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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Eight German words that perfectly sum up being in your 20s

Whether you have just graduated, just been dumped or just now trying to figure yourself out, sometimes you're just at a loss for words in your twenties. But German is here to help.

Eight German words that perfectly sum up being in your 20s
"Bier" is, of course, the one word that goes without saying. Photo: Claus Rebler on Flickr

1. Fernweh – longing for a far off place

To be fair, you might get further if you choose a mode of transport that isn't wind-powered. Photo: Moyan Brenn on Flickr

You've probably had this itchy-feet feeling at least once during your twenties of Fernweh – literally a longing for a distant place.

This is basically the opposite of homesickness (or 'Heimweh), meaning a feeling of “anywhere but here”, perhaps specifically “anywhere but my hometown where all my high school friends have turned into pricks”.

2. Schnapsidee – idea that comes from too much Schnapps

We 20-somethings generally still seem to be figuring out that having a few too many beers or shots (or both) is generally not the best time for decision-making.

So when your friends suggest stealing a street sign right outside a police station – at noon – tell them it's a Schnapsidee and offer to buy them a döner instead.

3. Torschlusspanik – fear that you’ve missed out

Helping friends try on wedding dresses is a well-known cause of Torschlusspanik. Photo: DPA

When your Facebook and Instagram feeds seem to be perpetually filled with engagement and baby photos, you might be feeling Torschlusspanik.

Literally translating to “closed gate panic”, this is the feeling that a door has shut on something big, usually like finding a soulmate and settling down.

“Wasn’t our generation supposed to be delaying adulthood, pushing marriage into our thirties or forties? Will Tinder ever help me find my dream person?” you ask yourself as you swipe through another round of virtual suitors.

This also might lead you to feel…

4. Mutterseelenallein – forever alone

Photo: Manolo Gomez on Flickr

This literally translates to “mother's soul alone”, or so alone that not even your mother's soul is there by your side.

5. Hotel Mama – living with mum and dad

Hey, she got you this far – of course Mama doesn't mind! Photo: pawpaw67 on Flickr

Maybe a bit the opposite of the previous word, but Hotel Mama is the German turn to use when talking about people who still live with their parents as grown adults.

Many of us may face this at some point in our twenties, and there's no shame in it – especially when suffering under all the debt from attending university outside continental Europe.

6. Lebensabschnittspartner – part-of-life partner

Things don't have to last forever to be beautiful, right? Photo: Amy Humphries on Flickr

If you do manage to move out of Hotel Mama and find someone to help you feel less mutterseelenallein, it’ll probably be with someone who isn’t quite your soulmate but more of a you-will-do-for-now mate.

We 20-somethings may end up going through a slew of these, summed up in the mouthful of a word, usually used in hindsight, Lebensabschnittspartner: part-of-life companion.

Who said romance was dead?

7. Zukunftsangst – fear of the future

Getting through your 20s can be a little stressful. But German is here to help you talk about it! Photo: Sodanie Chea on Flickr.

Actually, you didn’t even need to look at the rest of the list, because this one really sums up the essence of being between 20 and 29. This fear at the start of the decade might propel you into graduate school to bide more time before having to really face Your Future.

This fear also might make you avoid certain family and friend gatherings, knowing too well that the f-word will inevitably come up, particularly if you mention that you're working as a waitress, yes, even with that degree.

And even if by 29 you have a job, an apartment and seem to pretty much have it all together, you probably still have this fear as you lurch toward 30, perhaps because that job isn’t exactly what you hope you’ll be doing forever.

Or because you know that there are ever more expectations hiding around the corner of the next ten years. (Ahem, babies).

But have no Zukunftsangst, because there’s another German word that might help change your perspective…

8. Lebenskunst – the art of living

It's not just the destination, but the journey, right? And your twenties, with few responsibilities, old-age-induced ailments and still plenty of energy, are a great time to focus less on what the end goal is, and more on the general process of living.

Lebenskunst and being a Lebenskünstler (life artist) is about approaching life like a work of art – something you might in a way already do with your active Instagram account.

But more fundamentally, it's about making life “magical in myriad ways by putting a positive spin on everything and by taking pleasure in little things others might overlook,” as the German Information Center puts it.

However, in hard-working Switzerland, not everyone is enamoured of the idea of being a Lebenskünstler. For some, the word is a euphemism for a lazy, ahem, bs artist.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ

Even with High German, the differences between writing and speaking are stark.

Seven fascinating ways written and spoken German differ
The Swiss and German flags fly near German parliament. Image: WOLFGANG KUMM / DPA / AFP

You’ve spent hours learning the difference between Genitiv and Dativ, poring over complicated article tables and mastering complicated word order rules… only to step off the plane in Germany and realise you can barely understand a thing. 

