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Sayings + Expressions 16 – Drehen Posted by on Feb 15, 2018 in Culture, Language, vocabulary

In this long series of Sayings + Expressions, we have come across a lot. It might make your head spin. And that is why today, we will be talking about drehen (to spin). Because believe it or not, there are Sprichwörter (sayings) and Ausdrücke (expressions) with spinning too! Let’s start, as always, with the Sprichwort.

Einen alten Baum verpflanzt man nicht

Image by Adarsh Kummur at Unsplash.com

Literally: You don’t transplant old trees

You cannot shift an old tree without it dying.

I know, I said I would talk about drehen (spinning) and idioms related to that. But… There is just no Sprichwort that has drehen in it! So I widenend the search a bit, and found alte Bäume lassen sich nicht biegen (old trees cannot be bent). Similar enough! Yet I went for Alte Bäume verpflanzt man nicht instead, because it is a lot more common and it has the same meaning.

First, let’s talk about the Sprichwort. It means that old people are too old to move, and so you should let them live where they live. You may also encounter this Sprichwort in the more judgmental version Alte Bäume soll man nicht verpflanzen (you should not transplant old trees).

It is unclear where this Sprichwort comes from, but it seems pretty straightforward. A tree has roots, and the older the tree gets, the deeper the roots become, and the harder it becomes to move it.


Oma Bertha wohnt jetzt schon 50 Jahre in ihrem Häuschen in Darmstadt. Und jetzt wollt ihr sie ins Altersheim stecken? Alte Bäume soll man nicht verpflanzen!

Auch wenn der alte Heinz wirklich ein besseres Leben hätte wenn er bei seinen Kindern einziehen würde, verharrt er in seiner kleinen Wohnung an der Ostsee. Einen alten Baum verpflanzt man nicht.

Even if old Heinz would really have a better life if he moved in with his children, he is poised to stay in his little apartment at the Baltic Sea. You cannot transplant an old tree.

Grandma Bertha has lived for already 50 years in her little house in Darmstadt. And now you want to put her in an old people’s home? One should not transplant old trees!


Den Dreh raus haben

Image by Charles Deluvio at Unsplash.com

Literally: To have the spin out

To have gotten the hang of something

Den Dreh raus haben is quite a common expression in German. Another way to say it is auf den Dreh kommen (to get onto the spin) or den richtigen Dreh rauskriegen (to get the right spin out of it). It means that you get the hang of something! Quite simple.

But how does drehen relate to getting the hang of something? Allegedly, the Dreh is a deceptive technique used by Händler (merchants), in which he turns unvollkommene Ware (imperfect goods) with his hands in a skilled way, that only the gute Seite (good side) is visible.


Max kann ein Salto aus dem Stand zu machen, meint er. Ich glaube, er hat den Dreh raus!
Max can do a standing somersault, he says. I think he’s gotten the hang of it!

Petra weiß endlich, wie die Software funktioniert. Sie hat den Dreh raus.

Petra finally knows, how the software works. She’s got the hang of it.

Do you have this saying and expression in your language? How do you say them? What do you think of these German versions? Let me know in the comments below!


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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


  1. Katarina:

    That’s interesting.
    Thanks 🙂