Tag Archive for: learning German

Berlinerisch, a small dictionary of the Berliner language

If it is true that in order to understand the culture of a place you have to know the language, it is essential to understand the dialect spoken in our beloved city: the Berlinerisch.


This folkloristic dialect, known for its sarcastic and often rude tones, is loved by many in Germany. Adored by the Berliners, it is a blend of old spoken dialects in urban centers, which in the past formed the city of Berlin. It also comes from the Berliner Schnauze, the typical berlin doc character.


The Berliner language

Some polls reveal that the Berliner language is very much in vogue among the new generations and is even turning out to be one of the most talked about in the city. So if you want to keep up with the times and understand what your interlocutor is talking about, here are some examples of Berlinerisch:

ich: ick / ikke (me)

aber: aba (or)

auch: ooch (also)

auf: uff (above)

etwas / was: wat (something)

ein: een (indefinite article, masculine, singular)

gehen: jehen (go)

gucken: kiek’n (watch)

klein: kleen (small)

laufen: loofen (walking)

nein: woman / nee (no)

nichts: nüscht / nichs / nix (nothing)

Schnauze: Schnute (1. mouth, 2. face / animal face)

das: dit / det (1. determinate article, neutral, singular 2. this)


The most common linguistic tendencies are to transform the “s” into “t” (was> wat, das> det, alles> allet) and the “g” in “j” (gut> jut, gehen> jehen, genau> jenau)

As for the ways of saying:

Allet comes! (Alles gut!) = Everything is alright

Moin! (Guten Morgen!) = Good morning

Du Alta! (Du Alter) = Hey you!

Eyh, jeh ma nich uff’n Keks! (Lass mich in Ruhe!) = Don’t annoy me, leave me alone! (literally “do not stay on biscuits”)

Is aba warm heute, huh? (… nicht wahr?)=  It’s hot today, right? (At the end of the sentence, it means “true”)


One of the main features of this slang is the linguistic register, such as eating letters in the middle of words or dropping the final part

ist> is (is),

komm mal> komm ma (come)!


Some of Berlin’s typical particularities are the acronyms:

j.w.d. > janz weit draussen = a far away place. Could be translated “in the midst of nothing / the wolves”

Kotti, Alex, Rosi, Schlesi =  Kottbusser Tor, Alexander Platz, Rosenthaler Platz, Schlesisches Tor.

Vokuhila > vorne-kurz-hinten-lang = short in the front and long in the back. One of the most popular hair cuts in Germany between 1982 and 1987, also in the most punk “Volahiku” version (long in the front and short in the back).


Cover photo: © Daniela Spoto

Are you living in Berlin and wish to perfect your knowledge of German? Take a look at the courses that Berlino Schule organizes!

“The dative is the death of the genitive”, the book where Germans make fun of their own language

Is it possible to combine studying and careful attention to the proper use of the language whilst having fun?

But above all: is it possible to do so with the German language, generally considered one of the most difficult to learn due to its lexicon and rigid grammar that recalls the  Latin one? The innovative German grammar booklet “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv Sein Tod” (translated “The Dative is the death of the Genitive”), made up of 6 volumes published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch between 2004 to 2014, seems to have been able to do that perfectly, given that for the first time ever a language manual has managed to become an international bestseller with over 3 million copies sold.

Sebastian Sick, The dative is the death of the genitive

The author of this achievement is Bastian Sick, curator of the linguistic column Zwiebelfisch on Spiegel Online: the German term Zwiebelfish indicates those letter of a text that by mistake are reported in a different character compared to the others; Sick chose the term Zwiebelfisch as a title for his column as a metaphor of the German phenomenon of using words and expressions that would formally be incorrect. Journalist, entertainer, but especially a humanist specialized in history and romance philosophy, Sick began his career as a translator and interpreter: his passion for German language and grammar has allowed him to achieve a fine awareness of the language that is hard to find amongst professionals of the academic world and schooling staff. The title of Sick’s work “The dative is the death of the genitive” alludes to the grammatically incorrect replacing of the genitive with the dative in a lot of current German expressions. The same expression “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod” is grammatically incorrect, yet spread widely following the publication of the work. The 6 volume collection is a compilation of the articles published in Sick’s coloumn Zwiebelfisch.


