Lederhosen for Lego Lovers

For all of you German-loving Lego fans out there … With the release of the Series 11 Lego Minifigures in September, the “Lederhosen Guy” from Series 8 now has a mate. Like the “Lederhosen Guy”, the dirndl-wearing Series 11 “Bavarian Lady” also has a pretzel as an accessory.


If you’re not familiar with Lego Minifigures, you can buy a package from the current series at market value (usually $2.99, 1.92 GBP, $3.05 CAD, $2.99 AUD, $2.35 EUR, et al.). But you won’t know which of the 16 series figures you have until you open it. Or you can buy the exact figure you want at a premium on sites like ebay and amazon.

What do you think of the Bavarian Lady and the Lederhosen Guy? Stereotypical? Cute?

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Poll: Most surprising results of the 2013 Bundestag election

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How is the German chancellor elected?

Plakat Bundestagswahlen

© bpb

On September 22, 2013, 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 2013 election (e.g., “Polls Suggest Happy People Mean Boring Politics” in Der Spiegel,  “Germany’s Election: Descent into Banality” in The Economist, Germany’s election: Coalition scenarios” 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
German politics today

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 Peer Steinbrück’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

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More on the Free OnlineTVRecorder

Two months ago I reviewed the OnlineTVRecorder (www.onlinetvrecorder.com) after about a week of use. After two months of using the OTR on a regular basis, I am still just as thrilled about stumbling across it as I was then. But the site is far from intuitive, and support is available from various sources but largely outdated and not easy to find. So I’d like to revisit the topic with some additional tips and tricks that might not be obvious to novice users:

  • Downloads are free during “happy hour” (0-8 am CET) but cost a few cents otherwise. But you can download files outside of the “happy hour” window for free if you download them from one of the listed mirror sites.
  • You will be able to download files that were not on your record list. However, you will not be able to decode them. This also means that you should not delete a recording once you have downloaded it until you also have decoded it — unless you have a Get-It-All-Wishlist.
  • If you make a Get-It-All-Wishlist then every show that OTR records will be available to you. You will be able to download it and decode it, even if you didn’t single it out for recording, as long as the Get-It-All-Wishlist was activated before the date of broadcast. And it seems you CAN use the GIA-Wishlist with a Beginner account, even though the guidelines state that you cannot.
  • If you didn’t record a program you wanted and you don’t/didn’t have a GIA-Wishlist, you can use the Buddy list to ask other users who recorded and the program to share it with you … in theory. I was unable to get the Buddy list to allow me to submit a request for a program, though I was able to share my programs with others.
  • Occasionally, something you slated for recording cannot be downloaded, either because it was recorded and the file is corrupted or because it was on a Pooling channel and didn’t get enough votes from users to be slated as a program to record for that time slot. Overall, however, this doesn’t affect a large number of programs.
  • Downloaded files typically contain not only the program you wanted but also several minutes of additional programming preceding the program and/or following the program. You will need to scan the files to find the beginning of the program you’re looking for. If you intend to save these programs onto DVDs or another storage device, you will probably want to use video-editing software (e.g. free, open-source Avidemux) to cut the extra programming and reduce file size.
  • If you start a Premium account, you may revert back to a Beginner account when you use all of your decodes or when your month is up. This way you get another free 15 decodes before activating and paying for Premium status for the next month.
  • Make sure you have reputable virus protection software installed on your computer before you start downloading. A few times I have encountered attempts from affiliated 3rd party websites to infect my computer (once successfully, and I had to spend a few hours purging it). Since installing Norton, I have seen a few attempts, but Norton has blocked them.
  • Lovers of German language and culture beware: the OTR is addicting and it is easy to lose hours searching the broad volume of available programming. Incidentally, 20 US channels are also available on the OTR, which means if you forget to DVR your favorite American shows, you can download them for free and watch them on your computer.

If I get any additional insights that seem worth sharing, I’ll post them in the comments.

