What I Know About Germans – The Book!

by James Glazebrook

It’s finally here! We’re very proud and über-excited to announce that our first book, What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations, is out to buy today.

What I Know About Germans is based on our insanely popular blog post of the same name, which generated over 40,000 Facebook Likes, 600 blog comments, coverage by the likes of Bild and Financial Times Deutschland – and enough traffic to crash our servers on more than one occasion! A lovingly compiled collection of an Australian writer’s hilarious observations about her adopted beloved countrymen, What I Know About Germans has been brought to life as a beautiful book, available in both print and eBook versions.

Want to see what we’re so excited about? Take a peek inside…

What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations has been a year in the making, and is the result of a lot of hard work from a small but dedicated team. We’re indebted to author Liv Hambrett in particular for allowing us to publish her post in the first place, for writing new and improved observations for the book, and for being the unofficial WIKAG cheerleader while we pull it all together. I’d also like to thank Josh Bauman, whose awesome illustrations really bring Liv’s words to life, Eric for producing our impressive What I Know About Germans web page, Sharmaine, Evi and the epubli team for their help and support – and of course Zoë for beautifying everything with her boundless design talent! Group hug :D

Anyway, enough of my gabbing. To find out more about the book, and to pick up a copy, visit the What I Know About Germans: 101 Observations page now!

The Hilarity of Compounds

by James Glazebrook

Liv of A Big Life has already introduced us to what she has learned about Germans, and now turns her attention to the German language. With the help of illustrator Josh Bauman (Mr Caffeinated Toothpaste), she has some fun with German’s “endlessly wonderful compounds”.  

der Radschläger

The German language is many things. A black hole of grammatical fun. Stubborn. Occasionally unyielding. Full of barbed traps lying under piles of dry leaves waiting to snap your juicy little leg between its genitive teeth. Possessed of absolutely no logic when it comes to assigning any of its three genders to nouns. The subject of one of Mark Twain’s most glorious ruminations.

Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, “Let the pupil make careful note of the following exceptions.” He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the rule than instances of it. So overboard he goes again, to hunt for another Ararat and find another quicksand.

Perhaps because learning German is such a trial, indeed a lifetime commitment for the poor Germans, many of whom get their die/der/das wrong well into adulthood and presumably for evermore, it has a few elements that prevent it from being entirely torturous, that, in fact make it rather fun. German has excellent words. Words that are gratifyingly onomatopoeic, words that are so cute you want to put them in your pocket and pull them out every now and then to sigh at.

I personally derive a great deal of pleasure from the ‘S’ section of the dictionary. Almost all my favourite German words start with ‘sch’, Schnabel (beak) being the most notable. And Schnuller (a baby’s dummy), schnuller is amazing. And schmusen (to snuggle and cuddle).

ein Unsichtbarkeitschein

But the subset of words that probably receive the greatest amount of my attention (when I should be focusing on sentence structure and plurals and articles) would have to be the endlessly wonderful compounds. No one compounds like the Germans. Oh yeah, sure, English is full of them but they aren’t particularly special. They are run of the mill compounds that pale in comparison to the ones the Germans have come up with. And I am not talking about the annoyingly long words like the one they have for ‘the hat a captain wears on a special type of boat when it is Monday and raining and he feels like eating calamari.’ I am talking about the unassuming cases when the economy of the German mentality has stretched to include simply sticking two words together to create a new one and in doing so creating a splendid (or quite horrible) visual effect.

Some words are completely logical; someone has quite literally looked at the main components of an object and stuck the two words for those components together. Oh, look, an animal (tier) that’s main feature is its bad smell (stink). Let’s call it a Stinktier (skunk). Other words are slightly less appealing, or indeed transparent, like the word for nipple – Brustwarze – which literally translates to breast wart. Why give that mother’s-milk giving teat a new name when you can simply liken it to a wart on one’s boob?

