German Word of the Week: The ‘Knapsack’ Mystery

Image result for knapsack problem

As I found out returning from a weekend in Luxembourg, Knapsack is a town in Germany. It’s also a common word for a backpack in English, as in the notorious “knapsack of white privilege“, or the “knapsack problem”. Yet Knapsack is not the word for backpack in German — the modern German word is Rucksack.

So many mysteries: Why is the English word for a kind of backpack, ‘Knapsack’, in reality a German word? When did it first enter English? Did Germans ever use it? If so, why did they abandon it? What is the significance of the fact that there is a town in Germany named Knapsack? Was the Knapsack invented there? Which came first, Knapsack the bag or Knapsack the town?

Anyone have any ideas?

Bleg: Tiny Rhine Numbers

While biking yesterday, along the Rhine frontage of the Urdenbach nature preserve, I came across this small number on the shore of the Rhine:

Rhine Number 1

It was about 100 meters from the eastern shore, about where the gray location pinpoint is:


As I rode the trail north, there was a "2" sign after about 100 meters, then a "3", then a "4", but then I turned off the riverside trail.

These are obviously not the large black-and-white kilometer markers along the Rhine (g). Does anyone know what purpose they serve? Thanks in advance for any help.

German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

Schlammbeisser 1

And now, to keep things classy, we move from public masturbation to feces. This is from a recent Atlas Obscura post:

Until 1913 the town Giessen, Germany had one special profession. It was the "Schlamp-Eiser," the men who walked the city and collected the feces of the citizens of town. 

Relatively early in the Middle Ages Giessen came up with a latrine innovation: They built small wooden boxes on the outside of the walls of the houses which included a pit latrine connected to a wooden pipe, which led feces down into a wooden bucket placed in the small spaces between the houses.

When the buckets were full, the feces had to be brought somewhere, but the spaces in between the houses were extremely narrow and it was hard to reach the buckets. Hence the Schlamp-Eiser was born. Using a long bent iron bar, men pulled out the filled buckets, collected the feces in a large cart, and transported the waste to the Rodtberg outside the town.

Word of the strange innovative waste system spread fast and spiteful onlookers started calling the citizens of Giessen "Schlammbeiser," which roughly translates to shit-eater.

…Normally the old-fashioned profession would be forgotten by now, if it wasn't for the obnoxious nickname the profession brought to the citizens of Giessen, which stuck up until today. For decades people were unhappy with the insulting term, but over more recent years citizens came to embrace the nickname, and today the Schlammbeiser name is used in cultural facilities, clubs and other places around the town. There is even a statue dedicated to the old Schlamp-Eiser. The bronze statue, built in 2005, is located right in the city center in front of the house where the last Schlamp-Eiser lived. 

This seems a bit odd to me: Schlammbeiser isn't any sort of German word. Schlamm is, but -beiser is not. Schlammbeißer would be approximately "mud (or sewage) biter".

Is this just a matter of some regional dialect, or is there another reason for the odd spelling of Schlammbeiser? Perhaps just a elision of Schlamp-Eiser? But then again, Schlamp isn't a word in modern German either, as far as I know. Schlampe is, but not Schlamp.

Any theories?

Where is the Collection of Books from the DDR?

A brief bleg for my intelligent, good-looking readers. A few months ago, I was leafing through a newspaper and saw an article about someone who had started a collection of books published in East Germany. The person had rented a big warehouse and already collected something like 200,000 books. I believe this person was some sort of entertainer who had some kind of link to the DDR. The plan is to create a big library of East German books, to preserve some of the cultural memory of East Germany.

Can anyone help me with the name of this person and of the project? Thanks in advance!

Tatort = Volkspaedagogik?

I was talking with an Austrian sociologist the other day, and he told me something interesting: that the German detective series Tatort is guided by a set of principles that determine how it portrays violent crime in Germany. The idea is to present millions of TV viewers with an image of the root causes of crime that will dampen their desire for retribution and harsher penalties. Therefore, criminals on Tatort almost always commit their evil deeds because of outside forces, such as mountains of debt, cultural expectations, social deprivation, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. Thus, one of the goals of Tatort is to counteract the idea that criminals are intentional evildoers. This colleague said that this is a well-known fact about Tatort, but wasn't able to point me to a source right off-hand.

Given my previous posts on West German and East German detective series (plus academic interests), I'd really be interested in a written source that would bolster the argument that Tatort scripts have a "popular education" purpose. Thanks in advance for any help.

Schopenhauer on Goodness

I recently read a quotation by Schopenhauer (in English) roughly to the effect that the truly good can be recognized by the fact that they don’t go about drawing attention to their own goodness.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember where I read this.  Can anyone help me out here?  I’d very much appreciate it.