Untranslatable German Words: Waldeinsamkeit

Posted on 21. Aug, 2014 by in Geography, Language

Guten Tag, and wilkommen to another post on untranslatable German words!

The word of today is Die Waldeinsamkeit.

What is the meaning of Waldeinsamkeit?
It refers to a very specific feeling – the feeling of being alone in the woods.

What does Waldeinsamkeit literally translate to?
Wald means wood/forest. Einsamkeit means loneliness, or solitude.

How would you use it in a sentence?
Although it describes a feeling, it is often used in speech as if it were a physical place. For instance:
„Ich floh in die grüne Waldeinsamkeit“
„I fled into the green Waldeinsamkeit

What is the nearest English equivalent?
Words like solitude, meditation, and contemplation are often used, as is the phrase ‘being at one with the universe’. However, it is so specific that it is difficult to find an English equivalent.

This word is one of the more ‘common’ untranslatable German words, so you may have heard of it already.

The concept of Waldeinsamkeit might seem scary or unsettling (the idea of being alone in the woods), but it is definitely a positive thing; it suggests a calm, contemplative atmosphere amidst a beautiful setting. If you’ve ever taken a solitary stroll through a forest and felt better for it, then you’ll understand. This painting by Ludwig Richter evokes the feeling of Waldeinsamkeit quite well (even though the girl in it has some woodland friends to keep her company!):

Ludwig Richter (1803-1884): Genoveva in der Waldeinsamkeit, 1841

Waldeinsamkeit refers to having a connection with nature, and enjoying time alone amongst it. It is no surprise, then, that the Germans have this word, if their forests are anything to go by.

Perhaps the best known German forest is the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Baden-Württemberg, which was also the setting for many Brothers Grimm fairy tales. When you think about it, a lot of fairy tales are set in forests – Hansel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel), Rumpelstilzchen (Rumpelstiltskin), Schneewittchen (Snow White), and Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood), to name a few! If anyone has experienced Waldeinsamkeit, it’s surely the characters in those fairy tales (at least, before things started to go wrong for them…).

Der Schwarzwald – The Black Forest. Photo by ratzfatz2000 on Flickr.com

2009-02-01 Mittenwald 043

Waldeinsamkeit in the winter. Photo by wm_archiv on Flickr.com

Closer to home for me is the Bayerischer Wald (Bavarian Forest), which borders (and continues into) the Czech Republic. A lot of my childhood memories of Germany involve the Bayerischer Wald. It is a part of life over there to go for long walks in the forest, or to ski through it in the winter. If I lived near the Bayerischer Wald, you bet I’d go for a walk through it to clear my head. There would be nothing more therapeutic than that.


Mushroom picking. Photo by marcinchady on Flickr.com

Mushroom picking (Schwammal suchen – in which ‘Schwammal’ is Bavarian for ‘Pilze’ – mushrooms) in the forest is a popular pastime in rural Bavaria. It is customary to pick mushrooms in the forest, take them home, and cook dinner with them. I used to do this with my family when I was young.

There are even some real-life fairytale castles that exist in the heart of the German forests. The best-known of these is probably King Ludwig II’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, located in Hohenschwangau, Bavaria. This castle is often nicknamed “The fairytale castle”, and for good reason:


Schloss Neuschwanstein – “the fairytale castle”. Photo by djandywdotcom on Flickr.com

Yes, the woods and forests of Germany are certainly magical, mysterious, special places. It is easy to feel alone in them, and to get lost in your own thoughts as you stroll through them. Perhaps that is why the Germans have the word Waldeinsamkeit; they know, more than anyone, what it is to be alone in the woods – and how rejuvenating it can be.

Sayings + Expressions 6: The Ground and the Sun

Posted on 19. Aug, 2014 by in Culture, Literature

Liebe Leser,

Today again a saying and an expression. If you are down, because something struck you, and you do not know how life is supposed to be nice again… Remember the saying and expression below!

