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The Resilient Journey of Arnold Schwarzenegger, From Abused Child to Triumphs in Film, Politics & Television

Australian writer Clive James once described the then 30-year-old bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, as having a body like “a condom full of walnuts.” It is more than likely that Schwarzenegger read the phrase: according to one of his biographers, Michael Blitz, author of the hilarious chronicle Why Arnold Matters: The Rise of a Cultural Icon. The actor, politician and former Austrian athlete is an incorrigible narcissist who tries to “read every last line that is published about him.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger, like many other prominent figures in pop culture, experiences a conflicting dynamic with his own persona. While he appreciates the level of notoriety his fame brings, he is frustrated by being reduced to what he perceives as a crude caricature. Of particular concern to him is the potential dismissal of the immense dedication and disciplined efforts he invested in sculpting his body during his formative years, from ages 15 to 25.

Schwarzenegger vehemently rejects the idea that his personal accomplishments should be treated as laughable or subjected to cruel jokes. He views his finely chiseled physique as a testament to his determination, discipline, and artistic vision, rather than mere fodder for mockery. While he has demonstrated the ability to laugh at himself and engage in self-deprecating humor, he upholds a strong sense of dignity and does not tolerate those who attempt to undermine his legacy.

Always in the spotlight

This Friday marks the Netflix premiere of FUBAR, a series in which Schwarzenegger plays a fictional veteran CIA agent, and on June 7 Arnold will also appear in a three-episode documentary series with which Netflix has set out to show “the man behind the muscles.” And this is not just any man. As much as his triceps might make one think of a prophylactic crammed with nuts, Schwarzenegger is a complex individual with a particularly rich biography.

A family portrait of Schwarzenegger’s older brother Meinhard, mother Aurelia, and father Gustav Schwarzenegger in 1965.
A family portrait of Schwarzenegger’s older brother Meinhard, mother Aurelia, and father Gustav Schwarzenegger in 1965.Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)
An 18-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger lifts a friend in Austria in 1965.
An 18-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger lifts a friend in Austria in 1965.Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s journey is marked by several significant chapters, starting with his tumultuous childhood. As a young boy, he faced the emotional struggle of vying for his father’s affection against his older brother. Schwarzenegger’s father, a supporter of the Nazi regime, exhibited abusive behavior towards his family, often likening himself to a lesser version of Adolf Hitler. The painful memories include instances of physical abuse, as his father wrongly believed that Schwarzenegger was gay.

Despite these challenging circumstances, Schwarzenegger’s resilience and determination drove him forward. At the age of 21, he made the courageous decision to emigrate to the United States, armed with only a small sum of Austrian schillings and a limited English vocabulary of approximately 20 words. Undeterred by the hurdles he faced, Schwarzenegger embarked on a remarkable journey of self-transformation.

His exceptional talent in bodybuilding became a defining aspect of his life. As a gifted athlete, he achieved great success, securing the prestigious title of Mr. Olympia seven times and being crowned Mr. Universe in 1968. Notably, he achieved these milestones while simultaneously working as a construction worker in Los Angeles, demonstrating his unwavering work ethic and dedication.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s illustrious career encompasses various facets that have contributed to his enduring legacy. Firstly, he ventured into the world of acting in 1970, making his big-screen debut as Hercules in the film Hercules in New York. Despite facing scathing reviews, Schwarzenegger persevered and eventually garnered recognition for his performance in Stay Hungry (1976), earning him a coveted Golden Globe, as encouraged by acclaimed filmmaker Bob Rafelson, an influential figure in New Hollywood.

Throughout the 1980s, Schwarzenegger established himself as an iconic figure in action cinema. His repertoire boasts an impressive lineup of blockbuster films, ranging from Conan the Barbarian (1982) to Last Action Hero (1993), including the legendary Terminator franchise. Notable entries in his filmography include Predator (1987), Red Heat (1988), and Total Recall (1990), solidifying his status as a prominent action movie star.

In addition to his on-screen persona, Schwarzenegger frequently found himself in the media spotlight. He made headlines by marrying journalist Maria Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, while simultaneously expressing his political alignment with Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Despite advocating for the restoration of traditional family values, Schwarzenegger faced public scrutiny when news emerged of his extramarital affair and a secret child with his Guatemalan-born maid, Mildred Baena.

Schwarzenegger’s journey took a further twist when he entered the realm of politics. Initially positioning himself as a supporter of fiscal austerity and espousing firm masculinity, he ran for elected office in California. However, his political career witnessed significant transformations. Schwarzenegger evolved into a champion of sexual minority rights and became a prominent advocate for neoliberal environmentalism, a concept that was not widely recognized before his foray into politics. These shifts in his political stance redefined his public image and created a complex narrative surrounding his political ideology.

