How is the German chancellor elected? 2017 edition

Plakat Bundestagswahlen

© bpb

On September 24, 2017, the Germans will go to the polls to decide who will run the country for the next four years. There are plenty of informed articles on the dynamics of the 2017 election (e.g., “Germans on the Eve of the Election” in Der Spiegel,  “Germany’s election campaign ignores the country’s deeper challenges” in The Economist, Germany’s election: Merkel holds ground in TV debate from BBC News). A new (or more likely, the same) chancellor will be (re-)elected.  But Germans don’t actually vote for a chancellor candidate. How then does the German system of representative democracy work?

Germany’s 16 states are subdivided into 299 districts (Wahlkreise), each containing roughly 250,000 eligible voters (Wahlberechtigte). On election day, typically a Sunday, voters receive a ballot divided into two columns. On the right side of the ballot (Erststimme), voters choose the candidate they would like to represent their district in the German parliament (Bundestag). On the left side of the ballot (Zweitstimme), voters choose the party they feel best represents their interests. The 299 candidates chosen through the first vote (Erststimme), i.e. each candidate with the most votes in each of the 299 districts, represent half of the total 598 parliamentary seats (Mandate). These first 299 seats are called Direktmandate. The remaining 299 parliamentary seats (Mandate) are filled according to the results of the second vote (Zweitstimme). Each party receives a number of seats in proportion to the percentage of the votes received in this second vote (Zweitstimme). However, a party must receive at least 5% of the national vote in the Zweitstimme (or at least three seats in the Erststimme) in order for those votes to be counted. If the threshold isn’t reached, those party seats (however, not the candidate seats from the Erststimme) are forfeited. This rule (Fünfprozenthürde or Sperrklausel) is meant to prevent the extreme fragmentation of the party system, which can hinder the government’s ability to maintain stability and to rule effectively.

Learn more about the German political system

So the question remains: How is a chancellor elected? Deciding who the next chancellor will be is the first job of the newly elected parliament (Bundestag). The party that has the most representatives in parliament usually determines who will be the next chancellor.  This happens either because a party has more than half of all the parliamentary seats,and therefore an absolute majority of the votes, or because that party has formed a ruling coalition (Regierungskoalition) with one or more other smaller parties, in which compromises and concessions are made, including deals regarding appointments to posts within the chancellor’s cabinet. After consulting with all the parties represented in parliament, the federal president (Bundespräsident) nominates a candidate. The parties most likely to win the election typically decide who they intend to put forward as a chancellor candidate long before the parliamentary election (Bundestagswahl). This is why Angela Merkel’s and Martin Schulz’s names and faces have been in newspapers, magazines, and in campaign advertisements for months. The candidate must be at least 18 years old and a German citizen, but needn’t be a member of the newly elected parliament. The Bundestag members then vote on the nominated candidate. An absolute majority, i.e. half of all the possible votes plus 1, is required for the vote to succeed. Thus far, every German chancellor has been elected with a majority of votes during the first voting round. Should this vote fail, however, the parliament has 14 days to elect a new candidate by absolute majority, and after 14 days have passed, by a relative majority of the votes. The new chancellor (Bundeskanzler or Bundeskanzlerin, as the case may be) takes office as soon as the Bundespräsident makes the voting results official. Then the federal ministers and secretaries are appointed by the Bundespräsident at the suggestion of the new chancellor. The chancellor’s term in office lasts four years and officially ends with the selection of a new Bundestag. However, the ruling chancellor continues to carry out the duties of the office until the new parliament elects a national leader.


Quiz zur Bundestagswahl (auf Deutsch): Interactive flash quiz about the German election. Choose from Level 1, 2, or 3, get hints from Odo or Egon, or use the Joker to help you out.


Videos (auf Deutsch). Watch these informative and detailed videos about the parliamentary election process from the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.

Video 1 – Erst- und ZweitstimmeMore details about the Bundestagswahl

Video 2 – Fünf-Prozent-HürdeMore details about the 5%-threshhold

Video 3 – Überhang- und AusgleichmandateMore details about the process of filling seats according to election results

Posted in Culture, German Language Tagged with: , , , , ,

10 reasons learning German is easier than you think

You may have heard that German is a difficult language to learn. Or you may have read Mark Twain’s lamentations about endlessly long words that can’t be found in a dictionary. You may have even experienced some frustrations of your own in your attempts at learning German. You are most certainly not alone, but consider this: Difficulty is relative. And for each thing you find difficult about German, there are actually some features of German that make it quite easy for English speakers in particular to learn. In fact, many of these features can be of benefit learners no matter what their native language.

1. German has phonetic spelling.

The pronunciation of German sounds is predictable. Once you have learned which letters or letter combinations represent which sounds, you will know how to pronounce new words correctly without ever having heard them or having to memorize what they sound like.

In addition, most of the sounds of German are already familiar to speakers of English, even if they are sometimes represented by different letters or letter combinations than in English. Look, for instance, at the sounds the following letters make.

b = “b” and d = “d” (baden)
k = “k” and t“t” and f=”f” and l=”l” (Kartoffel)
m = “m” and n = “n” and sch = “sh” (Mensch)
z = ts” (Zahn)
= “z”  and chs = “ks” (sechs)
w = “v” and ei = “eye” (weiß)

Typically, there are only a few new sounds to learn, but many of these are easy to replicate using sounds you already can pronounce. For instance, the sounds represented by ö and ü do not exist in English. But it is easy to make those sounds using familiar sounds and a few easy tips. Read about how to pronounce ö and ü here.

2. All nouns are capitalized.

Trying to sort out who is doing what in the sentence becomes easier when you can separate the nouns from everything else. In German, you can easily identify which words are nouns because they are all capitalized. Not just proper nouns (like Berlin, Angela MerkelOktoberfest), but ALL nouns (Computer, KindergartenBlitzkrieg)  In addition, the first word in a sentence is also capitalized, so that word may or may not be a noun. Even if you don’t speak a word of German, you can readily pick out the nouns in the following sentences.

