In two previous articles on Deutsch Happen I explained how, after some initial hesitance and lack of understanding, the potato made a triumphal arrival in Germany and is today one of the staple foods of Germans and integral part of their cuisine.
Therefore, it is somewhat logical that there are also expressions and sayings in the German language that include the word Kartoffel.
For example, someone with a big, round nose is sometimes called Kartoffelnase (f), or sometimes the nose is referred to as Knolle (f) or Knollennase (f), similar to conk in British English. All three are, of course, colloquial and not very nice expressions. So, don’t use these words if you want to compliment somebody!
Another popular expression is
Rein in die Kartoffeln. Raus aus den Kartoffeln.
sometimes you’ll also find the second part undeclined:
Rein in die Kartoffeln. Raus aus die Kartoffeln.
The sentence has its origin in the military. In the 19th century the army often had to cross potato fields. When they left one field, the next one was already ahead! As the potato was a very important staple food back then, the soldiers were often called back to avoid damage.
So, when we use this expression today we mean that someone simply cannot decide what to do. You could translate this idiom either by to chop and change in British English or to blow hot and cold as the more modern American English variant.
Another interesting saying in German is
Die dümmsten Bauern haben die dicksten Kartoffeln.
which literally translates to “The dumbest farmers have the fattest potatoes”. As we all know or might even have experienced ourselves “Fortune favors fools”!
However, if you hear the expression
Jemanden wie eine heisse Kartoffel fallen lassen.
which translates to “to drop someone like a hot potato” Germans express how somebody turns their back on another person quickly and without prior notice. Not a very nice and clean way to finish with someone! This expression can be used to describe a failed relationship that ended very quickly but you might also hear it in politics when someone loses the trust of the government from one moment to the other.
Lastly, a Bratkartoffelverhältnis (n) which is lit.a fried potato relationship was a rather common form of a relationship after WWI and WWII respectively. It was also referred to as wilde Ehe, which translates to wild marriage or concubinage (still the official term in Switzerland today!), and describes a loose form of a relationship when both partners don’t want to commit. Though it is of course often the man who enjoys the female care and cooking. When a woman decided to have a Bratkartoffelverhältnis it was often to avoid losing her widow’s pension.
As you can see the Kartoffel is not only an integral part of German cuisine, it has also made its way in many German idioms and expressions. Is this the case in your native language, too? Leave it in the comments below!