Word of the Week: Speckgürtel

Jan 27, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


Egon Schiele (1890-1918): "Stadtende" (Edge of the City), 1917/1918 Enlarge image Egon Schiele (1890-1918): "Stadtende" (Edge of the City), 1917/1918, oil on canvas, 110.4 x 139.4 cm. Graz (Austria), Neue Galerie am Johaneum. (© picture-alliance/akg-images)

For some it is paradise on earth, for others, it is a place of dreary boredom they seek to flee, like Virginia Woolf as she was re-imagined in "The Hours" - welcome to the "Speckgürtel," the "outside-the-Beltway" zone of sleepy suburbia that encircles cities all over the world.

As the story goes, everyone is blissfully happy inside the "Speckgürtel," which literally means "fat belt."

"Speck" is flab, on chubby humans, or it can also simply mean bacon - that tasty breakfast-time treat so beloved in Anglo-American "fry-up" breakfasts that can of course also in turn lead to excess human flab, or "Speck." (And the word "gürtel," incidentally, really only means "belt.")

So if you mention a "Speckgürtel" to a German in the wider, er, geographic sense, he or she will clearly understand you to mean the comfortable zone just outside of town primarily populated by the happy middle classes dwelling in single-family homes. These people are living what we in the US have come to mythologize as the "American Dream" - the happy (heterosexual) family with an average of 1.5 to 2.5 kids, two cars, and a couple of cute pets living in a house with a garden somewhere "im Grünen" (in the "green zone"), outside of the "concrete jungles" of inner cities, which are not always the friendliest of places for teething toddlers.

Upscale and elegant German "suburbia": A view of the Sülberg slope in the posh Blankenese neighborhood just outside of Hamburg's city center. Enlarge image Upscale and elegant German "suburbia": A view of the Sülberg slope in the posh Blankenese neighborhood just outside of Hamburg's city center. (© picture-alliance/chromorange) For some this is a dream, for others, it is a nightmare. Many young urban hipsters, for instance, swear off ever moving into the "Speckgürtel," though they may fall prey to its siren song once they, too, settle down with their own 1.8 children, golden retrievers, and super-safe Volvo station wagons, or SUV's, the gas-guzzling family size "station wagon" of the new millenium.

Still others move there because it is more affordable. (This is, at least, often the case in the US, where inner city loft apartments for young professionals often devour whole paychecks, making it hard to establish a home downtown with a family.)

While many of these "outside-the-Beltway," as we would say in Washington, DC, "Speckgürtel" areas are really quite charming, with sprawling canopies of leafy deciduous trees, quaint town centers, playgrounds, art festivals and farm markets, others have come to define the kind of "suburban sprawl" some architects and urban planners claim have become the kiss of death to both socially and environmentally desirable forms of human co-habitation. (Trends such as "smart growth," including suburban metro stations with mixed-use buildings nearby, have, however, gradually come to counteract such fears of endless suburban sprawl.)

The upshot: If you live somewhere inside a "Speckgürtel" chances are your life is pretty darn good. If you, however, HAVE a "Speckgürtel" (ie love handles, a ring of flab, or whatever you want to call it ... ) on your own body, then this may of course serve to decrease your quality of life. In this case, you should try to overcome your "Inneres Schweinehund" (inner pig dog), take up your "Gute Vorsätze" (good intentions/resolutions) for the New Year, and jump on that exercise bike or strap on those dusty running shoes kicked into the corner of your post-holiday-excess closet!

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