Most of my favourite compounds involve animal names which are as cute as they are funny. In fact, apart from their occasional foray into breast wart territory and unfortunate mishaps like Dudelsack (bagpipes) Germans have cornered the market on cute words. This is the language that produced Morgenmuffel to describe someone who is always rumpled and sleepy in the morning. Hell, they gave us a garden of children as the place where school life begins. Germans do cute like they do literal – with utmost ease.

der Krankenschwestertherapeut

So without further ado, here are my favourite German compounds with direct English translations. Admittedly giving them direct English translations is probably unfair but it’s also where 100% of the fun lies. Enjoy. And please, give me more.


  • Aardvark = Erdferkel = Earth Piglet
  • Ape = Menschenaffe = Human Monkey
  • Guinea Pig = Meerschweinchen = Little Ocean Pig
  • Newt = Wassermolch = Water Salamander
  • Porcupine = Stachelschwein = Sting Pig
  • Platypus = Schnabeltier = Beak Animal
  • Racoon = Waschbär = Wash Bear
  • Seal = Seehund = Sea/Lake Dog
  • Squid = Tintenfisch = Ink Fish
  • Tortoise = Schildkröte = Shield/Sign Toad

Other Classics

  • When something is wrapped in bacon, then it is wearing a Speckmantel = bacon coat. Obviously.
  • The fat on your hips is Hüftgold = hip gold.
  • A light bulb? It glows and it is shaped like a pear, so why not Glühbirne?
  • Are you a treat lover? What about a Naschkatze … a treat cat?
  • Happy about something? Why not perform a little dance of joy, or a Freudentanz?
  • It’s NYE, perhaps you have cracked out the sparklers, but in Deutschland you’ll be lighting up a Wunderkerze, a wonder candle.
  • Regularly unlucky? Then you are a Pechvogel, or a bad luck bird. If, on the other hand, you’re a lucky little devil, in German you are a Glückspilz – a lucky mushroom. (Mushrooms and pigs are about as lucky as you can get here, if you aren’t a lucky mushroom you better hope you’re a Glücksschwein. Or that you Schwein haben … have a pig …)
  • A drug is a Rauschgift, or a toxic trip.
  • That horrible embarrassment you feel on behalf of someone else? Fremdscham … foreign shame.
  • The spread for your breakfast bread that consists of strips of ham and pickle in a creamy mayonnaise? Fleischsalat. Meat salad.

There are more, so many more, but die Zeit läuft (the time runs) and I must einen Schuh machen (make a shoe … don’t ask). Feel free to share your favourites in the comments below.

ein Kaffeedämon

What Do YOU Know About Germans?

by James Glazebrook

EDIT: Did you know that What I Know About Germans is now a book? Check it out here!

Wow, what a week! Our post “What I Know About Germans” went viral, bringing us more visitors in four days than we’ve ever had in the history of überlin, as well as media attention and tribute posts! The writer, Liv from A Big Life, was just as surprised by the response, especially the controversy surrounding her suggestion that “Germans are bizarrely wary of drinking tap water”! (For more on “Tapwatergate”, read her update to the original post.) But we know that we’ve only scratched the surface of our adopted countrymen’s weird and wonderful character traits, and we need your help to fill in the blanks!

Being thorough Germans (see point #11), some readers noticed that our listed ended at 78, and started making suggestions for a top 100 things to know about Germans. We want to nail points 79 – 100, and we would like you to provide the inspiration.

The suggestions we’ve had so far include:

  • “German men love their cars and dogs more than their wives”
  • “Maybe add eating cereal with orange juice instead of milk too”
  • “cheesecake and orange tans”

Think you know better? Give us your ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or by tweeting using the hashtag #wikag. You have until the end of next Tuesday (19th June), when we’ll write up the rest of our list. Thanks in advance for your awesome ideas!

So…  What do YOU know about Germans?

Bundestag at Loxx Berlin

What I Know About Germans: Now a Top 100!

by Guest Blogger

EDIT: Did you know that What I Know About Germans is now a book? Check it out here!

We love this! Our new favourite expat blogger Liv Hambrett penned this epic list when she lived in Münster, Nord Rhine Westphalia. While a lot of it differs to the things we’ve learned while living in Berlin – and it sounds like our clubs are a lot better! – much of this is universal to all our fellow countrymen. So, from an Australian expat’s point of view:
What I Know About Germans.  