A traumatic childhood

For Michael Blitz, Schwarzenegger has retained coherence and sanity amidst so much existential and physical turmoil because he has never lost sight of “the child he was and the character he built to rescue himself from a mediocre life.” If one of his qualities were to stand out, it would be, in The Guardian journalist Rory Carroll’s opinion, “his unbridled ambition coupled with an oceanic self-confidence.” Schwarzenegger is “a pathological enthusiast.” He never gives up, never gives in, always demands “that extra stroke that takes you to a new shore” and manages to keep smiling.

Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joanna Cassidy in 1976.
Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joanna Cassidy in 1976.FilmPublicityArchive (FilmPublicityArchive/United Arch)
Donna Summer in the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a party at his Los Angeles home in April 1977.
Donna Summer in the arms of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a party at his Los Angeles home in April 1977.Michael Ochs Archives

Some of the anecdotes about his life are full of his stubborn personality and his mercurial but playful endurance. The most touching Schwarzenegger anecdote is perhaps the one about the boy who tried to play soccer because his father showed an interest in the sport that his older brother, Meinhard (a superb boxer and mountaineer) was not so good at. The lanky pre-teen that was Arnold stubbornly kicked the ball around until his father lost interest after watching him lose an unimportant game. From there he went on to lift weights, tired of being a disappointment to his brother and his father, the Nazi Gustav, who was a police officer, war veteran and chronic abuser, and who even wondered if that mushy little wimp was really his biological son.

One of the most endearing aspects of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s life is perhaps his youthful escapade as an 18-year-old. In the midst of his military service in the Austrian army in the summer of 1965, he went absent without leave (AWOL) to participate in a bodybuilding competition in Germany. Despite facing consequences, including time in the stockade and a reprimand from his superiors, Schwarzenegger claims in his memoir, Total Defiance: My Incredible Story (published in 2012), that this act of rebellion was a rare and worthwhile experience.

Another memorable anecdote from his military days involves his training in driving tanks. During his service year, he had the opportunity to operate an antique tank through the Austrian countryside. In later years, Schwarzenegger tracked down the tank and eventually purchased it when it was bound for the scrapyard. He transported it to the United States, where he exhibited it to his friends. Subsequently, he donated it to the Motts Military Museum in Ohio in 2000.

However, upon visiting the museum at a later date, Schwarzenegger was disappointed by the condition in which his cherished tank was displayed. Consequently, he requested its return and currently utilizes it as an integral component of an educational program for youths from disadvantaged neighborhoods in Los Angeles. As part of this program, if the participating children exhibit good behavior, Schwarzenegger rewards them with a field trip and the opportunity to drive his tank.

These intriguing episodes highlight the unique experiences and interests of Arnold Schwarzenegger, demonstrating his willingness to seize unconventional opportunities and create impactful initiatives that combine his personal passions with a desire to inspire and educate others.

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

Other fascinating aspects of Schwarzenegger’s personality have to do with his use of tactics in his younger years to psychologically destabilize his opponents, something like the trash talking common in boxing or basketball, but little less than unheard of in the much more genteel world of European bodybuilding. Arnold says he developed very sophisticated strategies to “torpedo the self-esteem” of candidates with better bodies than his. In his opinion, rather than foul play, the use of this type of trickery was a symptom of “superior intelligence” to that of his rivals, not to mention the blind determination and competitive instinct that have always guided him.

Also noteworthy is the trick he played on his on-screen muscle rival, Sylvester Stallone, which only came to light years later. In 1990 he received a script that he considered one of the worst he had ever read and, aware of how things worked in Hollywood, he leaked to the press his enormous interest in starring in it. As he anticipated, this raised his rival Stallone’s suspicion, and he fought to get his hands on the project. Arnold’s dastardly trick worked. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot became a critical and public flop and, by Stallone’s own admission years later, “one of the worst movies in the solar system.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger at a party at the Four Seasons in New York in 1976.
Arnold Schwarzenegger at a party at the Four Seasons in New York in 1976.Fairchild Archive (Penske Media via Getty Images)
Young Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Young Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger.Ron Galella (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

A unique accent

Already in the United States, the young adult proved his mettle by resisting any attempt to interfere with his career. Mark Hamill, the future Luke Skywalker, with whom he struck up a friendship when they were both starting to frequent casting calls, advised him to “choose a stage name that people would be able to remember” and to get rid of the dreadful accent that made him sound like “an operetta Nazi” as soon as possible. Since it’s hard to say no to a man possessed by the Force, Schwarzenegger took his advice on only one occasion: in his first high-profile role in Hercules in New York, he appeared as Arnold Strong in the credits and struggled to impose an accent more from the suburbs of Omaha than the outskirts of Graz.

