Farbenfroh: Colorful Expressions - German Color Symbolism

Arrangement of colored pencils
Robert Körner / Getty Images

German Color Symbolism and Expressions

Every language has its own colorful expressions and symbolism, including German. But here we're talking about colorful (buntfarbenfroh) in a literal sense: expressions that contain grünrot,blauschwarzbraun, and other colors.

In English we can "feel blue," "be yellow," or "see red." In German these colors may or may not have the same meaning. In an earlier feature, Idioms: Talk like a German, I mentioned several blau idioms, because "blau" can have numerous meanings in German, including "drunk" or "black" (as in "black eye").

In Germany and Austria political parties are often identified by or associated with a specific color. Both the Austrian and German conservative parties are black (schwarz), while the socialists arered (rot). Various other political parties in German-speaking Europe are identified by other colors, and one political coalition is even called a "traffic-light" coalition (Ampelkoalition, i.e., red, yellow, green - SPD, FDP, Grüne).

Below, we expand on the color(ful) vocabulary theme to include a mix of several colors. This is a representative collection and is not meant to be exhaustive. It also leaves out expressions that are similar or the same in English, i.e., "rot sehen" (to see red), "die Welt durch eine rosa Brille sehen" (to see the world through rose colored glasses), etc. But it includes words that contain a color (eine Farbe), especially when the meaning varies from the English.

Colorful Expressions

blau anlaufen lassento temper (metal)
das Blaue vom Himmel versprechento promise the moon
blauer Montaga Monday off (usually for personal reasons); "St. Monday"
das Blaulicht(flashing) blue light (police)
braun werdento tan, get brown
der Braunkohl(curly) kale
die Braunkohlebrown (bituminous) coal
die gelbe Parteithe "yellow party" (Free Democrats, FDP - Ger. political party)
die gelbe Post
WEB > Deutsche Post AG
the "yellow post" (office); mail service, as opposed to banking, telephone, and telegraph; yellow is the color of German mail boxes and postal vehicles
die Gelben Seitenthe Yellow Pages

**Yellow (gelb) has no association with cowardice in German, as it does in English.

alles grau in grau malento paint everything black, be pessimistic
es graut; beim Grauen des Tages*dawn is breaking; at day-break
in grauer Fernein the distant (indefinite) future
* "grauen" - as in "es graut mir" (it horrifies me) - is a different verb.
grüne Wellegreen wave (synchronized traffic lights)
die GrünenThe Greens (Ger. political party)
im Grünen; bei Mutter Grünoutdoors, in the open air
etwas rot anstreichento mark something in red (as a special day, a "red letter day," etc.)
die Roten (pl)the Reds (socialists, SPD - Ger. political party)
roter Fadenleitmotiv, theme (novel, opera, play, etc.)
rote Wellered wave (unsynchronized traffic lights - ironic humor)
schwarzCatholic, conservative (political); orthodox; illegal(ly)
schwarzCDU/CSU (Ger. political party)
schwarzarbeitento work illegally (w/o paying taxes, etc.)
schwärzen; Schwärzerto smuggle; smuggler
schwarzfahrento ride without a ticket; stow away
ins Schwarze treffento hit the bull's eye; hit the nail on the head
weißblutento bleed (someone) dry (money)
weiße Wochewhite sale (white week)
die Weißwurstgrenze (Mainlinie)**Germany's "Mason-Dixon Line" (north-south border)

** "Weißwurstgrenze" refers to a type of Bavarian "white" sausage (Weißwurst)

Related Pages

Lesson 5 of our online German course for beginners.

German vocabulary resources, online and print German-English dictionaries, glossaries, and phrase finders.

Favorite German Expressions
Readers send us their own favorite idioms and proverbs.

Taking Things Too Literally
Don't assume that common expressions are the same in German and English! Guest feature. With quiz.