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Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

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
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.

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. 

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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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