The experiment left a bad taste in his mouth: it made no sense to give up what made him different and to replace it with a dull name and a fake accent. So he returned to the not so unpronounceable Schwarzenegger and that Teutonic touch that he has never really wanted to get rid of, even though he has demonstrated on multiple occasions that his Yankee accent is now much better than it was in 1970.

The same with politics. Arnold first won election as governor of California in 2003, at a time when he was considered a disciple of Nixon’s fiscal austerity and Reagan’s cultural conservatism. During the campaign, he insisted on presenting himself as the Terminator who was going to wipe the irresponsible frivolity and affectations of the Democrats off the map, even though his advisors thought it smarter to avoid the negative connotations of the character and present himself as a much nicer kindergarten cop.

Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Hôtel du Cap in Antibes (France).
Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Hôtel du Cap in Antibes (France).Jean Pigozzi

Arnold Schwarzenegger had a keen understanding that his fellow citizens in the Golden State would embrace a tough stance with greater fervor than misguided paternalism. His foresight proved accurate, as his success marked the beginning of a fast-paced trajectory—from being an immensely popular pop icon to attaining political power—a path subsequently traversed by Donald Trump. However, when Schwarzenegger sought re-election in 2007, he astutely recognized the shifting political climate and swiftly embarked on a sharp course correction. This transformation led him to adopt centrist and even progressive positions on certain issues, ultimately securing another triumph. Throughout this journey, Schwarzenegger’s guiding principle has always been to trust his own instincts.

Schwarzenegger is an individual who may appear unconventional, with a physical appearance likened to a “condom stuffed with walnuts,” yet his resilience and consistency amidst striking contradictions make him an unyielding force. His unwavering self-image remains impervious, much like a nuclear bomb-proof shelter. Undeniably, Schwarzenegger’s captivating persona warrants the production of numerous documentaries to illuminate the multifaceted aspects of his life and career.

Schwarzenegger’s story is a testament to his adaptability, astuteness, and unwavering confidence in navigating the realms of both entertainment and politics. His remarkable journey serves as a compelling case study, showcasing the dynamic nature of leadership and the significance of trusting one’s own instincts in the face of evolving circumstances.


Diego Luna’s great triumph: ‘I pushed the limits, but I always found my way back’ | Culture

It is not exactly clear where Diego Luna (Mexico, 43 years old) lives these days. According to the biography his agency sent, he lives in Spain. But he denies it. “No, I don’t live in Madrid, I’m in London. Now I’d like to live in Madrid, huh?” he says. “Right now, my life is mostly in London and a very little bit in Mexico.” But what about his partner and three children? Where is his family? “That’s more complex. Let’s just say it’s someone else’s life and I’ll keep that to myself.”

It doesn’t really matter where he lives. Currently, the city that’s most important to Diego Luna is Los Angeles, where his representatives are located. Everything happens there, including this zoom call from Madrid, which he answered in the car taking him back to London from filming the second season of Andor (“what a pleasure to spend some time talking in Spanish; I needed it,” he says laughing). The Star Wars universe series has finally turned him into a Class A celebrity, a real star. “I think I realized the power of Star Wars the day the first article came out [saying] that I would be a character in Rogue One, not even Andor. That morning started with TV cameras outside my dad’s house. They asked him how long I had liked Star Wars. And my dad said, ‘He’s never liked it!’ And I said, ‘Oh my, that’s the scope of this project. I [hadn’t] even signed a contract and the cameras that one runs away from are going after my dad outside his house; they’ve never gone to bother him there [before].’ Clearly, it kickstarts a machine that is sometimes exciting and sometimes also very perverse. It is a project that [got] everyone’s interest from the start. I had never felt that [before]. The closest thing I’ve experienced in terms of scope was when I worked with [Steven] Spielberg [on The Terminal, 2004], which had a global impact, but nothing compared to Andor. How much has this project changed his life? “Dramatically,” he replies.