[EDIT: #78 proved to be so controversial that our author felt compelled to write some words of explanation. To read the point that caused so much debate, and Liv’s postscript, scroll down to the bottom of the post]

1) Germans are tall.

2) They enjoy dairy products (I suspect this has something to do with their height). They will put a cheese sauce with most things.

3)The global perception of the German love and consumption of Sauerkraut is not exaggerated.

4) They have excellent winter wardrobes (I suspect this has something to do with the fact it’s what I would classify as Winter, ten months of the year).

winter wardrobe

5) They are punctual. It’s in their genetic make up.

6) Their babies are particularly beautiful.

7) They are very good bike riders – nay, they are exceptional bike riders. They manage to look elegant whilst freewheeling down cobbled streets, pashminas blowing out behind them. They are also highly adept at riding with umbrellas.

8) Germans can eat. And drink. A lot. Regularly.

9) They love meat. In all its incarnations.

10) They are good at mostly anything they do. Or, if they’re not, they try hard and become good at it. Because …

11) Germans are thorough. They work hard and effectively (despite working some of the shortest hours in the Western world). This is why …

12) They are the strongest economy in Europe. What they do during those short hours is probably double what every other country manages to do in twice the time.

13) They speak English better than most English people I know.

14) They have unexpectedly wicked senses of humour. David Hasselhoff, anyone …

15) … a man they continue to embrace by playing “Looking for Freedom” far, far more than any other country.

16) They love a good boot.

good boots

17) And they never scuff them. Even when bike-riding in the rain.

18) They do not suffer fools gladly (thus only put up with drunk Australians and Americans during Oktoberfest because we’ll pay hideous amounts of money for hideous amounts of beer).

19) They are extremely hospitable.

20) They seem to enjoy Westlife.

21) Germans simply do not understand thongs/flip flops/jandals as viable footwear. Even when it’s warm and sunny. And a boot is impractical, or too warm for the feet to be comfortable. They will stare, bewildered, at thonged feet and quietly wonder if the wearer is mad.

22) They love a large, mind-bogglingly well stocked hardware store (with a bratwurst stand out the front). Perhaps because they quietly live by the mantra, if you want something done well, do it yourself … and we all know Germans do things well. Therefore they must be permanently well equipped to do things themselves.

23) Germans lose their shit when the sun comes out and act in a manner I can only describe as suspicious. They flock to outdoor cafes and tip their faces to the sun … but remain in boots and jeans with a pashmina close by. Even when it’s 25 degrees. Even when it’s obvious the weather isn’t going to turn. Because …

24) Germans are always prepared for the rain.

25) They are very fair people and largely adhere to regulations that exist to keep things fair.

26) They don’t appreciate the use of the rude finger when driving. If you give it to a fellow driver, that driver reserves the right to report you and your licence plate and you will get a fine. (This is why my driving career in Germany may never get off the ground).

27) German clubs routinely remind the world of the universality of 90s pop.

28) They love the breakfast meal.

brunch at Café Matilda

29) They enjoy a darker bread. The whiter the less trustworthy.

30) In the same vein of their love for enormous hardware stores, Germans favour a mesmerisingly large Ikea (and other such stores in the same vein as Ikea) complete with an upstairs restaurant, a downstairs cafe and the all important hotdog/bratwurst stand. Because …

31) Germans can always enjoy a hotdog/bratwurst, no matter the time, no matter the place. And they never seem to drip the sauce all over themselves.

32) Germans don’t tend to jay-walk. And they judge those who do.

33) They are refreshingly comfortable with nudity.

34) Germans are generally candid people.

35) German men don’t tend to leer. On the two occasions I have been winked/beeped at, I suspect the leerers weren’t, in actual fact, German.

36) It is far too easy to buy biscuits and cake in German supermarkets because, collectively, German people have a very sweet tooth.

37) Germans love a good rule. And they reap the benefits of a rule-abiding society.

