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LEARNING GERMAN

German word of the day: Die Waldeinsamkeit

A weirdly specific term for an unusual spiritual connection to trees: of course the German language has a word for it.

German word of the day: Die Waldeinsamkeit
Archive photo shows a hiker in Saxon Switzerland. Photo: DPA

The German language is full of oddly specific terminology. ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ is one of them. 

It’s a compound word made of ‘der Wald’ (forest) and ‘die Einsamkeit’ (loneliness) that does what it says on the tin. It’s that feeling of calm solitude while walking through the woods on your own, one that might be all too familiar, by now, to those who’ve spent lock down near a forest, or any patch of greenery. 

READ ALSO: 12 brilliant German words you won’t find in English

This niche word is embedded in a rich spiritual history.

The motif circumscribes an ascetic ideal of Buddhist and Hindu monks, as well as that of the Christian eremites until well into the middle ages. Its legacy remains alive and well in strands of monasticism like the Thai Forest Tradition, which emphasises meditation, austere living and pilgrimages into nature. 

In Germany, the image captured the imaginations of the Romantics in the 18th century. It was popularised by the famous fairy tale writer Ludwig Tieck, or rather, by a bird in his story ‘Der Blonde Eckbert’ (The Blonde Eckbert) who sings: 

Waldeinsamkeit
Mich wieder freut,
Mir geschieht kein Leid,
Hier wohnt kein Neid
Von neuem mich freut
Waldeinsamkeit.

Forest loneliness,
Brings me joy again,
No sorrow can strike me,
No jealousy resides here,
Yet again, there’s the joy
Of Forest loneliness. 

From then it became a Romantic must-have (if not cliche) for all of the great German writers of the time, from Heine to Novalis. 

A recent trend in “Waldbaden” (forest bathing), in which people seek themselves by wandering the forests, only goes to show that an element of this ascetic love of the forest remains in German culture to this day. There is an enduring fascination with the forest and its magical or mystical effect on people. 

Examples: 

Ich floh in die grüne Waldeinsamkeit.

I fled into the green Waldeinsamkeit.  – Heinrich Heine, ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ 

Waldeinsamkeit! / Du grünes Revier, / Wie liegt so weit / Die Welt von hier! 

Waldeinsamkeit! You green territory, how far the world does lies from here! – Joseph von Eichendorff, ‘Der Umkehrende’ 

Ich war im Schwarzwald und habe die Waldeinsamkeit gesucht.
I was in the black forest searching for Waldeinsamkeit. 

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

German grammar is notoriously difficult. But the diminutive form – used to express a smaller version of the noun - is surprisingly straightforward.

Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

Diminutives are forms of words that are used to express a smaller, younger or even cuter version of a noun. They are used a lot in German, so it’s definitely worth getting to know how they work.

In English, words often become diminutive by adding the suffix -let (e.g. drop becomes droplet, book becomes booklet). In German, the diminutive form (also called die Verkleinerungsform) is made by adding either -chen or -lein to the end of the word:

das Tier → das Tierchen

the animal → the little animal

der Stern → das Sternchen

the star → the little star

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pick the right German language school for you

Nouns with a, o, and u change their vowel to ä, ö, and ü. The e at the end of the word is usually dropped.

die Katze → das Kätzchen

the cat → the kitten

die Torte → das Törtchen

the cake → the little cake

die Blume → das Blümchen

the flower → the little flower

A selection of little Törtchen on a table.

A selection of little Törtchen on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

The diminutive with -lein is used for words ending in -ch:

der Tisch → das Tischlein

the table →  the little table

das Buch → das Büchlein

the book → the little book

As you might have noticed, regardless of which gender the main noun is, the diminutive form is always neuter. See – told you it was simple!

Can you make any word a diminutive?

Pretty much. You can add the ending to any noun in German that is not itself a diminutive, e.g. Häschen (bunny) and Eichhörnchen (squirrel).

Common diminutives

There are many common German words that are diminutive, some of which you have probably been using without even realising it.

das Brötchen for example is the diminutive version of das Brot and means little bread.

das Mädchen, meaning girl, is actually a diminutive of the antiquated word die Magd meaning maid.

And lastly: Hallöchen! is a cute way to say hello there!

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