The method

The case studies selected by Sebastian Sick aren’t tailored expressions, literary texts or lists of rules to learn by heart, but sentences that derive directly from conversations amongst native speakers, road signs, advertisements or newspapers. Sick deals with great humor certain grammatical, spelling and pronunciation cases that are common in modern day spoken and written German. Everyday life becomes the occasion through which even those whose first language is German have a chance to reflect and talk about  it with friends and acquaintances without having to resort to dusty toms stored in the library. At the same time Sick’s approach is also good for those who are new to the German language, but wish to know the nuances they often miss during frontal lessons. Sick’s work is one that aims to convey not only the rules for a good use of the language, but also the pragmatic, whose traditional study is often difficult to understand even within an academic environment. At a time where we are all coming to the terms with having the best results in the shortest amount of time, mistakes are demonized to the point of making us forget the universal truth that lies within the saying “one learns through mistakes”. Highlighting mistakes and analyzing them with the right lightness and irony, without falling into strict academic rigorousness, silencing the shame and fear of making another mistake, allowing you to better accommodate the corrections and learn the language effectively.

The opinion of the readers

Precisely due to its innovative features, “Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod” hasn’t been welcomed warmly by everyone. Some appreciated Sick’s style and humor to the point of having integrated his manuals within the bibliography to prepare for German exams, others have instead condemned him for his method of analysis. Others have even spoken against it becoming an school text, as deemed not to be fit for students. As for any language manual there will never be a universally positive judgment, however one must recognize certain unique aspects of Sick’s work. In the first place he has a real talent in getting the reader’s attention on the topic, considering that it is not of the most approachable. In the second place is his focus on the modern day use of the language, which is ever more important to foreigners arriving to Germany right now. There will always be the fans of the “purist” language, that spend their time correcting the common use of new grammatically incorrect expressions, however given that every spoken language has a life of its own maybe it is time one accepts Sick’s lightness and irony: debating about mistakes, neologisms, of the most uncommon expressions can contribute in helping speakers to become more aware and conscious of the language’s mobility and variations.

In the meantime, if you wish to test your knowledge of the language, you can try to answer the following quiz available on Sebastian Sick’s private page!

Are you new to the language or have studied a bit of it and wish to perfect it? Take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes in Berlin!

10 useful German expressions for everyday life

German can seem tough at first listening (sometimes at the second too…), but with study, practice and commitment you can get great results and become fluent speakers. At this point, there is still one step to go through that will make the difference: learning common expressions of the spoken language, those that almost never appear in grammar books, but that are very useful when interacting with native speakers. As follows is a list of German expressions to learn by heart selected by Matador Network.

1. Das ist bescheuert – It’s ridiculous!

The literal translation of bescheuert is “insane” or “crazy”, but in everyday language this term is used negatively, to indicate something that you don’t like. For example: if you organized a barbeque in the park and it starts to rain, “das ist bescheuert” is the correct exclamation.

2. Na? – So…?

Amongst people you know very well you could use it to substitute the classic “how are you?”. A second use of the expression is to ask (indirectly) how something went, for example the result of an exam: “so? (how did the exam go?)”. “Na” must not be confused with “na und?” which could be translated into “so what?”, which has a more provocative and intolerant tone.

3. Das is mir Wurst – Doesn’t interest me / What do I care

Literally it means “for me it’s sausage”, but the meaning is “it doesn’t interest me”, “what do I care”, “it’s the same for me” up to the stronger “I could not care less”

4. Ich besorge das Bier – I’ll get the beer

Besorgen means “to take care of” or “to get something”, more informally, and this is what it is meant in this expression. “Ich besorge das Bier” is definitely very useful in a nation where Beer is the most popular drink (as we talked about in this article).

5. Kein Schwein war da – Nobody was there

Schwein means “pig”, but this noun is used in different German expression and assumes a completely different meaning: in some cases it is employed derogatorily whereas other times it is used in a colorful and emphatic way. Some examples:

Kein Schwein hat mir geholfen: “nobody helped me”

Armes Schwein: “poor thing!” (in a compassionate way)

Schwein haben: “to be lucky”

The term appears also in some neologisms:

Eine Schweinearbeit: “a hard work”

Das kostet ein Schweinegeld: “that is excessively expensive”

ATTENTION: if you scream “Schwein!” at someone, you are still calling them a “pig”.

6. Der spinnt – He’s crazy

In German the verb spinnen means “to spin”, but in the course of evolution of the language this verb has also become a synonym of “being crazy”. It is thought that this meaning to spinnen might derive from the fact that years ago spinning yarn was a hobby conceded to patients of mental health institutes.

7. Langsam langsam – Little by little

The translation of langsam is “slowly”, and when it is employed as langsam langsam it conveys the proceeding little by little, one step at a time.

8. Das kannst du deiner Oma erzählen – Tell your grandmother

Literally. And you can use it to reply to your friend when they’ll promise you that this weekend they won’t touch a drink!

