When I first moved to Germany, my knowledge of the German language didn’t go past kindergarten and gesundheit. While it has—thankfully!—dramatically improved, I still struggle with the language. The best part, though, is that I’m perpetually amazed at the new words I learn every day. While I won’t ever really know all the German words, there’s a certain charm to discovering new words, idioms and phrases—especially since many of them are surprisingly fun.

Whatever the feeling you’re trying to express or the thing you want to describe, more often than not, there’s a German word for it. And if not, you can pretty much make one up. But before you’re proficient enough to do so, here are some of my favorite German words I’ve learned so far.

15 German Words You Need to Know

15 German Words You Need To Know

To help come up with list of German words (some useful, some less-than-useful), I’ve collaborated with Berlin-based illustrator Clairikine and online language school Lingoda to help put it together.

Schafskälte

Schafskälte is a meteorological phenomenon that happens around June 11 (or at least between June 4th and 20th), but not necessarily every year. When it does, temperatures drop suddenly by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. It affects Central Europe but Germany is the country where it can be felt the most—hence the reason why the German language has a name for it but English doesn’t. Speaking of that word, “Schaf” means “sheep” while “kälte” refers to cold temperatures. And this phenomenon got its name from the fact that the Schafskälte would kick in after the sheep had been sheared, thus making them most vulnerable to the cold!

Schafskälte - 15 German Words You Need to Know
Germans just love talking about das Wetter! Schafskälte is one of those uniquely German words you won’t hear anywhere else…

Fremdschämen

The verb fremdschämen could be the German cousin of face palm. It’s used to describe being vicariously embarrassed by the behavior of someone else. Common situations where you might have to fremdschämen include our best friend being too drunk in public, seeing a stranger trip and fall on the street or hearing someone proudly say something completely irrelevant during a meeting. #oops

Hüftgold

Hüft means hip while gold means, er, gold—see, German really is fairly easy! However, guessing the meaning of this poetic word might be a bit trickier. Any idea? Hüftgold, it turns out, describes something slightly less glamorous, namely the extra fat people put on around the hips. But come on! It’s so much sweeter to tell a friend they’ve put on a bit of hip gold than, you know, fat.

On a side note. Hüftgold is also the name of a pretty cute café in Berlin! Check it out if you are ever in town.

Kummerspeck

Kummerspeck is used to describe the excess fat gained by emotional eating, especially in times of stress or sadness. Kummer means grief and Speck means bacon, which does make Kummerspeck an interesting word, don’t you think? By the way, Speck does not refer to actual bacon here, it’s just that Germans call any excess fat “Speck.” So if you manage to avoid putting on Kummerspeck, beware of Winterspeck, which is the weight people put on in winter. And believe me, winters in Germany are so long that there is more than enough time to get a little bit chubbier!

Kummerspeck - 15 German Words You Need to Know
We’ve all had those moments when Kummerspeck just becomes inevitable

Zweisamkeit

Let me have another shot at showing you that German is, indeed, a beautiful and romantic language. Ever heard of Zweisamkeit? This word describes the self-imposed isolation of a couple in love. Their togetherness creates a kind of loneliness around the two of them. It derives from Einsamkeit, meaning loneliness, but Zweisamkeit is obviously much more appealing…Two is better than one!

Geil

Geil is a funny word that shows German people are perhaps a tad dirtier than you’d think. This adjective is often used to describe something cool, awesome or exciting, but geil’s true meaning is that is describes being “horny,” “salacious” or “randy.” Therefore, avoid saying “ich bin geil” thinking it means “I’m awesome” as whoever you are talking to might think you’re blatantly asking for sex. Or, use it. Your call.

Reizüberflutung

Überflutung means flooding, or overflow, and Reiz is the German word for stimulus. Therefore, Reizüberflutung is the somewhat familiar term that was coined to describe what occurs when someone is being over-stimulated by their environment. This happens more often in our societies than it used to, especially because of urbanization, mass media, advertising, technology, Twitter, etc. It can cause irritability, over-excitement, tension, and more, so this evocative expression makes all the sense in the world.

