Beer, flies and train stations – 5 German expressions that will surprise and delight you

Learning German is more than mastering most complex grammar modules and verb tenses.

After learning the language, you’ll be able to travel to German-speaking countries without a care in the world, order food from the hippest local restaurant and discover German culture. Most importantly, learning German will allow you to understand use quirky idiomatic expressions that will surely convince your friends that you are a German native, or at least someone who memorized an SEO article from a niche language website. Wunderbar, one can, nay, should say.

Here is an objectively useful (and impressive) list of 5 German expressions that you’ll certainly want to use in case of emergency. 

Das ist nicht mein Bier

Our first entry das ist nicht mein Bier is a common idiom, especially if beer is your jam (or even if it is just your beer). It means “it’s none of my business”. German speakers would use this phrase to show that something isn’t their concern and/or their responsibility and they would rather not get involved.

Example:

Wusstest du, dass Betty und Dr. Meyer eine Affäre haben?

Das ist nicht mein Bier.

Translation:

– Did you know that Betty and Dr. Meyer are having an affair?

– It’s none of my business.

Did you know? The phrase can also help express that something isn’t to your taste or liking. In English, we would use the expression “it’s not my cup of tea”.

Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen

This next entry provides food for thought. Die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen translates as “to play the insulted liver sausage” and refers to somebody being unnecessarily offended and sulking. This idiom goes back to the Middle Ages, when people assumed that a person’s emotions were produced in the liver. In any case, die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen is an interjection worth receiving. 

Example: Hör auf, die beleidigte Leberwurst zu spielen und setz deine Maske auf!

Translation: Stop sulking and put your mask on!

Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen 

This idiom will be all over you like a fly on 💩. Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen literally translates as “to kill two flies with one swatter” and chances are you’ve done this once in your lifetime – maybe that one time at fly-swatting camp. The English equivalent for this idiom is “to kill two birds with one stone” though we really wish you wouldn’t.

Example: Ich habe zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe geschlagen und auf dem Weg zur Reinigung noch den Einkauf erledigt. 

Translation: I managed to kill two birds with one stone and picked up some groceries on my way to the dry-cleaners.

Lass die Kirche im Dorf 

Lass die Kirche im Dorf is a popular idiom thought to originate when the church would regularly hold processions through a village. But if said village was deemed too small for the size of the procession, it would spread into the surrounding areas and villages. This would often not be welcome among grumpy neighbors. They would therefore say Lass die Kirche im Dorf, which means “stay within your village boundaries.”

An English equivalent of this phrase would be “cut it out” or “let’s not get carried away”.

Example:

Ich glaube, ich versuche mich 5 oder 6 Mal gegen COVID impfen zu lassen, nur um sicher zu gehen.

Jetzt lass mal die Kirche im Dorf!

Translation:

– I think I might try and get 5 or 6 COVID jabs, just in case.

 – Let’s not get carried away.

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

Like many German idioms, this last one is a tough nut to crack.  When a German speaker says to you Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof, they don’t literally mean “I only understand train stations”. Rather, they’re telling you that they’re confused.

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof is said to be coined around the 1920s, at the end of World War I, when tired soldiers wanted nothing else but to get back home to their families. Therefore, they would only want to hear the words “train station” (or Bahnhof). 

German speakers will also associate this colloquial expression with the feeling of anticipation one might experience as they are about to begin a journey, therefore unable to concentrate on anything else.

In English, the equivalent idiom would be “it’s all Greek to me”.

Example: Verstehst du, was der Kollege aus Bayern erzählt? Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

Translation: Do you understand what our Bavarian colleague is talking about? It’s all Greek to me.


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