Luna has been in London since November and three months of shooting remain. That is, if it doesn’t drag on longer because of the writers’ strike that has caused Tony Gilroy, the showrunner of the Disney+ series, to stop filming. It’s the first strike of the streaming era, and at the center of the dispute is the amount of money writers get paid each time a show, series or movie in which they participated is watched. In addition to starring in Andor, Luna is the show’s executive producer and puts his own money on the line. What is his opinion about the strike? “It’s the first time I’ve been asked this question, so let me think about it,” he says, taking a few seconds to silently reflect. “It seems good to me. I mean, I hope it is resolved quickly, but a lot of rethinking needs to happen. The world, and this industry in particular, is changing very rapidly. And working conditions have to be rethought. You can no longer think in terms of cinema. I grew up thinking in terms of cinema…stories that had a beginning and an end, that lasted two hours, that were shown in a theater, that sold a certain number of tickets (or not) and later remained on a thing that you could buy called a DVD. That world is over. Now everything is in a cloud. And in that sense I think what the writers are doing is very, very commendable. I only hope that they receive a quick response so that this industry doesn’t get hit very badly and that the change comes so that all the families that make a living from it can continue to do so. But…I [have] always respected what it means for a union to agree…how could Tony not join in? Wouldn’t that be absurd? This series is about insurgency, about how oppression creates a citizen and [a] social awakening. It would be very contradictory if he wasn’t [participating in the strike], wouldn’t it?”

Diego Luna wears an Etro sweater and jacket.
Diego Luna wears an Etro sweater and jacket.

Andor is the story of Cassian Andor, a Rebel Alliance spy who first appeared in Rogue One (2016), the story of how the Death Star plans were stolen. The film’s tragic ending was a rarity in a saga that, since Disney bought the franchise, had become infantilized at times. In 2018, it was announced that Andor, the character Luna played, would have his own series to tell the story of his life before Rogue One. The first season premiered in 2022. Surprise, surprise, the storyline deepened that same path. For the first time, the rebels were not angelic beings without a trace of evil. Here, they are tinged with an almost fanatical determination. The message seems clear: revolutions, no matter how noble the cause, are dirty. “When you’re willing to go to the ultimate consequences and sacrifice everything, you can romanticize the story, but we try, as much as possible, to ground it in something realistic. And it’s impossible not to talk about darkness, moral contradictions, constant mistakes. The point here is: what do they do when they realize that they are wrong?” We will have to wait until the second and final season premieres in 2024 to find out the answer.

In 2001, Diego Dionisio Luna Alexander burst onto the scene with Y tu mamá también, a feature film by the then-unknown director Alfonso Cuarón. The movie starred Spanish actress Maribel Verdú and two young actors, who are so close today that they seem like a two-headed animal: Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna. It is practically impossible to utter one’s name without the other’s name following close behind. They are partners in the production company La Corriente del Golfo [Gulf Current], but above all they are friends, almost brothers. They have literally known each other all their lives: “There is a story that I think sums it all up: His father was in a show, John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, directed by Juan José Gurrola. My father did the sets. My mother did the costumes and Gael’s mother worked with her. Gael was born during rehearsals, and I was born during the performance. That seems to be the origin of much of what has happened to us. The truth is that it’s a play that we could do together.” That sounds like a nice end to a cycle. “That’s why I don’t want to do it, because it sounds like the end of a cycle,” he says, laughing.

The Andor star wears Prada pants and shirt and Alexander McQueen boots.
The Andor star wears Prada pants and shirt and Alexander McQueen boots.Charlie Gray

His mother, English artist Fiona Alexander, died in a car accident when he was two years old, leaving Diego and his older sister, Maria, to be raised by their father, Alejandro Luna, a set designer and architect. Little Diego grew up on stage. “I guess when I was six or seven years old I said as certainly and confidently as a seven-year-old can that I was an actor. At first, I wanted to do what the adults around me were doing. I wanted to be part of that ritual that my dad participated in so seriously. And suddenly I found myself doing it with my father’s full support. Whether that was an act of responsibility or irresponsibility is open to debate, but he always let me. It also would have been contradictory for my father to make his living in the theater…and tell me that I couldn’t do it. I had to go to school and in exchange I could dedicate the other half of [my] day to the theater. Then came television and movies and that made my head spin a little. But I also started to meet people, to feel like part of a community, and little by little I found my way. And I never stopped.”

Here, Luna wears an Ami Paris jacket, pants and sneakers and a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt.
Here, Luna wears an Ami Paris jacket, pants and sneakers and a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt.

At the age of 12, Diego was a Mexican television star. At 16, he dropped out of school and emancipated himself. Being a famous teenager with money while living alone seems like a perfect recipe for disaster. “Yes, I had it bad, very bad. [They were] difficult years, I’m not going to deny it. Between fame and unbridled freedom… but I never left my house completely. I no longer lived there, but I felt I could go back and that gave me [a sense of] security. I think my father handled things the right way, because if he tried to stop me, it would have been catastrophic.” His father—who passed away in December—comes up often in the conversation. “I am fortunate to have always had a very open relationship [with him]. He didn’t tell me what to do, he told me what he thought about what I wanted and that always helped me. I don’t want to say that I didn’t push the limits, but I always found my way back to safer ground. And I attribute that to my family and to my theater family, because they formed a protective core that helped me a lot. I had a lot of mothers throughout my childhood and adolescence. My mother died when I was two years old. Many actresses, directors and theater women took care of me, guided me and were there for me. They took my mother’s absence very personally. I think that saved me.”

