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Three famous Dietrichs

When studying a foreign language there are several ‘plates’ to keep ‘spinning’. Learning vocabulary and mastering grammatical structures are obvious ones, but it becomes important to collect cultural references as well, in order to better understand the background of the people whose language you are studying, to enrich your conversations, maybe even to ‘get’ jokes.

With this in mind… From the respective worlds of motor-racing, humanitarianism and the silver screen, here are three figures of Germanic descent, who share a name. I’ve added a few questions to get you thinking about the language structures…



Dietrich Mateschitz died last week. This might not be a household name for most Europeans, but he might ring a bell if you are a fan of Formula 1, or have an unhealthily deep interest in energy drinks, but in the German-speaking world he was a near equivalent of Richard Branson.

Arguably a more historically significant figure: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Lutheran priest, he was known for his courageously vocal opposition to the Nazi regime and was ultimately executed for it.

Marlene Dietrich. One of the biggest names in the history of Hollywood, I’ve reproduced, below, a few lines which show her more heroic feats…




„Er war eine Legende“

Red-Bull-Gründer Dietrich Mateschitz gestorben


Es begann mit einem Getränk in den frühen 1980er Jahren. Der Österreicher Dietrich Mateschitz baute ein Imperium auf – eines, das die Sportwelt veränderte und mitprägte. Auch in Deutschland. Jetzt ist er gestorben.


Dietrich Mateschitz ist tot. Der Red-Bull-Gründer ist am Samstag im Alter von 78 Jahren gestorben. Das meldete am späten Samstagabend zunächst das Motorsport-Fachmagazin Speedweek, eine Publikation des Red-Bull-Konzerns. Der Österreicher sei "einer langen, schweren Krankheit" erlegen. Das Unternehmen mit Sitz im österreichischen Fuschl informierte die Mitarbeitenden kurz vor Mitternacht in einer Mail, die der Deutschen Presse-Agentur vorliegt.


You can read the article in full here: Red-Bull-Gründer Dietrich Mateschitz gestorben | BR24


1. In the sub-heading “Red-Bull-Gründer Dietrich Mateschitz gestorben”, there appears to be a word missing. What is this word and why is it acceptable to omit it in this case?


2. In the first paragraph, “Es begann mit…” there are several verbs in the imperfect tense: “Er baute…auf” for example. Why is this tense used instead of the perfect tense, “Er hat … aufgebaut”, which we tend to use in our conversations in lessons?


3. In the middle of the next paragraph you can see the sentence:

„Der Österreicher sei „einer langen, schweren Krankheit“ erlegen.“

Erlegen = succumb, and it is a ‚sein‘ verb, despite the fact that there is no apparent movement. Can you translate the full phrase, and also, why must the auxiliary verb change from ‘ist’ to ‘sei’?



Four of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s most famous quotations:

1. „Den größten Fehler, den man im Leben machen kann, ist, immer Angst zu haben, einen Fehler zu machen.“

2. „Es gibt ein erfülltes Leben trotz vieler unerfüllter Wünsche.“

3. „Es gibt kaum ein beglückenderes Gefühl, als zu spüren, dass man für andere Menschen etwas sein kann.“

4. „Die Macht der einen braucht die Dummheit der andern.“



According to Bonhoeffer:

1. What is the greatest mistake you can ever make?

2. You can have a fulfilled life, despite what?

3. What is the feeling that brings the greatest joy?

4. What is required in order for one person to have power?




Taken from Marlene Dietrich’s Wikipedia page:

Während der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus in Deutschland weigerte sich die Schauspielerin, die nationalsozialistische Propaganda zu unterstützen. Stattdessen nahm sie 1939 die Staatsbürgerschaft der Vereinigten Staaten an und unterstützte die US-Truppen während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, indem sie im Rahmen der Truppenbetreuung für die Soldaten sang und Verwundete in Lazaretten besuchte. 1947 verlieh ihr US-Präsident Harry S. Truman die Freiheitsmedaille.


1. The words Nationalsozialismus and nationalsozialistische are used as a noun then an adjective in this text. What do we tend to shorten it to? And why would a follower of that regime never refer to him/herself using that abbreviation?

2. “unterstützen” is used twice in successive sentences. Can you tell what it means? Marlene Dietrich refused to unterstützen the propaganda, but she did unterstützen the American soldiers.

3. Lazaretten [Lazarett in the singular] looks like it could be the name of a town, but it’s not. From the context, can you work out what it might mean?

4. Apart from five Oscars, which are not mentioned in this text, what award did Dietrich win?


Bitte schön. A tiny sliver of insight into some different facets of German culture and history.

If you would like to find out about joining a German class – whatever your level – please make contact here. We try to address interesting topics as well as learning how to construct basic sentences.


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