Family: Ein Prosit and Gemütlichkeit

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My father just celebrated his 88th birthday and my son and I flew out to Kansas City for the family gathering. Thirty of us sang “Happy Birthday” to him and consumed cake and ice cream, but the real highlight was when we sang “Ein Prosit” together. I suppose you could call singing this German drinking song a family tradition; certainly for my father’s generation it was. We, his children, honor our German heritage in a casual, vaguely hedonistic fashion: drinking beer, eating bratwurst, singing songs together, particularly when generous amounts of the aforementioned beer have been imbibed. As the years have accrued, some of us have moved out of town, all have aged, and redefined our own family rituals and traditions. For this birthday, however, we returned to where it all started. My oldest sister Googled the song “Ein Prosit” and printed out the lyrics so that all thirty of us could sing it. Humorously, few family members beyond my dad’s generation know the actual words following “Ein Prosit,” and, over the years, have fudged it in the way you do in church when you know the tune but not the words and don’t have a music book. (In this case the second line is roughly “Ghur ghur GHUR, ghick, ghite!” Just for the record. In case you, too, are caught, hapless, during an Oktoberfest celebration, forced to join the crowd in singing this celebrated drinking song.)

“Ein Prosit” (the “s” sound is sharp, like the z in Cheez-Its) means “a toast,” here, to Gemütlichkeit, the meaning of which we’ll get to later. The words to the song are easy. There are four.

  • Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
  • Der Gemütlichkeit
  • Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
  • Der Gemütlichkeit!

Then you say 1, 2, 3 [in German that’s eins, zwei, drei or the older, more rustic oans, zwoa, drei], followed by the baffling “g’suffa!” And you raise your beer stein higher, and you drink. Below is a real-life example of how you need not have a beer stein in your hand in order to participate in the toast. (Note small children imitating holding a beer stein. Isn’t that the sweetest? Or wait. Is that scary?)

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Thanks to YouTube and Videohostess and the band, Those Austrian Guys, you can hear what the song sounds like and even read along (thanks for super-imposing the words, guys!). Heck, go ahead and sing along. Go on. No one’s watching. Go fetch yourself a beer, stein or not, and join in here. I’m with you all the way.

I love how the German language has in its lexicon these single words that describe what, in English, takes an entire sentence, words like Bildungsroman, Waldeinsamkeit, Schadenfreude, Weltanschauung and Gemütlichkeit. (Note that Germans always capitalize their nouns.) Here’s how Wikipedia defines Gemütlichkeit: “a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and un-hurry.”

Nice, huh? And there was Gemütlichkeit in heaps in that room, that night. All family. My dad, his children, and their own children. There were children’s children’s children, and one special young couple, engaged to be married this June. The husband-to-be is my nephew, Justin. Among his generation of the family, he is the lone carrier of the Mertes name. I am one of six females and two males, one of whom became a Catholic priest. So. One Mertes son produced (with a little help from his wife) one Mertes son. And that Mertes son, Justin, will marry in June and there you have it, the opportunity for my father to see that Mertes name carrying on, through this lovely young couple.

I don’t think this was necessarily on his mind at that moment, though. Instead, he told us, his voice faltering, his eyes getting misty, that he was thinking of our mom, who died twenty-three years ago.

Oh, the ghosts that join you, the darker side of Gemütlichkeit. The poignancy in seeing my father tearful immediately tore at my own heart. And our Uncle Joe, from my dad’s generation, there alone, because his wife, our beloved Aunt Lois, my father’s sister, died two years earlier. My dad has lost his two other siblings and their spouses, as well. Now it was just him and Uncle Joe, and the spectral (and welcome) presence of those departed. And the haunting nature of my dad’s next words.

He rose to his feet. “If I’m not here next year to celebrate like this again,” he told us, “do this for me. This.” He gestured to the table, the room, the copies of “Ein Prosit” some of us still clutched.

Because the reality is that he, too, might be gone. He’s already beat the odds of his genetic legacy of bad hearts and early deaths. His mother lived the longest, to 83, outpacing the others by decades. Each year my father has remained alive since his 75th birthday has felt like a gift to me. He is my son’s only surviving grandparent. He’s a great guy. For so many reasons, I want him to stay with us longer. We all do. But a situation like this gently reminds you to embrace the moment, what you have right here, right now. Everything we had in that room that night.

Pure Gemütlichkeit.

Happy Birthday, Pop. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I look forward to joining you this time, next year, for another “Ein Prosit.” Be there. We’re counting on it.

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13 thoughts on “Family: Ein Prosit and Gemütlichkeit”

  1. More tears. Thank you for this Terez. I’m so glad you all were together to celebrate dad. As I read this, tears streamed down my face as I remember my very special friend who just passed away unexpectedly Sunday. And then remembering both my parents passing so close to your mom…Yes, so many friends and family have gone. Each year, it seems, another voice becomes an echo. I love my Mertes family so very much and treasure each moment I am able to share anything with each of you. Hugs, love and “Gemütlichkeit” to you all.

    The other sibling…..

    • Oh, now tears here, too! There were tears all morning as I worked on this piece. But for me, that means the spirits are hovering near. Tears and the presence of departed loved ones seem to go hand in hand. Use that as a reminder that your loved ones, too, are close, skin-prickling close.

      And please, please, share with me more about what happened to your friend. Was so sorry to hear that and see the way you’re suffering. Share more stuff about her. Here! Now!

      Wonderful to see you while we were in town. More Gemütlichkeit.

      Love you, friend!

  2. That was beautiful! Tears here in North Carolina too. “Ein Prosit!” to Uncle Tom and to the rest of the KC Mertes cousins.

