Living in Hamburg


German: one language, many varieties

Learning German is no easy task but with some time and dedication, the language opens windows into Germany's culture and history that remain mostly closed to those who rely on English alone.

Official Language

The official language of Hamburg and throughout Germany is German. English is widely spoken and especially younger Germans are eager to practice the English skills they have acquired in school or during their travels. However, knowing a few simple phrases in German goes a long way when it comes to day-to-day activities such as grocery shopping or ordering take out.

Different Dialects

Dialects vary throughout Germany and students who have learned some German may find some of them more challenging than others, depending on the dialect and accent they were taught. Bavarians in Southern Germany, for example, may use different greetings or phrases and may have accents that vary greatly from flatter Northern German intonation. But asking questions and talking through any difficulties will surely bring a rewarding cultural exchange. In parts of Northern Germany, Plattdeutsch is also spoken – a Northern German dialect that is related to Frisian, Dutch and English. Though considered by some to be a dying language, it has been revived in recent years and is now taught in some schools and can be heard on some radio and television programs.

"Hamburgish" - Hamburg's local dialect

Those students who speak some German they may notice a few colorful words and phrases around Hamburg that they would not usually hear in the classroom. For example, rather than the standard, Guten Tag, literally “Good Day” or Hello, Hamburgers say, Moin, Moin! Similarly, a girl is not a Mädchen but a Deern; a child is not a Kind but a Gör and some words bear similarities to their English translations, as a door is not a Tür but a Dör, a cat is not a Katze but a Katt and a mouth is not a Mund but a Snuut. If you are crazy, you are not verrückt but rather tüdelig and if you are a bit tipsy you are angetüdelt, perhaps because you drank too much Kööm, or Schnaps. You will surely be told to put on your Puschen or Hausschuhe, because Germans always take off their shoes at the door and put on these slippers. If it is dark, it’s not dunkel but duster and if you are scared, you are not ängstlich but bang. And some words are just plain fun to say – like Quiddje, the word for newcomers to Hamburg, which international students may hear frequently. 

Did you know?

Did you know that Bucerius Law School students receive a discount at Colon Language Center if they book a German course before participating in any of the summer programs? Please contact the Colon Language Center directly if you would like to book a course.