In an age where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, you may be wondering why learning how to give and receive directions in German is necessary. After all, it only takes a second to open Google Maps and easily find your way to the train station, museum or any tourist attraction your want to visit.
However there is still a need to learn how to ask for and give directions in German. On one of my recent trips to Bremen, I was shopping and was told the tills were playing up and I needed to pay with cash. Normally I bring enough cash for my trip, but I was nearing the end of my visit and had run out.
I left my goods in the shop and went outside realising that I had no idea where the nearest ATM was as they’re not actually shown on Google Maps.
And that’s why I wrote this post. After reading it you will know:
- 5 different ways to ask for directions
- How to understand directions given to you
- What typical conversations about giving and receiving directions sound like
How to Ask for Directions in German
Asking for directions in German is fairly simple. You just need to learn one or two base phrases and add the thing you’re looking for on the end. If you’re not sure of the German word for the place you’re asking directions after, I recommend downloading the free dictionary app dict.cc.
After you’ve found someone on the street who looks friendly enough to ask, a good way to start a conversation would be to say:
Entschuldigung, sind Sie von hier?
|Excuse me, are you from here?
That way you know you’re asking a local, rather than a tourist who doesn’t know the area either.
Wo ist …?
Meaning: Where is …?
The simplest way to ask for directions is to say wo ist …? and then the place you’re looking for. Obviously it’s quite a basic phrase just like the English version, but it’s a great phrase to start with until you become more confident.
Wo ist … [die Toilette]?
|Where is the toilet / bathroom?
You can make this basic phrase sound more complex by adding wissen Sie (do you know), at the beginning:
Wissen Sie, wo … [der Bahnhof] ist?
|Do you know where the train station is?
If you want to know why the verb ist has moved to the end of the phrase, you can read about subordinate clauses here.
Wo finde ich …?
Meaning: Where can I find …?
A similar but slightly more wordy way to ask for directions is to ask: wo finde ich …?
Wo finde ich … [einen Geldautomat]?
|Where can I find an ATM?
Ich suche …
Meaning: I’m looking for …
Another variation is to say ich suche … which can be used in the same way as wo ist …?
This also a useful phrase if you’re in a shop and a member of staff has spotted you looking lost and has asked, kann ich Ihnen helfen? (can I help you?)
Ich suche … [die Kasse].
|I’m looking for the till.
Gibt es …?
Meaning: Is there …?
Gibt es…? is a really useful phrase to learn, it’s used in all sorts of situations including when asking for directions. It’s often used with the phrase in der Nähe (nearby).
Gibt es … [eine Tankstelle] in der Nähe?
|Is there a petrol / gas station nearby?
Wie komme ich zu …?
Meaning: How to I get to …?
If you’re ready for a more sophisticated phrase, try wie komme ich zu …?
Wie komme ich zu … [dem Rathaus]?
|How do I get to the town hall?
In this phrase we’re using the preposition zu (to) which demands the dative case. This is why we say wie komme ich zum (zu dem) Rathaus instead of das Rathaus.
Follow up question: Ist es weit weg?
Meaning: Is it far away?
A useful follow up question after someone has answered, could be ‘is it far?’
Ist es weit weg?
|Is it far away?
Nein, es ist ganz in der Nähe.
|No, it’s quite nearby.
How to Give Directions in German
Of course, learning how to ask for directions in German is only half the battle. You may have practiced these phrases to perfection, but if you don’t understand the reply you’re given, it’s defeated the object.
Let’s take a look at some essential directional vocabulary to get started:
im [ersten] Stock
|on the first floor
in der [zweiten] Etage
|on the second floor
an der Ecke
|on the corner
in der Nähe
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may know how much I adore Bremen, and now I’m going to take you on a virtual walkabout around the city. These conversations may seem daunting, but the goal is to listen out for key words which give you essential information, and not get bogged down with everything else. The essential words are in bold.
Let’s dive into some example conversations:
Ich bin an der Straßenbahnhaltestelle. Ich frage mich, wo das Rathaus ist.
Entschuldigung, wissen Sie, wo das Rathaus ist?
|I’m at the tram stop. I wonder where the town hall is.
Excuse me, do you know where the town hall is?
Hallo, ja sicher. Geradeaus, dann finden Sie es auf der rechten Seite.
|Hello, yes sure. Go straight on, then you’ll find it on the right.
Danke. Ist die Statue der Bremer Stadtmusikanten in der Nähe?
|Thanks. Is the statue of the town musicians of Bremen nearby?
Ja, die Statue steht an der Ecke, hinter dem Rathaus.
|Yes, the statue is on the corner, behind the town hall.
Zum Glück ist meine Lieblingsbuchhandlung gegenüber.
|Luckily my favourite book shop is opposite.
Guten Tag, kann ich Ihnen helfen?
|Hello, can I help?
Hallo, wo finde ich Kriminalromane?
|Hi, where can I find crime novels?
In der dritten Etage finden Sie Kriminalromane.
|On the third floor you’ll find crime novels.
Gibt es eine Toilette hier?
|Is there a toilet here?
Die Toilette befindet sich oben rechts.
|The toilet is found upstairs on the right.
Cardinal Directions in German: North South East West
If you need to describe a location on a larger scale, maybe a location on a map, you need to know the cardinal directions, or compass points in German:
If you want to say a place is ‘northern’ or ‘north of’ another place, we use the suffix -lich.
Bremen ist eine nördliche Stadt.
|Bremen is a northern city.
Hamburg ist östlich von hier.
|Hamburg is east of here.
München liegt im Süden.
|Munich is in the south.
Düsseldorf liegt im Westen von Deutschland.
|Düsseldorf is in west Germany.