For members


10 German words that strike fear into the hearts of language learners

Some German words mean nothing good is coming. Here's our list of terms that spell only doom for foreigners in Germany - or at least a lot of long queues and confusing times ahead.

10 German words that strike fear into the hearts of language learners
A Shufa can certainly be scary if you don't understand it.


When most of us move, the most annoying hassle is simply unpacking those giant moving boxes. But in Germany, what would any change, big or small, be without a mountain of bureaucracy to accompany it?

Meet the so-called Anmeldungspflicht, or the need to register a new address with your district’s local office. Despite long waiting times for appointments in some areas, this can only be done in person and must be done within two weeks of moving, or six weeks in corona times. 


Photo: DPA

Anyone living in Germany who isn’t an EU citizen will know this word all too well. Standing for “foreigner’s offices”, Ausländerberhörden are responsible for granting residency permits. Waiting times of several months for an appointment are not unusual in bigger cities.

In Berlin it’s not unusual to see students camping out at 4 am for a drop-in meeting to secure their visa. Inside, officials are notorious for spontaneously demanding new documents and for making you set up another appointment to hand them in. And so it goes on. 


This “probability of precipitation” can usually be used when predicting Germany’s weather at any time of the year. Often a blissfully sunny summer day will seem too good to be true – and that’s because, well, it is. Thanks to that ominously grey cloud in the distance, the Niederschlagswahrscheinlichkeit is pretty high. 


Photo: DPA

Unless you live in this district of Augsburg, where the rent hasn’t gone up in 500 years, you’ll know to fear this word. Residents of cities such as Berlin and Munich live in daily terror of receiving notice that, due to building reconstruction or the current Mietspiegel – a comparison of the ever-growing rent prices in the neighbourhood – your rent is going up.

At other times landlords simply subject their tenants to so much construction noise while refurbishing new units for higher prices, that fed-up tenants pack up and move of their own accord. 


Photo: DPA

Germans have a reputation for efficiency, but most commuters will know that they can fail pretty miserably to live up to it when it comes to public transit. It only takes a technical delay or, another beloved word, Bauarbeiten (construction work), to herald substitute buses that, in theory at least, will eventually get you to your destination.

But sometimes they drop you half way, leaving you to wait for ANOTHER replacement bus for the replacement bus. 


Dreaded by natives and foreigners in Germany alike, this lengthy tax declaration has to be filed by July 31st of each year. The good news is that, if you secure a Steuerberater (tax advisor), you automatically receive an extension until the end of February the following year to file. And for those brave enough to tackle the mountain of paperwork themselves, there is at least a website to walk them through the process. 


Who would think that such a short word could be so complicated? Schufa stands for the credit check that is needed in Germany to apply for a loan or apply for a flat. It’s a bit of a nuisance for newbies in Germany, who are searching for a space to live and don’t yet have any German credit built up; though some particularly nice landlords (urban legend has it some exist) might let you show one from your home country.


Photo: DPA

This German word for insurance wouldn’t be so scary if there were only one or two types of it. But it seems like the Germans have a type of insurance for everything.The average German pays about €2,400 a year for six different types of insurance, a number which has doubled in the past 20 years. 

For most of us, insurance types such as health, auto and travel are no-brainers. But only when we move to Germany do we start thinking about Haftpflichtversicherung (third-party liability insurance), which would spare you the tens of thousands of euros you would be accountable for in the event that you accidentally bump into your neighbour, causing him to slip into the street, get hit by a car and need monthly medical bills paid.

Or if you wanted to claim this accident wasn’t your fault in the first place, it might come in handy to have verschuldensunabhängige Versicherung (or no-fault insurance).


This is a huge word for a pretty simple idea (speed limits). While some expats might daydream about speeding down the Autobahn, they should be warned that the German reputation for highways free of speed limits only exists on certain parts of the road.

It’s the norm for the limit to shift between 80 km/h, 120 km/h and unlimited. You have to pay keen attention to spot the changes – if not you can expect a letter from the police informing you that you disobeyed a Geschwindigkeitsbeschränkung.


Photo: DPA

Some in Germany may be surprised and perhaps a tad bit scared when they receive a piece of paper in their postbox or pushed under the door with this word, along with a Tim Burton-esque cartoon figure carrying a giant broom. These men seemingly hailing from the Mary Poppins era do still exist. Nowadays, his job mainly involves checking boilers, not diving into the depths of chimneys, returning with grimy cheeks. But don’t fear him: someone has gotta do our dirty work.

For members


10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.