German phrase of the day: Es geht um die Wurst

This phrase combines a winning resolution with the German love of processed meat.

German phrase of the day: Es geht um die Wurst
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know Es geht um die Wurst?

Because you can’t truly understand German until you embrace its sausage culture. And this idiom is the hilarious and inspiring little pep talk that gets to the heart of Germany’s language, food, and history.

What does it mean?

Es geht um die Wurst or Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst (pronounced like this) is a colloquial phrase that translates to ‘it’s all about the sausage’ or ‘now it’s about the sausage’. In English, it means that something is very important – ‘It’s crunch time’, ‘now it’s getting serious’, ‘it’s now or never’ or ‘it’s the moment of truth’ .

This expression is used during a moment when you need to give it everything you have – whether it’s a competition, a game or a life-and-death duel. And the prize has always been, metaphorically speaking, sausages.

It’s the sort of phrase you would utter before you walk into the interview room for your dream job, or when you were down to your last card playing UNO, or perhaps when watching the penalty shootout of Germany at a World Cup final.

But why sausage? It’s down to the historical importance of sausages in Germany. 

READ ALSO: ‘More than a sausage’: Germany’s Currywurst Museum closing after 10 years

A Bratwurst coated in mustard.

A Bratwurst coated in mustard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

The first documented use of this phrase was in Leipzig in 1881, but its origins are thought to date back much further.

Throughout this period in Germany’s history, fairs, beer festivals, and carnivals were becoming increasingly popular in many towns and villages across the country. 

Many games and competitions were set up for the occasion. Rather than a cash prize, large and high-quality sausages were awarded to the winner. Unlike today, sausages were labour-intensive and expensive commodities, rich in nutrients and fats, reserved only for the higher classes.

To the peasants of the time, it could easily be worth several days, if not weeks, of wages. Winning sausages was not only a great way to earn extra money but also a tremendous treat for the family, giving them a secure food source. It is the modern equivalent of a jackpot, so people were serious and put their hearts into it. Hence, the phrase highlighting that it really is all about the sausage!

Use it like this:

Ich habe meine Prüfungsergebnisse bekommen. Es geht um die Wurst!

I’ve received my exam results. It’s the moment of truth!

Deutschland steht im Finale, jetzt geht es um die wurst.

Germany is in the final, now it’s crunch time.

Member comments

  1. This always cracks me up how important sausage is in Germany. My grandfather was a Metzger which was listed on his immigration application as his professional qualification that got him into the US in the 1920’s and eventually US citizenship. My father said that his father being a butcher meant that they always had some meat, though never the good cuts. And that was usually stuff they wouldn’t put in the sausage. I’m a vegetarian now so I tend to shy away from German restaurants when in Germany. Did have a really good veggie schnitzel once in Köln. Still on the lookout for veggie sausage there. Is that a thing in Germany?

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German word of the day: Umgangssprache

This is a good word to be aware of when you're looking out for phrases to add to your everyday vocabulary in Germany.

German word of the day: Umgangssprache

Why do I need to know Umgangssprache?

We may be getting a little meta here, but we think it’s worth knowing this word so you can listen out for the words around it (or know when not to use this type of language).

What does it mean?

Umgangssprache, which sounds like this, means ‘colloquial language’ or ‘slang’. These are the kinds of words and phrases you might not find in a textbook, but they are heard in everyday life.

By using slang vocabulary, you’ll be able to bring your sentences to life and sound like a true local.

The term is said to have been introduced into the German language by the writer and linguist Joachim Heinrich Campe at the beginning of the 19th century.

Umgangssprache is shaped by the world around it, whether its regional factors or social circumstances of the time. 

Here are a few examples of colloquial phrases and words:

Geil means horny in German, but it is also used colloquially to describe anything you think is cool. In English, you might use the word ‘sick’ or ‘awesome’ in the same context.

Krass is another colloquial word that can mean lots of things. It is usually used to intensify the meaning of something very bad or something very good depending on the tone and context. So something disgusting is krass, and something amazing can also be krass

Das ist mir Wurst translates to ‘that’s sausage to me’, and means you don’t give a toss. 

Das ist doch Käse translates to ‘that’s cheese’ and expresses that you mean something is absolute nonsense. 

And a ruder one is: Das ist am Arsch der Welt. It means ‘that’s the arse of the world’ and refers to a place that is far away or very difficult to reach. In English you might say ‘back of beyond’. 

You would hear these kinds of phrases in relaxed conversations in cafes and bars, but they aren’t so common in formal situations. 

Use it like this:

Ist das Umgangssprache oder kann ich das bei meinem Chef benutzen?

Is that colloquial language or can I use it with my boss?

Mir gefällt die umgangssprachliche Floskel: auf dein Nacken!

I really like the colloquial phrase ‘this is on you!’