Berlin ist eine der wasserreichsten Städte in Deutschland: Spree, Havel, eine Vielzahl an Kanälen und Flussläufen durchziehen das Stadtgebiet und werden jeden Tag überquert.

Wir sind Künstler und Künstlerinnen, die vorwiegend im Norden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland leben und arbeiten.

Did you find all 15?

3. German has one present tense.

Many languages have more than one tense expressing present time. Apart from the simple present tense (I go), English also has the continuous present tense (I am going) and an emphatic present (I do go). In German, there is only one way to express these three things: ich gehe. Here are some other examples.

Er besucht seine Eltern.
He visits his parents.
He is visiting his parents.
He does visit his parents.
Wir helfen dir.
We help you.
We are helping you.
We do help you.

4. The present tense also expresses future time.

German does have a discrete future tense, but German speakers more commonly use the present tense when talking about the future. You can get by in German in most instances without ever using the future tense.

Wir helfen dir morgen.
We will help you tomorrow.

Das Flugzeug landet um 11.54 Uhr.
The plane will land at 11:54 am.

Ich vergesse ihn nie.
I will never forget him.

5. German has one past tense for conversational use.

German uses the present perfect tense to talk about all actions or states in the past.

Ich habe mit meinen Freunden Karten gespielt.
I played cards with my friends.
I have played cards with my friends.
I was playing cards with my friends.
I did play cards with my friends.

The perfect tense form is all that is needed to express past states and actions in conversational German. Written narrative German uses a different tense, the simple past tense. You will learn to recognize many of those forms, but you will never need to produce most of them yourself.

6. Related words are easy to recognize.

One way that German creates new words is by adding prefixes or suffixes to other words, or roots of other words.

For instance, from the root of the verb spielen (spiel) to play we can make the nouns das Spiel (game) and der Spieler (player), the adjective spielerisch (playful), and the verb verspielen (to squander). From the adjective neu (new), we can form the adjective neulich (recent), the verb erneuern (to renovate, renew), and the nouns die Neuheit (novelty) and die Neuerung (reform).

Sometimes new words are derived from inflected roots.  For example, if we know the principle parts of the verb gehen to go (ginggegangen), we more readily recognize its affinity with der Gang (walk, gait).  The verb verstehen to understand (verstand, verstanden) gives us der Verstand reason, common sense.

Sometimes modern words were derived from vowel changes that are no longer part of the language; nonetheless, the roots are still recognizable. The verb schließen to close (schloss, geschlossen) gives us das Schloss (lock), der Schluss (end, closing), and der Verschluss (clasp).

English builds words from roots, too, but in English root words often derive from Greek or Latin rather than from English and their meanings are not easily discernible (e.g., eject, reject, interject, conjecture). German root words are usually of German origin. So if you know one word in German, the meanings of several others become accessible.

7. Compound words make learning new words easy.

Compound words
German frequently forms new words by combining two or more existing words. This process is called compounding. A concept that requires a lengthy phrase in English is sometimes conveyed by a single compound word in German:

Schmerzengeld is “pain money,” usually expressed in English as compensation for pain and suffering.
Torschlusspanik (literally, “door shutting panic”) succinctly expresses the anxiety a woman can feel in the race against her biological clock.
A Geisterfahrer (“ghost driver”) is a driver going in the wrong direction, against the direction of traffic.
And the ever popular Schadenfreude (“damage joy”) is pleasure one derives from witnessing somebody else’s misfortune.

One benefit of compounding for German learners is that you can understand new words if you already know the individual words that form a compound.

For instance, pediatrician is Kinderarzt (“children’s doctor”).
Season is quite logically expressed with Jahreszeit (“time of year”).
A pet is a Haustier (“house animal”). Slippers are known as Hausschuhe (“house shoes”).
The English submarine is an Unterseeboot, often shortened as U-Boot, meaning “under sea boat.”
Pork is simply Schweinefleisch (“pig meat”).

Because of compounding, the meanings of German words can be more readily predictable than their English counterparts.

8. English is a Germanic language.

Speakers of English benefit from the fact that English and German developed from the very same language roots. Evidence of their shared etymology is scattered throughout both languages today.

Their common history has resulted in cognates like Haus house, trinken to drink, hundert hundred, Mutter mother, Sommer summer, braun brown, Garten garden, and Apfel apple, to name just a mere few.

German and English also share the same 26-letter alphabet, though German has four additional letters (ä, ö, ü, ß), and they share many similar sounds and have similar stress and intonation patterns.

Both languages have the same categories and patterns of regular (weak) and irregular (strong and mixed) verbs.The regular verbs show tense through fixed suffixes (generally –ed in English, –te/-t in German), while the irregular verbs mark tense via internal sound changes and perhaps also suffixes (-t in English, –te/-t in German).

weak: kochen, kochte, gekocht to cook, cooked, cooked
strong: singen, sang, gesungen to sing, sang, sung
mixed: denken, dachte, gedacht to think, thought, thought

Both languages form their simple past tense in similar ways.

ich sah I saw
es kam it came
sie schwamm she swam
er sprach he spoke
ich brachte I brought

The perfect tenses in English and German are a two-word construction of helping verb + past participle.

ich habe gefolgt I have followed
wir haben gesagt we have said
er hat gegeben he has given
du hast gelernt you have learned
sie sind gegangen they have gone

English has largely abandoned its Germanic case system, but we still see the cases in its pronouns forms (ich, mich/mir  I, meer, ihn/ihm he, him; wer, wen/wem who, whom).

The shared roots of both languages mean that German and English form their comparative and superlative adjective forms in similar ways.

gut, besser, am besten good, better, best
heiß, heißer, am heißesten hot, hotter, hottest
lang, länger, am längsten long, longer, longest
viel, mehr, am meisten much, more, most

Such shared features of German and English are due to their common history. Noticing these similarities can be beneficial to the English-speaking learner of German.

