There’s an old German proverb that says, “Über Geld spricht man nicht.”
In German culture, people never openly speak about money.
If you tell a German native how much money you make, they will take you for a show-off. But, on the other hand, complaining about your money problems is likely to make them feel uncomfortable.
Their reluctance to talk about this sensitive topic is why German natives use loads of different slang words for money.
In today’s lesson, I’d like you to take a closer look at these curious expressions.
Most common German slang words for money
Compiling this list of slang words made me think of some classic gangster films. Various movie scenes appeared before my mind’s eye:
Where stressed-out bank robbers are screaming, “Her mit den Moneten!” Brutal mafia bosses want to know, “Wo ist die Kohle?” And terrified drug dealers swear that they don’t have a “Pfennig” left.
But these money-related expressions are not only used by movie villains. They are also part of a German native’s day-to-day life.
Here’s a quick overview of the
20 Most Popular German Slang Words for Money:
Do you feel overwhelmed by this overabundance of expressions?
Don’t worry! I’ll explain to you what they mean and where they come from.
1. Kohle, Asche und Pulver (coal, ash and powder)
In former times, having a warm and cozy home in winter was reserved for wealthy people.
Coal was a crucial economic good in the 19th century and was therefore rather expensive. If you wanted to heat your house with it, you needed lots of money.
So it makes sense that “Kohle”, “Asche” and “Pulver” sooner or later became synonyms for money.
By the way, “sein Geld verpulvern” means that someone is wasting his money.
2. Eier (eggs)
This one’s been used a lot since the introduction of the Euro in Germany and other German-speaking countries.
It’s probably because “Eier” sounds and looks similar to the word “Euro”.
It might also be due to the fact that German farmers once exchanged eggs for other goods.
3. Pfennig oder Groschen (penny)
That’s what coins were called in Germany and Austria before 2002. These expressions are still used today when talking about small amounts of money.
For example in “Das ist mir keinen Pfennig wert!”, which means that something isn’t even worth a penny.
Or in “Du bekommst keinen Groschen von mir!”, meaning that you won’t get any money from me.
4. Moneten und Zaster (Roman coins and iron)
These two very common slang words actually come from other cultures.
Moneta was the second name of the Roman goddess Iuno. In Ancient Rome, there was a mint in or close to her temple. And so her bust made it onto many ancient Roman coins.
“Zaster” comes from the Sinti word “saster”. It means iron, which was very valuable in the old times.
5. Bares (cash)
There’s a German proverb that says, “Nur Bares ist Wahres”. It means that only cash is the real thing.
Older German people still pay most of their daily purchases in cash. The preferred payment method of younger German people is their bank card.
Today you can use your credit card in almost every situation when traveling through Germany.
But it’s still a good idea to always take some “Bares” with you if you want to eat in a German restaurant.
6. Schotter und Kies (gravel)
Whenever you hear a German or Austrian say, “Ich habe leider nur Schotter”, they only have very small change.
If you don’t want to end up with a wallet filled with coins, you’d better pick a smaller banknote.
“Kies”, which is finer gravel than “Schotter”, is also often used instead of “Geld”. This is, however, due to the Yiddish word “kis”, meaning wallet.
7. Moos, Mäuse und Kröten (moss, mice and frogs)
“Ohne Moos, nix los!” Nothing happens without moss.
Even plants and animals work as slang words for money in Germany.
“Moos” and “Mäuse” were both derived from the Yiddish word for “Münze”.
“Kröte” also doesn’t have anything to do with frogs. It comes from the word “Groschen”, which I’ve already explained above.
8. Knete (dough)
A German saying goes “Ohne Knete, keine Fete”, which means “no dough, no party.”
“Dough” is also an English slang word for money. And that’s probably where it was borrowed from.
Talking about parties… You might be interested in learning how to start a conversation in German at parties and dinners.
9. Heu (hay)
“Geld wie Heu haben” is a German idiom used for someone who’s got lots of money.
It probably comes from the time when most German people lived off agriculture.
10. Marie (Mary)
You may ask yourself why German natives use the name Mary to talk about money.
Maria-Theresia was a major Austrian empress in the 18th century. Therefore her bust was put on a very valuable silver coin.
Do you have any further questions?
11. Lappen (rag)
“From rags to riches” – who doesn’t know this famous idiom?
But I’m not talking about the American Dream here.
The German slang word “Lappen” refers to large bank notes – probably because of their similar size.
12. Piepen und Pinkepinke
These two examples are both onomatopoeia, which are words that imitate a certain sound.
“Piepen” probably refers to the beeping sounds of birds. Since eagles and other birds often make it onto coins and bills, it’s no wonder that their chirping became a slang word for money.
“Pinkepinke”, on the other hand, has got nothing to do with animals. It’s the sound that coins make when they clatter onto the table during a game of cards.
Congrats! Now you can talk about money like a gangster… or a German native. That’s awesome, isn’t it?
If you liked this list of slang words for money, you’re certainly going to enjoy my previous article on funny and cool German words.
Until next time!