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LEARNING GERMAN

German phrase of the day: Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen

Many parts of Germany have been blessed with seemingly unending clear skies over the last few weeks. This useful German phrase wards you off getting too comfortable with this kind of weather.

German phrase of the day: Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen
A plane flew over a perfectly blue sky in Cologne on Monday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Das Blaue vom Himmel versprechen means ‘to promise the blue of the sky’, or in other words to sell an unreachable dream. We have a number of variations on this sentiment in English, if you are setting unrealistic expectations you may be said to be promising heaven and earth, or even the moon and the stars.

Though the idioms in English are generally celestial, the sky is clearly the limit in Germany. Ever the realists, the Germans believe it is even too far-fetched to try to guarantee good weather. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Kaiserwetter

The idiom comes from the idea that it is never a good choice to try and assure someone of factors that are out of your control. As much as you may be confident that the skies will remain cloudless for the foreseeable future, sometimes even top weather forecasters can’t predict a storm. 

A company may be said to be promising blue skies if they make fanciful claims about a product or service, usually without a lot of evidence. If a company suggests they can change your life, in return for vast amounts of money of course, you will probably be left disappointed. 

This idiom can also be applied to an individual who rarely delivers on their promises. It can become quite tiresome to be let down over and over again by a friend who talks a good game, but rarely follows through. Whether you constantly arrive late, forget key events, or can’t be trusted with important tasks, despite your best assurances, you may leave your German friends disappointed. 

Examples: 

Geschäftsleute versprechen das Blaue vom Himmel wenn sie ihre Produkte anpreisen.

Business people will promise the moon and the stars when advertising their products. 

Politiker versprechen einem das Blaue vom Himmel, auch eine Politik, die in die sichere Katastrophe führt.

Politicians will promise almost anything, even policies that are bound to end in disaster.

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GERMAN WORD OF THE DAY

German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

Whether it’s a pile of clothes on the floor or even the downfall of a political system, this is a German word for all things messy and chaotic.

German word of the day: Kladderadatsch

The German language is full of wonderful words that don’t have a true English translation: a personal favourite is Verschlimmbessern, which means to try and improve a situation only to end up making it worse. Der Kladderadatsch is another word which defies simple translation, meaning something like “unholy mess” or “clutter”, but also “chaos”,  “collapse”, or “crash”.

The reason for this slightly strange combination of meanings is that Kladderadatsch is onomatopoeic: it describes the sound that disorganised things make. When the word is used to describe a crash, an English onomatopoeic equivalent would probably be “kerblam!” or something similar. When you’re explaining that your bedroom is a mess, however, you’re most likely instead hoping to convey the idea of clutter – not that your laundry is making a “kerblam” noise! 

In a political sense, Kladderadatsch can also mean a particularly messy scandal.

Although Kladderadatsch can most likely trace its origin back to early 19th century Berlin, the word only became particularly popular following the first publication of a satirical magazine called Kladderadatsch in 1848. This magazine, published weekly from 1848 until 1944, was born out of the radical student protests of the time, which many believed were the signs of the old political system collapsing. 

According to legend, the founders of the magazine – Albert Hofmann and David Kalisch – came up with the name after watching a dog jump up onto a tavern table, knocking over bottles and glasses alike. Watching the chaos before them, they recognised the parallels with their political times, and so Kladderadatsch was christened.

EXAMPLES:

Ich habe den ganzen Kladderadatsch in den Müll geschmissen.

I threw the whole mess into the rubbish

In unserer Stadt gab es deswegen einen großen Kladderadatsch

There was a big scandal in our town because of it

Seine Geschäfte endeten mit einem großen Kladderadatsch

His businesses ended in a big ‘crash!’

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