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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, pronunciation 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 - The Brandeburg Gate in Berlin © Pedelecs - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons
Germany in French – The Brandeburg Gate in Berlin © Pedelecs – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

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.

The Habsburgs' coat of arms © French Moments
The Habsburgs’ coat of arms © French Moments

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
  • etc.

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.

Germany in France - the Rheinstein © Manfred Heyde - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons
Germany in France – the Rheinstein © Manfred Heyde – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

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 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.

Germany in French - Cochem Reichsburg Mosel © Steffen Schmitz- licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 DE] from Wikimedia Commons
The Reichsburg in Cochem © Steffen Schmitz- licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 DE] from Wikimedia Commons

What are the names of the German Länder in French?

German Länder in French © Superbenjamin - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons
German Länder in French © Superbenjamin – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

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:

Germany in French - Names of German Länder in French © French Moments

What are the German cities in French?

The largest cities of Germany have a different name in French. However, there is the notable exception of Berlin:

  • Hamburg => Hambourg
  • München => Munich
  • Köln => Cologne
Germany in French - München © Thomas Wolf - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 de] from Wikimedia Commons
Munich © Thomas Wolf – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 de] from Wikimedia Commons

Generally, all suffixes -burg are francised -bourg, except for Regensburg => Ratisbonne.

K is replaced by C:

  • Kassel => Cassel
  • Koblenz => Coblence

With the exception of:

  • Kaiserslautern,
  • Karlsruhe (Carlsruhe is possible but little used),
  • Kehl, and
  • Kleve.

The ü is simply replaced by u in French:

  • Düsseldorf => Dusseldorf
  • Lübeck => Lubeck

Germany in French - Names of German Cities in French © French Moments

Hydronyms and Oronyms in German and French

A hydronym is a name given to a body of water.

An oronym is applied to naming a mountain or hill.

Here are a few examples of names used very often:

Germany in French - Name of Natural Places in French © French Moments

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.

Kaysersberg Alsace © French Moments
Bilingual street sign in Kaysersberg, Alsace © French Moments

France in German is Frankreich and French Republic (République française) is der Französischen Republik.

Germany in French - Name of Places in France in German © French Moments

The French-German border

The French-German border has a length of 451 km (280 mi).

Germany in French - the former French-German border at Foussemagne near Belfort
The former French-German border near Belfort

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.

The Tripoint on the Moselle River at Schengen © Cayambe - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons
The Tripoint on the Moselle River at Schengen © Cayambe – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

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 castle of Karlsruhe © AnRo002 - licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons
The castle of Karlsruhe © AnRo002 – licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Strasbourg © French Moments
Strasbourg © French Moments

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:

  • Nice with Nuremberg in 1954
  • Nancy with Karlsruhe in 1955
  • Metz with Trier in 1957
Metz - the view from Moyen Pont © French Moments
Metz in Lorraine is twinned with Trier in Rhineland-Palatinate © French Moments

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.
European flags in Strasbourg © French Moments
European flags in Strasbourg © French Moments

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)
  • 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 (the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany) and
  • the other one was situated in the former GDR (the 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 in a twinning programme with an East German city of similar size. Most of them were created in Autumn 1990.

Germany in French - Berlin Wall in Paris © French Moments
Section of the Berlin Wall in Paris © French Moments

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 Schloss Neuschwanstein © Thomas Wolf - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 de] from Wikimedia Commons
Germany in French Schloss Neuschwanstein © Thomas Wolf – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0 de] from Wikimedia Commons

Germany in French: Find out more!


Gems of Paris by French Moments
About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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