What Are You, Sign Man?

Yesterday, I’m sitting in my office, minding someone else’s business, when someone knocks.  A guy in blue overalls, with a large mustache, asks me if I requested that the sign outside my office door be changed.  Nope, I say.  He checks the address, and sees that it’s the person next door who needs a new sign.  But that person’s not there, and the sign can’t be changed without that person’s permission.  So Sign Man gives me a business card, and tells me to have my neighbor call him to have his sign changed.

Of course, Sign Man’s office is located in another building halfway across campus. In Germany, most official activities are split up into many tiny component parts, each of which is then made the sole responsibility of functionaries located in completely different institutions. These people may never communicate with each other.

This makes it difficult to determine why matters have come to a standstill inside the bureaucracy, which they so often do. The real reason is that the functionary responsible for Step 3 went on vacation or is ill, but, of course, Step 2 and Step 4 functionary do not know this, since neither knows where Step 3 Functionary’s office is and may well not even know his telephone number. Assuming, of course, that they actually know who Step 3 Functionary is, which is not often the case.

But what’s even more interesting is Sign Man’s title. It is, in the original German: Dezernat Gebaeudemanagement — Veranstaltungsbetreuer.  Which I would translate as "Building Management Department — Facility Caretaker" But Veranstaltung usually means "event," which doesn’t really make much sense in this context.  There’s no particular "event" that I know of going on — the man appears to be a perfectly normal building super.  But why would somebody who takes care of buildings be listed as an "event caretaker"? Can someone enlighten me?

7 thoughts on “What Are You, Sign Man?

  1. I guess I understand the word “Veranstaltung” to mean more like “goings-on” – which can be “event” sometimes, but I usually hear it in the sense of “something that was organized”. Sounds like a busywork position to me!


  2. When rooms are needed for events like celebrations, he is the official contact person of the facility departement to work with the event’s organizers about room keys, insurance needs (in case of dancing parties for example), fire prevention measures, alarm systems, cleaning up, etc.


  3. Though this posting is not really recent any more:

    At a university, I first think of “course” as a translation of “Veranstaltung”. This seems to contradict that he takes care of staff office door signs, but may shed a bit more light on his responsibilities.


  4. Also radio- and television programs, as well as web sites may be tagged “Veranstaltung”.

    “Veranstaltung” is one of great bureaucratic words, as it may direct to anything which is done by someone to others.


  5. > But why would somebody who takes care of buildings be listed as an “event caretaker”?

    Probably for the same reason job descriptions in the US start at “facility manager” (going up: “senior facility manager”, “associate facility supervisor” “facility supervisor”, “senior facility supervisor”), even though it’s simply a janitor 🙂


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