It would take a book to describe Diego Luna’s career since Y tu mamá también. In addition to working as an actor with Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Sant, Harmony Korine and Steven Soderbergh, he has worked as a producer; he has directed movies (his second film, Abel (2010), was an official selection at Cannes); he has starred in Netflix’s Narcos Mexico and has even made a show, Pan y Circo [Bread and Circus], in which he cooks and brings people together to talk about complex issues, such as climate change, abortion, migration, democracy and racism. “It’s an exercise similar to journalism, but it starts from [a place of] total bias. I don’t have the slightest interest in sounding impartial but [rather] in being attentive and curious about opinions that are different from my own and, in the best-case scenario, learning. But I have very clear points of view on all these issues. My team and I chose the first topic. And at that moment we decided to bring voices to the table that have perspectives that we do not necessarily share; we’re always trying to leave toxic voices as far away as possible. But we seek a confrontation of ideas. Because in this polarized world, we don’t even have access to that anymore. We live in this bubble that we create for ourselves through what we consume, through social media, and suddenly it seems that everyone thinks like us, and it is nice and interesting to go out into the world and realize that it’s not like that.”

The Mexican actor wears an Etro sweater and jacket.
The Mexican actor wears an Etro sweater and jacket.

In 2022, he performed a one-man show in Madrid, Spain, Cada vez nos despedimos major [We say goodbye better each time], and directed a series for Amazon Prime Video, Y todo va a estar bien [And everything will be alright]; both seem to talk about the same thing: the possibility (or impossibility) of romantic love. “I’m so obsessed with that topic….. When I was two years old, I lost my mother, and then my father had a myriad of relationships in his life, and I had to [experience] that, jumping from one to another with him and constantly questioning what others called family. In my case, [family] was nothing like that of my classmates at school. The core didn’t mean the same thing. It could not be described in the same way. There is also something very beautiful that happens, which is that, in this world that sometimes seems to go too fast, there are also very beautiful examples of people finding new ways to love each other. That’s something that, in my line of work, I think, is very important. Love is there, always there, in this storytelling thing,. And if suddenly there are these new forms and these new structures, I think it’s only right to reflect on them.” What is his favorite way to do that? “If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I don’t like—I don’t find myself in—solitude. Definitely. I like what I have now. Now, I’m very good in that regard. I’m very happy and that makes me happy, to be honest.”

He repeats the concept of freedom when talking about directing, acting and producing. Having the freedom to do what he wants. How free is he right now? “I feel very free now, to tell you the truth. Freer than ever before in my life. I’m about to reach a destination that I mapped out for myself eight years ago [when he signed on for Rogue One] without fully realizing it, but five years ago [I became] fully aware. And I can see it now. In August, I’ll finish as an actor, then I have one more year as a producer and that’s it. That makes me feel very complete, and very free, because I have my life ahead of me, because I have a lot to do and because I have accumulated a lot of interests over the years.” The car has been stopped for a while. A message appears on the screen: we have to finish, they say from Los Angeles.

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EXPLAINED: The lingo you need to talk about sleep like a true German

Unless you’re someone who often spends a few days in a row at Berlin’s famous Berghain nightclub, sleep is an activity that most of us do every day.

It helps us prepare for the day ahead and sift through events in our lives, or alert us to something we’re worried about with a dreaded anxiety dream. When we’re deprived of it, it’s absolute hell, but nothing is more heavenly than a blissful lie-in. 

Unsurprisingly, sleep is a topic that comes up regularly in conversation in Germany, so it’s essential that these words are part of your German Wortschatz (vocabulary). 

Here’s our guide to some of the key terms that may crop up, whether you’re coaxing a child to finally go to sleep or enjoying some kip yourself. 

The basics 

As you probably know, the German word for sleep is der Schlaf, which can be turned into the verb schlafen, meaning to sleep. 

If you want to announce to whoever will listen that it’s bedtime for you, you can use the phrase: “Ich gehe ins Bett” (I’m going to bed), “Ich muss schlafen.” (I need to sleep) or “Es ist Schlafenzeit” (It’s bedtime) to make it clear that you’re ready to sleep.

For a slightly less direct way of indicating how tired you are, you can also reach for sich hinlegen, which means to lie down. As an example, you might say, “Jetzt ist wohl Schlafenzeit – ich glaube, ich lege mich hin.”  (It’s probably bedtime, I think I’ll lie down.) 

