Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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December 1999

Hard drive123

As many of us have learned or are still learning, “to go” in German is not always as straightforward as it is in English. If you are “going” on foot, use gehen, if you go by auto, boat, bicycle or tractor it’s fahren. This is, generally speaking, keeping it simple. Knowing when to use these, and other verbs of motion, such as running (laufen), riding (reiten) or flying (fliegen), can add confusion to the equation. Once you’ve got it all figured out, things should, as the Germans would say, “über die Bühne gehen” (go over the stage), which has nothing to do with the theater but signifies that something should go smoothly. Leave it to idioms to mess things up — or, “den Karren in den Dreck fahren” (to drive the cart into the mud) — for all of us! For instance, when someone asks directions and says they’d rather not “mit der Kirche ums Dorf gehen” (go with the church around the village). Although the request conjures up an interesting visual image, it means the person doesn’t want to make any unnecessary detours. Someone who cuts a sizable amount of time off their drive from Munich to Frankfurt might describe the trip as “wie die Feuerwehr fahren” (driving like the fire department), meaning he or she drove at breakneck speed. Formula-1 wannabees on the autobahn who drive faster than the speed of light are usually referred to with the phrase “mit Bleifuss fahren” (driving with a lead foot), meaning they go at full throttle. The somewhat perplexing comment “jemandem über den Mund fahren” has absolutely nothing to do with driving or riding over someone’s mouth. It means, instead, to cut someone off short verbally or to answer him sharply. Several “go” idioms closely match their English counterparts. The description of someone who has gone too far, whether through ill-conceived comments or actions, is “zu weit gehen.” Don’t confuse the latter with “going the distance” — einen lange Weg gehen (go a long way) — a sports-influenced phrase meaning to complete something, or aufs Ganze gehen (go all out), which means to go for broke. When someone proceeds with something very cautiously, we say they are walking on eggshells — “auf Eiern gehen,” in German. The phrase “wo man geht und steht” (where one goes and stands) is simply an imaginative way of saying “everywhere.” “Auf los gehts los!” is a great way to encourage your colleagues with a cheery, “now let’s get started!” The phrase “jemandem um den Bart gehen” (go around someone’s beard) means to flatter somebody, while a joke that goes over someone’s head is described as “über jemands Verstand gehen” (going over someone’s intellect). The humorous comment “im Gallop durch die Kinderstube geritten sein” (rode through the nursery in a gallop) is used to describe someone who has behaved badly or is ill-mannered. If, after getting on the bus, you realize you’ve left your ticket at home, you’ve experienced a common revelation. A German would exclaim “es fährt mir in den Sinn” (it’s driving into my sense). This is said when something suddenly occurs to you. And if an undercover controller approaches you immediately after the angst-ridden moment of enlightenment, this is called Murphy’s Law. <<<

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