9. Null acht fünfzehn (0-8-15) – In the average

0-8-15 was the standard rifle used during the First World War. This concept has remained in the spoken language as a synonym of mediocrity, used in the valuation of something that remains below average. For instance, “wie war der Film?” “ach, null acht fünfzehn”

10. Ich habe die Nase voll davon – I’m sick of it

The literal translation is “my nose is full”, to indicate when you are fully fed up of it (like Anastasia sang). For example: “ich habe die Nase voll von seinen Lügen” (I am sick of his lies)
Are you new to German and you’re starting to get intrigued? Or have you already studied a bit and you wish to perfect your knowledge? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes in the heart of Berlin!

10 really long German words that are impossible to pronounce without making mistakes

German is (in)famous for its long words.

Speaking properly in German gives a lot of satisfaction, but it is undoubtedly a hard language to learn for foreigners. This time we propose a list of ten of the hardest German words to pronounce without making mistakes. There aren’t many phonetic rules in German, but the fact that:

  1. the words can be very, very long (adjectives, nouns and conjugations at times are put together in the same word)
  2. there are several consonants at times following one another without even integrating vocals on which one can ‘rest’ upon

making the pronunciation of certain words almost impossible.

The following list of 10 words includes everyday expressions and also old-fashioned terms, which are however present in dictionaries. The meaning of some of these contributes to the understanding of the attention that Germans pose on the accuracy of the meaning of the words.

Anyways, the game is another: are you capable of pronouncing out loud all ten words without making mistakes?

10. Freundschaftsbeziehungen

Friendly relations

9. Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung

Motor vehicle liability insurance

8. Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister

Regional chief of the chimney sweepers

7. Betäubungsmittelverschreibungsverordnung

Regulation for the prescription of an anesthetic

6. Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften

Insurance companies that offer legal protection

5. Streichholzschächtelchen

Small box of matches

4. Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftkapitän

Chief of the vapour expedition company on the Danube

3. Wachstumsbeschleunigungsgesetz

Growth acceleration action

2. Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

Beef labeling monitoring delegation Act

1. Sonntagnachmittagsfernsehlutschbonbon

Lollipop for a sunday afternoon spent in front of the TV


Cover photo: geralt / 14498 immagini, © CC0.


Wish to perfect you German in a vibrant environment? Or is German starting to intrigue you? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes in the heart of Berlin!

5 ways of saying that demonstrate the importance of Beer in Germany

In German there are several expressions that confirm the importance of Beer in the country’s culture. One of the best known expressions goes “if you don’t find an attractive woman it means you haven’t drank enough”. We gathered five other funny expressions which confirm the passion of Germany and its citizens for their brews.

1.Man soll das Bier nicht vor dem Kater loben

Literally, “do not praise the beer until you have tried tipsy drill”, and, to think about it, is a very wise statement applicable also to other alcoholic beverages.

2. Durst wird durch Bier erst schön

“Thirst is nice only if accompanied by a beer”: thirst seems to be what the Germans fear most, but at the same time are well aware of having at their disposal all the weapons necessary to defeat it.

3. Bei kaltem Wetter läuft die Nase, bei kaltem Bier läuft die Blase

“When the cold comes, your nose runs, when the beer is cold, the bladder.” Nothing to add.

4. Am Morgen ein Bier und der Tag gehört dir

Probably the most cheerful among these exclamations, partly because of the kissing rhyme that bring joy. It means: “Drink a beer in the morning and the day is yours.” [ It is not so advisable to do so during the working week.]

5. Ein Bock ist jenes Tier, der auch als Bier getrunken werden kann

This aphorism dates back to the nineteenth century and refers to a particular type of beer called Bock (translated “goat”) with an alcoholic rate of 6.5%. Translated, it means “the goat is that animal that can also be drunk as beer”.

These German ways of saying are added to others that do not spin exactly around the motif of beer, but they focus on drinking alcohol in general.

1. Wenn ich Durst habe, sieht es keiner. Wenn ich besoffen bin, sehen es alle

This pearl of wisdom refers again to thirst: “If I’m thirsty, no one will notice. If I’m drunk, everybody will know”

2. Der Wirt ist nicht der Beste, der mehr trinkt als die Gäste

Everyone likes to talk with the bartender, but nobody likes to pick it up from the ground, lost drunk. In Germany there is also a saying about this situation: “A barman is certainly not the best, if he drinks more than his guests”. What to say, there is really a saying to address any situation!  

3. Halb besoffen, ist rausgeschmissenes Geld

If there are sayings that call for prudence in drinking alcohol, this one reverse them all: “getting half drunk is a waste of money”

4. Durst ist schlimmer als Heimweh

To reconfirm the fact that the Germans know that there is nothing that can not be solved with a good drink, this saying goes “it’s worse to be thirsty than feeling nostalgic” and probably does not refer to apple juice.

