List of German expressions in English  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

This is a list of German expressions used in English; some are relatively common (e.g. hamburger), but most are comparatively rare. In many cases the loanword has assumed a meaning substantially different from its German forebear.

English and German both are West Germanic languages, though their relationship has been obscured by the lexical influence of Old Norse and Norman French (as a consequence of the Norman conquest of England in 1066) on English as well as the High German consonant shift. In recent years, however, many English words have been borrowed directly from German. Typically, English spellings of German loanwords suppress any umlauts (the superscript, double-dot diacritic in Ä, Ö, Ü, ä, ö and ü) of the original word or replace the umlaut letters with Ae, Oe, Ue, ae, oe, ue, respectively (as is done commonly in German speaking countries when the umlaut is not available; the origin of the umlaut was a superscript E).

German words have been incorporated into English usage for many reasons:

  • German cultural artefacts, especially foods, have spread to English-speaking nations and often are identified either by their original German names or by German-sounding English names
  • Developments and discoveries in German-speaking nations in science, scholarship, and classical music have led to German words for new concepts, which have been adopted into English: for example the words doppelgänger and angst in psychology.
  • Discussion of German history and culture requires some German words.
  • Some German words are used in English narrative to identify that the subject expressed is in German, e.g. Frau, Reich.

As languages, English and German descend from the common ancestor language West Germanic and further back to Proto-Germanic; because of this, some English words are essentially identical to their German lexical counterparts, either in spelling (Hand, Sand, Finger) or pronunciation (fish = Fisch, mouse = Maus), or both (Arm, Ring); these are excluded from this list.

German common nouns adopted into English are in general not initially capitalised, and the ß is generally changed to ss.

Contents

German terms commonly used in English

Most of these words will be recognized by many English speakers; they are commonly used in English contexts. Some, such as wurst and pumpernickel, retain German connotations, while others, such as lager and hamburger, retain none. Not every word is recognizable outside its relevant context. A number of these expressions are used in American English, under the influence of German immigration, but not in British English.

Food and drink

Sports and recreation

  • Abseil (German spelling: sich abseilen, a reflexive verb, to rope (seil) oneself (sich) down (ab)); the term abseiling is used in the UK and commonwealth countries, "roping (down)" in various English settings, and "rappelling" in the US.
  • Blitz, taken from Blitzkrieg (lightning war). It is a team defensive play in American or Canadian football in which the defense sends more players than the offense can block.
  • Foosball, probably from the German word for table football, Tischfußball, although foosball itself is referred to as Kicker in German.
  • Handstand
  • Karabiner, snaplink, a metal loop with a sprung or screwed gate, used in climbing and mountaineering; modern short form/derivation of the older word 'Karabinerhaken'; translates to 'riflehook'. The German word can also mean Carbine.
  • Kutte (literally frock or cowl), a type of vest made out of denim or leather and traditionally worn by bikers, metalheads and punks; in German the word also refers to the clothes of monks.
  • Kletterschuh, climbing shoe (mountaineering)
  • Mannschaft, German word for a sports team.
  • Rucksack (more commonly called a backpack in U.S. English)
  • Schuss, literally: shot (ski) down a slope at high speed
  • Turner, a gymnast
  • Turnverein, a gymnastics club or society
  • Volksmarsch / Volkssport, non-competitive fitness walking
  • Volkswanderung

