Why I Love the German Language

When I started learning German in high school, I, like so many others who have delved into the language of the Vaterland, encountered scores of people who would make a face and ask me, “Why would you want to learn German? It’s just such an…ugly language. Everything sounds so mean.”

Fast forward ten years. While I don’t claim to be even close to fluent, my German is passable in just about any situation, save complex medical or technical ones. I’ve kept up with my German, even though I now live in Japan, for many reasons, but the overarching one is this: I am head over heels in love with this language.

Of course, a great deal of the reason why I love German so much is because I view four of the best months of my life (when I studied abroad in Köln) as intrinsically entwined with the language. I can count the negative experiences I’ve had in Germany on one hand. The positive memories I associate with the country and its tongue number far too many to easily count.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with that country. Unmöglich.

Part of my love of German lies within its logic. It is a language of rules, of staying within the lines. Learn a grammar rule, and you’re pretty much set. And while its structure might not be simple (Seriously, why do we need five different words for ‘the’?), there’s a beauty in all that neat, orderly tidiness. Someone once told me that I approach language from a ‘mathematical’ perspective, that I like my words to follow all the rules and that I dislike any sense of disorder. If that’s the case, then it’s no surprise German’s the language I’ve grown to love.

While I might be a stickler for a language with regular grammar, my real love affair with German lies in the words themselves. Naturally, every language has its words that cannot be properly translated into English. In Japanese, my favorite word is 木漏れ日, which means “the way sunlight filters through foliage.” In French, there’s l’esprit de l’escalier, which describes when you think of the absolute perfect thing to say after walking away from a situation.

In German, though, I’ve found those untranslatable words even better. With so many of them, there’s this inherent, subtle sense of sadness that I absolutely love, though perhaps that says more about me as a person than German as a language. Naturally, Schadenfreude, or the pleasure you take from seeing others’ misfortune, comes to mind first. (And I’m sorry, my conservative friends, but I have been feeling an awful lot of gleeful Schadenfreude in the post-election liberal euphoria, what with sites like didmittromneywin.com and whitepeoplemourningromney.tumblr.com.) Honestly, though, there are so many more fantastic German words.

There’s Torschlusspanik, which literally translates to “gate-closing panic,” and means the dread that, as you get older, the opportunities you’re afforded decrease. Forget a quarter- or mid-life crisis. Give me a few years and I’m going to suffer from a full-fledged Torschlusspanik attack.

And if “gate-closing panic” gets you down, you’ve got Kummerspeck, or the weight you gain from overeating from sorrow or heartbreak, to put you at ease. It literally translates to “grief bacon,” which you when you think about it, is the absolute perfect term. In English, sure, we’ve got the phrase “comfort eating,” but doesn’t “grief bacon” just hit the nail on the head so much more perfectly?

Then there’s Fernweh, one of my personal favorites. If you’re lazy, you could just translate it as “wanderlust,” but it’s really so much more than that. Instead, it’s a painful, yearning homesickness for places you’ve never even been before.

And there’s Gemütlichkeit, the feeling of being perfectly, cozily, comfortably at home…and Drachenfutter, the gift a husband needs to buy when he’s pissed off his wife…and fremdschämen, the act of feeling shame or embarrassment for another person…the list goes on and on.

So, yes, I love German for its untranslatable words, but every foreign language has those. Maybe it’s the sounds I love most of all. Call me crazy, but I could sit and listen to a native German speaker all day long. Others will say that Italian or Spanish or French is more pleasing, but I have grown to find German, with its back-of-the-throat “ch” and prolonged umlauted verbs, truly beautiful.

Perhaps because German, admittedly, isn’t a beautiful language in the classic sense, it makes declarations like “Ich liebe dich” all the more earnest. Tell me you love me – or really, give me any sort of compliment at all – in French, and sure, I’ll believe it because it sounds like you’re complimenting me. In German, though, I have to look beyond the sounds of the words to the speaker themselves. I can’t just rely on the words because they sound stereotypically beautiful. German has made me keener, more adept at reading people.

And if someone tells me “Ich liebe dich” and I don’t believe them? Then I’ve always got my sense of Fernweh calling me away to somewhere where I can get over it.

7 thoughts on “Why I Love the German Language”

  1. I was brought here from your thoughtcatalog article about untranslatable words. You taught me a potential german word I might already be in love with – fernweh 🙂 And to trade here’s one – perhaps not so loveable – from my list of foreign word icebreakers – ohne scheiße!!

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  2. You have written about the good time you spent in Germany. That’s no surprise for me. One reason is, that I love my country and I know why. It’s not that thing with the pride. It’s not my own credit to be born here. I simply love it, especially my region. It’s a pleasure to live in the metropolitan area of Rhine-Neckar in the north-east of Baden. For me It’s nice to live in a Germany city. And when the bustling, noisy life of the urban chaos is getting on my nerves, i can flee quickly with the public transport to the countryside to spend some hours in the highlands with vineyards and deep forests.

    The life in my quarter is so colorful, because so many different peoples live here. Academics, workers, immigrants, students, gays, vegans.. . I recognized that in France or in Britain the cities are more divorced into better areas, where the rich live and poor places. Sure we have that too, the suburbs are often grey with big appartement houses and a lot of industry, but it is still possible for people of different social and ethnic backgrounds to live in the urban centers of thetowns.

    Funny that I made simmilar experiences with the English language like you do with the German. First I was interested in French and I stil love this language. Later I recognized the beauty of english words and i do really like the sound of british english. And of course I like the language of my own. Even if it is hard to understand the meanings of rilke’s poetry, its a pleasure to read that stuff.

    Excuse me for the grammar, it’s a shame that i had little interest lerning seriously the english language when i was in school.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  3. What a beautiful blog!
    It’s funny, I am from Germany and of course German is my native language…but I have never heard of “Torschlusspanik”, “Kummerspeck” and “Drachenfutter”. Well, I know what they are supposed to mean, but I have never heard anyone saying those words. Thank you for teaching me my native language 😉

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  4. I dont know why germany has always fascinated me even before i had ever known that it were primarily germans who were the roman empire. 2 months back while using my smart phone i came across a german language application and i loved the language…though i have just begun and with my military career i wont get any serious time to learn it. But i dearly hope i will one day speak it though even after 10 years. I hope i will live there one day…its not about german people, or beautiful blonde girls or anything, its just the country i have always loved. Ich liebe deutschland.

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  5. What a fantastic piece, exactly my thoughts on the German language. I had the same friends who always asked why I didn’t learn French but its got nothing on the raw beauty of German. Fernweh is probably my favourite word so I’m glad to see it here!

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  6. I was a student of the German Language for many years both in high school and at University. I have no German family background but to me, German was always a language of logic (have to love those declensions) and order. German was my math and my yoga.

    The pursuit of the German language gave me peace and order in my life.

    “Ugly”? No. One only has to read German literature in German to realize the full beauty of this language.

    I am happy to say that now, as a senior citizen, I am returning to school as part of a Senior Audit program at a University in my US City to once again recapture the joy I experienced studying this wonderful language.

    Ich habe die Deutsche Sprache sehr gern.

    Madeleine

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