The form of certified translations

Richard Schneider has posted a guide on how to prepare certified translations in Germany: Von Schuppen und Ösen. It’s in German but with illustrations.

Here’s a summary of the main headings

1. The stamp and signature should be blue rather than black. (I definitely use blue stamp ink, but agree it would make sense to do the signature in blue biro too. Then people can see immediately whether the translation is an original or a photocopy).

2. A round stamp is not prescribed, but looks more official: official stamps are usually round, and rectangular stamps are easier to copy.
(In Bavaria, the round stamp is in fact prescribed. It can get quite expensive when you think how long the translator’s title is).

3. Always attach a copy of the original text. (I usually do that, though it’s not always feasible. The courts don’t want it for internal use. But it covers you if you translate from a copy rather than the original, because the recipient can compare the copy with the original and see if you translated the right document. And if you do a translation of excerpts, you can use a highlighter to mark on the copy which bits you did or omitted).

4. Fold the pages over so the corners are staggered (see photo) – each then gets some blue ink on it from your stamp.

5. Add a stamp on the fold inside.

6. Bind the pages together so they can’t be separated. Use an Öszange (see picture). This is apparently an eyeletter punch. Alternatively, you can use a paper seal (Siegelstern; see pictures). (I sometimes use gummy paper, which I cut otu in a rectangle, and put the stamp on top of it. And sometimes I sew, with needle and thread).

(Richard Schneider seems thrilled with his punch. So was I when I first got one. The problem came when I sent off a set of punched translations and they passed through a machine at Deutsche Post, which ripped the translations to pieces, and I had to do the whole lot again. I have never used the device since.)


When the word Schleierfahndung first began to be used, I tried to pin down its meaning for a translation (I don’t seem to have blogged it, though – this was in the mid-90s, which predates the blog).
The phenomenon seems similar to ‘stop and search’ – stopping and searching people although there is no reason to suspect them. There have been calls for it to be extended since border controls were removed in the Schengen area (which now comprises 26 European countries, not all in the EU, but not the UK and Ireland).
How the word – literally ‘veil search’ – was coined I am not sure.

Neusprech has now taken up the term. It refers to something called ein Verdachtsschleier – a veil of suspicion. The typical search takes place after vehicles have been seen crossing the border and are followed and stopped inside the border.

Das ist eine Suche auf gut Glück, bei der Menschen gerne allein deswegen schikaniert werden, weil sie fremd aussehen und bei der jeder zum Verdächtigen wird. Der Ausdruck S. lässt dabei offen, ob hier Bösewichte entschleiert, oder ob umstrittene Überwachungen verschleiert werden sollen. Die Fakten sprechen für das Letztere. Denn die S. hat weder etwas mit Fahndung noch mit Schleiern zu tun und vernebelt, dass hier Menschen grundlos durchsucht und ihrer Freiheit beraubt werden.

It’s sometimes translated by the term dragnet, but that means searching a large area thoroughly searching for one particular person. It appears the word dragnet reminded some translators of the word Schleierfahndung, but it doesn’t work like that!

More in the Alternatives Wörterbuch:

Herkunft: gegen Ende des 20. Jh. vom Frankfurter Strafverteidiger und Bürgerrechtler Dr. Sebastian Cobler geprägter Begriff; Schleier: Bed. in diesem Zusammenhang ungeklärt, wohl von der Idee her, dass keine spezifische Fahndung, sondern eine Art verdeckte oder eben „verschleierte“ Fahndung in Form einer allgemeinen Fahndung durchgeführt wird {Spek. FAL}; Fahndung: in der Bed. von „polizeiliche Suche nach Verdächtigen“, zu fanden, wohl aus dem Niederdeutschen, von mniederd. vanden = aufsuchen, besuchen

Problems of moving from one country to another

The heading of this blog should now say ‘no longer in Fürth’, unfortunately. But I will get round to that one day, I hope.

Curious factoids:

1. In the UK you can order postage stamps online from various places, but only Royal Mail can send you 88p stamps – the standard for the EU. Another service refers to these stamps as ‘weird and wonderful’ denominations.

In Upminster, you can definitely buy one 78p plus two 5p. This is in the main (sub-) post office.

