A lost book

I had the privilege of translating Austrian artist Cornelia Mittendorfer’s story about finding a Jewish girl’s prayer book at a flea market, and wishing she could find her. Each draft was accompanied by some tears.

The German title is “Die Kiste, das Buch, die Stimme und ich” or “The Box, the Book, the Voice, and I”. I offered her a list of alternative English titles and she chose “The Book on the Grass.” You can hear her read the story in the video below.

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The curious case of Helen Lowe-Porter

Helen Lowe-Porter (1876-1963) was Thomas Mann’s official English translator. He declared himself content with her work and maintained a long and cordial epistolary relationship with her, but he also admitted he might not have the necessary expertise for evaluating complex translations into English.

You’d never know from her Wikipedia page that many people regard her work as a miserable failure, though it does reveal her to be Boris Johnson’s great-grandmother! Karl Leydecker rakes her over the coals in The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation for producing inaccurate, distorted versions of Mann’s work and sanitizing Death in Venice to bring it into line with her own puritanical sensibilities. John Gledhill wrote a lengthy dissertation on all her linguistic errors and stylistic failures, which you can read as a PDF here.

On the whole, I think the criticism is justified. Sometimes it devolves into nitpicking, which is easy to do to anyone’s translation of anything, because most of the time literary translators are choosing between a range of imperfect options and each choice comes with a set of potential critiques. Also, I’m inclined to go easy on any translator who didn’t have the Internet. However, she did make errors that could have been avoided by diligent use of a dictionary or consultation of native speakers, who can’t have been that difficult to find in Oxford or New Jersey. Gledhill’s very detailed analysis of a long sentence from Death in Venice and how Lowe-Porter handled it (p. 66 f.) is particularly interesting.

Her fans don’t think little errors here and there are very significant and they find her versions of the books readable, so what’s the problem? The gap between these two camps reminds me of the recent arguments over the translation of Han Kang’s book The Vegetarian. See here and here.

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Down the Spengler rabbit hole on YouTube


After reading this article about how YouTube’s algorithm encourages extremism, I tried a brief experiment with Oswald Spengler.

Spengler is of course best known for Der Untergang des Abendlandes, aka The Decline of the West, which I have not studied exhaustively, although I did skim it last summer. As someone who is drawn to grand narratives and enjoys marinating in the tragic spirit, I can appreciate Spengler. It hasn’t escaped my notice, though, that a lot of his fans are unsavory characters.

“Why do Nazis like Oswald Spengler?” I once googled, wondering why groups who resort to tyranny and violence in attempts to reverse a process Spengler portrayed as irreversible would cite him as an inspiration.  A pretty good answer came back in the form of this article published in the Virginia Quarterly in 1939. The VQR also has another interesting one, which is more a general survey of Spengler, from 1983. Go read those if you want a really detailed discussion. I’m moving on to YouTube now.

Here’s what you get if you type “Oswald Spengler” into YouTube (on a browser with a clean slate):

The top result is Spengler’s own YouTube channel. These videos basically give you a written summary of his theories, with quotations, illustrations, and music that starts out pleasant and gets rather scary and intense as you head into Caesarism. OK.

After clicking on that you’ll see lots of Peter Thiel in your sidebar, mostly videos of him critiquing multiculturalism. While playing one of these, I also got a photo ad for a “Slidebelt” with survival accessories (knife, flashlight, etc.).

Douglas Murray figured prominently in the sidebar for that one. Clicking on one of his videos on immigration brought up a photo ad for a “Halal burger franchise opportunity.”

The sidebar for Douglas Murray’s video includes a lot of Peter Hitchens. I selected an interview on the “MGTOW [men going their own way] University” channel. This is where the comments section starts to fill up with men who are rooting for civilization to fail so they can use that survival slidebelt they bought to work their way up the post-apocalyptic hellscape hierarchy and collect a harem of women who used to sneer at them but now know better, ha-HA!

[ETA: not because of anything Hitchens himself says, but because that’s the general vibe of the channel’s fan base.]

The sidebar for that consists of more Peter Hitchens, Peter’s brother Christopher, and a sampling of several conservative YouTube favorites discussing either feminism or immigration. Plus clips like “This Milennial Brat is the worst” and “The REAL reason for Europe’s influx of migrants!!! Wikileaks”

I chose Paul Gottfried (immigration again) and ended up with a sidebar full of short clips of immigrants being disorderly or YouTubers talking about how filthy Paris is now.

