What is ‘Germany’ in French? This might be an easy question for francophiles and francophones to answer. But we should never take for granted that for many the answer is not so obvious. So here is how French speakers say it… with further interesting facts to learn about the word.
What is ‘Germany’ in French?
The answer is… ALLEMAGNE!
For those of you who can read IPA, prononciation in French is: /almaɲ/.
The Federal Republic of Germany is “la République fédérale d’Allemagne (R.F.A.)”
The translation of the word ‘German‘ in French is allemand (masc.) and allemande (fem.).
In turn, the Germans call France FRANKREICH and the French people are die Franzosen.
Germany in French: Interesting facts
Due to its complicated history and different names to describe the territories that form present-day Germany, there are therefore a number of interesting things to mention. Let’s start with the Holy Roman Empire…
The Holy Roman Empire
The history of Germany is a complicated one. The nation-state of Germany dates back to 1871 only. Before then most of the territory of modern Germany was included within the Holy Roman Empire.
In German: Heiliges Römisches Reich. In French: Saint-Empire romain germanique.
Contrary to states likes France or England, the Holy Roman Empire never achieved such a political unification. It was a decentralised union of autonomous rulers who each governed their own territories. There were hundreds of them, including kingdoms, principalities, duchies, counties, prince-bishoprics, Free Imperial Cities, etc.
For example, until 1648, Alsace was an inextricable mosaic of territories. Like a giant puzzle!
- The free imperial city of Strasbourg
- The Habsburgs’ possessions in the Sundgau
- The possessions of the abbeys of Murbach, Andlau and Marmoutier
- The towns belonging to the Duchy of Württemberg
- The county of Hanau-Lichtenberg
- The seignory of Fleckenstein
- The seignory of Ribeaupierre
The origins of the name Allemagne
Allemagne comes from the Old French alemaigne, alemans. In turn these words derive from the name of a confederation of Germanic tribe, the Alemanni. From the 3rd to the 6th centuries, the Alemanni settled in an area comprising of the present-day Alsace, northern Switzerland, and parts of Baden-Württemberg.
Interestingly the name “Almain” or “Alman” was used for Germany in Britain until the 16th century. The first use of the word “German” was first attested in 1520. At first it was used as a synonym to Almain… and it soon replaced it for good.
Look at the works of Shakespeare for an example. In Othello ii,3, (ca. 1603), the writer uses both “Almain” and “German” when Iago describes the drinking prowess of the English:
I learned it in England, where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander—Drink, ho!—are nothing to your English. […] Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead drunk; he sweats not to overthrow your Almain; he gives your Hollander a vomit, ere the next pottle can be filled.
The origins of the name Germany
During the Roman era, the Germani was the name of a number of tribes.
We owe that name to the Gauls who first called the people who lived east of the Rhine.
The Romans later adopted that word. It derived into the Latin Germania (3rd century BC). The name was used to describe fertile land behind the limes.
The first Roman to use Germanus in writing to describe tribes in north-eastern Gaul was Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico.
The origins of the name Deutschland
It is believed that the word Deutsch derives from Old High German thiota or diota meaning people, nation or folk. That word shares a common etymological origin with teutā. That word gave the Celtic tribal name Teuton.
What are the names of the German Länder in French?
Can you spot two spelling mistakes on the map above?
Before a B or a P, AN or EN become AM or EM.
- Bade-Wurtenberg >> Bade-Wurtemberg
- Mecklenbourg >> Mecklembourg
Here’s the list of the 16 states of Germany in French and in English:
What are the German cities in French?
The largest cities of Germany have a difference name in French. However there is the notable exception of Berlin:
- Hamburg => Hambourg
- München => Munich
- Köln => Cologne
Generally, all suffixes -burg are francised -bourg, except for Regensburg => Ratisbonne.
K is replaced by C:
- Kassel => Cassel
- Koblenz => Coblence
With the exception of:
- Karlsruhe (Carlsruhe is possible but little used),
- Kehl, and
The ü is simply replaced by u in French:
- Düsseldorf => Dusseldorf
- Lübeck => Lubeck
Hydronyms and Oronyms in German and French
An hydronym is the name given to a body of water.
An oronym is applied to naming a mountain or hill.
Here’s a few examples of names used very often:
The geography of France in German
Inversely, places in France are sometimes named differently in German. Overall the German names tend to be the same as in French. However there are a number of exceptions, particularly in places where German was spoken.
This is particularly the case in Alsace (das Elsass) which used to be part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle-Ages.
France in German is Frankreich and French Republic (République française) is der Französischen Republik.
The French-German border
The French-German border has a length of 451 km (280 mi).
Schengen, a symbolic place in Luxembourg
The border starts at the tripoint with the French-Luxembourg and the Luxembourg-German borders on the Moselle River near Schengen.
In 1985 five of the ten member states of the European Economic Community (EEC) choose the symbolic site of the Luxembourg village for the signing of the Schengen Agreement. Five years later the treaty led to the creation of Europe’s Schengen Area. Since then internal border checks have largely been abolished.
Between the Moselle and the Rhine
The French-German border finds its way to Saarbrücken across a rural landscape before crossing the Northern Vosges. In doing so it marks the limit between the French provinces of Lorraine and Alsace and the German states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate.
