German Lessons


Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!

For today's lesson topic, we'll discuss the different German ways of saying that you "have no idea" about something, or admitting you just don't know. The simplest way, of course, is to say ich weiß nicht, but let's look at some more interesting options, starting with one that you must already know:


Ich habe keine Ahnung, wie ich das der Person sage,

I have no idea how to tell the person

Caption 49, Deutsche Welle: Leben zwischen zwei Kulturen in Namibia

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Occasionally, you'll also hear ich habe keine blasse Ahnung, which translates as "I haven't the faintest idea."


...obwohl er keinen blassen Schimmer hatte, wer das sein sollte.

...although he ​​hadn't the faintest notion as to who that could be.

Caption 36, Märchen, Sagenhaft: Der gestiefelte Kater

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The literal translation of blasser Schimmer would be "pale shimmer" or "pale gleam," but it's a German idiom similar to the English expression "the faintest notion" or "the faintest clue."


Der hat voll die Peilung.

He completely understands.

Caption 21, Filmtrailer: Free Birds

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The noun die Peilung means "bearings" or "soundings," as in "keeping your bearings" and not getting lost, but here it is being used in a figurative sense. Thus, if you negate the sentence above and say ich habe keine Peilung, it means that you don't understand.


Ihr Name ist Hase. Ihre Kreditkarte wird Ihnen per Post zugestellt.

Your name is Bunny. Your credit card will be delivered by mail.

Caption 22, Kein Kredit: im Land der Klone

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The above is a play on words in the video: a customer calls a bank asking for a credit card for her pet bunny, and the automated response is "Your name is Bunny." This has a double meaning, since the idiom Mein Name ist Hase is slang for "I don't know" or "I have no idea."


Also, ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.

Well, I don't understand anything.

Caption 27, Die Pfefferkörner: Gerüchteküche

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This phrase suggests a foreigner in Germany who only understands the German word for train station—which is one of the first words that a visitor to Germany learns. It is especially appropriate when you don't understand the details of a particular topic that somebody is discussing.


Further Learning
Go to German Yabla and find other examples of the phrases discussed above to get a better feel for the contexts in which they can be used. 

The Verb Schätzen

The verb schätzen has two different meanings, and the only way to know which you are looking at is to examine the context.


In the lyrics of the first example below, the verb schätzen means "to value," or "to treasure." As you can see, in some cases the translation "to appreciate" is more appropriate. The noun der Schatz refers to a treasured object, and it can also be used as a term of endearment, similar to "dear," "darling," or "treasure" in English.


Ich schätze Wegbegleiter, auch wenn alles seine Zeit hat.

I treasure companions, even if everything happens in its own time.

Caption 22, Mark Forster - Sowieso

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Das wird vor allem von den jüngeren Gästen geschätzt.

This is especially appreciated by the younger guests.

Caption 41, Reiseland Deutschland - Vielfalt im Herzen Europas

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Als es Frühling wurde, erklärte der Bär, er müsse jetzt gehen, um seine Schätze zu hüten.

When it was spring, the Bear explained that he had to go now to tend to his treasures.

Caption 29, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot

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Nacht, Papa. -Nacht, mein Schatz.

Night, Papa. -Night, my treasure.

Caption 43, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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However, the other meaning of schätzen, which is equally common, is "to guess" or "to estimate."


Ich schätze mal, dass wir dann nächstes Jahr irgendwann ernsthaft anfangen.

I estimate then that we'll seriously start sometime next year.

Caption 67, Madsen - auf dem Hessentag

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Was schätzt du denn? -Ich schätze neununddreißig.

What do you guess then? -I guess thirty-nine.

Captions 10-11, rheinmain Szene - Unheilig - „Der Graf“

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Man schätzt, dass Schlittschuhe schon seit dreitausend Jahren verwendet werden.

It is estimated that ice skates have been used for over three thousand years.

Caption 15, Unterwegs mit Cettina - Schlittschuhlaufen

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Further Learning
There are many examples of this verb used in both contexts on Yabla German. See if you can use it one way or another (or both!) in the next conversation you have in German, or at your next German class. 

Fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn

The German electronic band Kraftwerk ("power plant") had a US radio hit back in the 1970s with their song "Autobahn," and as kids we used to like to sing along to it. I suspect, however, that we weren't the only ones who superimposed sound-alike English lyrics onto the German. Instead of the correct text Fahren, fahren, fahren auf der Autobahn, we sang "fun, fun, fun on the autobahn." At least we got the Autobahn part right!


