German words expats should know: Lüften

German words expats should know: Lüften

Gasping for air once more, just 20 minutes after closing the window? Release the German inside of you, its time for some serious Lüften, Stoßlüften and Querlüften.

What is the meaning of Lüften?

Just like Feierabendbierchen (a beer after work), Erkältungstee (cold and flu tea) and ?! (Eh?) Lüften is a short word which tells us much about German collective consciousness. 

Literally, lüften means “to air”, and more specifically it is the word in German for airing out the house. But this word isn’t just special because Germany has an all-encompassing word for an act that requires a whole phrase in English, it is special because, as anyone who has ever lived in Germany will know, this country is possessed by a desire to consistently Luft.

Lüften, Stosslüften and Querlüften

So deeply ingrained in German society is the act of airing out the house that there are multiple styles of Lüften, all of which have a specific name in German. 

The most common of these is “Stoßlüften”, pronounced “Sh-toe-ss-lüften”, “shock ventilation” or “impact ventilation”. Walking around a German city or town in the dark, freezing depths of winter, you may be surprised to see a house or flat with the window wide open. In Germany, this person is not considered to have lost their mind; they are practicing Stoßlüften, the act of leaving a window wide open for at least five minutes to replace the air in the room with fresh air.

A further degree of Lüften is Querlüften. Not for the faint of heart or those predisposed to chilliness, to Querlüft is to open all of the windows of a house or office for at least five minutes to allow air to flow freely and replace the “stuffy” air with fresh air. Again, Querlüften is not an activity reserved for the warmer months. 

Opening windows in Germany: It's in the contract

While the penchant for Lüften is widespread among German citizens, there are always dissidents. Lüften dissidents in Germany have their own, oft-quoted catchphrase, which is used as a go-to response when a colleague or a fellow passenger on the train says they think that urgent Lüften action is needed - “erfroren sind schon viele, erstunken ist noch keiner” ("many people have frozen to death, but nobody has ever died from a bad smell”). 

Despite their protest song, Lüften dissidents are bound to the laws of the land, which - at least in some cases - obliges them to freshen up the room. So important is Lüften in Germany that many rental contracts in the federal republic will state that tenants must frequently air the premises, regardless of the season.

In a country obsessed with letting the air in, there is one saving grace: Germany’s particularly effective airtight windows, which Angela Merkel famously cited as one of the the national achievements of which she was most proud. When all is said and Lüfted, they will keep you cosy at night.

Thumb image credit: Try_my_best /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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