German word of the day: Der Wellenbrecher

Originally used in coastal protection, the term has taken on a powerful new meaning over the course of the pandemic - so much so that it's just become the German Language Society's Word of the Year for 2021.

A blackboard shows the German word 'der Wellenbrecher.
Wellenbrecher is the word of the year in Germany. Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Since the first cases were discovered in Germany in March 2020, the Covid pandemic has shaken our lives, bringing with it a whole new way of being. Limiting time with friends, working from home, coat pockets stuffed with spare medical masks – all of these things have become part of the ‘new normal’.

As we attempt to describe our experience of the post-pandemic world, a fantastically colourful range of words has entered the German language, describing everything from the ongoing anxiety to the idiosyncratic mask-wearer who prefers to leave their nose peeping out for some fresh air (often called a Maskenmuffel) 

READ ALSO: The new German words that perfectly describe the coronavirus pandemic

So it’s no wonder that, of more than 1,200 new words that have entered the language since the pandemic began, yet another Covid neologism was chosen by the German Language Society as this year’s Word of the Year.

Wellenbrecher, which translates into ‘wave breaker’ or ‘breakwater’ in English, refers to a form of sea-barrier designed to protect the coastline from erosion and minimise the force of aggressive waves hitting the shore. 

Of course, in the time of Covid-19, the word ‘wave’ is more likely to conjure up swelling infection numbers than a trip to the seaside. And as politicians and health experts struggle to limit the impact of the fourth wave, the word ‘Wellenbrecher’ has come to describe exactly what they are looking for.

Carefully tiptoeing around the (now politically toxic) word ‘lockdown’, Michael Kretschmer, Saxony’s state premier, used the word ‘wave breaker’ when calling for a shutdown of public life a few weeks ago. 

And, according to Bild, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel begged the incoming government to implement an immediate ‘wave breaker’ lockdown to tame the fourth wave at the end of November – but her request was allegedly denied. 

Waves hit the sea wall
Waves strike the harbour walls in Folkestone, England. A breakwater (or, literally ‘wave breaker’) is a measure such as a lockdown that is designed to dampen the impact of a Covid wave. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Gareth Fuller

People who follow British politics may recognise parallels in the use of the word ‘circuit breaker’ to describe short, sharp lockdowns intended to reverse a wave of infections. But, as we’ve discovered in Germany in recent months, ‘wave breaker’ measures aren’t always lockdowns.

In fact, with German leaders’ new rules including ‘2G’ (vaccinated and recovered only) for non-essential shops and other parts of public life, contact restrictions on the unvaccinated, and the possibility of regional lockdowns, the new government is hoping it has found a powerful ‘Wellenbrecher’ to slow the spread of the fourth wave.

Only time will tell if the new measures will live up their name. 


Was hältst du von dem Wellenbrecher in Sachsen? Hat er eigentlich was gebracht?  

What do you think of the wave breaker in Saxony? Has it actually achieved anything? 

Die Corona Lage ist schon sehr Ernsthaft. Wir brauchen jetzt einen radikalen Wellenbrecher. 

The Covid situation is already very serious. We need a radical circuit breaker now. 

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REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.