Beer Language School


Beer… something I know.

The German language … something I don’t know. The key to learning something new is to relate what you don’t know to what you do know. Germans love their beer … so what better way to learn their language?

Many English words for beer come from German, so we can use this knowledge as a starting point. Though it’s spelled differently, both languages use the same word – beer or Bier (Why did I capitalize it? See below!) – to describe this much-loved beverage. So the good news is… even if you don’t know any German at all, you can always order one of these frosty drinks!

Here are a few things you can learn at Beer Language School:


The word Bier teaches us two things about the German language: First, all nouns are capitalized in German, not just proper nouns. (But the pronoun ‘I‘ (ich) isn’t capitalized. What does that tell you about German priorities?) Next, when it comes to pronunciation, if two vowels are ‘walking’ … the second vowel does the talking. For instance, in the word Bier, the ‘e‘ sound is pronounced. Check out the next word to see what I mean…


This is the German word for white.  It’s pronounced Vice.  The second vowel (i) does the talking.  Weiss also teaches us one more thing: W in German is pronounced like a V.  What about V?  It’s pronounced like an F.  What about F?  It’s pronounced like an F!!!   (I didn’t say this would be easy!)

Never heard of Weissbier?  You may have heard it called Hefeweizen (literally yeast wheat).


This word comes from the German word lagern, which means to store. Beer was invented before refrigerators, so beer was often brewed in the winter and then stored in a cool place until summer. Now you know your first German verb! Lagern, to store. Let’s try a couple of adjectives…



If you curse while you’re drinking, be aware that if you say “Hell!’ you might end up with another beer in your hands. Hell is the German word for light, and it’s often used to refer to a light beer.


If you prefer darker beers, then you probably know the word Dunkel … the German word for dark. The letter ‘u’ is pronounced differently in German. If you want to sound like a true German, don’t pronounce it  ‘dunk-el,’ say ‘doonk-el.”


No discussion of German beer would be complete without mentioning a beer stein! Stein is the German word for stone. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Steins are a type of stoneware. But wait – there’s more! There is also a type of beer called Steinbier. It’s made by dropping hot stones into the brew. If you come across one of these, give it a try – this type of beer is becoming quite rare!

You’ve completed you first lesson at Beer Language School! You now know the German words for beer, white, light, dark, stone, and to store. You also learned some pronunciation tips and even a little history.

Not planning a trip to Germany? Oh well – at least this weekend you can impress your friends. (But if you’re not in Germany and you decide to say “Hell!” to your server… better watch out!)

By the way …  there’s actually a German Beer Institute if you want to learn more!

5 Funny German Words

5 More Funny German Words


Stop Sausaging Around

Not in a good mood today?
Then try our sausage. Works immediately!

After beer and bread, the most important staple in the German diet is sausage.

Germans call it Wurst. It’s pronounced vurst.

In honor of the wonderful German tradition of Oktoberfest (yes, I know it’s still September…I’ll explain later), I thought we’d spend a few minutes chatting about the Wurst.

Germans serve up over 1500 kinds of sausage. The most popular variety is the curry wurst. Every year, Germans eat 800 million. There isn’t a German menu out there that doesn’t include sausage in some form or another.

With wurst being such an important part of the German lifestyle, it’s pretty much a given that sausages will have made their way into the culture’s expressions and sayings. I challenge you to sneak one of these into your next conversation:

Six Sausage Sayings

1. Das ist mir Wurst – That’s sausage to me (It’s all the same to me/I don’t care).

2. Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst – Now it’s about the sausage (It’s now or never/crunch time).

3. Wurst wider Wurst – Tit for Tat.

4. Herumwursteln – Sausaging around (Messing around).

5. Spiel nicht die beleidigte Leberwurst – Don’t play the sore liver sausage (Don’t be such a whiner/sourpuss).

6. Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei – Everything has an end; only the sausage has two.

So there you have it. Six sausage sayings. Just what you always wanted. Now you can tell your kids, “Don’t play the sore liver sausage” or “Stop sausaging around” and they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about (they never do anyway, right?).

Now to reveal the reason why I’m talking about Oktoberfest in September…

The tradition began in 1810 with the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. To celebrate his nuptials, he threw a big bash near Munich. Germans have continued the tradition every year since. They start drinking beer on a Saturday in September and don’t stop until 16-18 days later on the first Sunday in October.

I guess calling the biggest beer-drinking party in the world Septemberfest just wouldn’t sound as cool. Oh well, das ist mir Wurst.

It’s all sausage to me.


I’ll Have the Wiener Art

In Germany, a menu is called a Speisekarte. “Menu” is short for Tagesmenu, which lists the daily specials.


If you ever go to a German restaurant, you may find yourself completely mystified by the process of Germany dining. Assuming you’re able to translate the menu enough to order a meal (what is wiener art, anyway?) you might find yourself stymied by a number of other oddities.

The strange snuffling sound coming from under the table next to you? Yes, that’s a dog. Dogs are allowed in even some of the nicest restaurants. Fido is likely to be served a refreshing bowl of water before you get your Hefeweisen.