Auf Regen folgt Sonnenschein

Rainfall is followed by sunshine (every cloud has a silver lining)

This one is based on how rain and sunshine are generally seen. Rain is bad weather, while sunshine means good weather. So metaphorically, bad stuff is followed by good stuff. In nature, it is true that sunshine follows rain – and seeing it this way instead of the other way around is the positive approach, of course!


It is often said when somebody is down, as an encouragement to think positive and look forward, because things will get better. “Bad weather” is only a phase, not a permanent situation. Example:

“Es ist ja schade dass Lisa Schluss gemacht hat, aber du weißt doch, auf Regen folgt Sonnenschein!”

“It is indeed a shame Lisa broke up with you, but you know that every cloud has a silver lining!”

Die Sonne nach dem Regen. (Image by Shawn Harquail at Flickr.com)

Am Boden zerstört sein

To be destroyed on the ground (to hit rock bottom)

This expression is about pure devastation, and to be devastated quite covers it as well. However, the interesting part is in the German translation. Am Boden means “on the ground”. It refers to location – where you are destroyed. But why would location make such a difference in how severely devastated you are? The expression comes from the Luftwaffe (Air Force). Hostile aircraft were destroyed before they could even ascend. So they were destroyed while they were on the ground – and that is devastating for the enemy, as he could not fight back with its planes, did not have a chance to resist. So to be destroyed am Boden is worse than being shot down, when resistance was already possible – so this kind of devastation is more severe.


Connected to the saying above, this expression is quite related. When somebody is am Boden zerstört, the person is in such state of devastation, that he or she does not even believe in sunshine after the rain anymore. Let’s see that in an example:

Weil Lisa Schluss gemacht hat, ist er jetzt am Boden zerstört. Er sollte aber wissen, dass alles besser wird – denn auf Regen folgt Sonnenschein.

Because Lisa broke up, he is hitting rock bottom. But he should know, that everything will be better – because every cloud has a silver lining.



The conjugation of the German verb “stehen”

Posted on 18. Aug, 2014 by in Grammar, Language

The German verb “stehen” is commonly translated into English “to be”, “to stand” or “to suit”. Below you can find its conjugations for the following tenses:

-       Präsens – present
-       Präteritum – preterit (equals simple past)
-       Futur I – future I
-       Perfekt – perfect
-       Plusaquamperfekt – pluperfect (equals past perfect)
-       Futur II – future II

But first, let me say a few words about the meaning of the verb “stehen”.


The meaning of the German verb “stehen” and its English equivalents

Many Germans have difficulty in accepting that “stehen” often simply means “to be” in English. For example, in English you say, “The vase is on the table.” It is absolutely okay when you translate this as “Die Vase ist auf dem Tisch”. However, this is not nice German. Germans do not only give the location of a thing or person, but also how it is positioned. Is it standing (stehen) or lying (liegen)? We will have a closer look at the verb “liegen” (to lie) in another post. For now, lets focus on “stehen”.

The correct German translation of “The vase is on the table” is “Die Vase steht auf dem Tisch”. Germans tend to translate it literally into English “The vase is standing on the table.” So whenever you wish to give the location of an object or subject mind how it is (usually) positioned. When it is (usually) in an upright position you use the verb “stehen”.

Of course, it is possible that a vase overturns and falls off the table. In this case, it is no longer in an upright position. Hence, you have to use the verb “liegen.”


Präsens – present tense

In the present tense “stehen” is used to give a location and to say whether something suits someone.

Singular Plural
1st person ich stehe wir stehen
2nd person du stehst – informal
Sie stehen – formal
ihr steht – informal
Sie stehen – formal
3rd person er/sie/es steht sie stehen

1. Die Blumen stehen auf dem Tisch.
(The flowers are on the table.)

2. Wo ist der Staubsauger?
(Where is the vacuum cleaner?)

3. Die Hose steht dir nicht.
(The pants don’t suit you.)

4. Wir stehen an der Weltzeituhr.
(We are at the world time clock.)


Imperativ – imperative

In present situation you can give commands in order to make another person do something. In this case, “stehen” can only mean “to stand”.

