What’s a Beethovenmobile? When a “van” Isn’t a Station Wagon


Language is a funny thing. Translations can be particularly amusing.

Since I am a collector of classical recordings, I received an e-mail from a Japanese website offering a large set of discs conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. Furtwängler conducted lots of Beethoven, so I wasn’t surprised to find numerous performances of his music in the table of contents. But, I didn’t immediately understand why Beethoven’s name was listed as “Ludwig Station Wagon Beethoven.”

After a few seconds, the answer came to me. The Japanese translator must have taken the actual name “Ludwig van Beethoven” as it is written in Japanese and, using one of the translating devices available on the web, attempted to convert it into English. Thus, the “van” (as in a type of motor vehicle) became “station wagon.”

Is it any wonder that we humans have misunderstandings? One thing is for sure: I’ll never be able to look at a mini-van in quite the same way again.

The painting above by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858) is of Beethoven ca. 1820. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “What’s a Beethovenmobile? When a “van” Isn’t a Station Wagon

  1. So true:) That’s why I believe that language as a communication tool is very limited. It does not allow us to articulate our inner states even partially accurately. Sounds and symbols say so much more than words! They speak directly to our instincts and our body wisdom. A painting or a music can make the message so concise and precise that we get it in seconds, whereas it would take a long speech or an essay to convey the same message with a little chance that it’ll be understood just as well. In the first case, the message comes from the heart and speaks to the heart. In the second case, the message has to bypass two intellects, the sender’s and the receiver’s, and, o boy! Human intellect is so good at twisting the real message…as a result, people often have a “deaf phone”communication:)

    This does not exactly coincide with the point of the article, but is still related.


    • Very well put, Marina. You have also touched on a famous quote of Beethoven: “Von Herzen, möge es wieder zu Herzen gehen.” (From the heart, may it go back to the heart). He wrote this as an inscription to his “Missa Solemnis,” the manuscript he is holding in the painting I just put up on the same blog.


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