12 words and phrases you need to survive in Hamburg

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Alexander Johnstone - [email protected]
12 words and phrases you need to survive in Hamburg
Photo: DPA

Hamburg is a pretty cosmopolitan place, and you won’t have any problem speaking Hochdeutsch around town. But traditionally, people in the city speak Hamburger Platt, and it's still very much alive.


Hamburger Platt a quirky variation of Low Saxon (Niederdeutsch), a language which is spoken in northern Germany and eastern parts of the Netherlands.

It is estimated that are around six million people in eight different German states speak Low Saxon, and around 100,000 speak it in Hamburg itself.

SEE ALSO: Local knowledge: an insider guide to life in Hamburg

But it’s on the rise, especially among the young. Some schools teach it from first grade, and there’s even a Hip-Hop group “De fofftig Penns” (“Die fünfzig Pfennige” or "50 cents" as pfennig was a former currency) that raps in Plattdeutsch.


So we thought we should get started on some Hamburger Platt too.

Here’s a little list of words and phrases to get you started, so that next time you go to Hamburg, you can start to fit in like a true local:

1. Moin (hello)

Moin, also sometimes moin moin covers a lot of different greetings, as it can mean Guten Morgen, Guten Tag and even Guten Abend. How simple!

A shop in Hamburg with the sign 'Moin' outside.

A shop in Hamburg with the sign 'Moin' outside. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

2. Schnacken (chat)

Schnack is also the word for chit-chat, and someone who speaks Plattdeutsch could be described as a Plattschnacker.

3. Macker (lad)

This means a lad or a mate or even a boyfriend. Or you could try the slang term Digga, which is more equivalent to Alter, meaning dude or man, and has become pretty cool recently.

4. Klock (clock)

You probably could've guessed this one. It shows how close some of the words are to English. There isn't always that much difference between the Low Saxon and the Anglo Saxon (which is the route of much of the English language).

5. Schmöken (smoke)

Another one that just sounds like English in a German accent! When you're in Hamburg you'll see people schnacken while they schmöken outside a restaurant.

6. Büx (trousers)

A man holds up a huge pair of Büx at the Hamburg tailor's Herrenkleidung Policke, which makes suits for all sizes imaginable. Photo: DPA

Perhaps not one you'll use everyday, but there's also the related verb utbüxen, which means to slip away or escape.

7. Mall (mad)

You may well hear "Bist du mall?!" being bounded around, which means "Are you out of you mind?!"

8. Sabbelknoken (mobile phone)

It's definitely a bit of a mouthful, but it is still used by some in Hamburg, and literally translates as a "mouth bone/limb".


9. Wat is de Klock? (What’s the time?)

You don't need to be Sherlock to deduce this one either, as it sounds like broken English, but it could come in pretty useful on a visit.

10. En mol Lütt un Lütt (a beer and a schnapps)

Here's where you might need Sherlock. This is a classic order in a traditional Hamburg pub, but who would have thought that asking for two Lütt could get you both a beer and a shot?

11. In’n Tüddel koomm (get confused)

This one almost sounds like what it means, and you almost have to yodel to say it. If you by mistake stumbled into Herbertstraße off the Reeperbahn, you may well in'n Tüddel koomm.

12. Du bist mein Schietbüdel (you’re my darling)

And finally one for if you find the right person in Hamburg. It's become really popular in the last few years, and although it used to be an insult, it's now used as a term of endearment. 


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