Word of the Week: Bergfest

Jul 12, 2013

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.


"Bergfest" in the literal sense of the word (c) colourbox "Bergfest" in the literal sense of the word (© colourbox) What is the dress code for a “Bergfest”? Should you bring your hiking boots? Since a “Berg” is a mountain and a “Fest” is a party, a “Bergfest” would presumably have to be a rustic party in the mountains, correct? 

Well, as you’re already guessing, it is not. “Berg” has a more symbolic meaning here. As a metaphor, it has to do with a work assignment or a job function which will be completed in a predetermined period of time. “Bergfest” marks the day on which you are halfway through. As if atop the Zugspitze in the Alps, you are on top of your game and the end is in sight. The going gets easier from here, and also faster. 

So, do people really throw a party when they reach half-time? It depends, but many will actually grab a beer with their co-workers to mark the occasion. Others will talk about their “Bergfest” to indicate that they are already counting the days until the end. 

What if they are dissatisfied because the task they have been given cannot be completed? Or they cannot reach their goal? “Das Ende der Fahnenstange ist erreicht!” they may say out of frustration, “The end of the flagpole has been reached.” Apparently, atop a flagpole, you may see far, but the footing is so insecure that really, the game’s over and you can definitely not go any further. And when the game is over, Germans might use another metaphor taken this time from farming vocabulary and say “dann ist Sense”. “Sense” in German means scythe, and since scything is the end to growing crops, “then it’s scythe" has come to mean that something is over for good.

"Dann ist Sense" means something is over for good (c) colourbox "Dann ist Sense" means something is over for good (© colourbox) Neither a sense of accomplishment nor disappointment, but relief is the emotion primarily connected with another “Berg” metaphor: “über den Berg sein” (“to be over the mountain”). Again, there is no hiking or climbing involved, except in a figurative way. If you survive the fall from the flagpole and you finally wake up in the hospital, the doctor may tell you, “Sie sind über den Berg!” Your family will sigh with relief because you are no longer in a life-threatening condition but on your way to recovery. You are out of the woods and it is not “Sense” for you. Isn’t that a reason to have a “Fest”?!

© Germany.info

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