Every country has their own fair share of cultural superstitions. Some good superstitions in America are knocking on wood so as not to jinx yourself after you have said something or carrying a penny or rabbits foot in your pocket. Some bad superstitions are opening an umbrella inside your house and seeing a black cat, especially on Friday the 13th is cause to worry. Never break a mirror or else you will get 7 years bad luck. But wishing upon a shooting star will make your dreams come true.
Germany has some interesting superstitions that I have learned about over the years. Some make me laugh and some I know I just need to follow because Germans believe in them so seriously.
1. Never EVER say Happy Birthday before the birthday!
Birthdays in Germany are sacred and therefore should never be acknowledged BEFORE the actual date of the birthday. Any early birthday “Congratulations” would be considered bad luck. There have been times I have been frustrated by not understanding how family and friends couldn’t/wouldn’t say Happy early Birthday knowing that they weren’t going to see that person again until after their birthday. Instead, a week, two weeks AFTER the birthday, it’s perfectly acceptable to say it even though by then, the novelty of turning a year older has usually worn off already.
For any American, we would be perfectly fine saying Happy Birthday before or after. Here I guess I just have to learn to hold my tongue.
2. Never EVER Prost without eye contact
As you are about to raise your glass and toast your friends and family, you MUST make eye contact before clinking glasses otherwise you risk getting 7 years of bad LOVE MAKING! Good god, no one wants that! Eye contact, you see me looking at you, RIIGHT!? I never learned this until moving to Germany my second time and I have had German friends refuse to clink my glass until I was looking at them. Now I got it down to a skill!
3. Never EVER say “Prost” with water
I have heard that this is like a death wish. To your friends and family. Just.Don’t.Do.It. Unless you are full of hate and wish death upon someone but then you are the devil.
4. Shaking Hands with a Chimney Sweep Brings Good Luck
Well this is something I guess we all have in common. Even in the Anglo-Saxon world we do this and Dick Van Dyke sings about it in Mary Poppins. In Germany, chimney sweepers originally dressed in an all black suit with gold buttons and a top hat. How very schmashing, darling!! They particularly shook the hands of the chimney sweeps on New Years Day so as to have good luck in the New Year.
5. Knocking on the Stammtisch
“Stammtisch” is a German word for the ‘regulars’ at a table. What this means is that a certain round table is always set aside, usually with a special sign designating the table for “the regulars” who come into that bar or restaurant to mostly chit chat and have a drink, or play games.
In Germany, you see a lot of Stammtisch groups, usually for older men coming together to have their “man hour”. But there are more modern groups for young people. I, myself sometimes go to an English Stammtisch group to meet other English speakers. The superstition is that you should not wave to your Stammtisch friends when you see them, but rather knock on the Stammtisch table so to prove you aren’t the devil. Usually, Stammtisch tables were made of oak and the devil couldn’t touch it.
6. Gifting Knives
Apparently, gifting someone a knife is wishing them and everyone in their home injury and death. The myth says that a knife smith had once made a deal with the devil who later cursed all his work. Oops…guess we shouldn’t have given my stepdad a knife for Christmas!
7. Evil Old Ladies
We all know that Little Old Ladies are just as bad as Grumpy Old Men, but in Germany there are many superstitions about these old ladies. According to superstition, you should never walk in between two little old ladies because they will entrap you in a pincer movement. As to what they do next with you, I can hardly imagine. Probably pinch your cheeks until they turn red with pain.
8. Salty Bread
When your friends or family move into a new house, us Anglo-Saxons normally buy some kind of house warming gift like a new vase or a table book. Germans? Naah. The superstition here is that they bring bread and salt over to ensure that your household will never go hungry. I guess that’s more useful than a new baking dish or flowers.
Other strange tidbits:
Anyone who harms or kills a cat shall meet with great misfortune.
It is not good to kill spiders. (Hans insists, but I kill!)
If a stork builds a nest on your chimney, you will live a very long life and be very wealthy. (Can a stork come and land on my chimney now please!!)
Rainwater from tombstones will remove freckles. (Shall I try this one!?)
If you bathe in cold water on the first day of Easter, you will have good health for the rest of the year.
He who walks between two old women early in the morning will have bad luck for the rest of the day.
A bride should take off her wedding stocking at the end of the day, give it to a bridesmaid who will then throw it on to the wedding guests and whoever catches it shall be the next to marry. (Sounds familiar!)
If a dog runs between a woman’s legs, her husband will beat her. (This sounds terrifying!)
Women may never be left alone during the first six weeks after childbirth, for the death has more power over them. (hrmm, sounds more like a needy wife to me)
A woman in childbirth should put on her husband’s slippers. (whyyy?)