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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Whether they relate to a love of beer or bureaucracy, these uniquely German words give an insight into the idiosyncrasies of life in Germany. Here are a few of our favourites.

Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany
One of Germany's most famous staircases, at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

Das Sitzfleisch – You may be familiar with this term if you have ever had to apply for Anmeldung (city registration) in Germany. Sitzfleisch, literally meaning ‘sit meat’ is the ability to sit still, particularly through long and tedious events. 

Although we all know the stereotype that Germans love efficiency, the country’s love affair with bureaucracy suggests the opposite might be true, and it means Germans and expats alike often have to be quite patient when sorting out anything to do with rent, tax or education. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about dealing with German bureaucracy online

Der Aufschnitt – At first, you might be wondering what is so special about this German word, which we would translate to ‘cold cuts’ in English. In Germany, however, this is not just a snack but a whole cuisine.

Some of the staples of traditional German cuisine are meat, cheese, and most importantly bread. To have a meal of Aufschnitt means to sit down to an array of these things, and is a particularly popular meal for most Germans to prepare when no-one feels like cooking. 

Eine Extrawurst bekommen – In a land famous for its sausages, you should not be surprised that Würste appear in so many common German sayings. One of the most common of these is eine Extrawurst, which means special treatment. If a person immer eine Extrawurst bekommt (always gets an extra sausage), it means they are being given an unfair advantage. 

There is often an expectation of fairness and equity in many parts of German life, and Germans will not hesitate in pointing out when something is amiss. The idea of a teacher’s pet is much less likely to go unchallenged here than in other cultures. 

Das Weichei – This term may confuse you at first, and you might expect to see it on a breakfast menu rather than hurled as an insult. The term Weichei literally means ‘soft egg’ but it is used to refer to someone who is a bit of a wimp, or a sheep. 

Germans can often be quite forthcoming with their opinions, and look down on those who merely follow the crowd, or who are easily influenced. 

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: The 12 most colourful German insults

Das Luftschloss – Germans are often fairly realistic when it comes to their hopes and expectations, but there are of course still some dreamers about. These people would be guilty of having Luftschlösser, or pipe dreams. The word translates to ‘air castle’ in English, referring to unreachable fantasies. 

Die Schnapsidee – In English, we’ve borrowed the word Schnapps, which we tend to use to mean a fruity alcoholic beverage, from the German Schnaps, which refers to any kind of alcoholic spirit. A Schnapsidee is an outlandish or crazy concept, perhaps one that you would have to be drunk to come up with.

It is fairly well known that Germans like to drink, though beer is usually their beverage of choice. It is therefore apt that the word for a foolish idea has something to do with drunkenness. This term is fairly common, and is also used in cases when there is no alcohol in sight. 

Der Treppenwitz – Germans aren’t famed for their humour, and this concept suggests their comedic timing could be the problem. A Treppenwitz (staircase joke) is a quip that you think of after the opportunity to tell it has passed.

 If you have ever been left speechless by a conversation, only to think of the perfect witty response on your way out of the situation, this would be your Treppenwitz.

READ ALSO: A laughing matter: Looking beyond the stereotype of the serious German

Das ist nicht mein Bier – Beer is part of the fabric of life in Germany, so it is not surprising to find it in this common idiom. In English, we might say something is ‘not our bag’ if it is not quite our cup of tea. In German, however, if a food, activity or style is not for you, you would say it is not your beer.

The phrase in itself is not overly negative, and more an insight into a culture that is fairly accepting of individual opinions and preferences, even those having to do with more important matters than beer. 

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LEARNING GERMAN

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

STARTING OUT

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.

READ ALSO:

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. 

DEVELOPING YOUR GERMAN

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

PERFECTING YOUR GERMAN

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.

Sozusagen

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.

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