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The Secret of Germany's Name
It all began long, long ago, when all that lived in Germany were the plants and animals. After a while, people came to live in Germany. Houses were built. Roads were paved. Cars, telephones, and cameras were invented. Then—wait a minute. Rewind to the first people. That’s better.
Now what was I saying? Ah, yes. After a while, people came to live in Germany. The first people loved to garden. They loved Germany’s flowers. They loved the flowers they had brought along with them. But there was something that they did NOT love. They called it the Germ (from which we get our word “germ” now). It was a terrible spreading disease that killed many. The natives did not know where it came from. A wise old woman lived among the natives. She grew all the flowers except for one, called the Ganium. She never had the Germ (which means disease in the natives’ language).
“It’s the Ganiums that cause the Germ,” she said wisely. “See me. I grow all the flowers except the ganium. I get no disease. You grow all the flowers including the Ganium, and you get the Germ. The Ganiums cause the Germ!”
Now the natives did not like this. The Ganium (which means frilly flower) was their most favourite flower of them all. They did not believe the wise old woman for a while. But after the deaths of three more people, they came to the wise old woman.
“What will you have us do?” the natives asked. “Our people are dying!”
“Dig up the Ganiums, carry them to the depths of the forest where there is no sunshine, and leave them there. When you come back, the sick will be relieved of the Germ,” she answered.
This made the natives very sad, but they obeyed the wise old woman. With shovels and sacks they uprooted the flowers then two men took the Ganiums away. When they came back, they were very sorrowful. In a matter of days, all the sickness drained from the natives’ village like water from a tub.
“It worked, it worked!” the people cried. “The wise old woman was right!”
The natives lived happily for three years after that, glad to be free of the deadly Germ. In the third year though, something strange and terrible happened.
The natives were celebrating the three years that the Germ had perished. They had a big party with music, dancing, story-telling, and games for the children. The children had gone into the forest while the parents were telling stories. Just as they were finishing the tale of the Germ, a little boy came running into the camp.
“The Ganiums are back!” he shouted worriedly. “They are growing closer and closer to the village. We will die!”
At that moment, the rest of the children came crashing through the forest, announcing the return of the Ganiums with loud screams and shouts. The natives crowded around the wise old woman, begging her to do something. The wise old woman thought for a while. Then she spoke.
“I need a volunteer who is willing to get the Germ.”
At this, the natives shook their heads in disagreement. But then a man who looked to be a hundred years old stood up. He had skin more wrinkled then a scrunched-up dish cloth, jowls that reached his chest, and bags under his eyes so large that you could fit boulders in them.
“I am close to my death,” he said in a dry, cracked voice. “I have but a year, a month, a week, maybe a day to live. I could drop down dead right now. What’s the difference of dying with the Germ or without it? For the sake of this village, I will die if need be.”
The natives clapped for him, and the wise old woman went on to say that he must sit on Ganiums for an hour to catch the Germ. He must then remain in solitary outside the village. Food would be brought every day a certain distance from his house. The natives could talk to him, but they would have to be many body-lengths away from him.
The next day, the natives built a hut in a clearing quite a distance from the village. Then they sent the old man, with a weapon to protect him and food to eat, to sit among the Ganiums that were growing closer and closer by the day.
Days passed, and the natives tried all sorts of cures on the old man: different meats, fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, plants, and nuts, but nothing worked.
Then finally a villager asked, “What haven’t we had in a long time?” This brought many ideas like sauces and soups. Those were tried too, but after a few weeks, the answer was the same—negative. So the natives sat down to think.
After an hour, a native suddenly jumped to his feet and started leaping about crying, “I got it! I got it!” And when the other natives asked him what, he simply said, “Bread!” This caused a commotion. Natives started debating whether it was true or false. At last there was silence.
The wise old woman turned to the villager. “What makes you think this?”
“Because,” he replied. “Not long after we stopped eating bread, the Germ came!”
This brought many nods, and it was agreed to try. They left only bread for the old man the next day, the day after that, and the day after that one. On the fourth day, great excitement ran throughout the village. The old man was healed! And just to prove it, five other people purposely got the Germ then ate bread until the disease left them. And others ate lots of bread then sat among the ganiums for hours.
Up till now the natives had called the Ganiums Germaniums (which means disease flower) but now they called them Geraniums (which means frilly flower of life). So the natives took back the flowers from the forest, and their gardens were filled with geraniums once again. And many years of happiness followed.
You probably want to know how Germany got its name, now.
Long after the wise old woman, the old man, and the other natives died, the story of the Germ continued into the new generations of natives. After five generations, Europeans discovered Germany, which at that time had no name. Some of the Europeans learned the natives’ language and became translators. One day an important European came to see the natives, seeking the name of the land. With him was a young translator who, unfortunately, did not understand and speak the language well.
The man and his translator traveled to Germany, soon meeting a native close to the village in which the Germ had taken place.
The man told his translator to ask, “What is the name of this place?” But, as I told you, the translator was not a good translator, so it came out as, “What happened in this place?”
So the native answered, saying, “Germ killed many.” But the translator only heard “Germ many.” The translator didn’t know the translation for “Germ,” so he kept it that way.
“This place is called Germmany,” the translator told the important man. The man didn’t have enough room on his map for such a long name, so he took out an “m” and wrote it as “Germany.”
And that is the secret of Germany’s name.