German Words of the Week: Eisprung & Nervensäge

It’s been a while since I brought you a GWOW, so now you get a twofer, courtesy of Anke Groener, who writes a pleasant, lively blog.  In this post, she complains about "female problems":

Anke nölt über die üblichen Eisprungbauchschmerzen: „Der weibliche Körper ist eine einzige Nervensäge.“

First, for comic effect, let me translate this sentence 100% literally:

Anke complains about the usual eggjumpstomachpains: "The female body is one single nerve-saw."

Now, a bit more idiomatic:

Anke complains about the usual ovulation pains: "The female body is nothing but a pain-in-the-ass."

Ovulation, for those of you who’ve forgotten your high-school biology, is the release of a mature fertilizable egg from the ovary.  The German version is, as usually, a fabulously colorful combination of two words: Eisprung or "egg-jump"!  And could anything better convey annoyance than the image of someone sawing at your nerves?  Almost too horrifyingly expressive, isn’t it?

Hitler’s “State of Robbery”

A new book of history is provoking heated debate here in Germany, and I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce my readers to it.  It’s by a left-wing historian named Goetz Aly, and it’s called Hitler’s Peoples’ State: Robbery, Race-War, and National Socialism (my translation).  The main theses of the book are the following:

(1) The Holocaust was "the most conscientious mass robbery-murder in modern history," and served to enrich Germans and foreign collaborators.

(2) The exploitation of occupied territories actually contributed much more to the financing of the war than the German Reich itself;

(3) Inside the German Reich, the regime bought itself the support of a majority of the population by following an intentional "Robin Hood" policy of providing benefits to the lower classes at the expense of the rich; and

(4) The aggressive dynamics of national socialism sprang from a social-political promise ("A State for the People," "National Socialism") that could only be financially realized by Nazi seizure of the entire continent.

[Drawn from the excellent review (German) by Mark Spoerer of the University of Hohenheim, which can be found on the H-Soz-U-Kult Website]. 

You can read an English translation of an essay on the subject by Aly here, at the invaluable Sign and Sight website: "Anyone trying to understand the destructive success of National Socialism should look at the public face of the annihilation policy — the modern, cosy and obliging welfare state."

Aly is a well-known figure in Germany, some of whose previous books on the Nazi regime have been translated into English.  He’s a former students radical and Maoist who has, in the meantime, diverted his appetite for controversy into more scholarly channels.  When asked by a reporter for Die Zeit what the Goetz Aly of 1972 would think about the Goetz Aly of 2005, he responded: "You reporters sure do ask a lot of questions!" 

Aly’s book is provoking some chagrin on the German left, because it points out that some of the structures of Germany’s current social welfare state were originally introduced by Hitler.  It also drives yet another stake in the oversimplified Daniel Jonah Goldhagen thesis that fanatical anti-Semitism turned ordinary Germans into "Hitler’s Willing Executioners." 

According to what I have read concerning the book (final judgment will have to wait until I’ve read it myself), its main argument is that most ordinary Germans probably were only vaguely aware of many aspects of Hitler’s rule; they were delighted that someone had miraculously solved the country’s grave economic crisis, and were content to enjoy a state of relatively lavish material comfort in a world still suffering from economic depression.  There was no free press to tell them that this material comfort was being bought at the expense of systematic mass murder and robbery of German Jews and occupied countries.  Any troubling reminders to this effect that intruded on their consciousness could be, and were, safely ignored.

I find this thesis plausible, and generalizable to plenty of other cultures and situations.  And for that reason, much more disturbing than the idea that the Holocaust and the devastation of occupied territories was driven by the population’s allegiance to the National Socialist ideology.

German Word of the Week: Kampflesben

They’re big, they have short, spiky hair, and they know what a glasspack is.  The English words for these formidable women are diesel dyke, or (my favorite), tool-belt lesbian.  In German, they are Kampflesben.  That is, "Combat Lesbians."  I would hope there’s a brigade of Combat Lesbians in the German army.

Being the broad-minded sort, I’ve nothing against Combat Lesbians.  A few of them run my neighborhood video store.  Now, to be fair, I can’t look inside their brains and tell what their sexual preference is.  But they do advertise exclusively for female counter help, which by theway is perfectly legal here.  Here’s another clue.  Whenever I pop in to rent a few DVDs, they almost always accidentally give me one I didn’t actually order.  (To choose your DVD, you pull a tiny plastic tag from in front of the box of the DVD you want to watch, and the Combat Lesbian attendant behind the counter fetches the actual disk from a jumble of single discs behind the counter.  Much can go wrong during this process, especially when you’re simultaneously smoking, bitching about taxes to someone on the telephone, and wiping a stain off the counter).

Ordinary, the movie I wanted to see is either European art-house fare or obscure Asian horror movies (of which the Combat Lesbians stock a rich assortment).*  The video I actually get, by "mistake," is almost invariably a straight, guns-blazing Hollywood action flick.  (Think Die Harder).

Are they trying to tell me something?

* One movie that my friendly neighborhood Kampflesben turned me on to is the disorienting, surreal South Korean masterpiece Old Boy, winner of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.  Go see it now!

German Word of the Week: Karteileiche

Faithful reader(s), I will be a little bit hard to reach in the coming days and may not be able to give you the German Joys you so richly deserve on a regular basis.  I’ll be back in full swing late next week, I promise.  I am working on luring a guest blogger here, we’ll see if he takes me up on it.

In the meantime, I give you the new GWW, and what a doozy it is.  Literally translated, it means "file-room corpse."  We’re talking about an account or file stored in some kind of bureacratic system that long ago lost all relevance to any thing or object in the outside world.  I most recently heard the word in a discussion of long-term student tuition.  Here where I teach, the schools begin to charge students tuition after something like 5 or 6 years of study.  That may sound generous, but in a country where people routinely stay in college until their mid-30’s, it’s quite a rude shock to plenty a tenured student.

Perhaps that last sentence should read "stay" in "college," since lots of people maintain a strictly technical status as "student" merely in order to take advantage of student subsidies and discounts.  When presented with a bill for 600 Euro per desultorily-completed semester, many "students" suddenly decided they were ready to move on to the next glorious stage of their existence (that is, unemployment benefits).  As a university bureacrat fondly recounted: "The new tuition rules allowed us to get rid of a lot of Karteileichen." 

(note: special hat-tip to Oliver B. for this one)