9. German has adopted many English words.

The intense contact with the English-speaking world, particularly since the mid-20th century, has enriched German with a broad array of new English loan words, which the English-speaker will readily recognize: hi, cool, joggenComputer, chatten, Management, Bestseller, Band, Star, clever, fair, JobTrendtestenBaby, downloaden. These words and many, many others are have been integrated into standard German, giving English speakers even broader access to German vocabulary.

10. The German government provides financial assistance and resources for learning German.

Not a feature of the language itself, but nonetheless important in providing access to learning opportunities is the German government’s policy of promoting German both at home and abroad. Germany spends about 315 million euros annually to support the teaching and learning of German in schools, universities, and adult education programs. The non-profit Goethe-Institut promotes the German language and culture at home and abroad through language training courses and a diverse cultural program. The government-supported German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides financial assistance to students and scholars to visit Germany to further their German education. Individual German states offer scholarships and incentives to foreigners and visitors seeking to learn German. The German government also provides funding for the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which among its offerings has a wide array of programs, modules, and tools for learning German.

So what are you waiting for? You already know some German!

Posted in German Language, Teaching German Tagged with:

10,000 Facebook Likes Giveaway

10.000 Facebook Fans Giveaway

We did it! With your help, The German Professor has reached 10,000 Fans on Facebook – Wow!

As a thank you to all the followers of my Facebook page and website and to show my appreciation for each and every one of you, I’d like to do a series of giveaways over the next 10 days. What we all have in common is a love for the German language and culture and I have made it my goal and career to help those who want to learn German in their journey to fluency. I would like to give participants a chance to win some materials to aid them in their efforts to improve their German language skills.

To participate, head on over to my The German Professor Facebook Page and follow the simple instructions on each giveaway post to enter. As each giveaway closes, I will list the prizes and their winners there as well as here.

Now get on over there and enter for a chance to win!

The Giveaways are now over. Congratulations to all of the winners! You can see what all 10 of them won below. If you didn’t win, stick around — those were so much fun, I will be hosting more giveaways in the future. In the meantime, perhaps a crossword puzzle will provide a welcome diversion. :) Viel Spaß!

Giveway Prize 1

Emil und die Detektive

1 Winner: Gabrielle Y.

More info or buy your own new or used copy:

 The well-known and beloved children’s novel Emil und die Detektive, by Erich Kästner.

Giveway Prize 2

3 Winners: Emanuel A., Siobhán V., & Anuradha I.

More info or buy your own new or used laminated grammar chart:

PONS Grammatik auf einen Blick – Deutsch laminated grammar chart (Klappkarte)

Giveway Prize 3

1 Winner: Cristian D.

More info or buy your own new or used laminated grammar chart:

Practice Makes Perfect: German Pronouns and Prepositions activity book

Giveway Prize 4

Deutsch als Fremdsprache. 250 Grammatik-Übungen

1 Winner: Jesus L.

More info or buy your own new or used copy:

PONS Deutsch als Fremdsprache. 250 Grammatik-Übungen.

Giveway Prize 5

Sprachdrehscheibe. 186 Starke und unregelmäßige Verben

4 Winners: Elizabeth W., Deb D., Gerardo S., & SuMegh T.

More info or buy your own new or used copy:

Sprachdrehscheibe. 186 Starke und unregelmäßige Verben. (Language Wheel: 186 Strong and Irregular Verbs)

* This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my FTC disclosure.

Posted in Other Tagged with:

8 Things about Max und Moritz

Max und Moritz
Ach was muß man oft von bösen
Kindern hören oder lesen!
Wie zum Beispiel hier von diesen,
Welche Max und Moritz hießen.
Max und Moritz Buch

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the children’s book Max und Moritz: Eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen, which first appeared in print in October 1865. Wilhelm Busch’s now classic work relates in rhyming verse with accompanying illustrations the seven mischievous pranks of two young boys and their fateful demise. Busch authored several stories, but Max und Moritz was by far the most popular and successful.  Even today, the work is well known in German-speaking countries and it holds a prominent place in the German cultural consciousness.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the book, here are 8 things you may not have known about this beloved children’s book.

1. Max und Moritz was initially rejected for publication.

The first publisher who was offered the manuscript, Heinrich Richter, declined to publish it because he felt it lacked sales potential. And what’s more: Busch was only trying to make amends for Richter’s publication of a previous work of his that was a flop. Busch had offered Richter the Max und Moritz manuscript without any expectation of payment. Richter was not interested.

2. Children were not Busch’s intended audience.

Though often mentioned in the same breath as Struwwelpeter (1845), which Heinrich Hoffmann penned specifically for his son and later published, Max und Moritz was not originally meant to be a book for children. It was Busch’s publisher Kaspar Braun who suggested offering it through the children’s book division of his publishing house rather than in the pages of the satirical weekly, Fliegende Blätter, as Busch had suggested. Braun paid Busch 1000 guilders, the equivalent of about 2 years’ pay for a craftsman, for the rights to his manuscript.

3. Busch included autobiographical elements in Max und Moritz.

Erich Bachmann and Wilhelm Busch
Used with permission from the
Wilhelm-Busch-Mühle in Ebergötzen

Later in life, Wilhelm Busch himself reminisced that some of the things in his book really did happen. His friendship with the miller’s son Erich Bachmann and their childhood antics together likely inspired the figures of Max and Moritz. A pencil portrait that Bush drew at age 14 shows Bachmann as a young man with thick, round cheeks like those of Max. A self-portrait of Busch from around the same time shows a swirl of hair that suggests the perky jut of hair on Moritz. Busch and Bachmann hunted and caught birds with glue traps and ran around the Bachmann family mill covered in flour. As an adult, Busch visited his friend Bachmann at the mill. (Today that mill in the town of Ebergötzen has been turned into a museum and renamed the Wilhelm-Busch-Mühle.) There was also a tailor in town who did have to cross a small footbridge to get into his house, as the tailor in Max und Moritz does.  And the family name Bolte — the name of the widow who appears in the first and second pranks — was common in Wiedensahl where Busch spent the first 9 years of his life.

