Fahren Galaxy

One of the biggest mysteries of the German language for me was the word fahren. It describes almost every movement with some sort of vehicle from one place to another. I have to say it made me wonder why, in a country that loves transportation so much (trains, cars, bicycles, etc.), there is one main verb to describe all – fahren.

the uses of fahren

So I did a small research and asked around and apparently I translated the word wrong all these years, for me fahren means to drive (which is not completely wrong) but actually it is “to travel by vehicle”. 

Nevertheless, the word fahren is very popular in the German language and it is used in many nouns too. Ausfahrt is an exit, Einfahrt is an entrance, Raumfahrt is space travel and Himmelfahrt is ascension to heaven, Butterfahrt is a shopping cruise, this funny word comes from cruises that went from Germany to Denmark, the short stay abroad made it possible to buy many cheap items and import them to Germany free of taxes.

Another mystery in the fahren business in the word umfahren, which is actually two words that mean the complete opposite. umfahren (with the stress on the first syllable) means to run someone/something over,  and umfahren (with the stress on the second syllable) means to go around someone/something. Although I had this conversation many times with many different Germans (it is a good conversation starter and a great example of how weird the German language is) I still find it difficult to distinguish between the two words. 

I’m very glad I don’t have to take driving lessons, that could be somewhat confusing when the teacher asks you “Was machst du, wenn plötzlich ein Hund auf die Straße läuft?” (What do you do if a dog suddenly runs into the road?) The answer will be “Ihn umfahren” which means both go around it and run it over.

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.

The Stuff about the German Language

“Surely there is no other language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to grasp.”
Mark Twain, The Awful German Language, 1880

There are many rules and exceptions to the rules in the German language that makes it very hard to learn. But the one good thing about German is how literal it is. One thing you need to know about the German language is that most words are built from a few small words that are connected to one another. A good example of it is words that end with ‘zeug’.  Das Zeug in German means – the stuff.

Every time I hear a word that ends with ‘zeug’, like das Feuerzeug (the lighter) I imagine the person who invented this word – “this is the stuff that makes fire, therefore, the word for it will be fire-stuff”. A few years ago, I started to collect ‘zeug’ words and found that there are hundreds of them. Here I illustrated some of the more common ‘zeug’ words.

If you know some German maybe you can guess what the words are. If not, the answers are at the bottom of the page.

Yellow Column: das Feuerzeug, , das Schlagzeug, das Grünzeug, das Spielzeug, das Zaumzeug
Purple Column: das Flugzeug, das Bettzeug, das Fahrzeug, , das Werkzeug, das Steinzeug

Adi G. is a graphic designer and illustrator, she moved to Berlin 7 years ago from Israel. The thing she missed the most about Israel is her family.