5. Hast du Kater, nimmst den Rat, trinke früh, was du trankst spät

In mezzo a cosi tanti detti non poteva mancare un consiglio su come affrontare al meglio una sbronza: “Se hai una sbronza, accetta il consiglio di bere prima quello che hai bevuto per ultimo”.

In the midst of so many sayings there could not be missing an advice on how to deal best when drunk: “If you are drunk, accept the advice of drinking first what you drank for last”


Cover photo:CC0

Are you getting intrigued by the German language or wish to refine your vocabulary? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes! 

8 German compound words that have a surprising meaning whether you speak German or not

Compound words? They are a classic of the German language. These however have a very unpredictable meaning

When learning German, one of the most common obstacles encountered by students lies in the difficulty of memorizing a very large lexicon of which one often struggles to remember the meaning, especially due to the difficulty in recognizing the root of the word. One advantage of German is, however, the tendency to make extensive use of compound nouns and verbs. Learning the meaning of suffixes and prefixes is therefore very useful to construct the meaning of a compound verb of which we know the primary meaning. During this meticulous process of destruction and composition of the language (evidenced by the German correspondent Wortzusammensetzung), which is becoming more and more pleasing to those who wish to know German and master it better, it is also possible that German will make us smile, giving us words that have an unusual meaning longing to a remote past.

Here are just a few German words that have an unexpected meaning.


When you first arrive in Germany and hear speaking of “toilette glasses” it might be quite disorientating. After asking to repeat the question we discover that, yet, klobrille is actually a word, and it is simply the toilet seat!


This word is composed by two terms, wart and breast, that blended together might create a not so pleasant image. In reality it does not refer to strange anatomical blemishes, but to a part of the body that Germans, perhaps for the analogy of the form, call warts: nipples! When you will find yourself talking about nipples in German, be sure that this part of the body will have lost all of its charm.

There is no need to change zone then to find out that the most intriguing female garment, the bra, in German has a name similar to that of a posture corrector tutor, Büstenhalter, “breast-sustainer”.


If you think that this term, which literally means “donkey bridge” is a German invention to further confuse non-native speakers, you are mistaken. Nowadays the term is used in German to indicate a method, a word or phrase that allows you to remember something better. The question is: what do donkeys have to do with this?

The answer is sought in the past and in the latin location of pons asinorum, used in philosophy to indicate figures that allow less experienced subjects to understand a more complex concept, and in mathematics it is used in reference to the difficulty of understanding the fifth Euclide theorem on the isosceles triangle. It has thus an ambivalent meaning, on the one hand, of a device that facilitates understanding for the less learned, on the other, it indicates a “dormant” donkey backbone difficult to overcome.


Even if this term might seem hard to grasp, the English correspondent diarrhoea presents a morfology deriving from the Greek δια+ρρέω (dia+rrheo) “to scroll through”. If you unpack the German word, the Greek influence becomes apparent.


Thursday in German is the day of thunder. Translated in English, the German correspondent Donners-tag would be Thunder-day, an analogy that shows the link amid these two languages. After all also in Italian (Giovedì), French (Jeudi) and Spanish (Jueves), the reference to Jupiter becomes clear. The fourth day of the week is thus dedicated to more than one nation to the god of thunder!


When they talk about “mom’s cake” Germans don’t refer to a dessert to have for breakfast but to something very different. Mutterkuchen means placenta, but also this compound word doesn’t come out of nothing. The term placenta derives from Greek πλακοῦς (plakous), an adjective that indicates something with “crushed form”. The adjective then passed through latin with the meaning of flatbread. Why call flatbread this vascular organ? Because the placenta has a crushed form and through it the fetus can be fed, just like a flatbread.


To understand why in German television is referred to with a term that literally means “distant observer”, it is enough to trace the etymology of the word. The prefix comes from Greek and means “far away”, so it indicates a vision from afar, just like that of images projected from the screen of a TV. In German, the correspondent of ‘tele’ is fern.


Even for this last example, before we put our hands between the hair of despair and blaming Germans for being incomprehensible, we should think of the origin of the corresponding term in English. Flusspferd, literally “river horse”, in English means hippopotamus. This term from a somewhat funny sound comes from Greek where hippos means horse and potamos river, so the German language copied the same structure of the word, using the terms of its own idiom.  

In conclusion, to have some explanation about some creative composite words, we should ask the direct people concerned, that is, our ancestors who created them!