4. Max und Moritz introduced something new to children’s literature.


Children’s books first appeared in the later 18th century and were strongly moralizing and didactic. The books were meant to teach and instruct, not to entertain, and the child figures in those books behaved like pint-sized adults. Then in the first half of the 19th century, literature started depicting the child in what was believed to be his natural state – innocent and perfect. With their colorfully illustrated and entertaining rhymes, their wild and rebellious children, and their gruesome content,  Struwwelpeter (1845) and Max und Moritz (1865) broke with both of these traditions.

In both works, the drastic content in words and pictures was something new and unexpected. The characters in both stories behave badly and are punished for it. But Busch takes his representations even further than Hoffmann. Hoffmann’s work depicts typical child behaviors or missteps – thumb-sucking, fidgeting, playing with fire, teasing, not eating one’s dinner. And his various characters suffer the natural consequences of their misbehaviors – Paulinchen burns herself to death, the animal torturer Friedrich is bitten by a dog, the Kaspar who won’t eat his dinner dies of starvation.

Max und Moritz Ende

By contrast, Busch’s children exhibit a natural maliciousness. They play a prank on the tailor, who nearly drowns because of it, fill their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder thus knocking him unconscious and singeing his hair and skin, and they steal pretzels from the baker. Max and Moritz happily get away with their pranks until the very end of the story where the adults exact their revenge. The baker slides the dough-covered boys into the oven to bake them. When that fails to end their mischief , the farmer catches the boys and delivers them to the miller, who grinds them into grain-size pieces. In the final picture, the reader witnesses the boys’ tiny remains being gobbled up by two ducks.  Unlike the fates of the children in Hoffmann’s work, Max and Moritz’s demise is a result of the adults’ own violent acts. They intervene to end the incursion of the boys into their own sense of orderliness.

Busch was writing 20 years later than Hoffmann. Many authors of his day were striving to depict the reality of everyday life and casting light on the conflict between the individual and society. In Max und Moritz, the boys are punished because they violate established behavioral norms and because they disturb the orderly routines of the adults. Busch demonstrates that the narrow-minded middle-class society of his time has no place for children like these. The only option is their removal from from the social order and this is carried out quite consciously and efficiently – and brutally – by the adults in their world. Though the final act of the adults is even more gruesome and sadistic than any of the things Max and Moritz perpetuate, it is greeted by the community with quiet contentment — “Als man dies im Dorf erfuhr, / War von Trauer keine Spur” – and even approbation: “’Gott sei Dank! Nun ist’s vorbei / Mit der Übeltäterei.” Busch exposes the coldness and harshness of an authoritarian society and unmasks the moral hypocrisy inherent in the violent removal of those who violate their sense of order.

5. For decades, educators were critical of Max und Moritz.

Nineteenth-century educators watched in dismay as Busch’s work grew in popularity. In 1883, Friedrich Seidel called the caricatures in Max und Moritz and other of Busch’s works “gefährliche Gifte” (dangerous poisons) that were making contemporary youth insubordinate, impudent, and flippant. Another critic disliked that the wanton mischief of the boys went unpunished in episode after episode, and that the final punishment was then an exaggerated and unrealistic event that inspired laughter instead of fear and learning. Not only the verses were objectionable; the pictures alone were enough to make the book in appropriate. The caricaturized adults are made the object of ridicule. Julius Dococ was certain that children would love the book, which made it all that much more dangerous. Even in 1929, school officials in Steiermark forbade the sale of the book to kids under 18.

6. Max und Moritz changed Busch’s fortune.

Max und Moritz was popular beyond Wilhelm Busch’s wildest dreams. Published in 1865, in 1866 it was translated into Danish, and the following year an English edition appeared. Japanese and Hebrew translations followed. By the time Busch died in 1908, the book was in its 56th edition, had been translated into 10 languages, and had sold more than 430,000 copies. It has since been translated into over 150 languages and dialects.

The publication of Max und Moritz changed Busch’s fortune. His writing career had begun modestly. But by the time of his death, he was well off and well known. Today he is considered one of the most influential humoristic authors and illustrators in Germany and is known internationally. Even Maurice Sendak, author of the wildly popular children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, among others, said that he stole something from Max und Moritz for nearly every one of his books.

7. Max und Moritz is considered the forerunner of the comic strip.

Max und Moritz served as an early model and inspiration for the American newspaper comic strip. In 1897, Rudolph Dirks created a comic strip for the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst based on Max und Moritz. “The Katzenjammer Kids” became the first fully developed cartoon strip in the U.S., featuring speech balloons and a continuous cast of characters, with the action divided into small, regular panels. Figures Hans and Fritz are easily recognizable as descendents of Busch’s two protagonists and even some of the key scenes in Dirks’ work are identical to Busch’s. Wilhelm Busch is frequently called the forefather of modern comics.

8. Max und Moritz still has a significant place in the German cultural consciousness.

References to Max und Moritz have been and still are everywhere in German-speaking areas, sometimes even in the most unusual and unlikely places. The book title has shared its name with schools (!), restaurants, taverns, and golf tournaments.  The boys’ names and image have appeared on packages of sauerkraut, sausage, and cheese, on postage stamps, telephone cards, and objects for every day usage, such as key chains, T-shirts, lunch boxes, mugs, nightlights. They have been the inspiration for toys and new card and board games. There have been parodies and imitations of the work, it has inspired new comics and cartoons, recordings, and dramatizations, and adaptations have been produced for film and musical and theatrical performances. And the Max-und-Moritz-Prize is awarded biennially for the best German comic artist, as well as the best German and international comics and comic strips, the best children’s comic, and the best student publication. In addition, the judges award special prizes and a lifetime achievement award.

