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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


The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German

Once you've learned the basics of German, listening to podcasts is one of the best ways of increasing vocabulary and speeding up comprehension. Here are some of the best podcasts out there for German learners.

The best podcasts for learning and perfecting your German


Coffee Break German

Coffee Break German aims to take you through the basics of German in a casual lesson-like format. It is extremely easy to listen to. Each 20-minute episode acts as a mini-lesson, where German native Thomas teaches Mark Pendleton, the founder and CEO of Coffee Break Languages, the basics.

All phrases are broken down into individual words. After new phrases are introduced the listeners are encouraged to repeat them back to practise pronunciation.

The advantage of listening to this podcast is that the learner, Mark, begins at the same level as you. He is also a former high school French and Spanish teacher. He often asks for clarification of certain phrases, and it can feel as if he is asking the very questions you want answered.

You can also stream the podcast directly from the provider’s website, where they sell a supplementary package from the Coffee Break German Academy, which offers additional audio content, video flashcards and comprehensive lesson notes

German Pod 101

German Pod 101 aims to teach you all about the German language, from the basics in conversations and comprehension to the intricacies of German culture. German Pod 101 offers various levels for your German learning and starts with Absolute Beginner.

The hosts are made up of one German native and one American expat living in Germany, in order to provide you with true authentic language, but also explanations about the comparisons and contrasts with English. This podcast will, hopefully, get you speaking German from day one.

Their website offers more information and the option to create an account to access more learning materials.

Learn German by Podcast

This is a great podcast if you don’t have any previous knowledge of German. The hosts guide you through a series of scenarios in each episode and introduce you to new vocabulary based on the role-plays. Within just a few episodes, you will learn how to talk about your family, order something in a restaurant and discuss evening plans. Each phrase is uttered clearly and repeated several times, along with translations.


Learn German by Podcast provides the podcasts for free but any accompanying lesson guides must be purchased from their website. These guides include episode transcripts and some grammar tips. 


Easy German

This podcast takes the form of a casual conversation between hosts Manuel and Cari, who chat in a fairly free-form manner about aspects of their daily lives. Sometimes they invite guests onto the podcast, and they often talk about issues particularly interesting to expats, such as: “How do Germans see themselves?”. Targeted at young adults, the podcasters bring out a new episode very three or four days.

News in Slow German

This is a fantastic podcast to improve your German listening skills. What’s more, it helps you stay informed about the news in several different levels of fluency.

The speakers are extremely clear and aim to make the podcast enjoyable to listen to. For the first part of each episode the hosts talk about a current big news story, then the second part usually features a socially relevant topic. 

A new episode comes out once a week and subscriptions are available which unlock new learning tools.

SBS German

This podcast is somewhat interesting as it is run by an Australian broadcaster for the German-speaking community down under. Perhaps because ethnic Germans in Australia have become somewhat rusty in their mother tongue, the language is relatively simple but still has a completely natural feel.

There is a lot of news here, with regular pieces on German current affairs but also quite a bit of content looking at what ties Germany and Australia together. This lies somewhere between intermediate and advanced.

A woman puts on headphones in Gadebusch, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: dpa | Jens Büttner


Auf Deutsche gesagt

This is another great podcast for people who have a high level of German. The host, Robin Meinert, talks in a completely natural way but still manages to keep it clear and comprehensible.

This podcast also explores a whole range of topics that are interesting to internationals in Germany, such as a recent episode on whether the band Rammstein are xenophobic. In other words, the podcast doesn’t just help you learn the language, it also gives you really good insights into what Germans think about a wide range of topics.


Bayern 2 present their podcast Sozusagen! for all those who are interested in the German language. This isn’t specifically directed at language learners and is likely to be just as interesting to Germans and foreigners because it talks about changes in the language like the debate over gender-sensitive nouns. Each episode explores a different linguistic question, from a discussion on German dialects to an analysis of political linguistics in Germany.