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The Germany is Wunderbar guide

Germany Holidays: Platt Deutsch

It is spoken by older people, on the stage, and even in the USA, but Low German is not an official language in Germany.

It’s fair to say that Low German – Platt Deutsch – is pretty flat all round. It sounds flat, its speakers tend towards the monosyllabic, and it is spoken in a flat landscape – basically a deep band of northern Germany stretching from the Dutch border through to Hamburg. It is also spoken in the Netherlands, and prior to World War II it was regularly heard as far away as Silesia, once German, but now part of Poland.

For the tourist, these days the most obvious manifestation is the ubiquitous Moin Moin, a north German greeting which sounds like ‘morning’, but can be used at any stage of the day and simply means ‘good’(it’s a shortened version of the Dutch for ‘good day’). But never fear, meeting one Moin Moin with another will not trigger a torrent of unfamiliar vowel sounds, as these days the actual language is rarely spoken on the street. It may not be an official language, in the sense that public documents are not translated into it, but it does appear regularly in the local newspapers, it is taught in some schools, and is the lingua franca of NDR’s TV talk show Talk op Platt. It is not, however, the focus of any separatist movement, as many minority languages are.

Where it is still spoken it is regarded with great affection. It is the language of local festivals, of club comedians, and there are some theatres which specialize in Platt Deutsch dramas.

It sounds flat, its speakers tend towards the monosyllabic, and it is spoken in a flat landscape

Interestingly, Low German is also the base language of the Mennonites in the USA and Canada, a clear indication of their origins. And even the Pennsylvania Dutch – including the Amish – speak a variety of Platt Deutsch, with ‘Dutch’ in this case a corruption of Deutsch.

For English speakers, Platt Deutsch can actually be more readily understood than German. Pronunciation is easy. Eten for eat (German has essen), schipp for ship (German has Schiff), maken for make (German has machen), wief for wife (German has Frau). And indeed there is a strong connection between the UK and this region of northern Germany. We are, after all, Anglo-Saxons, thanks to the numbers of immigrants from what is now Lower Saxony from the middle of the 5th century onwards, so it’s not surprising that the languages have words in common.

Germans from other regions talk of the Platt Deutschers as being ‘mouth lazy’, ie reluctant to say anything more than absolutely necessary. And the flat vowel sounds tend to make the Platters the butt of a certain amount of piss-taking. For example the East Frisians, they say, are so stupid there’s no way they could go to a normal university, so they’ve invented the Platt Deutsch baccalaureat, with a curriculum of jumping over ditches, welly hurling, and throwing teabags. Moin Moin!

Getting There: Platt Deutsch is spoken in northwestern Germany, which is served by international airports at Bremen, Hamburg, and Hanover. International rail connections to the region c0me via Cologne from Brussels (Thalys), which connect with the Eurostar from London. See our Travel page for airlines, rail and tour operators.

Staying There: our recommended hotels are here for Niedersachsen, here for Bremen, and here for Hamburg.

Looking for more? See other destinations in Northern Germany

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5 responses to “Germany Holidays: Platt Deutsch”

  1. A tourist went past the town hall of Emden where two old men were sitting on a bench. The tourist asks: “Entschuldigen Sie bitte, können Sie mir wohl sagen, wie ich zum Bahnhof komme?” No answer. „Excuse me please,“ he tries again, „which is the way to the station?“ No answer. “Excusez-moi messieurs,” the tourist persists, “pour aller à la gare,s`il vous plait?” No answer. He tries Spanish and Turkish but still doesn’t get a reply.
    “Kiek, Harm,” says one of the old men to the other on the bench, “wat`n kloke Keerl was dat. De proot fiev Spracken!”
    “Ja” says Harm, “un wat nützt hum dat?”

    (“See, Harm – what a clever chap. He speaks five languages!” “Maybe so, but what good did it do him?”)

    Here’s some vocab, English, Platt, German:

    apple Appel Apfel
    book Book Buch
    colour Klör Farbe
    cup Koppke Tasse
    five fiev fünf
    gate Gatt Loch
    good good gut
    knife Kniev Messer
    late laat spät
    lane Lohne Weg
    little lüttje klein
    mug Mugg Becher
    pot Pott Topf
    sick süük krank
    street Straat Straße
    table Tafel Tisch
    we wi wir

    And finally, if you’re interested, Asterix is out in Plattdeutsch. Try Amazon,

  2. Very interesting! I am Brazilian born, American citizen and descendet from Pommer people, wich immigrated to Brazil in 1887. I speak low-german, actually in Brazil, in the State of Espirito Santo, they even teach the plattdeutsch in schools.
    Thank you for your post.

  3. hier in Teutônia/Rio Gande do Sul, süden von Brasilien sprachen wier au platt deutch, und Deutch.
    und nicht vergessen spanich und portuguisich
    eind dank

  4. My family were blacksmiths in Cheshire, England as early as the 1600’s. Is it possible that the name originates from the Saxon invasion.

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