The ubiquity of Max und Moritz in German-speaking regions shows its continuing place in German cultural identity even 150 years after its publication.


Want to read Max und Moritz?

Here is an online version of the story divided into sections.

And here is the audio for the story as a QuickTime video with pictures from the book.

If you are intersted in the history of the book, this digitized version of the original 1865 edition might interest you.

Or maybe you’d like your own downloadable copy. This is a free copy in pdf-format.

If you to have your own copy of Max und Moritz, you can find a German-English dual language edition on or a German one on


Posted in Books, Culture Tagged with: , , ,

Download free German ebooks

Did you know that the various Amazon stores offer hundreds, maybe thousands, of free German books for download? Not all of them are high-quality books, but there are often some real finds among the free selections. Maybe not surprisingly, Amazon doesn’t make it easy for customers to find the free downloads.

The foreign-language downloads can be especially tricky to locate. I’ve set up specialized search links to point you directly to the free German books on four of the Amazon sites. The instructions differ a bit depending on whether you’re on Amazon Germany or on an English-language Amazon.Follow the link and read the instructions to find out how to mine some of these free little gems for yourself.

If you need help reading your ebook or troubleshooting the download, scroll to the bottom of the page for more help.

Free German Books from

Go to free German ebooks on

Amazon Germany publishes lists of their most popular ebook downloads and currently allows you to examine the Top 100 free downloads in each category. The above link will take you to the Top 100 free downloads overall, but if you use the left menu on the linked page, you can narrow the search to particular themes. Make sure that Top 100 gratis is chosen on the top tab to view the list of free items for the chosen category.

I didn’t sort this list for language since presumably most of the books that come up on will be in German. This is a great way to expand your German library in categories that interest you. And reading things you find interesting is absolutely one of the best ways to learn a language. And it won’t cost you a cent.

Here are a few things that caught my eye. How about you? What did you find?

13 gegen die Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

Pflanzenschmuck für Balkon und Garten

Die Zitrone. 101 Tipps & Tricks

Free German Books from English-language Amazons

Go to free German ebooks on

Go to free German ebooks at

Go to free German ebooks at

Follow this link to free German books presorted by price from lowest to highest. This means that the books that are free to download will be at the beginning of the list. Use the left menu on the landing page to choose subcategories you are interested in. Scan through each category that interests you, but as you scroll through the books, keep your eye on the price to make sure you are still among the free offerings. Some of the books offered on are also offered on these sites.

Among other things, there are lots of free German literary works whose copyright has expired and that are therefore free to download. Here are a few examples of things I found interesting in Children’s Books, in Fiction, and in Crafts, Hobbies, and Home on

Das Dschungelbuch

Die Dorfdetektive

Einfach selbst reparieren

Ratten als Haustiere

How to read your free ebooks from Amazon

In order to read your free downloads, you will need the Kindle Reading App unless you already own a Kindle. The app is free and is available for smartphones, tablets, and computers. You can follow the directions for downloading the app that appears directly on the page of the free book you want to download. Or you can go to the free Kindle Reader apps page on You will only have to download the app once and you’re good to go. Or you can download it on all of your devices and share your ebook across all of them.

Trouble downloading?

Some websites only allow downloading or streaming of content for visitors who live in a specific location. For this reason, depending on your location you may not have permission to download from some of the Amazon regional sites. You have a few options. There are free proxy services (like the browser extention Hola! or Hotspot Shield for mobile devices) that allow users to circumvent region blocking. Or you can just stick to the Amazon for your region. Oftentimes, you can find a free ebook on multiple Amazon sites.


Did you find something worth downloading? Please share your find in the comments below!

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Posted in Books, Resources

Teaching German with Deutsche Welle’s Top-Thema and Video Thema

I regularly teach a Contemporary Issues in German-Speaking Regions course for intermediate to advanced learners. In this course, I want learners to become informed citizens and ultimately to learn to converse intelligently on topics of current interest in the German-speaking world. I hope to provide a format and an array of materials (linked at the bottom of the post) that any German instructor can use to teach a similar course. The format can also work with some minor adjustments or additions for Conversation and/or Composition courses — which I also do.

Course content

The core content for these courses comes from Deutsche Welle’s Top-Thema and Video-Thema. Why? The content is free (no need for expensive textbooks!), it is current and ever-expanding, uses authentic language in both written and spoken form, and is managable in length, language use, and content for intermediate to advanced students. Moreover, the modules lend themselves to a range of extension activities for vocabulary building, linguistic analysis, grammar practice, and oral practice. I’m going to describe how I use these online materials. Then below I will link to all of the extension activities I have created.

Deutsche Welle Top-Thema

New Top-Thema modules are published each week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Each text is a simplified, 4- to 5-paragraph version of a longer article. A link to the original article is always provided at the bottom of the page. Each article is accompanied by a German-German vocabulary list (Glossar), five multiple choice comprehension questions (Fragen zum Text), one deeper content or exploratory question (Arbeitsauftrag), and an audio file of a native speaker reading the article in clearly enunciated German. According to Deutsche Welle, the articles are targeted for Level B1 learners.

A new Video-Thema module appears every Wednesday. Each one includes a 2- to 5-minute video. A downlodable PDF (Aufgaben) offers a pre-listening/watching activity, a few comprehension activities, and one or two related language-use activities. A second downloadable PDF (Manuskript) contains the manuscript and German-German vocabulary list. According to Deutsche Welle, the materials are appropriate for learners at Level B2/C1. It is true that my students generally find Video-Thema material more difficult than Top-Thema material, even when working with the printed manuscript. For this reason, I tend to use Top-Thema more often. But I think it’s important for students to gain experience with both types of language consumption.

Assigning the material

While new material appears weekly, and certainly can be used as it is published, the older modules remain completely accessible. Several years worth are now available — Top-Thema back to 2007 and Video-Thema back to 2008 — so there are hundreds of themes to choose from. I personally choose not to take these in any particular order. Sometimes one theme naturally segues into another. I strive to find themes that will be interesting and relevant to my current students, that will increase their understanding of German-speaking culture, and that may tie into something currently happening in their own culture, community, or lives.

