The one German word you’ll need in Austria this winter

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The one German word you’ll need in Austria this winter
A roaring fireplace and a glass of wine... ganz gemütlich. Photo: Christian Rasmussen

Gemütlichkeit is one of the defining characteristics of Austrian culture - and it really comes into its own in the colder months. Like many useful German words, it has no real equivalent in English. It refers to a lifestyle or attitude that combines comfort and cosiness with a sense of belonging, community and contentment.


It can be rather a foreign concept to stressed out and overworked Brits or Americans, but is something we could definitely learn from.

Whilst most English speakers understand Schadenfreude or Zeitgeist, Gemütlichkeit should be added to the English lexicon too. Both gemütlich and Gemütlichkeit (the adjective and the noun) are now included in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but are yet to become common usage.

Gemütlichkeit is perhaps best translated in one word as "cosiness", but the English word can only express one aspect of the German meaning. Gemütlichkeit or cosiness could be epitomized by the image of a snug room with a sofa nestled next to a roaring open fire, but the German word also describes a friendly, jovial atmosphere, and the resulting state of mind.

The OED proves this point by defining Gemütlichkeit as "the quality of being pleasant and cheerful; cosy, snug, homely; genial, good-natured". It can also go further and describe a feeling of belonging (also summed up in one German word – Zugehörigkeitsgefühl), or peace of mind and social acceptance.

As the weather gets colder, there's no doubt you'll long for a bit of Gemütlichkeit as you make your way back from work in the frozen dark. You may hear your Austrian friends use the word to describe a whole host of things from people, to a beer in a warm bar, a hearty and leisurely meal, to evenings at home watching a film. Bascally anything that nourishes your soul and warms your heart without being hurried or hectic.

The word instantly conjures up the perfect situation: a candle-lit room, comfy sofa, cup of something hot, and someone to cuddle up with. Or, just as easily, a meander through a town centre lit up with Christmas lights and stands selling hot Maroni (chestnuts) and candied almonds. A feeling of true wintry contentedness.



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