Monday, 30 March 2015

bester Freund des Menschen

Apartment dog is watching you!

It is true to say that German folk certainly love dogs. The British do as well, of course, but whereas you might occasionally see a faithful collie asleep under the inglenook table of an English pub, it is only in Germany that I have regularly seen dogs in cafes and restaurants or trotting behind their mistress in department stores. Dogs are more than just indulged here; they are pampered and pedicured, and dressed in fashionable jackets - with witty slogans like 'Floh Taxi' ('flea taxi') - and even have their own little doggy shoes (Hundeschuhe),

Most German gate-posts have signs with pictures of dogs declaring 'Hier wache ich' ('I am on guard here'), or the scarier 'Vorsicht, bissiger Hund' ('beware, vicious dog' - though often ironically with a picture of a little toy Yorkshire terrier). It seems like everyone owns a dog, even those who also keep cats.

You might not have thought about it, but many dog breeds actually have German origins and names. The German Shepherd is probably the first that comes to mind. The German name for the breed translates as 'German Sheepdog': Deutscher Schäferhund. In the UK dogs of this breed are also sometimes called Alsations. This goes back to the First World War when Germany was Britain's enemy and anti-German sentiments were high. The name 'Alsatian' comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region on the French-German border, and was considered less Teutonic sounding.

Another dog that was renamed during the First World War is the breed that came to be associated with the German people through caricature - the Dachshund. They became known as 'liberty hounds', in the same way that Sauerkraut was renamed 'liberty cabbage' and in more recent history 'french fries' became 'liberty fries'. The name 'Dachshund' comes from 'Dachs', which is the German word for a badger, and indeed these pipe-cleaner dogs were bred to worm their way down into badger sets and kill the unfortunate occupants.

The Rottweiler dog is named after the SW-German town of Rottweil. This town was founded by the Romans, who used mastiff-type dogs for herding cattle and even pulling carts of butcher's meat over the Alps. The Romans left, but their drover dogs remained and were continued to be used by the Swabians as protection and to herd and drive cattle to market. Modern-day Rottweilers are descendants of those Roman dogs and are surely the originators of the phrase 'fitter than a butcher's dog'.

The Pomeranian is also named after a German place-name, the Prussian  region of Pomerania which is now Northern Poland and the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These cute little lap dogs are related to the German Spitz breed, spitz being the German word for 'pointed' and referring to their pointed ears and muzzle. Pomeranians were popularised in Great Britain in the eighteenth century by Queen Charlotte (of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), consort of King George III. Queen Victoria was also a big fan, and judging by the number of young women who carry them in their hand-bags on the S-Bahn todayy, they are still a fashionable dog.

You might think that the Great Dane is also geographically named and that it is Danish. However you would be misled. It originated in Germany, and is called the Deutsche Dogge, where 'dogge' means a mastiff type of dog. Originally all dogs were called hounds, which has the same root etymology as the German Hund. Dogge was just a breed of hound, the mastiff, but because they were the main, powerful, breed used by nobility in hunting bears, boars and stags (and only nobility could hunt those kinds of prey), in English all hounds came to be known as dogs. In the reverse direction, the German word Tiere means all kinds of animals, but came to only mean 'deer' in English because that's the only kind of animal the hunting nobility were interested in. It's a funny old thing, language! Anyway, the English call the breed a Great Dane (and most other languages instead call it a German Mastiff) following the French naturalist Count Buffon's coining of the name for the breed as 'Grand Danois'. No-one is sure why the count called them that though.

Now you are beginning to appreciate that there are quite a few other breeds of dogs that originated in Germany. Some are obvious: Doberman Pinschers were first bred by a German called Dobermann; Schnauzers look like they have bushy German moustaches (Schnauz). Less obviously, Boxers were first bred around München and are named for the head-butting of Biergarten amateur boxers (same word as in English).

But what about the Poodle? Surely that has an elegant French derivation? But no, Poodles, with their thick, tightly-curled coats were bred to be water dogs, retrieving shot-down ducks and other water fowl. And there you have it: the German verb for 'to splash' is puddeln (related to English 'puddle') and a poodle in a puddle can certainly splash!

I'll finish off this doggy post with a list of the Top 10 Best-loved Dogs in Germany (according to TV Channel RTL):

20. Malteser
19. Hovawart
18. Doberman
17. Rauhaardackel / Wire-haired Dachshund
16. Cocker-spaniel
15. Siberian Husky
14. Border Collie
13. Rottweiler
12. Boxer
11. Australian Shepherd
10. Chihuahua
9. West Highland-Terrier
8. Beagle
7. Berner Sennenhund
6. Yorkshire Terrier
5. Jack Russell Terrier
4. Deutscher Schäferhund / German Sheepdog
3. Golden Retriever
2. Labrador Retriever
1. Mischlingshunde / mongrel!

1 comment:

  1. Shakti, as a lab/collie mix, although displeased at her second-place (diluted by fourteenth-place) ranking, still deigns to be classified as a mutt!


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