I usually devote a week of class time to each module we work with. For Top-Thema assignments, students prepare by reading and listening to the article. I also ask them to practice reading aloud at home to prepare for reading aloud in class. And they answer the five Fragen zum Text. For the Video-Thema assignments, I ask students watch the video at home several times. They may and should consult the manuscript by the second or third viewing. They do the pre-watching and video comprehension activities in the Aufgaben-PDF.

Working with the material

The materials provided by Deutsche Welle provide an excellent starting point for working with the theme and the language of the text or video.


We start by reading the text aloud in class. All students have a copy of the text with them and I also project the text onto the screen at the front of the room. I randomly choose students to each read a paragraph of the text aloud. When the entire article has been read, I have the class chorally repeat words that seemed difficult to pronounce correctly while pointing them out on the screen. Then we move on to the Fragen zum Text. The answers are not always obvious. Sometimes there are only slight differences between choices. This causes students to think more deeply about the questions, answer choices, and content of the text. They must really understand what the questions are asking and what the answers imply. (Instructors should know — and I have just now discovered — that answer keys are available from both the Top-Thema and Video-Thema main pages!) The Arbeitsauftrag varies in difficulty. Sometimes students can jump right in and use the prompt to engage in discussion. Other times, students benefit from more practice with the article theme first.


I start by asking students about their viewing experiences and reassuring them:

Welche Eindrücke hatten Sie beim Sehen? War es leicht zu verstehen? schwer? Wie oft haben Sie es durchgespielt? Haben Sie immer mehr verstanden? Es ist okay, wenn Sie nicht alles verstanden haben. Wir wollen das Wichtigste verstanden haben, aber man muss nicht jedes Wort verstehen.

I ask how they answered the pre-viewing questions and whether their expectations were met after having viewed the video. Then we discuss each of the watching/listening comprehension exercises separately. Students relate what they chose for answers, we determine whether all agree or whether there is some disagreement. Then we play the video through and I have students raise their hands when they think an answer to a question in the activity is being given. If necessary, I stop the video and replay the relevant section while referencing the question that the clip answers. We follow this procedure or something similar for each separate viewing comprehension activity. If necessary, I bring up the manuscript on the front screen and we analyze the language more closely to determine what is being expressed in the video.

Students then work in pairs or groups on the remaining video questions, which often delve into issues of language usage. This opens opportunities to talk about structures or vocabulary. I find that the Arbeitsauftrag that follows sometimes seems like too much of a leap from the comprehension exercises. Students are not always linguistically equipped to discuss the theme in any detail. This is where some extension activities can help bolster learners’ language skills and give them the needed preparation for moving to freer expression on the topic.

Extension activities

The activities described above encompass the exercises provided by Deutsche Welle. But the materials offer many more opportunities for language and thematic exploration. I want to promote deeper comprehension, promote oral practice, prepare students to not only understand but to actively use new vocabulary in language production. I want them to analyze and understand how what is said is being said and why it is said that way. In short, I want students to engage in activities that get them thinking, speaking, practicing, and hopefully, within a week’s time, able to converse and even write intelligently on the chosen theme.

Here are the Deutsche Welle modules I have further didacticized.

Wenn Russland kein Gas mehr liefert
Die Schweiz auf Isolationskurs
Europa wird alt
Arbeiten trotz Rente
Teures Wohnen in Großstädten
Die Hälfte der Deutschen ist zu dick
Lebensmittel im Müll
Studieren in Deutschland
Kinderbücher ohne Rassismus
Machen Computer dumm?

I also have materials for the following modules, but just haven’t had a chance to get them organized and uploaded yet. If you are interested in having my materials for any of these, send me an e-mail ([email protected]) and I will forward you what I have.

♦ 8,50 Euro für alle (Top-Thema)
♦ Schweizer gegen Grenze für Managerlöhne (Top-Thema)
♦ Die große Angst vor dem Islam (Top-Thema)
♦ Weihnachtsmärkte — Rettung für das Kunsthandwerk (Top-Thema)
♦ Nikolaus und Schwarzer Peter — eine rassistische Tradition? (Video-Thema)
♦ Die Welt feiert Karneval (Top-Thema)
♦ Deutschland liebt seine Zeitschriften (Video-Thema)
♦ Die EU wird unbeliebter (Top-Thema)
♦ Lieber Ausbildung als Studium (Video-Thema)
♦ Wie man seine Daten schützen kann (Top-Thema)
♦ Wo sind die Ärzte? (Top-Thema)
♦ Männerberufe – Frauenberufe (Video-Thema) 
♦ Übergewicht ein dickes Problem (Video-Thema)
♦ Immer mehr chronische Krankheiten (Top-Thema)
♦ Mehr Freiheit durch weniger Konsum (Top-Thema)
♦ Ein Tag im Leben eines Studenten (Video-Thema)
♦ Kein Platz für Studenten  (Top-Thema)
♦ Fazination Wikipedia  (Top-Thema)
♦ Anonym bewerben  (Top-Thema)
♦ Die Waffen bleiben  (Top-Thema)
♦ Ein Auto teilen (Video-Thema)

The Deutsche Welle materials provide the springboard for the language work we do in class. But in case you were wondering, these are not the only course assignments and activities. Students also do weekly journal writing, write three or four formal essays, and give two oral reports. They complete grammar assignments tailored to their individual needs. In addition, they are required to maintain a weekly vocabulary notebook.  More on these things later!

Posted in Culture, German Language, Teaching German Tagged with:

Working with German numbers: Children and day care in Germany

Geman numbers on child care

I recently posted a set of activities for practicing the German numbers. In fact, the best way to practice numbers (or language in general for that matter) is to use them in context. The Statistisches Bundesamt (DESTATIS) regularly publishes all kinds of interesting data and statistics on German society, politics, the economy, and the environment  that lend themselves to reading and discussion around particular themes. The themes are especially relevant for advanced students, but some of the tables and graphics could readily be examined and interpreted by beginners.

