Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh

Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh

As I have been learning German there have been some words that have made me chuckle such as the word “Schmetterling” for butterfly. Such an ugly and harsh word for something so fragile and pretty. Hehehe. Another that has given me the giggles is “Handschuh” for glove, literally “Hand Shoe”. Ha! Oddly, most people don’t know that at one point Germans used a word very similar to the English “glove”. That word was “Glöff”, a word that is, in fact, the root of the English word.

So why is that modern Germans now use the amusing Handshuh rather than the original Glöff? To find the roots of this linguistic change we need to dig right back into the mists of time, to long before there was a country called Germany. To the 10th Century when the region was under the rule of Otto III of The Holy Roman Empire. At the time, in the region that is now known as Bavaria, there lived a petty noble of ill repute; Lord Hans Fürchterlich. He was a terrible beast of a man who was known to extract terrible punishments upon those who slighted him, or whom he deemed to have slighted him. He was roundly feared and despised by all unlucky enough to live within his domain.

As is often the case, both with powerful people and with bullies, Herr Fürchterlich was not the brightest of people or, as modern Germans would say, Nicht die hellste Kerze auf dem Kuchen (not the brightest candle on the cake). Often he would espouse opinions of intense and impossible ignorance that they the same relationship to truth and factuality as a goldfish has to a lightbulb. Such was the fear that he instilled in those around him that even if he claimed that his horses were descended from mountain goats those around him would merely nod and agree.

One day, as winter was drawing close, Herr Fürchterlich was in town to purchase new warm clothes for the winter. He was in the store of the local tailor, a man whose name is now lost to history, where he was having his huge frame fitted for a winter jacket. As the tailor had known Hans was that day coming to town the tailor had prepared some clothes for Hans already. He did not, after all, want Hans in his store a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. The longer that Herr Fürcherlich was in his store then the greater his risk of inadvertently insulting the behemothic buffoon. One item that the tailor had prepared ready for the oversized oaf was a fine pair of fur lined leather gloves.

Hans pulled the gloves over his immense shovel sized hands and was most pleased with what he saw.

“I most like these new shoes Herr Tailor.” Hans boomed.

“Shoes?” replied the tailor.

“Ja! These shoes fit perfectly!”

“Don’t you mean…” The tailor caught himself before he corrected the massive moron.

“I know what I mean.” Growled Hans.

“Of course, I was merely asking whether you meant your new, um, Hand Shoes or whether you were referring to the fine boots that you wear.”

“Hahahahaha, foolish tailor. Of course I meant my new Hand Shoes, they are most fine.”

In fact, Hans was so pleased with his new gloves that he showed them to everybody whom he met in the town that day. Asking for their opinion on his new “Hand Shoes”. So afraid was everyone in the town of offending the hulking half-wit that they too began to refer to their Glöffen as “Hand Shoes” for fear of angering Hans. And so, the Handschuh was born and the Glöff faded into the mists of history.

All of this is, of course, completely true. 🙂

The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones

The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones

I’ve been in Germany for a little over a year and there’s one, completely random, thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve been travelling around the country. That is, they don’t seem to use road cones here. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving down the autobahn or a city street, if you see road works they have these “lollypop stick” shaped objects marking the road hazards.

It was shortly after this I also noticed that when one buys ice cream here it often comes in a bowl, if you’re eating in, or a wee paper cup. This, understandably, got me wondering whether the two things were connected. So I started doing a little bit of research and discovered that the two things were very much linked. They were linked by the humour of working class Germans and the pride of an aristocrat.

Now, to trace the German aversion to the use of conical objects we have to travel way back in time to the turn of the 20th Century. It was at this time that Italian labourers were moving northwards into Germany and the Netherlands, attracted by the large scale industrial projects offering abundant work opportunities. As the labours moved then so did the Italian ice cream makers who had, earlier in the 19th Century, brought their skills to the Hapsburg Empire, and Vienna in particular.

Now, as everyone outside of Germany knows, the natural receptacle for a portion of ice cream is a cone made of wafer. So it was that in the early years of the 20th Century German workers were first exposed to the wonders of ice cream and the marvellous delivery mechanism that is the cone.

At the time of ice cream’s debut the German Empire was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Wilhelm was neither more popular with the German people nor more unpopular than other German rulers. However it is well known that powerful figures are often the targets for humour. Lampooning them is a form of social levelling and carries on to this day with celebrities and rulers being satirised and ridiculed.

As the popularity of ice cream served in a cone increased it became a common, and hilarious, act for a person to, upon finishing their chilled delicacy, place the now empty cone upon their head and do a little dance singing.

Shau mich an,

Ich bin der Kaiser!

Look at me,

I am the Kaiser

Which is, clearly, a hilarious reference to the habit of the Kaiser, and other German nobility, of wearing utterly hilarious hats with wee cones on top to display their masculinity.

We can clearly see the similarity in the above photograph.

Eventually word of this mocking behaviour reached the Kaiser and, as it most understandable, he was outraged. In his rage he summarily passed an emergency law not only outlawing the imitation of the Kaiserly hat upon pain of bureaucracy, but also completely outlawing the cone as a shape in its entirety. This led to immense amounts of restructuring, particularly of church steeples whose spires were seen as being a little too ‘coney’. See the image below for the result of this remodelling.

So, there you have it. The Curious Case of the Kaiser and the Cones. An interesting piece of little known German history for you. Tune in next week to find out about Horrible Hans and the History of the Handschuh.