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German phrase of the day: auf Augenhöhe

You’ll see this phrase in everything from newspaper coverage to work e-mails. As one of those German phrases that implies an entire concept, it’s hard to translate.

German phrase of the day: auf Augenhöhe
Photo: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

What does it mean?

Auf Augenhöhe, which sounds like this, literally translates to “at eye level.” But someone using it in German is likely to use it for its more implicit, interpersonal meaning rather than referring to something that’s actually visible at their eye level. Auf Augenhöhe often refers to a situation where two people speak in the spirit of mutual respect and equality – one in which neither one is understood to be superior to the other – at least during the conversation in question.

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

You’re reasonably likely to see auf Augenhöhe used in the German working world when referring to two parties who are either cooperating or negotiating together as equals. It can refer to two companies or institutional partners, or it can simply refer to two people speaking together in the spirit of equality. It can certainly refer to two people speaking together from different companies or departments but who have a similar level of seniority.

But your boss might also speak to you auf Augenhöhe. If they do so, it’s done in the spirit of dialogue and respect for you as a person. Speaking to someone auf Augenhöhe is less what you say than how you go about it. It involves respecting their personal dignity and their opinion – even if you disagree with it – and being open.

During the 2021 federal campaign, Green candidate Annalena Baerbock squats to speak to a wheelchair user “auf Augenhöhe”.

You might have seen Auf Augenhöhe used like this:

Mein Chef sprich mit mir auf Augenhöhe – My boss speaks to me on an equal footing

Wir bauen ein Partnerschaft auf Augenhöhe – We’re building a partnership of equals

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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.