And that was it, because the next sidebar was such garbage I didn’t feel like clicking anymore.

The first thing I noticed here is what I always notice on the Internet, which is that no matter what you start out reading or watching, if you follow suggested links you will end up in a pile of garbage. Also, all Facebook groups eventually degenerate into garbage piles and so does every public thread on social media. You were right about us, Spengler! We suck.

The second is, obviously YouTube assumes that if you like Spengler you will love videos about how immigration is destroying Europe. But there are other things people who just watched a video about Spengler might love. Maybe they’re into German intellectual history, or historiography in general, or they are nostalgic for the olden days, or attracted to fatalism. You could offer them a lecture about Goethe’s theory of colors, a crash course in natural law, a discussion of comparative history and cultural transfers, classical music, a clip from Götterdämmerung, a sermon about how to be good in bad times, or any serious history lesson about any part of the world, since Spengler’s theory was ultimately about the common pattern of all human civilizations. You could even offer them an optimistic video about how much better everything is getting! So come on YouTube, put some thought into it and encourage people to learn and explore a variety of non-garbage corners of your website.

By the way, as dead Germans go, Spengler is impressively active these days. Not only does he run his own channel with more than 5,000 subscribers, he also gives interviews through a medium. Can you see that on YouTube? Of course!


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How to discuss Fire and Fury in German

This article from Der Spiegel is great for those of you looking to augment your political-gossip vocabulary. Next time a German speaker asks you about Präsident Trump and the new Enthüllungsbuch (exposé) by Michael Wolff, you can pepper your response with some of these key words and phrases:

Sensationsschmöker Sensational page-turner
Die brisantesten Zitate The most explosive quotes
Trump wollte nie Präsident werden! Trump never wanted to be president!
Sein Stab hält ihn für dumm! His staff thinks he’s dumb!
Und, klar, “verräterische” Russland-Kontakte! And of course, “treasonous” contacts to Russia!
irgendwo zwischen Bauernschwank und Endzeitthriller somewhere between a low farce and an end-times thriller
Schludrigkeit sloppiness
Schmeichelei flattery
eine Figur von stotternder, gefährlicher Unsicherheit a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities


Amtsfähigkeit fitness for office


rohe, autoritäre Demagogie raw, authoritarian demagogy




(even more obvious)
Eitelkeit vanity
Rachsucht vindictiveness


Geldwäsche money laundering


ein Idiot, der von Clowns umgeben ist an idiot surrounded by clowns


eine Figur von enormer Torheit und Lächerlichkeit An enormously foolish and ridiculous figure (that’s not der Präsident but rather his Schwiegersohn, Kushner)


eine selbstzufriedene, abgelenkte, ganz normale Gesellschaftstante a self-satisfied, distracted, totally normal society girl (seine Tochter, Ivanka)
eine haarsträubende Laien-Aufführung a hair-raising amateur show


Sonderermittler special counsel (as in “der Sonderermittler Robert Mueller”)



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Medieval love poetry: sexier than you might think

Richard Wagner mined most of his opera plots from medieval sources. Here’s an intro to Tannhäuser:

Legend has it that back in 1207 or so, Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia invited the most accomplished minstrels in the land to battle it out at the Wartburg castle in Eisenach. In German they call this the Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg and the proper name for a medieval German minstrel is, of course, a Minnesänger. Here’s the original group photo, with Hermann and his wife Sophie above, and the Minnesänger below:


If you’re familiar with Wagner’s Tannhäuser, you know that the title character gets invited to this party and scandalizes everyone by expressing incorrect opinions about love. But Tannhäuser wasn’t actually invited — he belonged to a younger generation with a different party scene. In the original story, the guy who ruined the atmosphere was Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and he ruined it by praising Leopold of Austria over Landgrave Hermann.

Now, if you were invited to show off your poetic talents at a castle, what would you say to your host, the guy who took the time to organize this event and spent untold amounts on extra firewood, beer, small animals, and larger animals to stuff the small animals into? “Leopold of Austria really puts you to shame”? Of course not! You have better manners than Heinrich von Ofterdingen.

But manners aside, I bet you’re not actually very interested in whether Hermann or Leopold was doing a better job of ruling a chunk of central Europe. So Wagner made a smart move here: he had the singers fight over love rather than politics.