If you’re dealing with a child who’s determined to stay up past their bedtime, you’ll probably require the following phrases (and you may need to use them a number of times):

“Es wird langsam Schlafenzeit” – It’s slowly getting to your bedtime. 

“Du müsstest schon lange im Bett sein!” – It’s way past your bedtime. 

Your sleep habits 

When it comes to talking about your sleep habits, a lot can be done by simply adding prefixes to the word schlafen

For example, if you want to talk about falling asleep, you can use the word einschlafen. For example, you can say: “Ich bin um 22 Uhr ins Bett gegangen, aber um 23 Uhr eingeschlafen.” (I went to bed at 10pm but fell asleep at 11pm.) 

This might be a little confusing for English speakers, because einschlafen instinctively sounds like “sleeping in” – so try not to confuse the two.

If you do want to talk about having a lie-in and getting your fill of sleep, the word you need instead is ausschlafen. Generally, when “aus” is at the start of the word – i.e. ausreden (to finish talking) or auslesen (to finish a book) – it means you’ve done an activity to completion, and the same is true of sleeping.

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

A man falls asleep next to his phone

A man falls asleep next to his smartphone and headphones. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Franziska Gabbert

But what about those awkward moments when you snooze through your alarm and wake up far later than you should? For those you’ll need the word verschlafen, which means to oversleep.

Of course, some of us have problems falling asleep in the first place, and that can be helpfully described by referring to die Schlaflosigkeit, which means sleeplessness or insomnia. 

Over a long period of time, this may develop into a fully blown Schlafstörung, or sleep disorder, which you may want to talk to a doctor about.

One important thing to note is that, as in English, schlafen can also have a double meaning, so if you say, “Ich habe mit jemandem geschlafen.” (I slept with someone), people will usually assume you’ve done a lot more than having a snooze.

Starting the day

The opposite of being eingeschlafen (asleep) is being wach (awake), and when you want to talk about waking up, the word you need is aufwachen.

The thing that wakes you up is called der Wecker (the alarm) and after you wake up, the next thing you may do is get out of bed, or aufstehen (stand up). Like einschlafen and aufwachen, this is a separable verb, which means you say: “Ich stehe auf” (I’m getting up) rather than “Ich aufstehe” when using it in the present tense. 

However, the two parts of the verb come back together when you use it in the past tense. 

An an example, you might tell a friend: “Ich bin um 8 Uhr heute wegen meinem Wecker aufgewacht, und um 8:30 bin ich aufgestanden.” (I woke up at 8am today because of my alarm clock and got up at 8:30.)

READ ALSO: 10 German words with hilarious literal translations

Dreams and feelings 

Sometimes we may not be so keen on describing our sleep regimen, but we do want to communicate with colleagues and friends that we’re desperately in need of it.

For these situations, you may find the following adjectives useful:

Müde: Tired
Erschöpft: Exhausted
Kaputt: Broken / Exhausted (colloquial)

And what if you want to talk about your dreams? Well, luckily, the word for this isn’t too different from the English: der Traum (the dream) or die Träume (the dreams). 

A woman sleeping in bed.

A woman sleeping in bed. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Bernd Diekjobst

The verb form of this is träumen, which can be helpful if you want to describe your dreams or say that you don’t often have them. For example, you could say:

Ich habe gestern von dir geträumt. (I had a dream about you yesterday)


Ich schlafe sehr tief and träume sehr selten. (I sleep very deeply and dream very rarely)

READ ALSO: The 10 false friends English and German speakers keep muddling up

As we know, not all dreams are particularly pleasant, so the word Albtraum (m.) – meaning nightmare – may come in handy. This apparently dates back to Germanic mythology, in which mythical other-wordly beings called Alben were believed to be responsible for dreams.

As in English, you can also use this word metaphorically to describe a particular unpleasant experience or situation.

For example:“Ich hoffe, ich verpasse mein Flug nicht. Das wäre ein echter Albtraum!” (I hope I don’t miss my flight. That would be a total nightmare!)

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The life, death and resurrection of Ethan Hawke’s Hollywood career: ‘I was only 30, and I was washed up’ | Culture

Ethan Hawke is proud of his crooked teeth. When a former agent asked him to fix them, he got angry. “I watched the Oscars on TV a few years ago, and they all looked like they were pod people. They looked so fake. And then crazy Sean Penn got on stage, and I thought to myself, ‘There’s a human being.’” He decided that day that he wouldn’t get his teeth fixed. “I just hate how homogenized people want us all to be. Nobody ever talks about Eleanor Roosevelt’s crooked teeth, because she was a woman of substance. And we don’t talk about how Mother Teresa would have been better if she could have lost 15 pounds, because she was a woman of God.”

