Word of the Week: Fußgängerzone

Mar 9, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Fußgängerzone (Fussgängerzone)

Fußgängerzone (Fussgängerzone) / Pedestrian Promenade / Cologne, Germany Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/dpa)

Most German towns and cities feature a pedestrian retail district known as a "Fußgängerzone" (Fussgängerzone), where people tend to gather to take care of the business of shopping and socializing in a car-free and often charmingly cozy urban setting.

These "Fußgägnerzonen" (plural - the "ß" is the old German "s-z" for a "ss" sound) are usually jam-packed on weekends, when folks ranging in age from 4 months to 94 can be observed strolling along the central "avenue" or hanging out in cafes (weather permitting) with their friends and family members in tow. Depending on the layout of the Fußgängerzone in question, teens and skateboarders will gather in certain paved areas.

In many ways, a city's "Fußgängerzone" is very much like its Main Street and literally was its main street centuries ago, when farmers, merchants and craftspeople from various guilds plied their wares in the central town square and the streets leading off from it.

Fußgängerzone (Fussgängerzone) - Pedestrian Promenade / Precinct - Leipzig, Germany Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/chromorange)

"Fußgängerzone" is another great modern German compound noun comprised of three separate words, including "Fuß" (foot - as in Fußball, or football/soccer), "Gänger" (walker/pedestrian) and "zone" (as in zone, just like in English).

A "Fußgänger" (literally: foot walker) is a "pedestrian." And a "Fußgängerzone" - common in cities across Europe - is most accurately perhaps translated as a "pedestrian promenade" or "pedestrian precinct."

So it is a very precise way of describing something.

Given how common, even "pedestrian," this expression is, yet how catchy, it may come as no surprise that sometimes it is co-opted by cheeky folks.

In this vein, along the lines of the hilarious American syndicated columnist/humorist Dave Barry's oft-cited notion of whatever might be of "a great name for a band," there is a Münster-based German band with some songs posted on MySpace that calls itself FussGaengerZone.

Go figure.

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