For instance, DESTATIS just recently published a report on day care participation in Germany. The text, graphic and data table reveal some interesting trends. First of all, the number of children in German day cares is up significantly (about 10%) over 2013. Moreover, the percentage of children under 3 in day care is substantially higher in the states that were formerly part of East Germany — German children living in the east were on average twice as likely to be in a public or private day care. Finally , the older the child, the more likely it is that s/he is in a day care. This may be attributable to the new law that went into effect in August 2013 guaranteeing children aged 1 and above a place in a publicly supported day care facility. The number of day care facilities and workers also increased over the previous year.

Here is last week’s press release.

Fast jedes dritte Kind unter 3 Jahren am 1. März 2014 in Kindertages­betreuung

WIESBADEN – Die Zahl der Kinder unter 3 Jahren in Kindertagesbetreuung ist zum 1. März 2014 gegenüber dem Vorjahr um rund 64 500 auf insgesamt knapp 660 800 Kinder gestiegen. Der Anstieg fiel damit stärker aus als in den Vorjahren. Zwischen März 2011 und März 2012 hatte sich die Zahl der betreuten Kinder in dieser Altersklasse um fast 43 800 erhöht, zwischen März 2012 und März 2013 nur um rund 38 100. Wie das Statistische Bundesamt (Destatis) anhand der Ergebnisse zur Statistik der Kindertagesbetreuung weiter mitteilt, lag die Betreuungsquote am Stichtag bundesweit bei 32,3 % (2013: 29,3 %).

Bei der Betreuungsquote handelt es sich um den Anteil der in Kindertageseinrichtungen oder in öffentlich geförderter Kindertagespflege betreuten unter 3-Jährigen an allen Kindern dieser Altersgruppe. Die Quoten können sich noch geringfügig ändern, da endgültige Bevölkerungszahlen erst zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt vorliegen.

Die Betreuungsquote betrug im März 2014 in den westdeutschen Bundesländern durchschnitt­lich 27,4 %. In Ostdeutschland (einschließlich Berlin) war sie mit 52,0 % fast doppelt so hoch. Von den westdeutschen Flächenländern hatte Rheinland-Pfalz mit 30,8 % die höchste Betreuungsquote, die niedrigste hatte Nordrhein-Westfalen (23,7 %). In Brandenburg war bundesweit die höchste Betreuungsquote festzustellen (58,2 %).

In den einzelnen Altersjahren der unter 3-Jährigen sind die Betreuungsquoten sehr unterschiedlich. Eine vergleichsweise geringe Bedeutung hat die Kindertagesbetreuung bei Kindern unter 1 Jahr. Die Betreuungsquote betrug hier bundesweit 2,8 %. Bei den 1-Jährigen haben die Eltern von gut jedem dritten Kind (34,7 %) ein Angebot der Kindertagesbetreuung in Anspruch genommen. Gegenüber dem Vorjahr war dies ein Anstieg um 3,9 Prozentpunkte. Bei Kindern im Alter von 2 Jahren stieg die Betreuungsquote um 5,9 Prozentpunkte gegenüber dem Vorjahr auf nun 59,8 %. Seit dem 1. August 2013 gibt es für Kinder ab dem vollendeten ersten Lebensjahr einen bundesweiten Rechtsanspruch auf einen öffentlich geförderten Betreuungsplatz.

Im März 2014 gab es bundesweit 53 415 Kindertageseinrichtungen. Dies waren 931 Einrichtungen mehr als zum gleichen Zeitpunkt des Vorjahres (+ 1,8 %). Die Zahl der dort als pädagogisches Personal oder als Leitungs- und Verwaltungspersonal beschäftigten Personen stieg um 6,3 % auf 527 400. Gleichzeitig nahm die Zahl der Tagesmütter und -väter um 907 auf knapp 44 900 zu (+ 2,1 %).

Here are some ways to use this text to teach or learn German, including German numbers:

(1) Read the text.

Have intermediate high to advanced students read the text aloud. Numbers must be spoken to be practiced; otherwise, students are writing the numeric digits and not necessarily thinking of the spoken word. The press release contains a variety of dates, percentages, and raw numbers. And more than just reading numbers, students will gain practice in reading numbers aloud embedded in a context. They should strive to read as fluidly as possible. They could read the text — or even a single paragraph — multiple times until satisfied with their fluidity in reading.

(2) Examine and organize the content.

This can be tailored to the level of the learners. Novice learners can examine the graphic and/or data table and state what it reveals. Novice to intermediate learners can extract data with some guidance and some vocabulary assistance. A matching activity or a simple table would work. Or they could complete such a table for homework as a reading comprehension activity in preparation for further discussion (see below). If done in class, this should be a partner activity so that language is being practiced aloud.

Anzahl der Kinder unter 3 in Kindertagesbetreuung:

Prozent der Kinder in Deutschland in Tagesbetreuung:

Prozent der Kinder in Ostdeutschland in der Tagespflege:

Prozent der Kinder in Westdeutschland in der Tagespflege:

Land mit dem höchsten Anteil der Kinder in der Tagesbetreuung:

Land mit dem geringsten Anteil der Kinder in der Tagesbetreuung:

Prozent der Kinder unter 1 Jahr in der Tagesbetreuung:

Prozent der 1-jährigen Kinder in der Tagesbetreuung:

Prozent der 2-jährigen Kinder in der Tagesbetreuung:

(3) Discuss the content.

There is lots of fodder for discussion here and the discussion will require some use of German numbers.  Topics and depth of discussion will depend on the level of the learners. Here are some ideas.

2014 waren 660 800 Kinder in Deutschland in der Tagesbetreuung. In welche Richtung geht der Trend: aufwärts oder abwärts? Geben Sie Beweise.