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10 unequivocal signs that German, for you, will always remain a mystery

Deutsche Sprache schwere Sprache, goes the saying. You might have known it prior to embarking on learning the language. But you love challenges, and you didn’t get discouraged: “How hard can it be? Six months, maximum one year of hard work and German will have no more secrets for me”. You enrolled in countless courses, you’ve climbed across levels, bought books and newspapers, listened with devotion the Deutsche Welle, harrased all sort of Tandempartners and passersby just to get a chance to practice your pronunciation.

But to your great astonishment, a few years have passed since you moved to Germany and you still struggle with a German that, although acceptable, can’t be defined as fluent and impeccable. You then start to feel a bit silly, asking yourself whether in your brain there is a specific zone whose task is to annul your efforts and delete all those notions that you constantly try to repeat by heart. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. We have identified 10 unequivocal signs that prove that German will remain to many a half mystery to many of us. In the name of reason we could say that no one has ever died out of not being a perfect mother tongue; likewise it can’t be used as an excuse: constancy, method and good teachers make more than satisfactory results even to the most refractory of minds to this impatient idiom.

Der, die or das?

It is one of the first things that you learn in school and, after all, learning the declination is not that hard. The real tough part is learning how to use the masculine, feminine and neutral: it’s true, there are some rules that allow us to understand the gender of a noun, but there are also several exceptions. Moreover, have you seen how many terms German has? Confronted with these challenges there are only 3 possible solutions: a) Renounce completely the article (several Berlin immigrants have opted for this option and have lived happily for decades), b) try to guess, c) mumble and try to trick your interlocutor. Neither option is one to be proud of…

Photo © Youtube

To decline correctly the adjective: maybe in another life?

The adjective, in German, is declined concurring to the gender, number and case. As if it wasn’t enough, there are three different forms of declinations according to the term that precedes it (determinative or indeterminative article or absence of the term). Such a combination requires for an indepth memory study. But the real challenge is when it comes to talking: you have to be able to coordinate article, adjective and noun, and prior to that, determine the gender of the noun, the operation upon which the whole mission depends on. The whole as trying to structure the whole architecture of the sentence. Headache? Kein Problem, the three suggested solutions before remain valid…

Photo © Deutschlernerblog.de

The verb at the end of the subordinates.

In German the infinite and the past participle go to the end in the main sentences, while in the subordinates there is also the verb to the indefinite form. The situation is even more appealing when, in Nebensatz, there is a modal verb and an infinite or, worse, a modal verb with the consequent, infamous rule of double infinity. Here too, with a lot of application, you can study the rule and apply it correctly when writing (quickly: let’s say in a fifteen to twenty minutes). Okay, but when are you in the middle of a speech? You let your beloved, old syntactic English structure take control and think “Who cares, I’ll sound weird but they’ll understand me the same”.

Photo © slideshare.net

The preposition lottery.

Place, time, cause, medium, purpose, adversity: German prepositions are infinite, can hold one or more cases and can express a myriad of different nuances. And, as if it weren’t enough, present countless exceptions. You know auf? Literally, it would mean “up”, when there is no contact with the underlyining surface (otherwise you would use über, clearly). An, on the other hand indicates proximity: “Sara ist an Fenster”, Sarah is at the window. Then again, to say “I’m at the postoffice”, why is it “ich bin auf der Post”? It is better not to question further.

Photo © memegen

Movies and songs in German.

At school they told you that looking at movies and series, alongside listening to songs is a great exercise. If possible, it would be even better without subtitles, this way you can train your ear. All true. However, most of the times, in class they propose you classics of German rock and pop, from Rammstein to the Ärzte (which are indeed more approachable also for students at an intermediate level), all the way to Bushido, one of Germany’s most notorious rappers. Heavy metal, punk, rap: but a good song-writer that pronounces everything clearly without screaming, without dialects and without guitars covering everything, is just not thinkable? We admit it with no problem: during these hearings we all cheated with subtitles every time we could.

rapper Bushido © YouTube

Wie bitte?

Staying on the topic of oral understanding: you exercise as much as you can with radio, CDs from your manual, TV series, newscasts. But when on the bus they ask you simply to pass through, or in a cafè they ask you if you want another lemon and ginger juice, you panic and you always find yourself asking your interlocutor: “Wie bitte?” asking to repeat the sentence not one, not twice, but as much as three times in a row. If you haven’t formed a wax cap, the only plausible explanation is that your auditory device is not calibrated to tune in the teutonic frequency.

Photo © memegen.de

Job interviews.

