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The Unique Illnesses You can Only Come Down With in German

Known for its precision and clarity of expression, German seems perfect for describing some of the conditions other nations may also be experiencing but couldn’t quite put a finger on it enough to give it a specific name.

1. Fernweh

“Wanderlust”. Fernweh is the opposite of homesickness. It is the longing for travel or the cabin fever, the desire to be away from home.

2. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

“Spring fatigue”. Is it from the change in the weather? Changing sunlight patterns? Hormone imbalance? As afflictions go, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is much less fun that “spring fever” which is instead associated with increased energy and vigor.

3. Werthersfieber

“Werther’s fever”. An old-fashioned kind of miserable lovesickness named after Goethe’s character Werther from Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (published in 1774). Refers to a generation of sensitiveness young men who made Werthersfieber a fashionable affliction in the late 18th century. 

4. Föhnkrankheit

“Foehn disorder”. Föhn is the name for a specific wind that cools air as it draws up one side of a mountain, and then warms it as it compresses coming down the other side. These winds are believed to cause headaches and other unpleasant sensations. Similar to the illness above, many genteel 19th century German ladies took to their fainting couches with a jar of smelling salts and a cold compress, suffering from Föhnkrankheit.

5. Ostalgie

“Nostalgia for the old way of life in East Germany”. (“Ost” means East). If you miss your old Trabant and those weekly visits from the secret police, you may have Ostalgie.

6. Kreislaufzusammenbruch

“Circulatory collapse”. It might sound serious and if it happened to a person, it would mean certain death, but it’s used quite commonly and anticlimactically in Germany to mean something like “hypochondria“ or “feeling woozy”.

7. Weltschmerz

“World pain”. Weltschmerz is a feeling of despair brought on by a realization that life isn’t fair and the world cannot be the way you want it to be. It’s more emotional than pessimism, and is more publicly expressed than depression.

8. Hörsturz

“Acute hearing loss”. A condition which in Germany is apparently frequently caused by stress. Curiously, while every German knows at least 5 people who have had a bout of Hörsturz, it is practically unheard of anywhere else.

9. Kevinismus

At some point in the last couple of decades, parents in Germany started coming down with Kevinismus— a strange tendency to give their kids wholly un-German names like Justin, Mandy, Dennis, Chantal, Cindy, and Kevin. Kids with these names tend to be less successful and have more behavior problems in school. Studies of the Kevinismus phenomenon attribute these effects to a combination of teachers’ prejudices toward the names, and the lower social status of parents who choose names like Kevin.

10. Putzfimmel

“Cleaning obsession”. Apparently, some people in Germany are overly obsessed with cleaning. It is not unheard of outside of Germany, but elsewhere it is less culturally defined and, let’s face it, less fun to say.

11. Lebensmüdigkeit

“Life tiredness.” When someone does something stupidly dangerous, you might sarcastically ask, “What are you doing? Are you lebensmüde?!” Meaning, “are you suicidal”?

12. Torschlusspanik

“Gate-closing panic”. Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall. Torschlusspanik is a feeling of time draining quickly and the realization that actually, you haven’t done very much with your life, and if you don’t act soon, you may miss out on more opportunities as time passes and the ‘gate closes’. You must remember, however, that Torschlusspanik is a bad advisor.

13. Zeitkrankheit

“Time sickness” or “illness of the time we live in.” It’s a general term for whatever the damaging mindset or preoccupations of a certain era are. Can also be described as the condition of the modern times, whose extreme consequences are clearest in the area of sexual identity, where, we are told, children should be allowed (if not encouraged) to select the gender of the bathroom they use, regardless of their sex at birth.

14. Ichschmerz

Ichschmerz is like Weltschmerz, but it is dissatisfaction with the self rather than the world. Which is probably what Weltschmerz really boils down to most of the time.

15. Zivilisationskrankheit

“Civilization sickness” is a set of consequences caused by the progress and generally living in the modern world. Stress, obesity, eating disorders, and diseases like type 2 diabetes are all examples.

Related articles:
Exploring the German Language Dialects
Basic German Phrases for Travelers
Essential German Phrases
Overcoming the Hardest Part of Learning German
You Know You Speak German like a Native, if You Know These 10 Things

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