Untranslatable German Words: Waldeinsamkeit Posted by Constanze on Aug 21, 2014 in Language
Guten Tag, and wilkommen to another post on untranslatable German words!
The word of today is Die Waldeinsamkeit.
What is the meaning of Waldeinsamkeit?
It refers to a very specific feeling – the feeling of being alone in the woods.
What does Waldeinsamkeit literally translate to?
Wald means wood/forest. Einsamkeit means loneliness, or solitude.
How would you use it in a sentence?
Although it describes a feeling, it is often used in speech as if it were a physical place. For instance:
„Ich floh in die grüne Waldeinsamkeit“
„I fled into the green Waldeinsamkeit“
What is the nearest English equivalent?
Words like solitude, meditation, and contemplation are often used, as is the phrase ‘being at one with the universe’. However, it is so specific that it is difficult to find an English equivalent.
This word is one of the more ‘common’ untranslatable German words, so you may have heard of it already.
The concept of Waldeinsamkeit might seem scary or unsettling (the idea of being alone in the woods), but it is definitely a positive thing; it suggests a calm, contemplative atmosphere amidst a beautiful setting. If you’ve ever taken a solitary stroll through a forest and felt better for it, then you’ll understand. This painting by Ludwig Richter evokes the feeling of Waldeinsamkeit quite well (even though the girl in it has some woodland friends to keep her company!):
Waldeinsamkeit refers to having a connection with nature, and enjoying time alone amongst it. It is no surprise, then, that the Germans have this word, if their forests are anything to go by.
Perhaps the best known German forest is the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Baden-Württemberg, which was also the setting for many Brothers Grimm fairy tales. When you think about it, a lot of fairy tales are set in forests – Hansel und Gretel (Hansel and Gretel), Rumpelstilzchen (Rumpelstiltskin), Schneewittchen (Snow White), and Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood), to name a few! If anyone has experienced Waldeinsamkeit, it’s surely the characters in those fairy tales (at least, before things started to go wrong for them…).
Closer to home for me is the Bayerischer Wald (Bavarian Forest), which borders (and continues into) the Czech Republic. A lot of my childhood memories of Germany involve the Bayerischer Wald. It is a part of life over there to go for long walks in the forest, or to ski through it in the winter. If I lived near the Bayerischer Wald, you bet I’d go for a walk through it to clear my head. There would be nothing more therapeutic than that.
Mushroom picking (Schwammal suchen – in which ‘Schwammal’ is Bavarian for ‘Pilze’ – mushrooms) in the forest is a popular pastime in rural Bavaria. It is customary to pick mushrooms in the forest, take them home, and cook dinner with them. I used to do this with my family when I was young.
There are even some real-life fairytale castles that exist in the heart of the German forests. The best-known of these is probably King Ludwig II’s Schloss Neuschwanstein, located in Hohenschwangau, Bavaria. This castle is often nicknamed “The fairytale castle”, and for good reason:
Yes, the woods and forests of Germany are certainly magical, mysterious, special places. It is easy to feel alone in them, and to get lost in your own thoughts as you stroll through them. Perhaps that is why the Germans have the word Waldeinsamkeit; they know, more than anyone, what it is to be alone in the woods – and how rejuvenating it can be.
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I’ve experienced this quite often here in the States, living in a rural area, but I got to experience the authentic Waldeinsamkeit in Germany while I was stationed there. I was on temporary duty on the Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg border, around Aalen and Nördlingen. During breaks in the exercise I could wander the woods. Very relaxing. One time I was on air watch and took a seat out of the jeep and set it on the wood line for cover. I sat in the morning sun with forest behind me and a cornfield in front. I watched the corn and bees on clover. I unwrapped a C-ration candy bar and soon had bees on the candy and my arm. I let them have the John Wayne bar and they left me alone. Good times.
@Mark This comment made me smile! Thank you, Mark!
But along with being funny, it teaches the language.
My favorite is “Weltschmerz”, or homesickness for somewhere that is not your home. There are a lot of really neat, highly descriptive German words.
Also, words in dialect sometimes sound like proper words, but with a very different meaning. For reasons too involved to explain here, my nickname at home was “Hutzie” from “Hutzifackel”, or a dirty little pig. When I was at the University of Tübingen, I was invited to a Fackelzeug for a professor who was retiring. I immediately though of that as “pig procession”. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to take pigs to the professor! I asked where I could get a pig (fackel) and my friend offered to bring one for me. That night, there stood everyone with a torch. Then it hit me! Hochdeutsch!
When I was living in Germany in the sixties, the local woods were kept very clean & tidy. Fallen debri was cleaned up (I know not by whom). I was amazed. Wondering if that has changed. Oh, and people were so properly dressed for their strolls in the woods. (In German it would woods strolling). The Herren would often carry walking sticks. I got a souvenir one which meant that each place I visited I could buy a tiny souvenir plate which would be attached to the stick in the souvenir shop. I was doing that to give it to my Dad when I returned to the States. I inherited it when he passed on. I lived in Munich & I loved the Bavarin countryside & the colorfully decorated houses. Fond memories!
Can you help with a German word I have just heard on BBCs QI, meaning to go off, or feel need to go and walkabout as the Aussies would have it? Sounded like “Sukenruhr or zookenruhr” phonetically written.
It would easily fit the category of German expressions or words describing a particulate action, in this case walking, that does not, but very much should be translatable and even have an English equivalent.
I’d be delighted if you could email me.
Not quite the same but similar is the neologism – perhaps 1995 – biophilia, a (purported) innate human desire or need for connection with / experiencing the natural world (as opposed to the built or urban environment).