He did this by combining the Sängerkrieg legend with that of Tannhäuser. Tannhäuser was real person; between 1245 and 1265, he wrote a number of bawdy lyric poems with a light, ironic perspective. A “penitential song” is also attributed to him, and the Manesse manuscript (a famous repository of medieval German poetry and source of the group photo above) shows him wearing the garb of the Teutonic Order:

Tannhäuser in the Codex Manesse (http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848/0523)

These real-life elements laid the groundwork for the Tannhäuser legend: the poet finds his way into Venus’ mountain lair, where endless sensual delights await. Eventually, jaded by hedonism, he repents but the Pope denies him absolution. Tannhäuser despairs of forgiveness and returns to the infamous love den, there to await God’s final judgement on the Last Day.

In the ballads, that’s it for him. In the opera, he is saved by the prayers of Elisabeth, a character inspired by Landgrave Hermann’s daughter-in-law St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Wagner took a dualistic approach to this tale. In his version of the Wartburg poetry slam, the good poets advocate a purely spiritual love and Tannhäuser, the debauched poet, is the only one among them who does not regard sexual intercourse with prudish horror. This is problematic in a few ways. For one thing, it creates a simplistic plot with little real human interest.

Wagner’s perspective was basically post-Christian, so he found it easy to imagine the medieval mind as committed to unbearably sharp distinctions with no grey areas, venial sins, or Purgatory. But a Christian society understands that only a tiny spiritual elite will throw themselves into thorny bushes to banish lustful thoughts, or refuse to participate in any conversation that does not revolve around The Divine Bridegroom. The rest muddle through ambiguously, hoping that the elite will do some of the heavy lifting for them.

Medieval sources reflect this ambiguity. The epic Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach has a moral structure under which real people could live; Wagner’s Parsifal does not. Tannhäuser suffers from the same difficulty.

As Sir Denis Forman, once deputy chairman of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, put it, “Wagner was not a believer and wrongly thought that the spirituality which had inspired Bach’s B Minor Mass, the painting of the Florentines and Dante’s Inferno could be used by any good pro as a mechanism to wheel out a holy plot. Which it can’t, because when false piety is rumbled there is nothing left but kitsch. That is why the pilgrims trudging to and from Rome are cardboard figures, why Elisabeth is no more than a nutcase, why the Minnesängers are a comical band of prefects at a pious public school and why Tannhäuser himself is a ludicrous figure.” (And Sir Denis was a Wagner fan.)

A ludicrous figure

Another problem is Wagner’s portrayal of medieval love poetry. In the opera’s second act, the poets are asked to define the nature of love, whereupon they sing solemnly of unsullied fountains and cold stars whose purity they would defend with their last drop of blood. Even before Tannhäuser admits to having dwelt in the Venusberg, the other poets threaten him with swords just for mentioning “soft flesh” and “enjoyment in happy desire.” Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

Many people still have this idea of medieval courtly love — that you were supposed to honor your beloved so much you wouldn’t dream of touching her. But we really get this idea from Wagner and other dreamy Romantics like Hoffmann and Novalis. Although the Minnesänger discouraged casual hookups, the love they encouraged did also aim at physical consummation.

A handful of examples: Tristan and Isolde engage in flagrant acts of adultery, and author Gottfried von Strassburg treats it as an exemplary relationship with an aura of divinity. Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote dawn songs in which illicit lovers end up so tangled that “it would exhaust a painter’s talent to represent them”.  Walther von der Vogelweide’s references to sex are often coy – “a little bird will keep our secret”; “let us break these flowers together” – but he’s also happy to inform us about the time he spied on a young lady stepping out of her bath. The humor in one of his poems hinges on a woman’s failure to understand what a love affair entails. In response to the man’s explanation that, “You should give a man your body in exchange for his. Lady, if you want mine, I’ll give it away for such a beautiful woman.” She responds, “I can’t think of anyone whose body I would want to take – that sounds like it would hurt him.” Mm.

They did like songs about worshiping unattainable ladies from afar, but they weren’t recommending it as an ideal — they were just seizing the chance to write mopey rhymes.

Minnesang was a morally dubious art form by strict Christian standards. Although individual churchmen sometimes acted as patrons for them, the Church generally disapproved of wandering entertainers. The music pretty much died at Landgrave Hermann’s court after his pious successors Ludwig IV and St. Elizabeth took over. They took a dim view of courtly love poetry with its potential to incite lust and its emphasis on ephemeral worldly things.

So the idea that Tannhäuser could scandalize a group of Minnesänger by praising carnal love is pretty silly. Far from being a guardian of moral purity, your average Minnesänger was probably hoping that when the time came he’d just scrape into Purgatory.

