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Untranslatable German Words: Lebenskünstler Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 in Culture, Language, People, vocabulary

In another post in the awesome series on untranslatable words in German that Constanze started on this blog, we will have a look at the German word Lebenskünstler. It is pretty difficult to translate to English, because of its precise meaning. Let’s get into it!

A Lebenskünstler! (Image by AK Rockefeller at Flickr.com under license CC BY 2.0)

A Lebenskünstler! (Image by AK Rockefeller at Flickr.com under license CC BY 2.0)

What does Lebenskünstler mean?

A Lebenskünstler is a person that manages to deal with problems in life in a positive and artful way. They have mastered the Lebenskunst (art of living). This is a very philosophical term, which was already developed in Roman times (ars vivendi in Latin). But in short, it means that by self-awareness and self-reflection, you manage to understand yourself and manage with any and every situation in life. Commonly, people do not see it as such a deep meaning, but rather as people that see everything in a positive light, and deal with life like magic. One saying that describes this well is: Ein Lebenskünstler findet alles halb so schlimm, aber doppelt so gut! (A Lebenskünstler thinks everything is half as bad, but twice as good!)

What is the literal translation of Lebenskünstler?

Literally, Lebenskünstler means “life artist“. So, somebody that practices Lebenskunst (art of life).

How would you use the word Lebenskünstler in a sentence?

You can simply call somebody a Lebenskünstler, so you get a sentence like this:

Jemand hat bei Markus eingebrochen, aber er hat es sehr gelassen genommen. Er ist solch ein Lebenskünstler! (Somebody broke in at Markus’s, but he took it very relaxed. He is such a life artist!)

Alexandra verdient nicht viel, aber dennoch ist sie einfach glücklich mit dem, was sie hat und kommt mit allen Problemen gut klar. Sie ist solch eine Lebenskünstlerin! (Alexandra does not make a lot of money, and yet she is simply happy with what she has and manages all her problems well. She is such a life artist!)

These examples show in what kind of situations the word may be used!

What’s the nearest English equivalent to Lebenskünstler?

The word that comes closest in English is a hedonist, which also exists in German (der Hedonist). The small difference is that a hedonist pursues as much pleasure as possible in life, whereas a Lebenskünstler tries to get most joy out of life by mastering the art of life. Most of the time, a positive view on life is required for that, and that is where the parallel with the hedonist exists.

Do you get the concept of a Lebenskünstler? Do you know any Lebenskünstler, or is there a word in your language that equates to Lebenskünstler? 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!


Comments:

  1. Scott Bailey:

    Auf Englisch sagen wir manchmal “Pollyanna.” Pollyanna ist ein Charakter aus einem Kinderbuch.

  2. Allan Mahnke:

    I think that epicurean, in its original sense covers the term rather well. Horace was able to find great pleasure in the modest things he claimed as his own. He was a perfect Lebeskünstler. Great blog! Thanks!

  3. Marcia:

    Pollyanna would be a better English equivalent than hedonist. Hedonist has negative connotations of excess and disregard for other people that I don’t think lebenskünstler has. For those who wouldn’t understand the Pollyanna reference you might also say “eternal optimist” Or the idiom “he/she grabs life by the horns”

  4. Oriella:

    Great Post, Sten, Thank you!
    I agree with Pollyanna, it gives the idea perfectly.
    In Italian we would say “un cuorcontento” – a happy heart

    • Sten:

      @Oriella Thank you all for the suggestions! Pollyanna indeed appears to be a better equivalent than hedonist, but I was not aware of the word. Thanks!