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Eight things Germans believe bring good luck

Germans have several ways of bringing good fortune, from breaking things to chimney sweeps. Here's what you can do in Germany to bring yourself as much luck as possible.

Eight things Germans believe bring good luck
A group of chimney sweeps hike up the Brocken mountain on German Unity day last year to bring everyone luck. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

A lot of superstitions about bad luck in Germany are well-known across the world. From lighting a cigarette with a candle to gifting knives, there are a whole load of possible missteps which might end up cursing you and your friends to years or even decades of bad luck.

But no fear- there are plenty of ways to ensure that you get lucky too. Here’s your eight-step guide to getting lucky according to German tradition. 

READ ALSO: Eight strange superstitions the Germans hold dearly

  • Pigs

One popular German phrase is ‘Schwein haben’ (literally ‘to have a pig’), which means that you got lucky. Similarly, ‘Schwein gehabt’ (literally ‘got pig’) is used as an expression of good fortune along the lines of saying ‘lucky you!’ or ‘lucky me!’. 

It is common to gift friends and family with a marzipan Glückschwein (good luck pig) to mark New Year. 

A German girl with her Sparschwein – or piggy bank. Yes, pigs are lucky. But it’s even luckier to have a pig full of money. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

Piggy banks (Sparschweine) are also given to youngsters to encourage them to save (because who doesn’t want a pig full of cash?).

Pigs are considered lucky because of their connection with fertility, successful harvest and thus prosperity. Piglets in particular are seen as portending good fortune. It is thought that this custom might have arisen in the Middle Ages, when to own pigs was a signal of wealth and status. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Sau

  • Smashing things

Smashing anything breakable, such as glass, china or ceramic is thought to bring good luck in Germany. Loud crashes and bangs from breaking household objects drive evil spirits out of the house, and are thought to bestow a few years of good fortune to the person who broke them. 

The German saying ‘Scherben bringen Glück’, meaning ‘shards bring luck’, was coined for this situation. Around wedding days, breaking porcelain plates is often a part of the celebration. According to custom, the more shards created by the process, the better luck the couple will have in married life.

This tradition is called Polterabend, and while it used to take place until midnight on the night before the wedding, nowadays it more frequently happens either on the wedding day itself or around a week before.

Ulrike and Martin probably smashed things at the Polterabend just before their wedding. We wonder if it brought them luck and they’re still together. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa | Roland_Witschel

So even if you might not be inclined to lather someone with well-wishes after they’ve just broken your favourite plate, remember to give a shout of ‘Scherben bringen Glück!’ to help them cash in on their years of good luck.

  • Salt

Salt (das Salz) is thought to have the power to bring good luck in Germany. Because of this, it’s seen as lucky to give salt and bread as a housewarming gift, and is thought to mean that the person moving in will never go hungry in their new home. 

It is believed that the superstition arose from a time when salt was a valuable commodity and a symbol of wealth and success. Only the richest and most prosperous could afford it. 

However, don’t think about combining superstitions and spilling your salt. Unfortunately, this will bring you seven years of bad luck.

Pass the salt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Catherine Waibel

In addition, make sure you don’t bring a knife with you to slice the housewarming bread. Giving a knife as a housewarming gift is seen as wishing death on the person you are gifting the present.

READ ALSO: Eight strange Austrian superstitions foreigners should know about

  • Black cats – but only if they’re moving in the right direction
This gorgeous lad is called Arne and he’s at the association Tierschutz Hildesheim und Umgebung e.V, Lower Saxony, if you’d like to check if he’s still available. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Although in some countries black cats unequivocally bring bad luck, in Germany the relationship is more complicated. A black cat moving from left to right will bring bad luck, whereas a black cat moving from right to left will bestow good luck on the person whose path it crosses. 

The German saying relating to this superstition is ‘schwarze Katze von rechts nach links, Glück bringt’s’, which means ‘a black cat from right to left brings good luck.’

  • Chimney sweeps 
Consider yourself blessed with luck! Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Matthias Bein

Seeing a chimney sweep (der Schornsteinfeger) is meant to bring good luck in Germany – particularly on New Year’s Day or on your wedding day. This is thought in part to be because traditionally chimney sweeps would collect the fee for their services on the first day of each new year, meaning they were often among the first to wish families a happy new year. 

There’s a lovely story behind the main photo on this story, and the one above. It’s a group of chimney sweeps from Saxony-Anhalt who hiked up the Brocken mountain on the 30th anniversary of German reunification in October 2020. The group of 16 meet once a year and want to bring luck to everyone. 

It is thought to be even luckier if you turn one of the silver buttons on their uniforms, get ash on your face from a chimney sweep or if you see a chimney sweep in the presence of a pig! 

Alongside the marzipan pigs often gifted on New Year, you can also often find little chimney sweeps modelled out of marzipan. 

Befriending a chimney sweep can be seen as having good luck on demand, as inviting a chimney sweep to almost any social event will, according to tradition, ensure that it runs perfectly smoothly.

READ ALSO: Friday the 13th: Eight strange superstitions that the Germans hold dearly

  • Knocking on the pub table

Having a pint in a German pub might seem like a more raucous occasion to you than you’re used to, particularly if you notice your friends knocking their fists against the table as you walk in. However, this tradition isn’t just about greeting your pals and preparing for a fun-filled evening: it’s actually a way of communicating to them that you’re not the devil in disguise. 

Did these friends knock on wood before the Germany played France on June 15th during the Euros? (France won 1-0, sob).

Traditionally, pub or tavern tables were made out of oak because it was seen as a holy tree that the devil was unable to touch. By knocking on the wood (Holz klopfen), the people sitting around the table are able to prove that they haven’t been possessed by the spirit of evil. 