Blessed those times you despaired to prepare a university exam, which in retrospect weren’t that hard, and more importantly in your mother tongue. Now you find yourself facing an hypercompetitive market, you are facing an exigent recruiter and you have to invent a narration that is capable of selling of your capabilities. All of this in German. In the end you get out of the job interview completely exhausted, you aren’t sure about what you said and neither if you have good chances of being selected, but at least you can proudly say that you got out of it alive.

Photo © Karrierebibel

The bureaucracy.

Anmeldung, Krankenkasse, taxes, insurances to implode a 20mq flat: German bureaucracy is meticulous and relentless, the technical lexicon is as sympathetic as mononucleosis, the employees (not always: some, by experience, are nice and available) frustrated by years of kafkian grey. Days of farsighted preparation for the bureau meeting might not save you from the term that you had forgot or misunderstood, making the wake up alarm of 6am that you had to go through on that morning completely useless.

Photo © euklidnetwork

The slang.

The so-called Umgangssprache is the spoken language, the slang, the one you almost never learn in school and on books. When you start to familiarizing with it you feel cool and wish you could use it everywhere, calling Kumpel even the President of the Federal Republic and using Redewendungen and Sprichwörter in any context. However the slang is broad and tied to the local dialects. So there will always be an expression you never heard of before, that you will misunderstand within a conversation and cause for a moment of embarrassment. It will happen, it’s mathematic.

Photo © deutschlernenblog.de

The calling nightmare.

Simple operations as ordering a burger at home and reserving a table in a pizza restaurant may reveal to be intensively complicated if there isn’t the chance to read lips to understand what one is trying to say. So even here, even though you have meticulously prepared the phone call, the first unexpected response from the other head of the handset, pronounced at supersonic speed, will force you to propose a “Ja, natürlich” even though you have no idea what he or she it is talking about. In a matter of a second you’ll find your sandwich the much detested coriander.

Photo © YouTube
Cover photo © Study in De


Wish to perfect you German in a vibrant environment? Or is German starting to intrigue you? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes in the heart of Berlin! 

8 curiosities about German which reveal its peculiar beauty

Almost all those who approached the study of the German language questioned at a certain point whether it was the right choice.
Not because learning German is useless, quite the opposite, but because the effort that this language requires to be truly assimilated by those who study it is remarkable. The complications that arise when reaching an intermediate level might question the importance that German learning has for us. At this point only a great passion or the need for study and work reasons could help address the superhuman effort required to conduct a conversation or to comprehend a complex text in German. Still, it is undeniable that German has a certain concealed beauty, a romantic soul that makes it awesome and wonderful at the same time. We put together a list of curiosities about German that might seem incomprehensible at first, and that actually reveal its peculiar beauty.

1. The multiple meanings of bitte

Whereas in English, in particular in Britain but not only, there are countless ways to thank someone and to tell them that they are welcome (to mention a few, “Don’t mention it!”, “No worries!” or “My pleasure”), in German the choice is narrowed. By employing bitte we can in fact say all of the above! Moreover the expression ja bitte! means “tell me!”. And if we haven’t understood something we could ask for clarifications by asking wie bitte?

2. The declination of the articles

For those who have studied Latin or Greek, or speak Slavic languages like Russian, cases and declinations aren’t too much of a suffering. For those coming from languages like English and Italian, it is a different matter. In German the cases are nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. It is crucial to be able to recognize the ends of the articles in different cases because they allow you to reconstruct the sense of the sentence. It is worth taking a small effort initially so to better address subsequent language challenges.

3. The sound of German

At first German might sound a bit hostile due to the sounds that are so different from other European languages as French, Italian or English. However the sound of German varies a lot concurring to the tone in which the words are pronounced. In this video, for example, you can notice how the German can be surprisingly harmonious!

4. Also the most common verbs are difficult

Let’s take an example of a frequent verb such as “to put”. In English we wouldn’t notice the construction of the sentence, but German requires to be more precise: the verbal voice to “put something horizontal” is not the same as “putting something upright”. In this case, German has two different verbs: they are called verbs of position and the most used are stehen / stellen (stand upright / put upright), liegen / legen (lying in horizontal position / put in horizontal position) , sitzen / setzen (sitting / setting) and hängen, that means both “hanging” if static, and “hang” if in movement. It is true that all these differentiations can represent for many reasons discomfort, but the logic of German is certainly an advantage to raise awareness of the idiom itself.

5. Gender is a delicate matter

Unlike our universal ‘the’, German has a peculiar assignation of gender. In this language, which includes also the ‘neutral’ gender, learning the rules that allow us to identify the most common desinance of the three genders might be useful to clear some doubts, but in reality the only way to truly learn the gender is by learning the words by heart. The mnemonic study is a method that today many despise and disagree with, in particular young people, because the learning abilities are limited. On the other hand, returning more than a hundred times to the dictionary to control the gender of a noun can be really frustrating and undermine the understanding of the text. To remedy this problem, there is no other cure to exercise this muscle, as Umberto Eco advised: German can therefore be an excuse to train the ability to remember and ward off the ability to become google-dependent.

