German phrase of the day: Die Zeit läuft uns davon

About five minutes before my weekly German literature seminar ended, my professor would sigh, close his book, and say “Die Zeit läuft uns davon.”

German phrase of the day: Die Zeit läuft uns davon
Time is running out, says this clock in Kempton, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

Literally meaning “Time is running away from us,” this phrase means that time is running out, or that time is running short. 

This poetic phrase implies that time is running away from something specific, namely “uns” or “us.” That time is not objectively passing, but scampering away from us mortal humans, gives voice to a more subjective understanding of time. 

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The expiration of time is personal and intimate. This phrase suggests that the passing of time can be perceived as a sneaky loss. 

Time running away from us can be seen in grown children who used to be babies, in our wrinkles, and in the recognition not always of objective change, but rather the awareness that things used to be otherwise. 

This phrase animates time, creating an image of time as an object with legs, that much like a baby who learns to crawl, is keen on moving forward and marching on into what the future holds.

Humans of course do try to trap time, attempting to capture it and keep it in a little box. We block out time in our calendars, carving out a Zeitfenster (window of time) dedicated to certain activities. We attempt to freeze time in photos, immortalizing a certain moment by distilling its likeness in a photo. 

Time, however, still runs away from us. This melancholic aspect of time captured by this German phrase was also used in a popular song by Wolfsheim, a synthpop duo from Hamburg who released music from the late 80s to early 2000s.

Their song, “Kein Zurück,” is a wistful composition about the inevitable passage of time, and how one cannot control what has already been. 

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The chorus sings: 

Immer vorwärts Schritt um Schritt/ always forward, step-by-step

Es geht kein Weg zurück/ There is no way back

Was jetzt ist wird nie mehr ungeschehen/ What is now will never be undone

Die Zeit läuft uns davon/ Time is running away from us

Was getan ist ist getan/ What is done is done

Und was jetzt ist wird nie mehr so geschehen/ What is now will never be undone


Beeil dich, die Zeit läuft uns davon!

Hurry up, time is running out!

Als mein erstes Kind 18 wurde, wurde mir klar, dass die Zeit vor uns davonläuft. 

When my first child turned 18, I realized that time runs away from us. 

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German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Anyone struggling with learning German (or any big skill) could use this popular piece of reassurance.

German phrase of the day: Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen

Why do I need to know this?

If you’re getting down on yourself for not doing something you are still learning just right – be it playing the piano or speaking German – you can gently comfort yourself with this phrase. Or you can confidently cite it to reassure your perfectionist friend or family member that they are indeed making great strides towards their goal.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as “There is still no master which has fallen from the sky,” the expression gets the idea across that no one is born – or comes pummeling down from the heavens – as an expert at something.

Rather they become a Meister (or at least halfway decent) through continuous hard work and discipline. 

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The saying is similar to the also widely used “Übung macht den Meister” (Practice makes the master) or the English version: Practice makes perfect. 

Not surprisingly, Austrians and Germans – who pride themselves on industriously reaching their goals – have several other equivalent sayings. They include “Ohne Fleiß kein Preis” (There’s no prize without hard work) and “Von nichts kommt nichts” (Nothing comes out of nothing).

Where does it come from?

The popular phrase can be traced back to the Latin “Nemo magister natus”, or no one is born a master. Another version is “Nemo nascitur artifex” or no one is born an artist. This explains why so many languages have similar expressions.

What are some examples of how it’s used?

Sei nicht so streng mit dir selbst. Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one is born perfect. 

Mein Trainer sagte, es sei noch kein perfekter Schwimmer vom Himmel gefallen.

My coach said that no one is born a perfect swimmer.

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