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German word of the day: Böller

New Year’s Eve in Germany just isn’t complete without understanding this word, and some of the combinations it might appear in.

German word of the day: Böller
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

What does it mean?

Böller is a simple enough word. It’s a “firecracker” or “firework.” It’s also one of those less common German words that can be used either as a singular or plural without adding extra letters. All you need to do is change the noun’s gender. As a singular, it’s masculine, so: der Böller. For plural, use: die Böller. You can also use Feuerwerkskörper, but Böller is the far more popular word to use.

How do you use it or where might you see it?

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, so you’ll be seeing Böller a lot. (In fact, the first of them went on sale today!)

Shooting off fireworks without advance permission from your local authority is usually illegal in Germany – except for the time on and around New Year’s Eve. That’s why plenty of people will be stocking up for their own displays – and why stores are keen to start their Böllerverkauf, or “fireworks sales” between the 29th and 31st. 

But New Year’s fireworks aren’t a universally pleasing sound to everyone’s ears in Germany. They can make German cities feel hazardous at this time of year and many of the other words you’ll see combined with Böller can give you some indication of where someone might stand on it.

Enjoying the fireworks is sometimes described as Böllerfreude – made by combining Böller and freude – the word for joy.

fireworks in Hamburg on new year's eve

Fireworks go off in the streets of Hamburg on New Year’s Eve 2021/22. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

But you’ll also see annual debates about a Böllerverbot – or a “fireworks ban.” A general, temporary Böllerverbot was – in theory at least – on the books in both 2020 and 2021, to relieve stretched medical resources dealing with the pandemic. Some streets in certain German cities will also have a localised Böllerverbot – typically applying only to a small area of that street that police might close off.

Yet, at this time of year, German newspapers and social media are often filled with debates about whether there should be a permanent, nationwide Böllerverbot on New Year’s Eve. Some of the words used in these articles are quite direct in describing certain fireworks enthusiasts – such as Böller-Idioten.

Finally, although “shooting off” fireworks would often use the word knallen, some people even make a verb out of Böller, like this:

Wo darf man böllern? – Where can someone shoot off fireworks?

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where fireworks are allowed in Germany this New Year’s Eve

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For members


German phrase of the day: Die Butter vom Brot nehmen

If you're looking for a German phrase that describes one of the most heinous and anti-social crimes imaginable, look no further than this one.

German phrase of the day: Die Butter vom Brot nehmen

Why do I need to know this phrase?

Die Butter vom Brot nehmen (pronounced like this) is another classic example of Germans using food to describe almost any situation in life – and in this case, you can use it to call out people who always seem to be trying to get the better of you. 

What does it mean?

While normally there’s a fairly accurate equivalent to German sayings in English, in this case it’s a little harder to find a direct translation.

As you may realise, die Butter vom Brot nehmen quite literally means: “taking the butter from the bread”. It’s used to describe situations where someone takes something important from someone else, behaves a bit cheekily or tries to get one over on another person in some way. For instance, if there’s one dog at the park that always steals your dog’s ball, that would be a key example of a canine butter-thief. 

You may wonder why this scenario is so emotive for the Germans. Aren’t there worse things to take from someone than a bit of butter? 

Well, one reason could be that butter is viewed as a key component of any Abendbrot ritual: it’s the salty, fatty bit of deliciousness that can perfectly complement your salami and Sauergurke (pickled gherkins) when you’re tucking into a few slices of rye as a light evening meal. And if you find you don’t have at least an inch of butter on both sides of your belegtes Brötchen (filled bread roll), as a German you may well ask for your money back.

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Erste Sahne

What else should I know?

If you’d like to start using this fun expression, it’s important to note that you’ll need to use the dative case with it, as in jemandem die Butter vom Brot nehmen. This often applies when something is being given or taken, and means you’ll use dative pronouns such as dir, mir, ihr and ihm to talk about the person losing out rather than their accusative forms of dich, mich, sie and ihn.

Use it like this: 

Willst du mir jetzt auch noch die Butter vom Brot nehmen?

Now you also want to get the better of me?

Er ist ein Typ, der sich die Butter vom Brot nicht nehmen lässt. 

He’s a guy that doesn’t take any nonsense from anybody.