Other aspects of everyday life

  • –bahn as a suffix, e.g. Infobahn, after Autobahn
  • Blücher, a half-boot named after Prussian Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (1742–1819); also a hand in the British card game Napoleon.
  • Dachshund, literally badger dog; a dog breed (usually referred to as Dackel in German usage)
  • Doberman Pinscher, a dog breed
  • Doppelgänger, literally double-goer, also spelled in English as doppelganger; a double or look-alike. However, in English the connotation is that of a ghostly apparition of a duplicate living person.
  • Dreck, literally dirt or smut, but now meaning trashy, awful (through Yiddish, OED s.v.)
  • Dummkopf, literally stupid head; a stupid, ignorant person, similar to numbskull in English
  • erlaubt, allowed, granted - opposite of verboten.
  • Ersatz, replacement; usually implying an artificial and inferior substitute or imitation
  • Fest, festival
  • Flak, Flugabwehrkanone, literally: air-defence cannon, for anti-aircraft artillery or their shells, also used in flak jacket; or in the figurative sense: "drawing flak" = being heavily criticized
  • Gemütlichkeit, coziness
  • Gesundheit, literally health; an exclamation used in place of "bless you!" after someone has sneezed
  • Hausfrau, pejorative: frumpy, petty-bourgeois, traditional, pre-emancipation type housewife whose interests centre on the home, or who is even exclusively interested in domestic matters (colloquial, American English only), sometimes humorously used to replace "wife", but with the same mildly derisive connotation
  • Kaffeeklatsch, literally coffee gossip; afternoon meeting where people (usually referring to women) chitchat while drinking coffee or tea
  • kaput (German spelling: kaputt), out-of-order, broken
  • Kindergarten, literally children's garden; day-care centre, playschool, preschool
  • Kitsch, cheap, sentimental, gaudy items of popular culture
  • Kraut, literally cabbage; derogatory term for a German
  • Lebensraum, literally living space; conquered territory, now synonymous with the Nazi Party
  • Meister, master, also as a suffix: –meister
  • Nazi, short for Nationalsozialist (National Socialist)
  • Neanderthal (modern German spelling: Neandertal), for German Neandertaler, meaning "of, from, or pertaining to the Neandertal ("Neander Valley")", the site near Düsseldorf where early Homo neanderthalensis fossils were found
  • Noodle, from German Nudel, a type of food; a string of pasta.
  • Oktoberfest, Bavarian folk festival held annually in Munich during late September and early October
  • Poltergeist, literally noisy ghost; an alleged paranormal phenomenon where objects appear to move of their own accord
  • Poodle, from German Pudel, breed of dog
  • Rottweiler, breed of dog
  • Schadenfreude, joy from pain (literally harm joy); delight at the misfortune of others
  • Scheiße, an expression and euphemism meaning "shit", usually as an interjection when something goes amiss
  • Schnauzer, breed of dog
  • Spitz, a breed of dog
  • Süffig, if a beverage is especially light and sweet or palatable.
  • uber, über, over; used to indicate that something or someone is of better or superior magnitude, e.g. Übermensch
  • Ur– (German prefix), original or prototypical; e.g. Ursprache, Urtext
  • verboten, prohibited, forbidden. In both English and German,Template:Citation needed this word has authoritarian connotations.
  • Volkswagen, literally people's car; brand of automobile
  • Wanderlust, the yearning to travel
  • Wiener, used pejoratively, signifying a spineless, weak person. In German, the term Würstchen (the diminutive form of Wurst) or Wiener Würstchen (Vienna sausage) is used in its place.
  • Wunderkind, literally wonder child; a child prodigy
  • Zeitgeist, spirit of the time
  • Zeppelin, type of rigid airship named after its inventor

German terms common in English academic context

German terms sometimes appear in English academic disciplines, e.g. history, psychology, philosophy, music, and the physical sciences; laypeople in a given field may or may not be familiar with a given German term.

Academia

Architecture

Arts

  • Gesamtkunstwerk, "the whole of a work of art", also "total work of art" or "complete artwork"
  • Gestalt (lit. "shape, figure") a word used the same way as "entity" or "thing" in common language. "The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts"

