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Essential phrases and customs to survive the German winter

The Local Germany
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Essential phrases and customs to survive the German winter
You said it. Photo: DPA.

The dark, gloomy (and potentially very cold) time of year is upon us. But not to worry. The Local brings you some of the insider knowledge you need to survive.


Mir ist kalt

This man is quite possibly cold and indifferent. Photo: DPA

If you're new to Germany and your Deutsch is still in the beginner phase, you might want to be careful about how you tell people you're feeling a little chilly.

If you translate directly from English and say 'Ich bin kalt' you're making a mistake. This means something like 'I'm indifferent' (although it's not really used).

The correct way to say it is 'mir ist kalt', using the dative. This is the same for most physical states: mir ist schwindlig (I'm dizzy), mir ist übel (I'm nauseous), etc.

The most embarrassing one to get mixed up though is mir ist heiß/ich bin heiß – the first is to tell people you're feeling hot, the second to say you're sexy or sexually aroused. So if you visit a house where the heating is on too high, watch out.



If your German is slightly better and you want to use a more expressive way of saying how cold it is, why not try using saukalt, scheißkalt, or even arschkalt?

These are all ways of saying its very cold by adding a rude prefix to the word. The first one, literally 'pig cold' is fairly harmless - the other two you night want to avoid in polite company!


"Gesundheit!" Photo: DPA

Gesundheit (literally health) is the German version of 'bless you', and is especially important as the weather and days close in.

But when is it appropriate to say it? Women's magazine Brigitte has some useful tips, telling readers that it is generally inappropriate to say it in an office atmosphere as it unnecessarily brings the person's sickness to others' attention.



This is one you might want to learn for when you go to the Apotheke (pharmacist). If you've got a cough this is what you are after.

Or if you've got a cold and want something more natural to fight off the bugs, why not buy some frischer Ingwer (fresh ginger) from your local Supermarkt?



Photo: Heilpraxisnet

Literally translated as 'steam bath,' you can find a Dampfbad in a spa but you can also make one yourself at home as a quick remedy.

So if you think you're coming down with a cold or the sniffles in light of the chilly winter months, all you need to do is boil some water in a pot. Then, after transfering the water to a bowl, put your head over it and deeply inhale the steam.

Make sure to do this though with a towel over your head so that none of the steam can escape. Also feel free to close your eyes if the steam gets uncomfortable.

Inhaling the steam for up to ten minutes is believed to free up a stuffy nose and relieve congested sinuses.

Acquiring a favourite schnapps

Finding a favourite schnapps is essential for whiling away the dark months. Photo: DPA

While in the summer we all like to enjoy a cool Radler (beer and lemonade) in the park, we've reached the time of year when we want to huddle up in a warm Kneipe (pub) and drink something that puts a bit of fire in our belly.

Depending on where you are in Germany there are different specialities.

Berlin has Berliner Luft, which is a peppermint flavoured schnapps. In fact north Germany has a wide array of spiced cough medicine liquors - each of which looks more unappetizing than the last. 

In the south, which likes to think of itself as more refined, you'll want to search out Obstschnapps which most good Bavarian Gasthöfe (pub) will provide. Obstschnapps are fruit flavoured and come in many varieties. Birne (pear) is to be recommended.

Also if you're a smoker you probably want to search out a Raucherlokal (smoking pub) – while they don't exist in every Bundesland (German state), they will stop you from getting arschkalt every time you step out for a Kippe (cigarette).


Make sure to change your tyres in the winter months. Photo: DPA

If you own a car in Germany you are responsible for changing to winter tyres in the dark months of the year. If you don't and you drive on snow or slush you face being fined. If you are involved in an accident driving in summer tyres in bad winter weather your insurance will also be held responsible. This applies to cars, lorries and even motorbikes.

While there is no set date by which you have to do this, it makes sense to make the change before the first snow of the year, which depending on where you live could already have happened.

Also pay special attention to weather warnings for Glatteis (black ice) and Schneematch (slush).



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