The German word Habseligkeiten is a beautiful one. Literally translated, it means “belongings”, but it also means so much more! It comes from the words haben (“to have”) and Seligkeit (a state of bliss, happiness or salvation).
In 2004, the Goethe Institute held a competition for the most beautiful German word. The winner? Habseligkeiten (in the plural form). But why is a word that defines “belongings” so beautiful? It’s best explained in the words of German Doris Kalka, the woman who submitted the word for the competition.
“The word doesn’t signify ownership or wealth of a person. However, it does refer to his possessions and does it in a friendly and compassionate way. Typical for those with these kinds of possessions would be a six-year-old child who empties his pockets to take joy in what he has collected,” Kalka, who is a secretary at the University of Tübingen, wrote in her submission. “Or the word can be seen from a more pitiful side. It can express the few belongings that someone who has lost his home has and how he has to transport them to whatever shelter available.”
So Habseligkeiten means more than any old items you have laying around or the items you order on Amazon. It refers to items to which there is emotion attached. A pretty stone that you’ve been carrying for months in your pocket or the diary that you write in every night are both Habseligkeiten. If you were forced to leave your home and could only take one backpack of stuff with you, what would you take? Those items are probably your Habseligkeiten.
By Nicole Glass, German Embassy