Music

Meanings of German band names
  • 2raumwohnung = 2 room apartment (correct spelling: Zweiraumwohnung)
  • Abriss West = demolition of the West, a german Punkrock band
  • Alter Der Ruine = "Age of the Ruin"
  • BlutEngel = "Blood Angel"
  • Böhse Onkelz = this is the correct but idiosyncratic spelling of the name of the German band (the correct plural would be "Onkel" without the z or an s, and "böse" for the correct German word for 'evil') "evil uncles," a term used in German as a euphemism for child molesters. The peculiar spelling of the band is intended to "harden" the appearance of the name (h in this context amplifies the ö; z is pronounced ts in German, and sounds sharper than s). The umlaut over the o in Böhse is not a heavy metal umlaut.
  • Deichkind = dike (or levee) child
  • Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (or D.A.F.) = German-American Friendship
  • Die Ärzte = the (medical) doctors, a German Punkrock band.
  • Die Fantastischen Vier = the fantastic four
  • Die Roten Punkte = The Red Dots
  • Die Sterne = the stars (celestial body)
  • Die Toten Hosen = literally the dead trousers. A slang expression for a boring place to be (phrase: "Hier ist total tote Hose.") (commonly used in the northern parts of Germany), it can also refer to impotence.
  • Dschinghis Khan = The German spelling of Genghis Khan
  • Einstürzende Neubauten = "collapsing new buildings" (as in: buildings that are collapsing)
  • Eisbrecher = Ice breaker
  • Eisregen = "Ice rain", i. e., freezing rain
  • Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung = "First Public/General Uncertainty/Un-Insurance (better: the first undermining of the public sense of security)", often abbreviated "EAV". Band name was inspired by the real existing insurance company "Erste Allgemeine Versicherungs-AG" (First General Insurance Inc.)
  • Feindflug = "combat mission" (general term for any flight with enemy contact, as opposed to civilian, recon or training flights)
  • Fehlfarben = An elder trademark for cheap cigars, but also the term for cigars with spotty/off-colour outer leaves de:Fehlfarbe, stamps and furs in the wrong colour, as well the colours in a card play, which are not trump
  • Fettes Brot = literally fat bread, but "fett" is also a slang expression for cool (like English phat, which may have inspired it)
  • Fluchtweg = literally "way of escape"; emergency exit
  • Fräulein Wunder = "Miss Miracle", an allusion to the German expression de:Fräuleinwunder, a phenomenon in 1950s Germany referring to modern, attractive and self-assured young women
  • Freundeskreis = circle of friends
  • Geier Sturzflug = "Vulture Nosedive" (this dive might end in a crash or in hunting prey); vulture is an allusion or symbol for insolvency or bankruptcy, but also refers to the bird in the literal sense. Geier ('Vulture') is als derogatively used for the eagle in the German coat-of-arms.
  • Juli = the month july
  • Kettcar = the trademark name of a line of toy cars propelled by pedals and a chain. The name is a play on the name of the firm that produces the cars, Kettler, as well as the word for "chain", Kette.
  • Klee = not only the painter Paul Klee, but also German for clover.
  • KMFDM = "Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid" Template:Sic (literally "no majority for the pity," which is a grammatically incorrect rearrangement of "Kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit" or "no pity for the masses." A grammatically correct rearrangement would be "Keine Mehrheit für das Mitleid")
  • Kraftwerk = power plant
  • Kreidler = an elder moped trademark
  • Massive Töne = massive sounds
  • Nachtmahr = old word for "nightmare" or a legendary creature
  • Neu! = new!
  • Ostzonensuppenwürfelmachenkrebs = "Eastern Zone Bouillon Cubes Cause Cancer" (where 'Ostzone'='Eastern Zone' refers to the Soviet occupation zone).
  • Panzer AG = "Tank PLC"
  • Panik = "panic", a German metal band
  • Rammstein = "ramming stone" (literal) or "battering ram" (figurative), an intentional misspelling of Ramstein and the USAF Ramstein Air Base, the location of the Ramstein airshow disaster. Some translate it as "[stone] hammerhead"
  • Rosenstolz = "pride of roses". This can also be understood as "proud like roses" alluding to symbolism of the rose signifying pride
  • Rotersand = literally "red sand", named after a famous lighthouse in the North Sea
  • Schleimkeim = slime germ, German punk band
  • Silbermond = literally silver moon, German popband
  • Tokio Hotel = literally "Tokyo Hotel", German rock band
  • Unheilig = literally "unholy", a band (formerly) representing the "Neue Deutsche Härte"
  • Virginia Jetzt! = Virginia now!
  • Wir sind Helden = "We are heroes"
  • Die Zimmermänner = The former Ede & Die Zimmermänner, referring to the television personality Eduard Zimmermann, the initiator and former talking head of the TV police search (crimewatch) programme Aktenzeichen XY … ungelöst in the German ZDF channel. A Zimmermann is also a carpenter by profession.
Genres
Selected works in classical music
Carols
Modern songs

Theatre

Typography

Biology

Chess

Economics


Geography

Geology

Minerals including:

History

(Some terms are listed in multiple categories if they are important to each.)

