Why it helps to know the local language – II

I started this post ages ago, but last week I was back at the Bezirksamt Eimsbüttel and the experience was so much less stressful that I was finally able to complete it.


I had just moved into a new apartment. As required by law, I was on my way to register this change of address when I saw this headline on the front page of the paper that the woman across from me on the U-Bahn was reading:

Kundenzentren Computerpanne legt alle sieben Hamburger Bezirksämter lahm.

Now the word lahmlegen was not familiar, but the word die Computerpanne was. I’d been reading the book Mein Leben voll daneben!* and in it there is quite a bit about “computer glitches” and their consequences for the young hero Polly (panne also exists as a slang word meaning “nuts” or “dumb”). Even without knowing the meaning of lahmlegen, it didn’t sound like the Bezirksamt was the place to be that day and so I went to the Isemarkt and did a bit of food shopping instead.

Later I was able to find out that lahmlegen means “to paralyze [something]” or “to bring something to a standstill.” On its own lahm can mean “lame” or “paralyzed” or “sluggish” and lähmen is “to paralyze [somebody/something].” I was quite relieved that I’d been able to get the basic meaning and had decided not to try to do my registration.

I should have stayed away a bit longer, though, as when I visited the next week, it took nearly four hours to be seen and there couldn’t have been more than five minutes left until closing time when my number appeared on the board. That being said, the woman who helped me was very calm and we finished the registration without any fuss in about two minutes.


*More soon about voll daneben, “alone” and other expressions that can only be used as predicates (e.g., while “He is alone.” is grammatically correct “He is an alone man” is not).


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One thought on “Why it helps to know the local language – II

  1. My Many Facets says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading your posts as I know basic Deutsch! I love it when I find a blog like yours that helps me to learn more. 😀

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