Although the verb fahren is the root word of many other German verbs, verbs based on fahren can have a significantly different meaning than "to drive." One such word is the verb verfahren, which itself has several distinct meanings: 


Lange klingeln lassen und dann wie gehabt verfahren.
Let it ring for longer and then proceed as usual.


Fast hätte ich mich noch verfahren.
Then I would've almost lost my way.


Following up with various translations of the verb erfahren


Das mussten wir wieder mit Schrecken erfahren.

We were forced once again to experience this with horror.

Caption 57, Angela Merkel - Neujahrsansprache

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Wir haben nichts gefilmt. -Niemand wird davon erfahren.

We didn't film anything. -Nobody will find out about it.

Caption 30, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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Ich hab' das erst mal durch die „Aktuelle Kamera“ erfahren.

learned about it for the first time through "Aktuelle Kamera.”

Caption 23, 25 Jahre Mauerfall - Bürger Lars Dietrich erinnert sich

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And then there is the verb anfahren, which can mean "to start driving" or "to approach," but also has another meaning:


In Kopenhagen ist es wahrscheinlicher,

In Copenhagen, you are more likely

von einem Fahrrad angefahren zu werden, als von einem Auto.

to get run over by a bicycle than by a car.

Captions 5-6, TEDx - Der Supermarkt der Zukunft

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Further Learning
A search on the crowd-sourced German-English dictionary yields over a thousand words of all grammatical types that include fahren in some way. Find some new words in that list and look up the various meanings they have on Duden, then go to Yabla German to find examples of the words used in videos. You can also look at this Dartmouth University article on German word formation and how prefixes significantly alter the meaning of the root word upon which they are based.

Recently, Lately, and Just Now

A couple of months ago, we took a look at the temporal adverbs damals and früher and how they are used when talking about the distant past. You can follow this link to read or review that lesson. This week, we will focus on talking about events that have occurred in the recent past or "just now."


First, there are many ways to say "recently" in German, including vor kurzem, kürzlich, letztens, in letzter Zeit, and neulich


Vor kurzem haben wir das Atelier des Juweliers Jonathan Johnson besucht.

Recently, we visited the atelier of jeweler Jonathan Johnson.

Caption 1, Jonathan Johnson - Atelier-Tour

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Mit dem Architekturpreis Green Building wurden in Frankfurt kürzlich acht Gebäude ausgezeichnet.

Eight buildings in Frankfurt were recently awarded the Green Building architecture prize.

Caption 1, Umweltbewusstes Wohnen - Architekturpreis Green Building

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Ich habe letztens noch im Regen gegrillt.

recently grilled in the rain.

Caption 4, Tim Bendzko - Grillen auch im Regen

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War Ihr Mann in letzter Zeit anders als sonst? Bedrückt, müde?

Was your husband recently different than usual? Depressed, tired?

Caption 4, Großstadtrevier - Von Monstern und Mördern

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Ja, haben wir. -Ach, deswegen diese Fragen neulich.

Yes, we did. -Oh, that's the reason for these questions recently.

Caption 10, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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When we talk about something that "just happened," we tend to use other adverbs. Most common is likely gerade eben, but sometimes gerade is used with the past tense to also refer to the recent past rather than what is currently happening. Vorhin can mean "earlier," but also "a short while ago."


Was gerade eben noch unvermeidbar schien...

What had just seemed unavoidable...

Caption 21, Jan Wittmer - Bereit mich zu verlieren

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Die Besitzerin hat mir gerade gesagt, dass sogar alle Seifen aus Stutenmilch sind.

The owner just said to me that all of the soaps are actually made out of mare's milk.

Caption 22, Diane - auf dem Weihnachtsmarkt

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Vorhin haben wir gelernt, dass es drei Artikel gibt in der Einzahl:

Earlier we learned that there are three singular articles:

"der", "die" und "das".

"the" [der] , "the" [die] and "the" [das].

Caption 2, Grammatik - Der Artikel in der Mehrzahl

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Further Learning
When you look at these sentences and other examples from Yabla German, you may notice that the position of the verb remains unchanged despite the adverb. You can read more about this here and take a look at the different kinds of adverbs as well. 

An Experience or Life Experience?

For this week's lesson, we will look at the nouns das Erlebnis and die Erfahrung, and the related verbs erleben and erfahren


Consider the three examples below:


Das ist einfach das beste Erlebnis, das man als Künstler haben kann.