In Cannes, among models and Instagram stars with many followers and little filmography, as well as unrealistically white teeth, Hawke looked like a normal person. Or as normal as one can be as a generational icon with four Oscar nominations and a four-decade-long career; an attractive man who formed one of the most beautiful couples of the 1990s with Uma Thurman; a writer, screenwriter, director and musician; Tennessee Williams’ second cousin twice removed; and, above all, a symbol. If Hannah from Girls aspired to be the voice of a generation, Ethan Hawke is, to his regret, the face of generation X, which has been reviled by those who belong to it, depicted by Douglas Coupland and deified by fashion magazines.

Now, at 52, Hawke co-stars in Strange Way of Life, director Pedro Almodóvar’s Western film that just premiered at Cannes. The actor is well-acquainted with the genre (he participated in director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven) and complex relationships. His latest critical success came with the documentary The Last Movie Stars in which he honors icons like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and exorcises his own demons.

Unlike Pedro Pascal, his co-star in Strange Way of Life — whom the world discovered in his 40s — Hawke grew up in front of the camera. He is the son of teenage parents. When he was born, his father was 18 and his mother was 17; he was named Ethan because his mother thought the name would look good on the cover of a book.

Ethan Hawke in 1991.
Ethan Hawke in 1991.Pool BENAINOUS/REGLAIN (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Hawke’s parents separated when he was four years old and he went to live with his mother, who raised him between temporary jobs and lots of social activity: she was a teacher, joined the Peace Corps and founded a charity that helps provide education to Romanian children. Hawke was, and remains, involved in that work and committed to the rights of minorities.

He considers his parents’ separation to be his first acting lesson. To please his father, a deeply religious conservative, he would talk about soccer and religion, even faking a Southern accent. “I wanted him to like me. I was aware that I was performing for him. I hated myself for it,” he told The New Yorker. He played up his intellectual side with his mother, with whom life was unconventional. When he was four and could not yet read, she took him to see Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage in the original version with subtitles. For his fifth birthday, she chose to take him to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When they left the theater, they read Pauline Kael’s vitriolic reviews in The New Yorker together. The contrast between the worlds of his mother and father made Hawke an expert at fitting in everywhere, a contemporary Zelig.

When Hawke was 12, his mother enrolled him in an acting course. Six months later he was starring in Explorers alongside River Phoenix. They became inseparable during filming. “We were sure we were going to be movie stars.” On the day of the premiere, they hid in the lavatory of the Ziegfeld Theater to listen to the reviews; they were not flattering. “America has cast its vote, and Ethan Hawke is not a star,” he heard one executive say.

Hawke’s first film experience did not make him an instant star, but it indirectly taught him a lesson that he surely would have preferred not to receive. He confessed to The Guardian that his aversion to making big Hollywood movies stemmed from Phoenix’s death. “My first screen partner overdosed on Sunset Boulevard, you know? He was the brightest light and this industry chewed him up, and that was a big lesson to me.”

The cast of 'Dead Poets Society.'
The cast of ‘Dead Poets Society.’Francois Duhamel (Sygma via Getty Images)

His next audition was for Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. After racking up rejections, including the Stand By Me character that Phoenix ended up playing, he decided that if he didn’t get the part, he would join the U.S. Merchant Marine. It didn’t come to that: Weir cast him as Todd Anderson, the shy teenager who, in the final scene, climbs onto his desk and shouts Walt Whitman’s epic “Oh, Captain, my Captain!” The film’s success and influence exceeded all expectations. As he has recounted several times, hardly a day goes by without someone shouting “Carpe diem!” at him.

Such a critical and commercial success — at nearly $250 million at the box office, it is still the highest grossing film of his career — should have made its leading actors instant stars. But it didn’t, and Hawke’s career has been the best of the bunch. As he was trying to find his niche in the industry, he received a phone call from Winona Ryder, who was in Portugal filming House of the Spirits; she wanted him to work with her on Reality Bites (1993). Hawke didn’t understand how someone who had just filmed with Martin Scorsese could get involved in a film by an unknown writer and director.

Reality Bites is a difficult phenomenon to explain. When it was released, critics tore it to shreds and the few viewers who saw it hated it, but now millennial audiences are vindicating the film. Hawke’s character — the insufferable, affected Troy — made him a household name. People took it for granted that if they dressed alike and styled their hair the same way — that carefully ragged look and falsely greasy, disheveled hair that came from many hours spent in front of the mirror — they had to be the same, but that wasn’t a positive thing. Troy was an idiot and, with his affected philosophical chatter, his band, and his refusal to enter the fold while his parents paid his bills, he held a mirror up to the faces of countless humanities students in the mid-1990s.