2. It costs only about 25 euros to have post sent on by Deutsche Post for a year, but Deutsche Post does not recognize postcodes that are longer than 5 digits. Thus the first half of the UK postcode is isolated and identified by them as ‘Länderkürzel’. The county appears straight after my name, the house number after the street. This would all be OK if only the postcode were there. However, after a phone call they have ‘fudged it’ by putting the postcode after the town name – which of course is where it should be anyway.

No wonder the service is so cheap – it is self-annihilating.

Buses and state courts

Can you commit a breach of copyright by watching streaming pornography? The Cologne Landgericht (officially translated into English as the Cologne Regional Court) has apparently admitted that it may have been unjustified in requiring the names of customers to be revealed, following which letters before action were sent out, requiring recipients to pay 250 euros (text corrected – see first comment).

In the Guardian and elsewhere, the Landgericht has become the Cologne state court.

Did they get the story from an American press report? The Independent uses it too. But even there, state court is a misleading term. We’re not talking about a dual system of federal and local law here.

Some US sites intelligently write of a Cologne court. That seems enough information in this context.

I’m not sure whether the German site The Local purports to write US or British English:

Cologne lawyer Johannes von Rüden represents hundreds of what he says is at least 10,000 people who were sent the legal letters and ‘fines’ from Bavarian law firm Urmann and Colleagues (U+C). …It is thought the Cologne state court only ordered internet providers like Deutsche Telekom to hand over names and addresses of customers because it misunderstood what was.

Yes, Abmahnung is difficult to translate.

The Local also reports that ‘buses’ are Germany’s new favourite transport.

But it does condescend to refer to coaches later in the article., which released the online search figures, says it expects around a million passengers to travel by coach around the festive period.

St. Jude’s Day Storm/Orkantief “Christian”

It’s strange coming back a day after the storm that hit the UK and hearing on the German news how the same storm is described here.

In the UK the reference to wind speeds seemed more common, but on German TV I heard about 12 on the Beaufort scale. In the UK the storm, originally ‘probably the worst storm since the 1987 storm’, became ‘the St. Jude’s Day storm’, whereas in Germany it was ‘Orkantief Christian’.

The Daily Telegraph remarks that in the UK we don’t name storms:

Laura Young of the Met Office said it wasn’t them. “We don’t actually know where it has come from,” she said. “We don’t name storms in the UK. It could have been Americans who named it and it was reported. Or it could be someone here saw that it was St Jude’s day and decided to name it that.” Traditionally, our storms only merit a name once we have seen the damage they have caused, not before.

LATER NOTE: I forgot the most important thing: the German reports kept showing people whose houses and cars had been damaged by falling trees and saying whether they were insured and exactly how many thousand euros’ damage had been caused. In fact, practically every report on a road traffic accident in Germany is accompanied by an immediate and precise account of the financial loss. How do they know that? I’ve never heard it in the UK.


I’ve complained about the fake consistency of Haribo (Hans Riegel, Bonn) liquorice before (this has been followed by the reshaping of one kind of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in diarrhoea-like blobs – see pictures in the Daily Mail here).

It may seem churlish to repeat it after the death of Hans Riegel, the founder of Haribo, this week.

But immediately I saw the heading in the Guardian online: ‘Haribo: an addict’s story‘, I knew there must be a German behind it. And of course, it is Philip Oltermann, apparently now living in Berlin. I’ve written about Oltermann’s book here before too. I think it is all very well for him to write about Germany for the Guardian, but should he be praising a firm that has taken over some confectionery it doesn’t understand? I don’t mind the gummy bears (although it seems Haribo actually has the temerity to produce jelly babies).

The story does have a legal aspect, though, since the yellow gummy bear is called the Goldbär and Lindt tried to enforce this name for their gold-foil bear.

The German confectionery giant has managed to engrain itself in Britain’s sweetshop psyche in a remarkable way.


I wouldn’t have minded eating the jelly Holy Family, though.

Plums, damsons, Zwetschgen and peaches

I know fruit and vegetable terminology is really confusing. We have a Polyglot Vegetarian, but where is the polyglot fruitarian?