Reizüberflutung - 15 German Words You Need to Know
Reizüberflutung – an all too familiar feeling in our society today!

Kopfkino

Probably among the cutest German words, Kopfkino is composed of Kino, which means cinema, and Kopf, which is German for head. Can you guess what Kopfkino means? Let’s say you’re about to fall asleep and you start thinking about that interaction you had with your crush earlier. Your mind starts drifting while you imagine how you could’ve kept the conversation going a bit longer, maybe you could’ve even asked them out? Letting this scenario unfold in your head is Kopfkino! Or that moment where your thoughts are acting like the director of your own private movie.

Na?

Na is among the most puzzling words for German learners, especially if you’re living in a German-speaking country. It’s not rare to be greeted with a loud Naaaa? by your flatmate upon coming home, and it turns out the only correct answer to that perplexing, monosyllabic question is to ask it in return! Na? is, in a way, the German equivalent to our beloved “What’s up?” Now you know!

Picobello

No, Picobello is not an Italian word, although it does sound like one. Turns out it might be derived from the old German word piekfein, where fein was somehow replaced by Italian word bello. When something is picobello, it means it’s flawless, as in super clean for example, or that it’s looking good.

Feierabendbier

Feierabend itself is a cool German word as it describes the few hours that come once you get off work. It doesn’t matter whether they actually happen during the evening (“Abend”) or not, and regardless of whether a party (“Feier”) is in order. Add beer to the mix and you get one of my favorite German institutions: the Feierabendbier, or the beer you have upon finishing work. Some Germans take it a bit too seriously though, or at least that’s what I can’t help but think upon seeing construction workers open a bottle of cheap Pils at 10 am on any given day!

Feierabendbier - 15 German Words You Need to Know
One of the coolest German words, is also one of the most fun German activities! Let’s have a Feierabendbier!

Pipapo

Pipapo is a another German word that doesn’t sound quite German and has unclear origins. It’s usually preceded by mit allem (“with all the”). The phrase Mit allem Pipapo means the same as the English expression “bells and whistles,” but you’ll have to admit that Pipapo just sounds way cuter!

Vokuhila

Vokuhila doesn’t sound very German either, does it? That’s because it’s a made-up word created by taking the first two letters of four words, namely vorne kurz, hinten lang, meaning “short in the front, long in the back” and, well, I guess you know which horrendous haircut this refers to… Now that’s one trend I wish the German language hadn’t encouraged!

Fruchtfleisch

Frucht translates to fruit and Fleisch means meat. Combine these two words and you get another fun German word: Fruchtfleisch, which is what you’d call pulp in English. Actually, this word always makes me smile because I’ve realized that, in German, even vegans have a bit of Fleisch in their lives.

Tatendrang

Tatendrang, or literally “action urge” is, hmm, the opposite of how you probably feel on Sundays or on Monday mornings. Tatendrang is used to describe a strong urge to get things done, take up new projects and accomplish everything on your to-do list. Though I do feel the Tatendrang sometimes, believe me when I say that, as a freelancer, I definitely wish this was my default mode!

• • •

If you’re interested in learning German, check out the Lingoda website which offers online language lessons with qualified native-speaking teachers in online classrooms. At the moment, they’ve got courses for English, German, French and Spanish. You can even take a German trial class for just 0.99€.

Looking for a place to stay? I use Agoda.com which has some of the best hotel deals in Europe and Asia. Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

48 comments

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  1. Ruby

    ‘Es tut ganz schön weh’ – it hurts totally nice. I does not meen that somebody likes the pain, it meens it hurts quite bad.

  2. Sharon

    This would have been great if you have showed the pronunciation of these words also. I could only pronounce two or three at most,

  3. Thanks for this post!

    I’ve been living in Deutschland since 2012, but I’m still confused by this “Naaa?”
    Now I know what to do! :D

  4. Heike Schwedhelm

    The best german word is still missing: Mutterseelenallein

  5. Bob

    Do you know the word “fensterln” (“windowing”). It is used in the alpine area of Austria and South Germany and means climbing in through your sweetheart’s window.

