German word of the day: Basteln

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
German word of the day: Basteln
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

This is a great word for those looking for a way to keep their kids entertained.


What does basteln mean?

The German verb basteln means to engage in handicrafts or to tinker around with something. Though there isn't a direct equivalent verb in English, the closest translations would be "to do handicrafts", "to make" or "to tinker".

Basteln is most commonly used to describe the kind of arts and crafts activities that children are particularly fond of, such as painting eggs or making puppets out of socks. But, of course, children aren't the only ones who like to get make things, and DIY projects, or working with materials to create or repair objects also come under the umbrella of basteln

If you need to find a shop near you that sells the kind of materials you'd need for a Basteltag (craft day), you can search for online a Bastelladen (crafts store) or for Bastelbedarf (craft supplies).

The term basteln can also be used more generally to mean "to put something together", usually at short notice. For example, if you find yourself having to throw together a last-minute presentation, you could say:

Ich kann aus diesen Dokumenten etwas basteln

I can put something together from these documents


Where does the word basteln come from?

The origin of the word is not entirely clear, but it is believed to be derived from the Middle High German besten, meaning "to knot" or "to tie up". During the Middle Ages, the word besten was also used to refer to the handicraft work of laymen or craftsmen.

Over time, basteln evolved to mean the act of constructing or assembling something using simple and easily accessible materials. 

Use it like this: 

Basteln ist eine tolle Aktivität für die ganze Familie

Doing crafts is a great activity for the whole family

Er mag es zu basteln und mit seinen Händen zu arbeiten

He loves to do crafts and to work with his hands

Seit Tagen bastelt sie an ihrer Präsentation

She’s been tinkering with her presentation for days


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