Useful German Words and Phrases to Survive Covid in Vienna
As you know, the whole planet is in the middle of a pandemic and each country is trying different regulations and testing systems to get through it as fast as possible. For most part of the year 2020, Austria has been fighting the virus constantly with questionable success. As this dreadful virus will continue to bother us for another couple of months and as the government of Austria just announced a new bunch of regulations, it is time to take a closer look at some of the most common Covid-related words and phrases used in Austria. On the way, you will also learn a bit of beautiful German grammar.
So, basically, this article will give you some insights in the Austrian Covid handling and also teach you some very useful German phrases connected to the virus. Furthermore, if you are currently a German learner in Vienna, this article might actually help you to avoid infection and harsh penalties for disregarding the latest laws. Even though it is a serious topic, you will have a laugh, when you realize, what the whole pandemic has to do with a baby elephant.
What happened so far?
In the middle of March 2020, the Austrian government announced a complete lockdown or shutdown. We actually used these English terms as we didn’t find an appropriate expression in German. Up until May and June most of the shops, museums, cafés, restaurants and everything else, even the schools, were closed, which helped to contain the virus quite well. We also used the phrase die Kurve abflachen (to flatten the curve) very often, meaning that we didn’t want the numbers of new infections to skyrocket as much as it did in the beginning of March.
In the summertime, when the weather was fine – just as the old song goes – people went outside, enjoyed the fresh air and even went on holiday again. People reclaimed their life as it was before the pandemic with the unfortunate result that now, in autumn, the numbers are skyrocketing again. So the government had no choice but to announce another lockdown, but this time, a lockdown light, which means that at least the children up to the age of 14 can still attend school and most of the shops remain open. The restaurants and museums, on the other hand, are shut down again until the beginning of December.
As you can see from this short summary (which by no means contains the whole drama that has been going on this year) Austria has had a difficult year and reacted similarily to many other states, including Germany, the Czech Republic or France. Now, in this article we don’t want to discuss, wether all these regulations are good or bad, effective or useless; no, we from INNES want the same thing as always: help you learn German and guide you through Vienna safely. So buckle up for a very special German lecture!
The four colors of the traffic light
A word used very frequently since August is Ampelschaltung (traffic light circuit) or Corona-Ampel (Corona-traffic light). While our normal traffic lights are functioning as good as always, the Corona-Ampel has had many difficulties and there is still a heated debate going on about it. The idea is simple: depending on the number of infections, hospitalizations and other factors, the traffic light of a certain district within Austria can be green, yellow, orange or red. Each color goes with other regulations and gives information about the risk of infection in the district. For example, if the district is green, there are hardly any infections and life can be lived quite normally. But if the district turns to red, local shutdowns are possible, bigger events can be cancelled and even the schools can switch to distance learning again (by the way: the terms Distance Learning and Homeschooling are used in German as well since we didn’t bother to translate it in the first place). Honestly, the Austrian government didn’t invent this method of Corona visualization, but we altered it a bit for our own purposes.
Now the problem with the traffic light system is that each week the traffic lights should be updated by a team of experts, but they are not allowed to pass new restrictions in the more affected areas. So the whole traffic light circuit is merely a recommendation to local authorities. Even worse, the traffic light discussion has gone so far, that in many districs even the schools have their own system now. If you walk by a school in Vienna, you might see a colorful traffic light – with the current color highlighted – pinned on the front door. Furthermore, since the beginning of November all districts in Austria have switched to red, so there is not much sense in the traffic light circuit right now. But if you listen to the radio or hear someone say that the traffic light signal has anged to green, you know it might be our corona traffic light. By the way, here is how you talk about traffic lights in German, you will see, that we like to keep it short and simple:
Die Ampel ist grün/rot.
The traffic light is green/red.
Die Ampel schaltet jetzt auf grün.
The traffic light switches to green now (mind the preposition here: auf etwas schalten – to switch to something; this phrase is also used for television programs for example).
Cover your mouth and noses – der Mund-Nasen-Schutz
The beauty of the German language, as every German learner will notice at some point, is tightly connected to our habit of putting words together until they are terribly long. When two or more words are intertwined, it is called a compound or composition. We do this with two nouns (for example Butterbrot = Butter + Brot = bread with butter on top), or by combining adjectives and nouns (for example Rotwein = rot + Wein = red wine). That is something you will get used to quite fast when learning German and it really can be fun, too, when you start to see the so-called tapeworm words, which consist of many single words merged together.