  6. Jennifer

    This was great! Makes me miss living in Germany even more!

  7. Michi

    This is really entertaining to read as a german :D
    You should add “also” which means “well”.
    “Also ich hab darüber nachgedacht…”
    “Well, i thought about it…”

  8. Reizüberflutung! The English language really needs a word like that, I’m over-stimulated just doesn’t sound right lol Thank you for this awesome post. Love it!

  9. Rüdi

    Hi, if you have a Feierabendbier, you also should know a “Gehbier” – a beer to go. Usually a bottle of beer, drunken on the way home.
    Hope you understand.

  10. michael

    Lived here for 45 years and never heard Vokuhila.

    So here’s one you’ve never heard:
    Friedhöflichkeiten

    Politenesses (Höflichkeiten) exchanged in a cemetery (Friedhof).

    Or another:

    Erstmaligkeit
    literally ‘first-time-ness’: the feeling (never to be repeated) of experiencing something for the first time

    • michael

      Vokuhila seems to correspond to the mullet, defined by Chambers Dictionary as ‘a hairstyle, short at the front and long at the back, and ridiculous all round’.

  11. Tessa

    Correction: “.. open a bottle of cheap Pils at 10 am on any given day!” is not a Feierabendbier, it’s a Frühschoppen! :)

    • Walter

      Because one can’t trust the water. Thank you Reinheitsgebot!

  12. Frank

    Nice compilation, it’s fun to see this from the “other side” as I try to improve my English skills I come across funny words and expressions too. To discover what “everything but the kitchens sink” means took me a while…
    Cheers from Germany

  13. These must be Nothern German words. My Bavarian family and I have never heard most of these ?

    • Kerstin

      of course. ? Bavaria is not Germans ?

      • Daniela

        Erhem! Bavarians are a nation of their own and proud of it ?

  14. “Doch” is missing! Amazingly it is contradiction and assertion rolled into one word. Example: Q: You’re not hungry, are you?, A: Doch! (But yes I am), or: Er ist doch ziemlich groß ( He is ‘doch’ quite = He is tall after all even though people say he isn’t )

  15. Jack

    … by the way, it is “pikobello” with a “k”, not “c”

  16. Claudia Seeland

    Sorry for my typing errors (it’s pretty late already) – here’s something that made my day as an IT Analyst this morning when a German colleague said “thank you for the tip” – he was trying to say thank you for a hint to solve my problems (hint in German is “tip”) :-) :-)

  17. Claudia Seeland

    The term ‘fremdschämen’ is also used very often to describe that someone is about to watch a certain TV show where the entertaining factor is based on other people’s embarrassment (either by showing their private lives in documentaries or theimselves struggling with weight or how their children’s education / behaviour or casting shows… ) most of these tv shows (mainly those low budget / scripted reality productions) are also called “Hartz 4 TV” (referring to long term unemployed who seem to be the only ones who can watch this) … So don’t worry when you find both words in one sentence

  18. Michachondriak

    so hüftgold is the german equivalent of lovehandles?

    • ToK

      Nope, Hüftgold is something to eat which almost instantaniously increases your love handles ;-)

      • Jack

        Nope, “lovehandles” are the equivalent… nothing to eat

      • Der Herr Anton

        ToK is right. Hüftgold is the treat, that will increase your weight. Like, when you get your Tiramisu (which is the Hüftgold) make you shrug and say:”a second on your lips, forever on your hips”

  19. Eva

    The English equivalent for Tatendrang is ‘drive’ :-)

  20. Eva

    The English equivalent for Tatendrang is ‘drive’ :-)

  21. Peter

    Hi there. I just wanted to add that Kopfkino also means your imagination running wild when you hear about something you just don’t wanna see/know. But your Kopfkino gives you a pretty good idea anyway. Like someone tells you something that just gives you the heebie-jeebies, just with all the extra pictures that cannot be unseen.

  22. Stewart Kent Webster

    Really cool words! And supercool drawings!!