1. Stehe still!
(Stand still!; 1st person singular; When “talking” to yourself)

2. Steh still!
(Stand still!; 2nd person singular; informal)

3. Stehen Sie still!
(Stand still!; 2nd person singular and plural; formal)

4. Stehen wir still!
(Let’s stand still!)


Präteritum – preterit (equals simple past)

In the preterite tense “stehen” can mean “to be”, “to stand” and “to suit”.

Singular Plural
1st person ich stand wir standen
2nd person du standest – informal
Sie standen – formal
ihr standet – informal
Sie standen – formal
3rd person er/sie/es stand sie standen

1. Wir standen in der ersten Reihe.
(We stood in the front row.)

2. Doreen stand zitternd am Wasser.
(Doreen stood by the water shivering.)

3. Die Frisur stand ihr sehr gut.
(The hairstyle suited her very well.)

4. Stand das in dem Buch?
(Was that written in the book?)


Futur I – future I

In the future I tense “stehen” can mean “to be”, “to stand” and “to suit”.

Singular Plural
1st person ich werde stehen wir werden stehen
2nd person du wirst stehen – informal
Sie werden stehen – formal
ihr werdet stehen – informal
Sie werden stehen – formal
3rd person er/sie/es wird stehen sie werden stehen

1. Ich werde am Bahnhof stehen.
(I will be waiting at the station.)

2. Das Kleid wird ihr nicht stehen?
(The dress won’t suit her.)

3. Sie werden ab 15 Uhr am Ausgang stehen.
(They will be waiting at the exit door from 3 p.m. onwards.)

4. Sie werden alles stehen und liegen lassen, wenn …
(They will drop everything when …)


Perfekt – perfect

The perfect tense requires the pas participle “gestanden”, which can either derive from the present form of “stehen” (to be, to stand, to suit) or “gestehen” (to confess). That is, in the perfect tense you can use “gestanden” in another context.

Singular Plural
1st person ich habe gestanden wir haben gegeben
2nd person du hast gestanden – informal
Sie haben gestanden – formal
ihr habt gestanden – informal
Sie haben gestanden – formal
3rd person er/sie/es hat gestanden sie haben gestanden

1. Er hat die Tat gestanden.
(I confessed the crime.)

2. Habt ihr an der richtigen Stelle gestanden?
(Have you been at the right spot?)

3. Zehn Jahre hat er für das Unternehmen seinen Mann gestanden.
(For ten years he stood his ground for the company.)

4. Die Jacke hat ihm wirklich gut gestanden.
(The jacket suited him very well.)


Plusquamperfekt – pluperfect (equals past perfect)

The pluperfect also requires the past participle “gestanden”. Thus, “gestanden” means “been”, “stood”, “suited” and “confessed”.

Singular Plural
1st person ich hatte gestanden wir hatten gestanden
2nd person du hattest gestanden – informal
Sie hatten gestanden – formal
ihr hattet gestanden – informal
Sie hatten gestanden – formal
3rd person er/sie/es hatte gestanden sie hatten gestanden

1. Ich hatte fünf Meter neben dem Haus gestanden.
(I had been standing five meters beside the house.)

2. Das Auto hatte in Flammen gestanden.
(The car had been in flames.)

3. Der Dieb hatte die Tat sofort gestanden.
(The thief had confessed the crime immediately.)

4. Die Elektrogeräte hatten im Regen gestanden. Jetzt sind sie alle kaputt.
(The electric appliances had been left out in the rain. Now all of them are broken.)


Futur II – future II

In the future II “gestanden” can mean “been”, “stood”, “suited” and “confessed. However, this tense is rarely used.

Singular Plural
1st person ich werde gestanden haben wir werden gestanden haben
2nd person du wirst gestanden haben – informal
Sie werden gestanden haben – formal
ihr werdet gestanden haben – informal
Sie werden gestanden haben – formal
3rd person er/sie/es wird gestanden haben sie werden gestanden haben

1. Bis zur nächsten Verhandlung wird er die Tat gestanden haben.
(He will have confessed the crime until the next hearing.)