For years I have known that Zwetschge is difficult to translate into English. The standard exemplar is sweet and can be eaten raw. It is commonly translated as damson because of its small size. But a damson is small and sour, and makes good jam. I suppose the best English translation is zwetsche (the G got lost, but it just indicates a diminutive). One also encounters damson plum, but I don’t know if that helps. And some people even throw the term prune into the mix.

But it seems I failed to define Zwetschge properly. I was thinking of taking some back to England for the neighbours, but I gradually realized that what I was seeing in the market as Zwetschgen were what I would call plums.

Yesterday at the market, at an organic veg stall with two types of Zwetschge, I was told that in everyday German, Pflaumen are round and Zwetschgen are oval!

Now I know that Californian plums are round, but Victoria plums are longish. But this is rubbish.

So no Zwetschgen for my neighbours in England. They would wonder why I was bringing plums all that way.

To be fair, I was told there are masses of different Zwetschgen.

Curiously, the Wikipedia entry for Pflaume does not link to plum, but to Prunus domestica. Perhaps that’s why Frau Albrecht was selling both Zwetschgen and Hauszwetschgen.

P. domestica ssp. domestica – common plums, zwetschge (including ssp. oeconomica)
P. domestica ssp. insititia – damsons and bullaces, krieche, kroosjes, perdrigon and other European varieties
P. domestica ssp. intermedia – egg plums (including Victoria plum)
P. domestica ssp. italica – gages (greengages, round plums etc.; including sspp. claudiana and rotunda)
P. domestica ssp. pomariorum – spilling
P. domestica ssp. prisca – zibarte
P. domestica ssp. syriaca – mirabelle plums

Zwetschge (Prunus domestica subsp. domestica)
Kriechen-Pflaume oder Hafer-Pflaume (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia)
Halbzwetsche (Prunus domestica subsp. intermedia)
Edel-Pflaume (Prunus domestica subsp. italica)
Spilling (Prunus domestica subsp. pomariorum)
Ziparte (Prunus domestica subsp. prisca)
Mirabelle (Prunus domestica subsp. syriaca)

In other news, I encountered the Roter Weinbergpfirsich.

It was sold as a Blutpfirsich.

Up to then I thought Weinbergpfirsich (vineyard peach) just referred to those flat peaches that have become so fashionable (Plattpfirsiche). But I was told that was not so – the term properly (if such a thing exists in fruit terminology) refers to old garden peaches that have furry skins and don’t keep well. I got some yellow ones too, but I have now eaten them, and I’ve converted the red ones into compote.

Leading decision/Grundsatzentscheidung

It’s been widely reported today that Haribo (which markets a sweet called Goldbär – gold bear) won in a case against Lindt Sprüngli, which has been introducing a gold-foil-wrapped bear for Christmas. The court in Cologne held that people would refer to the Lindt product as ‘gold bear’, thus diluting the mark into which Haribo has pumped huge amounts of money in advertising. (No, commenters, the court did not say that people could not tell the difference between a ‘gummy bear’ and a chocolate bear). Die Welt (German):

Denn die meisten Verbraucher werden laut Gericht den “Lindt Teddy” naheliegenderweise und ungezwungen als “Goldbären” bezeichnen – und eben nicht als Teddy”, “goldene Bärenfigur”, “goldfoliierten Bär” oder als “goldfarbenen Schokoladenteddybär”.

Haribo konnte auf die Umfrage eines unabhängigen Meinungsforschungsinstituts verweisen: 95 Prozent der Verbraucher würden die traditionsreiche Wort-Bildmarke “Goldbär” kennen.

The Local (English):

But the judges said that shoppers were likely to refer to the Lindt product as a “Gold Bear” because of its appearance and thus dilute the Haribo brand.

“Most consumers would not use descriptions such as ‘golden bear figure’, ‘gold foil-wrapped bear’ or ‘gold-coloured chocolate teddy bear’… but rather the closest description, particularly considering how well-known the other brand is: Gold Bear,” it said in a statement.

The decision isn’t final – Lindt will be appealing. It was commented that this particular point of law – whether a word mark can be diluted by the appearance of another mark – has not been decided by the highest courts (höchstrichterlich), or that there has not been a fundamental decision (Grundsatzentscheidung).

Die Welt:

Eine höchstrichterliche Rechtssprechung gebe es zu einer solchen Kollision nämlich noch nicht, erklärte das Kölner Landgericht.

