Nur Bahnhof Verstehen

“Nur Bahnhof Verstehen” – German Idiom Meaning in English

What does it mean when someone says, “Nur Bahnhof Verstehen” ?


The literal translation of this German idiom is  ” to only understand train station.”

Like many idiomatic expressions the true meaning has little to do with train stations. This phrase is used to communicate a lack of understanding in something and/or general confusion about what is going on. The English equivalent would be ” It’s as clear as mud”, ” It’s all Greek to me.”

This expression is believed to have started around the 1920’s during the same time World War I ended. The tired and weak, fighting soldiers wanted to go home and the only way to do so was by train. Many soldiers then, associated the train station (Bahnhof) with going back home. The soldiers would be thinking about returning home so often that they could not follow conversations because they “only understood train station.”

Example of “Nur Bahnhof Verstehen” being used:

“Im Unterricht heute habe ich mal wieder nur Bahnhof verstanden.”

“The Lessons today were once again all Greek to me.”

“Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof!”

“I don’t understand anything at all!”


What is an idiomatic expression?

Also known as an expression, locution, or saying. An idiomatic expression is a sentence that when translated directly has no meaning in another language. In English, we say “Caught between a rock and a hard place”, or “Hitting the nail on the head”. These phrases do not make sense by themselves but have been given meaning through usage. Learning idioms of a language gives a novice speaker a better understanding of the language and culture as a whole.


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