German′s Beautiful ′Belongings′ | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 26.10.2004
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German's Beautiful 'Belongings'

The German language isn't normally thought of as being pretty, but that hasn't stopped the Goethe Institute from holding a competition for German's most beautiful word. The winner? Habseligkeiten.


The word 'Habseligkeiten' means 'belongings'

Compared to the silver tongue of the French or the passionate tones of Italian, it is perhaps little wonder that the aesthetics of German often go unappreciated. But the Goethe Institute and the German Language Council hoped to change that with their call for the language's loveliest word.

The competition called for people around the world to offer their suggestion with an explanation. Over 22,000 entries from 111 countries were considered by a star jury that included the head of the Goethe Institute Jutta Limbach, singer Herbert Grönemeyer and director Joseph Vilsmaier.

"We wanted to reignite the joy of discovering the German language," said Limbach, according to the DPA press agency.

They picked the word Habseligkeiten, which means "belongings". The submission came from Doris Kalka who said the word had less to do with property and more with the joy or pity that comes from having certain objects.

"The word doesn't signify ownership or wealth of a person. However, it does refer to his possessions and does it in a friendly and compassionate way. Typical for those with these kinds of possessions would be a six-year-old child who empties his pockets to take joy in what he has collected," wrote Kalka, who is a secretary at the University of Tübingen.

"Or the word can be seen from a more pitiful side," she continued. "It can express the few belongings that someone who has lost his home has and how he has to transport them to whatever shelter available."

A safe second

The runner-up was Geborgenheit from Annamaria Musakova from Slovakia. The word means "security" or perhaps more accurately the feeling of being safe. "In my language you can't express the feeling of Geborgenheit in words. That makes this word my favorite in the German language," said Musakova.

The third place winner came from Gloria Bosch who lives on the Spanish island of Majorca. She picked lieben which means "to love". She said it was the most beautiful German word because "it is only an 'i' away from Leben (life)."

Libelle und Hortensie

A friendly Dragonfly or Libelle, if you prefer.

In a separate competition for children the word Libelle (dragonfly) came out on top. The ten-year-old Sylwan Wiese picked it because "I love words that have the letter 'l' and this word even has three of them. The word is somehow so easy to speak. It just flies right off the tongue."

"But I also think that dragonflies are so pretty when they flutter and you can see that in this word," he said. "It makes you like these animals right from the start and you aren't afraid of them."

German's "coolest" word was deemed Rhabarbermarmelade (rhubarb marmalade), which was submitted by Frank Niedermeyer. "What a wonderful feeling overtakes me when on Sunday morning I can say to my sweetie: 'Barbara, could you please pass me the Rhabarbermarmelade?' That just makes my day!"

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