The Local:

“What is special about the case is that there has been no high court ruling on the issue of a collision between a brand name and a three-dimensional product design,” it said.

That is very American. It’s common in the USA to refer to the Supreme Court as the ‘high court’.

I’m not sure if the highest court here would be the Bundesgerichtshof or the Bundespatentgericht. At all events, to call such a decision a ‘landmark decision’ would not be correct. What is meant is a binding decision – not that Germany has an official system of precedent, but in practice it seems like that. A landmark decision is one that makes the news in a big way.

LATER NOTE: Guardian article – with mug shots of the two bears.

The Lost German Slave Girl/Eine Deutsche als Sklavin in Louisiana?

Here is yet another gratuitous book report.

The Lost German Slave Girl. The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans, by John Bailey, Atlantic Monthly Press 2003

This book was a present from my friend and fellow-translator Karen in Denver (thanks, Karen!). I read it quite a few weeks ago, so my report is rather vague now.

John Bailey is an Australian lawyer who has now turned to writing, and he discovered this story when he was researching the details of law relating to slavery in Louisiana. Sally Miller was the ‘lost German slave girl’, who won a case freeing her from slavery because a person who was Caucasian could not be a slave. It’s a fascinating story and it throws some light on the situation of slaves who could not be freed from slavery. There’s also a fair amount about the circumstances in which the Müller family from the Alsace emigrated to the USA, following years of pillaging by French troops, bad harvests and ice in summer (apparently resulting from volcanic eruptions in the West Indies, the Philippines and Indonesia from 1813-1816 – so tonight I will be watching the arte documentary on ‘The year without a summer’).

From an interview with John Bailey:

My plans unraveled, when one day, in the quiet corner of a law library on a university campus in Louisiana, as I struggled to bring some semblance of order to my unruly and ever expanding manuscript, I opened a volume of the Louisiana law reports for 1845. There I met Sally Miller, the Lost German Slave Girl. I was immediately enthralled by her story. By the end of the day, I had shoved my notes on lawyers, judges and politicians into my bag, and opening a fresh page in my diary, had began to jot down ideas for an entirely different project – this one, on the saga of Sally Miller’s bid for freedom.

One feature of the book is that while it cloaks the story in mystery – the witnesses in the trial are obviously long dead – at the same time it often knows exactly what the weather was like or what the main characters were thinking. This is part of the genre ‘bringing history to life’, I think. For a long time I was convinced that I was never going to know anything more about the truth or falsity of the story, but in fact more information was revealed at the end, which made the end of the book more satisfying than I had expected.

A bit of research on the Internet revealed that the story has been told before. Curiously, there is a 2007 American book on the subject, which looks similar to Bailey’s: The two lives of Sally Miller: a Case of Mistaken Racial Identity in Antebellum New Orleans, by Carol Wilson. You can read quite a bit of this on Google Books.

The Guardian on Germany/Die Guardian zu Deutschland

A bit late this link, but this week the Guardian has started examining some European countries, starting with Germany – see neweurope. More detail here.

There seem to be more articles every day. I noted in particular some articles on German literature, with more suggestions in the comments (Join the new World literature tour to Germany). Then one on the life of a German family:

Back home, Gerrit opens some lovely Hassaröder Pils beer, while Katleen, in a rare lapse of taste, drinks Beck’s. They put on a CD by a German R&B singer called Joy Denalane. To my ears, it sounds as authentically uninteresting as its English-language counterpartsz. “For me, one of the great things about the past year is that German-language music is becoming popular,” says Gerrit. Fair enough, but the current German top 10 is all in English, even when the songs are sung by Germans.

On the kitchen shelves, there’s a nostalgic East German cookbook, teeming with pictures of men in feather cuts at the wheels of Trabants, and recipes so stolid that subsisting on them would make you look more like Helmut Kohl than a member of the DDR’s gymnastic team.

There’s a hisory of German cinema in clips (including a very long clip, nearly two hours long, from Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Olympia’ – presumably the whole film – Jesse Owens in first heat at just after 38 mins.), on the war against anglicisms
, on the piecing together of shredded Stasi documents in Zirndorf, and an at-a-glance guide to Germany. And a lot more.

Coming soon, for one week each: France, Spain and Poland.