German phrase of the day: Etwas Sonne tanken

This useful phrase is one we’ll hopefully be hearing a lot more of in the coming days.

German phrase of the day: Etwas Sonne tanken
Two women soaking up the sun in Langenhagen, Lower Saxony on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Large parts of Germany have been blessed with clear skies and hot sun over the last few days. With temperatures as high as 30 degrees expected around the country on Monday, many people will have been making the most of the late-spring weather by spending some time outside. 

In German, you would call this etwas Sonne tanken, or the act of soaking up the sun. 

Rather than bathing in the sun just to get a bit of a suntan, the German phrase suggests a more medicinal need for feeling the sun on your skin. In Germany you are not simply enjoying the sun. Rather, those rays are your source of energy, filling your tank throughout the summer.

There is also the suggestion within this simple phrase that it is necessary to tank up on as much Vitamin D as possible to sustain you through the winter months. 

Just like a car refuelling to get through a long journey, the Germans clearly think it is necessary to make the best use of near-perfect Kaiserwetter when they can. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Kaiserwetter

While you might imagine laying out on a sandy beach somewhere tropical in order to fill your tank to the brim, in Germany it is much more likely you will be soaking up the sun on a balcony or in a park, especially if you live in a big city. 

The phrase can also be applied to plants and fruit, as well as humans. For example, you could say that fruit growing in warm climates has more of a chance die Sonne zu tanken (to soak up the sun) than in a more temperate environment. 

READ ALSO: Police move in against parties and crowds as Germans take to parks in sunny weather


Am weißen Sandstrand können Sie herrlich Sonne tanken.

On the white sandy beach you can spend the day bathing in the glorious sun.

Ausgereiftes Obst, das lange Sonne tanken konnte, ist dadurch besonders süß und geschmacksintensiv.

Ripe fruit that has been able to soak up a lot of sun is especially sweet and flavourful.

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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”.