In welchen Bundesländern kommt der größte Anteil der Kinder in die Tagesbetreuung? Was haben diese Länder gemein?

Warum kommen weit mehr ostdeutsche Kinder in die Tagespflege als westdeutsche?

Kinder unter 3 Jahren kommen in die Kindertagesbetreuung. Wo sind die Kinder unter 3 Jahren , die nicht in der Tagesbetreuung sind? Wo sind die Kinder ab 3 Jahren?

Wie erklärt man den geringen Anteil der Kinder unter 1 Jahr in der Tagebetreuung (2.8%)?

Warum steigt Jahr für Jahr die Anzahl der Kindertageseinrichtungen?

Soll der Staat öffentliche Betreuungsplätze für alle Kinder unter 3 Jahren unterstützen? Warum (nicht)?

Wenn Sie mal ein Kind unter 3 Jahren haben, möchten Sie gerne einen Platz für das Kind in einer Tagesstätte? Warum (nicht)?

Access the press release and data by Bundesland in tabular form at the DESTATIS website.

Authentic and current texts like these offer an excellent way for German learners to practice numbers in context. They also provide a window into German culture, provide the basis for intelligent discussion about current issues, and offer opportunities for learners to express their own ideas and meanings in the foreign language.

Posted in Culture, Teaching German Tagged with: , ,

Free 2-day shipping on German books

This is somewhat off-topic, but I have to share. If you’re a student buying German books for classes or if you plan to buy any books for the next six months, you could benefit from the free Amazon Student program. Here’s the deal:

Solid circle You must be a currently enrolled student with an .edu extension e-mail address.

Solid circle If you sign up, you get free 2-day shipping on books and pretty much anything else Amazon sells with no minimum purchase requirement.

Solid circle After the six-month free trial period, you will be eligible to continue the Amazon Student program at half price ($49 instead of $99).

Solid circle There is no obligation to continue after six months and you can cancel at any time.

And it’s not only free. If you have an active Amazon account, you can also earn $10 for each of your student friends that you refer to Amazon Student.

I have been a happy Amazon Prime customer for a few years. Amazon Student is basically the same Amazon Prime service but at a student discount. Be aware that the free trial gives you the free 2-day shipping benefit, but none of the other perks of the paid account: unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, free access to millions of songs, and if you own a Kindle, the ability to borrow one e-book per month for no additional charge. However, if you choose to upgrade to the paid Amazon Student service, all of the benefits of the full-price Prime service are included.

Posted in Books, Products Tagged with: ,

Top 10 career paths in Germany

In the process of developing a teaching unit for next semester on Studium und Beruf, I came across the latest statistics of the German Federal Statistics Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) on the most popular career paths among young Germans and compiled them into two charts.

The first chart shows the most popular majors at Germany’s universities. Students graduating from secondary school may study at a university if they fulfill entrance requirements and pass the qualifying school-leaving exam (Abitur). About 30% of secondary school graduates qualify for and choose this path.

The second chart shows the most popular choices among Germany’s 345 officially recognized career training programs (Ausbildungsberufe). The remaining 70% of secondary school graduates participate in Germany’s duales System or dual system of education, in which trainees attend a vocational school (Berufsschule) part-time while also gaining practical experience through on-the-job training.

Both lists are broken down by gender, which can offer some basis for further discussion in the classroom. Some reading and interpretation questions for students follow each chart.

Die beliebtesten Studienfächer

Fragen zu Grafik 1

1. Was ist das beliebteste Studienfach an deutschen Hochschulen?

2. Was studieren Frauen öfter als Männer?

3. Was studieren Männer öfter als Frauen?

4. In welchen Fächern lernt man Sprachen?

5. In welchen Fächern arbeitet man viel mit Zahlen?

6. Wie interpretieren Sie die Informationen in dieser Grafik? Sehen Sie Trends?



Die beliebtesten Ausbildungsberufe

 Fragen zu Grafik 2

Verstehen Sie, was für Berufe diese sind? Schlagen Sie die Begriffe im Wörterbuch nach, wenn Sie sie nicht verstehen.

1. Welche Ausbildungsberufe sind unter den beliebtesten für Frauen und Männer?

2. In welchen Berufen sitzt man wohl am Schreibtisch?

3. In welchen Berufen hat man viel Kontakt zu Menschen?

4. In welchen Berufen arbeitet man wohl mit Computern?

5. In welchen Berufen arbeitet man an Maschinen?

6. Wie unterscheiden sich die Berufe von Männern und Frauen? Gibt es Trends?


Posted in Teaching German Tagged with: , , ,

More free German Christmas ebooks

Yesterday I posted some links to free German ebooks with a Christmas theme. Today a few of the twelve books I posted about are no longer free. But here are a few more that are free today that were not yesterday. Get them while they don’t cost you anything!

Der Weihnachtsteller – Kulinarische Weihnachtsgeschichten – Christmas stories and poems with a culinary theme.

München Manhatten – Weihnachtsspecial – A short story gift from the author in her München Manhattan series. Susanna has just one wish for Christmas: that her best friends finally will end their feud. But is a reconciliation even possible after all that has happened?

White Christmas. Kurzkrimi Free download only on the first four Sundays in December this year.  Karo Rutkowsky, private detective and sucessful cleaning woman, solves her cases with attitude. Not always legal, but thorough.

Tödliche Festtage – 18 short crime stories for Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. Christmas stories: Ein Laster voller Geschenke, Invasion der Weihnachtsmänner, Rutenklaus, Eisige Zeiten, Rumkuchen, Strip a Claus, Niko klaut‘s, Der Stiefel, Der Baum und Blutiger Schnee.

Weihnachts-Bowle – by 19th-century German author Otto Julius Bierbaum

These books are free at the time of posting, but may not be so for long. If you are interested, grab them now!

Posted in Books, Resources Tagged with: , , ,
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