Posted in Resources, Websites Tagged with: ,

Free German TV with OnlineTVRecorder

otr-screenshotI know what you’re thinking — it sounds too good to be true. Well, that’s exactly what I thought when I heard about the OnlineTVRecorder (OTR). But the thought of having access to German TV was just too enticing and I had to check it out. So I made a free account and have been downloading and watching German TV for the past week. There are shows as different as Tatort, Harald Schmidt, Hessenschau, Die Küchenschlacht, Wer wird Millionär, Planet Wissen, logo, Unser Sandmännchen, dubbed episodes of numerous US TV shows like Die Simpsons, Law and Order, and Desperate Housewives, and this week alone German versions of several films like Apollo 13, Die Bourne Identität, and Findet Nemo. And it is indeed all free!

This is how the OTR website works: You search through a German TV program that includes over 60 (!) channels. You can browse by channels, by genre, or search for a specific show. You choose which programs you want to record. Once recorded, you download the shows to your computer. Then you decode the shows with a special program that you download once from the OTR site. And that’s it — then you can view the programs.

All of this available with a free “Beginner” account that has a few limitations: You can only have up to 260 GB of recorded programming in your account at a time (which amounts to more than 500 hours worth of programs!).  You can download these programs between midnight and 8 am Central European Standard Time at no cost. And with a Beginner account, you may decode only 15 programs per month.

“Premium” accounts are also available for 50 GWP (Good Will Points) per month, which amounts to a mere 50 cents.  And you may actually earn the 50 GWP in your account by clicking on banners within the OTR website and still not pay a cent out of your own pocket. However, Premium status that is earned through banner clicking will allow you 50 decodes per month, whereas Premium status that is paid for with real money will get you 125 decodes per month. If you need more than that, you can pony up another 50 cents and renew your Premium status before the month is up. Premium status also comes with some other perks like unlimited recording space, the ability to download programs in HDTV or MP4 format, the option to block advertising on the site, and several other features.

How is all of this possible for nothing, or next to nothing, you ask?  The website is financed through the advertising that appears on the site. Downloads are meant for private, non-commercial viewing. Beginner accounts may be limited to a trial period of 3 months — I found brief mention of this on one page of the site, but many pages contain descriptions that refer to previous membership terms, so it is unclear whether the Beginner status may actually be continued beyond this period. Even if the free account is limited to a 3-month period, 50 cents a month seems like a small price to pay for such broad, flexible access to authentic German TV programming. Compare this to Dish Network’s German satellite TV program that has only 5 channels and costs almost $30/month.

If you’re looking for authentic German language resources, the OnlineTVRecorder is well worth looking at. If you try it, let me know what you think.


See also my update and tips for using the OTR.

Posted in Culture, German Language, Listening, Resources, Websites Tagged with: , , ,

Pons German Picture Dictionary

If you are a visual learner, or if you’d just like to expand your vocabulary, you will undoubtedly be interested in Pons’ huge online German picture dictionary (http://www.bildwoerterbuch.com).

The dictionary contains 6000 words in 17 different categories and with images for all of them. You can browse by category (e.g. Earth, Clothing, Plants, Animals, Sports, Science, House) or you can search for a word, or part of a word, in either English or German. If you are browsing, you typically will click through a few layers of images, the topmost layers containing the most general words and the final layer containing the most detailed images. For instance, clicking through the pages Transport und Fahrzeuge > Strassenverkehr > Auto will bring you to this image (which is one of several on the page under the category Auto):


www.bildwoerterbuch.de – Category: Auto

If you click on one of the images, then you get an image that contains more specific vocabulary. For instance, clicking on Karosserie on the page pictured above yields the following:

Bildwörterbuch - Category: Auto: Karosserie

www.bildwoerterbuch.de – Category: Auto: Karosserie

Below each image is a list of the included vocabulary with German and the corresponding English words and with links to audio pronunciation for both languages. Be aware, however, that the intonation is not always correct for the German words. For the words I tested, the speaker uses rising intonation at the end of every word, as one might do when reading a list of words in anticipation of the next word.

Given the level of detail this dictionary offers, it is best suited to advanced learners and/or learners who need to know very specific words in a particular field. It also contains only nouns, no other parts of speech. Still, with 6000 words there is sure to be something here for everyone.

Posted in German Language, Resources, Vocabulary, Websites Tagged with:
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