The Third Reich

Other historical periods

Military terms

  • Blitzkrieg, Lightning war. Phrase invented by a Spanish journalist to describe mobile combined arms methods used by Nazis in 1939–1940.
  • Fingerspitzengefühl (literally "finger-tip feeling", in German used to mean "empathy", "sensitivity" or "tact"): The ability of certain military commanders to understand and master a situation in detail thanks to intuition and a capability that allows having all relevant tactical information available in the mind, presumably in the form of a mental map.
  • Flak (Flugabwehrkanone), anti-aircraft gun (for derived meanings see under Other aspects of everyday life)
  • Fliegerhorst, another word for a military airport
  • Karabiner a carbine. For the climbing hardware, see carabiner above
  • Kriegsspiel, in English also written Kriegspiel, war game (different meanings)
  • Luftwaffe, air force (WW II and later, with East Germany and the earlier German Empire using the term Luftstreitkräfte instead for their air services)
  • Panzer refers to tanks and other armoured vehicles, or formations of such vehicles
  • Panzerfaust, "tank fist": anti-tank weapon, a small one-man launcher and projectile.
  • Strafe, punishment
  • U-Boot (abbreviated form of Unterseeboot — submarine, but commonly called U-Boot in Germany as well)
  • Vernichtungsgedanke (thought of annihilation)

Linguistics

  • Ablaut
  • Abstandsprache
  • Aktionsart
  • Ausbausprache
  • Dachsprache
  • Dreimorengesetz, "three-mora law", the rule for placing stress in Latin
  • einzelsprachlich (belonging to a single language; in historical linguistics, referring to single dialects or branches within a language family, or a relatively recent period in language development as opposed to the proto-language stage of a family)
  • Gleichsetzung, "equation" (of cognates, in etymology)
  • Grammatischer Wechsel, "grammatical alternation", a pattern of consonant alternations found in Germanic strong verbs and also in Germanic nouns
  • Grenzsignal, "boundary signal"
  • Junggrammatiker, literally "Young Grammarians", a formative German school of linguists in the late 19th century
  • Loanword (ironically not a loanword but rather a calque from German Lehnwort)
  • Primärberührung, "primary contact", the development of certain consonant clusters (stop consonant + /t/) in Proto-Germanic
  • Rückumlaut, "reverse umlaut", a regular pattern of vowel alternation (of independent origin from usual ablaut patterns) in a small number of Germanic weak verbs
  • Sitz im Leben (Biblical linguistics mainly; the study of Pragmatics has a similar approach)
  • Sprachbund, "language union", a group of languages that have become similar because of geographical proximity
  • Sprachgefühl, the intuitive sense of what is appropriate in a language
  • Sprachraum
  • sprachwirklich (said of words and structures: actually attested as opposed to e. g. merely postulated on theoretical grounds, or as opposed to artificial coinages and inventions by ancient grammarians that were never used in reality)
  • Sprechbund, "speech bond", a term from sociolinguistics
  • Suffixaufnahme
  • Umlaut
  • Urheimat "original homeland", the area originally inhabited by speakers of a (reconstructed) language
  • Ursprache, "proto-language"
  • Wanderwort "migratory term/word", a word which spreads from its original language into several others.

