Literature (2019 | Issue 2)

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What’s Up, Germany?s
Survival Kit

Considering that quite a few English words have come from German, it’s not surprising that German literary terms have also made their way into the English language. What’s Up, Germany? has compiled a list of German words used in the world of literature—and beyond.

1. Sturm und Drang

This was a German literary movement between 1770 and the early 1780s marked by a rebelliousness and strong emotions against rationalism. It literally means “storm and stress”! The works produced during this period were highly romantic and individualistic. The most prominent figures of this movement were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller.

2. Bildungsroman

A bildungsroman is a coming-of-age novel. It follows the psychological growth of a person from childhood to adulthood. Generally, such a story starts with a tragedy which makes the protagonist feel alienated and alone, but it ends on a positive note: The character grows up and has a sense of belonging.

3. Doppelgänger

Often used in literature and movies when someone has an uncanny resemblance to another person. It means someone’s double or clone, and sometimes has evil or supernatural connotations.

4. Leitmotif

This interesting word means a recurring or dominant theme that is associated with a specific idea, person or situation. It is used both in literature and music, and was popularised by the German music composer Richard Wagner.

5. Expressionism

Originally used to describe an early 20th-century art movement that began in Germany, Expressionism spread to other areas like literature, movies, theatre and music. It is all about expressing the inner world of emotion through distortion and exaggeration.

6. Götterdämmerung

In Nordic mythology, Götterdämmerung means the downfall of the gods. The word literally means “dawn/dusk of the gods”. In English, it refers to a turbulent ending of a regime or society. Götterdämmerung is also the last of Richard Wagner’s series of four operas called Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).

7. Weltschmerz

This word can be traced back to the German Romantic writer Jean Paul. Literally translated as “world pain”, it points to a sadness or anguish over the state of the world.

8. Weltanschauung

This refers to a world view or personal philosophy of human life and the universe. A good example is Thomas Hardy’s view that people are victims of fate.

9. Zeitgeist

One of our favourites, zeitgeist means the spirit of the times. The German philosopher Hegel came up with this term to describe the mentality and feelings of a large group of people.

Check out more German loanwords.