38) Germans can drink. And not just write themselves off, vomit in the bath tub at 2am, wedge in a kebab and back it up the following night, a la American/English/Australian binge drinkers … I mean drink. While the rest of the world is vomiting in the bath tub, the Germans are calmly ingesting their 57th shot and washing it down with a beer, their cheeks a little rosy, their eyes a little glazed, but their livers working as smoothly as a German made automobile.

39) This is because Germans start drinking young. They are allowed to drink ‘soft alcohol’ at 16 (so clearly start drinking it much earlier) and ‘hard alcohol’ at 18. By the time we’re all losing our shit with the Breezers, the Germans are enjoying a much more tempered relationship with alcohol … and the benefits of a much more match-fit liver.

40) They don’t necessarily say it to you face, at the time … but Germans don’t like it when you go against the tide in the supermarket.

41) Or get on the bus through the wrong door. This they will say to your face, using a microphone and an unimpressed tone.

42) If there was a study done on countries and how well they dance in a club/bar situation, Germany probably wouldn’t be in the top ten for general skill. But would they would absolutely ace the enthusiasm component.

43) Germans struggle enormously with the concept of ‘naked feet’ – as an Australian, my feet are always naked and therefore oft-commented upon.

44) Germans, Muensteranians in particular, are always exceptionally well groomed.

45) They embrace one hit wonders. Royalties from German radio probably single-handedly keep the singers the rest of the world wants to forget, in rent-money.

46) Germans are not afraid to whip out the smoke machine on the dance floor.

47) They are not ones to make small talk at the supermarket check-out. Or in general, really. Sure, they’ll talk if you talk to them, but they’re not great Small Talk Instigators. I have discussed this with a German who I was, ironically, making small talk with in a department store. He suspects it is because the German language is not particularly made for meandering small talk. I wonder if he might be onto something. His own brand of small talk was honed on frequent trips to America.

48) Germans enjoy frozen vegetables.

49) In keeping with Article 34, Germans are very open and relaxed about most things sex related. It is so refreshing to have it dealt with, minus the bullshit.

50) Germans have turned creating quark, yoghurt and cream cheese based snacks into an artform.

51) They have the single most nerve-inducingly rapid supermarket check-outs in the world.

52) Germans seem to really enjoy How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men and crime fiction.

53) They love their dogs. Often their dogs catch the bus with them and sometimes their dogs even dine with them in restaurants.

Olive the French Bulldog on überlin

54) Germans. Love. Bakeries.

55) They don’t tend to go to the shops in trackpants and slippers. I do. I think they suspect I am a homeless person with a penchant for Quark.

56) Germans do not see a need for conversational subtext. It is a waste of time and Germans do not like wasting time. If you cannot say it as directly as possible, do not say it at all.

57) It saddens me to report there seems to be a higher instance of socks and sandals paired together in Germany, than in other countries.

58) Germans are distrustful of any beverage that doesn’t sparkle.

59) They are similarly distrustful of any bread in a sliced-form. This is relegated to the toaster (‘toast brot’) and sandwiches made with sliced bread enjoy a disproportionately small section of the bakery display.

60) They can stomach raw meat for breakfast … topped with onion. This alone results in an even deeper respect for the German constitution, on my behalf.

61) Germany was responsible for the 90s smash, “Coco Jumbo”.

62) Germans love Dachshunds and seem to own several of them at once. Interestingly enough, they are not called Dachshunds in Germany, despite it being a German name, and are instead called ‘Dackels’. I suspect this adoration of Dachshunds stems from their physical similarity to wurst (when I say suspect, I mean ‘I am certain’) because, and I cannot bullet point this enough …

63) Germans worship wurst.

64) Germans extract a curiously large amount of pleasure from the acts of giving, receiving and processing paperwork. They revel in it. Roll in it. Cover themselves with it and inhale the scent of paper.

65) Those who work for the German government seem to … never work at all. It’s like their entire system is efficient enough to work by itself, without humans doing anything except photocopying and stamping things.

