28 Hilarious German Words to Learn Before Oktoberfest
So much about German culture makes perfect sense: drinking one massive beer instead of four regular-sized ones, eating one massive pretzel instead of four regular-size ones, and aprons as fashion statements (I mean, duh). But some things aren’t so straightforward and take a wee bit more research, some closer listening, and a few times asking yourself “WTF did he just say?” to fully comprehend what’s happening. One such instance is every time a six- or seven-syllable German word flies out of someone’s mouth in your direction. “Did he really just call me a ‘warm showerer’?”
HILARIOUS GERMAN WORDS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
One thing Germany is known for besides fast cars and faster beer consumption is its creative-as-hell, often hilarious, and utterly untranslatable words and phrases. Where the rest of the world has feelings and vague ideas, Germany has solid words we can all relate to. Here are 28 of the best and most hilarious German words to know for Oktoberfest.
(By the way, I love how, in German, a whole bunch of words are put together to simply become one term. There’s probably a German word to describe this phenomenon as well, right? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably kombinierenvielewörterzumachenein.)
01 | GEMÜTLICHKEIT
Gemütlichkeit is the German word I use most often because I feel it applies to Oktoberfest more than any other word or phrase. Gemütlichkeit is the general feeling of cosiness; the happy feeling you get when you’re surrounded by friends and loved ones, with a massive beer in your hand, shaking your booty to some sweet polka jams.
02 | TREPPENWITZ
Treppenwitz literally means “staircase joke” and that’s just the first step to understanding the meaning of this one. Ha! Get it? No, a pun about a staircase is not what I mean by “staircase joke”.
Treppenwitz refers to those moments when you think of the perfect thing to say… too late. Like when a job interviewer asks you what your strengths are and you say, “Uhhhh… masskrugstemmen?” but, after leaving and surely not getting the job, realizing you should’ve said… well, ANYTHING ELSE, BRO. A treppenwitz is also the comeback to that bully’s sick burn that you couldn’t come up with until they’d already left with your girlfriend. Bazinga!
03 | ZECHPRELLER
A zechpreller is someone who patrons a restaurant and/or bar, consumes food and/or drink, and leaves without paying. In America we call that person a… well, just use your imagination here. Regardless, you probably have a name for such behaviour where you live as well because, as it turns out, jerks are universal. Now I better never, EVER hear of you being a zechpreller at Oktoberfest, ya dig? And if you witness this kind of behaviour yourself, be sure to call him/her out using the proper German term.
04 | MÄNNERFREUNDSCHAFT
Männerfreundschaft is just a really fun word for bromance! Which, in case you don’t already know, is just a really fun word for a close friendship between two dudes that is in no way romantic but still sometimes makes you wonder because damn they tight!
Used in a sentence: “Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are all up in that männerfreundschaft.” Or “You are going to see so much männerfreundschaft at Oktoberfest.”
05 | VERSCHLIMMBESSERN
To verschlimmbessern simply means to make things worse while trying to make them better. I say “simply” because I do this every day so it must be easy, right? Like when I try to help cook dinner but end up setting fire to the kitchen. Or when you try to fix a simple dripping faucet and end up with a bathroom geyser. In Oktoberfest terms, it’s when you try to help the server out by helping unload the many beers he/she is carrying only to upset the delicate beer balance and send twelve full steins a-flowing.
06 | KAPUTTVERBESSERN
In a similar manner, kaputtverbessern refers to someone trying to make things better but without any background knowledge of the subject. Again, like do-it-yourself plumbing projects or just DIY anything, damn. If you don’t know the proper names of the tools, you probably shouldn’t be using them.
07 | LUFTSCHLOSS
Luftschloss literally means “air castle” and refers to an unrealistic dream or delusions of grandeur. A couple steins in and you’ll be luftschloss-ing all over the Wiesn. “I’m going to drink one litre from every tent at Oktoberfest!” (No, you’re not.) “I’m going to finish this beer in under twelve seconds!” (No, you’re not.) “I’m gonna learn to play the accordion and become the polka king of Western Europe!” (Please, please see this one through.)
