German phrase of the day: Die Zeit läuft uns davon
About five minutes before my weekly German literature seminar ended, my German professor would sigh, close his book, and say “Die Zeit läuft uns davon.”
Literally meaning “Time is running away from us,” this phrase means that time is running out, or that time is running short.
This poetic phrase implies that time is running away from something specific, namely “uns” or “us.” That time is not objectively passing, but scampering away from us mortal humans, gives voice to a more subjective understanding of time.
The expiration of time is personal and intimate. This phrase suggests that the passing of time can be perceived as a sneaky loss.
Time running away from us can be seen in grown children who used to be babies, in our wrinkles, and in the recognition not always of objective change, but rather the awareness that things used to be otherwise.
This phrase animates time, creating an image of time as an object with legs, that much like a baby who learns to crawl, is keen on moving forward and marching on into what the future holds.
Humans of course do try to trap time, attempting to capture it and keep it in a little box. We block out time in our calendars, carving out a Zeitfenster (window of time) dedicated to certain activities. We attempt to freeze time in photos, immortalizing a certain moment by distilling its likeness in a photo.
Time, however, still runs away from us. This melancholic aspect of time captured by this German phrase was also used in a popular song by Wolfsheim, a synthpop duo from Hamburg who released music from the late 80s to early 2000s. Their song, “Kein Zurück,” is a wistful composition about the inevitable passage of time, and how one cannot control what has already been.
The chorus sings:
Immer vorwärts Schritt um Schritt/ always forward, step-by-step
Es geht kein Weg zurück/ There is no way back
Was jetzt ist wird nie mehr ungeschehen/ What is now will never be undone
Die Zeit läuft uns davon/ Time is running away from us
Was getan ist ist getan/ What is done is done
Und was jetzt ist wird nie mehr so geschehen/ What is now will never be undone
Beeil dich, die Zeit läuft uns davon!
Hurry up, time is running out!
Als mein erstes Kind 18 wurde, wurde mir klar, dass die Zeit vor uns davonläuft.
When my first child turned 18, I realized that time runs away from us.