66) German banks don’t often feel the need to be open. And if they are open, it’s never at a time that’s convenient for anybody else. They don’t seem to have gotten the hang of shift work that would enable the bank to remain open for lunch.

67) Germany loves a public holiday. Bavaria in particular.

68) Similar to how they worship wurst, Germans worship the pig. There is no part of the pig that cannot be boiled, shredded, fried, processed, mashed, diced and consumed.

69) Germans have this … thing … with bureaucracy.

Angry Berliners on überlin

70) Should a contestant, for example, on a family friendly ‘celebrity special game show’ or something, be a nude model, German TV is totally down with displaying a great deal of her portfolio, to the audience at home. Pre 9pm. In fact, pre 8pm. See article 34 and 50.

71) Germans worship (as well as wurst and bread) at the altar of the three Ps – Practicality, Punctuality (see point 5) & Planning.

72) They are rather thrifty and don’t have the weird Anglo qualms with talking about money.

73) Germans seem to enjoy camping.

74) They are bizarrely superstitious about wishing people a Merry Christmas too early, opening presents early and celebrating birthdays early.

75) Germans have bottomless basements.

76) They like buying drinks in packs of 6 1.5l bottles which are then dutifully recycled, bottle by bottle.

77) Boris Becker and Til Schweiger are the go-to celebrities for game shows.

78) Germans are bizarrely wary of drinking tap water.

More Things I Know About Germans!

Being thorough Germans (see point #11), some readers noticed that our listed ended at 78, and started making suggestions for a top 100 things to know about Germans. Many trends appeared and most hilarious observations were repeated, which suggests to us they are totally anthropologically sound. We collected their comments, tweets and Facebook responses, and the following is an amalgamation of some very funny observations. 

79) Germans love football. Love it. In fact the most passionate you will ever see a German is when they are watching, talking about, thinking about, dreaming about or playing, football.

80) You may also catch a German in an act of passion if you raise the topic of cars. Germans love their cars and are very proud of their ability to make such good ones. Just ask them.

81) It is a good thing they have good cars and an Autobahn of terrifying speed because the Deutsche Bahn is Germany’s dirty little inefficient secret. You absolutely cannot get on a train and not have a delay. The delay comes with your ticket purchase, free of charge. It’s DB’s gift to you. And you will purchase a ticket because…

82) Most Germans seem to, even though there are so many occasions upon which they could get away with not having a ticket. This sense of honesty will eventually rub off on you. I felt guilt-ridden for an entire day when I once avoided eye contact with a friendly DB ticket inspector in the dining cart because I didn’t have the correct ticket. He didn’t check me, I didn’t volunteer to buy one off him, it was just a cesspool of dishonesty. I’m sorry. It hasn’t happened again.

83) Germans of a certain age seem to really enjoy Jack Wolfskin jackets. Prior to turning 60, the preferred brand seems to be Woolrich. Come Winter, Germany turns into a sea of identical jackets, people’s age distinguishable only by the brand they’re wearing.

84) There is an obvious divide when it comes to what kind of high school you went to (there are 3) and what kind of leaving certificate you gained. And what kind of further education you go on to do, whether it be university for an extremely long period of time (honestly, no one does university quite like the Germans) or one of Germany’s millions of Ausbildungs.

85) The whole country quivers with excitement every New Years Eve when they sit down and watch Dinner for One, a British sketch comedy. To be fair, I think most of Northern Europe quivers with excitement and apparently it is broadcast in Australia as well (who knew). But the supremely odd thing isn’t a national obsession with a 1920s black and white sketch comedy from another country that has nothing to do with New Years Eve, but the fact that this is the one film the Germans don’t dub.

86) Germans have this thing with online privacy. It is a rare German indeed who uses their full name on Facebook as opposed to a bizarre cross section of their first and last names, eg: Mo Na Berg or Le Na.

87) Germans can’t queue. Full stop, the end. They don’t know how, they have no interest in trying. This is the one time Germans embrace a lack of system and what happens when a queue is called for is the unfortunate culmination of Germanic forcefulness and uncertainty in the face of a system-less world. Take, for example, what happens in a supermarket when another check out line opens. Instead of calmly indicating the person at the top of the queue, yet to unload their basket onto the conveyor belt, should head up the new checkout line, there is this mad dash like a scattered flock of sheep, and your standing in the original queue becomes completely irrelevant. If you are fast enough, you can theoretically come from well behind and end up getting served before the person five people in front of you, who has been patiently waiting for 10 minutes. And no one thinks anything of it.

88) Germans can open a beer bottle with anything. The couch, a coffee mug, a banana. Body parts. It’s like they all secretly take a class at school when they’re eleven, in preparation for a life time of beer consumption. Next time you are with a German, hide the bottle opener and casually hand them your beer. They will flick off the top using a toothpick as if it is the most normal thing in the world.

89) On the topic of bottles, Germans have absolutely nailed the bottle recycling system. They love a good pfand. They buy their six packs of 1.5L sparkling water, consume them, then go right back to where they got them from, pop the bottles in a machine and get 25c back per bottle. This refund is then deducted from their grocery shopping. It is a beautiful, seamless, adhered-to system. Most people do it! And , in the unlikely event a bottle with pfand gets tossed out, don’t worry, it will be collected by someone more than happy to claim that 25c.

90) There exist, in Germany, these funny little gardens called, quite naturally, kleingärten (or Schrebergärten). One can rent these little squares of land, cultivate a garden and sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labours by resting in a little hut. The idea is those who don’t have backyards can enjoy the therapeutic benefits of having a garden. These gardens are most often extremely neat. This is because a) most German gardens are and b) there is a set of rules as developed by each garden community and we all know how Germans feel about rules.

91) In the average German garden, big or small, you will notice they seem unable to resist the lure of the garden gnome. There is almost always one, lurking sinisterly beneath a bush, or partaking in some sort of Mise-en-scène with other concrete characters and a perfectly clipped shrub.

92) Germans will always try and shake your hand. I have adopted the hug-shock tactic that basically involves flinging myself on the extended hand and crushing it between our embracing bodies.

93) Germans produce some of the best beer in the world and then bust out a cactus fruit beer mix, or a cola beer, or a prickly pear and grapefruit beer. Admittedly I drink them, but I am a beer drinker’s worst nightmare, so if I am drinking beer it isn’t a good thing.

94) Then again, Germans seem to enjoy mixing drinks. For example, their beloved cola/orange soft drink – Spezi, Schwip Schwap, Mezzo Mix, whatever you want to call it. And they have taken wine spritzers to the next level by popping a red wine spritzer on the menu. Imagine.

95) Germans are inordinately proud of their states, districts, district-free cities, city states, regions, sub-regions, dialects, entirely different vocabularies, sub-cultures, traditions, festivals and basically being really different from the ten-house village that is 5km away because that ten-house village is in an entirely different region and therefore nothing like this village.

96) Germans love Spargel. They love Spargel and anything to do with Spargel, like Spargel peelers and Spargel steamers and Spargel platters. Forget Christmas or Easter or any other notable markers, the German year revolves around Spargelsaison.

Daily Deutsch: Spargelsaison
97) Germany has assumed the döner kebab as a national dish, Germanified it with pickled cabbage and elevated it to where it now sits, loftily, alongside other key German snacks like currywurst and fischbrötchen.

98) Germans actually, largely, respect ‘Quiet Time’ on Sundays, when they don’t vacuum, use lawn mowers or other loud appliances and generally keep noise levels to a bare minimum. In some parts, an unspoken evening Quiet Time is enforced, via disapproval or neighbourly note leaving. Please note church bells are exempt from all Quiet Times.

99) As ingrained in the German psyche as Quiet Time on Sunday, is the Sunday viewing of crime show, Tatort.

100) Germans stare. Not in a way designed to be particularly rude – although could be perceived that way if you have grown up in a culture where your mother hisses ‘don’t stare, it’s rude!’ when you are openly curious about something – but in an unabashed, piercing, inquisitive way that makes you wonder if you have food on your face or your skirt is tucked into your underpants.

Staring Germans