Up here!

While browsing camera gear at B&H in Midtown Manhattan, I snapped these photos of the Oben tripod section.

Oben! What a great German word! (But, really, aren’t they all great?)

Oben means up, above, or top, so it’s an apt name for a company that builds devices that keep cameras off the ground and features the slogan, “Oben supports climb above the rest” with a photo of a mountain climber.

There’s no mention on their website of where the name came from or if the company is even German, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear it was intentional. (Germany also has a reputation for producing very high quality cameras and lenses – like Leicas, which I’ll write more about soon – so tripods and supports might not be far off).

Imagine: Your friend, Karl-Heinz, an avid mountain climber, packs up his Leica and his Oben tripod and adventures off up the snowy peak of the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest point. Warm in the ski lodge at the foot of the mountain, someone asks you, “Wo ist Karl-Heinz?” (Where is Karl-Heinz?). You gaze wistfully up to the snowy peaks, point to the top and reply, “Da oben.” Up there.

It’s good, right?

Oben is a locative adverb (Lokaladverb), which means it can be used alone or with other words to describe location or a relation to a particular location. So, when you point to Karl-Heinz up on Zugspitze, you’re saying he’s not just da (simply “there”), but da oben..UP there. If he was at the tippy-top, he’d be ganz oben.

Or imagine: Karl-Heinz is in the lodge, but upstairs. Wo ist er? Oben.

You’re at the mall with K-H and he wants to go to the ski shop upstairs. Wo ist es? Oben.

If it was a really warm day and Karl-Heinz went skiing without a shirt on, he’d be skiing oben ohne — “above without” — more accurately, “topless.”

In a more academic vein, German writers may refer to things that they said previously by using the phrases oben genannt or oben erwähnt, the equivalent of the English “aforementioned” or “abovementioned.”

These are but a few of the most common uses of oben in German. I’ll end with favorite instance of oben, the German title of Disney Pixar’s UP:



Onward! Upward! Nach oben!


oben (adv.) – above, up, upstairs

da oben – up there

ganz oben – at the very top

oben genannt – abovementioned

oben ohne – topless


Ich habe Hunger!

Ich habe Hunger! I am hungry!

…or rather, to make a direct translation, I have hunger! In German, you may also say Ich bin hungrig (literally, I am hungry), but Ich habe Hunger is certainly the more common of the two.

[Nerd alert: Note that the H in Hunger is capitalized – all nouns in German are capitalized always!  I’m beginning to see this slip away in informal, electronic situations like Twitter, Facebook, SMS/texts, and email, but the rule stands! Don’t forget!]

[Nerd alert pt. 2: If you are ever in a very old graveyard, like the churchyard at Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, you will see that the English in many of the inscriptions retains the Germanic characteristic of capitalized nouns.]

Okay, so leaving orthography aside for now, let’s talk food. In German, the noun for food is das Essen. The verb to eat is essen. Maybe this is easier for some of you to remember, maybe it’s confusing (After all, in English we don’t “food the food,” or “eat the eat.”)

Essen is also the name of a city in Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia)! For real!

Regardless, I think we can agree that Essen is a great name for a deli. On Madison Ave., between East 40th and East 41st, I stumbled across a take out place/deli called ESSEN. Actually, it’s called ‘ESSEN.

The apostrophe seemed inexplicable to me at the time, but now that I think about it, it may be an abbreviation of delicatessen. Be that as it may, I like to think of it being a very simply, very aptly named restaurant called “FOOD/EAT.” Isn’t that more fun?


das Essen – the food

essen – to eat (irregular/strong verbs)

Grammatik macht Spaß! (Grammar is fun!)

Irregular verbs are also sometimes known as strong verbs, while regular verbs, the ones that follow all the normal patterns, are called weak verbs. I find it easiest to remember this by thinking that regular verbs are shy weaklings who can’t stand up for themselves, so they just quietly go along with what the patterns want. Irregular, strong verbs are big bullies who say, “Forget you, patterns! I will do what I want!” And so they change their vowels and drop their endings and leave us all to learn a whole bunch of extra stuff. But I still love them.

Am Anfang…

This is an exciting moment: the first post on a new blog. I’ve been looking for a way to keep engaged with German and Germany even though I’m not using it in my everyday work. This will hopefully eventually include posts about books, museum exhibitions, events, and meetups, but it will also be a glimpse into how my background in German informs my everyday life.

One of my favorite parts of teaching German (or any foreign language) is letting students in on little secrets, tricks, or bits of German they didn’t know they see every day. Not only can this approach help students feel less intimidated, but I think stories are also easier to remember and as a teacher I know that the more relevant information is to a student’s everyday life, the more motivated they’ll feel to learn it.

This little bit of German in NYC is perfect for a first post, because it has to do with the phrase Am Anfang, or, “In the beginning.” Just uptown of Columbus Circle, on the NW corner of Broadway and 61st Street, is the Museum of Biblical Art. The building is modern with a large glass facade. On the glass, the opening words of the Bible are etched in dozens of languages. Of course, German is among them.

Though it’s not a museum I’m likely to visit, I appreciate the stückchen of German I see many mornings as I’m beginning my day. (Besides, anfangen is a great, tricky verb – separable! compound! irregular!)


der Anfang – the beginning, the start

an|fangen – to begin (Achtung! Separable verb! “Ich fange an” not Ich anfange“!)

am = an + dem (dative masculine)