German phrase of the day: Der Teufel ist ein Eichhörnchen

When most people look at a squirrel, they see a big, bushy tail. The Germans, apparently, see the devil.

German phrase of the day
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

You can translate ‘der Teufel ist ein Eichhörnchen’ in a few different ways: literally, it states that ‘the devil is a squirrel’, which doesn’t do much to shed light on what the true meaning actually is. Metaphorically, it means something more like ‘the devil comes in many forms’ or, more loosely, ‘don’t be so easily deceived by something which seems harmless’. 

In this sense, it’s used as a warning against being too trusting of something and to remind someone that they can make mistakes if they aren’t careful enough. After all, even something as harmless as a squirrel could be the devil, so you have to be vigilant! Not least during a picnic in the summer months… 

A squirrel attempts to steal food from a hanging flower pot.

A devilish squirrel attempts to steal food from a hanging flower pot. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Federico Gambarini

Squirrels have in fact been linked to the devil in Germany for centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages. Their colour (either red or black in Germany at that time, since grey squirrels had not yet been introduced from North America), as well as their incredible speed and slightly twitchy style of movement, were seen as clear signs that they were the devil’s agents. 

According to folklore, hunters would aim their weapons perfectly at a squirrel and yet, somehow, it would always move out of the way at the last moment (‘with devilish speed – ‘mit teuflischer Geschwindigkeit’), reappearing somewhere else to taunt its attackers.

This strong link to superstition also gives the phrase another meaning: if someone is particularly superstitious, you might say ‘they really believe the devil is a squirrel!’.

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Innerer Schweinehund


„Keine Sorge, es wird nichts schief gehen.“

„Wer weiß, der Teufel ist ein Eichhörnchen!“

“Don’t worry, nothing will go wrong.”
“Who knows, the devil comes in many forms!”

„Er glaubt, dass der Teufel wirklich ein Eichhörnchen ist!“

“He really believes that the devil is a squirrel!” or “He really is superstitious!”

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German word of the day: Lüften

One of the first lessons you learn when living in Germany is that airing out rooms is extremely important.

German word of the day: Lüften

Whether you sublet, rent a flat or own your home in Germany, it’s likely you’ve been told how important it is to lüften, or open your windows and let air in and out regularly. 

Lüften can be a verb or noun in Germany. As a noun it uses the ‘das’ article and stands for ventilation. The verb lüften means to air out something. It comes from the German word die Luft which means air.

The proper airing out of rooms is a very German thing. Hell, it’s a way of life. 

Just check your rent contract. Foreigners in Germany are often surprised to find that ventilating their homes is usually written into their contract and accompanied by instructions. That means it’s literally legally binding! 

There are very important rules to remember, and German even has a set of vocabulary dedicated to getting fresh air safely in and out the room. 

Words like Stoßlüften – which translates to shock or impact ventilation. This is needed at least twice a day (and more in summer) and involves opening the windows or balcony doors wide to let a ‘shock’ of cold air in. According to experts, you should do this for about five minutes a time in winter, 10-15 minutes each time in autumn and spring, and up to half an hour in summer.

Meanwhile, Querlüften or cross ventilation involves opening all the windows of a house or building and letting the fresh air flow through.

The aim of all this lüften is to stop mould from forming, get rid of smells and to stop rooms from getting too humid. The more people that live in your home, the more airing out you’ll have to do. 

Germans recommend that you turn off your heating while airing out your room (to save on money and to protect the climate) – so be sure to have a big jumper on if you’re airing out in winter. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are obsessed with the art of airing out a room

Lüften took on a whole new meaning in the pandemic as other countries – or at least those that didn’t have the same culture for airing out – began recommending it to people as a way of helping protect against Covid-19 transmission.  

A good German habit

Lüften can quickly become a habit. Whereas before Germany, I was happy to leave a window tilted open for a while to get some fresh air, I’m now obsessed with the proper way to do it. 

I throw open the windows of my flat wide at regular intervals to get that fresh air circulating, even in the dead of winter. When I’m at home in Scotland or on holiday somewhere else, I do the same thing, which can be alarming to people who think you are trying to freeze them.

I find myself feeling pleased when the neighbours across the road from my Berlin flat open their windows or balcony doors wide. It’s like we’re all part of the secret society of fresh air.

There is nothing now that stands between me and Lüften. When I tweeted about this habit, lots of people said they felt a similar way. 

One Twitter user said: “Been telling my family this for years – as they shiver and complain about how cold it is, and my partner and I passive-aggressively follow each other around shutting and reopening windows. Makes for fun times.”

Another said: “My little sister spent an exchange year in Germany before me and when I visited was thoroughly disturbed by her obsessive window opening. A couple years later I was living in Germany and had become a convert, too.”


Hey Karl, Kannst du bitte dein Zimmer lüften?

Hey Karl, can you please air out your room?

In Deutschland muss man die Zimmer richtig lüften.

You really have to air out rooms the right way in Germany.