7. Endless words

With its 79 letters Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft is the longest word recorded in the German vocabulary and indicates the association of subordinate officers of the Danube steam company’s electrical services department. It is not an isolated case because there are other very long words, formed by the association of different terms, which might be absolutely terrifying at first but at a second glance actually reveal their inner logic. Recognizing the terms that make up the composite words and singing them separately allows us to better understand what we are saying and not lose our breath by uttering meaningless sounds!

8. English and German

English, as so has French, have strongly influenced the language and to this day English speakers hold an advantage towards the language. Finger for instance means finger also in German as so does stinken mean to stink. Not to assume however that all English words can be translated in German! There are several ambiguous words which however will surely remain stuck in your mind.


Cover photo: screenshot from Youtube

10 beautiful and memorable German words

Learning German is a life exercise because it is an idiom that tests us on a daily basis. Even Mark Twain, the american writer known for his troubled relation with German, a language that he didn’t particularly love but found very stimulating, said: “on the basis of my philology studies I came to the conclusion that a person prone to languages will be able to learn English (excluding the grammar and pronunciation) in 30 hours, French in 30 days and German in 30 years. It is obvious that the German language needs to be remodelled and repaired. If it were to remain as it is, it should be shelved, with gentleness and reverence, amid the dead languages, because only the dead have enough time to learn it”.

As follows we would like to propose 10 beautiful German words that have a very special meaning and that are unique in their own way to the German culture. Each of these words not only will help you expand your vocabulary, but will deepen your knowledge of this new world.

1. Sehnsucht

Amid different definitions, which vary from yearning, desire and/or craving, Sehnsucht is a feeling of longing for something unknown and indefinite. Who studied or is studying literature and in particular German Romanticism will surely have encountered this word whose roots reside in high German, meaning “illness of the painful whim”.

2. Weltschmerz

Translated as the “pain of the world” or “world-weariness”, Weltschmerz is the feeling of deep insatisfaction and pain which derives from the realization that the physical world can’t fully comfort the desires of the mind. The term was firstly coined by German Romantic author Jean Paul.

3. Torschlusspanik

The literal meaning would be the panic deriving from a closed door, but in everyday language it describes the anxiety felt when being close to a deadline. In English in fact Torschulsspanik could be translated as “last minute panic”, or the awareness that time passes by inexorably and that one has to act quickly. The door closing conveys a missed decision or action that we then might regret.

4. Fernweh

How to translate this word? Dictionaries talk about “having itchy feet” or a “wanderlust desire”, however the similar Heimach talks about homesickness and nostalgia. The root of the word in fact indicates a sense of nostalgia projected not towards our home, but towards a different place, whether known or not. Fernweh is about the longing feeling to pack a bag and depart to the discovery of a place to always bring in our heart.

5. Zweisamkeit

When we talk of solitude in English we think about a person that is alone, isolated from others. In German it’s not really the same thing. Robert Musil, in the novel “The confusions of Young Törless” when talking about life in a couple says “being in two is no more than doubled solitude”. Even spending time with our loved one, isolated from the world, mens living in solitude, however the two elements of Zweisamkeit don’t complain, because they feel perfectly complete.

6. Backpfeifengesicht

The meaning of this word is far more familiar than what you might think. Do you know those kind of people whose face is enough to make you want to slap them? Well, from today you could also call them with the German word, instead of “punching-bag face”.

7. Feierabend

If you have just arrived in Germany and recently found a job, you will often hear your colleagues say “ich mache Feierabend” and ask yourself why and how every night they are going out to party (without inviting you, by the way) whereas you are always heading home dead-tired. Feierabend actually doesn’t refer to any party, but indicates that moment of the day dedicated to unwinding and to anything that is not work related.

8. Reisefieber

To have Reisefieber is literally to have a “travel fever”, and indicates that state of compulsive anxiety that manifests itself before a trip, usually but not only tied to the preparation of the luggages and necessary documents. Not everybody suffers it, but each of us know that someone affected by Reisefieber, whom will come to the airport 3 hours prior to departure, after having weighed at least 10 times the luggage and repeatedly checked to have all the documents in their backpack.

9. Vorfreude

Awaiting for pleasure is itself pleasure” said Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and with Vorfreude the allusion is precisely to the anticipation of a pleasure yet to come: it is the enjoying of a dream and expectation that we have.

