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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Whether they relate to a love of beer or bureaucracy, these uniquely German words give an insight into the idiosyncrasies of life in Germany. Here are a few of our favourites.

Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany
One of Germany's most famous staircases, at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

Das Sitzfleisch – You may be familiar with this term if you have ever had to apply for Anmeldung (city registration) in Germany. Sitzfleisch, literally meaning ‘sit meat’ is the ability to sit still, particularly through long and tedious events. 

Although we all know the stereotype that Germans love efficiency, the country’s love affair with bureaucracy suggests the opposite might be true, and it means Germans and expats alike often have to be quite patient when sorting out anything to do with rent, tax or education. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about dealing with German bureaucracy online

Der Aufschnitt – At first, you might be wondering what is so special about this German word, which we would translate to ‘cold cuts’ in English. In Germany, however, this is not just a snack but a whole cuisine.

Some of the staples of traditional German cuisine are meat, cheese, and most importantly bread. To have a meal of Aufschnitt means to sit down to an array of these things, and is a particularly popular meal for most Germans to prepare when no-one feels like cooking. 

Eine Extrawurst bekommen – In a land famous for its sausages, you should not be surprised that Würste appear in so many common German sayings. One of the most common of these is eine Extrawurst, which means special treatment. If a person immer eine Extrawurst bekommt (always gets an extra sausage), it means they are being given an unfair advantage. 

There is often an expectation of fairness and equity in many parts of German life, and Germans will not hesitate in pointing out when something is amiss. The idea of a teacher’s pet is much less likely to go unchallenged here than in other cultures. 

Das Weichei – This term may confuse you at first, and you might expect to see it on a breakfast menu rather than hurled as an insult. The term Weichei literally means ‘soft egg’ but it is used to refer to someone who is a bit of a wimp, or a sheep. 

Germans can often be quite forthcoming with their opinions, and look down on those who merely follow the crowd, or who are easily influenced. 

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: The 12 most colourful German insults

Das Luftschloss – Germans are often fairly realistic when it comes to their hopes and expectations, but there are of course still some dreamers about. These people would be guilty of having Luftschlösser, or pipe dreams. The word translates to ‘air castle’ in English, referring to unreachable fantasies. 

Die Schnapsidee – In English, we’ve borrowed the word Schnapps, which we tend to use to mean a fruity alcoholic beverage, from the German Schnaps, which refers to any kind of alcoholic spirit. A Schnapsidee is an outlandish or crazy concept, perhaps one that you would have to be drunk to come up with.

It is fairly well known that Germans like to drink, though beer is usually their beverage of choice. It is therefore apt that the word for a foolish idea has something to do with drunkenness. This term is fairly common, and is also used in cases when there is no alcohol in sight. 

Der Treppenwitz – Germans aren’t famed for their humour, and this concept suggests their comedic timing could be the problem. A Treppenwitz (staircase joke) is a quip that you think of after the opportunity to tell it has passed.

 If you have ever been left speechless by a conversation, only to think of the perfect witty response on your way out of the situation, this would be your Treppenwitz.

READ ALSO: A laughing matter: Looking beyond the stereotype of the serious German

Das ist nicht mein Bier – Beer is part of the fabric of life in Germany, so it is not surprising to find it in this common idiom. In English, we might say something is ‘not our bag’ if it is not quite our cup of tea. In German, however, if a food, activity or style is not for you, you would say it is not your beer.

The phrase in itself is not overly negative, and more an insight into a culture that is fairly accepting of individual opinions and preferences, even those having to do with more important matters than beer. 

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LEARNING GERMAN

Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

The German word 'Wanderlust' means "the desire to travel" and is used even in other languages. Here are some of the other words commonly used in Germany to describe the nation's love affair with travelling.

Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Germans are very connected to nature and a lot of the activities they routinely do, even in winter, involve staying outdoors. So it’s no wonder the language also reflects that passion for walking, travelling, and spending time in nature.

Some of the German words that are most famous to speakers of other languages reference this passion. Perhaps most notably, the term “Wanderlust” which has made its way to other dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, with the definition “a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering”.

The word is composed of “wandern“, which means to hike or roam about and “lust“, meaning “pleasure or delight”.

READ ALSO: Holiday like a local: Five of the best camping regions in Germany

This is not the only unique expression the German language has related to travelling. Another of the hard to translate ones is “Fernweh“. It comes from “fern“, meaning “far”, and “Weh“, meaning “pain”. It is used to describe the longing for far-off places – in contrast to “Heimweh”, a feeling many immigrants might be very attuned to and could be translated to homesickness.

The German language also has several interesting and even funny expressions for walkers and travellers alike. The Local talked with German teacher and travel enthusiast Lutz Michaelis to collect a few of the best expressions.

“So weit dich deine/mich meine Füße tragen”

It literally means “as far as my feet will take me” (or alternatively, “as far as your feet will take you”). It is often said as an answer to the question, “where are you going?”.

READ ALSO: Waldeinsamkeit: Five of the best forest walks around Berlin

“Die Sieben-Meilen-Stiefel anhaben”

“To wear the seven-league boots”. This means being able to walk long distances fast. Lutz explains that it was actually based on a trope in French mythology, in which magical boots could help the wearer cover long distances in a short amount of time. Having been used in The Little Thumb by Charles Perrault, the term was brought into the German language by writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

“Wer rastet, der rostet”

The translation would be “he who rests, rusts”. It is used in the German language to say that being in motion is a good thing, not only with travelling but also to incentivise people to keep learning new things.

“Das Reisen kost’t Geld, Doch sieht man die Welt.”

It’s a very common rhyme used to show the downsides and benefits of travelling: “travelling costs money, but one sees the world”.

“Reisende soll man nicht aufhalten.”

It literally means that “travellers shouldn’t be stopped”. However, Lutz explains that the expression is not only used to refer to travellers but also to anyone that might be going through a transitional situation – such as someone wanting to change their jobs, for example.

Rhododendren park Bremen

Rhododendrons bloom in the Rhododendron Park in Bremen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

“der Weg ist das Ziel.”

One of the most beautiful ones, and many languages have their own version of it. It translates to “the road is the destination”.

Of course, coming back home, especially for those suffering from Heimweh, can also be something beautiful. One common saying is “Wiedersehen macht Freude“, which means that to meet again brings happiness, used among those looking forward to seeing someone again after a long trip.

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

And one more…

In Germany, there is a common joke about finding German people abroad. The rhyme goes “Hüte dich vor Sturm und Wind, und Deutschen, die im Ausland sind“, which could be translated as “Be on your guard for storm and wind, and Germans in a foreign land”.

“It refers both to the bad behaviour of Germans on holidays or travels and a dark joke and a funny nod to the fact that German troops have invaded other countries”, Lutz, who is a German himself, explains.

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