, denn es ist nicht länger, es ist immer nur so lang, wie die Zeit, die du verlierst.
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Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte
I think I've mentioned before that I don't tend to notice chance similarities to English in languages I know well. It takes a pretty dramatic case to grab my attention, and this one did it.
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Last night, I dreamt that a German man accosted me on the street and complimented my shoes. We started chatting and I introduced himself, which struck him as a bit forward, but he went ahead and introduced himself as well as the silent young man with him, who was called Frank. As I shook Frank's hand, I almost said, "Viel Vergnügen." This is more or less the Spanish "Mucho gusto!" translated literally into German. But I corrected myself and came out with "Ich freue mich auf die Vergnügung!" which is...utter nonsense. Frank kept smiling pleasantly the entire time, and it finally dawned on me that he was deaf. On the third try, I got the phrase correct, and this was the version that his companion translated into DGS for him, so go me.

(The backstory to the meeting was kind of cute, since the street was inside an illustration from the 1950s by an Irish cartoonist and to entre it, I had to shrink myself down to size in the manner of the Good Folk--clearly not something I'd made a habit of, since it took a couple tries to reach the right height; the first time I tried to entre a building, I could get only my head and shoulders in.)
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Some merry prankster produced this video of Rammstein performance footage recut to match the song "Bayern, des samma mia" ("Bavaria, that's us!") from Bavarian folk-pop combo Haindling. It's mildly amusing.

Then, in the interests of equal time, he recut a Haindling performance to synch up with Rammstein's "Du Hast". For reasons I can't explain, the result is like ten times funnier.
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It had never occurred to me before today to try to parse this as if it were an ordinary German word. Obviously, it's the wolf (Wolf) from the steppes (Steppen). But it took finding out that the Spanish translation of Hesse's novel is called El lobo estepario for me to realise that. I have only two things to say in my defence:
  1. It had never occurred to [livejournal.com profile] monshu either. When I asked him about it, he confessed he thought it had something to do with steps. [In German, (Treppen)Stufen.]
  2. I grew up in a time and place where classic rock was king. So I knew about the band for many years before I discovered where they'd gotten their name from.
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    Today the bulk of the furniture arrived for our refurbished living room and we decided to mark the occasion by basking in the warmth of the fireplace. Both [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I grew up depending on wood-burning fireplaces for heating, so it's going to take some getting used to clean-burning natural gas. We compared terminology for the various elements of a working hearth and it made me realise how few of those words I know translations for. So here's the first in a short series.

    German

    • Der Kamin "fireplace; chimney; flue"
    • der offene Kamin "fireplace"
    • die Feuerbüchse "firebox"
    • der Schornstein "chimney"
    • der Rauchabzug "flue"
    • die Luftklappe "damper"
    • die Feuerstätte "hearth"
    • der/das Kaminsims "mantlepiece"
    • der Ofenschirm "fire screen"
    • das Feuergitter "fire guard"
    • der Feuerrost "grate"
    • der Feuerbock "fire-dog, andiron"
    • das Kaminbesteck "fire irons"
    • der Schürhaken "poker"
    • der Kaminblasebalg "fireplace bellows"
    • die Kaminzange "fire tongs"
    • das Brennholz "firewood"
    • der Kaminruß "chimney soot"
    muckefuck: (Default)
    I hope I've finally found my motivation for today. Both Nuphy and [livejournal.com profile] bunj have gotten in touch with me about hitting Lincoln Square for von Steuben Day festivities, but before I can do that, I need to head down to my apartment and tidy up. I purposely didn't go back to bed earlier because I didn't want to waste the morning, and ended up doing that anyway--here it is after noon and I'm still in a bathrobe.

    The neighbour's daughter has been practicing violin for a while and "Eleanor Rigby" was beginning to lodge itself in my brain, so I knew I needed to counter it somehow. This was what I reached for:

    The song is "Deutschland" by Die Prinzen and apparently enjoyed some popularity during the World Cup, but I don't remember hearing it before this year. (When I told [livejournal.com profile] monshu I was going to play something German, his response was "I'm sure you can find some oompah music." Mann, was für 'nen alten Kauz!) The lyrics are very cute, as is the whole concept of a couple boys from a church choir in Leipzig forming a pop band. I'm just amazed--and thankful!--that having decided to do that, they turned out more Die Ärzte than The Boyz.
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    May. 15th, 2008 11:18 am

    Was lesen?

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    Der Nino hat recht: Mein Deutsch ist schon lange am Einrosten. Ich brauche mehr Übung--mehr Reden, mehr Schreiben, mehr Lesen. Aber mit einem ganzen Regal ungelesene Bücher im Haus, wo soll ich denn mit dem Letztgenannten anfangen? Hier sind die Titel von fünf Klassikern aus meiner Sammlung:
    1. Döblin. Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun.
    2. Goethe. Die Leiden des jungen Werthers.
    3. Hesse. Das Glasperlenspiel.
    4. Mann. Lotte in Weimar.
    5. Musil. Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften.
    Was meinen die Deutschsprachigen dazu?
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    While we're on the subject of German food, here's something fresh and light that should get that spleeny taste out of your mouth:

    I can't tell if I'm closer than ever to rediscovering one of my favourite dishes from my student days in Germany or if I'm only mired deeper into confusion. One of the regular side-dishes as the Mensa (university cafeteria) I regularly ate at in Freiburg was a salad consisting of entire heads of lettuce. They were small--bite size, in fact--and consisted of smooth-edged, spoon-shaped leaves. I remember this being called Kopfsalat ("head salad") and assumed it came from the fact that the heads were eaten whole rather than being plucked apart.

    But an article I was reading on Badener cuisine mentioned Nüssli (Standard German Feldsalat) as a popular local green. A trip to Wikipedia informs me that this is a dialect name for what in the States I've always heard called mâche. But I was startled to see in the pictures of it the closest similarities to this aforementioned "Kopfsalat" I've ever seen. It's been so long, I can't remember the taste well enough to confirm that it had the "nutty" flavour supposedly associated with mâche (the Badisch name actually means "little nut"), but that would explain why I ate it so readily. If I've had mâche in this country, it's only been as leaves in a mix, never as whole heads, which is why I would never have made a connexion earlier.

    But, so far, my research hasn't turned up any instances of "Kopfsalat" being used to describe Valerianella locusta, only Lactuca sativa var. capitata which is--of all things--a close relative of iceberg. Now you know that the tasty green I've been pining for all these years couldn't possibly have anything to do with nasty old iceberg, so I'm vexed. Where to turn now? To a friendly greengrocer who will sell me whole heads of mâche for a pretty penny for a tableside taste test, I guess.
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