German Phonetic Spelling Code

Deutsches Funkalphabet - deutsche Buchstabiertafel

German-speakers are used to their own Funkalphabet or Buchstabiertafel for spelling on the phone or in radio communications. Germans use their own spelling code for foreign words, names, or other unusual spelling needs.

English-speaking expats or business people in German-speaking countries often run into the problem of spelling their non-German name or other words on the phone. Using the English/international phonetic code, the familiar "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie..." used by the military and airline pilots isn't any help.

The first official German spelling code was introduced in Prussia in 1890 - for the newly invented telephone and the Berlin telephone book. That first code used numbers (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc.). Words were introduced in 1903 ("A wie Anton" = "A as in Anton").

Over the years some of the words used for the German phonetic spelling code have changed. Even today the words used can vary from country to country in the German-speaking region. For example, the K word is Konrad in Austria, Kaufmann in Germany, and Kaiser in Switzerland. But most of the time the words used for spelling German are the same. See the full chart below.

If you also need help in learning how to pronounce the German letters of the alphabet (A, B, C...), see the German alphabet lesson for beginners, with audio to learn to pronounce each letter.

Phonetic Spelling Chart for German (with audio)

This phonetic spelling guide shows the German equivalent of the English/international (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie...) phonetic spelling used to avoid confusion when spelling words on the phone or in radio communication. It can be helpful when you need to spell your non-German name on the phone or in other situations where spelling confusion may arise.

Practice: Use the chart below to spell your name (first and last names) in German, using the German alphabet and the German spelling code ( Buchstabiertafel). Remember that the German formula is “A wie Anton.”

Das Funkalphabet - German Phonetic Spelling Codecompared to the international ICAO/NATO codeListen to AUDIO for this chart! (below)
Germany* Phonetic Guide ICAO/NATO**
A wie Anton AHN-tone Alfa/Alpha
Ä wie Ärger AIR-gehr (1)
B wie Berta BARE-tuh Bravo
C wie Cäsar SAY-zar Charlie
Ch wie Charlotte shar-LOT-tuh (1)
D wie Dora DORE-uh Delta
E wie Emil ay-MEAL Echo
F wie Friedrich FREED-reech Foxtrot
G wie Gustav GOOS-tahf Golf
H wie Heinrich HINE-reech Hotel
I wie Ida EED-uh India/Indigo
J wie Julius YUL-ee-oos Juliet
K wie Kaufmann KOWF-mann Kilo
L wie Ludwig LOOD-vig Lima
M wie Martha MAR-tuh Mike
N wie Nordpol NORT-pole November
O wie Otto AHT-toe Oscar
Ö wie Ökonom (2) UEH-ko-nome (1)
P wie Paula POW-luh Papa
Q wie Quelle KVEL-uh Quebec
R wie Richard REE-shart Romeo
S wie Siegfried (3) SEEG-freed Sierra
Sch wie Schule SHOO-luh (1)
ß (Eszett) ES-TSET (1)
T wie Theodor TAY-oh-dore Tango
U wie Ulrich OOL-reech Uniform
Ü wie Übermut UEH-ber-moot (1)
V wie Viktor VICK-tor Victor
W wie Wilhelm VIL-helm Whiskey
X wie Xanthippe KSAN-tipp-uh X-Ray
Y wie Ypsilon IPP-see-lohn Yankee
Z wie Zeppelin TSEP-puh-leen Zulu

Notes:
1. Germany and some other NATO countries add codes for their unique letters of the alphabet.
2. In Austria the German word for that country (Österreich) replaces the official "Ökonom." See more variations in the chart below.
3. "Siegfried" is widely used instead of the more official "Samuel."

*Austria and Switzerland have some variations of the German code. See below.
**The IACO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) spelling code is used internationally (in English) by pilots, radio operators, and others who need to clearly communicate information.

German Phonetic Spelling CodeCountry Variations (German)
Germany Austria Switzerland
D wie Dora D wie Dora D wie Daniel
K wie Kaufmann K wie Konrad K wie Kaiser
Ö wie Ökonom Ö wie Österreich Ö wie Örlikon (1)
P wie Paula P wie Paula P wie Peter
Ü wie Übermut Ü wie Übel Ü wie Übermut
X wie Xanthippe X wie Xaver X wie Xaver
Z wie Zeppelin (2) Z wie Zürich Z wie Zürich

Notes:
1. Örlikon (Oerlikon) is a quarter in the northern part of Zurich. It is also the name of a 20mm cannon first developed during WWI.
2. The official German code word is the name "Zacharias," but it is rarely used.
These country variations may be optional.

History of Phonetic Alphabets

As mentioned before, the Germans were among the first (in 1890) to develop a spelling aid. In the U.S. the Western Union telegraph company developed its own code (Adams, Boston, Chicago...). Similar codes were developed by American police departments, most of them similar to Western Union (some still in use today). With the advent of aviation, pilots and air controllers needed to a code for clarity in communication.

The 1932 version (Amsterdam, Baltimore, Casablanca...) was used until World War II. The armed forces and international civil aviation used Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog... until 1951, when a new IATA code was introduced: Alfa, Bravo, Coca, Delta, Echo, etc. But some of those letter codes presented problems for non-English speakers. The amendments resulted in the NATO/ICAO international code in use today. That code is also in the German chart.