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German word of the day: Brandmauer

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
German word of the day: Brandmauer
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

This term is both a general safety measure and an issue of huge political significance for Germany.

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Why do I need to know die Brandmauer?

Because it's not only an important word in building safety, but has come to represent something really significant in German politics in recent years.

What does it mean?

The German word Brandmauer (pronounced like this) is composed of two German words: der Brand meaning "fire" and die Mauer meaning "wall". As with most German composite nouns, the gender of the whole word takes the gender of the second part of the word - so it's a feminine noun (die Brandmauer).

Although the word translates literally to "firewall" in English, confusingly, you'll rarely hear the word Brandmauer being used in the tech world. Instead, workers in the information technology industry are much more likely to use the word Die Firewall to talk about security systems that monitor and control network traffic.

Where you will hear the word used, however, is in conversations about architecture or building maintenance, as a Brandmauer is a wall or door designed to prevent the spread of fire from one area to another in a building.

This practical definition has been transposed into the realm of German politics to talk about protection from another type of danger: namely the spread of contagion from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. 

In this context, Brandmauer refers to a political strategy first explicitly adopted by the conservative CDU/CSU party in 2018, to refuse to work with AfD representatives or give support to their policies at any level, though this is especially relevant in local politics.

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But with the AfD currently riding high in the German polls and having had some recent local election successes - including gaining the first AfD mayor in Saxony-Anhalt - the Brandmauer is starting to look unstable. 

On Sunday, it looked on the verge of collapse altogether, when CDU leader Friedrich Merz told a reporter on the ZDF television channel that, if a mayor belonging to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is elected somewhere then "it's natural that we have to look for ways to ensure that we can continue to work together in the city."

READ ALSO: German conservatives could work with far right at local level, says leader

However, the statement provoked widespread criticism, also from within Merz's own party, prompting the politician to row back on Monday, tweeting: "There will be no CDU cooperation on the local level with the AfD." 

Use it like this: 

Der neue Wohnblock hat auf jeder Seite eine Brandmauer.

The new apartment block has a fire-proof wall on each side.

Die Brandmauer gegen rechts muss stehen.

The firewall against the right has to stay.

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