Mum, I have a new German word for you.

My mother never really learnt to speak German. After various trips to see us, she had amassed a varied vocabulary of random words. She learnt some words out of necessity, like wauwau, the sound dogs make in German and the name Miss M has given her stuffed dog. Sometimes the circumstances meant she would never forget a word. DB is Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, and Bahnhof means train station. She had this revelation after nearly 20 minutes of following my Dad, who was following the ‘DB’ signs while looking for the train station. Only then did they discover that they were already in the station and ‘DB’ was just a logo. Some words she just liked.


She would have learnt the wordBlindgänger because she liked it, not because it was particularly useful. It has two parts:

  • Blind (i as in the first ‘i’ in Indian) means (drumroll please): blind. 
  • Gänger(pronounced a bit like Ghengis): from Gang, which has various meanings related to going, like gait (how someone walks), course (3 course meal), gear (in a car) or aisle. 

Taken together, a Blindgänger sounds like a person who walks around without watching where they are going. Perhaps it is someone, who goes through life blindly, or with blinkers on. 

A Blindgänger is a bomb, an unexploded shell, a dud, a blind shell.

Not an easy process

More than 70 years have passed since the end of WWII, yet we still regularly find Blindgänger throughout our state (North Rhine Westphalia). Frequently, one will be uncovered during construction works, so the experts will be called to retrieve and diffuse it. Depending on the location, this can involve mass evacuations, road and Autobahn closures and temporary delays to train travel. 

The Blindgänger that was diffused in Recklinghausen today. Photo: Recklinghauser Zeitung, 13 March 2019

Just today, a Blindgänger was found in Duisburg (about 55km away). The bomb squad will diffuse it this evening. In preparation, around 200 people will be evacuated and the Autobahn A40 will be closed. Earlier this afternoon, the bomb squad successfully diffused another 1 tonne bomb in Recklinghausen (67km away). This is just an average day in our state.

One for your dictionary, Mum

I can imagine my Mum hearing the word on the radio today and trying to work out what it meant from her limited German. Probably, she would have gotten it wrong, but the images the word created would have made her laugh. And then she would have stored the word away in her memory to use at some opportune moment. 

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