08 | ERKLÄRUNGSNOT
Literally translated, erklärungsnot means “emergency explanation” and I feel like we probably all know pretty well what that’s about. If not (liar), it refers to an instance when you need to think of an excuse on the fly. Emergency explanations are used to answer questions like:
“Why didn’t you turn in your homework assignment, young man!?”
“And just where do you think you’re going at this hour!?”
and “Whose lipstick is that on your shirt, huh!?”
This word is often used in reference to school children, dishonest politicians, and cheating spouses, but any ol’ time you need to suddenly explain yourself you can reach for your handy dandy erklärungsnot. Or better yet, just live an honest life. Maybe? Well, I tried.
09 | WELTSCHMERZ
Weltschmerz literally means “world pain” and refers to that melancholy feeling you get when you think about the current state of the world. “World weariness” is another way to put it and damned if we aren’t all too familiar with this. But alas! There’s a cure for weltschmerz and that is gemütlichkeit. Oktoberfest is good for many things and a big one is blocking out world pain. You will find no weltschmerz at the Wiesn (unless you’re doing Oktoberfest really, really wrong).
10 | SCHADENFREUDE
Schadenfreude is made up of the words schaden meaning “damage” and freude meaning “joy” and refers to the happiness you feel at the pain of others. It may sound pretty evil of us but we’ve all felt schadenfreude—at work when your jerk of a boss gets canned, on the road when the jerk riding your bumper speeds around you and gets pulled over, and probably even at Oktoberfest when that cocky jerk stands up to chug his beer, fails miserably, and is promptly pelted with pretzels.
11 | FREMDSSCHAEMEN
On the other hand, we’re not totally spiteful and we do have the ability to empathize, a fact proven by terms like fremdsschaemen: the feeling of being ashamed on someone else’s behalf, i.e. to feel vicariously embarrassed. You know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever seen your best friend bomb at a stand-up comedy open mic night or watched your friend mess up all the moves to the Fliegerlied (meaning she just randomly flails around to a beat) in a room full of on-lookers (hi guys!). That sickening feeling in your gut at being friends with these people? That’s fremdsschaemen.
12 | HANDSCHUHSCHNEEBALLWERFER
This funniest sounding of hilarious German words literally translates to “a person who wears gloves to throw snowballs” and if that doesn’t explain it, I don’t know what will. Oh, you need more? In that case, handschuhschneeballwerfer is someone who will talk smack about someone behind his/her back, but not to his/her face. This person is a coward who is quick to dole out abuse but only from a safe distance. We hate these people. Think: cyber bullies, road ragers (sure, that’s a term), and Sheila from your office—girl can dish!
13 | SCHWARMEREI
Merriam-Webster refers to schwarmerei as “excessive and unbridled enthusiasm” but I call it “OMG only [insert correct # here] days until Oktoberfest!” Watch me run through the Wiesn as the gates open like Julie Andrews through an Alpine meadow and you’ll fully understand schwarmerei.
14 | TORSCHLUSSPANIK
Torschlusspanik translates to “gate-shutting panic” and refers to the fear one experiences when he/she realizes time is running out to achieve certain life goals. Torschlusspanik makes people do crazy things like buy Corvettes and go on The Bachelor because they’re 30 and not married yet or, the craziest of them all, procreate.
15 | BACKPFEIFENGESICHT
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached my favourite of all relatable and hilarious German words: backpfeifengesicht. This all-too-understandable word refers to a face that desperately needs to be slapped, and as hard as possible. If my mom were writing this she’d say you were “cruisin’ for a bruisin’.”
This one needs little explanation as we all know a backpfeifengesicht or two. But beware, if you can’t identify the backpfeifengesicht in your life, it’s probably you.
16 | FERNWEH
A word I’m personally all-too-familiar with, fernweh refers to the feeling of longing for far-off places, i.e. wanderlust. You know when you sit in your cubicle and daydream of prosts and pretzels and polka? Fernweh.