Reality Bites was a parody within a parody, a product that vampirized grunge nihilism in order to sell cars under the stultifying slogan “young but over-prepared.” In the film, Rider’s character Lelaina chose Hawke, but during shooting, he and Winona, who now appears in Stranger Things with Hawke and his daughter Maya, did not hit it off. “I know a lot of young actors who live in these dumps,” the actress told Rolling Stone. “They have their books scattered and their mattress is on the floor — and they’re millionaires. That’s fine. That’s their way of living. But the reason they’re doing it is that they’re ashamed. And I’ve talked to them about it. You just want to say, ‘Don’t live this way to show people that you’re real and that you’re deep.’ It offends me because I know what it’s like to be in poverty, and it’s not fun, and it’s not romantic, and it’s not cool.”

Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke in 1998.
Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke in 1998.Gene Shaw (Getty Images)

Hawke recognizes himself in that description. He wasn’t a millionaire, but he could certainly afford a better life than the one he was living. But it was important to him to live in a ramshackle apartment. “The same one Henry Miller would have lived in,” he declared. He didn’t want to be Tom Cruise; he wanted to be John Cassavetes.

He was clear about what he wanted to do. He embarked on complicated projects like Michael Almereyda’s urban Hamlet, set up his own theater group adapting the classics, and published his first novel, The Hottest State. “Well, you’re no Chekhov,” his mother said after reading the first draft. It wasn’t Hawke’s worst review. “I remember my favorite review said, ‘Ethan Hawke achieves the impossible. He sucks his own cock.” Chelsea Walls, his directorial debut, didn’t fare much better. “The cinematic equivalent of going to a bar frequented by pretentious, talentless artists who enjoy bemoaning their cruel fate,” said one critic.

As was the case for Reality Bites, time has vindicated the beautiful and stylish Gattaca. The film was a flop at the time, but he met Thurman through it. They were together for seven years and had two children. Of his relationship with Thurman, Hawke told ICON in 2016, “I was looking for a home, security, a foundation, a family through marriage. I was looking for the opposite of what my life was, always exposed to flashbulbs, but I fell in love with someone who only added more flashbulbs to my intimacy. Our marriage became the antithesis of what I wanted, and we found it very difficult to find grounding, a connection cable. I know there are people who can handle it; I have friends who do. For me it was impossible.”

To get through his divorce, Hawke worked twice as hard. He believed that if he gave the media a lot to talk about in his professional life, they wouldn’t talk about his personal life. In 2008, he married Ryan Shawhughes, who had worked briefly as a nanny for his children; Hawke and Shawhughes now have two daughters together.

Ethan Hawke and Pedro Almodóvar.
Ethan Hawke and Pedro Almodóvar.Alicia García (EFE)

His career has gone through several rough patches. Hawke had to audition twice before he got his role in Training Day. “That was when I knew the ‘90s were over. I was in a unique position, which is that I was only 30 years old, and I was washed up. All my friends were going to audition for Saving Private Ryan. And I couldn’t even get an audition for it, because they knew me and didn’t want me.” Fuqua’s film brought him his first Oscar nomination. Today he has four of them, two for best supporting actor and two for screenwriter.

He is not afraid to take risks that go beyond traditional film roles. He participated in long-term projects like the Before Sunrise trilogy (1995-2013), which tells the story of a couple, and in Boyhood (2014), a beautiful experiment about twelve years in a child’s life. In both projects, he worked alongside Richard Linklater.

His staunch commitment to artistic purity has caused more than one controversy. At a tribute at the Locarno Film Festival, he commented negatively about Marvel, echoing Martin Scorsese’s sentiment. “Now we have the problem that they tell us ‘Logan’ is a great movie. Well, it’s a great superhero movie. It still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It’s not Bresson. It’s not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is,” Hawke said. Years later, he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring opposite Oscar Isaac in Moon Knight. His daughter Maya was behind that drastic change; she recommended that he make a film that would appeal to the general public.

In recent years, he has been linked to horror films, such as Sinister (2012), Black Phone (2022) and The Purge franchise (2013-2021). Now, Hawke looks around him and sees that the industry has changed. “The most obvious example is that when I was younger, the absolute hallmark of mediocrity was having a fashion contract, having to sell jeans or colognes. Today everything is a commodity to buy.” Perhaps the fact that Saint Laurent produced Strange Way of Life represents another of those changes, but at least he retains his beautiful imperfect smile.

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