Literature

Mathematics and formal logic

Medicine

Philosophy

Physical sciences

Politics

Psychology

  • Aha-Erlebnis, literally aha experience, a sudden insight or epiphany, compare eureka
  • Angst, feeling of fear, but more deeply and without concrete object
  • Eigengrau, literally "intrinsic grey", or also Eigenlicht, "intrinsic light", the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness
  • Einstellung effect, from Einstellung, which means "attitude" here
  • Erlebnis, from 'Erleben' experience, meaning a lived through conscious experience
  • Ganzfeld effect, from German Ganzfeld for "complete field", a phenomenon of visual perception
  • Gestalt psychology, (German spelling: Gestaltpsychologie), holistic psychology
  • Merkwelt, English: "way of viewing the world", "peculiar individual consciousness"
  • Schadenfreude, gloating, a malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others
  • Sorge, a state of worry, but (like Angst) in a less concrete, more general sense, worry about the world, one's future, etc.
  • Umwelt, environment, literally: "surrounding world"; in semiotics, "self-centred world"
  • Zeitgeber (lit. time-giver), something that resets the circadian clock found in the Suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • Wunderkind, child prodigy

Sociology

Theology

  • Gattung, genre
  • Heilsgeschichte (salvation history, God's positive saving actions throughout history)
  • Kunstprosa, artistic prose
  • Sitz im Leben (setting in life, context)

German terms mostly used for literary effect

There are a few terms which are recognised by many English speakers but are usually only used to deliberately evoke a German context:

  • Autobahn — particularly common in British English and American English referring specifically to German motorways.
  • Achtung — Literally, "attention" in English.
  • Frau and Fräulein — Woman and young woman or girl, respectively in English. Indicating marital state, with Frau — Mrs. and Fräulein — Miss; in Germany, however, the diminutive Fräulein lapsed from common usage in the late 1960s. Regardless of marital status, a woman is now commonly referred to as Frau, because from 1972 the term Fräulein has been officially phased out for being politically incorrect and should only be used if expressly authorized by the woman concerned.
  • Führer (umlaut is usually dropped in English) — always used in English to denote Hitler or to connote a Fascistic leader — never used, as is possible in German, simply and unironically to denote a (non-Fascist) leader or guide, (i.e. Bergführer: mountain guide, Stadtführer: city guide (book), Führerschein: driving licence, Geschäftsführer: managing director, Flugzeugführer: Pilot in command, etc.)
  • Gott mit uns (means "God be with us" in German), the motto of the Prussian king, it was used as a morale slogan amongst soldiers in both World Wars. It was bastardized as "Got mittens" by American and British soldiers, and is usually used nowadays, because of the German defeat in both wars, derisively to mean that wars are not won on religious grounds.
  • Hände hoch — hands up
  • Herr In modern German either the equivalent of Mr. (Mister), to address an adult man, or "master" over something or someone (e.g. Sein eigener Herr sein: to be his own master). Derived from the adjective hehr, meaning "honourable" or "senior", it was historically a nobleman's title, equivalent to "Lord". (Herr der Fliegen is the German title of Lord of the Flies.) In a religious context it refers to God.
  • Ich bin ein Berliner, famous quotation by John F. Kennedy Translated it means "I am a Berliner".
  • Lederhosen (Singular Lederhose in German denotes one pair of leather short pants or trousers. The original Bavarian word is Lederhosn, which is both singular and plural.)
  • Leitmotif (German spelling: Leitmotiv) Any sort of recurring theme, whether in music, literature, or the life of a fictional character or a real person.
  • Meister — used as a suffix to mean expert (Maurermeister), or master; in Germany it means also champion in sports (Weltmeister, Europameister, Landesmeister)
  • Nein — no
  • Raus — meaning Out! — shortened (colloquial) (depending on where the speaker is, if on the inside "get out!" = hinaus, if on the outside "come out!" = heraus). It is the imperative form of the German verb herauskommen (coming out (of a room/house/etc.) as in the imperative "komm' raus"!).
  • Reich — from the Middle High German "rich", as a noun it means "empire" or "realm", cf the English word "bishopric". In titles as part of a compound noun, for example "Deutsche Reichsbahn", it is equivalent to the English word "national" (German National Railway), or "Reichspost" (National Postal Service). To some English speakers, Reich strongly connotes Nazism and is sometimes used to suggest Fascism or authoritarianism, e.g., "Herr Reichsminister" used as a title for a disliked politician.
  • Ja — yes
  • Jawohl a German term that connotes an emphatic yes — "Yes, Indeed!" in English. It is often equated to "yes sir" in Anglo-American military films, since it is also a term typically used as an acknowledgement for military commands in the German military.
  • Schnell! — Quick! or Quickly!
  • Kommandant — commander (in the sense of person in command or Commanding officer, regardless of military rank), used often in the military in general (Standortkommandant: Base commander), on battleships and U-Boats (Schiffskommandant or U-Boot-Kommandant), sometimes used on civilian ships and aircraft.
  • Schweinhund (German spelling: Schweinehund) — literally: Schwein = pig, Hund = dog, vulgarism like in der verdammte Schweinehund (the damned pig-dog). But also used to describe the lack of motivation (for example to quit a bad habit) Den inneren Schweinehund bekämpfen. = to battle the inner pig-dog.
  • Weltschmerz, world-weariness/world-pain, angst; despair with the world.
  • Wunderbar — wonderful

