German Idioms 30: The Court and The Water Posted by on Apr 1, 2021 in Culture, idioms, Language, News, Politics

Last week, we talked about the Osterruhe (f, Easter rest) and how it was revoked within one day. Two German idioms were prominent that week, and so I want to explain them here today. In the 30th edition of German Idioms!

For older posts, please follow this link.

Hart/scharf mit jemandem ins Gericht gehen

German Idioms Hart Ins Gericht Merkel

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Literally: to go hard into court with somebody

To be hard on somebody

This Ausdruck (m, expression) is quite common in Germany. It simply means that you are being hard on somebody. However, it also only works in this composition. If you say this when you actually want to talk about das Gericht (n, court), people won’t get it.1Ok, unless you’re making a pun.

Where does it come from?

It is related to the court, the one with the judges and all. It basically means that you “go to court” with somebody. You criticize them, and you judge (verurteilen) their behavior. This is strengthened with the hart (hard, strong) or scharf (sharp). You can scharf kritisieren (to be highly critical of) somebody. You can also say that somebody is being hard with someone: sei doch nicht so hart mit ihm, er weiß es einfach nicht besser (don’t be so hard on him, he simply doesn’t know better).

Sometimes, the Ausdruck comes without the hart/scharf. To just mit jemanden ins Gericht gehen .

The Ausdruck likely has biblical origins, but it is also quite self-explanatory.

It’s an Ausdruck that’s used on all levels, but it is definitely more formal than informal. In informal circles, something like hart mit jemanden sein, like the example above, is more common.

Here’s how it is used with the fallout Merkel received:

Angela Merkel ist intern angeschlagen und geht hart mit sich ins Gericht. Nach außen aber wirkt die Kanzlerin bei ihrem auf Auftritt im Bundestag stark. RP Online

(Angela Merkel is struggling internally and is being hard on herself. Outwardly, however, the Chancellor appears strong in her appearance in the Bundestag.)

Besonders mit der Corona-Politik der Großen Koalition ging der CDU-Politiker [Linnemann] hart ins Gericht: ” Seit einem Jahr machen wir in der Pandemie nur Risikovermeidung statt Risikomanagement, es fehlen die kreativen Ansätze, von den Apps bis zu den Tests. Wir drehen uns immer im Kreis und am Ende kommt wieder ein Lockdown raus”, ließ sich Linnemann zitieren. Sein Fazit: “Wir brauchen einen Befreiungsschlag.” – n-tv

(The CDU politician [Linnemann] was particularly hard on the corona policy of the grand coalition: “For a year now, we have only been practicing risk avoidance instead of risk management in the pandemic, there is a lack of creative approaches, from apps to tests. We are always spinning in a circle and at the end there is another lockdown”, Linnemann was quoted as saying. His conclusion: “We need a breakout.”)

On to the second Ausdruck!

ins Wasser fallen

German Idioms Ins Wasser Fallen Merkel

Photo by Will Swann on Unsplash

Literally: to fall in the water

To fall through

Not only did people go hart ins Gericht over the Osterruhe, it would also ins Wasser fallen – it fell through! Like we said before, just a day after it was announced. Where does this Ausdruck come from?

It looks like it came from the archaic in den Brunnen fallen (to fall in the well). Das Wasser has a symbolic meaning of the drohenden Untergang (impending doom). Falling in a well could mean death, after all. Water can also be a menace in many ways, of course. So, when something falls into water, it is done for.

This Ausdruck is a bit more usual in informal conversations as well. However, you are still more likely to see it in written text. In conversations, people are more likely to go with the shorter nicht stattfinden (to not take place), or simply ausfallen (to be cancelled). So a das Konzert fiel ins Wasser (the concert fell through) works in text, but in conversations a das Konzert fiel aus/fand nicht statt (the concert was cancelled/did not take place) is more common.

Here’s this Ausdruck in relation to Ostern:

Am Dienstag saßen Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel und die Ministerpräsidenten mal wieder bis spät in die Nacht zusammen. Nun ist es beschlossene Sache: Auch Ostern 2021 fällt ins Wasser. Der Lockdown wird mindestens bis zum 18. April verlängert und über die Ostertage teilweise sogar verschärft. –

(On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Ministers sat together again until late into the night. Now it’s a done deal: Easter 2021 will also fall through. The lockdown will be extended to at least April 18 and in some cases even tightened over the Easter days.)

Ostern fällt dieses Jahr definitiv nicht ins Wasser, ob es regnet oder die Sonne scheint! –

(Easter definitely won’t fall through this year, come rain come sunshine!)

Have you seen these Ausdrücke before? What do you think about them? Are there equivalents in your language? I am curious, so please let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.


  1. jan:

    love getting these emails,,, like the use of current life issues to day to day german life. so good,, thanks so much,, very very useful way to micro learn…

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