Tannhäuser has its good points. The hysterical chastity is tiresome and it’s a travesty of medieval culture; but of course what draws audiences to it is the music, not the medievalism, and on that point I really can’t complain.

The Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg, as imagined by Moritz von Schwind


Posted in Complaining about Wagner | 1 Comment

Translations from machines or heaven

Here’s an interesting snatch of machine translation I edited recently:

Source: “Ich habe mich wirklich gefreut! Ehrlich!”

Machine translation: “I was really mad! Raw!”

Actual meaning: “I was really happy! Honestly!”

Well, that’s a fail. “Sich freuen” and “ehrlich” aren’t even the kind of words that have really different translations depending on the context. This was just mystifyingly wrong.

Last time I showed a friend some terrible MT, he pointed out that it could pass for modernist poetry with the right line breaks, like this:

After I
     with my women’s razor
(shaver’s image in the appendix)
had (the whole has shortened), I ordered
the same still once,
      otherwise, I
to auftret
after a while,
 only still painful tweaked
and the hair was satisfied
     spans     multiple

In contrast, sometimes the stars align just right and the Universe presents you with a text where the perfect translation is obvious and even better than the original. This happened the other day while I was translating a retail website. For an item with a creative, unusual plaid pattern, the German copy began:

Karomuster ist spießig? (Plaid is bourgeois?)

And of course the only possible translation is:

Think plaid is square?


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Thomanerchor in Madison, WI

On November 19, Wisconsonites got a rare opportunity to hear the magnificent boys’ choir that was once conducted by J. S. Bach*: the Thomanerchor (the choir of St. Thomas church in Leipzig). As expected, they sang a lot of good old Lutheran stuff and they nailed it. They sing with great dignity and precision, and the kind of tuning that makes you feel all is right with the world. We weren’t allowed to photograph them, so this is as close an approximation as I can give you of how the concert looked:

It took place at Luther Memorial Church in Madison, which proved a lovely venue. Many thanks to singer and German teacher Nicole Warner for alerting me to the concert, driving me all the way out there, and buying me dinner to boot. A salutary evening!

* And of course, by “once” I mean “on a regular basis from 1723 to 1750.”

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I am certified!

In September I went to Madison, Wisconsin to take the ATA (American Translators Association) certification exam. There were about 20 of us taking it at one of the university facilities. Many language pairs were represented. Spanish and French were the most common. I may have been the only person there doing German-English.

Until recently, ATA exams were purely paper-and-book affairs. This was one of the new computer exams, so we each brought our own laptop and had to write our translation in Wordpad (because it has fewer special features than Word).

Preparation and anxiety levels varied quite a bit among the test takers. One gentleman arrived early and wheeled in a big suitcase filled with every conceivable reference book. These he proceeded to arrange in careful piles before the test. My immediate neighbor, on the other hand, strolled in about 10 minutes before start time with nothing but his laptop and two pocket dictionaries. He sat back looking cool while others were doing pranayama, praying to St. Jerome, making deer-in-headlights faces, etc. I bet he either passed with flying colors or failed miserably.

There were three vigilant proctors. Their job is to meander around the room making sure no one is using unauthorized websites or engaging in any other translation-related mischief.

We received a paper packet with three passages, from which we selected two for translation. My choices were a formal magazine article, a scientific passage, and a chatty, informal magazine article. At first I decided to avoid that last one because the informality seemed to entail a risk of too many judgment calls with which the graders could potentially disagree. But after completing the first passage, I realized I was not in the mood to tackle a highly specific piece with unfamiliar technical terminology. Are they going to call time while I’m noodling around Wikipedia trying to figure out the difference between various kinds of thingamajigs, I thought? So I went for the chatty piece and of course I drove home wondering whether the graders would disagree with my decisions. Too free? Not free enough? My husband took me out for a drink.

A thingamajig

Finally, last Saturday a big envelope came from the ATA with my certificate and a letter of congratulations. I am now allowed to style myself “ATA certified from German into English.” In order to maintain the certificate, I have to earn a certain number of continuing education points every few years.

So what’s the point of being a certified translator? Obviously, certification by a professional body indicates to potential clients that you are not a charlatan.

And for some jobs, such as translation of birth/death/marriage certificates for official purposes, the organization requesting the documents will only accept the work of a certified translator. Years ago when I was emigrating to Canada I had to pay a certified German-English translator for an English version of my German police record even though I could have translated it myself. (NB: it was clean. I once got done for jaywalking in Munich but that wasn’t even on there.)