Fear not – this is a common experience for many language-learners. The German you’ll read in your textbooks is not the same as the German you’ll hear on the street, so here’s a list of seven important differences to help you hit the ground running. 

And don't get us started on Swiss German – that's a whole other kettle of hot cheese.

1. Word order

German is notorious for its difficult word order, with subordinating conjunctions such as da and weil sending the verb to the end of a clause and tying non-native speakers in knots.

Whilst the importance of correct word order will be drilled into you in language classes, you’ll often find native German speakers themselves shirking the rules.

READ ALSO: 12 signs you've mastered the German language

Sentences with multiple clauses can prove difficult even for native speakers, who will often opt to keep the verb where it is rather than sending it to the end.

Ich habe gestern den ganzen Tag im Bett verbracht, weil ich war so müde (correct formulation: weil ich so müde war). 

I spent the whole day in bed yesterday because I was so tired.

Germans will also often play with word order to emphasise certain aspects of the sentence, even if it is not technically grammatically correct. 

Ich putze das Haus gerade (correct formulation: ich putze gerade das Haus)

I am cleaning the house at the moment.

2. Past tense

When Germans tell stories or speak about what they got up to last weekend, you’re much more likely to hear the present perfect rather than the preterite. 

With the exception of some verbs, such as haben or sein, many native speakers would find it strange to speak with the preterite in everyday life.  

If you’re in doubt during a conversation, opting for ich bin gefahren (I went) rather than ich fuhr will always be a safe bet. 

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common (and funniest) mistakes German learners make

3. Mixed up cases

The case system in German can take years to master, and learning the correct uses of the dative and genitive can be a particular sore point for many non-native speakers.

However you’ll see many native German speakers making the same mistakes on a daily basis. 

The genitive case is being used less and less in spoken language, with many simply replacing it with the dative equivalent. 

Take the preposition wegen, for example: technically this word should be followed by the genitive case, but you’ll often hear wegen dem Wetter (due to/as a result of the weather) instead of wegen des Wetters in everyday conversation.

A similar phenomenon occurs with the possessive genitive:

When talking about ‘Steven’s car’, for example, Stevens Auto (correct German formulation) becomes dem Steven sein Auto (replaced with dative). 

For many native German speakers, using the genitive when speaking now feels unnatural and stilted – in fact, this ‘mistake’ has become so widespread that many Germans now mix their cases up when writing.

4. Abbreviations

Much like in English, German speakers are also partial to shortening words where possible. So much so that it’s not uncommon to hear multiple abbreviations within the same sentence. 

Popular Abkürzungen (abbreviations) include the shortening of articles, for example eine to ‘ne, or the merging of words such as fürs for für das.

Ich brauche einen Computer fürs Studium.

I need a computer for my studies. 

Es war ‘ne tolle Erfahrung! 

It was a great experience!

READ ALSO: Ten German abbreviations that will have you texting like a true native

5. Swallowed sounds

Similarly, German speakers will often drop the letter at the end of a verb, losing the ‘e’ sound to make a sentence flow more smoothly. 

This doesn’t work for all verbs, but it is most commonly heard with verbs such as ich habe (I have) which becomes ich hab’ or ich glaube (I believe) which becomes ich glaub’.

Verbs in the plural form can also be shortened, with wir gehen (we go) becoming wir geh’n and sie sehen (they see) becoming sie seh’n.

6. Modal particles 

Spoken German is also littered with small words that are incredibly difficult to translate but very important to help understand the context of a sentence.

What is more, the intonation used when pronouncing these filler words is key to interpreting the tone of the speaker, meaning they don’t work as well when written on the page. 

READ ALSO: Das ist ja mal wictig: The complete guide to German particles

One of the most common of these is halt – it comes from the verb halten (to stop), but is often used to add ‘colour’ to sentences, to express a tone of resignation or to buy time when someone is unsure of what to say, just as with ‘like’ or ‘just’ in English.

Other untranslatable modal particles include doch, eben and mal – whilst they can originally be confusing, language learners soon get a feel for when they should be used. 

Du hast mir nicht geschrieben! 

You didn’t send me a message!

Doch! 

Yes I did! 

Das Ding ist halt, dass immer noch so viele Fehler beim Sprechen mache.

The thing is that I still make so many mistakes when I speak.

Sollen wir bald mal was zusammen machen?

Should we hang out together soon?

7. Slang 

Last but not least are the widely used slang words that pepper everyday speech, especially amongst young people. 

Many slang terms vary from region to region, but they’re much more common in spoken language than in written language as they suggest a degree of informality.  

Words such as krass and geil can be used to show you’re impressed by something, whilst the question Na? has become a common colloquial greeting.

Want to sound like a true native when you speak? For a deeper look at German slang, visit our guide here. For Swiss German, click here. 

 
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