German phrase of the day: Aus Schaden wird man klug

This optimistic German phrase gives hope when everything seems to be going awry.

German phrase of the day: Aus Schaden wird man klug
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Mistakes, failure, and pain are an unavoidable part of life. What’s important is that we learn from mistakes and tough experiences and try not to repeat them too much.

That is the gist of this handy German phrase, which translates directly to “From damage one becomes smart.” 

Or, more elegantly put, “From damage comes wisdom.”

“Schaden” means damage, hurt, or harm. Though immediate harm and hurt may feel painful at first, these tough experiences can often teach us a valuable lesson. 

This phrase comes from the Latin, “Quae nocent docent.” It was translated into the German originally as “Was schadet, lehrt” (“What hurts, teaches) by German Protestant reformer Martin Luther. 

Martin Luther, who first translated the Christian Bible from Latin to vernacular German, translated many interesting phrases he found that had only hitherto been articulated in Latin. 

READ ALSO: How Martin Luther gave Germans a language everyone could use

He is given credit for essentially coining this phrase, as he famously loved proverbs and sayings. Luther is said to have combined valuable adages from the Bible, Aesop’s stories, and everyday people into succinct aphorisms that impart wisdom. 

A statue of Martin Luther. Photo: DPA

If you make a mistake and recognise it, you learn from it and will likely not make the same blunder again. If you are experiencing pain or are having trouble, these negative experiences may eventually lead to deeper insights, and make you smarter and more invincible in the future. 

With the coronavirus pandemic coupled with cold and cloudy winter setting in, we are all living through moments of hurt and pain. With these tough times come valuable lessons that can only be learned through experience. 

However, the supposed lesson to be learned amidst hurt and damage could be tricky to find. As American baseball player Vern Law aptly put it, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson after.”

19th century poet and translator Friedrich Rückert poked fun at Luther’s supposed wisdom when he wrote: 

Durch Schaden wird man klug / Damage makes you wise!

Sagen alle klugen Leute /say all the smart people

Schaden litt ich genug /I’ve suffered enough damage

Doch bin ich ein Tor noch heute /yet I’m still a fool today

Whether you feel smarter after a tough go of it, or still like a fool as Rücket wrote, this saying may ring true after surviving life's many tests and battles. 

Example sentences: 

Nachdem ich mir das Bein gebrochen hatte, musste ich zwei Wochen im Bett bleiben. Es war schmerzhaft, aber ich habe viel über Anatomie gelernt. Aus Schaden wird man klug!

After I broke my leg, I had to stay in bed for two weeks. It was painful, but I learned a lot about anatomy. From damage comes wisdom!

Als ich die Haustür zugezogen hatte, merkte ich, dass ich den Schlüssel vergessen hatte. Diesen Schlüssel nachzumachen und im Vorfeld bei einem freundlichen Nachbarn abzugeben kostet €20. Den Schlüsseldienst anzurufen, der die Tür öffnet, €300. Aus Schaden wird man klug!

When I closed the front door, I noticed that I had forgotten the key. To copy this key and hand it over to a friendly neighbour in advance costs €20. Calling the locksmith who opens the door costs €300. One becomes wise from damage!







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German word of the day: Umstritten

Not everyone agrees on everything - and there are some things almost nobody can agree on. If you find yourself dealing with the latter, you may need to make use of this German word.

German word of the day: Umstritten

Why do I need to know umstritten?

Because umstritten is a handy word that can be applied to multiple situations, but is especially useful when chatting about current affairs or the big social issues of our day. 

You’ll likely come across it while reading articles in German newspapers, or hear your German friends use it while setting the world to rights in the pub. 

What does it mean?

Umstritten is best translated as “controversial” or “disputed” in English. As usual in German, you can easily work out – and remember – what it means by breaking it down into smaller components. 

The first is the prefix um, which tends to mean “around”. Think of German words like umkehren, which means to turn around or reverse, or umarmen, which means to put your arms around someone (or hug them in other words!). 

The second component is the verb streiten, which means to argue. So something that’s umstritten is something that there are lots of arguments around, like a controversial new law, a social debate or a public figure. 

Use it like this: 

Die Pläne der Regierung waren hoch umstritten.

The government’s plans were highly controversial. 

Sein Erbe als Fußballtrainer ist immer noch umstritten.

His legacy as football manager is still disputed today.