That is simply the best experience that you can have as an artist.

Caption 17, Helge Schneider - Auf der Bühne geht's mir gut

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Also, das war eigentlich eine sehr tolle Erfahrung.

Well, that was actually a really great experience.

Caption 21, Eva Croissant - Interview

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Ich bin selbst Mutter von zwei wundervollen Kinder [sic, Kindern]

I myself am the mother of two wonderful children

und spreche aus eigener Erfahrung.

and speak from my own experience.

Captions 5-6, Cettina interviewt - Mütter

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In English, the word "experience" has a few definitions. In the first two sentences, the speaker is referring to a particular instance of encountering or undergoing something. In the third sentence, they are referring to the knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what they have observed, encountered, or undergone. In German, it is possible to use both das Erlebnis and die Erfahrung to describe this first kind of "experience." However, when we are talking about life experience, only die Erfahrung is appropriate in German. 


The verbs erleben and erfahren similarly can both indicate the process of experiencing something:


Ein Ort lebendiger Demokratie soll es werden,

It should become a place of living democracy,

ein Haus für jeden,

a building for everyone

der Politik hautnah erleben will.

who wants to experience politics next to their skin [idiom, up close].

Captions 16-17, Berlin - Hauptstadt des vereinten Deutschland

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Ich denk', jeder muss für sich selber wissen,

I think everyone has to know for himself

wo er hinfährt und wie er da ist

where he's heading and how he is there

und welche Länder und was er dort erfahren will.

and which countries and what he wants to experience there.

Captions 41-42, Anna - Am Strand in Mexiko

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However, erfahren is also often used to express learning of or finding out about something new:


Wir haben nichts gefilmt. -Niemand wird davon erfahren.

We didn't film anything. -Nobody will find out about it.

Caption 30, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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Further Learning
Conjugate erfahren and erleben and search for the various conjugations (erfahre, erfährst, etc.) on Yabla German to find more examples of the verbs used in context. Try to guess what the words das Erlebnisbad, das Erlebnisgeschenk, der Erlebnispark, erlebnisreich, and die Erlebniswelt mean now that you have an understanding of the word Erlebnis. 

Top German Idioms Roundup

When was the last time you had a swine? Do you only understand "train station?" Is your life like a pony ranch? Is your nose full of it? Is it really about the wurst? Are you pressing your thumbs for me? If any of these phrases seem odd to you, now is the time catch up on some of the most common German idioms!



„Wir haben ganz schön Schwein gehabt", sagte Frederick.

"We pretty much had a swine [idiom: were lucky]," said Frederick.

Caption 33, Piggeldy und Frederick - Reise nach Schweinebrück

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Maybe villages used to award pigs at farmer bingo games, but whatever the reason, "having a swine" means you're in luck in German!

Also, ich versteh' nur Bahnhof.

Well, I only understand "train station" [idiom: I don't understand anything].

Caption 27, Die Pfefferkörner - Gerüchteküche

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"Bahnhof" might be one of the first words a new arrival to Germany learns, so if you only understand "Bahnhof," then you don't understand very much at all.

Ist das Leben für Sie ein Ponyhof?

Is life a pony ranch [idiom, easy, fun] for you?

Caption 3, Oktoberfest München - Auf der Wiesn

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Apparently a pony ranch is the German idea of a "bowl of cherries"...

Aber seit dem gestrigen Halbfinale hab ich die Nase voll!

But since yesterday's semi-finals, I have the nose full [idiom: am very disenchanted]!

Caption 23, Konjugation - Das Verb „mögen“

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One can only surmise that having your nose stuffed up could get pretty uncomfortable.

OK, jetzt geht's wirklich um die Wurst.

OK, now it's really about the wurst [idiom: getting serious].

Caption 35, rheinmain Szene - Miss Interkontinental

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Germans traditionally take their sausages very seriously, so if it's "about the wurst", everybody is paying serious attention!

Deswegen müsst ihr mir ganz doll die Daumen drücken.

For that reason you have to press the thumbs [idiom, "cross your fingers"] for me very much.

Caption 25, Summer Cheergirl Vorstellung der Kandidatinnen

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Much in the same way that (as shown in the well-known scene in the film Inglourious Basterds) that a European will indicate "three" with the thumb and first two fingers, and an American with only the first three fingers, so too in Germany the thumbs are pressed rather than fingers crossed for luck.



Further Learning
Look up some common English idioms and see if you can find the German equivalents in a real world context in videos on German Yabla.

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