At Wissembourg in Alsace, it follows the Lauter River to the South of Karlsruhe. This is where the border meets the River Rhine.
The River Rhine: A French-German Natural Border
The French-German border then follows the Upper Rhine downstream, forming the eastern border of Alsace.
The Rhine also forms the border between Alsace and the state of Baden-Württemberg. The river passes by Strasbourg and Breisach.
The tripoint at Basel, Switzerland
The French-German border terminates at the tripoint locally known as Dreiländereck. Hence this is where the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland meet:
- Huningue in France,
- Weil am Rhein in Germany, and
- Basel in Switzerland.
Twin Towns between France and Germany
It is estimated that nearly 20,000 French people are actively taking part in twinning programmes.
Out of 6,700 committees in France, nearly 2,300 include French-German twinning towns and villages.
The first French-German twinning programme was created between Ludwigsburg (Baden-Württemberg) and Montbéliard (Franche-Comté) in 1950.
The first twinned committees created by the largest cities of France were:
Until 1975 there were three incentives to create French-German twinning programmes:
- building a peaceful Europe
- creating new opportunities for the younger generation
- reconciliation with a former war enemy.
Cities and towns sharing a common feature or interest
Many French and German twinned cities and towns share a common feature or interest.
As the saying goes: qui se ressemble s’assemble (like seeks like).
It could be:
- a prestigious university (Montpellier and Heidelberg)
- an industrial past (Saint-Etienne and Wuppertal)
- a geographical proximity (Huningue and Weil am Rhein)
- a lofty cathedral (Chartres and Speyer)
- a historic castle (Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Aschaffenburg)
- a historic bishopric (Metz and Trier)
- a former common territory in history (Montbéliard and Ludwigsburg)
- a large-size city with national influence (Lyon and Frankfurt)
- a port-city (Bremerhaven and Cherbourg)
- a ski resort (Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and Garmish-Partenkirchen)
- a wine-growing region (Nuits-Saint-Georges and Bingen am Rhein)
- a similar name – particularly in Moselle and Alsace (Lembach and Lembach, Saarburg and Sarrebourg)
Why do some French cities have twinned twice?
Some French cities have two twinning towns in Germany.
This is the case of:
- Mulhouse (Chemnitz and Kassel)
- Strasbourg (Dresden and Stuttgart)
- Lille (Cologne and Erfurt)
- Grenoble (Essen and Halle)
- Lyon (Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig)
As you can see, it only applies to large French cities, not small towns or villages. In fact if you look closer you’ll realise that:
- one German city was part of the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany) and
- the other one was situated in the former GDR (German Democratic Republic or East Germany).
Following the Fall of the Berlin Wall (9th November 1989) and the German reunification (3rd October 1990), some of the largest cities of France wished to engage into a twinning programme with an East German city of similar size. Most of them were created in Autumn 1990.
Let’s mention the interesting case of Cottbus in Brandenburg. The German city was formerly situated in the GDR. Interestingly, Cottbus was twinned with Montreuil in the west suburbs of Paris as early as 1959. The reason for this is quite simple: the municipality has traditionally been a communist stronghold!
Examples of German and French twinning towns
- Aachen with Reims
- Aschaffenburg with Saint-Germain-en-Laye
- Augsburg with Bourges
- Baden-Baden with Menton
- Bayreuth with Annecy
- Bingen am Rhein with Nuits-Saint-Georges
- Braunschweig with Nîmes
- Bremerhaven with Cherbourg-Octeville
- Chemnitz with Mulhouse
- Cologne with Lille
- Darmstadt with Troyes
- Dortmund with Amiens
- Dresden with Strasbourg
- Duisburg with Calais
- Düsseldorf with Toulouse
- Essen with Grenoble
- Frankfurt am Main with Lyon
- Freiburg im Breisgau with Besançon
- Friedrichshafen with Saint-Dié-des-Vosges
- Fulda with Arles
- Garmish-Partenkirchen with Chamonix-Mont-Blanc
- Hanover with Rouen
- Heidelberg with Montpellier
- Karlsruhe with Nancy
- Kassel with Mulhouse
- Kiel with Brest
- Koblenz with Nevers
- Konstanz with Fontainebleau
- Dunkirk with Krefeld
- Landau in der Pfalz with Haguenau
- Lübeck with La Rochelle
- Ludwigsburg with Montbéliard
- Ludwigshafen with Lorient
- Mannheim with Toulon
- Marburg with Poitiers
- Mainz with Dijon
- Munich with Bordeaux
- Neustadt an der Weinstrasse with Mâcon
- Nuremberg with Nice
- Osnabrück with Angers
- Regensburg with Clermont-Ferrand
- Saarbrücken with Nantes
- Schwetzingen with Lunéville
- Speyer with Chartres
- Stuttgart with Strasbourg
- Trier with Metz
- Tübingen with Aix-en-Provence
- Weil am Rhein with Huningue
- Worms with Auxerre
- Wuppertal with Saint-Etienne
- Würzburg with Caen
- Zweibrücken with Boulogne-sur-Mer
Germany in French: Find out more!
- France in French: A Little Guide!
- Want to read more about Alsace in French? Check out my French blog!
- Find out more about the names of Germany on Wikipedia.
- Discover Germany on the official tourist website.