As for your food, if you find yourself plate-less while your companions are filling their bellies, you haven’t been forgotten. In Germany, food is brought out when it’s ready, not all at the same time.

And when the meal is finished, you may have to perform a table dance to get your bill. If you wait for the server to deliver it, you’ll go cross-eyed trying to stare him or her down. They’re not inattentive…in Europe, when you sit down to a meal, the table is yours…a server would never rush you off by bringing the bill.

When you do pay, make sure your wallet is full of cash. The server will stand at the table and wait. They’ll pull out a little wallet and dole out your change right then (they’re whizzes at doing math in their heads). Many places in Germany don’t take credit cards. Don’t be fooled by the symbols in the window…Germans have cards with a special “EC” chip in them. If you don’t have cash, you might find yourself washing a sinkful of beer steins.

A few more tips:

  • You may be delighted when your server brings you a basket of rolls or pretzels, but if you accept them, you may be charged for each one. The same goes for packets of ketchup.
  • If you stand at the door of a restaurant waiting to be seated, you may be there all night. In Germany, restaurants are usually seat-yourself.
  • Don’t be surprised if one day you are dining at a busy restaurant and complete strangers sit down with you. Germans don’t let empty seats go wasted.
  • A fifteen percent gratuity is already included in the bill, so you don’t need to leave a big tip. A euro or two is always appreciated, of course, but don’t leave it on the table. Hand it directly to the server.
  • If you ask for water, you will receive bottled water…and a bill. Go ahead and try to finagle a glass of tap water, but don’t be surprised if you’re met with a blank stare. Germans think it’s uncouth!

So there you have it…the mysteries of German dining solved. I’m afraid you’re on your own with reading the menu, but I’ll tell you this…Wiener Art means Viennese Style.

(Which isn’t nearly as interesting as what I had in mind!)


Liver and Storks, Please

What comes to mind when you think of France? Do you fantasize about wine, eclairs, and outdoor cafes? Cathedrals, towers, and great works of art? How about liver and storks?


Me neither.

But on a recent visit to Strasbourg, I found that while travelers may not have their minds on liver and storks, the French do.

Despite the fact that their city was founded during Roman times, was endlessly fought over by Germany and France, and has become a symbol of prosperity by hosting the European Parliament…despite all this, the locals seem fascinated with liver and storks.

You might not notice it at first, since you will undoubtedly be awed by the great cathedral at the center of town, a building that for centuries was the highest in all of Europe.

You will be swept onto the canals of Strasbourg and taken by boat through La Petite France (which, despite its modern romantic charm, is named for the hospital where soldiers were treated for venereal diseases contracted during the Italian wars).

Then you will float by fourteenth century towers that protected the “Fortress on the Road” in medieval times.

But after you return from your boat tour, fill your belly with a traditional kougelhopf, and then take a closer look.

What are those things lining the streets that so elegantly frame the cathedral? Stuffed storks.

And what’s being served in restaurants and sold in fine food shops? Liver. Why?

Well, it seems that in the Alsatian region of France, where Strasbourg is located, storks have been longtime residents and are considered a symbol of happiness. The bird has spawned a tradition that you may not want to tell your kids: when a child wants a little brother or sister, she can set a piece of sugar on the window ledge to bribe the stork, who we all know to be the bringer of babies.

It would seem that geese have not been as fortunate as their cousins. In Alsace, goose liver pate (foie gras) is a delicacy on the level of caviar. In the old days, geese used to be cruelly pinned down and force-fed in order to fatten up their livers. Now the EU has ensured that they are treated in a more humane way, but the dish continues to be highly sought after.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anyone on my gift list who wouldn’t be thrilled if the souvenir I brought home from France was a tin of liver and a stuffed stork.

Excuse me…I have some shopping to do.


In Costa Rica, Order a Married Man

Next time you’re in Costa Rica, find a restaurant that serves comida tipica, or typical Costa Rican cuisine. Pick up your menu, browse through the selections, and choose the dish that offers rice, beans, salad, and meat. Then put the menu down, look bravely at your waiter, and ask for the married man. It’s that simple.

Of course, you might want to use the Spanish word for this: casado. This is the Costa Rican equivalent of a blue plate special. Why do they call it a casado, or married man? I’ve heard a couple of versions of this story.

One version says that in the past, Costa Rican wives would pack this meal in their husbands’ lunch boxes when they sent them off to work. Here’s another:

(From the novel, See Before You Die: Costa Rica)


I jumped at the smooth voice over my shoulder. I turned and there he was—Mr. Ripped—smiling down at me with a plate in his hand. Did he just say something about marriage?

“Excuse me?”

“Casado.” He pointed at the table. “Traditional Costa Rican cuisine. Black beans. Rice. Meat. Cabbage. Tomatoes. It’s known as casado. The word translates as married, or more specifically, married man. It means the boring daily fare a man can expect to eat after he’s been snagged into marriage.”


“What can I say? These Ticos have a wicked sense of humor…”