German terms rarely used in English

If a term in this list is common in a particular academic discipline, then please move it to one of the lists above.

  • Ampelmännchen
  • Besserwisser. Someone who always "knows better."
  • Eierlegende Wollmilchsau, literally "egg-laying wool-milk-sow", a jack of all trades
  • Fahrvergnügen meaning "driving pleasure"; originally, the word was introduced in a Volkswagen advertising campaign in the U.S., one tag line was: "Are we having Fahrvergnügen yet?". Caused widespread puzzlement when it was used in television commercials with no explanation.
  • Gastarbeiter — a German "guest worker" or foreign-born worker
  • Götterdämmerung, literally "Twilight of the Gods", can refer to a disastrous conclusion of events such as the defeat of Nazi Germany that had an ideology in part based on Norse mythology; an allusion to the title of the Wagner opera.
  • Kobold — a small mischievous fairy creature, traditionally translated as "Goblin", "Hobgoblin", and "Imp"; the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has included reptilian Kobolds (as well as creatures called "Goblins", "Imps" and "Hobgoblins" in completely separate forms) as part of the bestiary for a number of editions, including the current edition, D&D 4th Edition. Kobold is also the origin of the name of the metal cobalt.
  • Ordnung muss sein — "order must be", or, less literally, "tidiness is a necessity", a common phrase illustrating the great importance that German culture traditionally places on this aspect of life
  • Schmutz (smut, dirt, filth). This term is, however, particularly popular in New York, reflecting the influence of the Yiddish language.
  • ... über alles (originally "Deutschland über alles" (this sentence was meant originally to propagate a united Germany instead of small separated German Territories only); now used by extension in other cases, as in the Dead Kennedys song California Über Alles). This part (or rather, the whole first stanza) of the Deutschlandlied (Song of the Germans) is not part of the national anthem today, as it is thought to have been used to propagate the attitude of racial and national superiority in Nazi Germany, as in the phrase "Germany over all".
  • Vorsprung durch Technik ('competitive edge through technology'): used in an advertising campaign by Audi, to suggest technical excellence
  • Zweihänder, two-handed sword

Quotations

Some famous English quotations are translations from German. On rare occasions an author will quote the original German as a sign of erudition.

  • Muss es sein? Es muss sein!: "Must it be? It must be!" — Beethoven
  • Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln: "War is politics by other means" (literally: "War is a mere continuation of politics by other means") — Clausewitz
  • Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa — das Gespenst des Kommunismus: "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism" — The Communist Manifesto
  • Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!: "Workers of the world, unite!" — The Communist Manifesto
  • Gott würfelt nicht: "God does not play dice" — Einstein
  • Raffiniert ist der Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht: "Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not" — Einstein
  • Wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen: "We must know, we will know" — David Hilbert
  • Was kann ich wissen? Was soll ich tun? Was darf ich hoffen? Was ist der Mensch?: "What can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope? What is Man?" — Kant
  • Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk: "God made the integers, all the rest is the work of man" — Leopold Kronecker
  • Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen!: "Here I stand, I cannot do differently. God help me. Amen!" — attributed to Martin Luther
  • Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" — Wittgenstein
  • Einmal ist keinmal: "What happens once might as well never have happened." literally "once is never" — theme of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  • Es lebe die Freiheit: "Long live freedom" — Hans Scholl

See also





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