German isn't particularly well-known as an aesthetic language. Tons of TV shows and war movies full of exaggeration needed to boost the drama factor have contributed to the notion that German is harsh. Very harsh. The hilarious but stereotypical German vs. other languages clips haven't really helped either. Clipped vowels and an abundance of consonants (in contrast to English) accompanied by a sour face and gleeking. Not very appealing to say the least.
On the streets in Germany, of course, you will hear a broad mix of accents and intonations, ranging from soft and mellow to loud and rude. (I won't include cliché jokes about American tourists here).
What surprised me while learning German is how words themselves uniquely convey meaning. This might be because Germans love directness anyway, more so because words are glued together.
When I compiled this list of beautiful words, it struck me that all of them have a deeply emotional ring to them. Admittedly I am an emotional wreckage anyway (certainly compared to my ever-stable somewhat undramatic German friends), but I slowly began to realise that the spirit of the Romantic German writers is still around and warm-heartedness is here to witness.
Enough cheesiness, here are six of my favourite German words.
The opposite of Heimweh (homesickness), this word gives voice to the yearning for new experiences, or as Goethe famously said: "A desire for wideness instead of narrowness" ("Eine Sehnsucht ins Weite statt ins Enge"). A word that perfectly describes the empty feeling we may have when at home; to know that there is more out there and the longing to be part of it.
Closely related to Fernweh, Wanderlust describes the longing to be on the road. To enjoy the journey, rather than be preoccupied by the destination. I see it everywhere around me: Germans love the freedom of hiking, spending time outdoors and the yoga mat. This is actually a Middle High German word that has found a home in many other languages.
OK, this one has become so common that it is even used as a fashionable adjective now: zeitgeisty. Is it similar to spirit of the times? I think it contains more: feelings, ideas, atmosphere, lifestyle, movements.
Quite a new word. It's what most Germans have felt like ever since Donald Trump became president of the USA. Seriously, the German sense of responsibility reaches far. Fremdschämen means you feel intensely embarrassed on behalf of someone else because they are clearly oblivious or careless about the mess they have created.
This is made up of Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain), indicating how much of a gap there is between the actual state of the world and John Lennon's version. It perfectly describes the melancholy inside me when thick chaos and darkness in the world are overwhelming and so contrary to my ideals and hopes.
Famous poets like Goethe and Novalis wrote about Sehnsucht and some languages have got similar words (Portuguese 'saudade' for example). It is said to be more than just a longing for something or someone. This word has a mystic feeling to it; the greater mysteries of life and the universe are involved. C.S. Lewis endorsed it as the "unnameable something" inside each one of us. Personally I would use it when I am separated from someone I deeply love and experience a fierce yearning for them. It has that feeling of belonging to it, the invisible strings of love and Geborgenheit.
That's another one: Geborgenheit. A true beauty. Let's wonder about it next time.
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