  3. This was indeed a magical moment, very spontaneous, and it just “happened”. You can’t stage something like this and I am so grateful that you were able to capture it and share it. My wish is that everyone find some small moment to celebrate their family history and do something simple to remember, in the years ahead. And finally I have learned how to say all the words of that damn song that has haunted me for the last 63 years!

  4. Lovely post, Terez, fun and insightful. Our gathering was a luminous moment for me as well (or liminal, as the theologians say). It makes me ponder the relationship between gain and loss, success and failure , youth and old age, clarity and our shadows. To me Holy Week means that we need it all! Or as Richard Rohr says, “this too belongs.”

    • Another great reply – how fortunate I am to have such eloquent and wise siblings! Mark, I especially like the “this too belongs” comment. Just love it. Happy (?) Holy Week to you, BTW.

    • Grace, you are so welcome. I’m curious to know what your own large family gatherings are/were like? Different drinking songs and/or libations? A hint, hint for you to pull out your own writer’s pen and paper and create an essay. You are the undisputed queen of those; I’d love to see it when you’re done.

  5. I know this is an older post, but I’ve only just discovered this blog and this was the first post I found.
    I’m from the UK and a lover of music, from rock to classical, but mostly orchestral and film soundtracks. I am also a totally blind person. Just discovered Ein Prosit randomly, today. I absolutely loved reading this post as it brought the meaning to me. I really liked reading about your gathering. Thirty people singing the song sounds like a wonderful experience!
    Due to you seemingly liking to hear about family traditions, I will share some here.
    For the past few years (we are talking probably around 2015 or so) I’ve had some awesome Birthday parties, and the traditions have been thus:
    Invite people from my theatre group.
    Invite people from my martial arts group.
    and because I’m a blind person, since around 2016 we invite a character cosplayer (or two or sometimes three). These cosplayers have shown up as film or theatre characters. Sometimes I am surprised by the cosplay community as they might end up bringing more than we expected and it’s really funny when that happens. How I got into the cosplay community though, is an even longer story, but needless to say it’s exciting. I don’t get to meet characters too often, so being able to meet some of them at my house is amazing. The materials and stuff they bring is very different from regular clothing that I might normally wear, so it’s interesting to ask about and feel the different materials, and of course chat a bit in character.
    I load up my phone with all sorts of different music, interestingly mostly orchestral and a lot of Disney.
    As soon as the cosplayers arrive, I literally just stop the music. It gives everyone time to talk to the characters who have shown up.
    One year, I was chatting to someone about Disney and suddenly, I heard the sound of a wookiee from Star Wars. I jumped up with excitement, and before I knew it, I was being hugged by Chewbacca played by someone from our local Star Wars Garrison, and they had the full suit. For those who do not know, as some do not, Chewbacca is a tall and furry creature. Well this one actually could make the sounds of Chewbacca so it was really amazing. I’ve also had Batman show up before, along with Belle from Beauty and The Beast. That was interesting too. For Belle, she touched my hand but because that character is a princess, she is one of those who has some long and fairly soft gloves. I think they are satin. Well, this person touched my hand, but instead of a hand it was some material, and I realized who it might be, but I wasn’t too sure what would happen next. I said hello, and I was very surprised when the person said hello back with an accent. Yep, that was definitely Belle. This year, the people who would normally bring Batman and Belle were very busy, but I was able to get some characters invited. This time, there would be something new for me.
    A friend of mine brought a character from the musical cats, and that was quite interesting as it was fairly soft but also had a bunch of different materials. It’s a bit hard to explain the suit, it even confused me a little but it is awesome. All I was told was she’d be bringing that character, and she didn’t tll me too much about the materials as she wanted me to experience it on the day. We had Bumblebee the robot from Transformers, with voice changer as well, and we also had Wonder Woman. The only one I knew about in advance, was the one from Cats.
    While we don’t really have any traditional songs we sing, I can, for some reason, perhaps see Ein Prosit becoming part of it if there’s an instrumental track available anywhere. It definitely brings out the idea of good cheer and comfort.
    When the characters leave, there are usually some people left, and due to the timings being nicely spread out sometimes, there have been times where, afterwoods, it’s been me and a couple of singers just belting our hearts out to Disney songs. This year, while my parents were putting stuff away, we were in the living room, it was me, the cosplayer from cats, and two twins, all belting out songs from musical theatre and Disney karaoke tracks and loving absolutely every single minute of it. I even danced around the room a bit when The Bear Necessities came on!
    I, therefore, think that Ein Prosit will be a fun idea to try one year, so thanks for introducing me to this tradition. For me though, I will probably just have apple juice with no alcohol. But who knows, maybe one year that might change too! I’m an adult but for some reason I don’t really have an interest in alcohol at this time.
    So, that’s my traditions even though they might be a bit weirder and whackier than yours. I loved hearing about your gathering though, it sounded like a wonderful experience. For me, the reason I like to invite people from the theatre and martial arts groups I’m a part of, is because when doing those activities I don’t really get to chat to them too often, so it’s nice to socialize. I also think the main reason the cosplay people come around on my Birthday is also similar: when chatting to them, they’ve said it’s to give me a chance to meet their characters and chat to them in a quieter environment, as sometimes when I go to conventions it can be a bit noisy. So the fact that some of them are happy to pop round and interact with me for a bit is something I can’t just take for granted and is something I’m greatful for. The songs just become icing on the proverbial cake. By the end, I definitely end up feeling tired as I’ve been singing a lot. I’m just sorry I don’t have any of my own traditions dating any further back that I can currently write about.

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