17 | KOPFKINO
Literally translated to mean “head cinema”, kopfkino is the idea of playing out an entire scenario in your mind. Thinking of standing on the table to chug your beer in front of 10,000 people? Kopfkino may save you some dignity and save your buddies some fremdsschaemen.
18 | ZUGZWANG
If you’ve ever played chess with my husband or been to Oktoberfest with me, you understand zugzwang. Zugzwang if the feeling of being pressured to make a strategic move when you’d really rather just stay put and do nothing. When your friend wants to check out all the Oktoberfest beer tents but you aren’t sure your legs work and you’d rather not even try, that’s zugzwang.
19 | SCHATTENPARKER
Schattenparker literally means “one who parks his car in the shade” and is used to refer to the wimps among us. Real men park their BMWs in direct sunlight, am I right!?
20 | WARMDUSCHER
But the Germans don’t stop at schattenparker—they’ve got more than one term for the dweebs in the room. Similarly, warmduscher literally means “hot showerer” and refers to someone who is afraid to step out of his/her comfort zone. The closest word we have for this is “wallflower” but warmduscher is just so much more insulting. On the other hand, I think I’d be afraid to meet a cold-showerer—that guy is hardcore.
21 | DRACHENFUTTER
Drachenfutter is a gift given to one’s spouse as an apology, probably for trying to DIY fix the bathroom sink or for that pathetic erklärungsnot you just delivered. However, literally translated it means “dragon food” which is adorable but also highly offensive to women. It’s the hormones! We can’t help it! NOW GET OFF MY CASE! RAWR!
22 | SCHNAPSIDEE
Schnapsidee is another favourite because of how relatable it is—we’ve all experienced it. This word refers to those great ideas you have when you’re drunk. A great “idea” brought on by “schnapps”, you see? It’s the “I’m going to run a marathon tomorrow!” and the “I’m going to drink one litre from every tent at Oktoberfest!” and all the times you thought dancing was going to help you score.
23 | KUMMERSPECK
And when sexy dancing on the bench doesn’t earn you the rewards you expected, perhaps kummerspeck is the next step. Literally translated as “grief bacon” (OMG is German the best, or what?), kummerspeck refers to weight gained as the result of emotional overeating. Put down the pints, ladies! (I’m referring to ice cream—you should always keep the other kind close by.)
24 | HÜFTGOLD
Hüftgold is often the result of kummerspeck and is simply “hip gold”, also known as “love handles”. Man, Germany really knows how to put a lovely spin on things.
25 | KUDDELMUDDEL
If you’ve ever seen my Munich hotel room during a trip to Oktoberfest, then you’ve surely seen kuddelmuddel. (Also, what are you doing in my room!? Get out! I need to practice my Fliegerlied!) Kuddelmuddel is defined as a mess or a chaotic state—like a house after a big party, a beer tent after a day at Oktoberfest, or, ironically, my Fliegerlied.
26 | VERGANGENHEITSBEWAELTIGUNG
What is often used to describe much more sombre instances can also be used in terms of Oktoberfest. Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung is the struggle to come to terms with and accept the past. Did you drink beer out of a shoe? You may experience vergangenheitsbewaeltigung.
27 | ALLGEMEINBILDUNG
The closest term English speakers have to allgemeinbildung is “common sense” as it refers to everything we are expected to know as capable, independent adult humans. Do we ignore this sometimes? Naturally. Do we often do the exact opposite? Absolutely. Is knowing how to fix a leaky faucet allgemeinbildung? No seriously, is it?
28 | FEIERABEND
And finally, a characteristic of German life taken very seriously: feierabend, all the time and fun things done after work. Maybe you call it “happy hour” or “it’s five o’clock somewhere” but whatever you do, don’t call it a night.
Want to try out all these fun, new hilarious German words in real time? Then come on over to Oktoberfest in Germany, just make sure you practice your pronunciations first..
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