But be sure to make eye contact as you’re clinking glasses in the pub and saying ‘Prost’ (cheers), or according to German superstition you’ll be cursed with seven years of bad sex. 

READ ALSO: Why do Germans make eye contact when they clink glasses?

  • Putting a coin in a new wallet

Gifts are a tricky business according to German superstition, and it’s easy to accidentally slip up and buy something that could leave the recipient silently cursing you for condemning them to years of bad luck.

A wallet is always a versatile gift for a good friend, but one thing to remember is that if you’re buying someone a new wallet for their birthday or Christmas, you should remember to slip a penny or another coin in it for good luck. This should mean that the person you are gifting it to will never be poor.

Everyone wants a bulging wallet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Fernando Gutierrez-Juarez
  • Hanging up a horseshoe

Before the dawn of technology like social media and text messaging, lovers would send love letters which were delivered by horse and carriage. Waiting for word from their significant others, they would listen out for the telltale sound of horses trotting up to their houses. Finding a horseshoe (das Hufeisen) was actually seen as more lucky and desirable than receiving the letter itself. 

“Good luck! feel free to grab a horseshoe,” tweeted one person after finding a ton of horseshoes last year. 

Traditionally, horseshoes are hung from the front door to bless visitors with good luck, though there are mixed opinions on which way they should be hung. 

It was thought that when a witch saw a horseshoe hanging over a door, she would have to ride every single road touched by that horseshoe, deterring her from bringing wickedness to the house in question.

However, if you do have a lucky horseshoe, you are running the risk of bad luck too – misplacing or losing it is thought to bring bad fortune.

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Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

Denglisch - a hybrid of Deutsch and English - can refer to the half-and-half way Germans and foreigners speak to each other. But Germans use plenty of English words amongst themselves - although they don’t always mean the same thing.

Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

English speakers are no stranger to using certain German words when speaking English—schadenfreude and kindergarten being perhaps the most obvious. The process is possibly even more advanced in reverse.

Many Germans are proud of being able to speak English well, and the Berlin Wall’s fall in 1989 only accelerated the process, as a redefined international community – with English as the main global language – beckoned.

Now English words are found in all parts of German life. Many Germans don’t even necessarily understand why. English-language cultural influence is certainly a part of German life, but the dubbing of television shows, to use just one example, remains far more widespread in Germany than in many smaller European countries, which use original audio with subtitles.

Here’s a selection of anglicisms that Germans use with each other. 

READ ALSO: Could Denglisch one day kill of English?

‘Coffee-To-Go’ or ‘Takeaway’

‘Ein Kaffee zum mitnehmen’ is correct and your coffee shop owner will definitely understand what you want if you ask for it. But plenty of Germans will ask for a ‘Coffee-To-Go,’ even when speaking German to a German barista. This seems to only apply to coffee ordered on the move, however. If you’re sitting down at a table, expect to order the German Kaffee.

Getting a coffee-to-go in Berlin.

Getting a Coffee-To-Go in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Human Resources, ‘Soft Skills’ and ‘Manager’

‘Personalabteilung’ is still used to describe a human resources department. But plenty of German companies—whether international or mostly German will use Human Resources even in German-language communication. Although ‘Leiter’ and ‘Leiterin,’ meaning ‘leader’ are used, even German job titles will use “Manager.” The word ‘Manager’ has even been adapted to accommodate German noun genders. A female manager, may be referred to as a ‘Managerin’.

READ ALSO: How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The world of work in Germany is also notable for importing another contemporary English term. ‘Soft Skills’ is used in German when recruiters are looking to see if a candidate might fit culturally into a particular workplace. The words actually describing these skills, like ‘Führungskompetenz’ or ‘leadership ability,’ often sound unmistakably German though. But there are exceptions. ‘Multitasking’ is used in German as well.

‘Clicken,’ ‘Uploaden,’ ‘Downloaden’ and ‘Home Office’

As technology that came of age relatively recently, German has imported many English terms related to technology and the Internet. While web browsers might use ‘Herunterladen’ instead of ‘download’ or ‘hochladen’ instead of ‘upload,’ Germans are just as likely to use the slightly Germanized version of the English word, hence ‘downloaden’.

READ ALSO: Seven English words Germans get delightfully wrong

Even before ‘Home Office’ appeared on German tax returns, to calculate what credit workers could get from remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Home Office’ was still widely used in German to describe, well, working from home. It can be confusing for English speakers, though, especially those from the UK, because the Home Office is a department in the British government. 

English words that have slightly different meanings in German – ‘Shitstorm’ and ‘Public Viewing’

There are English words Germans use that don’t always mean quite the same thing to a native English speaker. An English speaker from the UK or Ireland, for example, might associate a ‘public viewing’ with an open casket funeral. Germans, however, tends to use “public viewing” almost exclusively to mean a large screening, usually of an event, that many people can gather to watch for free. Placing a large television at the Brandenburg Gate for German Football Team matches is perhaps the most immediately recognisable example of a ‘public viewing’.

Then there’s what, at least to native English speakers, might sound outright bizarre. But former Chancellor Angela Merkel herself used “Shitstorm” more than once while in office. In German though, it can refer specifically to a social media backlash involving heated online comments.

Another typical English-sounding word used in German differently is ‘Handy’ – meaning cellphone (well, it does fit in your hand). It can sound a bit strange to English speakers, though. 

Other words, however, more or less mean what you think they do – such as when one German newspaper referred to Brexit as a ‘Clusterfuck’.

READ ALSO: Shitstorm ‘best English gift to German language’