German Language Blog

Hamsterkauf: German Panic Buying! Posted by on Mar 16, 2022 in Culture, Food, Language, Slang

Guten Tag! Today we’re going to talk about a German word that emerged as a result of the pandemic- or did it? The word in question is der Hamsterkauf.


Photo by Björn Antonissen on Unsplash

Recently I wrote a post on words that’ve emerged to describe life during the Covid-19 pandemic (die Pandemie: pandemic). You can read this here, if you’re interested. One of the words that’s been used since the very start of it is der Hamsterkauf, which means ‘panic buy’ or ‘panic shopping’, as people cleared the supermarket shelves at the start of the pandemic out of fear of what was going to happen, and if there would be enough food for everybody. This word’s literal translation is ‘hamster shopping’, because of the way hamsters stuff their cheeks full of food (der Hamster– hamster; der Einkauf– shopping/purchase. Note Einkauf is the noun shopping/purchase, not the verb.)


Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Whilst the concept of a Hamsterkauf is now widely associated with the 2020 pandemic, it was around long before then. The word comes from the verb hamstern- to hoard, a verb that was used to describe the exact same events happening during the 1st World War (der 1. Weltkrieg), when there were significant food shortages. The word ‘hamstern’ popped up in a number of publications in Germany during this time- for example, in 1916 the author Erich Mühsam wrote in his diary (das Tagebuch), “’Hamstern‘ ist das neueste Schlagwort der Presse und des Publikums” (“’Hamstern’ is the press and public’s newest catchphrase”). Source – Der ewige Hamster – WELT

But the word hamstern is not reserved for these big, life-altering situations; in Germany, it’s also used to describe the last-minute panic buying people do on Saturdays to have enough food to last them until Monday, seeing as German supermarkets and shops are closed (geschlossen) on Sundays. As you can imagine, this is even more urgent (dringend) on a bank holiday weekend!!


Geschlossen: closed! Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

So, there you have a bit of insight to the word Hamsterkauf! To finish, what sorts of things are usually bought in a Hamsterkauf? Here is a shopping list- feel free to add any items in the COMMENT BOX that you also deem essential (wesentlich)!

Der Einkaufszettel: The shopping list!

Das Mehl – Flour
Die Pasta/die Nudeln – Pasta/noodles
Der Reis – Rice
Die Kartoffeln – Potatoes
Das Öl – Oil
Die Tomatensoße – Tomato sauce
Die Haferflocken – Oats
Der Dosenfisch – Canned fish
Die Dosenbohnen – Canned beans
Die Dosensuppe – Canned soup
Das gefrorenes Gemüse – Frozen vegetables
Die Trockenfrüchte – Dried fruit
Die Erdnussbutter – Peanut butter
Die Nüsse – Nuts
Die Kekse – Biscuits
Das Klopapier – Toilet paper
Das antibakterielles Gel – Antibacterial gel
Die Seife – Soap


Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

If you liked this post, check out this one: Zoom Meetings In German

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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. Joseph T Madawela:

    I would add seaweed(kelp),ume plums and green tea but dn’t know it i German

  2. Aden:

    What a great word.