German Language Blog

Untranslatable German Words: Magdeburgisieren Posted by on Nov 10, 2016 in Culture, Language

In our segment of untranslatable words in German, we discuss words that have no English equivalent. Today, I will have a look at a rather grim one, but that is definitely untranslatable. Today, I will discuss the verb magdeburgisieren.

What does magdeburgisieren mean?

During the Dreißigjährigen Krieg (Thirty Years’ War) from 1618-1648, an absolute low occurred in 1631. In May of that year, the Truppen (troops) of the Kaiser (emperor) stormed the city of Magdeburg (close to Leipzig and Berlin), because the city had refused to pay a tribute and did not capitulate. It was a thriving city with 35,000 Einwohner (inhabitants). Due to their disobedience, the inhabitants were declared vogelfrei (outlawed). Thus, it did not matter what would happen to them – indiscriminately, inhabitants were robbed, raped and murdered. The city was set on fire, which cost even more lives. In the end, 20,000 inhabitants had died. The city was a mess, and many people moved away, because they could not live there anymore. It became a ghost town, with only 450 inhabitants in 1639. It took until the 19th century for the city to recover and grow again.

Because of the awful terror and cruelty of the sack of the city, which is also called the Magdeburger Hochzeit (Magdeburg Marriage), a verb emerged: magdeburgisieren. It means: to utterly destroy, annihilate something.

What is the literal translation of magdeburgisieren?

The literal translation of magdeburgisieren would be to magdeburgize, which doesn’t really help much.

How would you use the word magdeburgisieren in a sentence?

Because magdeburgisieren is a word that refers to a specific event and is definitely not easier than just using an equivalent such as zerstören, it is not used much.

However, if you want to emphasize the extreme degree of destruction, you can use the word. However, because it is not widespread at all and also its meaning is not that well-known, you are best advised to only use it in written language. Also, because the name of the city of Magdeburg is in there, it could lead to confusion.

How would you use it? Some examples:

Im zweiten Weltkrieg wurde die polnische Hauptstadt Warschau magdeburgisiert. (In the Second World War, the Polish capital Warsaw was magdeburgized.)

Nach dem Sturm war die Straße magdeburgisiert: man konnte sie gar nicht mehr erkennen. (After the storm, the street was magdeburgized: you could not recognize it anymore.)

What’s the nearest English equivalent to magdeburgisieren?

The closest equivalent that I am aware of would be to annihilate.

Is there a word in your language equivalent to magdeburgisieren? What are your thoughts on it? 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. Torkom:

    Magdeburgisieren von Gaza! You use Magdeburg as example that took place in 1631….. it seems people never learn from past historical mistakes! Gaza is a case in point, as much as the occupation of Palestine. Gaza is being gradually but steadily completely annihilated and no UN, not one single peace loving country is doing anything to save it. Are we that compassionless!

  2. Peter:

    Devastate is closely similar.

    • Sten:

      @Peter Yes, devastate is a great comparable English word too. Better yet than destroy!

    • Lacey:

      @Peter Also “to decimate”

      • Sten:

        @Lacey Yes! Also a good alternative.

  3. Mehrdad:

    das war echt gut

  4. hamish:

    At the time of the Third Reich another word appeared in Modern German with the same meaning – coventrieren.

    • Sten:

      @hamish You are right, I didn’t know about that. I’ll look into words like that for future posts. Apparently, this came from the bombing of Coventry, but is specific to attacks by air. Thanks for the input!

  5. Dan B:

    Although it is not at all common, I have heard “Hiroshima” used a verb in a similar way. Same concept, I guess.

    • Sten:

      @Dan B Thanks for the comment! I have never heard that, but there is a lot of peculiar vernacular. That would indeed be the same idea, I assume.

  6. joyce constantine:

    magdeburgisiren…thank you for this word and bit of history. Would like to inform my German class of this bit of history and use of the word. It seems man has a history of NOT learning from the past. Joyce C.