10 of the most beautiful German words (and phrases)

10 of the most beautiful German words (and phrases)

by Adriana Stein

Updated April 21, 2023

German often has a stereotype as a harsh-sounding and ugly language. With confusing noun cases, verb conjugations and grammar rules that have too many exceptions, some people say that it’s simply not worth learning.  We are here to tell you that German is not as complicated to learn as most people think. By immersing yourself in the language, you’ll quickly discover that German is full of beautiful words and phrases.

For your benefit, we have compiled here a list of 11 terms and expressions that will make you fall in love with this amazing language.

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Uniquely beautiful German words

1. Weltschmerz

Weltschmerz combines the German words for “world” and “pain” and perfectly describes what we feel when we see suffering and misery in the world. We’ve all had a heaping dose of Weltschmerz in 2020, so I suggest you take a break from reading the news and watch puppy videos instead.

2. Fernweh

Fernweh is another German word that we’re all too familiar with after 2020. It translates to “distance pain” and describes the feeling of wanting to be somewhere else and travel. It’s the opposite of “homesickness” and is somewhat similar to “wanderlust” in English, but in German can be used in a negative sense.

3. Zeitgeist

You’re probably familiar with this one already as it’s a German word that has entered the English, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese languages because there simply is no better word for it. Zeitgeist combines the German words for “time” and “spirit” and describes the ethos or defining mood of a generation. 

4. Bitte

If you’re planning to travel or live in a German-speaking country, bitte is one of the most important words you can learn. In general, it shows respect and politeness, which are important traits every foreigner should exhibit if they want to navigate a new place comfortably.

But bitte is particularly useful because there are many ways you can use it. It means “please”, “you’re welcome” and “pardon”. You can also use it to say “go ahead”, “here you go” or “may I help you?”. So from checking in to a hotel to ordering at a restaurant or holding the door open for someone, you can’t go wrong with saying bitte.

5. Torschlusspanik

You know that panic you feel when it’s Sunday evening and you haven’t completed your weekend to-do list? That’s like Torschlusspanik – but at a much grander scale.

Combining the German words for “gate”, “shut”, and “panic”, Torschlusspanik is the perfect word to describe that feeling of dread when you realize how quickly time flies and how there’s still so much you need to do with your life. It’s similar to the English term “mid-life crisis,” but it can happen at any time of your life (yikes).

6. Schadenfreude

Do you remember that time a driver recklessly cut in front of you and then a few kilometers later, you spotted them on the side of the road dealing with a car problem?

That joy you felt at the driver’s misfortune – that’s schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude combines the German words for “damage” and “joy” and describes the satisfaction you feel at someone else’s misfortune. While you may commonly feel it for someone who does something terrible to you, you may also experience it when watching sports and the rival team loses or when reading the news and finding out that a criminal or corrupt official got what they deserve. Admit it, we’ve all done it at least once in our lives.

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German phrases about love

How do you say “I love you” in German? Aside from the direct translation Ich liebe dich, these two German phrases give your declarations of love an interesting nuance.

7. Ich bin bis über beide Ohren verliebt

This phrase translates to “I’m over both ears in love” and is equivalent to the English idiom “head over heels in love”. If you’re totally smitten with something or someone, this is a wonderful way to express your feelings.

Once your overflowing love has settled down a bit, you can repurpose Ohren, the German word for “ears”, to funnily insult your beloved in German.

8. Ich habe dich lieb

If you’re not quite ready to profess such strong feelings of love, you can start instead with the more noncommittal Ich habe dich lieb.

This phrase literally translates to “I have love for you” and like its grammatical composition, it’s a shyer, more roundabout way of telling someone that you love them. You can also use it to express a more childlike, friendly or innocent love (such as for friends), as opposed to the more passionate ich liebe dich (“I love you”) that couples say to each other.

Beautiful German quotes

Another reason to learn German? It’s the language of so many iconic historical figures. Here are two quotes that highlight how incredibly beautiful the German language can be.

9. Man reist nicht, um anzukommen, sondern um zu reisen

This gem was conceived by the one and only Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer and statesman.

As a prolific writer, Goethe is known worldwide for his works. Here’s an inspirational quote you can remember the next time you get frustrated with your language learning. It literally translates to “You do not travel to arrive, but to travel.” Don’t be in such a rush to reach the goals that you fail to enjoy the process. Every step of your language-learning journey is an adventure in itself.

10. Nicht alles, was zählt, ist zählbar, und nicht alles, was zählbar ist, zählt. 

This last quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, the German scientist.

And with this, we’ll leave you with a feel-good quote from one of the most famous German-speaking intellectual figures. The quote translates to “Not everything that counts is countable and not everything that can be counted counts.” If you ever find yourself equating your self-worth to your language capabilities in comparison to others who are more fluent, pause and take a moment to take stock and appreciate how much you have learned. Are you working on improving and enjoying your time in the process? Then you’ve come much further than you might realize.

Convinced yet?

By now we hope to have made you change your mind about German and its reputation as a harsh language. These 10 beautiful German words and phrases are evidence that this idiom is much more than what it might sound to an untrained ear. Philosophical meanings and subtle connotations are what makes this language one of the most intriguing to learn.

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