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German phrase of the day: keine Alleingänge

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has regularly used this phrase over the last several months to justify Germany’s long decision-making process on sending Ukraine modern tanks.

German phrase of the day: keine Alleingänge
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

What does it mean?

Alleingang literally translates as “a solo effort.” Alleingänge, is its plural. The phrase keine Alleingänge, literally means “no solo efforts,” but it’s probably better understood as “no going it alone.” It’s become one of the most recognisable phrases in Germany’s political debate about how to support Ukraine in defending itself against Russia’s invasion.

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

You’re reasonably likely to have seen or heard keine Alleingänge over the last few months in newspapers and on German news programs and political talk shows.

In a September 2022 interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Scholz justified Germany’s reluctance to send heavy weapons – such as modern battle tanks – to Ukraine by saying: “wir werden bei allem, was wir tun, keine Alleingänge machen,” or “We won’t go it alone in anything we do.”

By saying this, Scholz was insinuating that Germany would only send tanks when other countries – particularly the United States – would send tanks.

PODCAST: How Germany changed its mind on tanks and why people are waiting years for citizenship

German chancellor Olaf Scholz at a special meeting at the Bundestag.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz at a special meeting at the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Ever since then, keine Alleingänge has become a politically charged phrase that’s come to represent an often tense German debate – so much that using it in many conversations with average Germans might leave some of them asking you your opinion of Olaf Scholz.

After months of no decision on tanks, Germany finally agreed this week to send them to Ukraine once the US sent some as well. Scholz supporters might argue that keine Alleingänge was successful in getting Ukraine more powerful weaponry – by making sure many countries were involved.

Scholz detractors might be more likely to use keine Alleingänge in a sceptical or outright mocking tone, arguing the phrase symbolises Scholz’s indecisiveness – or even cowardice – in crisis.

READ ALSO: Ditherer or deal-maker? Jury’s out on Scholz’s tank brinkmanship

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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.