Beyond words: Instagrammer teaches German through a creative lens

Culture

Leise

"Leise" is the German word for quiet/hushed and Widenka took this photo in Arnstadt, Germany on the river Gera, about 20 kilometers south of Erfurt. The architecture and colors play a central role in this photo; the blue of the building seems to match the blue of the sky.

Culture

Diesel

"Diesel" is also the German word for diesel in English. Widenka photographed this motorbike at a gas station in Arnstadt, Germany. The motorbike and German word are centered in the composition and the red and white colors of both add matching contrast.

Culture

Vergissmeinnicht

"Vergissmeinnicht" is the German word for flowers known as forget-me-nots. Widenka found this German cafe bistro in Taipei, Taiwan, and photographed a typical German “Kaffee und Kuchen” (coffee and cake) setting next to the menu which had the German word printed on it.

Culture

Erholung

"Erholung" is the German word for rest/recovery. Minimalist in composition with contrast accents of dark colors against a pastel pink building and a cloudy sky, the photo captures the meaning of the term.

Culture

Du

Germans have two words for "you." "Du" is the familiar form, while the formal "Sie" is used to be more polite with strangers or in a professional context. Widenka photographed this word on a building in San Francisco, California. The shades of pink provide bold contrast against the olive greenish background.

Culture

Rummel

"Rummel" is the old German word for a fair with rides and games. It can also mean hype or drawing attention to something with a lot of people. Widenka took this photo on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Culture

Einfahrt freihalten

"Einfahrt freihalten" is a common sign seen all over the German-speaking world, which indicates to keep the driveway or entryway clear. Despite two signs on both doors, someone is blocking the way with a bicycle.

Culture

Stadt für alle

"Stadt für alle" literally means a city for everyone. The sky here is atop the German words, which have been painted against a black-tiled wall. Widenka took this photo in his current city of Frankfurt, Germany.

Culture

Parken

"Parken" is the German word for parking. It can also be the German verb to park. Widenka took this photo on the streets of Frankfurt, Germany, against the backdrop of what is known as "Mainhattan," the central business district of the city.

Culture

Wandel

"Wandel" is the German word for change or alteration. Part of the word, Wandel, also contains the word "Wand" which means wall. Widenka took a photo of this artistic rendering of the word in Frankfurt, Germany

Culture

Kontrolle

"Kontrolle" is the German word for control or monitoring or surveillance. This mixed medium of street art, which Widenka photographed in Frankfurt, Germany, shows the essence of the word with the cartoonish policeman eyeing the blurred pedestrian.

Culture

Einfahrt freihalten

Here is another rendering of the words "Einfahrt freihalten" (keep the driveway clear), seen on the streets of Cologne, Germany. Though nothing is blocking the entryway in this image, the words are framed with natural greenery and graffiti tags.

Culture

Bitte jetzt

"Bitte jetzt" are the German words for now, please. Widenka set up this shot in Cologne, Germany, with a model to show some perspective and angle of the words, which seemingly come from the sky, with a strong yellow contrasting against a darker blue.

Culture

Hochhaus

"Das Hochhaus" is the German word for a high-rise building. Seen on the streets of Cologne, Germany, the words centrally anchor the composition with brick on top and colorful posters below.

Culture

Ausfahrt

"Ausfahrt" is the German word for exit. Widenka shot this monotone grey photo in Berlin, Germany, where the actual German word appears to blend into the different shades.

A photographer who runs the @basicgermanwords Instagram account, Martin Widenka knows how many words a picture is worth. His refined images promote German language learning with an artistic eye, as he tells DW.

When it comes to Instagram, Frankfurt-based photographer and social media expert, Martin Widenka, has a way with words – German ones, that is.

His account, @basicgermanwords, takes a basic concept and runs with the idea so well that Widenka now has an audience of near 18,000 followers. In each post, one German word or phrase is contained within an artfully composed photo that plays with architecture, colors and diverse fonts; undeniably, each image draws the viewer's attention into the world of German linguistics.

Creating a community

The idea for the Instagram account was born when Widenka and his American girlfriend were walking through Mannheim one "beautiful summer day" and discovered a multi-story car park from the 1980s with the German word Parkhaus "written in huge letters on the entrance."  

"I took a picture, edited it in black and white and instantly uploaded it," he said. "At that time I was always interested in creating unique hashtags." #basicgermanwords seemed to fit the bill, a nice play on German words that are anything but basic.

Screenshot Instagram basicgermanwords

A @basicgermanwords post featuring the word Freiheit (Freedom) on a wall, backdropped by a plane in a blue sky

Widenka initially photographed and posted all the images, but he now considers submissions from contributors who tag their photos with #basicgermanwords. It's one of the many reasons he feels his account has gained such a loyal following.

"#basicgermanwords is a real community hashtag," he says. "Everybody can contribute. Every city has its own charm, its own stories, and its own names. #basicgermanwords brings them all together and brings people to explore their environment more consciously."

Widenka adds that the idea is not only to capture German words in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. "The goal is to catch German influences all over the world. It is great to see that there are photogenic German words in New York City, Uruguay and even Taiwan."

Amateur and professional photographers still have to adhere to Widenka's criteria. He won't accept just any photo tagged with #basicgermanwords, and closely considers lighting and composition. "But I have to admit, photos from foreign countries always have a special advantage," he says.

The language of art

From beginners to advanced German language learners, #basicgermanwords offers inspiration to a gamut of people interested in Teutonic jargon. In this way, Widenka presents a wide range of German words in different settings.

The goal as ever is to offer some vital perspective. "Often you see words, and you don't know their origin. With the #basicgermanwords approach, people are way more conscious about the words that surround them," says Widenka.

Related Subjects

 Basic German Words Stadt für alle

Stadt für Alle literally means a city for everyone

Moreover, learning vocabulary via innovative and interesting images makes it easier to master a difficult language like German. "To learn a new language can be quite a challenge," says Widenka. "If you have fun photos where you can learn a little bit day-by-day, it makes it easier to consider diving into a new language."

Easier said than done. Mark Twain perfectly surmised the daunting task of gaining German linguistic proficiency when he wrote: "Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German."

Widenka feels that this is sometimes a misconception. "It's umständlich (laborious). The German language's vocabulary and pronunciation are difficult indeed, but often these large words are simply the combination of smaller words that are easy to reproduce," he says.

On that note, the Instagrammer would like to see words like Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaft (legal protection insurance company) photographed for @basicgermanwords.

The remaining challenge will be to present the word in an eye-catching photographic context, and thus to reveal its hidden beauty.