German word of the day: Kohle

You'll hear this word often among German friends - but they're not talking about the energy crisis.

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

Why do I need to know Kohle?

Because it’s part of our everyday lives, whether we’re going shopping or out with friends. 

What does it mean?

Die Kohle, which sounds like this, means coal, which you may need if you are lucky enough to have a cosy stove in your home. You could also use this word to talk about energy (yes, that topic is not going anywhere due to the crisis we find ourselves in). But today we also recommend that you start using Kohle to refer to money among your friends and family. 

The correct word for money in German is das Geld, and you wouldn’t be wrong in saying it. Yet as is the case with so many things that dominate our lives, there are many other words for money. Kohle is one of the more informal and common ways to talk about money in Germany, along the lines of “dough”, “dosh” or “cash” in English. 

It makes sense that coal is seen as a valuable commodity, just like money. Over the course of the 19th century, coal became an important part of the economy, and could be used for heating as well as to power steam engines and locomotives.

According to some linguists, the origins of the use of the word date back to the 18th century when the idiom: Der Schornstein muss rauchen – “the chimney has to smoke” surfaced. This means that without money, food or energy, a person can’t live. According to linguist Heinz Küpper, the use of the word in the singular to mean “money” appeared in everyday colloquial vocabulary around the same time. 

Use it like this:

Sorry, Ich kann heute Abend nicht zu der Party kommen. Ich hab’ leider keine Kohle.

Sorry, I can’t come to the party tonight. I don’t have a lot of cash.

Hey Kumpel, kannst du mir etwas Kohle leihen?

Hey dude, can you could lend me some dough?

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German word of the day: Kneipe

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend.

German word of the day: Kneipe

Why do I need to know Kneipe?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map. 

What does it mean?

Die Kniepe, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub in German where people gather to drink beverages. This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole, and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Germany. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and in some places – like Berlin – it can be smoky. In that case, you might see a a Raucherkneipe (smoking pub) sign on the door or window. 

The word has been around since the 18th century and is an abbreviation of Kneipschenke. A Kneipschenke was a super-cramped premise where guests had to pack in and sit squeezed together.

The noun Schenke is a tavern, while Kneipe is said to come from the verb kneipen meaning “to press together” or “be close together”, which has been documented in Middle German and is a loanword from the Middle Low German word knīpen. That word is related to High German’s kneifen, which means “to pinch”. 

Kneipen don’t always have the best reputation. You might also get some suspicious looks if you crash a very local Kneipe that is used to only serving regulars or Stammgäste. But they are usually friendly and charming, and give an insight into life in Germany. So perhaps ask your German friends for a tip on a cool Kneipe to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English like you usually find in hipster bars! 

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Kneipen usually don’t serve food. Pubs that do serve hot food are more likely to be called a Wirtschaft or Lokal.

You can also do a pub crawl (eine Kneipentour machen) if you can handle the amount of booze (or switch to non-alcoholic drinks). 

How to use it:

Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend in der Kneipe.

Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.

Ich gehe mit den Jungs in die Kneipe.

I’m going to the pub with the lads.