10. Waldeinsamkeit

We talk about the “solitude of the forest”, that feeling you get when you are walking in a forest on your own. Waldeinsamkeit is a very dear term to the tradition of ascetic monasticism and to the movement of German romance, which promoted the rapprochement of Man to Nature.


Is German stating to intrigue you? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes! 

Cover photo © pixabay.com CC BY SA 2.0

Deutsch, we love you. But why are there 15 different ways to say meatball?

To aim to become bilingual or at least fluent in German requires for a lot of patience and acceptance of the fact that there are different words that have the same meaning.

It’s a struggle, but nobody said it was easy. Not only is the German language more complex compared to others due to its syntactic structure and vast lexicon, there is also the context-specific meaning of a certain term that varies concurring to when it is employed. German words in fact vary according to the language register or the region. So to avoid feeling like a stranger in a multiethnic nation as Germany, it would be advised to know, if not all, at least some of these variations. We have selected the ones referring to the culinary tradition – which, as we all know very well, is the meeting place of different cultures.


Pancake – Tabeajaichhalt CC0

If in Berlin you order Pfannkuchen, you won’t find yourself in front of some pancakes as in the rest of Germany, but doughnuts! In German there are exactly 12 different words whose meaning is pancake. So in Berlin we would have to ask for “Eierkuchen”, whereas in western Germany and at the borders with Switzerland we would have to order “das Omelett”, as similar to the French die Omelette. Around the area of Lipsia and the confine with Poland pancakes have yet a different word, and that would be “Plinse” or “Plinz”, whereas in Austria we might even meet someone that calls them “Pataschinke”.

Gingerbread man

gingerbread men – Gaetan Lee – CC BY 2.0

12 seems to be the lucky German number, for there are 12 different ways even to address Gingerbread men! Typically they would be called “Lebkuchenmann”, which appears to be the most common term also in Munich, Berlin and Hannover. In the south-western region however they prefer to call them “Weckmann” or “Weckmännchen” whereas in the north-west they would be “Stutenkerl”. In Austria gingerbread men are called Krampus and they represent a legendary creature, the punisher of children that misbehaved during the Christmas time. Around Stuttgart and Karlsruhe we would instead call it Dambedei. Our famous Gingerbread man may also be called in a different way according to the ingredients used to spice the cookie – a very common term even in Berlin would be Spekulatius, which derives from the belgian Speculoos (typical cinnamon Christmas cookies).


meatballs -SLT-A33 CC0

When moving to Germany one of the first things that stands out is the prevalence of meat in the menus, from sausages to meatballs. The most diffused term would be “Fleischkloß”, but in total there would be 15 different words that refer to meatballs! “Frikadelle” is very common in the centre and north-west areas of Germany, whereas “Fleischküchle” would be more common in the south-eastern region. In the areas of Leipzig and Dresden they would instead call them “Klops” or “Kloß”. A proper “berlinerisch” term would instead be “Bulette” or “Boulette” (again, the resonance with French is quite striking), whereas in Austria they would be “Fleischaiberl”.

“The heel” of the breadloaf

Breadloaf – pixel1 CC0

In english it is an ongoing debate: how to call the last (and first) bits of a breadloaf? “The butt”, “the heel”, the “devil’s elbow” or “duck bread” are variations, but Germans have more than 50 different terms! Here are some of the ones used in Germany: Kanten, Anschnitt, Kipf, Ranft/ Ränftchen, Knorze, Knust, Rankl, Krust, Kirshte and several others. In Switzerland they use a lot Anhau, Scherz, Mürggu, Mutsch, Chäppi, Houdi and Scherzerl is used also in Austria and in the south of Germany.


Mouth – RobinHiggins CC0

When you or friend will get caught by a hiccup, you can choose out of 25 words to address it! The first one that comes to mind is “Schluckauf” or even “Schluchzer”. In the regions bordering French and in the southern part of Germany they would prefer “Hädscher” instead. In Austria, “Schnackler” and in Switzerland “Hitzgi”.


Slippers – Didgeman CC0

With “Hausschuhe” you can play it safe, for it literally means “house shoes”. But there are well over 10 different variations! “Pantoffeln” is common in Berlin and Hannover, whereas “Schluffen” is common in Rheinland and Frankfurt. “Bambuschen” is more common in eastern Germany, in Switzerland, instead, you may hear oftenly “Finken”.

Currently, Spiegel Online is taking an online survey on the use of the language variations in Germany. By taking this online test you too can contribute to the mapping of German variations in your region!

Cover picture:  © Weisswurst – Thomas S. Pubblic domain

Are you getting intrigued by the German language or wish to refine your vocabulary? Then take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes!