12 words and phrases you need to survive in Hamburg

Hamburg is a pretty cosmopolitan place, and you won’t have any problem speaking Hochdeutsch around town. But traditionally, people in the city speak Hamburger Platt, and it's still very much alive.

12 words and phrases you need to survive in Hamburg
Photo: DPA

Hamburger Platt a quirky variation of Low Saxon (Niederdeutsch), a language which is spoken in northern Germany and eastern parts of the Netherlands.

It is estimated that are around six million people in eight different German states speak Low Saxon, and around 100,000 speak it in Hamburg itself.

SEE ALSO: Local knowledge: an insider guide to life in Hamburg

But it’s on the rise, especially among the young. Some schools teach it from first grade, and there’s even a Hip-Hop group “De fofftig Penns” (“Die fünfzig Pfennige” or “50 cents” as pfennig was a former currency) that raps in Plattdeutsch.

So we thought we should get started on some Hamburger Platt too.

Here’s a little list of words and phrases to get you started, so that next time you go to Hamburg, you can start to fit in like a true local:

1. Moin (hello)

Moin, also sometimes moin moin covers a lot of different greetings, as it can mean Guten Morgen, Guten Tag and even Guten Abend. How simple!

A shop in Hamburg with the sign 'Moin' outside.

A shop in Hamburg with the sign ‘Moin’ outside. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Axel Heimken

2. Schnacken (chat)

Schnack is also the word for chit-chat, and someone who speaks Plattdeutsch could be described as a Plattschnacker.

3. Macker (lad)

This means a lad or a mate or even a boyfriend. Or you could try the slang term Digga, which is more equivalent to Alter, meaning dude or man, and has become pretty cool recently.

4. Klock (clock)

You probably could’ve guessed this one. It shows how close some of the words are to English. There isn’t always that much difference between the Low Saxon and the Anglo Saxon (which is the route of much of the English language).

5. Schmöken (smoke)

Another one that just sounds like English in a German accent! When you’re in Hamburg you’ll see people schnacken while they schmöken outside a restaurant.

6. Büx (trousers)

A man holds up a huge pair of Büx at the Hamburg tailor’s Herrenkleidung Policke, which makes suits for all sizes imaginable. Photo: DPA

Perhaps not one you’ll use everyday, but there’s also the related verb utbüxen, which means to slip away or escape.

7. Mall (mad)

You may well hear “Bist du mall?!” being bounded around, which means “Are you out of you mind?!”

8. Sabbelknoken (mobile phone)

It’s definitely a bit of a mouthful, but it is still used by some in Hamburg, and literally translates as a “mouth bone/limb”.

9. Wat is de Klock? (What’s the time?)

You don’t need to be Sherlock to deduce this one either, as it sounds like broken English, but it could come in pretty useful on a visit.

10. En mol Lütt un Lütt (a beer and a schnapps)

Here’s where you might need Sherlock. This is a classic order in a traditional Hamburg pub, but who would have thought that asking for two Lütt could get you both a beer and a shot?

11. In’n Tüddel koomm (get confused)

This one almost sounds like what it means, and you almost have to yodel to say it. If you by mistake stumbled into Herbertstraße off the Reeperbahn, you may well in’n Tüddel koomm.

12. Du bist mein Schietbüdel (you’re my darling)

And finally one for if you find the right person in Hamburg. It’s become really popular in the last few years, and although it used to be an insult, it’s now used as a term of endearment. 

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Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Whether they relate to a love of beer or bureaucracy, these uniquely German words give an insight into the idiosyncrasies of life in Germany. Here are a few of our favourites.

Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany
One of Germany's most famous staircases, at the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Schutt

Das Sitzfleisch – You may be familiar with this term if you have ever had to apply for Anmeldung (city registration) in Germany. Sitzfleisch, literally meaning ‘sit meat’ is the ability to sit still, particularly through long and tedious events. 

Although we all know the stereotype that Germans love efficiency, the country’s love affair with bureaucracy suggests the opposite might be true, and it means Germans and expats alike often have to be quite patient when sorting out anything to do with rent, tax or education. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about dealing with German bureaucracy online

Der Aufschnitt – At first, you might be wondering what is so special about this German word, which we would translate to ‘cold cuts’ in English. In Germany, however, this is not just a snack but a whole cuisine.

Some of the staples of traditional German cuisine are meat, cheese, and most importantly bread. To have a meal of Aufschnitt means to sit down to an array of these things, and is a particularly popular meal for most Germans to prepare when no-one feels like cooking. 

Eine Extrawurst bekommen – In a land famous for its sausages, you should not be surprised that Würste appear in so many common German sayings. One of the most common of these is eine Extrawurst, which means special treatment. If a person immer eine Extrawurst bekommt (always gets an extra sausage), it means they are being given an unfair advantage. 

There is often an expectation of fairness and equity in many parts of German life, and Germans will not hesitate in pointing out when something is amiss. The idea of a teacher’s pet is much less likely to go unchallenged here than in other cultures. 

Das Weichei – This term may confuse you at first, and you might expect to see it on a breakfast menu rather than hurled as an insult. The term Weichei literally means ‘soft egg’ but it is used to refer to someone who is a bit of a wimp, or a sheep. 

Germans can often be quite forthcoming with their opinions, and look down on those who merely follow the crowd, or who are easily influenced. 

READ ALSO: Nerdy flowers to alcoholic birds: The 12 most colourful German insults

Das Luftschloss – Germans are often fairly realistic when it comes to their hopes and expectations, but there are of course still some dreamers about. These people would be guilty of having Luftschlösser, or pipe dreams. The word translates to ‘air castle’ in English, referring to unreachable fantasies. 

Die Schnapsidee – In English, we’ve borrowed the word Schnapps, which we tend to use to mean a fruity alcoholic beverage, from the German Schnaps, which refers to any kind of alcoholic spirit. A Schnapsidee is an outlandish or crazy concept, perhaps one that you would have to be drunk to come up with.

It is fairly well known that Germans like to drink, though beer is usually their beverage of choice. It is therefore apt that the word for a foolish idea has something to do with drunkenness. This term is fairly common, and is also used in cases when there is no alcohol in sight. 

Der Treppenwitz – Germans aren’t famed for their humour, and this concept suggests their comedic timing could be the problem. A Treppenwitz (staircase joke) is a quip that you think of after the opportunity to tell it has passed.

 If you have ever been left speechless by a conversation, only to think of the perfect witty response on your way out of the situation, this would be your Treppenwitz.

READ ALSO: A laughing matter: Looking beyond the stereotype of the serious German

Das ist nicht mein Bier – Beer is part of the fabric of life in Germany, so it is not surprising to find it in this common idiom. In English, we might say something is ‘not our bag’ if it is not quite our cup of tea. In German, however, if a food, activity or style is not for you, you would say it is not your beer.

The phrase in itself is not overly negative, and more an insight into a culture that is fairly accepting of individual opinions and preferences, even those having to do with more important matters than beer.