In this digital age, fortunately we can attend to many issues via email or even instant messenger. But on many formal occasions, it’s still necessary to send a written letter, whether you’re applying for a job or apartment, want to inquire with an official government agency, or need to deal with a lawyer, insurance agency, or other representative of bureaucracy.
Many services in Germany are still not digital and formal communication through regular mail is still quite common. How to write a letter in German is therefore a useful skill to have to master your daily life in the country.
Tips for German letter writing
A formal letter in German should begin with a proper header. This consists of the sender’s address followed by that of the recipient. Include the country for an international address. Next is a line stating the place from where the letter originates, followed by the date you posted it. You can then include an optional subject line (“Betreffzeile”) before a formal greeting, after which you begin the body text of your letter.
You can use a smaller font size for your own address at the top of the letter to save space. When using an envelope with a window (“Fensterumschlag”), you need to line up the recipient’s address with the window. The window area begins 50mm from the top of the page and is 40mm in height with an indentation of at least 20mm. German rules are complicated, aren’t they?
The line with place and date is aligned to the right and can be written as “Berlin, 25.10.2020” or “Berlin, Donnerstag den 20. Februar, 2020”. A subject line is optional, but helps to quickly establish what the letter is about. You can put a reference number, customer ID, or the reason you’re writing the letter.
Sample of how to begin a formal letter in German.
Rules for writing a formal German letter
The following are examples for formal greeting lines when composing a letter in German:
- Guten Tag Herr Mustermann, – Good day Mr. Mustermann
- Sehr geehrter Herr Professor Doktor Brecht, – Dear Professor Doctor Brecht – note that the title comes after gender-specific noun and before the actual name
- Sehr geehrter Herr Präsident, – Dear Mister President
- Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, – Dear Sir/Madam – note that the German is actually plural and is the equivalent of “To whom it may concern”
- Liebe Frau Treibholz, – Dear Mrs. Treibholz – less formal but still very polite
Take note that the formal greeting ends in a coma and the following opening line of the letter begins with a lowercase word. Continue addressing the recipient formally throughout your German letter: use “Sie”, “Ihr”, and “Ihnen” as pronouns and don’t forget to capitalise the words!
Depending on the subject of your letter, you might open with one of the following lines:
- ich schreibe Ihnen weil… – I’m writing to you because…
- ich nehme Bezug auf Ihr Schreiben vom… – I’m referring to your letter dated…
- ich habe folgendes Anliegen: – I have the following request:
To formally conclude a letter in German, you can use one of these salutations:
- Mit freundlichen Grüßen – Sincerely yours – literally “with friendly salutations”
- Ich freue mich auf Ihre Antwort – I look forward to your reply
- Ich danke Ihnen für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit und verbleibe mit freundlichen Grüßen – I thank you for your attention and remain with kind regards
Note the lack of a comma after the sign-off at the end of the letter. Don’t forget to sign your letter with your name. If you’re attaching documents such as a CV or a certificate, you can include all attachments as an itemised list after your sign-off with “Anlagen” or “Anhang” as a headline.
Rules for writing an informal German letter
Depending on how informal your relationship to the recipient actually is, there are hardly any rules you need to follow when composing a letter to a German friend. You can include the entire letterhead as you would for a formal letter, though you’d probably leave out a subject line.
Yet it’s more common to just include the place and date to let the addressee know when and whence you’re writing. After that, you can launch right into any type of informal greeting you prefer:
- Liebe Frau Müller, – Dear Ms. Müller
- Lieber Andreas, – Dear Andreas
- Hallo, – Hello
- Hallo Martin, – Hello Martin
- Hallo mein Lieber, / Hallo meine Liebe, – Hello my love
Don’t forget that adjectives or nouns need to correspond properly to the gender of the recipient. Same as with a formal letter, the first line is not capitalised.
To close your letter informally in German, you can sign off any way you like. Final salutations are often warm and intimate in German and express best wishes:
- Herzlichst – Cordially
- Viele Grüße – Best regards
- Liebe Grüße / Viele liebe Grüße – Lots of love
- Alles Liebe – Lots of love
- Beste Wünsche – Best wishes
- Dein – Yours, male version
- Deine – Yours, female version
- In Liebe – With love–reserve that one for your significant other!
How to address an envelope in Germany
Ideally, you’ll address an envelope for your German letter with printed labels, but you can also write out the address (legibly!) by hand. Keep these rules in mind to not delay your letter unnecessarily by sorting problems:
- Only write on the front of the envelope.
- Put the sender’s address (your own) in the top left corner but not too close to the edge.
- Put the recipient’s address in the bottom right corner, but leave a margin of at least 15mm from the left and right edge and the bottom, and at least 40mm from the top.
- Alternatively, you can place the recipient’s address 50mm from the top and 20mm from the left–that’s where the window begins on a window envelope.
How to post a letter in Germany
For mailing your letter, go to an office of the “Deutsche Post” (German post) or look up the required postage online. The postage varies with the size, weight, and destination of your letter. If you have the correct stamp at hand, you can place your letter in one of the public yellow mailboxes. Keep in mind that they’ll be emptied only once or twice daily.
For fast delivery or questions about postage, it’s best to go to an office or private mail carrier service. You’ll be able to ask about delivery times and options in person.