One of these magnificent words, that is used extremely often nowadays, is Mund-Nasen-Schutz, which could easily be translated to face mask. Since the word is too long for newspaper articles, we also use the abbreviation MNS. The literal translation is much more specific, as the German language always tries to leave no questions open: Mouth-noses-protection. Imagine someone is asked to wear a face mask and he is tempted to cover all his face, including the eyes and ears. That would be a catastrophe, if he was to take part in public transportation. To avoid incidences like that, we use this specific term to let everyone know: cover your mouth and nose and leave the rest as it is. You might have noticed, that Mund is singular, while Nasen is plural (singular would be Nase). It is your obligation as an accurate investigator of the German language to ask: Why in the world?! And it is our pleasure to present to you our answer: We have no clue, either. Sorry. Probably it is because it’s easier to pronounce (try it yourself in front of the mirror and you will see), but we also have similar issues with our Hals – Nasen – Ohrenarzt (ear, nose and throat specialist, literally: throat-noses-ears doctor) and there is even a famous comedy piece about the word Semmelknödel(bread dumpling), which we could discuss for hours.
For you as a visitor or inhabitant of Vienna the most important thing is that you never leave your apartment without a MNS. You have to wear it in all means of public transportation, including taxis, and all public buildings, especially in super markets. We used to use face shields (Gesichtsvisiere) as well, which indeed covered the whole face. But it is now proven by scientists, that they don’t have the same protection to yourself and others as the masks, so they are forbidden now (from 7th of November).
The beauty of compounds continues: Ausgangsbeschränkungen
From 8pm to 6am every day, no one is allowed to leave their apartment without a good reason, like work or physical and psychological wellbeing. This mainly aims to avoid people going on parties and getting drunk, as this raises the risk of being inconsiderate. This new law is limited until the beginning of December, but might be extended if the numbers won’t drop. The proper English term for this kind of regulation would be curfew, which is a nice word, don’t get us wrong. But how about Ausgangsbeschränkungen? Isn’t it fantastic? Try to say it three times in a row to practice your articulation. Die Ausgangsbeschränkung (Singular) is another one of those compounds we have talked about earlier: literally translated it would be something like restrictions on going out, while going out is meant as in going out of the house. In German you could also use -sperre instead of -beschränkung: a Sperre (f) would be translated to blockade, so quite literally there is something that keeps you from leaving your house.
Finally, something cute and easy: the baby elephant!
Are you still with us? Awesome. Your bravery in facing German composita and the pandemic all at once is unprecedented! You will be rewarded with what we think is the weirdest part of our wording regarding the new safety regulations: the baby elephant. If you walk through Vienna with your eyes open you will not help but notice the presence of a small and smiling elephant, that the government has started to use as some sort of mascot for the whole crisis. Indeed, the word Babyelefant (m), yet another compound, has become synonymous with keeping a metre’s distance between yourself and others. The government uses the cuteness of the small elephant as a way to teach the public, even and especially children, to stay away from each other in order to avoid infection. It is as easy as efficient: Look at the person standing closest to you, for example at the tram station: Is there enough space between you and him (or her) to fit in a baby elephant? No? Then step back. Yes? Alright, the elephant is happy not to be squeezed in.
Do you think this is ridiculous? It probably is. But it sure did help people to incorporate the idea of social distancing (which is another term we took right from the English language and didn’t care to translate. We simply have no time for translation, because we are busy saying Mund-Nasen-Schutz and Ausgangsbeschränkungen constantly.). How the health department came up with the idea of the baby elephant is something we don’t know, it might be related to the popularity of Kibali, a literal baby elephant in the Schönbrunn zoo.
Of learning compounds and staying safe
Babyelefant, Ausgangsbeschränkung, Mund-Nasen-Schutz…all of these words we just used are compounds, as we discussed earlier. When using them (and, by Goethe, you will use them) there is one very important thing that you need to consider: the article! Yes, of course, all German nouns have articles, so there is no exception here. But if you know the drill, you won’t ever struggle again. The golden rule is: the last word always defines the article. So let’s look at the examples used in this text and their articles:
You see, it’s that simple. Picture it like being a chemist: break down the compound to the single words and then choose the article that belongs to the last one. Minding this simple rule will save you a lot of alienated looks when using compounds.
So, as you can see, there are a number of regulations and tips to avoid an infection in Vienna: wear a face mask, keep your distance and also, if possible, stay at home. The good news: it is still possible to learn German during this difficult time without having to go outside. Make use of our INNES online German courses, like the LIVE Online 8 Week German Course, where you have the advantage of both a profesional teacher and a safe learning environment.
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We wish you all the best in these difficult times and hope you can follow the news and announcements regarding the pandemic a little better now. Keep practicing and most of all: Stay safe.