German word of the day: Der/Das Schlamassel

Have you ever been in a pickle? If so, you should definitely add this word to your vocab because “ich bin in einer Gurke” does not exist in German.

German word of the day: Der/Das Schlamassel
Photo: DPA

What does it mean?

“Der Schlamassel” refers to a complicated and muddled situation that was caused by unfortunate circumstances. 

In other words, “Schlamassel” is an unpleasant situation, a cluster-fuck, screw-up or simply a mess.

It's also used with the article “Das”, especially in Austria.

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Synonyms for “Schlamassel” are “die Ausweglosigkeit” (hopelessness), “die Zwickmühle” (dilemma, predicament), and “die Misslichkeit” (misfortune).

It also compares to the English phrases “to be in a pickle” or “stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

What are its origins?

Most likely, “Schlamassel” stems from the Yiddish word “Massel” (fortunate coincidence) and the New High German word “schlimm” (terrible).

Nowadays, this word is used colloquially and mainly in speech.


“Was für ein Schlamassel!”

“What a mess!”

“Wir haben ein ziemliches Schlamassel verursacht.”

“We have caused quite a mess/ We have made quite a mess of things.”


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German word of the day: Der Barbarazweig 

If you see a spring blossom branch hung up in your German or Austrian friend’s home throughout December, it will likely be a Barbarazweig.

Blackboard shows the words 'der Barbarazweig'
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Der Barbarazweig, translated literally to “Barbara branch”, are branches cut from cherry, apple or plum trees that, according to German Christmas custom, should bloom pretty white flowers just in time for Christmas morning. These bloomed branches will then bring you good luck in the new year. However, if the branch fails to bloom, bad luck will come your way. But where does this legend come from?

Saint Barbara was the daughter of a merchant who was imprisoned due to her father’s disapproval of her conversion to Christianity. On her way to the dungeon, a cherry branch got caught in her dress. Every day of Barbara’s sentence, she provided the cherry branch with lots of water until the day of her execution, when the branch finally bloomed.

While the legend describes a cherry branch, nowadays apple or plum branches are used, as well as other garden shrubs such as blackthorn, forsythia, and hazelnut.

READ ALSO: Seven classic Christmas traditions still taking place in the pandemic

How do you do it?

To ensure a blooming branch on Christmas morning, it is recommended that you cut the branch on December 4th. This also coincides with St. Barbara’s Day or the feast of St. Barbara, which is celebrated in several other Roman Catholic and Anglican countries, such as Italy, France and the UK.

Immediately after cutting off a branch or a few (for extra luck of course), place them in a freezer for around 12 hours, then place them in lukewarm water overnight. Finally, place them in a vase with room temperature water and watch them bloom, making sure to change the water every three to four days.

A cherry blossom tree blooming in Thuringia.
A cherry blossom tree blooming earlier this year in Thuringia. This tradition gives a reminder that spring will come again. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Martin Schutt

The custom also developed into a wedding tradition in German households. Unmarried girls would hang slips of paper with the names of their suitors on the branches. Whichever branch blossomed first was to be chosen as the girl’s husband.

While this tradition isn’t the most well-known – even in Germany it is becoming increasingly uncommon – it is a great way to add a touch of spring bloom to your festive decorations.


Vergiss nicht, deinen Barbarazweig zu gießen, sonst haben wir im neuen Jahr Pech.

Make sure to water your Barbarabranch, or we’ll have bad luck in the new year.

Heute ist der vierte Dezember, also ist es schon so weit, einen Barbarazweig abzuschneiden.

Today the fourth of December, so it’s already time to cut off a Barbarabranch.