German Language Blog

Driving In Germany? 2 Words You Need To Know! Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Language

Guten Tag!

Today’s ‘untranslatable words’ theme is all about driving, and today I’ve got two words for you instead of one!

Autobahn Weilbach

die Autobahn – motorway. Photo by 99502933@N03 on under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Germany is famous for producing high quality Autos (cars) and for its Autobahn (motorway) – more specifically, for the lack of a speed limit on most German motorways.

But if you’re hitting the road in Germany, here are two terms you might not be familiar with yet! Both describe phenomena common to any country, but the Germans have specific words for them. Let’s get started with der Schilderwald.


Schilderwald - Signage gone wild

der Schilderwald – ‘forest of signs’. Photo by die_tine on under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)


der Schilderwald

Made up of the words die Schilder (signs – plural of das Schild) and der Wald (forest/wood), this word literally means ‘a sign forest’. What does this refer to on the road, exactly? It refers to a cluster of road signs – those that are often so close together, it becomes a little difficult to see what you’re looking at. You might say you are ‘missing the wood for the trees’! The (regular) collective word for road signs is die Verkehrsschildern – literally ‘traffic signs’. Have you ever seen a Schilderwald while driving, either in Germany or elsewhere? Then I’m sure you’ll understand why this quirky word exists in German!


Closed Up

der Reißverschluss – zip. Photo by andrewgustar on under a CC license (CC BY-ND 2.0)


das Reißverschlusssystem

There is a roundabout where I live that sits just outside a shopping complex. This roundabout can get so congested that the only way to keep traffic moving is to ignore the usual rights of way and to simply take it in turns to join lanes. This is what the Germans call a Reißverschlusssystem – literally, ‘zip system’. Why? Because the way the cars interlock mimics the interlocking of a zip’s teeth as you close it! The Reißverschlusssystem is often used on German motorways when traffic is extremely bad. The word is made up of the words der Reißverschluss (zip) and das System (system). Now I’ll bet you won’t be able to think of anything else the next time you’re in a Reißverschlusssystem situation!


Have you ever driven in Germany? How did you find it? As always, leave your comments below! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post!

Oh, and Frohe OsternHappy Easter!

ostern frühling

Frohe Ostern! Photo by 42154456@N00 on under a CC license (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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About the Author: Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze and I live in the UK. I'm half English and half German, and have been writing about German language and culture on this blog since 2014. I am also a fitness instructor & personal trainer.


  1. Max Spring:

    One teeny-tiny tipo in “…The (regular) collective word for road signs is die Verkehrsschildern…”

    It’s actually just “die Verkehrsschilder”. No ‘n’.

    “Verkehrsschildern” would be the dative case, but then we’d use “den” as article.


  2. Pius Gross:

    Rented a vehicle in Germany several years ago. Enjoyed the Auto Bahns, but cannot see anything for the trees.
    Do enjoy driving the small roads through the villages and fields.

  3. tony:

    I once thought the Autobahns were kept to a particularly high standard. Weaving across Germany last week I was disappointed. Worse than that I was suprised that one from Luxenburg towards Munich has no service stations and only one stopping place – without a WC.
    I made the great mistake a year or two ago of using the roads when every person in Germany was driving to or from a holiday and it was impossible to even get into a service station and people were just using the car parks as toilets.
    I you plan a journey in the summer research the dates!