For members


Nine German words that perfectly sum up being in your 30s

Whether you're "settled down" or still figuring out what you want to do with your life, these distinctly German words shed some light on life in your 30s.

Nine German words that perfectly sum up being in your 30s
Thirty-something couple relaxing in their 'Freizeit' at a beach in the Baltic Sea. Credit: DPA


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Let’s face it. Between juggling a family, career and other joys/stresses of daily life, many of us in our 30s put on a few extra kilos compared to what we had in our 20s. Sometimes we in turn develop – or form bigger – Hüftgold, or hip gold.

These love handles are also dubbed Hüftspeck, or hip bacon. Of course, some of us attempt our first Ironman in these Hüftgold-en years, but others are more inclined to grab a bite on the go as we decide we're a bit too tired to make it to the gym tonight.

Die Gretchenfrage

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This compound word dates back to Goethe’s Faust of 1808, in which the character Gretchen asks the protagonist, who is secretly collaborating with the devil, “Wie hast du’s mit der Religion?” (What's your take on religion?). In German, the word now means any question that gets to the core of an issue, usually with an answer we don't quite want to hear. In our 30s, when figuring out what we really want out of life, sometimes this is the question to ask.


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While some of us in our 30s are philosophically posing the fundamental questions of existence, others just don’t care anymore. They don’t sweat the small stuff, and for anything gone awry might mutter a “Das ist mir schnurzpiepegal” (That doesn’t matter to me) or the even less literary “Das ist mir scheißegal.”


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Many of us in our 30s are past the days of all-night partying or staying up to take a budget flight at the crack of dawn. We feel less shame than our FOMO (fear of missing out) 20-something counterparts, and are more content to relax on a Friday with a book – or Netflix – than hit the bars. We like that feeling of security and comfort, loosely translated as Geborgenheit. It's very similar to its sister word gemütlich but also captures the feeling of being cared for.


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Also applicable to your 20s, this “gate closing panic” applies to many in our 30s worried that we haven’t yet found that person to tie the knot with or no longer have the chance to change careers or locations. It’s also commonly used for women who can hear their biological clocks ticking.


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People tend to appreciate their precious free time more when they have less of it, as is often the case in our fourth decade. Often juggling a job Vollzeit and a handful of other responsibilities, Freizeit is a cherished and often scarce resource. But 30-somethings – learning from their 20s – often have a better idea of how they like to spend it.


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Filled with youthful optimism, many of us once had an idealized vision of the world. Upon getting older, some of us become a tad more cynical. They see rising coronavirus cases in the news, or the ever-rising rent prices in Berlin. There is an ache that the world can’t be better or simpler like in the good ‘ol days (whenever they were).


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Last year it was announced that Germany had the highest birth rate since reunification. Like many Western European countries, German women are bringing their first child into the world at an average age of around 30, with that number reaching 35 for German men.

Needless to say, planning for (or in some cases against) a family is a theme many in Germany – locals and foreigners alike – deal with for the first time in their thirties.


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Originally used just by chess players, this word more broadly means feeling under intense pressure to make a move, even when they would prefer to do nothing because the move comes at a disadvantage.

In our 30s, we sometimes find we can’t avoid big life decisions anymore, or simply have to pay that pile of bills on the deadline day when we would rather be planning our holiday to Italy.

For members


10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.