When I first moved to Hamburg for my studies, I was struck by the strange way of speaking up there in the north. For context: I come from Bavaria (which some Germans might as well consider as a foreign country) in Southern Germany, but the language differences between the South and the North of the same country left me flattered. Thus, I picked some of the most peculiar words and phrases that I came across.
If some words sound somewhat like English to you, you are quite right! Northern German accents get closer and closer to the Anglo-Saxon language area, so you might find it a wee bit easier to understand.
Let’s dive right in:
Whenever you enter a shop, a café or your chef’s office, the correct greeting will always be “Moin”, which is in fact an abbreviation of “Guten Morgen” (Good morning) – but it lost its original meaning and can be used any time of the day. You might also hear the double “Moin moin!” a lot, but usually a single “Moin” suits the taciturn locals much better.
(Male) friends often address themselves with "Digga" (Dude): "Moin Digga, was geht?" (Hello dear friend, how are you today?)
This is how it goes: Traditionally, one person starts by shouting “Hummel, Hummel!”, whereupon the other one has to reply: “Mors, Mors!” That is how people from Hamburg – supposedly – recognize each other. During the four years I’ve been living in this city, I have never heard anybody calling this to anyone. But it got stuck in my brain, even though I never really knew where it actually came from.
Here’s the short version: The greeting goes back to the 19th Century and a water carrier called Johann Wilhelm Bentz, known as Hans Hummel. As Hummel would carry water through the streets, the children would run behind him shouting "Hummel, Hummel!" in order to annoy him. His answer “Mors, Mors” is the short version of “Klei mir an’n Mors”, which means as much as… “Lick my a**”. Today, the greeting can sometimes be heard at local football games.
If a local says goodbye to you by saying “Lass’ mal schnacken”, they’re not suggesting to have a snack later on. Instead, they want to postpone the conversation at a later date. “Schnacken” or “klönen” means chit-chatting, “der Schnack” is, correspondingly, small-talk.
I’ve heard this quite a few times on different occasions. “Tüddelig” is an adjective which also exists as a verb: “tüddeln”. It means to move [objects] restlessly back and forth or, more generally, to waste time instead of doing something meaningful. If a person refers to themselves as being particularly “tüddelig” today, it means they are nervous or scatterbrained.
The next one sounds very similar, but behold! There’s a huge difference, if you’re saying…
Now what that could mean? I’ll give you a hint: After a few mulled wines on a Christmas market, you’ll definitely be a bit “angetütert” 😉
As a response for a “thank you”, many Germans might say “gern geschehen” (you’re welcome). In Hamburg, they say “dafür nich/da nich für”: not for that.
It means literally what it sounds like. Of course the locals have a word for the typical weather situation in Hamburg to cope with it! Although, as we’ve learned in a previous article, it’s actually not as rainy in Hamburg as you’d think.
A cute term for: a mess!
If someone orders an “Alsterwasser”, they surely don’t want to get a gulp of the Alster lake water. It is the northern version of what Bavarians call “Radler”, a mix of beer and lemonade.
While in Berlin, you refer to the neighbourhood you live in as a Kiez: Kreuzberg, Charlottenburg, Friedrichshain… In Hamburg, there is only one “Kiez” you can go to: the nightclub district Reeperbahn and St. Pauli. If you want some action, grab some friends and tell them: “Lasst uns auf'n Kiez gehn!”
This list is merely a short glimpse on the Hamburg language – it could go on and on! For now, I give you the chance to memorize the new vocabulary. Don’t be shy: You’ll definitely warm a local’s heart by saying some familiar words to them.
Title Image by Anna Vander Stel via Unsplash