  23. Silke

    A very nice selection, indeed.
    More treats:
    Authentischer
    Halsabschneider
    Wankelmütig
    My favourite for a very peculiar person:
    Ameisentätowierer
    My dads’ favourite is
    Fliegenarschgucker

    Enjoy :)

    • Silke

      Woops Auto correction, i wanted to write
      Augenwischerei

    • Dolores

      OMG…. I think the word “Fliegenarschgucker” is the best of all. I think that is now my most favorite German word. ?

  24. Johann der Meister

    When I lived there 40 years ago zey always vanted to tell me vot ze longest wort was and without fail it was “Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaen”
    It always raised a chortle. Aber im Ernst ich liebe die deutsche Sprache. Ich habe so viel Spass damit gehabt.

  25. Marla

    ‘Hüftgold’, by the way, can also refer to those tempting things that make it a lot easier to acquire that extra fat around your waist – chocolates, ice cream, Christmas dinner, you name it..

    • Martin

      Exactly. I have never heard Hüftgold being used to refer to the love handles. “Hüftgold” is the good stuff that you eat that will become love handles. Especially chocolates wrapped in shiny golden wrapping — that would be the classic “Hüftgold”. And yes, I am a native speaker of German.

  26. R.V.

    Nice text… thanks

  27. Love this. Definitely a few in here I didn’t know. German is so weird sometimes :) Also, Vokuhila is the name of a hair salon in Prenzlauerberg…named for the irony I assume.

    • hahahah I didn’t know about that hair salon but that’s a pretty good name!

      And yep, German is weird…I think that’s why I actually enjoy it sometimes ;-)

    • ranesh

      hay

  28. With the amount of regional variations and specificity in words (like the word “Brötchen”, for example), I can’t help but wonder what variations these 15 words have in other parts of Germany, if any.

    • Yeah, I’m already starting to think of a post about regional words to know! The German language is a lot of fun and the regional dialects really do make it interesting…

  29. Scott Baker

    I love finding these types of posts. Here in the U.S., finding materials to learn German are quite easy, but are still “text book” like. These types of posts allow for a more rounded and natural use of the language. Thanks for the great posts, Scott Baker, California.

    • Thanks Scott! You’re right – there’s a big difference between learning a language in a textbook versus learning it on the ground. Hopefully you can plan a trip to Germany soon to get a chance to use your new language skills!

  30. Great post, Adam! I speak German to a degree – I can talk about myself and my family, go shopping, got travel vocabulary, I know my verbs, bladibla – and it’s always nice to acquire some less common and culture-related vocabulary. Thanks for that! :-)

    If you allow me to suggest something, it’d be great to have the article with the nouns – that’s my Achilles heel with the language. Since I didn’t learn nouns with their articles, I mix up with the declinations. :-S

    Danke!

    • stavros tsiakalos

      Hey Pedro, if it helps, as a rule of thumb when combining two nouns, the first noun acts like an adjective to the second, so the article is that of the (remaining) second noun.
      For example it is “die Feier” and “der Abend” combining into “der Feierabend”. Then you combine “der Feierabend” and “das Bier” and they become “das Feierabendbier”. Makes sense since we are talking about the beer as the subject: the bier you drink at the end of your work day.
      The rest you should be able to thus figure out easily enough:
      “das Schaf” + “die Kälte” = die Schafskälte
      “die Hüfte” + “das Gold” =
      “Der Kummer” + “der Speck” =
      “der Winter” + “der Speck” =
      “zwei” + “die Einsamkeit” =
      “der Reiz” + “die Überflutung” =
      “der Kopf” + “das Kino” =
      “die Frucht” + “das Fleish” =
      “die Taten” (plural of die Tat) + “der Drang” =

      • Hey Stavros :) Thanks for putting together that quiz on the articles – so useful!

    • Thank you Pedro! Cool to know you’re already learning the language – cultural vocabulary is so essential to feeling like you really “understand” a new language (or culture!).

      Oh, and articles are the bane of my existence in learning German, so I feel your pain here!

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