Another consideration is that as machine translation expands and work for human translators contracts, it might be increasingly advantageous to have special credentials.

So, although certification is not necessary for a good career in translation, it’s nice to have. And now I have it! I’m number 520122. Hooray.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Monks + cheese

An update on the curious case of mendicant friars and the moral dangers of collecting cheese (see this previous post): here is a story that appears in Geschichte der öffentlichen Sittlichkeit in Deutschland (History of public morality in Germany):


Basically, a friar goes round the farms begging for cheese and eggs, and at one house the farmer’s wife tells him her daughter Grete is in bed with a thorn in her foot. So he offers to go up and do something about it. Mother agrees, then hears Grete screaming and shouts “Let him do it, daughter, it’ll help!” But after he leaves she realizes he wasn’t taking out the thorn but doing something unmentionable to poor Gretl. So she (Mom) goes out with a wheel of cheese and a club. When she sees the friar she hides the club behind her back and shouts, “Come get another piece of cheese!” He doesn’t fall for her trick, but he does decide to keep his distance from then on. A cautionary tale for all.

Posted in History | 2 Comments

DeepL: whoa!

Linguee, which is a very useful online resource for translators, has come up with a new machine translation program and wow, it’s pretty good. For years Linguee has been collecting translated material online, which allows it to function as a dictionary with endless samples. When you enter a word or phrase you see its dictionary definition followed by all the texts Linguee could dredge up that have undergone translation in the relevant language pair and contain the relevant term(s). These examples are drawn from the work of actual human translators (some of them, admittedly, incompetent…so you need to use your judgement).

Well, Linguee’s sample-collecting habit has allowed it to create a terrifyingly good machine translation program that puts the others to shame, namely “DeepL.” Check out its handling of this press release:


Der junge Stiegl-Braumeister Felix Schiffner stellte bei der 5. Biersommelier Weltmeisterschaft in München die internationale Konkurrenz in den Schatten und musste sich nur dem Deutschen Stephan Hilbrand im Finale geschlagen geben. Auf dem dritten Platz landete Rodrigo Sawamura aus Brasilien.

Mit einer redegewandten und mit viel Witz garnierten Präsentation seines ausgewählten Bieres Bourbon County Barley Wine von Goose Island holte unser Stiegl-Nachwuchsbraumeister Felix Schiffner im Finale der fünften Biersommelier-Weltmeisterschaft am Messegelände München den sensationellen zweiten Platz. Der Mühlviertler, der seine Stiegl-Laufbahn schon als Brauwelt-Guide während seines Studiums begann, wandelt damit auf den Spuren seines Vaters. Er gewann 2009 den ersten Biersommelier-Weltmeistertitel. Wir sind natürlich dementsprechend stolz auf den frisch gebackenen Biersommelier-Vizeweltmeister!

Herzliche Gratulation und Prost!


Google Translate

The young Stiegl-Braumeister Felix Schiffner overshadowed the international competition at the 5th Biersommelier World Championship in Munich and had only to beat the German Stephan Hilbrand in the final. On the third place Rodrigo Sawamura landed from Brazil. With a talked and giftedly presented presentation of his selected Beer Bourbon County Barley Wine from Goose Island, our Stiegl junior champion Felix Schiffner won the sensational second place in the final of the fifth Biersommelier World Championship at the Messegelände München. The Mühlviertler, who began his career as a brewery guide during his studies, is thus transformed in the footsteps of his father. In 2009, he won the first World Championship titles. We are, of course, proud of the freshly baked World Cup champion! Congratulations and cheers!



The young Stiegl master brewer Felix Schiffner outdid the international competition at the 5th Beer Sommelier World Championships in Munich and only had to admit defeat to the German Stephan Hilbrand in the final. Rodrigo Sawamura from Brazil finished third.

With an eloquent and witty presentation of his selected beer Bourbon County Barley Wine from Goose Island, our Stiegl young master brewer Felix Schiffner took sensational second place in the finale of the fifth beer sommelier world championship at the Munich Exhibition Centre. The Mühlvierteler, who began his Stiegl career as a brewing guide during his studies, follows in the footsteps of his father. In 2009 he won the first beer sommelier world champion title. We are of course proud of the freshly baked world champion in the beer sommelier business!

Congratulations and cheers!

Yikes. Look how much better that is than our old friend Google Translate. Not only does it avoid GT’s objective errors, it also has a much better writing style. I’m not so sure about “the freshly baked world champion” (“newly  minted,” perhaps?) but apart from that, good job, Linguee!

