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Nuances of wohnen and leben

In German, two verbs can be translated as "to live." Generally, students of German are taught that wohnen relates to more temporary living situations, and leben to more permanent living situations. This may seem highly subjective, and it is! Although there are sentences where only one option is correct, there are certainly sentences in which the speaker chooses a verb dependent on their perspective on the situation.

 

For example, if we look at the following two sentences from the video
Berlin: Judith und die „Brezel Bar“,  we see that Judith uses both words to describe her living situation. 

 

Ich selbst wohne auch in Kreuzberg, hier um die Ecke.
I myself also live in Kreuzberg, here around the corner.
Caption 12, Berlin: Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

 

Mein eigentlicher Beruf ist Buchhändlerin, aber seit ich in Berlin lebe, arbeite ich als Kellnerin und Barista in Cafés.
My actual occupation is book dealer, but since I've lived in Berlin, I've worked as a waitress and barista in cafés.
Caption 16, Berlin: Judith und die „Brezel Bar“

 

We notice here that Judith talks about her apartment being in Kreuzberg with the verb wohnen and her life in Berlin with the verb leben. Wohnen is often used to talk about domesticity, such as inhabiting an apartment or a house. German philosopher Martin Heidegger is well-known for his text Bauen, Wohnen, Denken, which is translated as "Building, dwelling, thinking" in English. Ikea in Germany has for many years had the slogan Wohnst du noch oder lebst du schon? which highlights that occupying or sleeping in a space does not necessarily mean that you are really at home there. In German, the phrase Hast du dich eingelebt? means "Have you settled in?" also reflecting that leben has a deeper sense of permanence than simply dwelling or residing. 

 

In this sentence, Brigitta uses wohnen to express that she is staying with friends, which is obviously a temporary situation:

 

Vielen, vielen Dank, dass ich hier bei euch wohnen kann.
Many, many thanks for allowing me to stay here with you.
Caption 13, Die Wohngemeinschaft: Besuch

 

In this next sentence, it would be possible to say Ich wohne allein, but this would highlight the domestic aspect of living by oneself in an apartment or house, rather than describing a way of life. A person might also say Ich lebe gesund, for example.

 

Ich lebe allein, ich bin unabhängig und ich liebe meine Arbeit.
I live alone, I am independent and I love my work.
Caption 48, Malerei: Impressionistinnen

 

And of course, not to be forgotten, leben is also the verb for "to be alive" itself!

 

Schneewittchen lebt, bei den sieben Zwergen im Wald.    
Snow White is alive, with the seven dwarfs in the forest.
Caption 54, Märchen - Sagenhaft: Schneewittchen

 

Further Learning
There are many examples of leben and wohnen on Yabla German. Think about your own life and which verb you would use to describe various places you have lived, or your current life and lifestyle. 

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