Two things happened over the weekend. The first was that I sent a friend who doesn’t speak German an article from the Süddeutsche Zeitung that might interest him, and instead of summarizing it for him I told him to run it through DeepL. I’ve never advised anyone to run anything through Google Translate. The second was that I told a colleague about DeepL, he ran a sample text through it, and then he said, “How much longer do you think we’re going to have this job?”

But let’s not panic. There will always be something for translators to do. Post-editing machine translations at $0.02 per word is actually not a bad gig — with a steady workflow you can make about $30 an hour. And there is a huge amount of content out there to be translated, including a lot of things that people don’t currently send to professional translation services because it’s not quite worth the cost, but they would send to a cheap MT service.

Also, many clients require a certain level of confidentiality, which free translation websites cannot provide.

If you are a translator who writes well and can edit, proofread, and/or rewrite things, you probably have nothing to worry about. Clients who want an ad rewritten for marketing in a different country or are putting together an exquisitely crafted book will not turn to free or cheap MT services.

And to get a sense of the limitations of MT, take a look at these versions of a passage from Die Harzreise (and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while and are wondering if I have some sort of beyond-the-grave crush on Heinrich Heine, the answer is well obviously). Errors in bold type. Less-egregious errors in italics:


Jedoch der ältern Dame war die geheimnisvolle Natur der Blumen nichts weniger als verschlossen, und unwillkürlich äußerte sie, daß sie von den Blumen, wenn sie noch im Garten oder im Topfe wachsen, recht erfreut werde, daß hingegen ein leises Schmerzgefühl traumhaft beängstigend ihre Brust durchzittere, wenn sie eine abgebrochene Blume sehe – da eine solche doch eigentlich eine Leiche sei, und so eine gebrochene, zarte Blumenleiche ihr welkes Köpfchen recht traurig herabhängen lasse, wie ein totes Kind. Die Dame war fast erschrocken über den trüben Wiederschein ihrer Bemerkung, und es war meine Pflicht, denselben mit einigen Voltaire’schen Versen zu verscheuchen. Wie doch ein paar französische Worte uns gleich in die gehörige Konvenienzstimmung zurückversetzen können! Wir lachten, Hände wurden geküßt, huldreich wurde gelächelt, die Pferde wieherten, und der Wagen holperte langsam und beschwerlich den Berg hinunter.

Google Translate:
However, the mysterious nature of the flowers was no more than closed to the elderly lady, and involuntarily she remarked that she was quite delighted by the flowers when she was still growing in the garden or in the pot. On the other hand, a low painful feeling was terribly frightening, when she saw a broken flower-since such a body was actually a corpse, and a broken, delicate, pale-flowered [missing text], like a dead child. The lady was almost frightened at the dull repetition of her remark, and it was my duty to scare it with some Voltaire’s verses. How a few French words can get us back into the proper convent mood! We laughed, the hands were kissed, the dogs were smiled, the horses whined, and the car was slowly and painfully descending the mountain.

However, the mysterious nature of the flowers was nothing less than closed to the elderly lady, and involuntarily she said that she was quite pleased with the flowers when they were still growing in the garden or in the pot, but that a quiet feeling of pain would be terrifyingly frightening to her breast when she saw a broken flower – since such a feeling of pain was actually a corpse, and such a broken one [missing text]. The lady was almost frightened by the cloudy reappearance of her remark, and it was my duty to frighten her away with some Voltaire verse. How a few French words can put us right back into the convent mood! We laughed, hands were kissed, with a lot of kindness, the horses were smiling, and the carriage slowly and with great difficulty bumped down the mountain.

From a published translation by Charles Godfrey Leland:

The secret and mysterious nature of flowers, was, however, any-
thing but a secret to the elder lady, and she involuntarily remarked,
that she felt happy in her very soul, when she saw flowers growing in
the garden or in a room, while a faint, dreamy sense of pain, invaria-
bly affected her on beholding a beautiful flower with broken stalk
that it was really a dead body, and that the delicate pale head of such
a flower-corpse hung down like that of a dead infant. The Lady here
became alarmed at the sorrowful impression which her remark
caused, and I flew to the rescue with a few Voltairean verses. How
quickly two or three French words bring us back into the conven-
tional concert-pitch of conversation. We laughed, hands were
kissed, gracious smiles beamed, the horses neighed, and the wagon
jolted heavily and slowly down the hill.

Posted in Machine translation | 1 Comment